SAN MATEO -- It started more than two decades ago as a lark, a spoof by two Peninsula residents of the Tour de France, the world's most prestigious cycling competition.
Instead of a grueling race squeezed through the stunning French Alps, their version -- dubbed the Tour de Peninsula -- is a family-friendly ride designed for anyone who would enjoy cycling around scenic San Mateo County.
"It's not a race, it's a ride," co-founder Mark Simon said. On Sunday morning, Simon and tour co-founder Rick Sutton hoped the 1,350 enthusiastic cyclists gathered at Coyote Point Park to tackle one of four routes would remember their other simple mantra: no pain, no pain.
Eleven-year-old Joshua Oh of San Mateo missed that entirely.
"It was easy in the beginning, then it was hard in the middle because there were more hills," a relieved Joshua said after he'd finished a 20-mile-route alongside his father, Lei Oh, an engineer and avid cyclist.
"My thigh started hurting when I was going up the hill," young Oh said of the ride that featured a short, steep section along Sawyer Camp Trail and one near Crystal Springs Reservoir.
But the boy, who was treated to oranges and Gatorade at rest stops along the way, said he'd do it all over again next year.
"It was fun," Joshua said with a smile that spread across his sweat-soaked face. "I liked it."
Youngsters to seniors pedalled along routes of 20, 31, 56 or 63 miles on a day that began just after dawn under overcast skies that later turned sunny.
The annual event is a fundraiser for the San Mateo County Parks Foundation. The money is used to pay for Bicycle Sunday, car-free biking on Cañada Road for most of the year, said Julia Bott, the foundation's executive director.
On Sunday, Bott said, three people suffered minor injuries after falling from their bikes, including one person who broke a finger. Two others were injured after finishing the ride but still riding around the area. One sustained minor bumps and bruises and another a head injury, and though conscious, was taken to a hospital.
At noon Sunday, after the "adult" rides were completed, kids 11 and younger were led on much shorter rides (the option seemed to surprise Joshua Oh), by several former U.S. Olympic athletes who had returned from their different routes where they had volunteered as ambassadors to help riders.
During his 20-mile-route, a lean and fit Otto Hofmann, 82, was proud to say he had been able to keep up with that elite group for about a quarter of the route.
"Not too bad for an 82-year-old," said the Millbrae resident, a retired technical instructor for Mercedes-Benz mechanics who has participated in the event for several years.
His 75-year-old wife, Trudi, joined him for the last 8 miles, which meant she missed the riders' quick stop at a home near Crystal Springs Reservoir where for the past few years the residents have offered riders espresso, cookies and orange juice.
"I think I was the oldest person here," Otto Hofmann said, looking around after finishing his ride. By comparison, he quipped of his wife, "She's a youngster."
Hofmann and several others said they were impressed by how well the event was organized, and how well-marked the courses were.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager agreed.
"It's almost impossible to get lost," said Yeager, relaxing after completing the 20-mile-course, part of his training for the upcoming Tough Mudder obstacle course and mud run in Tahoe this month.
"Sometimes, when you're biking in an area you don't know very well, you make the wrong turn and you can get off course. It's very well organized," said Yeager, who completed his ride in about 90 minutes.
"I'm too far back in the pack to worry about my time," said a laughing Yeager. "This is mostly about fun."
Surveying the finish line, event co-founder Sutton said that is exactly what he and Simon, a former Peninsula Times Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle columnist, said inspired the event, which hands out an annual "Dirty Shirt" to each cyclist, complete with brown-printed mud spots inked on the back of the T-shirt.
"Especially here in the valley, people are always pursuing greatness," said Sutton, a successful entrepreneur. "They are pushing for success without stopping to enjoy themselves and the area we live in. This event is about enjoying one another and the beauty that surrounds us."
Mountain View resident James Mattis, 41, a former World Masters champion in cycling, was on hand to help cyclists and also show off a cellphone app he developed that helps cyclists, runners, hikers and walkers track their routes. If the ride was a race, the winner, he said, would be "the person who had the best day."