What Makes a Good Event Great?

10.3.2011 | 11:59 am

What is it that makes a good event great?

It’s not as simple a question as you might think. Or maybe it is, and the simplicity misses me. But the fact is, some events — whether it’s a race or a big ride or a GranFondo — are OK, some are bad, somer are good, and a few are great.

I ask this because, so many times while riding Levi’s GranFondo yesterday, people would remark to me what a fantastic event this is. They had some concrete reasons, and some that had more to do with how the event felt.

Whatever that special sauce is that bumps an event out of “good” and into “great” territory, everyone seemed to agree that Levi’s GranFondo has a lot of it.

The Festa

Thanks to everyone’s generosity, The Hammer and I got to go to the Festa del Fondo, a swanky dinner and auction to help raise money for the charities supported by Levi’s GranFondo.

Then, to my surprise, I was whisked away by an intimidating-looking man man named Yuri, who unceremoniously dumped me into a small, dark room, whereupon a blinding light was shone into my eyes and I was asked a number of questions about what I knew about Levi.

Yes, really.

Except it wasn’t as bad as it seems, because it was actually Citizen Pictures — the people who did the Leadville “Race Across the Sky” documentaries — doing interviews for an upcoming documentary about Levi.

The first question was, “Tell us about how you first met Levi.”

I drew a blank. Just stared at the camera.

Then, thirty seconds or so, I remembered. And told the story, in excruciating detail.

And, as usual, I rambled on for a very long time, while in the back of my head a little voice critiqued me, saying things like, “You’ve completely lost sight of the original question, haven’t you? Do you even remember what it was? Is there something hanging from your nose?”

After Cyndi — the person interviewing me — fell asleep from boredom at my answers, I snuck back upstairs, where dinner was already in progress. This year, dinner was more substantial than last year, with pasta and meat and other food I could recognize pretty well.

There was auctioning. Milling about. Hobnobbing. And I got to introduce Laura — who won the trip to France to ride with Andy — to Michael, who won this particular trip out to meet and ride with Levi.

I have to say, that was a highlight of the trip. I love seeing people enjoying the incredible prizes I get to give away as a side effect of the amazing charity work Team Fatty does.

Then I pulled Michael and his girlfriend over to Levi’s table to introduce them to each other. Michael’s new to riding — in fact at the time he and his girlfriend were pretty much entirely new to riding — but he certainly knows his pro cycling. Better than I do, for sure.

Finally, at the end of the evening, BFOF and GranFondo volunteer Angie arranged for Levi and me to pick up our race packets at the same time.

The thing was, she had arranged for me to get the race plate with the 1 on it. Levi got a homemade race plate, made out of an actual paper plate.

As expected, Levi “persuaded” me to give him back his number.


Group Ride

On Friday morning, top fundraisers (and I) got to go on a group ride with Levi and Odessa out to Forget Me Not Farms, one of the charities the GranFondo supports.

The winners of the GranFondo Trip, Michael and his girlfriend, got a great photo with Levi:


And Michael would afterward tweet:


Yeah, that’s not a bad start to one’s cycling career. Kinda makes you wonder how they’re gonna top that, though.

Hanging out at the Farm was cool.


Though I have to say, that cow looks suspicious of Levi. Almost as if it had been put in a headlock a time or two.

I Gotta Say Thanks

The Hammer and I arrived at the starting line nice and early, which I believe is a first for us. It also turned out to be awesome, because it meant we had time to meet and hang out with other riders.

In particular, Team Fatty riders.

I was hugely excited to come across Janeen “TheNoodleator” McCrae:

Janeen, The Hammer and I would gorge on gelatto together after the race. Janeen would contend that she won, because she ate more. I contend that in an ice cream eating contest, there are no losers. Or maybe it’s that everyone loses. Hard to say.

And Nic:


And David:

I was startled to find that David of Marin, CA, whom I had always been led to believe would be a very tall man, is actually only five feet tall. On his tiptoes.

