On Charity Bike Rides & 'Raising Awareness'


The Charity Bike Ride isn’t anything new, but over recent years it has gained a new rise in popularity and I believe there is a stronger argument against them - one that I am going to try and convince you of here. 

During these high-times of mass social-media, the power to reach people far and wide, to convince them to donate money towards your chosen cause has never been easier. Websites are built with brands and people trying to raise their profile around the notion of ‘giving’.

On paper, it appears to be a win-win situation - on one hand you’re raising money for a good cause whilst on the other you get to ride your bike. So, what’s the problem? Can I submit that these rides are bad for cycling generally and furthermore, should not be supported or encouraged? 

Born out of the ‘Sponsored Walk’ model, the idea is that their participation is some kind of unsavoury ordeal - one of pain and suffering, hurt or stress. Donors give money to show their appreciation of the sacrifice of the willing participant, who has given up the comfort of their sofa for the sake of said cause. Without a doubt, both participants and donors get to feel extremely virtuous. 

The problem lies in the idea that by translating bike riding into a painful ordeal, it repackages something that is extremely fun, into something that is horrible and unsavoury. No-one would support a Charity ‘food-a-thon’, where you travel up and down England eating as much food as you like in posh restaurants. Nor would they donate money to a ‘Sun-A-Thon’ where you go on an excursion to the south of Spain, soaking up as much sun-lounger-time as possible. You’d think they were taking the piss and yet, we seem to accept these ‘Bike-A-Thons’. 

I’m a strong believer in the positive health benefits the bike can play in your life - such as mindfulness, exercise, meditation and weight-loss. So why are we repackaging the bike as something equal to bathing in a bath-tub full of cold baked beans?! Of course, cycling is gruelling but it’s also extremely enjoyable. You can get incredibly fit, lose a ton of weight, find a better space in your mind by just riding the bike recreationally. As a wise man once told me - the bike is “not a means to an end, it’s the end in itself”. 

Other Charity Ride advocates are now including their bike-tours as a way of “raising awareness”. Imagine riding across the entirely of the UK or Europe, for charity. It strikes me that this is the only way some men (and women) can justify doing a huge Yomp and get it past the wife! “I’m not going on the holiday of a life-time, love - I promise, I’m actually doing this to raise awareness of someone less fortunate than me!”. I recently saw someone begging for money to help pay for a ride around the UK because “they’re depressed”. Imagine me asking you for your hard earned money (especially during this cost-of-living-crisis) so I can take myself and my family off on holiday for two-weeks, to help with my “depression”.

If you want to introduce someone to the bike, and encourage them to take a path that will improve their life for the better, tell them to purchase a cost-effective and reliable bike, learn to pace themselves, take it for a few short rides to improve their road craft and let them feel the breeze around their legs - breathe in that cool fresh air. Enjoy the sights, listen to their breathing whilst they open up their lungs. Encourage them to visit places they have never been before, explore roads they’ve never seen. They’ll never look back and if they end up ‘Getting it’, I can assure you, they’ll never complain about the suffering of recreational cycling to anyone.


Words and photography by Thom Barnett

Comments on this post (2)

  • Apr 27, 2024

    Interesting and on the whole I agree. I’m a runner and every year people in my club are desperate to get a London Marathon place. If they are unsuccessful in the ballot they often choose to take up a charity place and then are under enormous pressure to raise a not insignificant amount of cash demanded by the charity. They then have to rely on the generosity of friends and colleagues to support the dream. Countering this though is the inescapable fact that these charities have to resort to this as a vital element of their funding.

    Wouldn’t it be better if we all gave as much as we possibly can through monthly donations and bequests to take away the need for this sponsoring merry go round? At the end of the day it’s a personal choice whether or not to support through sponsorship I supppse?

    — Phil

  • Apr 27, 2024

    I wholeheartedly agree. I do some “charity rides” because it is nice for someone else to organise a route , but just pay my entrance and usually make a personal donation to the charity as a thank you.
    Reminds me of a “Clare in the community” cartoon strip where a collegue asks Clare if she would sponser her cycling around Cornwall for Charity during her holiday. Asked what she would be doing otherwise, the inevitable reply was’ “cycling around Cornwall.”

    — Stephen Hilton

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