Stop Marathoning and Start Fondo-ing

Call it a fondo, sportive, randonnée, bike race — regardless, it’s time you give it a try.

Brian Megens

Dear America: I know we generally do the whole “Europe does Europe, we do America” thing and act like those cross-ponders are crazy, with their universal healthcare and gun bans and soccer loving and month-long holidays. But let’s focus on one thing from the olde country: Europe’s into this thing that involves two wheels and a lot of Lycra and oodles of pavement and an undeniably compelling display of human effort and spirit: the bike race.

If we can all get on board with doing burpees in an abandoned warehouse or flipping tires like the strongman competition we see on late-night ESPN2 in just over a decade — that’s CrossFit, Founded in 2000 in Santa Cruz, CA — we can do more than just have middle-aged men on super carbon bikes and European visitors on “holiday” with fancy DeRosas show up to do this thing that we call the cycling race in our own American cities. And we’re taking steps to getting to it. Richmond, Virginia hosted the UCI World Championships, and the Tour of California drew crowds big enough to wow even the Europeans. But that’s only half the coin. The other half is something where we, too, America, can join in on the fun.

It’s what the Italians call the granfondo and the French call the cyclosportive and we call a bike ride. Like a marathon for people who ride bicycles rather than run, a ride operates at some racing level (if you’re into that) and also simply involves a lot of turning the pedals and talking to people and stopping at aide stations for snacks and sodas (if you’re into that). They happen all over. They cover long distances. They feature friends who ride bikes.

And if you participate in these bike rides, you enjoy the double pleasure of both getting some serious exercise and also becoming what we call an ambassador for a still-burgeoning sport. On my ride in the New York Gran Fondo, thousands of these bike ambassadors went out and baffled the populace with what looked (to the crowd, we can assume) like a foreign experiment in human energy production. The crowd got an education on how beautiful fancy bikes look while passing through suburban neighborhoods, and the riders got an education in what fun can be had by getting up early in the morning and setting out across the GW bridge and tackling 100 miles of turns and straights and uphills and downhills. Sure, the athletic feat can come close to killing you — we almost lost one of our own — but most come out alive and well, and as different, better people.

So for all those who stand around the water cooler and say, “Hey, I’m gonna do a half marathon” — you should know that that same conversation can be had by replacing those two last words with “bike ride.” It’s easier on the knees. You see more of the world. You spread the intoxicating joy of using your legs to power yourself on two wheels, going as fast as humans can power ourselves.

Next year, consider mixing up the fitness routine. Choose pedal power over stride power. Commit to spreading bicycling education. Come and ride it out with close friends who like to spin the pedals. And re-learn the joy we all accumulated as kids — the fascination of mixing balance and speed into forward motion on two rubber wheels. Commit now, train through winter, and you’ll enter next year among the ranks of the good-natured, slim-bodied people we call cyclists.

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