I've heard good things about the annual Apple Cider Century Ride taking place this coming Sunday in the Southwestern Michigan hamlet of Three Oaks .
What could possibly detract from the serenity of rolling past orchards, farms, and vineyards, observing the changing colors, inhaling the crisp fall air, and stopping every fifteen miles or so for fresh picked apples and apple cider?
Yes, there will be bandits! The official website even warns against them;
"Only registered riders will be allowed into Three Oaks Elementary School... Bandit riders (free loaders) will not be allowed to enter the SAG Stops. Please assist us in eliminating the bandits by showing your I.D. bracelet when entering a SAG Stop."
Bandits. Freeloaders. Pirates. Outlaws. These are cyclists that have the audacity to participate in an organized ride without registering or paying the modest entry fee.
What kind of rider would do such a thing?
People who waited too long to register, only to find out the ride was sold out? Sorry, if you snooze, you lose. No cider for you!
People who don't like to plan ahead and prefer to do things on the spur of the moment? There is nothing spontaneous about bicycling!
You can't just wake up in the morning, check the weather, and declare that today is a beautiful day to take your bike out. You need to commit months in advance and pray that your life doesn't change in the meantime. Consult the farmer's almanac if you're not sure about the weather...
People who don't plan on partaking in the free treats at the rest stops or replenishing their energy at the spaghetti dinner at the end of the ride? Hmm, I'll have to think about this one for a moment...
This is America. Land of the free. Roads belong to the public - they're paid for by our taxes. It's not a form of socialism or collectivism, it's our birthright. It's probably buried somewhere in the Constitution in one of those amendments that clearly, succinctly, and unequivocally enumerate our rights. No one can prevent us from riding our bikes on a public road.
Besides, I didn't tell those people to draw up seven different routes, put up route markers, and provide volunteers to help me safely cross intersections. I didn't ask anyone to put EMTs on alert in case I might get injured riding the back roads. I don't really care what they went through to organize and promote this ride - I can ride my bike just fine on my own, thank you.
I just want the fun of riding with those other 5,499 riders...
Yes, I'm being facetious here.
There is a value when a group of individuals promotes, organizes, routes, marks, and supports a ride for 5000+ cyclists. Without their hard work putting the event together, there is no compelling reason for the multitudes to mass in Three Oaks Michigan the last Sunday of September. Forty five dollars is a value for this venue and all the benefits provided.
But, it's also a boon to the local economy. The fire department is not going to turn away non-registered riders willing to shell out six bucks a plate for fifty cents worth of pancakes. The local hotels and campgrounds aren't going to deny lodging to bandits. Local restaurants will gladly serve pirates. Freeloaders are welcome to buy anything they desire from local businesses.
I waited until yesterday to register for the ride. Yes, I'm someone who didn't want to commit to driving up to Michigan and renting a hotel room until I was certain that it wasn't going to be 40 degrees and raining this Sunday.
I dialed the toll-free number several times throughout the day, only to be switched over to a fax machine. Yes, a fax machine. Remember those things - the modern marvel of the early 90s? Despite having a very informative website, the organizers of the ACC fall short of providing an easy registration process. You can either call the toll-free number (and hope a person picks up) or print out a PDF and fax in your registration. You know, from that state-of-the-art device that's tethered to your smartphone, tablet, or laptop...
I'm not sure if the 5,500 registrant cut-off is arbitrary or mandated by local authorities or an insurance company, but I believe that the amount of banditry can be minimized by removing the cap and offering day-of registration.
My reasoning is simple - you can't control the weather or the number of people who are willing to show up and ride. The organizers still have to contend with the total number of riders regardless of whether they paid or not. Sure, these freeloaders aren't entitled to free food or a ride in the SAG wagon, but they also can't be denied medical attention.
The organizers are stuck with everyone who shows up - they might as well maximize their revenues.
On-line, self-registration would also help maximize revenues. Nearly every other fundraising ride does it - it can't cost that much to implement. It sure would save whoever is on the other end of that phone/fax line the man hours of processing paperwork.
Constructive criticism aside (alright, you can call it bitching and moaning if you like), I am excited about attempting this ride with a few of my buddies this Sunday. A follow-up of my experience should appear early next week.
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