BY Michael Moore
Charity bike rides are not new but their history is quite interesting. Some might remember Pallotta TeamWorks founded by the controversial Dan Pallotta. Along with the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day walks, Pallotta was the founder of AIDS Ride-USA where entrants biked from city to city. In the early 1990s, he conceived a 600-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles and 478 riders participated in the first California AIDS Ride netting well over $1 million.
In the mid-1990s, Pallotta expanded the rides to include Boston, New York, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and Raleigh, North Carolina. The new thing about these “thon” events was the four-figure mandatory fundraising minimum, not to mention the huge marketing campaigns in the metropolitan areas. Major consumer brands like Tanqueray sponsored these events and AIDS Rides netted well over $100 million.
In 2001, some social activists from the very charities that benefitted from the events, said that Pallotta’s success came at the expense of the charities he claimed to champion and Pallotta was taking too big a cut of the money raised. It became a flash point for Pallotta when talks broke down after the 2001 ride between the two beneficiaries of the California AIDS Ride, San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center and Pallotta TeamWorks. Claims of unusual charges, budget overruns and PTW’s relentless self promotion resulted in the end of their eight-year relationship. The two non-profits began their own ride, AIDS LifeCycle, which will celebrate 15 years in 2016 with an amazing success rate. The 2015 ride raised over $16 million and have become more popular every year.
It’s clear to see that the Pallotta model didn’t work but what we need to remember is that because of Pallotta TeamWorks, and the notoriety they brought to their causes, other rides morphed into profitable charity events.
Charity Treks is exactly one of those organizations. In 1999, Pallotta launched AIDS Vaccine Rides, which would provide unrestricted dollars for research at UCLA AIDS Institute and the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta. But in 2002, Pallotta scrubbed the Montreal to Boston AIDS Vaccine Ride just weeks before the event. Here’s where it gets good, several of the participants decided to do the ride anyway. Plane tickets had been purchased, hotel rooms were in place, time was taken off work, thousands of dollars had been raised and these riders were determined to ride, and that’s what they did.
The following year, Charity Treks was formed since AIDS Ride was a Pallotta trademark. The two beneficiaries, UCLA AIDS Institute and Emory Vaccine Center were kept in place and a small group of unpaid volunteers created a non-profit that will celebrate its 14th year next month. Many things have remained the same like the no minimum fundraising requirement and the pledge to give 100 percent of all donations directly to the beneficiaries.
The ride is considerably smaller than its predecessor but remains vigilant in its vow to ride until there’s a cure. Also, in an effort to increase ridership and awareness, Charity Treks has moved the ride to the mid-Atlantic area, starting in Charlottesville, Va., and ending at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. Each year representatives from the two beneficiaries attend the event as riders or crew and share their gratitude for the dedication and much needed funding the ride provides to their organizations.
To learn more about Charity Treks or to register for our 2015 AIDS Vaccine Ride, visit charitytreks.org.