It's been now six weeks that my friend Steven started teaching a spinning class at 7p at the Brannan Gold's gym here in San Francisco. The unusual thing: it's his way of getting to his pledge for the yearly AIDS Lifecycle Ride (ALC).
If you don't know, the ALC is a charity ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, just like the more famour AIDS Ride. The latter has gotten a bad reputation for mismanagement of funds, so there has been an effort to create a ride where as much of the funds goes to AIDS research as possible: ALC.
Every year, a big contingent leaves San Francisco in June to ride to L.A. It's a grueling ride (545 miles), mostly performed by people that don't really spend a lot of time on their bikes, for whom the ride is as much of a challenge as the fundraising before.
Indeed, riders pledge both to make the 545 miles and to raise a certain amount of money they will donate to AIDS research. The idea is that governments are not spending enough money on AIDS research and prevention, and that private donations are needed. By combining a personal commitment with fund raising efforts, the organizers know the participants will be able to finagle money out of people and institutions that usually wouldn't be willing to pay for AIDS services.
It works. Many riders work for companies that help in the effort; friends, family, and colleagues are spurred by the details of the ride and willingly help with the pledge. And the riders, of course, enjoy the cameraderie of a ride in which the good of the people is the winner, not the personal achievement of the single person.
I have never gone to a ride, citing lack of a ability to leave for a full week at work. The truth is that the whole thing sounds more like a giant party to me than like a serious effort, and I fear I would be bored after the first 100 miles. At the same time, I love seeing a bunch of people that never work out show up regularly to classes, rides, and workout sessions come March. Everybody is really trying hard, making the effort to go and make the whole stretch.
So this particular spinning class – one that happens on Tuesdays and Thursdays – has totally different energy than your usual spinning class. There is nothing of the usual focus on competitive cyclists; the atmosphere is relaxed, even joyous, and we laugh all the time. In the spirit of the ride, the spinner that lags the most is the one that gets the most cheers, because it's all about how much you committed, not how much you achieved.
It's a little like having the Spirit of Christmas show up in June. Exciting!