Is this your first MSU Gran Fondo? Here’s how to make the most of it.

July 14, 2021 - Joel Van Kuiken

Joel Van Kuiken is a life-long creative and cyclist, co-founder of The Delta Project, life coach, consultant and teacher.

It’s a big ride! That’s the whole idea of the MSU Gran Fondo. If it’s your first one, or even your second or third, you need to make sure you are prepared.  

So, what does it take to do that first big ride and what should you expect? Luckily, accomplished rider, Elaine Sheik, wrote a blog post a few years ago that shared six tips for your first MSU Gran Fondo.

I’m going to build on that and give you further perspective from the road, whether you’re riding the 80-, 40-, 25- or 12-mile course.

Joel Van Kuiken (middle) with Ralf Scharnowski (right) and Christian Vande Velde (left) at the 2019 MSU Gran Fondo.

I’ve been lucky enough to participate in every MSU Gran Fondo since its inception in 2013. What I’ve learned is that there’s truly something for everyone. As a seasoned cyclist, I find myself in the 80-mile group that heads to the lakeshore. That distance, or any distance you’re committing to for the first time, might seem intimidating – but it shouldn’t be.

Simply put, each distance requires a different amount of commitment and training for you to get the most out of your ride on the day of the event. You can do it if you set your mind to it. You just need to get accustomed to your bicycle – make sure it fits well so you enjoy riding it – and build your fitness accordingly. Set reasonable fitness goals and commit to a distance that you can manage.

You might feel some butterflies when you line up at the start-line with literally hundreds of other riders. That’s a good thing, because the start is one of the biggest thrills of the ride itself. You will feel invigorated when you hear the countdown, and you roll across the line to begin your ride. The excitement is reward for the work you’ve done to get ready. It means you have arrived!

Once you are on course, group ride etiquette becomes extremely important, especially in a large group of riders. But don’t worry. This short video will quickly help you understand the rules of engagement and keep you safe.

One thing you need to remember about the MSU Gran Fondo is that it’s not a race. Yes, it’s timed, but as the saying goes, you are only racing against yourself. That’s motivation enough, and when you commit to the ride year after year, you will likely want to improve and achieve a new PR each time you participate.

If you use Strava, RidewithGPS or MapMyRide, you can easily track your goals and achievements not only during the Fondo, but during your training rides as well. These apps are motivational, they become a good obsession that allows you to thoroughly enjoy the afterglow of each ride you complete.

Once you’re rolling down the road, the goal is to find your flow with the group – push yourself, or not. Any speed is okay – because this is your ride. With so many people participating, you will find likeminded riders you can work with to go the distance.

The longer rides include rest stops to refuel and catch your breath. But the biggest reward is crossing the finish line. You’ll get your medal, and if you’re so inclined, you can celebrate with a beer and enjoy the wonderful feeling you’ll get after completing your first MSU Gran Fondo.