My favorite picture from my days in the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference is a breakaway featuring a single rider each from Harvard, Princeton, UPenn, Columbia, Dartmouth, and lil’ Middlebury College. That there is a strong collection of academic horsepower. Brains in that breakaway were right on par with brawn since not a single one of those institutions consider themselves cycling powerhouses and I trust no one in that breakaway got into their schools as a result of cycling.
Tyler Wren and I raced against each other in college. He was that Princeton rider and I was the Midd kid. We stood atop the same podiums at collegiate national championships and both went on to race head-to-head professionally for the past ten years.
It’s always interesting to see where cyclists take their careers and lives post-cycling. Tyler has gone on to create the Farm to Fork Fondo series, which I really can’t rave enough about. I first caught wind of it last year when I was already spending a week training in Vermont mid-summer and he invited me to the one smack in the heartland of that state. I was already smitten since Vermont is where I found and fell in love with cycling, so it was probably an easy sell. This past weekend I joined a few hundred other bike loving folks and rode the Hudson Valley edition of Farm to Fork, plus there are events in Pennsylvania and Maine later this year.
Cycling is an industry like anything else. Ergo, it hinges on sales to succeed. What makes cycling so unique is that it covers so many aspects of life. Cycling is exercise, it’s transportation, it’s a way to blow off steam, it’s both an input and generator of deep human emotion, it’s fun, it’s exhilaration, it’s a sport, and of course my favorite: it’s community (among a long list of other “it’s…”).
Farming is an industry too. While it’s feasible that we could live in a society that’s considers only scale and economy, and therefore make mega-farms that produce all GMO foods on enormous swaths of land to feed modern society, that would involve a lot of chemicals, frightening quantities of fossil fuels, and a stark lack of community ties. We’re humans, after all, not machines.
Tyler has brilliantly tied these two things together. The Farm to Fork Fondos begin in one central location, the Hudson Valley for example rolled out from a permanent farmers market/cidery/apple orchard farm and then visits a half dozen farms along the way. Even if just for a glimpse, it puts you in touch with the farmer, the family, the community that produces the food. Of course, the food is exquisite — this isn’t the age of orange slices and crusty granola bars! Think apple cobbler, freshly homemade ice cream, pies, turnovers, cheeses, just picked berries and apples, and lots of other just-made goodies. Oh right, maple syrup. They have maple syrup too.
From the industry side of cycling, I come from a racing background. That’s all well and good, but when Tyler can draw out hundreds of cyclists from around the country in just the first two years of these Farm to Forks, whereas so many races struggle to secure sponsorship, he’s absolutely hitting the nail on the head. The industry at large is taking notice and creating the perfect equipment for this new age of cycling.
I rode the Cannondale Synapse, for example, which is a plush ride accommodating all day in the saddle, but is still performance driven given that it’s the bike I once upon a time raced in the spring classics. I now have SRAM disc brakes for next-level performance combined with unparalleled reliability. I run wide tires; depending on the wheel I use, I run anywhere from 28 to 30c. Staying on the wide train, my gear ratios are enormous compared to my racing career. My 52-36 crank with 11-28t cassette has every single gear you’d ever need. Whether you’re on pavement or dirt, gravel, meandering farm road, or whatever, this type of set up (in fact, this exact set up, if I do say so myself) is optimal for a huge variety of terrain.
Honestly, it’s been tremendously eye opening to see the world outside the perspective of a bike racer. It’s no longer through horse blinders, but with eyes wide open. Whether you want to ride 10 miles or 100, these events — fondos, Dirty Kanzas, gravel races, 200 (not) on 100s — are so accommodating and so dang much fun. Especially the 200 on 100, that’s a bucket list item for everyone (but it is 200 miles, not 10, so heads up).
Bonus: You never know who you’ll run into at an event like this. I met a hero of mine from my days as a up and coming hockey player. Dude in the middle is Mike Richter, goalie for the New York Rangers. Want to feel humbled? Check out his bio. Then there’s that dude on the right. He might be British or something, not quite sure. There’s also the new president of USA Cycling, Derek Bouchard Hall. Lots of former cycling friends, whether collegiate or otherwise, like Tyler of course or Derek’s brother Kevin.