And Chuck Ibis:

Chuck is as startled as I am bewildered. About what, you may fairly ask? About the fact that we are both so ridiculously handsome, of course.  

And Lee:

Lee Applebaum is the CMO of RadioShack.

I saw Glenn Kasin, who’s the go-to guy for pretty much everything, Team RadioShack-Nissan-Trek-Hershey’s-FTD-Nabisco-FatCyclist.com-Hewlett Packard:

Oh, you haven’t heard about the latest additions to the team name?

I ran across this guy:

For the first time in the history of ever, Levi did not attempt to punch me in the throat, nor did he put me in a headlock. I was grateful.

And, finally, I hung out with an incredibly good-looking woman who looks like she could drop most guys in the climbs, and practically everyone in the flats:

Oh dear. It looks like we accidentally dressed the same again. How embarrassing.

The Ride

Last year, the GranFondo weather was atypical. By which I mean it was warm, perfect, and beautiful. You should watch the video.

This year it was a lot more typical. Which is to say, when we got high up in the mountains, it was windy. And there was fog. And some rain.

But between the new 2011 FatCyclist vest and Smartwool armwarmers, The Hammer and I were never really uncomfortable. And by the time we got out to the coast, the fog and rain and wind dissipated and we could enjoy the scenery.

Still, the mist and fog added something to this ride — an eeriness. A stillness. A sense that — even though you knew there were 7500 other riders out there — you were on your own.

Honestly, I don’t know if there’s an event out there that’s its equal.

You’ll have to trust me on this, because we didn’t take a lot of pictures once we got rolling, due to the fact that The Hammer’s camera fogged up:

No, the fog wasn’t really that bad.

Which brings me to something I’d like advice on: what’s a great point-and-shoot camera for cyclists? I.e., something that can live in a sweaty jersey pocket but still take great pictures, and can be easily — and quickly — operated with gloves on?

Then, after the ride, someone made the crucial error of not realizing that once I begin talking I lose track of time, and made me the MC of a recognition ceremony.

Which started with Levi choking me within an inch of my life:

I still cannot believe that Dave — the announcer guy on the right — didn’t intervene or call the cops or anything.

And then I talked:


And talked:


And talked:


You’ll notice that in all of those photos, it is almost as if I’m the one always doing the talking. While Levi stands there, letting me jabber away. Because, naturally, everyone was there to see me, right?

I am such a dope.

The Heart of the Matter

I’ve been to a lot of events (and even, for the first time, participated in promoting and producing one event) in the past few years, and think — finally — I’ve got a handle on what at least some of the factors are that can make an event good.

There are a few things that pretty much have to be in place in order for an event to happen at all: The course. Course and hazard markings. The starting and finishing areas. Aid stations. Medical and mechanical support. Volunteers.

The thing is, some events feel like these must-haves are items to be checked off a list; they have to be done, so get them over with. just check these items off because they have to be done. Other events treat them with passion, turning gotta-haves into something else: a selling point. A feature.

Take, for example,the Lunch aid station at Levi’s GranFondo. You can grab a pre-made sandwich if you’re in a hurry, or you can go to what is essentially a working deli and have a sandwich made to order. Last year, there was a fresh-squeezed lemonade stand at one of the stations.

At the Park City Point to Point a little over a year ago, when my SS dropped its chain as I rolled into an aid station, a mechanic ran up from the neutral mechanic aid booth and told me he’d have my bike ready to go in five minutes.

Stuff like that isn’t expected at an event. It’s not required to make me attend an event. But when it happens, I tell my friends.

I think that how much you care about your logistics can make the difference between a bad, OK, or good event.

But what about great?

I’m beginning to think that the only way you can have a great event is if it has a great personality. Something that makes it individual. Something that gives it heart.

And I think that something has got to be a person — or people — who inspire everyone around them to want to make the event something special.

Levi’s GranFondo has Levi Leipheimer, as well as the BikeMonkey dynamic duo of Carlos and Greg.

