Avoid overheating on your next summer ride

HERE ARE A FEW BRIEF TIPS for surviving the summer heat while riding your bike. There are dozens of articles by experts that will give you the deep science about body heat and fluids and other stuff. And if all those numbers and matrices make you feel more confident, then by all means read the articles.

As for me, I’m not an expert in physiology, but I’ve survived some pretty stupid stunts in my time, and I can certainly share some wisdom from practical experience. I’ve ridden my bike in the 115+ degree heat of the parched Sonoran Desert of Arizona, as well as the 98 degree, 96 percent humidity of the Gulf Coast states. And while everyone tolerates heat differently, the following pointers will give you some measure of safety when riding in the summer heat.

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Listen to your body
The first and most important rule is: Use common sense. You have to make adjustments in your riding program. You can’t ride in the summer heat at the same intensity you ride in the 60 and 70 degree temps of spring and expect to excel. Your body is highly adaptive, but you need to gradually build-up your heat coping mechanism. Spend the first couple of weeks in summer heat “working into it”.

Your body is talking to you. You know when something isn’t right. If you’re feeling weak, or dizzy or chilled when you should be feeling hot, something is going wrong and you should stop and reevaluate your condition.

Avoid unnecessary heat if you can. Try to schedule your rides in the early morning, or the late afternoon when the sun isn’t so intense. Or, scout out some routes that provide more shade.

Learn how to drink. In other words, don’t ride like a Tour de France competitor for 45 minutes and then slam 20 ounces of water to catch up. Sip your fluids, a couple of gulps every few minutes. When I’m out on a hot day, I drink approximately every 4-miles: a gulp of Gatorade with two gulps of water after it. But everyone is different. You’ll have to discover your own rate of hydration, but it should have consistency.

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Discover your best hydration practice
Learn what to drink. Water is a given, but you need more than water. You need a mineral and electrolyte replacement drink. Blood doesn’t work well if it gets too watered down (hyponatremia), and that’s what can happen if on a hot, sweaty day you drink only water for an extended period. The main ingredients that help keep you stabilized are sodium, potassium, chloride and magnesium. These are available in many sports drinks and water additives. I often drink Gatorade, but not all cyclists can tolerate Gatorade. Some of the other products available are NUUNClif Shots and Clif BlocksCamelbak Elixir and Accelerade, to name just a few. If you get too dehydrated or too “watered down” your endurance wanes, recovery takes longer, or worse, you could put yourself in a serious condition. Experiment with proper hydration to see what works best for you, and what your stomach can tolerate.  

Another way to maintain sodium in your blood on a hot, sweaty day, is to try munching on salty foods along your ride. Salted peanuts, beef jerky or similar prepared foods help you maintain your sodium levels. I know a few long-distance cyclists who buy one of those jumbo dill pickles at every convenience store stop.

In the heat of the summer, water and sports drinks get warm on your bike. When you make a stop put some ice in your drinks or buy a cold drink. Putting cool fluids into your system will help keep your core temperature down. Experimentation is in order here as well. Super cold water on a hot ride gives some riders stomach cramps, so go easy at first.

And finally, water is not just for drinking. If you have an ample supply, and need a cool down, consider pouring water over your head, down your neck or over your shoulders. It can provide some welcome relief in the heat of the day. The same is true for an ice-sock. I’ve never used one, but I’m told it works well.

Reflect and dissipate heat
I love cotton fabric. But not for cycling on hot days. Cotton gets wet and stays wet. It won’t effectively wick the sweat from your body and when it’s stuck to your skin with sweat, it won’t allow you to dissipate heat. There are many technical fabrics available that are better for summer cycling. Check out Boure’Garneau or Canari. Read what they have to say about their clothing and you’ll see the benefits.

Also, give some thought to light colors to reflect the sun, and long sleeves to keep the sun off your arms. There’s a good reason the desert dwelling Arabs are always covered up,no matter how high the temperature. I bought a long sleeve summer jersey and wore it for the first time recently. It works very well to keep my skin surface for overheating.

Stop in the shade and off the hot pavement. Shade is not always available, but if you have to repair a flat tire try to do it in the shade. If you stop to rest, try to find a comfortable spot in the shade.

