As many as 1,000 bike riders are set to peddle over the Vincent Thomas and Gerald Desmond bridges Sunday morning as part of the fight against diabetes.
The historic Ship to Shore Ride is one of many taking place throughout the nation under the banner of Tour de Cure sponsored by the American Diabetes Association.
"We've been doing the ride in Long Beach for the past seven years," said Bo Smith, director of communications for the American Diabetes Association.
Getting the bridge route was something of a coup for organizers.
"To even ask that question was rather daunting," Smith said. "For the most part, folks we discussed it with said, `That's never been done before."'
The special-events permit granted by the California Department of Transportation required a team effort from the cities and ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and local chambers of commerce.
Cyclists said the experience should be unique.
"I've ridden on many mountains, but I've never ridden over this kind of a bridge," said Dr. Arnold Serkin, a Torrance podiatrist serving as chairman of the ride.
"If you're a cyclist, being able to ride over these bridges is going to be pretty spectacular," said Debbie Varon, marketing manager of Palos Verdes Bicycle Center.
The ride begins at the Queen Mary in Long Beach and routes vary in distance, from five miles to 60 miles (which includes a loop around the Palos Verdes Peninsula).
A family ride skips the bridges altogether and makes use of the flat terrain on bike trails around Long Beach.
The first 150 cyclists finishing the 10-mile route, over the bridges and ending in Ports O' Call, will be given a free ride back to Long Beach onboard the Spirit Cruises vessel.
Not up to riding?
Ride organizers encourage spectators to come out to give moral support and cheer the cyclists on.
Westbound lanes (from Long Beach to San Pedro) only will be closed on both bridges from 4 to 11 a.m. The ride also will impact downtown Long Beach and the Ports O' Call area.
Serkin, a founding physician of West Torrance Podiatrist Group Inc. near Torrance Memorial Medical Center, said the ride is a good way to raise awareness of diabetes, which is now the nation's fifth deadliest disease.
"About 24 million people in America have diabetes and that's rising," he said. "One out of three children born after 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime based on current data."
When Serkin started his practice 38 years ago, no more than 4 percent of his patients came in for diabetic-related foot problems.
Now, some 30 to 40 percent of his patients have diabetes, he said.
The good news?
"Type 2 diabetes is almost totally preventable by educating people on nutrition and exercise," he said. "I'm hoping the message of this ride is to demonstrate the value of having a healthy lifestyle."
Serkin said 50 to 60 of his patients will be participating in Sunday's bike ride.
"Everybody who comes into my office hears about the Tour de Cure," he said.
The economy hasn't helped with nutritional habits, he said, leading some people to rely on pastas and rice to save money on their grocery bills.
"When people are hurting financially, they'll resort to inexpensive foods like pasta, rice and potatoes which convert to sugar the moment it hits their mouth," Serkin said.
Behavioral changes in the way Americans eat and exercise are crucial to fighting diabetes, he said.
"I don't call it a diet, I call it a lifestyle change," Serkin said. "I'm trying to educate patients gently on how to change their lifestyle over a period of many months. Those who pick it up see amazing changes just by watching what they eat and getting more exercise.
"They'll say, `I can't believe how much better I feel in just the last six or eight months,"' he said. "People have to come down to the point where they're motivated to say I don't want to live feeling this way. I want to feel better."
Want to go?
What: Tour de Cure Ship to Shore bike ride to benefit the American Diabetes Association
Where: Begins at the Queen Mary, Long Beach, with some routes going over the Vincent Thomas and Gerald Desmond bridges.
When: Check in and register (entry fee is $150) between 5:30 and 6 a.m.; rides begin at 7 a.m. Westbound lanes of both bridges closed from 4 to 11 a.m.
Information: Julian Dillon, 323-966-2890, Ext. 7473; www.diabetes.org/tour-shiptoshore.