Cycling for a Cure: 10 Bike Races for a Good Cause

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by Amanda MacMillan

Riding a bike is good exercise—a 130-pound person can burn about 470 calories an hour biking at a moderate pace—and it can be a feel-good activity, too.

Many charities now use bike races to raise funds and awareness, while also helping riders with training. With so many events at all distances, skill levels, and locations, it should be easy to find the right ride for you, whether you want to fight hunger, raise money for a cure, honor a loved one, or just get in shape and make a difference.

America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride

This 35-, 72-, or 100-mile trip around Lake Tahoe in Nevada and California is held annually in June.

It’s the premier cycling event for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training (TNT), a program that trains people for endurance sports events, like this ride. The TNT raises money to cure diseases such as leukemia.

Each team member’s fundraising minimum includes travel to the race, lodging, and registration, and four to five months of coaching with a local or virtual online team. Although these costs are part of the fundraising, at least 75% of the money goes to cancer research and patient services.

Amgen California Coast Classic

The Arthritis Foundation’s annual bike ride is an eight-day, 525-mile tour from San Francisco to L.A. It’s for bikers of all abilities.

In addition to raising funds and awareness for the Arthritis Foundation, “it’s our goal to make the [ride] the best week of the year for our participants,” says Amy Robertson, vice president of development for the Arthritis Foundation, Pacific Region. “People may start the tour as strangers, but they finish the tour as friends and often choose to return to the ride year after year.”

The 2011 tour dates are September 17 to 24, and the ride will sell out at 300 people.

Big Ride Across America

This seven-week, cross-country ride raises money and awareness for the American Lung Association of the Mountain Pacific region. This nonprofit fights lung disease and promotes lung health, tobacco prevention, and clean air in Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Wyoming.

In 48 days, participants ride about 3,300 miles—from Seattle to Washington, D.C., passing through 12 states on the way. Riders travel about 83 miles a day, and must raise a minimum of $6,000 (plus a $150 registration fee) to participate.

In 2011, the ride starts on June 20 and ends on August 6 and is limited to about 40 people.

Bike MS

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers more than 100 events across the country every year.

In 2011, events include a one-day ride in Martha’s Vineyard and a two-day ride from Atlanta to Athens, Ga. In Texas, there are three options from Frisco to Fort Worth: 153 miles over two days, 86 miles on a Saturday, or a “lunch express” in which you cycle in the morning on Saturday (48 miles) or Sunday (30 miles) and are transported to the finish line after lunch.

Cycling for Sight With the Blind Stokers Club

This three-day, 200-mile tour of the Southern California coast benefits the San Diego Center for the Blind and the Blind Stokers Club, a group that pairs vision-impaired people with “captains,” who ride together on tandem bikes.

Solo cyclists and tandem bike teams are welcome; for the full three days, singles must raise at least $1,000 and tandem pairs must raise at least $1,600 ($800 each).

There’s also a one-day, 35-mile Cyclo-Rallye competition, which combines cycling and adventure tasks, and awards prizes for the completion of fun projects rather than speed.

Get Your Guts in Gear

These three-day, 210-mile rides raise money for organizations thatfight Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (together known as inflammatory bowel disease), including the United Ostomy Associations of America, the Colon Club, and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

There are three 2011 locations: Hudson Valley, N.Y., the Seattle area, and southern Wisconsin.

Cyclists ride about 70 miles per day and spend two nights camping. There is an $85 registration fee, and each rider raises at least $1,800.

Livestrong Challenge

This is the signature fundraising event for Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong foundation, dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research.

In 2011, the one-day race, with distances ranging from 10 to 100 miles, will be held in the San Francisco Bay area, Philadelphia, and Austin, Texas.

In Austin, riders who raise more than $10,000 will be invited to participate in a special Ride for the Roses event in which each cancer survivor is given a yellow rose at the finish line. All cyclists pay a $50 registration fee for any event and raise an additional minimum of $250.

Supermarket Street Sweep

More like a scavenger hunt, theSupermarket Street Sweep is an annual event that benefits the San Francisco Food Bank. Instead of a registration fee, riders buy food along the route.

“Just before the race started, we got a surprise list of grocery stores in San Francisco and what to buy,” says Nick Vandehey, 29, a chemist who participated in 2010. It’s up to the riders to decide how to get to the stores. At the end, the food is dropped off at a food bank; prizes are awarded for fastest shopping and collecting the most food.

The event, on a Saturday around Thanksgiving, brought in 6,920 pounds of food in 2010.

The New England Parkinson’s Ride

This ride, which has 10-, 30-, 50-, or 100-mile options, benefits Parkinson’s disease research via the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Cyclist Chris Woods founded the race, in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Cycling itself may actually ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s: A 2009 Cleveland Clinic study found that tandem biking improved motor skills more than solo biking, possibly because tandem cyclists’ faster pedaling stimulates the central nervous system.

The 2011 ride is September 10; each rider must raise at least $100 to participate.

Tour de Cure

This series of rides in 43 states raises money for the American Diabetes Association.

The rides are open to bikers of all levels, says Larry Dancy, 48, logistics chair of the Hoover, Ala., ride. Dancy’s mother and two sisters are diabetic, and he was diagnosed in 2010.

The Tour de Cure gives him hope: “The experience is indescribable. To see hundreds of people lined up to raise money and ride up to 100 miles so that my life and the quality of life of all other people with diabetes can be vastly improved is simply amazing. It is in these types of events that one can see the greatness of mankind, when we can say, ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’”