Try using a helmet with adequate ventilation. Here’s a look at styles of helmets available, you’ll notice some are well vented and some are not. On a hot summer day, you’re going to want some air circulating over the top of your head.  

Common sense, acclimatization and proper hydration will help you steer clear of over-heating while riding in high temps and humidity. The bottom line on all of this is to understand the messages your body sends and know it's limitations.

Everyone is unique, so experiment to see what works best for you, and enjoy riding this summer. You might also want to join the National Bike Challenge. It’s FREE, FUN, and you might even win a prize.


Eight suggestions for confident cycling

LATE ONE AFTERNOON, ABOUT 10-YEARS AGO, when I was just getting started in serious road cycling, I was riding toward home when I noticed a group gathering at the local bike shop. I pulled in and quickly discovered that I was amid preparations for the Thursday evening shop ride. I watched as people were making final adjustments to their bikes and locking up their vehicles. At the last minute, I decided to join them. 

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I already had about 15-miles in my legs, so I felt warmed up enough to ride with this younger-than-me group of about 20 cyclists. Plus, I had a brand new carbon fiber bike that I wanted to put through its paces. We all took off down the divided highway at rush hour. The lineup was a little messy at first, with everyone jockeying for position, so I felt most comfortable being one of the last in line. As we headed south down the busy road, things got more organized and the speed picked up rapidly. About six miles into the ride, we made a sharp right onto a less busy road -- one that was unfamiliar to me.

The group cranked up the pace

Within minutes the friendly banter had stopped, and all I could hear was the wind and the whirr of many tires rolling on smooth blacktop--these guys were serious. We wound through treed lanes, over creeks and at times into the low setting sun. I was getting tired. A space opened up between me and the rider in front of me. The few riders behind me began to pass and fill up the void. I continued to spin as hard as I could, but I was losing ground. Within a few minutes I was dropped. Not only was I alone, but I was in strange territory, and in my supreme effort to keep up, I hadn’t been paying much attention to how I got there.

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My confidence level evaporated

It was too late, of course, but I realized I had hooked up with a group that exceeded my abilities. Whoops! Lesson learned the hard way. It also bruised my confidence. Now, as twilight was setting in, I had to find my way back home, weary from a couple of hours of hard riding.

Preparedness will help you feel confident and comfortable on your next ride. Here are eight tips that I recommend:

1. Know your bike

Know how it feels, reacts, handles. Does it fit you properly? Do some of the components need adjusting? Is it making a weird noise? Get it fixed. You don’t need distractions when you’re 20 miles from home and you're exhausted.

2. Know how to fix basic things

Little things can go wrong and ruin a ride. Learn how to quickly repair a flat tire, or make a minor derailleur or brake adjustment.

3. Know the rules of the road

This is very important. You ARE traffic. You should ride your bike safely, and so other users of the road can anticipate your next move. Go to Cycling Savvy to learn more.

4. Know the terrain

Will you be riding where steep climbing is required, or where super fast, curvy descents will test your bike handling skills? Will you be riding on gravel, or paved roads with lots of potholes, or narrow roads with no bike lanes? Knowing in advance what you’re getting into will increase your confidence level.

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5. Know your endurance limits

Can you ride 20-miles, 30-miles, or more? Can you ride at 24 mph for extended periods? If you’re a casual rider think twice before you agree to ride with someone who rides 300 miles a week. Bonking can be miserable and embarrassing.

6. Know your group rides

First, do you know the etiquette and techniques associated with group rides? If not, group rides can be dangerous for everyone involved. Second, match the group ride level with your own abilities. Groups are often graded as A, B, C rides, etc. A-rides are normally fast rides, where C-rides are often casual or social rides.

7. Know the best time to ride

Do you really want to ride during rush hour--do you have the skills to do so? Mid-summer afternoons in Florida are very hot and humid, so I often ride in the morning, right after rush hour. But I don’t like to ride east first thing in the morning because the rising sun is blinding--for me and for motorists. What’s the best time for your ride?

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8. Know what you need to carry

Do you have tools and supplies to get you out of a minor mechanical jam? Do you have your hydration and nutritional needs covered based on how far you’re riding? Do you have some cash (some rural retailers don’t take plastic) and a cell phone? Do you have lights in case you don’t make it home before dark?

