Events: Rides We Spy
(2016) As the thermometer dips below zero around these parts, my thoughts turn to the upcoming spring and summer cycling season. Actually this article is justification for putting off riding the rollers in a cold garage (for a second night in a row). Imagine that. I’ve wanted to compile a list of events that have raised my eyebrows for the upcoming season. Some of these events are still very new, while some events are on their way out. There are actual races while others are in a gran fondo format. Some events are rather relaxing, yet there are one or two terrible challenges listed for those who still ride despite being given the odds of success. Hopefully one (or more) of these East Coast rides will catch the attention of someone looking to ditch the trainer and ride outside. If you're not from this area, survey the list and come sample what this region has to offer.
Sourland Semi- Classic - February 28 ($30)
This is the second year for the Sourland Semi- Classic. I rode in- and wrote about- the inaugural event and found it to be quite enjoyable. This is the first Kermesse ride of 2016. If cyclists are looking for a great event, look no further than this tour of the Sourlands in New Jersey.
A rider can expect approximately two gravel sections as well as a lengthy climb. Have no fear the climb isn’t too steep. One can also get the sense that the Sourlands is watching over the peloton. These woods are fabled to be haunted. Charles Lindbergh’s house is slung amongst these woods, and it's also the site of his oldest son's kidnapping.
Last year’s event saw a decent turnout considering the initial date was snowed out. This is one of the reasons Kermesse puts on a great show; they have incredible scheduling abilities. This wouldn’t be the only event to get snowed out in 2015. This is a shorter event covering a metric century. The ride starts and stops at Sourland Cycles in Hopewell, NJ, which is extremely welcoming to riders with post-ride food and Weyerbacher beer. If it's extra sloppy, they have a bike wash station out back for customer use.
Hell of Hunterdon - March 26 ($75)
Continuing with Kermesse events, the Hell of Hunterdon is their flagship event. It’s a true mystery as to why this event has outshone the original, the Fools Classic. In the first year of the Fools Classic, the route crossed the Delaware River twice, disrupting the pedal strokes. Riders were forced to dismount their bikes and hoof it over two bridges. It was decided to split the course and make it into two events.
The Hell of Hunteron is unparalleled in its attention to detail. I would say that this ride is popular because of its openness in feeling. A rider gets glimpses of beautiful views often. The ride overlaps some of the Sourland Semi- Classic sectors, but it swings a wide scan of Hunterdon County. Expect some solid climbs along with variable gravel roads. Last year Hutchinson Tyres sponsored sector counters so riders could feel some sort of progress.
There’s a reason I continue to come back to this ride despite the abuse it hurls. I’ve ridden it in freezing rain, gale force winds, but also on surprisingly warm spring days. Each ride has its own personality and no two Hunterdons have been similar. With a starting location returning to the Princeton Elks Lodge, riders can once again expect fantastic- tasting food and Weyerbacher beer to discuss the day’s outing. Hammer as hard as you’d like, don’t say I didn’t warn you about Pine Hill Road.
Monkey Knife Fight - April 9 ($25)
What in God’s name possesses someone to design a course like Monkey Knife Fight? Obviously, the name is fantastic. I decided to attempt this last year based on the name alone. Also, the route tours mostly Lehigh Valley roads, departing from South Mountain Cycle and Cafe in Emmaus, PA. But why the introductory sentence?
I wound up walking my bike up two separate dirt climbs (with a compact mind-you!). This ride is the demon seed of some sick mind who takes special pride in slaying riders' confidence. It will cut through every participant's ego with the aforementioned knife. Last year’s event also had a demoralizing buzzing wind the entire time around the course.
The interesting part? You can bail out at any time, but you won't. The course forms a clover pattern of sorts. Riders keep coming back to the same rest stop in a church parking lot. The worst part is that it feels so simple in the beginning. That’s because the route starts by going downhill. But the remainder of the route goes uphill forever. Forever. And each return to the course from the rest stop feels harder than the previous loop.