Levi is everywhere at that event. Hanging out with people, checking to see if folks are having fun, taking pictures with everyone who wants.

It’s obvious he loves riding, loves the route, and loves the event. Loves seeing so many people having a great time.

And the BikeMonkey guys, well, they’re no different. They somehow manage to produce an event that has a massive number of people — 7500+ riders! — that still feels personal. Not like you’re one more object on a conveyor belt.

From the course to the aid stations to the giant festival at the finish line, Levi’s GranFondo is one giant rolling party.

And it’s a party I’ll look forward to being at again next year.


  1. Comment by Alan | 10.3.2011 | 1:02 pm

    It sounds like an awesome Fatty-fest also.

    Although I am slightly confused, I never see anybody who’s actually fat. You see my new fatty gear arrived and I will have to lose about 90lbs before I’ll fit in the 3xl jersey.

    I guess I’ll never understand how they size bike clothes.

    Oh, well at least I am highly motivated to get into it.

    Gotta go, I need to go do a swim, bike, and an erg-workout, my form of a no impact Tri.


  2. Comment by Justin L | 10.3.2011 | 1:09 pm

    Friggen awesome, so upset i did not get to ride. There are three bicycle personalities i have ever wanted a photo with
    1. Elden (Done)
    2. Lance (Done) PS Don’t let NYC Carlos attempt a photo with a camera LOL. Almost missed that shot.
    3. Levi I sat outside the radioshack bus for an hour while working the amgen tour hoping to get a shot, but had to leave to shut down the roads. Maybe next year.

    I learned about this event last year by watching Fatty’s video of the ride, plus the fact it starts and finishes across the street from my best friends house, this was a have to do event. Next year, I am there for sure. No way, I am missing this again.

  3. Comment by Justin L | 10.3.2011 | 1:10 pm

    PS, I really regret not getting that windbreaker you are wearing. It’s always hard to tell from the T6 pictures what it will really look like.

  4. Comment by Dave T | 10.3.2011 | 1:28 pm

    Sounds like a fantastic weekend wish we were there. I made some more changes to the trike this weekend and it work, Rob can ride again. In fact he set a personal best time for our normal local route, 10.2 mph for 11 miles. I’m hoping we can make next year’s ride. Maybe even do the Medio route we will see.
    PS I really love the new jersey and was pleasantly surprise when it came with a full length zipper. Wishing that I order shorts though are they still available?

  5. Comment by Superstantial | 10.3.2011 | 1:36 pm

    The Fondo is awesome. I’ve only done it once, the first year, when I lived in SF. Even then, they put on a terrific event.

    It was also my wife and my first wedding anniversary weekend and our first long ride together, so just a really cool memory.

    One funny anecdote – I had just started reading your blog and I saw a guy in Team Fatty kit. I wanted to say “hello” so, in order to get his attention I yelled “Hey! Fat cyclist!” for about 5 minutes until he turned around to chat (he was far away) . . . I wonder if I offended all the other people between me and him.

  6. Comment by NYCCarlos | 10.3.2011 | 1:51 pm

    @Justin L:
    You just HAD to bring that up, didn’t you…

  7. Comment by berry | 10.3.2011 | 1:56 pm

    About 4 years ago I bought a refurbished Samsung camera thinking that “It’s only $50 – if it dies that’s not so terrible.” Best purchase ever. It uses regular AA batteries, so no funky chargers, and it just works. Store it in your jersey pocket lens-out, though – it fogs the other way. Also the eye-fi card I got this year makes it absolutely awesome. Pictures transfer automagically to my phone when I’m done with the ride. No cables, no leaving my camera on the coffee table while I’m out on a ride.

  8. Comment by Terry T | 10.3.2011 | 1:57 pm

    Third year riding, can’t wait till next year’s ride. Loved the cooler weather this year.

  9. Comment by Charlie | 10.3.2011 | 2:00 pm

    A good camera: Canon Powershot D10. It is waterproof and Canon makes some of the best compact digital cameras on the market. The optics are first class, controls easy to use and simple, and the images are second to none, in my opinion. You can go with most any other Canon compact out there, but this one will be better on the bike in not so camera friendly conditions.

