Trek Travel sat down with Bill Ruddick, executive director of Gran Fondo NJ, to learn more about the inspiration for this incredible event. From riding across Canada to a fat bike ride across a frozen lake at the end of February, the Gran Fondo is crafted from once-in-a-lifetime cycling experiences. Bill knows first hand how tough a ride can be, but more importantly, how to make it fun.
For those who are unaware, what is a Gran Fondo?
A Gran Fondo is a mass-participation endurance cycling event, with a timing component, and a festival at the end. Gran Fondo routes are typically very challenging (lots of climbing). Some Gran Fondos time start-to-finish, others time only the toughest hill climbs. At Gran Fondo NJ we offer timing only on the toughest climbs of the routes – this allows our riders to enjoy the scenery of the routes and the amazing offerings at our rest stops without feeling they are being penalized.
What is the history behind Gran Fondo NJ?
Gran Fondo NJ is the brainchild of Marty Epstein, its founder and the owner of Marty’s Reliable Cycle. We started the event in 2011 with an initial focus of showcasing the amazing cycling in northern New Jersey, providing our riders with the best one-day experience they will have on a bike, and putting on a sustainably responsible event. The event is also used by some of our riders, as well as our five beneficiaries, as a charity ride to raise funds for their favorite causes. The event has raised over $600,000 for charities since its inception and last year it was the first cycling event in the world to earn a Gold Level of accreditation from the Council for Responsible Sport.
What makes this event particularly unique?
We think Gran Fondo NJ offers a unique blend of a challenging bike ride, a personal competition with our timed hill climbs and fun. You know this is different from any other cycling experience when you pull in to the first rest stop and are greeted by Cheerleaders, Seeing Eye puppies and cannolis. To the surprise of many, we have amazingly beautiful cycling routes just 40 miles from NYC.
Tell us your story. How long have you been riding bikes?
I have been riding bikes since I was a kid delivering the morning newspaper in Montreal. I rode my bike to school and college, and have built up a number of bikes from scrap parts. Once my kids got older, I started riding and raising money in charity events. My first week-long event was a ride across Alaska in August of 2000 (yes we had two days of snow), and it just took off from there.
What was your inspiration to ride across Canada in 2010?
I was inspired to ride across Canada to re-live a family road trip in the summer of 1966 – my mum and dad packed up 4 kids and camping gear in a station wagon and drove from Montreal to Vancouver and back. It also met my criteria for adventure – “If you are going to do something, it might as well be memorable!”
Tell us about your most adventurous day on a bike.
My most adventurous day on a bike was on the ride across Canada – it was a supported ride, but basically a daily game of “Survivor” played out over 10 weeks. Each day we had to ride to the next campsite where the truck with all our gear was waiting. On one day, a 100-mile ride between Ottawa and Montreal, I broke a rear drive-side spoke 20 miles in to the ride. Luckily I found a bike shop back in Ottawa that had the spoke I needed, but to get it fixed I had to abandon the group I was with, take a taxi back to the shop, get the wheel fixed and start off all over again alone. I ended up re-starting the ride at around noon, and rode the 100 miles as an individual time trial. I managed to complete it in just over 6 hours (including two ferry rides and sight seeing) and to the surprise of the other riders on the tour made it into camp just before dinner.
What is your favorite travel destination and why?
There is something very captivating about Paris in the summertime – from the amazing sights, the wine and food, to the light at the end of a summer day. Also fun to plan it to coincide with the final day of the Tour de France when the city is taken over by the excitement of the peloton racing up and down the Champs Elysees.
Which Trek Travel trip is top on your bucket list and why?
That’s an easy one – it would have to be the Provence luxury vacation. I would like to test my mettle once again on Mont Ventoux, and ride through les Gorges de la Nesque – I had the opportunity to drive through les Gorges in 2004 and ever since then felt it would be an amazing cycling experience.