For several years, a couple of the AuSable River Canoe Marathon volunteers spoke about combining a bicycle ride with the AuSable Canoe Marathon, with everyone arriving in Oscoda together to add to the celebration. The largest concern was having bicycles riding at night along with all the car and truck traffic. It wasn’t until later that it was announced by then owner of The Bicycle Shop in Grayling, Dick Fultz, that the bicycles didn’t need to start at night to get to Oscoda at the same time as the paddlers of the AuSable Canoe Marathon. (We didn’t really believe him.) “They could start on Sunday morning,” he said. To kick off the first year’s event in 2000, Dick Fultz challenged his employee of that time, Bob Smith, a Marathon paddler, to see who would arrive first in Oscoda, Bob paddling or Dick peddling. Dick Fultz finished the ride in 4 hours and 50 minutes. Bob Smith ended up withdrawing during the night due to illness.
Fifty-one (51) cyclers signed up for our first year in 2000 which has now grown to 400 cyclers in 2012. The start has been upgraded to a release of ten riders per minute with everyone getting a timing chip so they have an accurate time for the 100 miles. The course takes riders into and out of the river valley so they do have numerous elevation changes. The most significant hills are Block and Tackle and Heartbreak which both appear in the later part of the route. Heartbreak Hill, which runs adjacent to the Alcona Pond, appears to have the top visible when you start, but it turns out to be a gentle turn in the climb to a second top. After making the second top, the cycler sees yet another top which, by that time, has the cycler wishing they had 911 on speed dial.
The event has drawn an interesting group of riders with more than a few from as far away as California, Texas, the east coast and Austria. Much of this is due to the positive visibility that the event has received over the Internet and elsewhere. In 2007, Bicycling Magazine, the largest circulation bicycle magazine in the world, declared the Black Bear Bicycle Tour to be the “Cool Ride of the Month” for July.
Some enter to ride the even fast and others take a more leisurely approach. In 2005, TJ Hill, age 73, finished the course in 4 hours and 33 minutes. In 2008, Mike Anderson of Alpena, a National Collegiate Mountain Bike Champion rode with Leslie Gains, age 48, of Lansing for 63 miles before finally pulling away on Heartbreak Hill. She finished right behind Mike with a time of 3 hours and 50 minutes. Sandra Gerken and Lori Kelly arrived in Oscoda in 2009, one of them on a bike borrowed from a Bicycle Shop employee, 11 hours and 45 minutes after the start. A highlight of Black Bear history will always be Dave Johnson of Olivet who covered the course in 2004 in 3 hours 38 minutes and 20 seconds on a streamlined recumbent bicycle. He would have been faster but missed a corner for at least 100 yards and had to turn around to get going in the right direction. 3:38:20 to cover 100 miles on a bicycle? Oh my.
The event is organized by the Grayling Rotary Club as a fundraiser and the volunteer behind the Tour is Wayne Koppa, accompanied by a loyal following of Rotarians and community volunteers. The Grayling Rotary Club uses its funds for local and global projects that have included the Grayling Bicycle Turnpike and the Rotary International effort to eradicate polio from the planet. The Grayling Rotary Club appreciates the support of the Grayling Community and Black Bear riders past and present in assisting in the support of services projects.