  10. Comment by LauraS | 10.3.2011 | 2:07 pm

    Awesome time at the Fondo. Sorry I did not get to wear my FatCyclist jersey – I had this idea it was going to be warm and when it wasn’t, I went with my backup jersey for the wool content to stay warm!

  11. Comment by NancyP | 10.3.2011 | 2:08 pm

    Key gear for your new or old point-and-shoot: A ziploc bag. It really works.

  12. Comment by Brian | 10.3.2011 | 2:41 pm

    you should check out the improved Olympus Tough line which will be out soon – perfect for a cyclist as it is waterproof, shockproof, and many other proofs – the new version has a faster lens which will offer clearer pics in low light

  13. Comment by roan | 10.3.2011 | 2:45 pm

    WHAT…no headlock or punch in the throat? Just wait until Levi hears which end of that cow you were lookin at.

  14. Comment by Justin L | 10.3.2011 | 2:47 pm

    @NYC Carlos

    It’s still funny!!!!!!!! I laughed when i thought about it and wrote that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Comment by Miles Archer | 10.3.2011 | 2:51 pm

    put yer camera in a ziplock sandwich bag.

  16. Comment by ESS | 10.3.2011 | 3:03 pm

    We just bought this Olympus camera:


    Stood up to some sweat on a ride this weekend and took some pretty good pictures.


  17. Comment by zeeeter | 10.3.2011 | 3:31 pm

    Assume you mean Davis huh? No sweat, I had your back! :)

    Comment by NYCCarlos | 10.3.2011 | 1:51 pm

    @Justin L:
    You just HAD to bring that up, didn’t you…

  18. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 10.3.2011 | 3:44 pm

    I’m a huge fan of my Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5. It’s now a couple of years old, but it hasn’t lost a step. It’s only a bit larger than my old Canon Powershot something-or-other (which was also a great camera), but superior in that it’s got a 12x optical zoom. It’s at best water-resistant, but I keep it in a zip-loc bag or a waterproof sunglasses sleeve.

  19. Comment by Kari | 10.3.2011 | 4:09 pm

    “Janeen, The Hammer and I would gorge on gelatto together after the race. Janeen would contend that she won, because she ate more. I contend that in an ice cream eating contest, there are no losers. Or maybe it’s that everyone loses. Hard to say.”

    Am I the one that finds it incredibly ironic that you are talking about gelato and losing, especially when in the picture it was narrating you and others are sporting Fat Cyclist jerseys? It’s just me? Never mind then…

  20. Comment by Eric L | 10.3.2011 | 4:19 pm

    On cameras. I solved the sweaty camera dilemma (Canon A-70) by buying a Banjo Brothers top tube pack. It’s just the right size for my camera and a GU or two. I recently rode the two-day RAPSody Ride Around Puget Sound with my brother and having the camera at my fingertips made for a lot more pictures taken than if I’d had it in my jersey or seat bag.

    Having been given two Banjo Bros. bags for the 2010 & 2011 100 MON, it was a no brainer to actually buy one of their awesome bags. …two actually – I bought my brother one as well.

  21. Comment by Noodle | 10.3.2011 | 4:29 pm

    I approve of that photograph. I look thin as a whip! Slimming jerseys are clutch! Meantime, I may have mentioned you in my slightly more ‘this ride is evil’ writeup. http://cranktastic.tumblr.com/post/10993890863/evils-granfondo and our photos are nearly identical.

    Glad I got to catch up with you and The Runner. Woulda been bummed to miss it.

  22. Comment by Justin L | 10.3.2011 | 4:50 pm

    @Zeeeter, yup Davis! I still owe you for that.

