Buff Bike Classic: 20 years of fundraising fun

Grab your helmet, it’s almost time to ride!

The University of Colorado Boulder’s annual Elevations Credit Union Buffalo Bicycle Classic is celebrating 20 years of joyriding through Boulder Canyon and raising scholarship funds for CU Boulder students.

The 20th-anniversary fundraising event will be held on Sept. 11 this year. Cyclists can choose from nine bike course options* of varying lengths and difficulties. Register online for the ride here. Not a cyclist? You can donate to the scholarship fund from the comfort of your home.

“I love that the money we are raising is going to a good cause – scholarships to CU,” said Buffalo Bicycle Classic (BBC) Ride Director Jenny Anderson. “The more money we raise, the more scholarships we can award! I love my job!”

Anderson was the ride director for the Triple Bypass for six years and is a self-proclaimed event cheerleader, working behind the scenes to secure permits, order merchandise, organize volunteers, maintain the registration site, send emails, secure sponsors and manage other logistics.

A look at the past 20 years

Events evolve over time and the Buff Bike Classic is no exception. We turned to Dennis Paul, Elevations’ vice president of government affairs and strategic relationships and chair for the Elevations Foundation, to learn how the partnership with Elevations began back in 2003.

“When we were originally approached by the former Dean of Arts and Science, Todd Gleeson, he literally pitched nothing more than an idea,” Paul said. “The ride was still a year away and we really were going into the partnership on good faith alone. That said, we thought about it and given the nature of our membership and the community’s rich history of cycling, we took a chance.”

About 500 riders also believed in the mission and joined the inaugural event in 2003, according to Gleeson. That event yielded $25,000, a shocking amount considering projections didn’t predict a profit until the third year.

A view of UC Boulder
A look down on the starting line.

Over the years the ride has grown to approximately 1,500 registrants. Their participation in turn fuels scholarships for CU students.

“It supports 30 to 40 scholars with four-year scholarships worth $3,000/year, and in addition has a permanent endowment that pays full in-state tuition for two to three scholars each year,” Gleeson said.

The endowment was made possible by a gift from Woody and Leslie Eaton, long-time CU supporters and alumni.

As the founder of the Classic, Gleeson and his team of volunteers led the event from 2003 until 2018, when he passed the baton to Professor Paul Beale, the current faculty director of the Buffalo Bicycle Classic.

Key moments to remember

Over the years the courses have changed, and even went virtual in 2020 to keep riders safe during the Covid-19 pandemic. The event has also adopted features that some riders were craving, like a little adventure beyond smooth pavement.

“I watched as they pivoted during the pandemic and continued to move forward,” said Elevations Marketing Campaigns Manager Anne Preble, who has been managing marketing initiatives related to ride sponsorships since 2018. “They added new dirt courses to support the growing interest in gravel riding. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Jenny Anderson, their new ride director. She brings a lot of great energy and new ideas to the ride!”

Anderson explained that the 2020 virtual event was a success despite the pandemic. All sponsors stayed onboard, and with the enthusiasm of 250 riders, the event generated eight scholarships.

“Needless to say, 20 years in, the rest is history,” Paul said. “Being the title sponsor of an initiative that has turned into the largest scholarship initiative in the CU system has been one of the most gratifying things we have done as an organization. Education and scholarships are large parts of our identity at Elevations. Seeing the amazing BBC [Buffalo Bicycle Classic] scholars and the real difference they are making in the world is incredible.”

Beale was particularly impressed with how the community supported the event during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I am most proud of our riders, sponsors, and donors in 2020,” Beale said. “We were not able to provide a normal ride due to the Covid pandemic, but we designed several do-it-yourself courses for our riders. We were able to keep every BBC scholar fully funded for the 2020/2021 academic year.”

It’s all about the students

Although riders sign up for the stunning Front Range views, a chance to mingle with other cyclists and a great workout, the Buff Bike Classic draws people who want to support the largest scholarship fundraising event in the State of Colorado.

Thanks to this event, scholars can focus on their studies, building friendships, personal growth and community-building at CU with less of a financial burden.

Elizabeth A. is working on her psychology major with a minor in business. As a low-income, undocumented student, the Buff Bike Classic scholarship not only helps her afford college, but also focus on her classes and extracurricular activities so she can prepare for her future beyond CU. Elizabeth is on track to graduate in the fall of 2024.

Integrative physiology major Metkel T. is also benefiting from the fundraising ride.

“I am beyond grateful to have been awarded this scholarship,” he said. “It will help me financially and mentally. Meaning, I have less worries about my finances and I can focus more on my school work. My parents and mentors have less to worry about when they are working hard to provide for the family. I am grateful for this scholarship.”

Metkel is planning to graduate in the spring of 2024.

In 2021, Anderson, Beale and Paul checked in with the scholars to see how they’d been managing the pandemic and school work.

“We talked about their classes and the challenges of having to go remote,” Anderson said. “They were all so willing to pivot and adapt to the new ‘normal.’ They were all very appreciative of receiving the BBC scholarship and it freed up their time so they could concentrate on their studies.”

Since the ride started in 2003, it has raised over $3.4 million and over 425 Buffalo Bicycle Classic scholarship recipients have graduated from CU.

“It seems like the cycling community on the Front Range really loves this ride and some look forward to it year after year,” Preble said. “I think it has built its own lovely community of cyclists and supporters of higher education.”

Beale also pointed to the high levels of accomplishment achieved by scholarship winners.

“The Buffalo Bicycle Classic scholars are all high-achieving Colorado high school graduates who graduated with 4.0+ GPA,” Beale said. “They all also have profound financial need. Without the BBC scholarship, many would not have been able to attend university. BBC scholars have an amazing 95% graduation rate from CU, and many graduate with Latin Honors.

What’s on tap for the 2022 event?

“This year, being our 20th anniversary, we hope to engage the alumni, the students, former BBC scholars, the colleges, our sponsors and the community to have a big celebration!” Anderson said. “We want to get our mission out there – that of being a scholarship fundraiser for the university. Plus, we have a beautiful ride going up Boulder Canyon without any cars westbound.”

Riders will enjoy well-stocked aid stations along the course routes featuring granola bars, muffins, peanut butter, Nutella, Skratch, Eldorado Springs water, oranges, bananas, watermelon and more.

After the ride, a catered lunch awaits.

Full details about the 2022 event can be browsed on the University of Colorado Boulder Buffalo Bicycle Classic website, including registration forms, ride info, ways to donate and how to become a sponsor.

Elevations Credit Union and Elevations Foundation would like to extend gratitude to all the event sponsors for their dedication and assistance in making this event truly life-changing for so many Colorado students.

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