I love large cycling events – the energy of hundreds or thousands of cyclists lining up to start, the satisfaction of breaking a PR, the challenge of eating my entry fee’s worth of Oreos, I love it all! Well… almost all…
Let’s be honest – everything has its pros and cons, and here’s my list of the ups and downs of large cycling events:
Pro: Pre-planned accountability
This one is huge for me. Every spring I sign up for 5-10 cycling events and it keeps me accountable to training and ramping up to be ready for my summer schedule. Could I plan a full cycling calendar on my own? Sure. But the reality is that I wouldn’t, or even if I did I wouldn’t stick to the plan without the external motivation of events I’m looking forward to and already paid for.
Con: Constrained schedule
The downside of a cycling calendar planned months in advance is that it’s inherently inflexible. Pre-planning your summer schedule may leave you or your family feeling constrained and occasionally you’ll skip out on an event you planned for because of weather, illness or injury, or because it conflicts with plans that came up after you committed to the event.
Pro: Discover new routes
I enjoy participating in events close to home because often the organizers will come up with a novel route that I never considered or a little-known gem of a back road. I love gleefully incorporating these new routes into my regular cycling routine.
On the flip side, I also love participating in events farther from home because I can enjoy riding in a new place without researching routes. Events are an (almost) guaranteed way to check out a new place without the risk of getting stranded at a dead end or forced to race the sun back on a busy highway.
Pro: Support a good cause
Most large events have a charity partner that receives some or all of the profit from the event. It’s a fun way to support a good cause.
Also, there are often opportunities for non-cycling friends and family to get involved by staffing an aid station, working registration, or helping out with SAG (Support and Gear). It’s a way for everybody to be a part of the event together and an added perk they’ll usually get free food and swag and maybe even a free registration for next year.
Con: It ain’t cheap
When you factor in entry fees, transportation to and from the event, and a hotel for events far from home, large events can end up costing anywhere from $50-100 or more per entry.
You get a lot for your money – food before, after, and along the route, support in case of injury or equipment issue, a marked route, and swag. But you’ll be hard pressed to eat your entry fee’s worth of Oreos and peanut butter. Trust me, I try every time.
Pro: Big energy
There’s nothing like the energy of all those riders lining up at the wee hours of the morning, excited to start on the day’s adventure. Everybody’s excited, everybody’s freezing, everybody’s wondering if they’ve got what it takes, everybody’s thinking they must be a wee bit crazy to pay money to wake up at 5 am to go out and ride.
Most large events also extend the party before and after the ride. My favorite events have camping beforehand and lots of food afterward.
As a woman cyclist, it’s easy to feel like cycling is a guy’s sport when all the trails seem to be filled with testosterone every Saturday. So, I especially love ladies’ events, which usually have a great “sisterhood” vibe. And it’s amazing to look around at a rest stop or at the start and think, “Oh my gosh, all of these women love cycling just like me! I’m not alone!”
Pro: Emergency plan
A well-organized ride has plenty of support and SAG (Support And Gear) vehicles to keep you rolling or even leapfrog you forward if you have an equipment failure, injury, or are falling behind pace. Every rider has a responsibility to know basic bike maintenance and to ride with a tube, patch kit, and the essentials. But, hey, if the nice man on the SAG motorcycle wants to change my tube while I look on in gratitude, who am I to argue?
Con: Poorly planned events negate all the pros
Every event has its ups and downs, but an ill-planned event is frustrating or even dangerous. A poorly planned or badly marked route will leave you confused, frustrated, or lost. Badly spaced or unequipped rest stops are somewhere between a frustration and downright liability if you run out of energy or water to drink.
So, expect the best and prepare for the worst, especially if the event is in its first or second year and the organizers may still be working out the kinks. Just like any ride, carry more water than you need and take responsibility for your own equipment and nutrition. Chances are, you won’t need it, but it’s always wise to be prepared.
Jamie is a Moxie Cycling Ambassador and blog contributor. Check out her bio here!