  23. Comment by Susie H | 10.3.2011 | 5:12 pm

    Ah, sounded awesome, Elden…I was thinking about y’all as I was riding my own wee course just across the hills in Vacaville! :)

  24. Comment by caitbait | 10.3.2011 | 5:13 pm

    Alright, I gotta chip my two-cents in (I’ve been lurking awhile now) with regards to the camera… I have the perfect camera for biking- a olympus stylus 720sw which is waterproof (it takes underwater photos and therefore sweat proof), shockproof (so when I drop it while riding, it doesn’t break into a billion bits) AND since it’s waterproof, it has knobs instead of a touchscreen, so you can use it with gloves. Oh, and its still the same size of a regular point-and-shoot camera…

    Sadly, I bought that camera back in ‘04 (it’s still working fine!) and olympus has moved to what they call the “Tough” series, which I think is the newer siblings of my ol’ point-and-shoot.

  25. Comment by Patrick | 10.3.2011 | 5:13 pm


    Great to see you at Levi’s Gran Fondo this past weekend. I enjoyed chatting with you for a few minutes, but I’m sorry we did not get a photo together. You see, I was on strict orders from my wife to get a photo with “McDreamy” and was worried that if I was busy posing with you, I’d miss my shot with “you know who”. Maybe next year?

    Take care, Patrick

    BTW, I got the pic!

  26. Comment by TheModel Warrior | 10.3.2011 | 5:37 pm


    Great coverage of the event. Enjoyed reading the blog and looking at the pictures. I wish we had events like that near where I am.


  27. Comment by Nic Grillo | 10.3.2011 | 6:12 pm

    Well said, Elden. It was great to see you and Lisa. Thanks for keeping me company on the King Ridge! This really was the best event I’ve ridden this year. Very well run, and a great challenge to boot! That Coleman Valley Rd. climb sure was a wakeup call at Mile 75, but The free burrito and beer at the end made it all worth it! Also, i must add that the traffic support by the highway patrol was the best I’ve seen at an event like this.

  28. Comment by thinman | 10.3.2011 | 8:02 pm

    Good to mention the incredible work of Carlos and Greg, but you would be remiss to leave out the Ladies of the Bike Monkey’s Gran Fondo staff. They keep all the guys s**t in ordered piles so the event can come off like it does. I can attest to the many, many hours they all put in the make it happen. I wouldn’t be too afraid of Yuri have you seen what he wears to ride?0831cycling_6.html

  29. Comment by thinman | 10.3.2011 | 8:05 pm

    Good to mention the incredible work of Carlos and Greg, but you would be remiss to leave out the Ladies of the Bike Monkey’s Gran Fondo staff. They keep all the guys s**t in ordered piles so the event can come off like it does. I can attest to the many, many hours they all put in the make it happen. I wouldn’t be too afraid of Yuri have you seen what he wears to ride?October32011

  30. Comment by Deren | 10.3.2011 | 8:11 pm

    Both of these are very nice for riding.


    They also come in other colors or black.

  31. Comment by Wife# 1 | 10.3.2011 | 9:36 pm

    Normally when I talk about David in Marin as my “better half” it’s metaphorical…

    Like everything else you do, you’ve taken it to a whole new level with that photo. ;-)

  32. Comment by Wife# 1 | 10.3.2011 | 9:39 pm

    Oh and BTW – love the podium shots in which your awesome quads make Levi’s thighs look like wee little sticks. LOL.

  33. Comment by Mike C | 10.3.2011 | 10:25 pm

    Hi Fatty,

    Thanks for the great write up. I agree, it was truly a GREAT event. I was so happy to be able to meet you and The Hammer in person. Hope to see you there again next year.

  34. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 10.3.2011 | 10:49 pm

    @Comment by Superstantial | 10.3.2011 | 1:36 pm

    Every Team Fatty member responds to “Hey Fatty!” We wear the title with pride. Even NYCarlos.

    Sorry to miss meeting Janeen and Precious, hopefully they will come to The Fatty Fondo (when is that again?)

