Culture

How to stage your own cycling challenge for charity

Ed Veal is an expert at completing superhuman cycling challenges that also raise cash for good causes. Veal provides a playbook for how you can tackle a challenge for charity.

Ed Veal was 20 hours into his Zwift ride when he stepped off of his stationary bicycle, went upstairs for a bathroom break, and then climbed into the shower. Veal knew that a quick splash of water would help wake him up and perhaps lift his spirits for the final four-hour push to the finish.

Suddenly, Veal began to cry.

“I was so cracked that I was getting really emotional — I didn’t want to let anybody down,” Veal told VeloNews. “I knew that I was either going to get under the blankets of the bed and quit or go back and get on my bike. It [expletive] sucked.”

In the end Veal fought back the urge to quit, and climbed back onto his bicycle and continued his ride. By the time he hit the 24-hour mark he had logged 993.7 kilometers (617 miles), a distance that shattered his previous personal best of 952 kilometers.

Veal completed his latest challenge from his living room. Photo: Amanda DeMelo

Veal was participating in the Crush COVID 24, a fundraising effort organized by the Toronto Hustle team to raise cash for frontline medical workers. The 24-hour challenge saw several riders pedal continuously for 24 hours on Zwift, and their efforts raised more than $200,000 CAD for charity.

The Crush COVID 24 is the latest in a long list of ultra-cycling challenges and strange indoor riding stunts that have been used to generate awareness and raise cash for noble purposes during the coronavirus shutdown. Every few days, it seems, another pro cyclist completes an Everesting challenge to raise cash for charity, or another passionate amateur logs some enormous ride on Zwift. We’ve chronicled a few of these challenges here on velonews.com, such as Bo Jackson’s charity Zwift ride, and the bizarre story of Callum Townsend, the British rider who rode 24 hours on Zwift on a whim.

Veal raised $30,000 for a local velodrome by riding for 24 hours. Photo: Amanda DeMelo

We here at VeloNews applaud all of these riders and their superhuman cycling efforts to raise cash for good causes.

The Crush COVID 24 was not Veal’s first rodeo with such a stunt — the Canadian track pro is something of a veteran when it comes to pedaling great distances and enduring the pain that comes with it in the name of charity. Back in October Veal pedaled 24 continuous hours on Zwift in Las Vegas and raised $20,000 for People For Bikes. Prior to that he rode laps around Ontario’s Forest City Velodrome for 24 hours as a way to raise funds for the track. His effort brought in $60,000 to help fund the indoor cycling track.

“I like stunts. I view a lot of what I do as entertainment,” said Veal, who also owns Canada’s hour distance record. “I want to entertain the crowd. I want people to go home with a buzz.”

Veal’s first cycling charity challenge was in 2019 when he rode 500 straight kilometers on Zwift to raise money to buy a pair of reading glasses for one of his wife’s students. Like Townsend, Veal came up with the challenge on a whim, and then published the challenge and his charity on social media. During the course of his ride he continued to push out his message. By the end of the 500 kilometers he had raised more than enough to purchase a pair of reading glasses.

“I went on Instagram and told people to sponsor me a few cents per kilometer and I called it the ‘Stay Alive 505,'” Veal said. “We brought in enough for the glasses and also to donate to a kids camp to buy lunches.”

Launching a cycling fundraising challenge is surprisingly easy, and we asked Veal for advice for any riders who may want to attempt their own challenges in the name of charity. Here is his playbook:

Choose the right charity

Veal worked with People For Bikes during his 2019 24-hour Zwift challenge. Photo: Amanda DeMelo

The most important component of a charity challenge is to choose a fund or movement that you have an emotional connection to, since that connection is what will, at some point, motivate you to complete your challenge. Plus, your audience may balk at donating if they feel that your connection to a group is too flimsy.

“My first charity ride was to ride all night for sight — my grandma lost her sight and it had a big impact on me,” Veal said. “Pick something you’re passionate about. If you can be open and honest with people about the way that something makes you feel, they will see that it’s genuine. If you’re doing the stunt for some other motive, or you’re just doing something for yourself, people can see through that.”

Facebook and Instagram are your friends

Building a donation page is easy, with sites like Gofundme, Crowdrise, Bonfire, and Fundly offering easy ways to accept payments. Broadcasting that site and your challenge to an audience presents a bigger hurdle. Veal recommends using Facebook as the best way to initially broadcast your challenge. Then, Instagram stories from your challenge keep people updated on your progress.

Don’t take yourself too seriously

Veal says the key to finishing a challenge is your attitude. Photo: Amanda DeMelo

The fear of not hitting specific benchmarks along the way can create stress that ultimately leads to quitting. Thus, Veal said it’s best to embark on a charity challenge with a lighthearted attitude of “whatever happens happens.” Choose a challenge around a specific time or distance, rather than hitting a specific distance in an allotted time. Sometimes it’s the impromptu challenges like Townsend’s that actually work, rather than a challenge that someone has been planning for weeks or months.

“I don’t take myself too seriously and I don’t overthink it,” Veal said. “You start worrying about whether or not you’re on the right pace and you can get too worked up about the failure part.”

Don’t do it alone

Veal’s 2019 Zwift 24-hour challenge included a team of other riders. Photo: Amanda DeMelo

Veal has always had help in his challenges, either from friends or his girlfriend. During his recent COVID Crush effort his girlfriend made him meals to fuel his ride. Veal said it’s also best to study your riding position and to come up with the most comfortable way to ride.

“Switch up your hand position a lot,” Veal said. “And push a low cadence. That’s how you save your butt in the saddle.”

Do you have a story of a cycling community finding a creative way to ride during the shutdown? Email us at webletters@velonews.com