MS Bike Tour
The purpose of the rides is to raise money for the multiple sclerosis research done by the National MS Society. In the United States the rides are badged 'MS 150' and typically take place over the course of two days and, as the name implies, are generally around 150 miles long. There are also other shorter, 1-day rides. The rides generally leave from and arrive at large cities in order to be accessible to the most people. The rides vary greatly in the number of participants. One ride, from Houston to Austin, has been capped at 13,000 riders in 2006 to prevent overcrowding. In Australia, the ride is called 'Sydney to the Gong', referring to the city Wollongong, 90km south of Sydney.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). The myelin, whose function is to surround and protect the nerve fibers of the CNS, deteriorates leaving lesions called sclerosis. It has a wide range of symptoms that can come and go “including vision lost, paralysis, numbness, and walking difficulties’” (National Multiple Society, 2006). These unpredictable symptoms make it hard for doctors to diagnose the disease. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society began in 1946 to help fight against MS. The foundation “supports more MS research, offers more services for people with MS, provides more professional education programs, and furthers more MS advocacy efforts than any other MS organization in the world”. In its effort to accomplish its goals each year the foundation holds multiple events for the general public to participate in and support the fight against MS.
The MS Bike Tours are one of the more recent events that the organization has supported. The tour began about 22 years ago in certain select cities. The tour has been one of the largest funding raising events for the MS Society. Today these tours occur in 48 states and there are several held in Canada.
The length of the tour varies depending on the individual event. They can be as short as 30 miles, or as long as 180 miles. People can participate by riding, volunteering their time, or pledging money. The event aims to pull the whole community together by gathering support from local businesses, elected officials, residents, and local MS sufferers. Each event is usually a very successful fund-raiser, with 75 percent of the money raised going towards research.
Around 48 state chapters support this event yearly. Last year over 100,000 participants raised $67 million dollars for the organization. Canada had over 10,000 participants who raised $7.1 million dollars. Each year the tour grows in number, as it becomes more and more well known. Currently there are over a 100 tours that run from April to November. Each tour is unique and different with many advantages for participating in the event.
The society gives the event a lot of free rein in what each individual chapter chooses to support. This creates a huge appeal to organizers all over. Each chapter focuses on what the community can support and participate in. This allows for the most efficient fund rising. Chapters decide the length, the date, and the location.
The largest bike tour is the Lone Star Chapter of Texas. “To date, the Lone Star Chapter's MS 150 Bike Tours have raised over $47 million,” for the National Multiple Society (InsideMS, 2005). The chapter hosts three two-day events starting with the BP MS 150 riding in April. The ride is a two-day event starting in Houston and finishing in Austin. It is the largest North American tour of it kind today, as well as the “largest non-profit sporting event in Texas” (Lone Star Chapter, 2006). The next event is the Sam’s Club MS 150 tour riding in May. It runs from Frisco to Fort Worth. Then in October is the Valero MS 150, which riders from San Antonio to Corpus Christi. The chapter hits the major cities to draw in more support from the media and public.
A yearly event, with 2 distance options available. One options is St Peters in Sydney Park to Stuart Park, Wollongong, a 90km ride. The other option is a shorter 56km ride from Heathcote High School, Heathcote to Stuart Park, Wollongong. In 2007, the event was held on the 4th November. 
100,000 riders participated in 2006, raising $67 million in the fight against MS. 
The rider undertakes the biggest challenge of all, enduring the pain and pleasure of benefiting the fight against MS. Riders range from as young as “6 years old to 82 years old”. Most riders choose the traditional street-racing bikes that are sold at local bike shops. Others prefer tandem or recumbent bicycles, while others use hand operated cycles, and even unicycles. Any bike can be used as long as it does not cause any immediate danger to the rider or the other participants. Depending on the terrain, certain bicycle types can perform better than others.
Rider safety is the top priority in these rides. Each tour has to comply with all of the National MS Society safety guidelines. The chapters also must obey all state and local laws. Every tour secures all roads and trails for the bikers before the event. Some rules, if broken, can be cause for immediate removal from the event. Helmets are a requirement for riders, as they can prevent head injuries in the case of an accident.
During the event, police and volunteers set up along the route with HAM Radios and safety kits to help riders that are in need of assistance. At regularly spaced rest stops, there are minor medical services, refreshments, technical support personnel and bathrooms for riders in need.