    The rain was heavier and the wind was up by the time we pulled the tandem into The Tin Barn stop. They were holding riders due to the accident at Hauser Bridge, and in about 10 minutes my stoker started going hypothermic. Thanks go out to the Red Cross volunteers for taking such good care of several riders for whom it was a bridge to far.
    My stoker was attempting his first century since suffering a serious van vs bike accident 16 mos ago. We made it up Kings Ridge, I consider that a triumph given our 1 week of practice together prior to the ride. We’ll be out there again.

    As for 5ft.??? You told me everyone had to kneel in your presence. Was I the only one who believed it?

  35. Comment by Marshall Miller | 10.3.2011 | 11:02 pm

    Near the bottom of King Ridge I saw a guy giving his riding partner a little push up the hill. I asked if I could get a push too, and he said that his wife had given birth three months ago!!! Just another example of some of the awesome folks doing the Gran Fondo.

  36. Comment by MVSC | 10.3.2011 | 11:18 pm

    Another great Fondo! Sorry I didn’t hook up with any FCers but looks like we all had fun. So crowded this year I chose to start at the waaaayyy back. Congrats to the Bike Monkey team for pulling it off…next year, staggered start might be in order!

  37. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 10.3.2011 | 11:24 pm

    Just read Janeen’ rant. I think Paul Guyot has competition next time Fatty goes on vacation.

    Janeen, I can sympathize with the 22t chainring scenario. We had a 30t on the tandem. As we passed the photographer high on Kings Ridge he WALKED!!!! alongside as we pedaled our 400+ lbs (bike not included) to take our picture.

    Good to know you’ll come out again, maybe we can conjure up an earthquake for you. And I’d be happy to take you, and Fatty, and any other Team Fatty, out for some Organic Honey Lavender Vanilla ice cream at a local shop. (Hey! it’s Marin)

  38. Comment by Rumpled | 10.4.2011 | 12:56 am

    It was that foggy for those at the back of the pack!
    Rain, fog and some sideways driven rain.
    I finished (but hey, I finished and rode every bit of it – even if there is no shame in walking) the Gran just as it got dark just after 7 pm.
    More proof of the great is that even though the Festival was supposed to go to 6 and everything was being taken down, there was still paella for us and marshalls were still directing us to finish.
    And, people (like at least a few) cheered us on.
    Bummer that the beer was gone, oh well.

  39. Comment by sandy | 10.4.2011 | 3:32 am

    This was my first Fondo. I came all the way from NY to do it and boy am I glad I did. What a experience! Had a smile on my face the whole ride ( at least till Coleman) but I didn’t walk up and now I know at least I don’t suck. Got to meet you Fatty and had a picture with Levi, The experience of a lifetime and I will be riding high on memories.

    BTW you are a very good public speaker and shouldnt beat up on yourself!

  40. Comment by a chris | 10.4.2011 | 4:12 am

    This blog just mostly makes me feel happy, these days. I don’t ride an MTB, and I don’t ride a “road” bike (though, thinking about it, I rarely ride *off* of the road) but I recognize people enjoying what they’re doing, and enjoying each other’s company, when I see them, and it’s good for the soul.

    And I love that there’s a context where a man can stand in front of a load of people and talk to them in his riding shorts and not feel abashed about it.

    Oh, there was definitely some abashment. – FC

  41. Comment by Bollo55 | 10.4.2011 | 2:37 pm

    Saw you and the Hammer at the Oakland airport. Was going to say hi but you looked pooped and were working on your blog. Was a great event, 3rd year for me….gets better (and bigger) every year.

  42. Comment by skippy | 10.4.2011 | 11:33 pm

    Comments make the event sound like All had a great time ! Reading of the ” stoker” suffering hypothermia makes me wonder how many go to these events w/out a ” Thermal Blanket(weighs onces) and reserve food in the back pocket .Catering facilities are all very well but if you are caught between when you ” bonk” the joy of the occasion disappears rapidly .

    A ” fatty ” sponsored ” thermal blanket ” would be a sellout , i carry two whether cycling or skiing and the only time i have had to use them were on a ski lift and an accident situation on the piste in the 20 years or so of carrying them .


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