By following these guidelines you're more likely to ride free of major problems that could ruin your ride or make you wonder why you didn't stick with golf. Preparedness and knowing what you’re getting into will go a long way toward riding with confidence.

If you’d like to add your own tips, please comment below, and feel free to share this post with others.


When you ride your bicycle, ride it big!

STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THAT THE MAJORITY OF ACCIDENTS between motorists and cyclists are caused because the motorist “didn’t see the cyclist”. As preoccupied as motorists are these days, with all the non-driving activites that take place behind the wheel -- texting, talking on the phone, eating, reading the newspaper, flossing the teeth, removing rollers from the hair, brushing the hair, drinking a beer and reprimanding the children -- it’s no wonder that cyclists get knocked down, banged up or killed everyday.

Yes, I’ve seen every one of the activities mentioned above being done while the driver is, by law, supposed to be in control of his or her motor vehicle. Yes, I know that cyclist are not always innocent. I’ve seen many cyclists who refuse to follow the rules of the road, and many more that have adopted some very careless riding practices.

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So, how do we stop “accidents”?

I don’t know.

It’s basically impossible to get all parties together and agree to do the right thing. But if you’re a cyclist and you want to remain as safe as you possibly can, RIDE BIG. And by that I mean to make yourself as visible as possible to motorists who are in your immediate area. Here are a few ways you can achieve this.

  • Never ride in the gutter of a lane. You’re out of view, in the shadows, and probably rolling through all kinds of dangerous debris, grating and broken pavement. Additionally, it’s a position that leaves you little room for emergency maneuvers. If you’re riding in a bike lane, try to ride as close to the motor vehicle lane as practical.

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  • When on a narrow road, don’t be afraid to take the lane. Riding in the car lane,where a car’s right tire would go, is one of the best ways to be seen. You become the traffic and have lane control. It forces cars and trucks to pass you when it’s safe, and with a wide margin instead of trying to squeeze by in the same lane. You might get some negative comments from drivers, but at least they will know you’re there. (In the right lane in the U.S., or in the left lane in many European countries.)
  • Take advantage of Sharrows by riding in the area designated by the Sharrows. I like Sharrows because they are immediately visible to both motor vehicle drivers and cyclists. There should be no confusion regarding the cyclist’s right to the road space. (Presumably they been placed correctly.)
  • Wear bright or fluorescent or day-glo clothing. Bright yellows, oranges, reds and greens can be seen easier that most other colors. When I’m commuting in the early morning hours I often where a yellow jersey that is impregnated with reflective strands that shine brightly when headlights hit it.
  • Be predictable. Behave like a car--one with a responsible driver behind the wheel! Ride with the traffic, not against it. Motor vehicle drivers don’t expect you to be coming from the wrong direction, or flying out of side streets or driveways without stopping. Ride in a straight line. No weaving or erratic riding.
  • Reflectors on your bike, front and rear are very visible when lights are shown on them. Reflectors are often more easily visible, and can be seen from farther away than many electric lights. At night I also wear reflective ankle straps and reflective tape on the back of my helmet.
  • A white headlight on the front and a red tail light on the rear of your bike are a must for night riding and even make you more visible in daylight. I use a bright red flashing tail light on every ride, day or night.
  • Riding in a group makes you more visible to motor vehicle drivers. But get with a group that follows the rules of the road.
  • When you’re in heavy traffic sit up tall in the saddle--RIDE BIG! You’ll be much more visible than if you’re in the drops or using aero bars.

Don’t be afraid of traffic or cower in the presence of motor vehicles. Ride big and ride proud, because you have every right to be using the roadway. These simple techniques will help to keep you visible to motorists when riding your bike. Obey the standard rules of the road, as any vehicle should, and you’ll have your best chance for finishing your ride without an accident.


7 ways a cyclist can tame the headwinds

THE HOUSING BUBBLE HAS HURT MANY PEOPLE in the US, including me. My house is worth a fraction of what it once was. To add insult to injury, there are new housing developments that have been stalled for years. We have huge would-be communities around north Florida that began mid-decade and haven’t been built-out yet.

