A person who likes riding can jump on his or her bike any day of the year and go knock out 20 or 50 or 100 miles. So, why would someone sign up for an event that requires participants to bring in several hundred dollars, sometimes even as much as a thousand, for that same privilege of pedaling?
“The atmosphere is so positive and high energy,” said Kathy Odegard. The Sunset Hills resident was talking about Pedal the Cause, a September ride that benefits cancer research at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Siteman Cancer Center, but she could have been describing any of the charity cycling events that take place each fall in the St. Louis area. “Nothing boosts your morale like coming up to a rest stop stocked with great food and drink and being greeted by cheering, horn-tooting people shouting encouragement.”
There are four major fundraising bike rides that take place each fall in the St. Louis area, and participants pointed to the same factors again and again that drive their involvement: the great volunteer support, the camaraderie and enthusiasm of participants, the opportunity to raise money for a great cause, and the fact that it’s just a lot of fun to be out on a bike during such a beautiful time of year.
First on the fall calendar is the Bike MS Gateway Getaway Ride (gatewaymsbike.org), generally held the weekend after Labor Day. The event on September 10-11 this year features two days of riding and rolls out of Lewis & Clark College in Godfrey, Illinois, a move that occurred in 2014 after decades of being held at the Boone County fairgrounds in Columbia, Missouri, making it more convenient for many St. Louis-area riders. Last year’s edition had 2,500 riders and raised almost $2 million for the Gateway Area Chapter of the National MS Society.
“The MS ride is great for nearly all ages and all abilities,” said Frank Schuman of O’Fallon, Missouri, who has participated annually in the event since 2002. “There are several route options [25, 50, 75 and 100 miles] available for both days, and each route is tremendously well-supported by volunteers. Plus, during the ride, you’ll see the same people over and over, which makes it easy to strike up a conversation and make new friends.”
Pedal the Cause
Pedal the Cause (pedalthecause.org) comes just two weeks later, with this year’s edition scheduled for September 24-25. First held in 2010, the ride is relatively new but has grown quickly. Last year’s event had 2,900 participants supported by 800 volunteers, and Pedal the Cause has already raised $12.5 million for cancer research in St. Louis since its inception.
“What’s not to like about a bike event that helps fight cancer?” asked Odegard, who did the event on a tandem bike with her husband, Keith. “Practically everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer. I personally have had it, both my parents, and numerous friends. PTC requires you to cover your own expenses, which include great rest stop support and a classy, fun after-party, so that 100 percent of the funds you raise go towards cancer research to prolong and save lives.”
Even the fundraising portion of it was tolerable, added Odegard.
“I was amazed at the support I received by friends and family during the fundraising steps,” she said. “I don’t like asking folks for money, but people are eager to donate to this cause.”
The ride starts at the Chesterfield Amphitheater and offers six route options from 10 to 100 miles. Riders generally work their way west and south, with the 100-mile route going as far out as St. Alban’s and dropping south of I-44 and Six Flags near Eureka.
Cycle for Life
On October 1, riders can explore rural (and flat!) St. Charles County by taking on Cycle for Life (cycle.cff.org) benefitting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which looks to find a cure for this life-threatening genetic disease that affects an estimated 30,000 children and adults in the U.S. The ride has a more intimate feel (it had only 250 participants in 2015), so you won’t be overwhelmed by the much larger crowds that other events draw.
“We have a unique start/finish location at St. Charles County Smartt Airport,” said Jason Kempen, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation development manager. “Participants can choose from three routes: 25 mile, 50 mile or century. There are well-stocked rest stops every 10 to 12 miles, bike mechanics along the route, support vehicles, great food and much more.”
Because the routes go mainly through the floodplain between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, this ride is flatter than the others, making it an attractive choice for many cyclists. The century route, for instance, has only 25 percent of the climbing on the other major rides.
The final charity ride of the year, Cranksgiving (bworks.org/cranksgiving/), is different than the others. The event takes place in early November (on the 6th this year) and doesn’t require paid registration or any minimum fundraising. Rather, it’s a combination bike ride/food drive, with cyclists taking one of three routes through the city that include stops at local grocery stores.
The Cranksgiving concept began with New York City bike messengers who wanted to find a unique way of giving back, and the local event, sponsored by St. Louis Bicycle Works, still maintains some of that edgy feel.
“The St. Louis version started in 2006, when volunteers at Bicycle Works decided they wanted to create something as a last hurrah of the year,” said Patrick Van Der Tuin, executive director of the organization. “There are a number of Cranksgiving events across the country, and we are incredibly proud that the largest Cranksgiving food collection has been in St. Louis for the last four years. It has been amazing to watch it grow.”
Having a parade of cyclists tromping through grocery store aisles can turn some heads of the everyday shoppers, but it’s a great way to promote cycling and help local food pantry Food Outreach, which provides nutritional support to low-income men, women and children with HIV/AIDS or cancer. Some 800 to 900 cyclists participated in 2015, and nearly 14,000 items of food were collected.
“It’s a fun, relaxed ride that happens at the end of the season, kind of the cap to a great year of riding,” said St. Louisan Mike Alsup. “It’s a great way to give food to the needy and also help promote Bicycle Works and what they do. Also, I usually see friends who I don’t normally have a chance to ride with during the summer but who show up for this event.”
The atmosphere is festive and fun. Cranksgiving will draw families and people who are not regular riders but who come out just for the fun of it.
“It’s the range of people participating in the event that makes Cranksgiving special,” said Van Der Tuin. “From little kids to mountain bikers, racers to commuters, I’ve not seen another event that brings together such a wide spectrum of the cycling community.”
Costumes also play a big part. Every year, you can count on seeing at least one rider pedaling along in a full turkey suit.
“Sure, we get funny looks when we go into the grocery stores, especially with the costumes or funny hats and helmets,” said Alsup. “The kids might point and ask questions that make you smile. But the store managers are very supportive and even set up special checkout lanes or offer snacks for the riders or other things that make us feel welcome.”
It’s hard to beat a guy in a turkey costume, but the other rides feature plenty of funny and offbeat aspect, too. For instance, Frank Schuman recruited his brother, Fred, for Bike MS in 2013. But no regular bike would do it for Fred. He showed up with a unicycle, pedaling 60 miles on it over two days. You’ll see riders on single-speeds and high-wheelers, as well — all examples of what draws people to these events.
“I love the camaraderie and shared goal, not only to get out and ride, but to help other people. Seeing all of the volunteers along the route and at the rest stops is very motivating,” said Frank Schuman, explaining why he returns to Bike MS year after year. “These days, it’s not very often that you go somewhere and strangers are glad to see you. At the ride, hearing people cheering you on and thanking you at every stop is a wonderful feeling and humbling experience.”
The Rest of the Rides
While fall features the most charity rides, spring and summer also offer a number of options for gears and giving:
Pedal for Autism
An annual charity bike ride that brings people together to raise funds and awareness for autism. Held this year in April. illinoiscenterforautism.org/pedal-for-autism/
Tour de Wellness
The goal of this event is to inspire good health in the community and support the outreach programs of St. Luke’s Hospital. Held in May this year. stlukestourdewellness.com
Tour de Cure
Its mission is to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all those with the disease. Held this year in June. tour.diabetes.org
Wolfride Gran Fondo
A long-distance cycling event designed to raise awareness of lupus and to raise funds to help improve the lives of those who suffer from its impact. Held this year in August. wolfride.com
Author: David Fiedler is a contributor to Terrain magazine