A Champion of Charities / Riding for a cause with the Central South Island Charity Bike Ride
The Central South Island Charity Bike Ride has raised and distributed nearly $2 million to 40 community groups since its inception in 2005.
South Canterbury Hospice, Cystic Fibrosis NZ, Arthritis SC, St John NZ, Epilepsy SC, Heart Kids SC, Riding for the Disabled, Plunket, YMCA, Multiple Sclerosis SC, Ostomy Society, Timaru Senior Citizens. How all these disparate organisations are linked is not immediately obvious, aside from all being charities of course, until you learn the whole lot are recipients of generous donations raised through the pedal power of volunteers who brave the annual Central South Island Charity Bike Ride.
The ride, the brainchild of Phil Laurie and Morrell McFetrich, came about after the two men had completed a similar event in Australia. The New Zealand version, like many good ideas, came to fruition while chatting with a couple of mates in a small rural pub. The blokes realised that there was nothing stopping them from starting such an event in South Canterbury. So, with a lot of enthusiasm and determination, the first Central South Island Charity Bike Ride took place in 2005; 56 riders took part and a whopping
$ 27, 200 was raised for Epilepsy South Canterbury. With such an encouraging start the small team were determined to make it an annual event.
Fast-forward to 2019 and Shane Brookland, past committee chair and elected spokesman for this interview, proudly speaks of the bike ride’s 15-year history and the dedication of the committee that organise and run the event, not to mention the pride in the participants who complete the 380 km ride. Shane emphasises that it is very much a team effort to organise and run the event. Everyone gives as they are able and are completely engaged with the desire to see money raised for the small local charities. While South Canterbury Hospice is an annual beneficiary, the other recipients of funding are chosen by the committee through an application process. The decisions are made on merit with no guarantee that any group is successful for more than two years consecutively. With the ride raising around $ 150,000 each year, Shane has good reason to be proud of their efforts.
While everyone involved has a lot of fun doing it, the real reward is in supporting ‘these charities doing the real heavy lifting in the community’.
Shane is quick to stress that the bike ride is not just for elite cyclists; it is open to anyone willing to put in the effort to do the training and ready to enjoy three days of cycling through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery. Inclusivity is central to their ethos; amongst the participants there may be someone who is sight-impaired or someone who has MS. Every support is given to ensure all cyclists complete the course – experienced riders may take on the hard work out in front of their pack to shield the less-experienced riders, or cyclists may get an early morning opportunity to complete the route they were unable to finish the day before. The age range of cyclists completing the course starts as young as 14 and goes through to the grand age of 80.
It is a ‘no idiots allowed’ environment. With upwards of 120 cyclists on the road at any one time there is no room for nonsense. With health and safety an imperative, nothing is left to chance; the ride is run with military precision. Before riders even hit the road, every bike and helmet is checked by staff at The Cyclery in Timaru, and if there is an incident on the road, bikes and helmets must once again be signed off. Fulton Hogan completes a full traffic management plan, and it ’s not without its complexity. The ride, beginning and finishing in Timaru, negotiates its way along State Highway 1, 8, and 83, passing Lake Tekapo, Pukaki and Ruataniwha as well as the Waitaki Valley lakes and crosses through Timaru, Mackenzie, Waimate, and Waitaki Districts. Riders are grouped into six appropriate speed and ability related bunches. A timed schedule is laid out, and each group sets off with an appropriate gap between them. The groups have two team leaders, experienced cyclists able to control the bunch; a lead vehicle; a tail vehicle; and a long tail vehicle, warning traffic they are about to come across cyclists. All groups can communicate with each other via high-powered radios. In all there are 22 vehicles on the road accompanying the cyclists, including an overall traffic coordinator and a medic.
One of the joys of the bike ride is the whānau environment created by this mass of people all sharing the same focus. As Shane explains, ‘There’s sort of this year-long friendship with people that you don’t know that well, but when you’re on that ride they’re as close as family. Anyone will
The age range of cyclists completing the course starts as young as 14 and goes through to the grand age of 80.
do anything for anyone; we’ll fix bikes, strip gear, whatever to make it happen for those three days. So, there’s a bond that forms amongst all these people. There’s no doubt about it – it’s unlike anything I’ve done…’
The bonds are strengthened through evening activities at their nightly accommodation. At the first night’s accommodation at Tekapo Army Base there’s a dance for those with the requisite energy, while skits on the second night in Kurow are a good-humoured, fun way to unwind after a long day on a bike. At the end of the ride there is a celebration which includes a talk by one of the charities receiving funding. It is a reminder to all just what the bike ride is all about. Shane still remembers the powerfulness of hearing a woman share a ‘day in the life of a 12-year-old with multiple sclerosis’. Such was the impact that he kicked himself for not raising more money. The bike ride has since held top spot on his calendar for 11 years. There are others too that have responded in a similar way, with many riders returning year after year.
Everyone who signs up for the ride, whether cyclist or support crew, pays their way. This covers all the running expenses for the event which means that 100 per cent of donations goes to the chosen charities. On top of this payment each cyclist must raise a minimum of $ 500 to be donated and it’s here the ride elicits an incredible outpouring from the general community and South Canterbury businesses. Shane is quick to add, ‘It’s not just money, we steal vehicles and all sorts of things – we ask for a lot – but we do it shamelessly because the reality is that we give the whole lot away.’ The offshoot of the ride may be increased fitness, camaraderie and a whole lot of fun, but always foremost in the minds of those involved is the dramatic impact that their efforts can have on those in need in the community.
ABOVE / The fluorescent jackets, with sponsors' names emblazoned on them, ensure cyclists are not only seen when on the road but act as advertisement for the event when proudly worn by cyclists any time they are on the road.
LEFT / The scenery the cyclists enjoy as they pedal the 380 km is undeniably some of the best in the country. OPPOSITE / The recipients of funding in 2020 are Hospice South Canterbury, Pinc & Steel, Life Education SC, Multiple Sclerosis SC, YMCA, Plunket, Hearing Association and Cystic Fibrosis NZ.