Lets compare a couple of area bike rides. There’s the Beautiful Southern Ride (BSR), which I did yesterday and the Tour de Corn (TdC), which is held in June every year. The Beautiful Southern Ride has been run for around the same amount of years, but they are both pretty much the same thing. Family fun charity rides with 30/60/100 mile routes. The big difference between the two rides is that the Tour de Corn has become one of the most popular rides in the Midwest drawing crowds of riders and over a thousand official sign ups, while the Beautiful Southern Ride barely has around a hundred rides and you’re likely to see 5 of them on the ride.
So lets start with the terrain. The BSR is held in Carbondale IL and quickly heads north in the Shawnee National Forest and begins following the wine trail as it snakes around scenic backroads. It goes through some small towns, forests, orchards, vineyards, and eventually makes its way to Makanda and Giant City State Park which are really beautiful areas and some of my favorite riding anywhere. There was around 5000 feet of climbing on the ride, and almost zero straight or flat roads. It’s rolling hills, broken up by the occasional 300 feet climb. A very fun and awesome course.
Now Tour de Corn couldn’t more opposite. It starts in East Prairie Missouri, which is akin to the middle of nowhere and it rides through a bunch of corn fields for 60 miles. There is not a hill in sight, there’s really nothing in sight other than cornfields. You go through one nice small town and then BOOM, more cornfields. The only hill is the interstate overpass. You can ride for long stretches at a time without even looking at the road. It’s not a real exciting course unless you like cornfields.
The BSR takes place in early April, its often, some combination of cold, wet and windy. This year the weather was nice, cool, but not cold, light wind, and dry.
The TdC takes place in June, the weather is almost always perfect, though the flat terrain can lead to some killer headwinds.
Next lets talk about the start. The Beautiful Southern Ride doesn’t have a mass start, you can begin anytime between 7 and 9 AM, they only ask you to plan to be finish by 4PM. You could very easily do this ride and never see another rider, with a two hour window, and 100 riders on the course, you might as well just go ride by yourself.
Thirteen years ago a friend named Mike who used to come over from East Prairie MO. and ride with Snake and me in the Shawnee Hills decided to put together a charity ride for his tiny town. He asked Snake, who was really into doing these Charity tours, “what makes a good charity tour,” and Snake replied, “A mass start, like a parade for the first mile, make it seem like a big deal.” And so Mike did just that. The Tour de Corn starts with a mass start on the street, the national anthem, local guest stars, and then a grand marshall who leads out the ride for the first half mile. It makes it seem like a real big deal.
The BSR had two sag stops and they were pretty weak stops, The first year that I had done the ride there was practically nothing at the stops, this year they had some bags of snack mix, granola bars, bananas and water, so a big improvement. But at one stop 4 of us arrived to see one single banana on a table, it was a tense situation! Seriously you could buy like 200 bananas for the price of a single entry. A lady did some excellent cookies and some bananas were brought in right about when we left so you can’t say there weren’t trying. And they were very friendly.
The Tour de Corn, has legendary sag stops, and far more then most rides have. They have all kinds of snacks, food, and so much you don’t have to worry about taking food from another riders mouth. They have music at some of the stops, and of course the legendary corn on the cob.
The BSR only charges 15 dollars per entry, that’s pretty much the lowest price for a bike tour you’re going to find anywhere.
Tour de Corn charges 20 dollars for an early entry and 25 on the day of the ride. That’s a great deal for all they offer.
The BSR offers absolutely nothing other then a course map. No T-shirt, no stickers, no nothing. Not really a big deal to me since I don’t need anymore ride shirts.
The TdC offers a swag bag with all manner of little gifts. Stickers, booklets, maybe even a letter opener. They have both a jersey and T-shirt you can buy. The T-shirt features the work of a local artist and is always very nice looking.
So what kind of conclusions can we draw from this. There are many reasons why Tour de Corn has grown ten times larger and the Beautiful Southern has not grown at all. When people go to rides they want to feel as if they are really doing something. The first TdC had about a 100 riders, the next year it was closer to 200. It just keeps getting bigger. Lets face it, many of the people that do these rides don’t want to go out and struggle up hills all day, they prefer the flat and deserted cornfields of the Missouri Bootheel, but there are people out there who are looking for a challenge.
There were a group of three guys who had drove all day Friday from Northern Indiana because they wanted to ride in challenging hills. There are people who want a challenge. My advice for the Beautiful Southern Ride is to change the format to something like a Grand Fondo. Have an official start time and have all riders record their finishing time then publish the results. Quit skimping on the food, buy some more cookies, sit the stuff out. if you buy to much take it home. Make up some stupid names for some of the hills and talk all year about them. Who can handle the Hickory Ridge Hammering, the Makanda Meltdown! Hell, change the name to the Hickory Ridge Massacre.
Hmm… Maybe that’s not the vibe they are going for, either way the mass start and the stops would go a long way to improving the ride.