Cycle through seasonal splendor in WNC

ROLLING ALONG: The 11th annual Tour de Pumpkin on Oct. 7 will let cyclists enjoy the countryside around Rutherfordton with tour distances of 50 or 100 kilometers. The ride is one of several cycling events that celebrate the crisp weather and brilliant colors of autumn. Photo courtesy of the Tour de Pumpkin
ROLLING ALONG: The 11th annual Tour de Pumpkin on Oct. 7 will let cyclists enjoy the countryside around Rutherfordton with tour distances of 50 or 100 kilometers. The ride is one of several cycling events that celebrate the crisp weather and brilliant colors of autumn. Photo courtesy of the Tour de Pumpkin

When the air turns cool and the leaves turn gold, cyclists turn to Western North Carolina to experience the changing scenery from two wheels. Autumn group rides in the region feature options for all experience levels and highlight the gorgeous landscape while raising money for nonprofits.

Local cyclist Travis Collins says there’s much to love about cycling in the North Carolina mountains. “What I like most is the scenery, for sure. We have unbelievable cycling in our part of the world,” he says. “Our roads are in pretty good shape, and within a short drive you can be by yourself in the saddle.”

The fall season of long road rides kicked off with the Tour d’Apple in Hendersonville on Labor Day. “I love the fellowship part of a group ride,” says organizer Barry Macdonald.

This year, nearly 400 cyclists tackled climbs and cruised down country roads in the Tour d’Apple’s four distances: 100 miles, 100 kilometers, 45 miles and 25 miles. The annual event, held during the North Carolina Apple Festival, benefits the charitable projects of the Hendersonville Four Seasons Rotary Club.

Cyclists can choose from a cornucopia of tours around the region this season, including the following events ripe for the picking.

Tour de Leaves

FOLIAGE AND FITNESS: The Tour de Leaves takes riders through Polk County on the first Sunday in October. Photo courtesy of the Tour de Leaves
FOLIAGE AND FITNESS: The Tour de Leaves takes riders through Polk County on the first Sunday in October. Photo courtesy of the Tour de Leaves

Fall foliage crunches beneath spinning wheels as the Tour de Leaves sets off from the Polk County Parks and Recreation center near Tryon on Sunday, Oct. 1.

This community favorite was initiated in 1998 by the Henderson County Family YMCA to raise scholarships for low-income youths. This year the event will benefit child welfare programs in Polk County.

Same-day registration begins at 7:30 a.m., and cyclists may choose between the Grande route, 66.3 miles, and the Lite route, 31.9 miles.

Online registration is available at avl.mx/43y.

Tour de Pumpkin

Advanced cyclists looking for a day of climbing can take on 2,200 feet or 4,440 feet of elevation gain with 50-kilometer and 100-kilometer options at the Tour de Pumpkin in Rutherfordton on Saturday, Oct. 7. With few cars along the route, participants look forward to an unhindered backroads ride with dramatic views to distract from the uphill burn.

Riders can check in between 8 and 9:15 a.m. at the corner of Main and Fifth streets in Rutherfordton. This year, all proceeds will go toward Rutherford Housing Partnership & Trail Development, which funds urgent repairs at homes of low-income, elderly and disabled county residents.

Registration and more information can be found at avl.mx/43x.

White Squirrel Cycling Classic

For the chance to roll through relatively flat valley courses, riders can kit up for the fourth annual White Squirrel Cycling Classic on Saturday, Oct. 14. The ride begins and ends at the Tasty Weasel taproom at Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard and meanders along the French Broad River and through Henderson County. The classic offers 25-, 40- and 63-mile options with elevation gains of 912, 1,365 and 2,595 feet, respectively.

Rain or shine, the event takes off at 9 a.m. This year, race organizer Blue Ridge Adventures is donating proceeds to Bread of Life, an organization that provides meals, essential health care, personal development and secure housing to those in need.

Ride information, FAQs and registration are available online at avl.mx/43w.

Gran Fondo Hincapie

Many mountain cyclists find it’s worth the quick trip down to Greenville, S.C., for the Gran Fondo Hincapie, which offers the widest variety of rides: the Gran, 80 miles with 8,100 feet of climbing; the Medio, 50 miles with 4,156 feet of climbing; and the Piccolo, 15 miles with 663 feet of climbing. This year’s event rolls out on Saturday, Oct. 21 and features live tracking, video screens and full support. The rides will be chip-timed with additional timed climbs, but the event is open to all fitness levels.

Riders get a rare opportunity to spin alongside pro cyclists like George Hincapie and Taylor Phinney, fresh off his appearance in the Tour de France this summer. Organizers are also enticing riders by announcing that actor Patrick Dempsey will be riding in this year’s Gran Fondo.

The day before the event, cyclists can pick up new duds at a warehouse sale and get their grub on with a celebrity chef dinner. After cruising in from the rides, participants can celebrate at a free family festival or a $50 after-party with gourmet hors d’oeuvres, handcrafted cocktails, sangria and craft beer. A portion of the proceeds goes to Meals on Wheels of Greenville; since 2012, the event has raised $130,000 for the program.

All the necessary details, along with videos and tickets, can be found at avl.mx/43u.

Bookwalter Binge Gran Fondo

The Bookwalter Binge Gran Fondo starts at Pisgah Brewing in Black Mountain on Saturday, Oct. 28, and traverses mountain courses in three distances: 83 miles, 62 miles or 29 miles. The ride bills itself as relaxed but also features racing on timed segments of challenging climbs.

A bonus of the Black Mountain tour is the opportunity to ride with pro cyclists such as Brent and Jamie Bookwalter as they finish their seasons and stretch their legs in WNC. This year’s gran fondo benefits Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

For more information, see avl.mx/43v.

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About Molly Harris
Mary Margaret Harris, commonly known as “Molly,” is a freelance journalist with a passion for travel. She is the former assistant editor of Design and news editor of Science at Paste Magazine. Additionally, Molly was the public relations and social media coordinator of the Travel, Science and Health sections. She also acts as the social media director of Via Dinarica and the Western Balkans Geotourism Network. When she isn’t at home reading, writing, or working, Molly can be found teaching indoor cycle classes. Other hobbies like hiking, cycling, horseback and photography keep her on the road to North Carolina, Georgia and Florida on a regular basis. Follow me @mmollyharris

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