Events: Bicycling Magazine’s Fall Classic 2017
(2017) One year ago I had successfully completed the Bicycling Magazine Fall Classic. One year later, under noticeably sunnier skies I managed to roll from the start line several minutes late but up to the task of moving up through the field. It was a perfect fall day to ride a bike.
Starting from the velodrome in Trexlertown, PA, the seventh annual Bicycling Magazine Fall Classic rolled off with four distances from which to choose. The earliest to leave were the ninety-mile participants. An hour later – the wave I was in – the fifty-mile participants rolled out. The twenty-five and ten mile participants would leave each hour henceforth. Nearly 1,500 riders from as far away as Edmonton, Alberta took to the distances to enjoy a morning on the Lehigh and Berks County Roads.
After having my bike scanned, er… chipped for KOM timing, I made my way to the starting line behind the support motos. This gave me the feeling of being a professional who had punctured and made his way up through the convoy. After a couple of turns I caught up to the motos who parted ways for me to pass through. One of them yelled something to the effect of, “Go get ‘em!” I was not happy about being off schedule.
Straight away there’s something special about this event. A couple of years ago I worked in the area and witnessed the set-up for Bicycling Magazine’s Fall Classic. The signage is unlike any other event. This year they had the addition of two details: Flagger Force was present at nearly every major intersection and where they weren’t, volunteers were there to maintain a presence. Volunteer enthusiasm ranged from coaches full of encouragment to one woman taking advantage of the situation by reading a book. I was a fan of both approaches.
This route was much like fusion in the fact that it took cues from three highly successful rides. Take the fast paced roads of the Sunday Derby along with the variations of the Donut Derby and you have the closing miles of Bicycling Magazine’s fifty-mile route. To get some altitude toward the end study the cue sheets of Monkey Knife Fight to sting the riders a bit. There was even a gravel portion near Pikesville that seemed eerily reminiscent to the traumatic MKF course that continuously haunts my cycling memory. I shook off those nightmares of Monkey Knife Fight considering it was one of the last times I had rolled along these roads.
With transponders mounted to the bikes there were three KOMs along the fifty-mile route for the day. This measured each rider’s time going up the three designated portions for prizes. With the first two regarded as losses I decided to go big for the third KOM. It was perfect for me: the climb was a loose average of around four percent. It was too steep for power climbers and too shallow for climbing specialists. Things were going well until one of the riders in front of me dropped his arm warmer. I unclipped my left foot and tapped into my soccer past by skimming the road. In doing so I managed to snag the garment from the road, kick it up to my hand, and transferred it back to the rider. I passed it along to the guys behind me I would never be able to do that again. I continued to ride the climb hard.
Over the climb and the route mellowed out. The wind picked up further, making it difficult to determine where it came from. Riders were scattered here and there, also making it difficult to form cohesive groups. The final difficulty came with the combining of the twenty-five-mile course with the fifty-mile course. Many riders took to going three or four wide to have an unobstructed path to the finish.
Each turn became more recognizable as we neared the finish to the velodrome. We crossed the train tracks in similar fashion as the Derby. We meandered through the vast farm fields like the Donut Derby, even passing the very park that sheltered the donuts on Labor Day. I gained excitement as we neared the 333-meter track and the food trucks. And the beer.
I took a couple laps around the velodrome only to remove myself after being passed by an E-bike. I felt the rules of the velodrome were completely vacated for the day and I wasn’t interested in getting crossed up with someone. On the other side of the grandstands were riders turning to relaxation instead of cycling. The only difficult question was figuring out which truck to get lunch from.
The fifty-mile course was incredibly enjoyable. There were a few climbs but the overall vertical was manageable to anyone who wanted to have a go at the half-century distance. With approximately four rest stops, people of many abilities could consider it as their main event for the year. If you think you’re really ready for these roads, consider the spring classic Monkey Knife Fight. You’ll view this whole fusion thing in a different light.