For those of you who haven’t had a chance to visit Santa Rosa, Calif., and do Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo, you’ve missed out on what is easily the best cycling event I’ve ever entered, let alone completed. The real powers-that-be behind the event are the guys from Bike Monkey. Without them, the veritable army of volunteers that makes the event happen would all be out riding their bikes or watching American Idol. Which begs the question, how did they get to be so good at it?

Well, if you were only familiar with the gran fondo or maybe their eponymously titled magazine, Bike Monkey, then you’ve missed the bread and butter of what this bunch does. Led by Carlos Perez, Bike Monkey is best known to NorCal residents as an organizer of mountain bike races.

I’ve made some mention of my intent to move to Santa Rosa. The ability to go mountain biking without loading my bike into my car is no small part of that decision. That’s the life I had in New England and frankly, I’m fed up of not having that. There’s also the fact that mountain biking in Sonoma is magic. Don’t take my word for it, though, just consider that mountain bike legend Chuck Ibis (Scot Nicol to the rest of the unwashed) calls Santa Rosa home. So once I’d picked up a used 29er I needed to immediately go ride in amazing places. I mean, I had to, right?

When I contacted Bike Monkey about SoNoMás, I was surprised by the response I got. I was told it was a small event, only a couple hundred people. That it was low-key with a simple barbecue afterward. No expo. The course was as technical as the code for WordPress and almost no one rides the whole thing. And it can be hotter than a Russian bride.

It struck me as an odd sort of sales pitch. Then I realized they thought I might not enjoy the event and wanted to caution me. That collection of details was a warning. I told them I couldn’t wait.

Honestly, I figured that I’d treat this like a guided tour. I’m not really in race shape (not that I want anyone to check Strava or Map My Ride just to verify that), but it struck me as an excellent chance to go out for a really long ride in completely unfamiliar terrain while getting great support and benefitting from the utter impossibility that I’d get lost.

It was a genius plan. At least, on paper.

Certain parts of the plan went to, uh, plan. I didn’t get lost. The aid stations (can I just say God bless Brian Vaughn and the folks at Gu?) were stocked with real racer-type energy foods like Gu gel packs, Gu chomps, Gu brew and plenty of water. Not a freakin’ Oreo in sight. There were plenty at each aid station, all seven of them. So I didn’t bonk, either.

But that bit where I told myself that I’d ride the shallower climbs easy so I could leave something in the tank for the technical and steep bits. Yeah, that part succeeded the way Contador’s appeal did. Hey, I got this, yeah, genius plan, whoa that looks tough, no, wait, I’m gonna make it, oof, my hip hurts.

It was nice not to fall in front of the photographer, though. And these photos, by the way, are courtesy of Daydreamer Cinema. Daydreamer’s Jamie Tuell is part of the team working on the documentary about Levi being produced by Bike Monkey called The Levi Effect.

Kym Fant, pictured above, is one of the sextet of women doing the Reve Tour this summer, riding each of the stages of the Tour de France the day before the race does. She joined us for a ride a couple of weeks ago when I was up in Geyserville checking out the P5 and being introduced to Osmo. On the ride she told me that she had recently completed a week in which she’d trained 25 hours. She and her husband, Glenn, who is a regular training partner of Levi’s and the owner of NorCal Bikesport (and one of Bike Monkey’s most ardent sponsors) have a three-year-old son. Theirs is a very full schedule. Aside from being utterly charming, Kym finished SoNoMás in four hours. Glenn was a bit closer to three.

My personal odyssey lasted a bit more than five hours—5:18 to be precise. Because the course was a true point-to-point loop (and not a bunch of laps on some circuit) there came a point in my third hour where I didn’t see anyone for a while. I was just out having a mountain bike ride with free lemonade stands along the way.

I dig that someone had the wherewithall to wheelie the finish.

And yes, some guys killed this thing.

The post-event barbecue was relaxed. Relaxed in a family get-together way. There were plenty of wives/girlfriends/kids/dogs. And they all poached some of that excellent chicken at some point. None were quite so opportunist as the dogs, though.

This was hard enough that I wouldn’t want to ride it every weekend, but as part of the arc to each season, I hope never to miss it in the future. Truly a first-class event. That there were only 200 or so racers just means more people need to hear about it.


Images: Jamie Tuell, Daydreamer Cinema

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  1. Peter Lin

    Nice post. Looks like that ride is fantastic. I hope to ride Levi’s Fondo one day, but for now I’ll settle for supporting the documentary about Levi.

  2. troutdreams

    My hat’s off to Daydreamer Cinema. The photos are no less than EXCELLENT. In my mid-western eyes, the pictures really contrast the land, sky, even the riders, to what I’m used to seeing. Thanks for the cerebral trip across the states in the middle of a work day.

  3. Superstantial

    I was at the first Levi’s Gran Fondo. Bike Monkey puts on an amazing event.

    I didn’t even know about this when I lived in the Bay Area and now I’ve moved to DC.

    I hate you a little bit for writing about this, but that’s not to say stop doing it.

  4. Hobbanero

    That was a great race. I love that it opens up with a road climb to sort out the mess by the time you hit the first singletrack climb (which turned me into a mess). Kudos for the cold bottles at the aid stations–those were magic. What a tough course-were there any flat sections? Glad it was not as hot as last year.

    Thanks, Murphy, for the Tecate before the final climb. Made 45mph on the descent seem perfectly sensible.

  5. tiny tim

    What a buzzkillington this article is. I grew up in sonoma county and currently live in “west county”, but in 2 short weeks I gotta move to the claremont area. My first “road” rides would consist of peddling my univega mountain bike up kings ridge, sweet water, and all the juicy super secret single track in occidental and capping it off with a dip in a pristine swimming hole. The bay area, especially sonoma and marin counties, have some of the best riding/bike culture around. A single tear and a pour of my forty for you my dearest north bay.

  6. Howard

    Padraig, come on up to God’s Country to live! As you know now its beautiful, but living here is so fine. I moved here from North Carolina 3 years ago. This IS home.

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