Although the housing bubble has caused grief for many, I must admit to finding joy in one aspect of it. You see, all these new communities that were started five and six years ago, began with the road system. We have seemingly endless miles of beautiful paved roads with nothing but street lights on them; few if any houses and very minimal traffic. And for a cyclist who likes to get out and crank it up, this is heaven!

Northeast Florida is a very flat region, save for the many bridges that crisscross our waterways. But in place of leg-busting hill climbs, we have leg-busting headwinds, the consequence of living amidst a web of waterways including the St. Johns River, the Intercoastal Waterway, dozens of smaller rivers, and the Atlantic Ocean. The wind, out where all of these new, but empty communities are waiting to be built, can be unbelievably strong.

Last month I was out on one of these new, smooth, wide-open, black-topped surfaces, and I was struggling. I was riding into an unobstructed headwind that had to be over 35-mph. My legs were screaming. My heart rate was at 181. And I was only moving at 12 miles per hour! I felt like I had my own private Alpe d’ Huez.

My wife hates riding in strong wind. I’ve come to love it. I often tell her, ya know, there’s a blessing in disguise here, but she ain’t buyin’ it. Although you can’t stop Mother Nature, there are a few things you can do to make your ride easier.

Basic preparation for riding in the wind

1. WEAR SNUG-FITTING CLOTHING. The idea is to make your body as aerodynamic as possible. A loose fitting shirt or unzipped jacket that flaps in the wind or billows-up from your back can create a significant drag.

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2. TUCK. Road bikes were designed with curved, drop down handlebars for a reason: (a) for comfort, so you can change your hand position on long rides and, (b) to get low for an aerodynamic profile. So, get in the drops to ride lower. Tuck your elbows in, keep your knees close to the top tube, and keep your head down. Making your body compact can make a huge difference.

3. REDUCE DRAG. Keep your bike as naked as possible. A bike free of handlebar bags or other comfort equipment will slice through the wind easier. Also you may want to rethink those high-profile aero-rims. They can make bike handling difficult in strong crosswinds.

4. GEAR DOWN. Most modern road bikes and even hybrids and mountain bikes have multiple gear options. On my rides, I frequently notice riders who don’t use their gearing options to the best advantage. Gear down and try to keep your cadence in the 85 to 95 rpm range for optimum efficiency.

5. DRAFT. If you can ride in someone else’s slipstream (paceline) you’ll find pedaling much easier, and you can save as much as 30% of your energy. Other riders in your group will expect you to rotate your position to give everyone a break.

6. RIDE WITH THE WIND. Try to configure your ride for minimal exposure to headwinds. Or, put another way; try to configure your ride so that you can benefit from a tailwind on the homeward stretch. Where I live, that’s nearly impossible, because the wind is always changing direction, but it might work in your area.

7. GET YOUR HEAD RIGHT. Don’t hate the wind. Embrace it. Minimize its effects. It’s a great workout. You’ll strengthen your legs, your heart, and you’ll burn extra calories.

 


Freshen up your standard bike ride

I’M STILL ATTEMPTING TO GIVE A GOOD SHOWING for the National Bike Challenge, so today I rode out to one of my old standby destinations, Mandarin Park. I’ve been riding nearly the same route for six years or more, but today, I decided to change that up a bit, and it was really fun.

My standard route traverses quiet neighborhoods along two-lane roads that have no shoulder or bike lane. Traffic is normally minimal and the speed limit is 35-mph.

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I’m occasionally challenged by belligerent drivers along this route, but haven’t had any serious confrontations. It’s about a 24-mile out-n-back ride that’s mostly peaceful. Sounds nice right? So why mess with a good thing? Because I’ve done it hundreds of times and I was getting bored with the same scenery.

Off the beaten path
Today, my path to the same destination started from a different location, and I took a set of roads I’d never been on before. For me, part of the fun of riding a bike is to explore new regions. The roads I took today included some heavily treed narrow two-laners, some wide rural lanes with an ample shoulder, and

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some city avenues with sharrows. Then, it opened up to a busy six-lane thoroughfare with mad traffic and a bike lane. That got the heart pumping a little faster, but only lasted for little more than a mile. Then the route went back to shady lanes with sharrows.

