Cyclists to travel 100 miles for charity

Cyclists will wind their way through the Columbiana area Saturday on a 100-mile bike ride in an effort to help raise money for the Birmingham Salvation Army Youth Services

The Century of Compassion ride, which will offer rides from 15 to 100 miles long, will begin at 7 a.m. at Columbiana First United Methodist Church. The cost to ride is $44.

In years past, the race has started in Alabaster, but moves to the county seat this year for what event organizers call a better route.

“Columbiana is the heart of Shelby County. It’s a hidden diamond,” said John Tidwell, who works in corporate development for the Salvation Army.

Craig Cecil, a triathlete and coach, volunteers to organize the race and design its route. While he’s rarely been able to bike the course, he said he spends hours driving through county roads each winter to plan a new route.

“I’ve seen a lot of good roads,” Cecil said. “The longer routes have a lot of long rolling hills in them but beautiful countryside and good pavement. We’ve always loved that out here.”

The race originated five years ago to mark the 100th anniversary of the Salvation Army’s involvement with giving back to youth. One of the reasons the race has continued is because of the support from cyclists.

“We love cyclist. They’ve got big hearts and they ride with purpose. They understand charity and they understand the Salvation Army’s mission,” Tidwell said.

Cecil admits he was not too aware of the Salvation Army when he started with the race five years ago, but now focuses heavily on volunteering with the group.

“The reason I started the ride was to help increase awareness to a rather wealthy, educated cliental that maybe isn’t in their giving years yet,” Cecil said.

The race has increased donor dollars from riders, but also raised money from entry fees, as 100 percent of the registration fee goes to youth services, according to Cecil.

“It’s been a win-win situation all the way around,” he said.

Cecil said the ride averages around 130 local cyclists, but he has also fielded calls from Georgia and Northeast Alabama this year as interest is growing about the ride through Columbiana.

“People really enjoy getting to see that area of the county,” Cecil said. “Also, with the 100 mile route, they’re willing to drive that far for a ride. The reputation of the ride is getting better and better.”

In addition to the 25-, 50-, 75- and 100-mile rides, there will be a 15-mile beginner bike ride, which is to Beeswax Park and back, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Parents can also sign up their young children for a kids ride at 11 a.m. Registration for the ride is at 10 a.m. The kids ride will be a police escorted ride around Main Street.

All participants in the rides are required to wear a helmet.

For more information on the ride, or to view ride routes, visit BirminghamSalvationArmy.org.