They shouted exultantly as they got off their mud-spattered bicycles at the steps in front of the Lincoln Memorial, unclasped their smudged helmets, thumped one another's backs and squirted jets of champagne and water at one another.

At 1 p.m. yesterday, the 110 cyclists -- some from Third World countries -- had completed the last leg of Bike-Aid, the fourth annual cross-country ride organized by the Overseas Development Network, a San Francisco-based volunteer group that helps finance international aid projects.

And though it was a relatively chilly August day, the welcome was warm. The overcast, drowsy afternoon woke up with a start as the boisterous group bicycled to the finishing point. There were no formal welcoming ceremonies. Vacationing tourists switched off their camcorders or put down their hot dogs and cheered. One family walking toward the Vietnam Veterans Memorial stopped and turned, visibly surprised. "They have come from across the country -- 3,000 miles," shouted a security guard. The family cheered.

The participants were flagged off, about two months ago, from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Austin, Tex., Seattle and Montreal. "The idea was to help these people know the United States -- not only its wealth but also its poverty," said Cathy McGovern, 23, coordinator of this year's Bike-Aid.

"The riders have to go through a lot of physical exertion, and {they} live in Third World conditions. International development is a catch phrase and this experience showed the riders that there was another world besides the luxury and the wealth," McGovern said.

Each rider had to pledge about $2,000 before the ride, raised by private donations and social awareness programs at college campuses across the country, McGovern said. The money raised will fuel community development projects, she added.

One such project involves the training of school graduates in Zimbabwe to gain self-dependency in vocations such as agriculture and animal husbandry. For Nelson Zivurawa, 25, a schoolteacher from Zimbabwe and one of the directors of that project, it was his first time abroad, and the ride was a process of discovery.

"I had heard and read so much about America, and it was a dream come true," said Zivurawa, tugging at his sunglasses and appearing quite at ease in his Spandex tights. However, there were trying times on the way, Zivurawa said, especially when in "one small town {in Texas}, I was the only black person around and felt very uncomfortable," and when browsing through the restaurant menus, "I couldn't make a choice because I couldn't understand what the names of the items meant."

Zivurawa, who began his ride from Austin, said he was struck by the "amount of food that is wasted in America and the amount of things that people here take for granted." It was an enriching experience, he said, to see the "rich culture and the very friendly people" from close quarters.

For Tom Flynn, 23, a University of Indiana political science student, it was an experiment in idealism, he said, and it gave him an opportunity to "raise money for people who need it much more than we do."