Gran Fondo New Jersey at 5: The training wheels are off

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Video: Bill Ruddick shares history and preview of the Gran Fondo New Jersey

By Kevin Coughlin

No more training wheels for the Gran Fondo New Jerseywhich celebrates its fifth birthday this weekend.

The first four years have taught the organizers what works, and they’re sticking with the formula.

gran fondo nj 2015 logo“We didn’t make any major changes this year,” said event founder Marty Epstein of Marty’s Reliable Cycle. “People like the routes.”

Some 2,200 cyclists from 10 countries and 30 states are anticipated for scenic rides that start and end in Morristown on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. A “Kids Fondo” is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Vail Mansion on South Street.

The biggest challenge for Epstein and Fondo Executive Director Bill Ruddick may be applying the brakes, to keep the popular event from overwhelming the area.

It has doubled in size since 2011, when Tropical Storm Irene blew back the inaugural Fondo by three weeks.

Some 2,050 cycles participated in the Gran Fondo NJ 2014. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Some 2,055 cyclists participated in the Gran Fondo NJ 2014. Photo by Katharine Boyle

“We’re focused on managing the cyclists’ experience, so we’re limiting the growth, year over year. What we don’t want to do is have the event grow significantly in one year, and find out with that growth that things broke that we didn’t think would break,” Ruddick explained.

One change that returning cyclists will notice is the main venue. Post-ride festivities– bike vendors, live music and food — will line North Park Place, facing the historic Morristown Green. In past years, they were a few yards away, at Pioneer Park near Headquarters Plaza.

Otherwise, riders once again can choose from tried-and-true routes of 18, 42, 62 or 107 miles.  The routes are packed with challenging climbs, and punctuated with rest stops known for treats like cannoli, Sea Salt Caramel cookies and ice cream sundaes.

Riley Juhlin makes sure her brother Owen's helmet is secure for the 2014 Kids Fondo in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Riley Juhlin makes sure her brother Owen’s helmet is secure for the 2014 Kids Fondo in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The longest ride stretches through Morris, Somerset and Hunterdon counties to the Delaware River.

“By the time you cross the finish line back in Morristown, you will be spent, but extremely satisfied with having finished a very challenging route,” the organizers promise.

Although several hill climbs are timed, the Gran Fondo (“Big Ride” in Italian) is not a race.

It’s more like an endurance test one can do with friends, through verdant rolling hills that (sometimes) take your mind off the mission assigned to your legs and lungs.

Bicycling Magazine ranks the 62-miler among the “50 Best Rides in America.”

Wendi Zimmerman of Homeless Solutions Inc. gets $5,000 and Marty Epstein of Marty's Reliable Cycle gets a hug. Marty donated proceeds from the first Gran Fondo New Jersey to three charities, including Homeless Solutions. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Wendi Zimmerman of Homeless Solutions Inc. gets $5,000 and Marty Epstein of Marty’s Reliable Cycle gets a hug. Marty donated proceeds from the first Gran Fondo New Jersey in 2011 to three charities, including Homeless Solutions. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The Fondo also continues to drive local charities. Some $600,000 has been raised so far, with about one-third contributed from Fondo proceeds, Ruddick said. Organizations have raised the rest by soliciting donations to sponsor cyclists.

“I like to describe it as a cycling-fundraiser-in-a-box,” giving nonprofits a way to raise money without the logistical hassles of organizing their own event, Ruddick said.

Officially designated beneficiaries are The Seeing Eye Inc., Homeless Solutions Inc., Grow It Green Morristown, the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition, and Sustainable Morristown, which hosted Festival Earth, where we recorded our video interview (above) with Ruddick.

If you want to cheer for the cyclists, they depart at 7 am Sunday from the front of Headquarters Plaza.

A BIG RIDE: LAST YEAR’S GRAN FONDO BY-THE-NUMBERS:

  • 2,055 cyclists, including 158 cycling teams
  • 123 miles of routes in 23 municipalities
  • 153,691 miles ridden (more than six times around the world)
  • 12,777,975 feet climbed (440 Mt. Everests)
  • 2,546 gallons of water consumed
  • 7,698,050 calories burned
  • 3,612 lbs (91 percent) of waste diverted from landfill (recycled, composted, reused)
  • 7.1 tons of CO2 generated (23 percent from event operations, 77 percent from miles ridden by participants)

Source: Gran Fondo New Jersey.

MORE ABOUT THE 2015 GRAN FONDO NJ

SCENES FROM THE 2014 GRAN FONDO

 

A volunteer prepares Nutella sandwiches at the Gladstone rest stop, for the 2014 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
A volunteer prepares Nutella sandwiches at the Gladstone rest stop, for the 2014 Gran Fondo NJ. Some 300 volunteers staff the event. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

 

 

 

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