A first timers guide to the Smart Ride

The first time Fort Lauderdale resident Keith Willard rode in the annual two-day 165 mile Smart Ride he admits he was woefully underprepared. Among other things his bike was too small and was only one speed.

“I did almost no training,” the 46-year-old admits. “I was so under prepared. I told myself ‘Of course I can ride 100 miles in a day.’ I was very innocent to the process.”

Miraculously he still finished the ride despite all of the obstacles he had to overcome.

“It was a pathetic try,” he said. But then adds “When you get it wrong on so many different levels and still make it, it proves anyone can do this.”

Since that first try he’s ridden twice more – with a lot more preparation though.

“I went to a bike store, got measured and I bought a different bike. I reached out to other riders,” he said. And of course he trained. “A little bit of training goes a long way.”

His advice to a newcomer is to train, ask questions and follow instructions.

This year the Smart Ride takes place November 13-14. And while that’s still a couple of months away now is the time for a first timer to start preparing and training.

The annual bike ride raises money for local HIV-related charities and is entering its twelfth year, raising more than $1 million last year alone.

For many just the thought of biking 165 miles is overwhelming. So SFGN wanted to see just what it takes to prepare for such an arduous journey.

“It’s a challenge. But allow yourself to be challenged. Really take that on. Don’t give up,” said Fort Lauderdale resident Uli Schackmann. “This ride is very different. It’s a loving community that’s moving from Miami to Key West. It’s very inspiring. Something very profound takes place on this ride.”

Glen Weinzimer, founder of the ride, tells rider not to worry.

“Most of the riders are not professional riders. They just want to make a difference,” he said. “I tell them to look at is 5, 20 mile rides in the first day. A part of this is psychological.”

Weinzimer recommends being able to ride 60 miles two days in row within a few weeks before the ride. He said the event is fully supported so all a rider’s needs are taken care of during the two days.

“We have cheerleaders that will motivate you, medical support, water, Gatorade, bike techs and food,” he said. “Remember you might not have some of these things when training on your own to keep you healthy.”

Weinzimer recommends three months of training to prepare, which would include 3 15-mile rides a week. He also recommends looking for organized training rides on the weekends, of which he said are aplenty.

This year will be Orlando resident Andrea Hays’ fourth ride. Unlike Willard she did her first time the right way.

“I took it very seriously,” the 39-year-old said. “I made sure I had a few 60-80 mile rides under my belt. I knew if I could get to that point I could continue on.”

Her biggest concern that first year was how painful it was going to be and whether physically she could handle it.

“I encourage people to ride as a group or pack. When you have the camaraderie it helps with motivation,” she said. “Make sure to agree as a team to what the pace is. No one left behind.”

Hays belongs to the Miracle of Love team. They meet every other week to discuss training routes, share fun ideas and tips, ways they’re fundraising, and make sure they are not double dipping.

“One of things people have to remember this is not a race,” Weinzimer noted while adding that the speeds of the riders usually fall between 12 to 23 miles an hour. “It’s about making a difference.”

He also said there are rest stops every 15 to 20 miles to rest and refuel.

Now and then there are people who do fall behind. And if that happens the Smart Ride crew will pick a rider up and move them forward to help them along the way. No one is allowed to ride after dark so everyone has to be off of the road by dusk.

Many folks, he said, wrongly believe they’re too out shape, not athletic enough, too old etc.

“Our youngest rider was 18 and oldest was 82,” he said.

For those that take the ride seriously and really prepare, it can offer some health benefits such as slimming down, and helping to lower blood pressure.

“It’s a really great way to get in shape,” he said.

The second aspect to the ride that scares people off is fundraising. Each rider has to commit to raising at least $1,250.

Weinzimer said once you put it out there, especially on social media, it’s easy to raise the funds. And if that doesn’t work many people belong to teams who fundraise together.

“It’s amazing how many people want to give to an event like this,” Willard said. “Put a note out there on Facebook and watch how quickly $200, $300, $400 adds up.”

In addition, every rider gets a rider rep, someone who will periodically check in with them to check on their training, fundraising and answer whatever questions or concerns they may have.

Teams will routinely fundraise together so those riders that aren’t adept will be lifted by those who are better at that aspect.

“Most people surprise us. On average $2,200 is raised. It becomes a lot easier when you start asking. Write a letter to everyone you’ve ever known including acquaintances. Let them know you’re doing this. Most people make the goal,” Weinzimer said. “I encourage riders to join teams. You have more of a safety net. As long as the average of the team is $1,250 it counts.”

Even after reading this someone still isn’t sure they can handle the ride, Weinzimer said they’re always looking for volunteers to be a part of the 300-person crew it takes to organize the event. Some of those jobs include: driving the vehicles, bike techs, people to handle the bike parking, medical staff, massage therapists and even cheerleaders.

Riders have told Weinzimer afterwards that cheerleaders have really motivated them to keep going even when they didn’t think they could.

“The crew really do play major roles psychologically and physically,” he said

And for all of the riders, finishing the ride, is a personal triumph – and very emotional.

“It’s exhilarating,” said Hays, who choked up on the phone even talking about it. “My eyes start to tear up just thinking about the impact that we’ve made on the community and the people that are in need.”

Visit TheSmartRide.org for more information.

What to Bring

Required items:

  • Bicycle (mechanically safe and in good working order, make sure to have it inspected for bike fit prior to the ride)
  • Helmet (ASTM, Snell, ANSI or CPSC approved)
  • 2 Water bottles (one filled with an electrolyte replacement drink) OR 1 hydration pack (like a Camelbak), plus a bottle filled with an electrolyte replacement drink.
  • Bike frame pump or CO2 cartridges
  • Patch kit or spare tube that will fit your tire size.
  • Bicycle multi-tool for making adjustments
  • Bike seat bag (to carry multi-tool, tire irons, patch kits, tubes, cell phone, cash/credit card)

Useful, but not mandatory items:

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect Repellant, Hand wipes or hand sanitizer
  • Lip balm w/ sunscreen
  • Band-Aids
  • Bike computer
  • Cycling gloves
  • Sunglasses

Other Items to pack:

  • Variety of riding clothes for 2 days (make sure to be prepared for variable weather)
  • Clothes for evening functions and Key West (shorts, t-shirts, jeans, flip flops, very casual)
  • Swimsuit (yes there is a pool at Hawks Cay)
  • Any prescriptions you need
  • Antacid, ointments, bandages, Ibuprofen
  • Toiletries
  • Earplugs (to drowned out the snoring from your roommate)

Top Fundraisers So Far

Top 10 Riders

  1. Joseph Locke $16,195
  2. Uli Schackmann $4,242
  3. Roland Merchant $3,845
  4. Sandy Blumberg $3,695
  5. Graham Savage $3,151
  6. Albert deAtienza $3,150
  7. Gerry Williamson $2,894
  8. Nick Bell $2,850
  9. Frank Pilewski $2,769
  10. Timothy Uber $2,586

Top 10 Teams

  1. YOLO $22,197
  2. Stamina Gym-STEAM Cycling $12,567
  3. Mile Markers $11,613
  4. Broward House Give A Shift $7,471
  5. CINTORA $7,428
  6. Tampa Bay Area Cyclists $7,340
  7. HE Travel $6,553
  8. Wells Fargo $5,760
  9. Rumors Riders $5,450
  10. WoJo $4,420