It’s amazing what you’ll find
Today’s ride to the park was quite different. First, I discovered an interesting part of the city, just a few miles from my house, that I didn’t know existed! Also, this ride had more exposure to the sun, and there were a whole range of new sights, smells, neighborhoods, road surfaces and speed limits. Instead of an out-n-back format, it’s now a loop, and I also extended the ride a bit to include a five-mile mini-loop at the end. My total mileage to Mandarin Park using this route was 34-miles. I don’t like short-cuts; I’m more of a long-cuts guy.

So the next time you feel yourself getting bored with your ride, change it up! My way is to take a look at the city map to get an idea of the lay of the land. I want to make sure I have a continuous circuit, free of dead ends and freeway blockages. I make some mental notes of the new route, or if it’s a long ride, I might even write down a simple cue sheet. Then I take off on a new adventure.

Next up, I think I’ll ride to the beach. Rather than the boring 20-minute ride in the car, I know a perfectly serviceable route by bike, down some beautiful back country roads that will end up being about 65-miles and require about 4 hours in the saddle. Now that’s a beach ride!


Cycling is good for you. Start now, even if you’ve done nothing for years.

I’m not a light-weight guy, but I am lighter than I was, say five years ago, because of cycling. Thirty pounds lighter. I’m not getting any younger either. But today, I feel like I’m the fittest I’ve ever been in my life.

It’s not easy to start exercising when you’ve done nothing for years. It’s tough… damn tough. And cycling is no different. I witnessed a conversation a couple of years ago when I was working in the local bike shop. The sales clerk, a tall, slender, athletic looking woman, who probably weighed about 105 pounds soaking wet, was helping this middle-aged guy make his first bike purchase since he was a kid. He was average height, and looked like he might weigh about 230 pounds. He was not an athlete. He looked tired, overwhelmed by the technological advances made in bikes over the years, and somewhat intimidated by the environment he found himself in. He knew he was out of shape, and wanted to do something about it. But here was this svelte young woman trying to sell him a high-end road bike, while preaching to him about the benefits of cranking it up every day. He walked out of the store that day without buying a bike and I’m guessing, today he’s still overweight and tired, because he saw his quest for fitness as insurmountable. 

Your fitness goals are not insurmountable
You just have to take one step at a time—your step—not a step patterned after someone else. Here are a few tips to get you started on the bike, even if you haven’t exercised in years. There’s nothing scientific here, just a method that has worked for many. If you’re not sure of your health, see your doctor first and take her advice.

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1. Cleanse the mind
Get rid of all the imagery you may have of the strong, skinny, fit people that haunt your subconscious. Also, forget about all the cool new equipment that’s on the market today.


2. Get a bike
Virtually any bike will do. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be ugly. It can be rusty. It could be a model designed for the opposite sex. It doesn’t matter at this point. Borrow one, buy one from the police auction, buy one from eBay, rent one, but get a bike that fits you comfortably, and ride it. 

3. Ride your bike 3 times a week
Wear a helmet, and ride around the neighborhood for 20 to 30 minutes. Don’t push it, ride at a pace you’re comfortable with, and (this is important!), pay no attention to the skinny/fast cyclists  passing you. 

How’s that feel? Makes you feel like a kid again, doesn’t it? 

4. Go farther
By the third week you will be able to ride longer. Maybe 45 minutes to an hour. Try to pedal more and coast less. Try to push your limit a little. You’re feeling stronger already. You’re sleeping better. Weigh in. You’ve probably already lost a pound or two. You’re even considering a venue change from the neighborhood to an area with more open spaces, and you’re already thinking of getting a better bike.
 
5. Don’t stop now!
By the fifth week, you’ve added a longer weekend ride to your regimen. You ride to the coffee shop on Saturday morning, and meet some friends who share your fitness intentions, and you talk about bikes, safety and rules of the road. And you can’t explain it, but your mind seems to be thinking a little clearer these days.

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You’ve been looking at the bikes owned by other riders and you’ve learned a lot. There are all types of bikes for all types of riding, and you’re getting close to finding one that suits you better than your old clunker. 

