To me, a noncyclist, the idea of paying $100 to ride a bike in a crowded group on extremely steep hills and sharp curves for a hundred miles is my worst nightmare. But after five years of watching people scramble for the opportunity to ride Levi's King Ridge Granfondo, I've come to understand it as a "thing" that people "like to do."
What nearly anyone can get behind is that the Granfondo raises funds—an average of $60,000 per year—for Santa Rosa to host the Tour of California, the West Coast equivalent of the Tour de France. Since 2009, Levi's Granfondo has grown to become a destination event for cyclists from around the country and a boost to local charities—even after a doping scandal rocked the sport and tarnished the legacy of the ride's namesake, Santa Rosa resident Levi Leipheimer.
"Levi is the host, his name is on it," organizer Greg Fisher explains, "but he'd be the first one to tell you it's about a great day on a bike, and it's really wonderful that it can't be touched."
The initial King Ridge Granfondo had 3,500 participants paying to ride their bikes on an extremely difficult course that, 364 other days of the year, is free. Five years later, the Granfondo is a tourism beacon for the city. With its momentum and a celebrity at the helm, Fisher sees no reason the ride won't continue, despite Santa Rosa's decision not to host the Tour of California in 2014. "We have no plans to stop the party," he says. "There's no reason to."
Santa Rosa economic development specialist Raissa de la Rosa explains that "because [the city] did not submit a bid to participate in the Tour for 2014, [it does] not expect to receive any funds from the 2013 Granfondo."
So where will all that cash go?
Beneficiaries this year include VeloStreet's Cycling Initiatives Program; Forget Me Not Farm; Community Giving (Rural Schools and Fire Departments); Dempsey Center For Cancer Hope and Healing; and the Pablove Foundation. But BikeMonkey has been doing some charity work of its own: paying to patch potholes on public roads.
"The county is having a hard time keeping these roads maintained," says Fisher, marketing director for Bike Monkey. "But if we have an opportunity to make the cycling in Sonoma County a little safer, we want to do it." So far, they've patched up King Ridge, Sweetwater Springs and other roads, with more work planned. In this process, county and city officials have been more than just responsive, says Fisher: "They ask how they can help."
Fisher is somewhat modest about the charitable impact the Granfondo has had. "We anticipate fundraising to be on track this year," he says, choosing not to boast about the fact that if his assumption holds true, the ride will have raised over $1 million in its five years of existence. No matter his past scandals, that's one thing nobody can take away from Leipheimer.
"He'll ride this thing until his legs fall off," says Fisher—unwittingly describing both Leipheimer's dream and my own nightmare in one terrifying notion.