The May 5 Six Pillars Century ride near Cambridge is geared for all ages.

The May 5 Six Pillars Century ride near Cambridge is geared for all ages. (Character Counts Mid Shore, Inc. / April 11, 2012)

The horde passes in a blinding blur of bright, logo-laden polyester jerseys and $10,000 full-carbon-frame bicycles measured in grams not pounds, zooming over impossibly gorgeous —- and remarkably steep — Alpine vistas.

It's enough to make you want to leave your bike in the garage. Those sleek, graceful racers and their expensive racing bikes, not to mention the 8 percent grades of the mountains, can intimidate the amateur rider whose only exposure to organized bicycle riding is the occasional glance at the Tour de France on TV.

Not to let the air out of your tires, but if you think all bike rides are grueling ordeals with champagne sprays at the finish line, you haven't tried one of the Baltimore region's bike rides.

The key is the word "ride."

"These local rides are not races," points out Mark Lefkowitz. "That's intimidating in itself. These rides usually have a few different lengths" that riders can choose from, and that makes them less intimidating —and far more fun.

Lefkowitz is a partner in the five-store chain of Race Pace Bicycles, which has been getting area riders in the saddle since 1978. Lefkowitz, who pedaled across the country at 16 (he's 48 now), is a veteran of not just local rides but international ones, from Europe to New Zealand.

With his help and that of others, we've assembled a schedule of regional bike rides that are suitable for beginners as well as those looking for "century" (100-mile) challenges. Most take place this spring, but for those who maybe need a little time to get ready, we've added two rides in the fall.

"With all these rides, you pretty much start whenever you want and you ride with whoever you want to ride with, you ride at your own pace and you get back to your car," Lefkowitz says.

Even a beginner can do 12 miles in an hour or so.

At 60 miles, "you're getting up there," Lefkowitz says. "You're on your bike four to five hours."

And that means saddle sores the next day, right? "Not with good shorts," he says, emphasizing that the gear is crucial to enjoyment. But before you purchase a Tour jersey, get your bike checked out by a shop "well in advance of the ride because you're going to need to put some miles in before the ride to enjoy the ride. You need to train a little bit for these."

Chestertown Weekend Tours

Where: Chestertown

What: Bike Vermont members like to travel to the Chesapeake region for several days at a time, enjoying not just the scenic ride but two nights of lodging, two breakfasts and two dinners, with tour leaders and van support. Local riders are welcome. Daily mileage varies, ranging from 19 to 42.

When: April 27-29, May 4-6 and May 11-13

How much: $745

How to sign up: http://www.bikevt.com

Tour de Carroll

Where: Dutterer Family Park, Westminster

What: Rides range from 8-mile family ride to a "metric century" (63 miles) through scenic Carroll County countryside. Since the ride is sponsored, all registration fees benefit regional charities.

When: April 28; check-in begins at 7 a.m.

How much: $40

How to sign up: http://www.tourdecarroll.com

ROAR for Autism

Where: Oregon Ridge Park, Cockeysville

What: A fun fundraising ride through area neighborhoods; choose from 5-, 10-, 25- and 50-mile rides, including a ride for children.

When: April 29; check-in begins at 6 a.m.

How much: $10 in advance for children 5-12, $15 at the site; $25 for adults in advance, $30 at the site.

How to sign up: http://www.kennedykrieger.org

Six Pillars Century

Where: Great Marsh Park, Cambridge

What: Rides of 11, 37, 56 and 100 miles through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge along the Eastern Shore. All the funds go to Character Counts Mid Shore, which supports 275 volunteers who teach values to regional school students.

When: May 5; check-in between 7 and 9 a.m.

How much: $65 until April 27, $75 until May 4, $85 at the site; $40 per family (two adults, two children); $10 for students.

How to sign up: http://www.6pillarscentury.org/

Bike to Work Day

Where: From your house to your place of work

What: The idea is that if you do it once, you might do it more often — a win/win for you and the environment.

When: May 18

How much: Calories, lots of them, depending on the distance and difficulty.

How to sign up: Get your bike tuned up and leave early enough not to be late.

Civil War Century

Where: Thurmont

What: Rides ranging from 25 miles to 103, past battlefields, lush farms and through covered bridges.

When: Sept. 8; check-in begins at 7 a.m.

How much: $35; advance registration required.

How to sign up: http://www.civilwarcentury.com

Sea Gull Century

Where: Salisbury University, Salisbury

What: Three different routes (including a metric century) through Wicomico County's pleasingly flat roads; last year's oldest rider was 89, the youngest 7.

When: Oct. 6; check-in begins at 7 a.m.

How much: $60

How to sign up: Registration opens May 15; http://www.seagullcentury.org

Freelance writer Buzz McClain needs to change the chain on his Schwinn, then he's good to go.