I rode this with a Cat1 mountain biker who also struggled with the climbs. If I remember correctly, one of the final gravel climbs required us to hop over a pile of snow, past a farm gate, and back onto the paved road. Only in an event like this. A little secret is the devious rest stop at the end where riders can christen themselves knife fight survivalists. Despite all this, Monkey Knife Fight is a challenge that is certainly recommended.
Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo - April 17 ($45)
A spring classic ride that cyclists purposely train for is certainly a fact to catch riders’ attention. Most of what I know of Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo has been handed down via oral tradition. It’s a ride that is nearly all gravel roads in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania. It is rumored only nine riders finished it last year. Nine! It’s a feather in the cap to those who simply attempt it. With a field limit to 250, this ride fills quickly (as of this writing every category was sold out).
This is a bucket- list event. Even the wait list is closed. Therefore, be quick about registering for this event in 2017. It will sell out again for sure.
Fools Classic - April 23 ($50)
Another Kermesse installment showcases the ride that started it all, the Fools Classic. Last year saw it bumped from the calendar in favor of the Hell of Hunterdon’s provisional snow date. Some of the hardest rides in my cycling career have come from the two Fools Classic experiences.
The first year I rode it the peloton was caked in mud in the opening sector. The second year I rode it was equally muddy with an addition of snow in the woods. Compatriots who rode in 2011 are still processing their day out. This course can be best described as a sleeper event.
Where the Hell of Hunterdon is wide open and airy, the Fools Classic is enclosed and thick. Don't expect many sweeping views. Gravel roads are barely one lane wide. One time I stopped to take a phone call on a dirt road and noticed a person staring back at me from the woods. One is not entirely sure he is near civilization among certain points of the course.
What’s more is the ever-changing surface of the Fools Classic. Some gravel roads are actually clay. Others are shale. No two roads are similar. Then there’s Lodi Hill to keep a rider honest. This route explores the spooky hollows of Bucks County. If the Hell of Hunterdon has filled up, this is a must- do substitute.
Battenkill Spring Preview - April 23 ($40)
Anthem Sports has announced it is stepping away from the Tour of the Battenkill after 2016. Sadly it has struggled to gain acceptance in Washington County. Because this is the last year, the Spring Preview ride is a must- do.
Even if one isn’t planning on riding the Tour of the Battenkill, legendary climbs must be suffered in good company. With the route staying the same for this year, riders will certainly curse going up Meetinghouse Road, Juniper Swamp, and Joe Bean Road. (I personally hate Joe Bean Road.) Aside from this being the last year, the dirt roads in Washington County, NY, have been described as being smoother than many paved roads in the northeast. Last year I was lucky to be given a brief rundown of tourist locations by the event manager.
With Battenkill Creamery in the area, local maple syrup, and Brown’s Brewing Company from Troy, NY, signed on riders can expect some good times before, during, and after the prep ride. Just remember, when going up Joe Bean Road, you signed up for this.
Fleche Buffoon - April 30 ($35)
Both sides of the Delaware River have some irksome climbs. I say irksome in the fact that they don’t allow for a rider to find rhythm. The first climb could burn up all the matches set aside for the day. Unfortunately there are many substantial ascents remaining. This describes the Kermesse Sports' Flèche Buffoon.
This gravel- free spring classic explores some of the notorious paved climbs in both Bucks and Hunterdon Counties. That means the route crosses bridges where cyclists must walk. Perhaps that’s a good thing to walk the climbs off when seeking impressive ascents.
I’ve ridden many of the climbs on tap for the Fleche Buffoon, but I’ve never tried riding them all in one day. These are the efforts for which Strava was designed. Expect rolling backcountry roads only to be slapped in the legs by a twenty-percent wall for a couple hundred meters.
The first year saw heavy downpours cancel the event. It was brought back, but it’s hard to convince people to go out and trudge over multiple steep climbs. However, knowing Kermesse events, this is one for the experience column. Since it starts and stops in New Hope, Rubber Soul Brewing Company will be ready to serve up post-ride libations to those clad in spandex.
