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Cyclists Leave Santa Barbara for Las Vegas in 400-Mile Red Nose Day Fundraiser

Bikers are raising money for programs that provide safety, health and education for children in need

Ride On for Red Nose Day cyclists begin their Santa Barbara-to-Las Vegas journey with 48 miles around the South Coast. Click to view larger
Ride On for Red Nose Day cyclists begin their Santa Barbara-to-Las Vegas journey with 48 miles around the South Coast. (Meg McMahon photo)

They may not all be wearing the bulbous red noses on their trek through Southern California and the desert, but the spirit that the quintessential clown accessory represents is certainly there.

On Sunday, two dozen cyclists kicked off Ride On For Red Nose Day, the latest event in a series of fundraisers around the country that raises money for and awareness about child poverty.

After a 48-mile tour of the Santa Barbara County South Coast on Sunday, riders took off from Fess Parker Doubletree Resort at 633 E. Cabrillo Blvd. Monday morning.

Accompanied by a mobile kitchen and support vehicles with mechanics and massagers, the squad will cycle 400 miles through Ojai, Santa Clarita and Barstow before arriving Wednesday at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand casino.

Despite their sleek professional gear and garb, these are not professional cyclists and racers.

“They’re people who like to ride, they’re passionate about it and they’re taking this time to commit the days on the bike, the challenge of the mileage, the climbing and the fundraising,” said Tim Johnson, the ride’s founder and a long-time professional cyclist.

Red Nose Day originated in the United Kingdom in the 1980s, using comedy (cue the red nose) to address poverty.

The concept crossed the pond in 2015, and events like Ride On for Red Nose Day have raised over $60 million since then to fund programs that provide safety, health and education for kids in need, such as Feeding America and the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara.

Powering the cycling series, which will include a Boston-to-New York ride later this month, has been PeopleForBikes and Walgreens.

Cyclists get ready to start a 400-mile journey from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas Sunday morning. Click to view larger
Cyclists get ready to start a 400-mile journey from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas Sunday morning.  (Meg McMahon photo)

“We have 8,000 stores around the country, and a lot of those stores do events and fundraisers themselves,” said Michael Polzin, a divisional vice president of corporate communication with the pharmacy chain, and one of the Red Nose riders. “We sell the red noses for a dollar, and net proceeds from all of those sales goes to the Red Nose Day fund.”

On May 25 — actual Red Nose Day — NBC will televise Red Nose Day programming in partnership with Walgreens.

Johnson founded the ride series after a bike summit with cycling advocates in Washington, D.C. 

“I felt like I was not doing anything to help them when they’re working every single day to put in bike lanes and bike paths and bike-share systems,” he said.

Johnson launched rides on the East Coast, the Midwest and the South in cities with either burgeoning bike infrastructure or in serious need of that infrastructure.

Walgreens and Red Nose Day caught whiff of what he was doing and reached out.

“It was an opportunity to combine a new charity ride that was using the bicycle to leverage fundraising for a cause: Red Nose Day,” Johnson said. “But they were interested in doing it so that it had real connectivity to community.”

He tentatively estimated that this week’s cyclists had raised some $100,000 and counting. (Those looking to contribute can do so through the event’s website.)

“What they’re doing right now is not easy, and it’s probably the longest day they’ve ever ridden — the longest week they’ve ever ridden,” he said. “And so you always have to have that other reason in the back of your mind to help get you over those mountains and into the desert and out the other side.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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