A rider pledges to raise a certain minimum amount of money by the tour date to participate. For each chapter the pledges are different, the lowest coming in at $125 (Tappan Zee Bike Tour) and the highest being $350 (BP MS 150). To encourage riders to reach high amounts of fund raising, some chapters have 300 or 150 clubs for the riders who raise the most money.
To help promote awareness and understanding of the disease the National Multiple Sclerosis Society recently started a new program for riders. The program called Champions Against MS teams up riders and locals with Multiple Sclerosis. The riders receive bandanas signed by their "buddy", to display their support for them. “This connection fosters education, awareness, gratitude, and most importantly, hope, through the symbol of the bright red bandana.”
Most events require as many riders as volunteers. Volunteers help promote and excite the public about finding the cure. Volunteers help setup the whole event. They get there before everyone else and leave after everyone else. Volunteers complete a wide range of jobs throughout the events. There are the typical odd jobs including setup, trash, take down, clean up, and check in, but any service are welcomed and needed for the events to run smoothly. Some unusual positions are team cook, masseuse, and bike rack attendant.
Most tours also use volunteer services to provide for the safety and comfort of the riders while on the course. This includes SAG (support and gear) for riders who are weary or are having technical difficulties with equipment, off-duty medical personnel who volunteer to provide minor medical attention and/or evaluation of major medical issues, off-duty law enforcement officials in local municipalities to provide traffic control, and motorcycle riders who patrol the route - offering encouragement, minor technical assistance, "first responder" duties in accidents.
Some tours also solicit HAM radio operators to provide a communications network between rest stops, and on the route as a whole. HAM radios operate at a greater distance than CB radio, and provides a "party line" so general announcements can be made over the air, instead of having to call each and every volunteer on a cellular telephone.
The most important job for the volunteer is not only completing there tasks but to motivate and support all the riders. Volunteers are known for being loud energetic people. Some dress up for the event with unusual clothing, wigs and things, and others wear loud noisemakers, bells and whistles. Even some riders wear the unthinkable. These normally obnoxious items provide support for the rider and encouragement to complete the race. At every stop and on some stretches of road volunteers lend a helping hand to the riders and give them a boost in energy.
Over the years, many influential people have worked at the MS Bike tours.
Country singer Clay Walker was diagnosed with MS in 1996. His disease has progressed slowly allowing him to continue to enjoy a normal life. Since his diagnosis, he has chosen “to focus on getting the most out of everything he still has.” A Houston native, he attends the annual BP MS 150 and encourages other suffers that even with MS anything can be accomplished. 
Texas Governor Richard Perry and Houston Mayor Bill White both rode in the Texas BP MS 150 in 2004. White rode from the beginning at Tully Stadium to the end in Austin, while Perry rode the last 10 miles of the ride into Austin.
National talk show host Montel Williams supports the tour as well. Montel also suffers from the disease and in 1999 he revealed his battle with the disease to the public. Since then, he has founded his own MS bike tour in New York. The tour is a 20-mile ride open to all people in Sag Harbor, NY.
Most tours also offer a mixture of local celebrity figures, such as governmental figures, radio and television station personalities and prominent businesses and their owners.
Corporate sponsors provide a large amount of support to the foundation. Their support is responsible for a large amount of the funds that are raised. Sponsors range from large corporations with ties to the local communities, but also include local business support as well. They help unity the community in the goal of finding a cure for MS.
There are five levels for sponsors. First is the title sponsor, which provides the biggest pledge. Then there are the platinum, gold, silver, and bronze sponsors. The other sponsors are radio stations, transportation companies, and hotels. These sponsors generally offer their services in lieu of or in addition to a financial contribution.
Local radio and television stations send personalities to play music, provide commentary and announce each of the riders coming into the finish lines. Transportation companies provide buses and cars to shuttle riders home. Hotels provide discounted accommodations for the riders as well. Riders who ride for sponsor companies usually receive a jersey with that sponsors corporate name on it.
Most sponsors also set up tents for its riders at the finish lines on both days. Typically, the tents provide food and beverages, as well as some luxuries like massages for the riders.
- National MS Society: MS Bike Tour
- National MS Society
- Lone Star Chapter
- Group Health MS Bike Tour
- MS and You
- Valero MS 150
- MS 150
- MS of Calgary
- Clay Walker
- Montel Williams
- Celebrities With MS
- MS Bike Tour: City to Shore & PA Dutch
- MS Sydney to the Gong Website