Ride Report: 2009 Great Finger Lakes Bicycle Tour

The GFLBT was the first organized ride I ever did. It remains a favorite and, for me, marks the official start of the summer cycling season. It’s also something of a touchstone, where I measure my progress from year to year.

For just $68 ($72 with a bunk in a bunkhouse) you get three great days of riding, four catered meals, maps, cue sheets, SAG, and many wonderful new friends.


I caught a ride down with Hndlebar and his GF Cher. They pitched their tent, I plopped my stuff in the bunkhouse and after checking-in, we lined-up for the Friday night Fire Tower ride. It’s a little 20-miler to build the appetite before dinner.

Two years ago, this ride nearly killed me. The first half is mostly climbing. I had never climbed so much, for so long before. I was breathing so hard that I think I inhaled my way up the climbs.

I arrived at the base of the fire tower road, drenched, panting heavily, and unsure of myself. If this was the warm-up ride, “just for appetite”, what would the “real” rides be like the next day? (Read that write-up here.)

Last year, I forgot my shoes and had to drive back home to get them, so I missed this ride entirely.

I still have a bit of an inferiority complex, and lining up on Friday with only the memory of two years ago, it started in. It was only when I reminded myself that I was probably the only one there who had climbed Mt. Evans, that I begin to feel better.

On rollout, the Portland and I started towards the back. By the time we climbed out of camp, we were mid-pack. (Short and steep, I don’t count this among the three major climbs.)

In among all the carbon wonderbikes, the Portland stands out with its full fenders, bright stainless rack and huge euro reflector. I’m afraid it marks me as a Fred, but a Fred who left an easy 80% of the riders behind just doing an easy spin.

Tired of the wonderbikes, I zeroed in on a girl with a touring bike and fenders. Pulling alongside I said, “Finally! Someone with a sensible bike—one with fenders!” We laughed and rode the next mile or two together.

Two of the three major climbs behind, and I was reeling in the fast group. I was amazed that I was still doing an easy spin, wasn’t particularly winded, and my heart rate was below that of a typical commute. We arrived at the base of the fire tower road in the pack fodder of the fast group. Amazing!

Two years ago, after that set of killer climbs, I learned the joy of multi-mile descents. Although I kept Yellow Bike reined-in on my first multi-mile descent, I still clearly remember the feeling. Even the feeling of squeezing the brakes to scrub off some of our 32.5 MPHs for a tight 90° left at the base of a hill.

This year, I kicked the Portland up into the big ring, and spent most of the descent pedaling instead of coasting. We picked-up a couple of fast friends and roared down the hills in formation. Arriving back in camp among the first, the Portland and I had established ourselves as being worthy adversaries—fenders or no.

The most impressive numbers from that ride aren’t speed, cadence or elevation gain. The ones that impress me most are average heart rate (134) and maximum heart rate (165). Those numbers show how easy this “killer” ride has become for me, and that set the tone for the rest of the weekend.


I’ve always done the half-century on Saturday. I can ride centuries, but I never enjoy the second half, so why bother? Besides, the half-centuries at GFLBT seem to draw more interesting people, and more of them.

Two years ago I rode with the BikeJournal crew. Last year I rode with a retired cop from Pennsylvania. This year I rode with a guy from St. Catherines, Ontario.

Oh, and one poser—a guy on a carbon wonderbike who just couldn’t stomach a bike with fenders in front of him. He would work like hell to pass, then blow up a couple of hundred yards ahead. After passing him easily three times, he gave up and fell into my draft, before falling behind—way behind.

When the afternoon showers started, I took pity on the poor, unfendered guy and rode with him the final six miles into camp. Well, except for on a couple of the descents, where the Portland just would not be reined-in—rain or no rain. Hehehe…


The Sunday ride is always a circumnavigation of Keuka Lake. Last year I set—and met—a goal of three hours for the 45 mile ride. This year, I rode with Maggie, the 70-something woman from New Jersey who became our den mother two years ago at GFLBT when it was also the 2007 BikeJournal reunion.

The Keuka Lake ride is still my favorite ride in all of Upstate NY. It hugs the shoreline for most of the route, sandwiched in between the water on one side and a wall of trees on the other. I particularly like the section on NY 54A that’s West Lake Road. Curvy with lots of little rollers, it’s the most interesting piece of asphalt I know.

I got to know it in a whole new way this morning riding with Maggie at a rather more stately pace that I’d done previously, or earlier in the weekend, for that matter. We weren’t fast, but we had fun, enjoyed the scenery and had a nice, long, rambling conversation.

There’s only one climb of note on this ride, on 54A out of Branchport heading for Penn Yan. It’s long and hard in my memory, and on the forum in the week leading up to the ride, it acquired a fearsome reputation. I told Maggie she certainly could do it, and the view at the top was worth any huffing and puffing it may take to get there.

Measuring the grade this morning, it stayed right between three and five percent for less than a mile. At the scenic overlook Maggie asked, “When does it get hard?”

So for her reward, we took her up a little further to the Esperanza Mansion, a restaurant and party house up on the hill overlooking the scenic overlook. She rode that 10%-12% grade like a champ.

Maggie at Esperanza

I ended the ride taking only 45 minutes longer than last year, and with an average heart rate of just 94. My peak heart rate was less than I’ve averaged on some commutes.

And it was a wonderful cap to a wonderful weekend of riding.

I’m home, feeling refreshed from a weekend of riding, and ready for the week ahead.


I almost forgot about this. Lining up for the start of the ride Friday night, I spied this familiar-looking bike. Yes, it’s an impostor Yellow Bike. Or its sibling or something.

Not my Yellow Bike

This one has its original Vuelta Airline II blue wheels, the original blue bar tape, its dork disk, and wheel reflectors.

2 Responses to “Ride Report: 2009 Great Finger Lakes Bicycle Tour”

  1. Dave Rutkowski Says:


    I enjoyed your blog wrt the GFLBT, and our visits during those great meals. It is my hope to be able to return next year for another weekend of great riding….maybe I’ll bring my bike with the fenders 🙂


  2. Finger Lakes at Climate change Says:

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