There are some certainties we’re familiar with. The Indianapolis 500 is five hundred miles. The marathon is 26.2. And if push came to shove, you’d probably be able to bang out the correct Ironman distances too (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a marathon).
The distance of a gran fondo is not so simple. Of all the gran fondos out there, you’d be hard pressed to find two that are the same distance. We all know gran fondos are timed mass participation rides but that’s about it. There is no individual or governing body that can tell us how far they should be and there are certainly no world records being tracked for us to measure ourselves against.
Some would argue that a true gran fondo needs to be at least 100 miles or 160 km. The most popular gran fondo is the Novi Colli in Italy, which is 200 km. Others would disagree with the 160 km minimum citing another very popular Italian gran fondo. The Maratona dles Dolomites is just 138 km but has over 4,200m (14,000 feet) of climbing. There’s even been some fevered debate on Strava forums about whether their virtual gran fondos should be 100 or 130 kilometres.
Does it really matter exactly how far they are?
Most gran fondos in North America are somewhere between 140 and 180 kilometres (between 85 and 105 miles) with between 1,500 and 3,000m of climbing. Lots of miles to take in and certainly enough riding to make it hurt. For those who aren’t yet ready for that kind of distance, almost all major gran fondos offer shorter options.
When you are considering a destination event to add to your calendar, look for one that will give you the challenge you’re looking for and the weekend you’re after. Consider whether you want to be part of a massive event or if you’re seeking a more intimate experience. A gran fondo weekend is a great way to see a new place, enjoy stunning scenery and meet a challenge you’ve set for yourself. Don’t get too hung up on analyzing and comparing the various distances ’cause they’re all different and be thankful you’re not watching a 500 lap car race in Indiana!
Founder, Bicycle Sportive Tours International