6. Have fun!
You’ve discovered that cycling is good, and good for you. After two months of your bicycle adventure, you’ve discovered that you’re really having fun. You’re riding dozens of miles a week. You’ve lost weight, you’ve met some really nice folks… and you’re old bike just isn’t keeping up with your adventurous spirit. And that’s a good thing. 

Now is the time to visit a respectable bike shop. (Your cycling friends gave you a recommendation.) Explain to the sales person the type of riding you want to do. Share with him your cycling ideas for the coming year, your fitness objectives, and the budget you’ve established for your new bike. A good shop will measure your body and sell you the bike that best suits your wishes. He may offer a class on safe riding. Take it. He may offer a class on bike maintenance. Take it too, both are invaluable.

You are now a cyclist. Go ride with your friends. Conquer the roads and trails. Your couch potato days will soon be a distant memory. And remember the wise words of the Chinese philosopher, Lao-tzu: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.


10 Tips for Safely Riding the MS 150

Ms150 RIDING FOR A CAUSE is a noble thing, and there are many charity rides to choose from. It can also be a lot of fun. You’ll meet lots of new people, some of whom may become life-long ride buddies. Charity rides seem to draw a lot of first-timers. This is both encouraging for the charity, and potentially troublesome for the riders.

The MS 150 is a great ride for a wonderful cause, and the one I am most familiar with.  For all cyclists seeking a personal challenge and a world free of MS, Bike MS is the premier cycling series in the nation. With more than 100 extraordinary rides.

If you’ve never ridden the MS 150 (or any other charity ride) these tips may help to make your ride safer and more enjoyable.   

  • Ride a decent bike. (The one in the photo probably wouldn’t make it.) You don’t need a top of the Pinkbike600 line race bike, but you do need a bike that is in good working order with good tires. Although many have been successful on a single speed bike, most riders will admit that a multi-speed bike makes the ride more comfortable.
  • Dress properly for the weather. It may rain, it could be hot and humid, or it may be windy. Be sure you have your helmet, sunscreen, and adequate clothing to remain comfortable during several hours of bike riding.
  • Take advantage of the training rides offered. These will help you prepare for the big day. You’ll Tandem+2 700get a feel for the caliber of the riders you’ll be with, and you may find someone with a riding ability similar to your own, who can be your ride buddy on the two-day event.
  • Don’t start off like a rocket ship. You’ll burn yourself out too early. Work your way into a sustainable pace. The more experienced cyclists will be hitting speeds upwards of 20 MPH. The bulk of the riders will be at speeds between 15 and 17 MPH. One hundred and fifty miles is a long way on a bike, especially if you’ve never done it before. (My last MS 150 turned out to be just over 170 miles.) It’s split into two days of riding, but if it’s really hot and humid it’ll seem even longer. You can always pour on the coals once you're half way into it if you’re feeling strong.
  • Take ample food and hydration with you. Sometimes the food at the rest stops may not suit you; or if you’re delayed because of a mechanical issue you may get hungry or thirsty before you reach the next rest stop.
  • Carry tools with you. Be sure you have at minimum a multi-tool, an extra tube, a flat repair kit, and some way to inflate a tire—either a pump or a CO2 kit. Hopefully, you know how to fix a flat tire, but even if you don’t, with the proper tools someone else is likely to help you out.
  • Most road cycling is done single-file. Don’t hog the lane riding 2 or 3 or more abreast, and END OF LINE 2 remember to hold your line. Weaving in and out in a group of bikes is a good way to get yelled at or cause a crash.
  • On your left! Know the hand signals and the rules of road cycling before you begin the ride. You can get a lot of information here.
  • Watch out for riders with little experience. There are often younger riders on the road with you. They may not have much experience and may be inclined to do unsafe things.
  • Ride earnestly, but don’t push yourself into cardiac arrest. SAG vehicles are there to serve riders with unfixable mechanical issues or health concerns. If you use a SAG just because you don’t like to sweat, you may be taking it away from someone who really needs it.

Charities rides are the most fun if you complete them safely. They’re not a race, just a fun social ride to support a good cause. When you finish, you’ll be tired and sore, but you’ll feel like you really accomplished something—because you did.

Keep the rubber side down, and have fun!