Tour of the Battenkill - May 21 ($95/ race)
Some of my most memorable racing moments came from the Tour of the Battenkill race. I’ve trekked to Greenwich, NY, several times to try my luck at the ever-changing course. Last year saw bad luck with a crash in training the week before. Although I tried to push through it, I had no chance.
This being the last year would be a perfect time to right the wrongs of last year’s experience. The start/ finish line is camper friendly. The expo area is crowd friendly. And the maple syrup milkshakes are worth the trip alone. Unfortunately I won’t be able to bid this friend farewell due to conflicting schedules.
If cyclists are looking for a Grand Tour feel, look no further. The swag at the expo is top notch, and the backers are passionate about welcoming thousands of cyclists to this tiny town for one weekend.
I will certainly miss this race. Spring always feels strangely unsatisfying without it. Anthem Sports has created a fine product that should be celebrated before the race goes into limbo. Perhaps someone will buy out the race, but why chance it? If the race is not the selling point, consider the Gran Fondo, the same price as the race (minus the race license fee).
Whiteface Mountain Uphill Bike Race - June 4 ($70)
I'm not a climber. I'll get that right out there. Yet there's something mystical about climbing this mountain. Whiteface is an outdoor sports paradise with skiing, downhill mountain biking, and the Veteran's Memorial Highway, which hosts a playground for cross-country skiers or road cyclists.
For the Whiteface Mountain Uphill Bike Race, cyclists start at the ski entrance, make a left, smoke it downhill, make another left and say goodbye to any pitch other than up. The final eight miles of the eleven mile course is uphill. Furthermore the entire upward trajectory averages 8%. I've gone up it twice and advocate for the mountain's relentlessness. There's one flat spot on the way up, about 100 meters from the parking lot at the top.
With categories including cyclist, unicyclist, and tandems, this mass start is a battle of attrition and can be over in as little as 45 minutes for the angels. There is a two-hour limit on the event, though. While it's a battle to go uphill, the victory lap of an eight-mile descent is tough to beat. Not to mention, finishing at a castle on a mountaintop is usually something East Coasters only see in the Tour. If one is really into suffering, this event is followed by the running version of it within one week. Being cyclists, though, there's no reason to run after properly draining the tank on the bike.
Black Fly Challenge - June 11 ($45)
Take two towns in the Adirondacks that need an event to provide some financial relief and fire tower roads and trails that connect them and the Black Fly Challenge is born. Each year the route changes direction to provide an incentive of newness.
This event has three distinct divisions: mountain bike, cyclocross, and tandem. Like I said, this race traverses fire roads and trails so it’s not quite a mountain bike race, not quite a gravel grinder, and not quite a cyclocross race. It’s a mash up of all three. That’s certainly a unique experience.
At just under forty miles, the race could turn ugly real quick. A slugfest from the start should be expected. With the altitude of the Adirondacks as well as the prevalent local cyclocross and mountain bike scene, riders can expect to be challenged during each mile.
Since this is the twenty-first year for the Blackfly Challenge, one should expect that it’s the real deal. Don’t expect to show up thinking the whole lot will be smoked by chiseled pins and an aero helmet. These guys don’t mess around.
Rapha’s The Longest Day - June 22 (Free)
The only free event on this list is one of the most intriguing. An event sponsored by Rapha encourages cyclists to ride from first light to twilight (or just beyond). Make it a lapped affair, make it an out-and-back, or race the light by swooping as far from the starting point as possible only to sprint back. This is Rapha's Longest Day ride.
Riders each year attempt to ride the farthest distance in one day. Some have hovered around the two-hundred-mile sum. Others find it to be the first century. Regardless of the number at the end of the day, riding from sun-up to sun down is a rewarding event.
Record The Longest Day on Strava, film it with a GoPro, then narrate it to video on Vimeo, riders can cement the experience into the interwebs as a possible inspiration for other riders who are considering it for 2017.
Bastille Day Randonee - July 10 ($35)
The last of the Kermesse events- until the fall- is in its second year. A handful of riders sampled the event in 2015 and found the course to be absolutely beautiful. Specifically rounding the reservoir was an amazing experience.
