Events: Fools Classic 2017
(2017) Cover photo and all photos featured are courtesy of Mike Maney Photography. Be sure to check out his work; he is a fellow cyclist in the Bucks cycling community.
I solidified this conclusion on Narrow Hill Road where my legs gave out nearly fifty miles into the Kermesse Sport spring classic, Fools Classic. I had been churning just fine up to this point, conquering unpaved roads and punchy climbs. Yet the final third of the course was about to grind me to bits.
The Fools Classic has been its own April Fool’s joke over the years despite being the event that started it off for Kermesse Sport. What consisted of some twenty-five riders in 2005 has blossomed into three separate events between two states and over one major river. The Hell of Hunterdon sees participation in the hundreds; the Fleche Buffoon is gaining in popularity; but the Fools Classic has always struggled to find respect amongst the Kermesse linup. Today - twelve years after the fact - it earned its true stature.
Our ridekick and oft-mentioned hero, Mike, and I rode from my house to the starting line of this year’s event. With the start being fewer than six miles (and mostly downhill) hence, it was a necessary part to our day. As an ode to A Sunday in Hell, riding to the course felt somewhat professional. Happily Mike's presence throughout the event propelled your muse forward in some dark times on circuit. While Hell of Hunterdon has participants strewn about the course, the Fools Classic is sparsely populated. If one goes it alone, it can be an internal struggle to finish when rolling down a backcountry Bucks County road. It was why I considered attempting the Fools Classic: riding with Mike would allow struggling in numbers.
With the 2015 acquisition of the Point Pleasant Fire Company hall, the Fools Classic course now winds its way a bit more north than previous editions. Despite this, the route still demands respect and constant focus. Considering its northern explorations, the course remains technical and demanding. While I furrowed a brow at some of the bike selections at the starting line, I came to understand them in some of the steep gravel sections both up and down.
A smaller event than the Hell of Hunterdon, each rider knew s/he was getting more gravel sections (27 sectors in the Fools as opposed to nineteen in the Hell of Hunterdon) and more climbing (5,800 feet for Fools as opposed to 5,200 feet for Hell of Hunterdon, according to ridewithgps.com). Quickly each rider learned no two sectors were similar. The variation displayed itself in length, elevation, width, and surface. There were unpaved sectors that were sandy. Some sectors were dusty and remarkably graveled. Others were firmly packed down the middle like brown sugar. Yet there were also clay sectors that proved to be strangely fast because they were dry and it had a bridge in the middle. It doesn’t end there. Numerous gravel sectors – as opposed to the Hell of Hunterdon – were uphill experiences. Lodi Hill Road, the notorious gravel sector of the Fools Classic, features two switchbacks, two doglegs, and remarkable tire slippage. Mt. Airy Road climb was interuppted by wedding traffic. It was quite a curious sight to see freshly washed cars kicking up dust en route to the nuptials. Similarly, there were several downhill gravel sectors including Twin Lear Road, which necessitated remarkable focus and bike handling skills from riders.
That aforementioned moment on Narrow Hill Road reaffirmed the confidence that the Fools Classic is hard because of the route profile. Struggling with the potential of onset cramping, I concluded the route was difficult because there were few moments where riders could take on nutrition. The route was either going uphill or downhill in an acute manner. I had wanted to take on some calories for several miles, but couldn’t find a suitable stretch to relax. (Why would I want to pull over?) Even in the Hell of Hunterdon there were prolonged moments of respite on flat roads. I realized the Fools Classic demanded my focus from start to finish. Because of this, there were hardly moments to grab an Untapped Maple or a Tanka bar. The epiphany came much too late in the day when cramping started showing up from the routine taxing efforts.
Yet the route proved to be infinitely beautiful. Despite riding Bucks County roads for many years, the Fools Classic took us to roads never ridden before. Coon Hollow Road and Sunday Road specifically were unpaved experiences never rolled over. They turned out to be the two most enjoyable unpaved sectors on the route. Gallows Hill Road, a thru-way ridden many times, was immensely enjoyable in light that it’s newly paved. In its highly technical section I leaned the bike farther than ever before. So many times the sideways views were just as enjoyable as the route before me.
I’ve always touted Bucks County roads as quintessential cycling roads. If anyone wanted to experience nearly all of Bucks County in one ride, the Fools Classic event would be one of the best ways. With at least five general stores for nourishment, as well as twenty-some sectors, and multiple climbs over multiple ridges, the Fools Classic route takes in just about every aspect of Bucks County cycling. Though I may have scared interested randonneurs away by this point.
At the only rest stop at Upper Black Eddy Fire Company, I realized just how many math experts were riding the Fools Classic. Multiple participants were trying to predict just how much time was left in their ride considering there were roughly twenty miles remaining as well 2,000 feet of climbing. The concerning part was that for about five miles, the route paraded down the flat Delaware River canal, meaning all the climbing happened in the final fifteen miles. I sucked down too much cola and just the right amount of Fig Newtons before pushing off with Mike to finish the course.
The final two climbs, the unpaved Old Carversville and the sneaky McNeil were struggles. Mike found legs in the final portions of the route. The ascent from the Delaware River ground me down. McNeil Road, the final uphill challenge, felt gigantic. Seventy-odd miles will do that to hills. I had gone up this road several times in my career, but today was different. Winding around toward the finish Mike attacked in the final sector for the Fools. Bradshaw Road, a sector in sight of the finish, is perhaps the flattest sector of the entire ride. Those around us went with Mike and then tried to hang in there to the finish.
We rolled up to the Point Pleasant Fire Company happy to have completed the beautiful 2017 Fools Classic. On the other side of the door was a tasty meal, Buckingham's Mad Princes’ beer, and camaraderie to top off a springtime effort. It was a moment five hours in the making. Oh how comfortable those padded chairs were in the fire hall’s banquet room. The post meal food saw salad, baked ziti, and chicken marsala. Mad Princes brought along their own specialty brew, a malty Belgian farmhouse style of beer: Biere d'Avril, for the Fools Classic. Participants were given custom designed 32 ounce growlers with the expectation of filling them at Mad Princes' Brewing in the future.
I feel an overlooked portion of Kermesse events are the conversations that occur at the finish line. There are inquisitive topics ranging from how much climbing the electronics reported, or did you get up each climb without putting a foot down (admittedly Berger unhorsed me), as well as how many punctures did one collect? It is in the banquet halls of each spring classic these topics are discussed. One topic was touched on slightly. Do you think the Fools Classic is harder than the Hell of Hunterdon? Mike asked me this at the finish. I fired back an answer saying that it was. The Hell of Hunterdon is a steady effort if the participant has done enough research. But I’ve never seen multiple riders walking up a hill like they were in the Fools Classic. In the Fools Classic, there were at least three separate segments where riders were walking themselves to the summit. That should solidify the Fools’ status as the hardest. Hopefully this doesn’t turn anyone away from considering doing it in 2018.
It’s difficulty that sends us out amongst the gravel roads of Bucks County any time of year. We’d be fools not to accept the challenge next spring.
The final Kermesse Sport spring classic, a tribute to the Ardennes Fleche Buffoon, takes place April 29th from New Hope's Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church. We did this ride last year and enjoyed the challenge. This year will have food at the finish.