Registration is now open for 2017 Black Bear Gran Fondo
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
A popular local bicycling event made several significant changes to its format last year, and a few more adjustments are expected for the event this year.
Registration for the 2017 Black Bear Gran Fondo – an event that gives riders an opportunity to complete a “century ride” (100 miles), or one of two smaller loops – is currently open. To sign up, visit the active.com registration page through a link on blackbeargranfondo.com. Sign-up fee is either $25 or $40, depending on the rider’s age group and desired distance loop.
The Gran Fondo went by a different name – the “Black Bear Bicycle Tour” – for the first 15 years of its existence.
The Black Bear Bicycle Tour started in 2001. It gave cyclists a chance to complete a “century ride” during the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, a 120-mile nonstop race from Grayling to Oscoda conducted annually during the last full weekend of July. The Black Bear was considered both a “race” and a “tour,” because people could try to reach the finish line at Oscoda before the top AuSable Marathon paddling teams (and before other Black Bear riders), or they could opt for a more relaxed pace and enjoy the exercise and scenery.
The Black Bear Bicycle Tour started at 8 a.m. on Sunday, 11 hours after the start of the AuSable Marathon, in order to have the first finishers of each event reaching Oscoda at approximately the same time. In some years, the first cyclists made it to Oscoda before the first paddlers, and in other years, they did not.
In 2001, during the first Black Bear Bicycle Tour, 51 riders participated. Close to double that amount participated in 2002. In 2003 – for the third Black Bear – participation numbers were close to 190. In 2012, the event had more than 330 riders. The event had more than 270 in 2013, more than 250 in 2014, and more than 200 in 2015.
Event organizers were planning to end the Black Bear after 2015, but the Grayling Rotary Club continued the event in 2016 with a new name, new format, and new day.
Organizers separated the Black Bear from the AuSable Marathon, giving the event its own weekend in early July, and changing the course to a loop that does not involve Oscoda.
The Black Bear Gran Fondo now starts and ends at Hanson Hills Recreation Area, located at 7601 Old Lake Road. Changing to the loop eliminated the issue of having to arrange transportation from Oscoda to Grayling after the event.
More than 200 people signed up for last year’s Black Bear Gran Fondo, and the official list of results had 180 finish times. Event organizers are hoping for more riders in 2017 during the second year of the revamped Gran Fondo event.
“We have had tons of interest on our (Facebook) page and we anticipate lots more registrations now that the weather seems to be headed to summer and cyclists are making their summer plans. We want to beat our total registrations from last year of 200,” said Stephanie Riemer, Black Bear Gran Fondo Registrar.
Is the Gran Fondo a race or a tour? In a way, it’s both: riders can try to finish before others, or they can take their time. Another way to look at it: “Neither, it’s a Gran Fondo,” according to the event’s website. “A gran fondo is a mass participation cycling event that got its start in Italy in the early 1900s. Loosely translated, it means everything from ‘great foundation,’ ‘great distance’ or ‘great endurance.’ Some cyclists ride for the satisfaction and pride of just making it to the finish line. Others want to improve upon their previous times and to challenge themselves, their friends, their teammates. Some ride to win.”
One thing that event organizers did not want to change with regard to the Black Bear Bicycle Tour and the Gran Fondo? The “century ride” option, plus smaller courses for those who do not wish to ride that far.
This year’s Gran Fondo will include three distance options: 100 miles, 62 miles, and 45 miles. Last year, the event only had two distances.
“We revised the 100-mile and 62-mile routes based on feedback we received from last year’s participants. All routes will be chip-timed looped routes that start and finish at Hanson Hills – as last year – and they will be going in a clockwise direction, going through downtown Grayling at the beginning of the route and finishing by going north on Military Road and finishing back at Hanson Hills. Our cyclers have reviewed the routes and they are excited about the changes we’ve made,” Riemer said.
The 2017 Black Bear Gran Fondo will start at Hanson Hills on Saturday, July 8, at 8 a.m. (100 miles), 8:30 a.m. (62 miles), and 9 a.m. (45 miles).
The different times for the distance mass starts allow riders to be in groups with cyclists of similar pace.
“Riders are required to stage according to their ability to ride in a large group. All riders depart the start line at one time, requiring less experienced riders to position themselves toward the back of the mass start group. All route timing is relative to when the riders cross the line, so no time penalty will be incurred by starting further back in the group,” according to the event’s website.