Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
The road racing season is over, but there are still races to train for that bring out the best of the cycling community. No, we’re not talking about ‘cross season; we’re talking about Cranksgiving: a charity race where participants ride around their city picking up food items to donate to those in need.
Cranskgiving began its life as an alleycat: a race held by bike messengers and urban cyclists, usually from point A to point B, or between multiple checkpoints. In 1999, New York City messenger Antonio “Tone” Rodrigues thought up a different kind of alleycat, one that would help the less fortunate during the Thanksgiving holiday. And though there would be winners—given tuna cans rebadged with a Cranksgiving logo resembling a Campbell’s Soup can to mark their success—this alleycat would be primarily for charity. On November 20, 1999, the first Cranksgiving took place.
Unlike traditional alleycat formats, this race was more of a scavenger hunt, with racers given a manifest of five different food items they needed to collect. Each item had to be purchased separately from a specific list of grocery stores (for a total of five different stores), adding an element of planning and skill in creating the most efficient route. The first one back with the receipts to prove the purchases happened during the race at the right stores won. But the real winners were the local food banks getting all the donations.
With an easily emulated format, the race spread to other cities like Los Angeles. Before long it was in cities across the nation. But back in New York, it was in danger of fading away just years after it started. Rodrigues kept it going through 2006, but moved to Pennsylvania in 2007. Ken Stanek, who had raced Cranksgiving a few times from 2003 to 2005 ,“thought it was too good of an event not to keep going.” With Rodrigues’ blessing, Stanek kept the event alive.
Stanek continued to be a part of the New York Cranksgiving until 2015, along the way providing guidance to other potential organizers starting their own Cranksgivings. As grassroots organized events, Cranksgivings come and go each year. But overall, the events have been growing in popularity. There are now Cranksgivings across the nation and even the world, with 87 occurring in 2018, from big metropolises like New York City to smaller cities like Pocatello, Idaho.
The basic format more or less stays the same throughout each version, but there are no hard and fast rules about what a Cranksgiving should be—other than that is should collect food donations using bicycles. The Santa Fe, New Mexico, version likes to change things up from year to year, sometimes making participants find acutely specific donation items that are available in only one store, and offering time bonuses for activities like visiting local bike shops to complete a ring toss using chainrings and a bicycle’s fork.
The St. Louis, Missouri, version—the largest in the country drawing 500 to 700 people and one time breaking 1,000 on a day with particularly good weather—has foregone the traditional alleycat format and has opted to turn Cranksgiving into a charity ride. In lieu of participants spending money at individual stores, organizers now collect a $15 donation from each participant, $10 for kids, and offer multiple rides from 5 to 50 miles. “Collecting what the riders would have spent in the stores and then buying the specific food items at wholesale, that the food pantry needs, made a huge increase of the donation we made,” said Patrick Van Der Tuin, who has helped run the event since its inception 14 years ago. “We jumped from 13,586 items one year to 20,592 items the year we purchased items at wholesale. To maintain the original feeling of the event, riders still stop by a couple stores to pick up some food items.
Though the charities receiving the Cranksgiving food donations can change from year to year as some fold and new ones take their place, organizers make sure to ask the local charity they plan to donate to what is needed, said Ken Stanek.
“The real winners are local food banks,” said Bill Lane, who helps run the Santa Fe, New Mexico, Cranksgiving. “The shelves are a little fuller each year thanks to this event.”
Starting this year, BTI (Bicycle Technologies International)—a bike component distributor—has taken over national organization. But the company is not new to Cranksgiving, it has been helping put on the Santa Fe, New Mexico, version for the last ten years. And the company is trying to stay as hands off as possible. “Cranksgiving is at heart a DIY event,” said BTI Marketing Director Bill Lane. “We’ll be focusing on day-to-day management of the website, growing the organizer base and encouraging industry partners to support their local events.”
From its inception as a bike messenger organized charity race, Cranksgiving has remained a simple, mostly decentralized event, with no one right way to organize it. To start a Cranksgiving in a new city, all a potential organizer needs to do is find a charity, see what food items it needs, find stores that have those items, and create a manifest for racers to find those items.
Cranksgiving creator Tone Rodrigues wants anyone to be able to use the Cranksgiving name. He only asks that racers use bicycles, no entry fees be collected and that everything competitors buy be given to charity. And though he would like to make the Saturday before Thanksgiving a national Cranksgiving holiday, there are events happening all throughout fall.
To find a local Cranksgiving, visit cranksgiving.org. If there isn’t one in your area yet, consider starting your own and helping BTI reach its goal of breaking 100 Cranksgivings this year. Go with the original alleycat format or add your unique spin to the event—all that matters is that it takes place on bikes and that food is collected. Your event could even be the first Cranksgiving gravel grinder.
Peloton Magazine is now a media sponsor of Cranksgiving. Come join us for the first ever Cranksgiving in Ojai, California, on Sunday, November 24 with partners the MOB Shop and Topa Topa Brewery. For more information, please email email@example.com. We hope to see you there!