Riders With Arthritis Do Dream Tour On Ebikes

Electric boost makes California fundraising ride more accessible.

Stephanie Wilson Summiting and Smiling
Stephanie Wilson gets some electric assist during the eight-day, 525-mile California Coast Classic, which raises money for arthritis research.Julie Kelly

The Arthritis Foundation California Coast Classic is an eight-day, self-paced bicycle tour that starts in San Francisco, winds its way south on the gorgeous California Highway 1, and finishes in Los Angeles. It’s a 525-mile journey broken into daily chunks of 50 to 85 miles, ridden with a mission to raise more than $1 million for the fight against arthritis.

Given the length of the CCC and the nearly 26,500 feet of climbing included over its eight days, it’s not surprising that electric bicycles have become very popular with its participants. Notably, they’re also welcomed by the event organizers, who see their benefits and make a point of providing mechanical support as well as ample battery charging stations each night.

Capped at just 250 riders who each commit to a fundraising minimum, the CCC is a rare event that simultaneously attracts a high percentage of repeat participants yet maintains a friendly and welcoming vibe for newcomers. It’s been run continuously for 19 years, and the organizers have cracked the code on providing a safe, memorable, fun, and professionally managed event.

Amit Jain and the Urban Rush
Amit Jain test rides the Urban Rush ebike from Yamaha, which has partnered with the California Coast Classic the past two years.Julie Kelly

E-CCC

One reason that ebikes have seamlessly joined the CCC is that approximately a third of the ride’s participants have arthritis, a painful and debilitating condition that affects one in four adults—more than breast cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and autism combined.

Mary and Darren Gonser on CCC
The power of an ebike helps Mary Gonser, a first-time CCC rider, to ride with her husband Darren, a 19-year veteran of the tour.Julie Kelly

One such rider is Pete Staylor, a 16-year veteran of the CCC. “The ebike was an absolute game changer for me,” he said. “Sometimes I have to keep from laughing while I ride.”

Staylor’s arthritis was what drew him to the California Coast Classic in 2003, but it also forced him off his bike nearly a dozen years later. He had given away his bicycles and stopped riding, choosing to stay affiliated with the CCC as a multi-day on-course volunteer. But he missed the riding. In 2018, thanks to a Haibike Xduro electric mountain bike, “Cap’n Pete,” as he’s known, returned to the CCC.

“At first, I was a purist and I said no to an ebike. But then I tried it. I was hooked! I can go the distance now. It takes all the pressure off my knees,” Staylor said.

Pete Staylor on his Haibike
Pete Staylor of Riverside, California, credits an electric bicycle for enabling him to return to cycling, and the California Coast Classic.Julie Kelly

Thanks to a partnership with Yamaha Power Assist Bicycles, some riders of the 2018 edition of the CCC discovered ebikes for the first time. Pantea Houshmand, for example, had never thought of trying one, but when her bike broke on the first day of the tour, she hopped on an Urban Rush. How much did she like it? So much that she begged to keep it for the whole week. Also, her riding companion, Austen Cohen, requested his own the next day.

Amit Jain, a first-timer like Pantea and Austen, wasn’t just new to the CCC—he was new to cycling, having completed only 10 rides prior to tackling his 525-mile trip down the California coast. He demoed a Yamaha toward the end of the tour. “This is just amazing!” he said.

“Having the Yamaha demo bikes available for this year’s tour really enhanced the experience for our riders,” event director Shannon Marang Cox said. “The advent of ebikes in general has made a world of difference for our ride. We love them.”

CCC Big Sur Glamour Shot
Day 4 of the California Coast Classic delivers jaw-dropping views of Big Sur and and an epic cycling experience.Julie Kelly

Mary Gonser—whose husband, Darren, has ridden all 19 CCC bike tours—is another rider who recently tackled the tour on an ebike. Mary volunteered for 11 years, but she never thought she could ride the tour. Her Specialized Turbo Vado gave her the confidence to get off the sidelines and see what all the fuss was about.

“It was a totally different experience. I saw more and felt the wind in my face,” she said. “My advice is that people shouldn’t be afraid to try this ride—and bring an ebike!”

CCC Finish Line High Five
Riders celebrate each other’s accomplishments as the 525-mile ride approaches the finish line.Julie Kelly

Set Your Sights on This

Riders on the California Coast Classic experience many of the state’s most iconic landmarks, beginning in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge and rolling south to Santa Cruz. The next day, they trek to Monterey, home of Cannery Row, sea otters, and the world-famous 17-Mile Drive.

Days 3 and 4 of the CCC are arguably the most epic: The group pedals among stately redwoods and alongside the beautiful, rugged Big Sur coastline. The ride proceeds to Cambria, then Oceano. On the sixth day, the CCC traverses the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail en route to Buellton. The second-to-last leg features the Danish-styled village of Solvang and glitzy Santa Barbara. The riders stay overnight in Ventura and enjoy a final push through Malibu to Los Angeles on the final day.

The California Coast Classic: What You Need to Know

  • Held annually in the fall; next event: Oct. 3–10, 2020
  • Registration: $75 until Jan. 2, 2020; $95 after
  • Fundraising commitment: $3,500 minimum (riders have more than a year to meet this goal)
  • Support: Professional mechanics are on hand day and night to repair bikes, and a dedicated logistics team marks each day's route, provides Ride With GPS downloads, and passes out paper route guides.
  • Lodging: Camping or hotel
  • Meals: Sumptuous on-site catering for breakfasts and dinners, plus ample rest stops
  • More information: arthritis.org