Bo Bikes Bama
Bo Jackson gears up for annual charity bicycle ride
By Allison Griffin
He lives now in Illinois just outside Chicago, but Alabama is never far from the mind and
memory of Bo Jackson, the Bessemer native, Auburn University standout athlete and entrepreneur
who carves out time each year to mark the anniversary of the deadly 2011 tornadoes.
A record 62 tornadoes swept through Alabama during that outbreak on April 27, 2011. More than
240 Alabamians died as a result of the tornadoes, and more than 2,000 were injured; the property
damage was calculated at more than $4 billion.
The suffering touched Jackson personally, and he knew he could use his celebrity status to
help his native state.
“The reason for this ride is for state unity and to pay homage to the great Alabamians who
lost their lives on April 27th, 2011,” he says on his website. “I am my brothers’ and sisters’
He created the Bo Bikes Bama charity bicycle ride (not a race), but not for the publicity for
himself. “I wanted to do something where the rest of the country can be aware of what has
happened here,” he said on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” in 2012. So he called on some celebrity
friends to help out: Lance Armstrong, Scottie Pippin, Ken Griffey Jr. and Picabo Street, among
other athletes, have joined in previous rides.
Beyond the awareness, there’s also the money he can raise. His Bo Bikes Bama event has raised
more than $950,000 in four years, and is poised to break the $1 million mark this year. The money
goes to support the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund, which was created to help Alabamians
recover from severe weather events.
So far, funds raised by Bo Bikes Bama have provided, among other improvements, for 579 homes
to be repaired or served, 63 community safe rooms to be constructed, and eight emergency warning
sirens to be installed.
In the beginning
The first Bo Bikes Bama in 2012 was a 5-day, 300-mile trek that took the two-sport athlete
through the towns and rural areas that suffered tremendous destruction. All along the way,
grateful Alabamians came out to say hello, to cheer him on, and to say thank you.
It was an emotional journey
“On that first ride, I stopped at one neighborhood, and there were four generations of a
family sitting there on all that was left of their home: a concrete slab,” Jackson told ESPN in
2015. “The tornado picked up the grandmother’s house and took it a quarter-mile, and she fell out
of the house when it was in the air. She was 150 yards out in the field. That’s where her son and
grandson found her after the storm – in the field. They were just sitting out there. Just to see
the people and the devastation up close like that, you don’t ever forget that.”
As an ever-present reminder, Jackson’s custom-made bikes bear all the names of those who died
in the tornadoes.
After that first year, the event was pared down to a one-day event, with a 60-mile option and
a shorter 20-miler. Hundreds of cyclists continue to join him for the journey; so far, nearly
2,400 have come from 31 states and Canada. This year, a rider will come from England to
Both routes take riders through the campus of Auburn University; the 60-mile route will pass
through Tuskegee and neighboring Macon County.
The success of Bo Bikes Bama will no doubt only add to the legacy of the multi-sport athlete
and Heisman Trophy winner, who played professional baseball and football through the late 1980s
and early 1990s. He retired from professional sports in 1995, but maintains a number of
entrepreneurial and charitable endeavors.
But the annual bicycle ride is close to his heart. Asked by Outside Magazine in 2015 how long
he plans to continue the ride, he said, “As long as a bike can hold me.”
BO BIKES BAMA
• The event is divided into two rides. The 60-mile ride begins at 8 a.m. April 30, and
the 20-mile ride begins at 10:30 a.m. that day. The start and end locations for both rides
are at the Auburn Arena. The ride goes on, rain or shine.
• A silent auction will precede the ride from 7-9 p.m. April 29 at The Hotel at Auburn
University, 241 S. College St. Tickets are $100 and include hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine
while browsing a silent auction featuring signed memorabilia from athletes and entertainers.
• For more information, visit www.bobikesbama.com