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Florida’s other rides

<strong>Skip the Sunshine State’s flashy amusements and steep admission prices for relaxing, affordable bicycle rides and mild winter weather</strong></p>

Florida is known for roller coasters and gravity-defying amusements, but here’s a different kind of ride in the Sunshine State. It’s one that doesn’t require that annoying safety harness rubbing against your sternum, and it’s all but guaranteed that you won’t run into those even more annoying cartoon characters/marketing tools come to life. It’s the trusty old bicycle ride.

Winter is the perfect time to pedal around Florida on an affordable, healthy vacation. First, no matter where you live back home, the weather in Florida is almost always better from December through early spring. Next, the state barely has a few mole hills, let alone mountains, so it’s flat, easy riding for the most part. Plus, Florida is filled with bike-crazy locals who organize dozens of group rides around the state — most of which take place in winter, and all of which are open to anyone with a two-wheeler. Since nearly all of the rides are non-profit or charity events, events are usually dirt cheap. Add into the mix the abundance of discount airlines flooding the state’s airports (jetBlue, Southwest, Song, AirTran, USA 3000, the list goes on...), and it’s tempting to build an entire vacation around a cycling trek in Florida.

Probably the biggest ride of the year in Florida is the annual event sponsored by Bike Florida (407/343-1992, Around 1,000 riders take part, and there’s a different itinerary each year. For 2004, it’s a round trip from Gainesville, covering 375 miles along north-central Florida’s country roads over seven days. The ride takes place from Apr 4 to 9, and costs $200 per adult cyclist, $100 for kids under 16.

That may sound pricey considering your legs provide the means of transportation, but here’s what that cash pays for: a week’s parking in Gainesville, route maps, all camping fees (either in tents or in school gyms), nightly entertainment, showers, bathrooms, rest stops every 15 to 17 miles, two lunches, bike repair support, medical support, and most importantly, luggage transportation — so you don’t have to lug around all your gear with you. That $200 sounds like a pretty good investment now, huh? To compare, a private outfitter providing similar services might charge upwards of $200 a day. Drop another $100 and that covers all breakfasts and dinners throughout the ride (six breakfasts and six dinners, with vegetarian meals a possibility). Find out more at

More rides and more sources

Does a full week on a bicycle seat make your backside wince? Such a long ride is not for everyone. It’s easy enough to pedal around solo, riding for as long or short as you like. The Florida Bicycle Association (407/327-3941, will even send you a free copy of its “Florida Bicycling Street Smarts” brochure to help you plan your ride.

If you want the group ride, but aren’t up for the weeklong Bike Florida trip, the Florida Bicycle Association’s web site,, lists dozens of other event rides organized by local bike groups, most of which last just a single day. One example: the “Ididaride,” on Jan 24, 2004, is a 50-mile endurance ride along single-track trails and dirt roads in the woods along the Suwannee River in White Springs. Obviously, this one is for serious off-roaders only (experienced mountain-bikers). The entry fee is just $40, and that covers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus mechanical support throughout the ride. Info: Suwannee Bicycle Association, 386/397-2347, (no need to worry about lodging — the site recommends an array of hotels, motels, B&B’s, and campsites in the area). Another example: the 8th Annual Clean Air Bike Ride, on Saturday, Mar 26, in which riders can choose from 12, 20, 48, or 100-mile tours along Withlacoochee Trail State Park in west-central Florida. The entrance fee is $23 for adults ($12 for kids 12 and under accompanied by an adult), which covers continental breakfast, a T-shirt, lunch, drinks, snacks, and bathrooms. Nearly 850 riders participated last year. Info: 800/771-5863,

Plenty of other rides are listed at, and you can search for them month by month. Some of these events are full months in advance, so there’s a chance you could be shut out of them this winter. If that happens, take note and try to sign up early for rides in the winter of 2004-05.
{Editor’s Note: Have you ever vacationed in Florida or done a bike tour? Do you have an instructive anecdote, tip or horror story to share? We’d love to hear it and possibly reprint it in our letters to the editor column. Simply click here to send a letter to our editors.}