The Bastille Day Randonee is an all-pavement affair on the back roads of New Jersey. Unsurprisingly the route passed very close to New York City. What’s better is the fact that this route included all new roads I had never experienced. Despite the fact that this area has a significant population, much of the ride was spent in peace. With several rest stops, this ride has a Euro feel to it.
With enjoyable swooping downhills, this ride will pay back over and over. This ride is the reason to ride bikes. It makes one forget the outside world for over eighty miles just long enough to still feel connected. Quaint little towns and horse farms create a remarkable scenery on roads never seen before. Since the ride starts at V5 Cycles, one can watch the Tour on their big screen television at the completion of the ride.
Tour of the Catskills - August 6 ($95)
The third Anthem Sports event, the Tour of the Catskills has returned with significant changes for 2016. Gone is the three-event/ two-day stage race. It has been replaced with a Gran Fondo. While this is a disappointment because of the timeliness of it, one should certainly pounce on this fleeting offering.
If one needs convincing, read my review of riding the Catskills last August. These are beautiful areas. The sites, sounds, and even the smells are remarkable in the fact that cars are a rarity on these routes. At 77 miles, this event is the right distance in the dog days of summer. With great eateries just miles north of New York City, this event can certainly take on a competitive nature. With awards for top finishers, it’s entirely possible to get that race feel if cyclists want to. Otherwise, sitting on a wheel and looking around at the beauty the Catskills has to offer isn’t a bad way to ride.
Wrenegade Sports Farm to Fork Fondo – Lancaster County - August 6 ($115)
The first year for this event saw great success in Vermont. With at least two other locations (Vermont and Hudson Valley), the Farm to Fork Fondo is the real deal. What better way to experience the local color by riding to rest stops professionally prepared using only local ingredients?
The distance is right, too. At an impressive 109 miles (and as short as nine miles), this event can be rightfully thought of as a day- long event. Instead of thinking it’s a century, see it as multiple rides to tasty treats. Plus, the event in Lancaster County can be viewed as a tasty way to experience the Amish communities. For those unfamiliar with this area, don’t underestimate the cyclists from that area. They are the real deal (just read about the Derby on this site).
With the expansion from one event in 2015 to four in 2016, something exciting is being done. This is certainly an event worth checking out for this year.
Nightmare Tour Perimeter Ride of Lancaster County (unsure if this is happening in 2016)
I’ve heard this event is not a cycling event as much as it’s a survival experience. The unofficial longest possible single-day event on this list, the Perimeter Ride is advertised as 177 miles of some of the hardest climbs totaling 15,000 feet of climbing (you read that right). And that's not even the farthest offering. Consider the double century or the 24- hour divisions. It circumnavigates Lancaster County, which means one may find him/ herself located in the middle of nowhere should help need to be hailed. Many cyclists have discussed this as a bucket-list event, too.
Basing it off of the Catskills ride completed in 2015, which took us eight hours over 140 miles, this could be a morning to evening experience. It’s a study in self-sufficiency and remarkable planning. It’s also a study in masochism and reaping bragging points. If this event is planned for 2016, this might be an once-in-a-lifetime event many would not be able to top at the Labor Day picnic party.
Tour of the Adirondacks - August 20-27 ($1500)
Want the feeling of a Grand Tour over seven days without the racy expectations? Want incredible views and the often-peaceful roads? Then the Tour of the Adirondacks is a must-consider event.
For one week, cyclists will complete stages of varying lengths with a start town and a finish town. Start out in the morning, tour through the day, and finish in the same town the luggage was sent. This is how the Adirondacks can be enjoyed well.
In its second year, the Tour of the Adirondacks saw great success in 2015. Its changing course has been finalized and registration is open. The stage lengths are nothing to turn a nose up to. The routes constantly flirt with the century mark. Visit towns in the Adirondacks that are known for private shops, general stores, and the all-American vibe of being in the backcountry. The price is hard to beat, too. At that price, it would be a starting point just for a long weekend at one of the bigger towns. Definitely put this on the must-do list for this year.