Cyclists can hardly turn a crank anymore without some charity looking
to cash in on the effort. The number of fund-raising recreational bike rides
continues to swell, and now bike racers, too, are hitching their chains to their
Cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, brain tumor, heart, lung, hunger, homelessness, you name it. If there's an organization trying to cure it, battle it or save it, there's a bike ride where corporate sponsors, cyclists and anyone they can hit up for donations will pay the freight and then some to fight the good fight.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. They're all worthy causes, and most of the fund-raisers do a good job introducing people to a great sport and mode of travel and helping them take positive steps toward their own health and fitness.
It's just that the plethora of charity rides, along with charity walks, runs, motorcycle rides, dance-a-thons and so on, stands a chance of desensitizing the charitable impulse. Go on club ride, no charge, and you're likely to hear much grumbling about the steep pledge amounts required for the privilege of cycling in a huge pack and staying in dorms or campgrounds like sardines. So what if you get all the power drinks and energy bars you can swallow?
If you're inspired to help the Disease of the Week Foundation, you can probably help them more by making a direct donation so that the cost of amenities for cyclists doesn't come off the top. Then again, if the cyclist is you or someone dear to you, why not pay to play? The price tag is typically no higher than that of a fancy-shmancy for-profit tour operator, and whose coffers would you rather fill?
To be fair, some charity rides do an excellent job keeping overhead to a minimum. The Pan-Mass Challenge, for example, consistently donates more than 90 percent of its take to the Jimmy Fund, which supports the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. And the Berkshires to Boston Memory Ride is underwritten by the organizers, two families who lost their mothers to Alzheimer's, so that 100 percent of the donations go toward researching the disease.
I won't go so far as to predict that the charity ride industry is heading for a shakeout. The AIDS Rides -- Boston to New York and similar routes elsewhere in the country -- continue to grow and grow since arriving as the big new kids on the block in 1995. Probably, many riders initiated into cycling via Charity X will pedal for dollars again, if not for Charity X then for Charity Y.
Many bike races also have a tradition of philanthropy. The Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic, for example, donates thousands of dollars every year to the American Red Cross, using what's left from the entry fees after cash prizes are awarded and expenses are covered.
At the Longsjo last weekend, some racing teams had a new spin on the bike-charity connection. The Bell Atlantic Mobile women's team, which fields more than a dozen racers in Categories 3 and 4, donates all its winnings to the Susan B. Komen Foundation to fight breast cancer. The Connecticut-based team has won about $2,000 this season, said manager Patrick Rowland.
And the fledgling Keith Haring Foundation team, which so far has three men racing, has a unique way to support Schneider Children's Hospital in New York: Donors pledge a certain amount to the hospital for every top-5 race finish the team earns, up to a designated maximum. Cash donations to date total $1,600, said racer and founder Ernesto Cubillo, 36, a New York City photographer. Racing in the masters (age 35 and up), Cubillo milked Fitchburg for his charity by placing second in the Wachusett Mountain Road Race, fourth in the circuit race and second overall.
Other amateurs also outclassed the pros at the Longsjo. (Pro winner Henk Vogels lost $250 of his winnings when he was fined for swearing as he crossed the finish line of the circuit race.)
In the juniors competition, it was no surprise to see the Worcester-based Hot Tubes/Century Road Club Association team dominate, with 18-year-old Dustin Rademacher of Monson winning three stages and the overall prize. But no one expected Rademacher's lieutenant, Dan Wolfson of Belmont, to make such a splash. Wolfson, 16 years old and all of 123 pounds, smoked everyone in the time trial. His time of 27 minutes, 47 seconds on the 13-mile course (27.9 mph) won him the stage and bested several of the pros, including Mercury's Roy Knickman and Michael Sayers.
"I was expecting to do well because I've been riding all the time trials over the last year and a half or so fairly well -- in America," Wolfson said, alluding to a recent racing and training stint in Europe. He rode a 28:36 on the same course the week before the race, "and for two or three nights leading up to the race I was extremely nervous, which usually is a good sign."
Wolfson also placed second in the road race and third in the circuit race and ended up second overall. He said "to go really hard for one of my teammates" in the criterium was great fun, and Rademacher said Wolfson's strong times gave him peace of mind because he knew if anything happened to him Wolfson could still get Hot Tubes to the podium.
Wolfson's father, Harry, who has worked hard with the Northeast Bicycle Club to bring youngsters into bike racing, said Dan's winning TT was powered by "his mom's stuffed shells that he had for breakfast. Denise is a good cook."
Juniors also got a nod from 45-year-old Paul Curley of Taunton, riding for Leominster-based Gear Works. Curley, a former national champion, won the masters crit in Fitchburg, with a $30 prize, and a $50 prime during the stage. Curley said the Longsjo prize list for juniors was disproportionately low, and to encourage young racers, he donated his $80 winnings to next year's junior prize list.