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Cyclists to Ride for a Cause: To Create Awareness on AIDS

More than 2,500 people from six countries and 45 states, ranging in ages from 18 to 78, will participate in this year's AIDS/LifeCycle, a 7-day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles , beginning June 3, that raises millions of dollars for AIDS services and heightens HIV/AIDS awareness.

Now in its sixth year, the event benefits the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, two of the largest AIDS services providers in the country. Since its inception, AIDS/LifeCycle has raised more than $27 million for HIV/AIDS services and this year the ride is expected to raise a record $9 million. No other event raises more money in the fight against AIDS.

AIDS/LifeCycle has been a major force in raising awareness about the continued effect of HIV and the growing need for services as the number of people living with the disease grows. Over the course of the weeklong event, cyclists will pass through eight California counties, where each year local residents line roadways and visit rider pit stops to show support. In past years, cheering groups of schoolchildren have stood alongside the road with homemade signs and refreshments. Many local residents show support with signs of thanks that invoke memories of loved ones lost to AIDS. Organizers said they will make awareness and prevention materials available to local groups and provide HIV rapid-test services at selected sites along the route.

In addition to being a momentous physical challenge for the riders, AIDS/LifeCycle -- which is co-produced by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center -- is a major logistical feat. Each day, hundreds of volunteers set up and break down a "city on wheels" of tents, mobile kitchens and bathroom and shower facilities. Volunteers perform myriad other duties, including posting directional signs, staffing rest sites, serving meals, repairing bikes and providing first aid.

It is est imated that 151,000 Californians are living with HIV/AIDS, many of whom are unaware of their infection. In California, HIV/AIDS has had a particularly severe effect on the gay community, with more than 74 percent of all cases occurring among gay and bisexual men of all races and ethnicities, compared with 58 percent of AIDS cases nationally. Communities of color, including gay and bisexual men, have been disproportionately affected as well. In 2005, for example, African Americans represented 12 percent of the U.S. population, yet they accounted for half of the AIDS diagnoses; Latinos represented 14 percent of the U.S. population while accounting for nearly 20 percent of AIDS diagnoses.


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