Pedal power

How to gear up for the epic BP MS 150 bike ride from Houston to Austin

How to gear up for the epic BP MS 150 bike ride from Houston to Austin

BP MS 150 girls posing
As Ken Hoffman notes, half the fun of the BP MS150 is off-bike. Courtesy photo
BP MS finish line
Uncomfortable seats, uncomfortable views — it's all worth it when you cross the finish line.  Courtesy photo
BP MS starting line
Folks pack the starting line, ready to brave the Houston-to-Austin trek. Courtesy photo
BP MS 150 girls posing
BP MS finish line
BP MS starting line

Again this April, I will jump on my trusty, rusty old bicycle and pedal from Houston to Austin in the BP MS 150, the biggest and most successful weekend charity ride in the world. Yeah, the world.

This year is going to be different, though. I'm actually going to train — for real — so I don't wake up crying with leg cramps the next week. (Ever get those? Man, they hurt.) The BP MS 150 is an amazing fundraising event. And it's fun — don't leave that out.

Over two days, April 28-29, 13,000 riders, all shapes, sizes, and ages — from all across Texas — will form a two-wheel conga line from Houston to the state capital, raising money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. I said it's big and successful, right? Like $253 million since 1985 and counting. They're counting on $14 million more this year. It costs $120 to ride, and you have to promise to raise at least $400 in donations. 

My first BP MS 150 was in 1998. One of my former editors at the Houston Chronicle asked (ordered) me to write about the long-distance ride. Maxine Mesinger, the Chronicle's grand dame of Houston society back then, had Multiple Sclerosis, and the bosses liked her a lot more than they liked me. I said, "Sure, I'll do a column about the ride. In fact, I'll do the ride. I have a bike. How hard could it be?"

I pulled my bike out of the back of my garage. The tires were completely flat — that's how long it had been since I rode it. I showed up at the starting gate wearing shorts, a T-shirt, and sneakers. I was not properly dressed. I didn't know there was bicycle couture. Practically everybody had on Spandex shorts, skintight bicycle shirts, and special clickety-clack shoes that lock into pedals on expensive bikes.

That outfit probably makes aerodynamic sense, but come on, fellas. No one needs to look at that.

I did the entire ride, from Houston to La Grange on Saturday, and La Grange to Austin on Sunday ... on a bike with no gears. I even did the long route, over torturous hills in Bastrop State Park. Some of those hills were like riding a bike straight up a wall. I didn't know there was an alternate route around the park. Now I know. I've never been back in that park.

There are three starting points on Saturday, and two routes on Sunday, so the ride can be as short as 121 miles, or as long as 165 miles. Which route do I take? Hey, I invented 121 miles. 

Lunch on Saturday is at a school in Bellville. I tried that once. Then, I discovered that if you ride a couple of blocks past the school, there's a Dairy Queen, a bakery, and the Bellville Meat Market which makes really good sandwiches. My Sunday lunch spot is the Roadhouse in Bastrop. Their chocolate shakes are double fudgy. You can patch pot holes with them.

Saturday night, most of the riders sleep in tents at the Fayetteville County Fairgrounds. Not me. I'm a delicate flower. My friends and I stay in a motel in La Grange. It's not exactly the Four Seasons, but it has a TV, air conditioning, and a bathroom with a door and a lock. (I like my privacy.) One year, we must have gotten the honeymoon suite, because there was a large hot tub in the middle of the room. (That's odd.) Another year, I was in the shower and noticed a cigarette burn mark on the edge of the tub. (That's classy.) 

How difficult is it to ride the BP MS 150? Very difficult ... or really kind of easy. You don't have to be whippet-thin or have legs like pistons. I can't run around the block, but I can pedal a bicycle to Austin. Mind you, I don't set any speed records. I ride between 12 to 15 mph, depending on whether the wind is my face or at my back. I prefer at my back. I've been passed by children, women on roller skates, a man in a tuxedo on a unicycle, guys dragging wagons with loudspeakers, and one guy pulling a mini-refrigerator on wheels.

Making the finish line depends more on whether your rear end is used to rubbing on a bike seat for hours at a time. If you try to do it cold, like I did the first time, your butt will scream bloody murder. Bike seats can unleash excruciating pain, especially on guys. There’s a vein "down there" that gets crushed and sore. You can do some real damage if you ride on the wrong bike seat or a bike seat that's tilted too high or doesn't fit right. I once called a friend who owned a bike shop and asked, “Is there a bike seat that doesn't hurt, or destroy any chance of there being a Hoffy Jr.?" He said, “Here’s what you do. Get a bunch of sandwich-size baggies, fill them with mango Jell-O, and stick them in your shorts. But it has to be mango, other flavors don’t work.”

Seriously? “No, I’m kidding. There is no such thing as a comfortable bike seat. The only way it won’t hurt is if you ride a hundred miles a week and you develop ‘Bike Butt,’ which only means you've become conditioned or numb in that area." Nobody wants that. I embarked on a search for a painless bike seat. I tried seats with inflatable air pockets, seats with soft implants (calling Dr. Rose), seats covered in gel pads, seats without that phallic part in front, seats with holes in the middle for ... you know. Nothing worked. I just endured the long ride and walked like Fred Sanford for a couple of days.

Then I heard about the "Green Carbon Comfort Bike Seat" from RideOut Technologies. It looks a little weird, but it’s "optimized for commuting and hybrid bikes, great for distance touring as well." My bike is a hybrid with upright handlebars, like Mary Poppins' or Pee-Wee Herman's bicycle. It's nothing fancy, way too heavy, and costs about $200. The only adjustment I make for the BP MS 150 is having a bike shop put on skinny tires. I’ve been bouncing my butt on the "Green Carbon" seat for a few weeks ... painlessly. (And yay for no numbness!) It’s available, $85, at rideouttech.com. If it doesn't work for you, or you don't like it, you can send it back.

So you won't be surprised, here's an after-effect of the BP MS 150. Pedaling to Austin builds up your appetite. I can't get my head out of the refrigerator when I get home Sunday night. I remember asking John Lopez, then a sports columnist, now a sports radio host, “I can’t stop eating. Is this normal?” He said, “I’m eating. I’ll call you when I’m done, maybe around Thursday.”

Yeah, it's normal. 

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Sign up for the BP MS 150 here. CultureMap's sister radio station, ESPN 97.5, is the sports media partner of the BP MS 150.