Free Ride

Cycling isn’t cheap. Bikes, clothes, shoes, lights, helmets, all sorts of gear. It adds up quick. So I understand that it’s hard to want to spend money to do what we can do for free most any day of the week: ride.

So why should someone have to pay to ride along with a tour ride? Here’s some of the excuses I recently heard for not paying:

  • The roads are free; I’m just riding the same route.
  • I don’t need any of the rest stops.
  • I’m not going to interfere with the event.

I have one response: bullshit.

If they didn’t put on the tour ride, you wouldn’t be out there. Period. Tour rides aren’t just another ride on the road. If they were, you’d be doing your normal Saturday routes and group ride; not at a tour.

It’s one thing to do a group ride. But quite another to ride in a tour.

A tour ride – the best ones, at least – are an experience in and of themselves. They create a fun atmosphere for the cyclists; an environment that makes the riders feel like they are special. Tours take into account that not all riders are seasoned veterans – some are brand new, and just want to feel the camaraderie that comes with rolling in a peloton – and so they create short routes just for them. Medium routes for more experienced riders. Long or ultra-challenging routes for the hard core among us.

And all the while, they think about our safety. They support us with rest stops. No, we might not have to use every one, but they’re there in case we need them. Water, food, rest rooms, roving SAG. Things we absolutely never get on our own.

All of this requires not just a few weeks, or a month, but several months to half a year of planning. Finding funding. Getting community support, sponsors, volunteers. More work than most cyclists will ever know.

There’s a lot that goes into even a small rest stop – not everyone can eat/drink every thing.

So… they charge us. Not because they want to, but because they need to. Many of the tour rides charge a reasonable fee. Admittedly, some in recent years have grown a little big for their britches and are pricing people out. But most tour rides are still reasonable, and a lot end up donating their profits to one charity or another. It’s rare that anyone associated to these events makes a dime. In fact, new events often lose money while ensuring that any raised funds go to help their chosen causes.

Tour rides take you places your day-to-day rides usually don’t.

Now let’s look at those excuses: “The roads are free to use.” Yes, yes they are. So go ride somewhere else. The tour made these routes. The tour marked the routes, drove/rode the routes to check for safety and difficulty. The tour did this multiple times for different distances. And they did this long before being paid.

“I don’t need the rest stops.” Lots of people don’t. But you know what? I bet at some point in your uber-cycling career, you did need a rest stop. You were hurting, or out of water, or food, or you crashed and needed assistance. And other people were there for you. Other riders, or even tour rest stops. Even if you don’t use them, you’re support helps them help other cyclists who do.

The feeling you get from a well-run event rest stop is amazing. Even if you don’t need the rest stops, just the friendly faces make the tour awesome.

“I’m not going to interfere with the event.” Then why are you there? If you’re there, you’re there to participate with the others who came to this event. To join in all the fun and fervor. Maybe your friends signed up, and you wanted to ride with them? If your friends all went to a club and paid to get in, your ass would be sitting outside if you didn’t pay as well. Try telling the bouncer you “won’t interfere” or use their facilities. See how far it gets you.

Look, I get it: that $30-40 can go towards a new tire for your bike. That’s a nice meal with your significant other. A day with the kids at the zoo. All sorts of ways to spend that money. Or not. One of my all-time favorite tour rides just took place and the majority of my friends went, rode, and had an amazing time. And at the moment, I’m at a place where I gotta weigh the expense of $40 carefully. So, I didn’t go. I still rode my bike, and I still had a great ride, but it wasn’t the experience that a tour ride with your cycling friends is.

All that said, it comes down to this: respect. Respect the effort that these event directors are putting in on our behalf. Respect the time and expense and the love that they pour in to make their tour amazing for us. Respect yourself enough to do what’s right; even if they won’t know. Especially if they won’t know. Cause that’s when it counts the most.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” ~John Wooden