For the past six years, hundreds of cyclists have gathered at the mountain community of Tehachapi to take part in the Tehachapi Gran Fondo, a cycling event that is unlike any other.

In true cycling fashion, the Gran Fondo features various routes ranging from 38 to 100 miles across the Tehachapi Mountains, but it’s the inclusion of an 18-mile loop that makes it stand out. That’s because most cycling events are geared toward more avid cyclists – those who actively seek the challenge of spending long hours in the saddle climbing thousands of feet.

The Tehachapi Gran Fondo has that. But it also has something for beginners as well, most notably families. And that’s where this annual gathering truly shines.

The beginning of the ride featured bikes of all types and riders of all ages. There were couples on tandems, parents and kids in matching outfits, and even babies in bike seats enjoying the route alongside more serious cyclists on carbon-fiber bikes that costs almost as much as a car. It may be a turnoff for some, but I found it to be a great environment as cycling is fun and should be enjoyed by all. Eventually, the routes split off and the serious riders can have the roads mostly to themselves.

While many events utilize a staggered start, where participants are encouraged to start at different times depending on the length of their respective routes, the Tehachapi Gran Fondo conducts a mass start. That means everyone, from the 18-milers to those doing the full century (the preferred term among cyclists for a 100-mile ride), take off at the same time under the archway that acts as the start and finish line and through the crowd of cheering fans and clanging cowbells.

It has the feel of a professional cycling race.

The mass start, roaring crowds, freshly paved streets closed off to traffic – this is the average Joe’s Tour de France.

And it doesn’t stop at downtown Tehachapi either. All throughout the route, residents can be found in front of their homes cheering riders as they pass by. You can’t help but smile as children and adults ring cowbells and offer words of encouragement as the Tehachapi Gran Fondo is no easy feat. It’s a ride that’s as celebrated for its difficulty as it is for its gorgeous scenery and ideal weather conditions (though this year was a little warmer than expected).

For most routes, the main test was the Keene climb, which takes riders up Woodford-Tehachapi Road from Keene to Tehachapi. Getting to Keene is the fun part – a fast and windy descent that overlooks the world-famous Tehachapi Loop and passes by the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. But what goes down must eventually come back up – 6 miles up a gradient averaging 4 percent totaling over 1,300 feet of elevation gain. For the century riders, Keene is just an appetizer, as their route takes them into Bear Valley Springs, which is renowned for its steepness.

But through it all, riders are treated to gorgeous views, well-placed rest stops and an overwhelming amount of community support. Even on city streets, cars will cheer and honk as they pass by as participants make their way toward the finish line in downtown Tehachapi, where a finisher’s medal and a refreshing cold towel – a Tehachapi Gran Fondo staple – await them.

Upon completion, it’s party time as everyone gathers at the Gran Fondo Festival where food, drinks, music and various vendors are plentiful. It’s the perfect way to end a memorable cycling event.

No matter your experience level, the Tehachapi Gran Fondo is a must-do. It’s an unforgettable social experience on two wheels in which a community comes together in support and where a community in its entirety is on full display. 

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