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Big Wheels, Big Heart:
Pedaling Toward a Better World

or, No Fair Riding Slower Just to Get a Better View

by Heather Hewett

Have you ever thought, even just for a moment, that you might like to end the routine of kickboxing classes and yoga with a real challenge? Say, something as impressive as a marathon or a cross-country bike trip? Before you banish that daydream, would you do it to raise money for a good cause? And if that's not enough incentive, would you do it to meet people and find romance?

Countless groups organize athletic events that will challenge your body and let you to raise money for your cause of choice. You've probably seen brochures for the Avon 3-Day Walk or the American Cancer Association Walks. If you want something on wheels, there's the 150-mile MS Bike Tour and, for the truly brave, the American Lung Association's Big Ride Across America.

But if you're looking for the best combination of physical challenge and social interaction, nothing can beat the AIDSRide. There are five AIDSRides in the continental U.S., plus the AIDS Vaccine Ride in Alaska and the Paradise Ride in Hawaii. This event brings together people who have committed themselves to biking a crazy distance in order to raise money for the treatment and cure of AIDS. This means that the people you'll meet will be have both a social conscience... and killer thighs. It's the perfect opportunity to conduct a surreptitious search for romance.

It's Almost as Easy as Riding a Bike

You don't have to be a biking demon to do an AIDSRide. Plenty of novice bikers (including famous people) have signed up. You do need to be able to commit some of your weekend to long training rides, but that's not a bad thing. They're organized by ride leaders, and there's a level for everyone, from absolute beginners to advanced riders.

Tale of Two-Wheeled Romance Number One
On one of the last training rides before the Boston to New York AIDSRide, Chris spotted Susi in Piermont, NY. After the AIDSRide, they started dating and got married in Piermont. Some of their wedding guests biked the 25 miles to Piermont from Manhattan.

Without the AIDSRide, Susi doubts that they would have started dating. "For the first time since I was younger, I had the excitement and the freedom of training on the open road. I was so confident," says Susi. "It was the best summer of my life."

Adventures in the Outback

One of the best things about doing a big event like the AIDSRide is that you'll find new geographical horizons. There's nothing like leaving your own stomping grounds for meeting new people and there's nothing like an AIDSRide for providing you with the motivation to do it. Recently, my training schedule propelled me off of Manhattan and across the George Washington Bridge. All of a sudden the entire Hudson Valley was mine to explore.

You've never checked out those surfers in Cali? Sign up for the California AIDSRide and you'll see practically the whole darn state, from San Francisco to L.A. Want to meet someone with a Southern drawl? Sign up for the DC ride and look for your Rhett Butler or Scarlett O'Hara on wheels.

Meet Some Bikers... of the Non-Harley Variety

AIDSRiders come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and orientations. Because the Ride draws from a wide selection of the population, you'll have your pick: straight, gay, bi, bleeding heart liberal, Log Cabin Republicans. There are athletes, non-athletes, and converted couch potatoes.

But all AIDSRiders tend to be open to challenges and new experiences. Generally, everyone is friendly, outgoing, and energetic. If not, the collective energy inspires everyone in this direction. The sense of making good on a hugely enormous commitment (biking several hundred miles for several days, depending on which ride you do) brings people together very quickly. And the bonding potential is out of sight.

Here are several strategies to help you meet people during training and during the Ride itself.

Fundraising: Don't be scared off by raising money. In fact, the fundraising is a great way to meet new people. It's also an excuse, if you need one, to get back in touch with friends or exes. Your noble purpose is sure to impress, and quite a few people will want to get back in touch with you. Even that old college flame who dumped you will look on with awe.

Social events: The entire AIDSRide is a singles scene in disguise. All of a sudden, your empty calendar is full. You're going to parties with free food and drink (Tanqueray gin, what else?) and freely exchanging telephone numbers and email addresses with other single riders. You're dropping by ice cream socials where you can kvetch with other bikers about the cars driving in the bike lane. You're attending evening seminars on how to change a tire, in which you'll be able to check out the local bike shop's biker babes and studs. You're going to picnics that put your company barbecue to shame. Friendly strangers actually want to meet you! And it's all for a great cause.

During the Twin Cities to Chicago Ride, a friend of mine participated in an evening of matchmaking where people filled out forms that specified their gender and the gender of the person they were seeking. "The choices were endless: straight female, bi female, straight male, bi male, transgendered female, transgendered male, lesbian and gay male," she says. "I was overwhelmed by the possibilities."

Sport your new bike gear: Ever wonder why bikers wear those crazy, skin-tight outfits? It's because they have great bods. And you, too, will be able to wear your new, sexy clothes with attitude. Although you could buy most of your gear online, the Big To Do suggests that you go try it on in person. The social potential is much greater in three-dimensions. Plus, you'll make friends at your local bike store, which leads us to...

New places and a new attitude: Sign up for the AIDSRide and suddenly you'll be going places you've never gone to before. It turns out that bike shops are great places to meet other newly enthusiastic bikers, not to mention the very cute bike mechanics who will fix your flat. You'll learn how to talk about your recently acquired gear like a pro, and strangers will start asking you for your opinion on this year's Tour de France. Your newly developed self-confidence (and killer biker thighs) will enable you to stop that cutie on the subway who's reading Lance Armstrong's biography, "It's Not About the Bike." (You have to raise money, after all, right?)

On the Road: Every weekend, you'll have countless training rides to choose from. There are beginner training rides where no one else has been a bike since second grade either. And on these rides, the best way to stop thinking about the pain in your quads is to talk to the person next to you.

You'll be surprised by how easy it is to start conversations and how much there is to talk about: road conditions, when you're stopping for lunch, what your butt is feeling like. And unlike, say, the bar scene, the pressure is off. An open road and the whole day in front of you provide a ripe setting for extended philosophical meditations. Whether or not you find your soul mate, you'll have fun in the process.

Next: Finding a Tent Mate, More Tales of Two-Wheeled Romance

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