Cyclists get their bike on for Booty

Charlotte's most bootylicious event is about to hit the streets of Myers Park.

“24 Hours of Booty,” a charity cycling event that raises money for foundations fighting cancer, will begin 7 p.m. Friday and run until 7 p.m. Saturday. Organizers say it is the only 24-hour road cycling event in the country.

Event organizers expect 1,200 participants to ride along the “Booty Loop,” a 2.97-mile route circling neighborhood roads around Queens University of Charlotte. Legend has it the route was named by neighborhood residents admiring the physically fit runners and cyclists who pounded the pavement.

Inside the route, close to 100 volunteers will operate “Bootyville,” a central location with tents for eating, sleeping, and talking with other riders and spectators.

The event started in 2002 with one man and one bicycle. Six years later, it has become one of Charlotte's most popular neighborhood events.

Claire Gregson, 33, said the community feeling and the camaraderie between riders is uplifting to participants who have lost family members to cancer.

“When my dad died, I didn't know what I could do to honor him or make myself feel better,” she said. “This is basically the only way I feel close to my dad.”

This is Gregson's third year participating. Her son, McDade, has given $10 to the event in honor of his grandfather.

Event coordinators hope to raise more than $1 million this year. In the event's six-year history, more than 3,720 riders have raised more than $1.5 million.

Fifty percent of donations will go to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The remaining 50 percent will go to the Keep Pounding Fund at Carolinas Medical Center and the Brain Tumor Fund for the Carolinas.

Participants can ride individually or with teams. The 85-member strong Mojo Riding team, one of the largest groups participating, raised $55,000 last year. This year, Mojo Riding is battling with teams from Super Block Cycling and Bank of America to be top fund raisers.

Patti Weiss, executive director of the event, said the healthy competition only increases the excitement for the event. She also praised the upbeat and supportive community that makes Gregson and so many other participants feel comfort.

“It brings so much light and joy to those that are involved,” Weiss said. “You don't normally find a lot of ‘fun' and ‘cancer' in the same sentence.”

Unlike most bicycling events, “24 Hours of Booty” has virtually no lag time between the start and the finish. With a track of around 3 miles, event coordinators say there is almost always someone crossing the finish line.

“You're never too far from help or being able to take a break,” Gibbons said.

The short track also allows people who do not regularly ride to participate.

“You've got a lot of very good cyclists, but you've also got a lot of very good fundraisers who just happen to be on a bike,” Gibbons said.

Event coordinators stress that it is not a race. The “Bootyville” camp will have tents for exhausted riders or spectators to recharge.

But some participants, like Gregson, try to ride for the whole 24-hour period.

“My dad went through chemotherapy for 18 months,” Gregson said. “I can suck it up for 24 hours.”