‘It was a good run’: Tahoe’s Curtis Fong pedals into semi-retirement
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — After four decades of creating and organizing bicycle events across California and Nevada, Curtis Fong is pedaling toward retirement.
Recently, Fong sold the production rights to the annual America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride and the Tour de Tahoe, events he’s put on for decades, to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“It was a good run, but the complexity of COVID, drought, and the ramifications of wildfires really did an entire reset of the outdoor recreation event business,” said Fong.
The annual ride, which in past years has attracted upward of 3,000 cyclists, takes place in June. Riders have the option of pedaling 72 miles on route around Lake Tahoe or a 100-mile option that includes a route through Truckee.
Four years after founding Bike the West, Fong said the organization has been hampered in the past few years due to the outbreak of COVID-19, wildfires, an abundance of events in the Tahoe area, and parking fees that cost as much as $10,000. America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride has been held once since 2019.
“The past three years have been a challenge, both physically, mentally and financially to produce our events, due to COVID and wildfires beyond anyone’s control,” said Bike the West in a statement. “Rather than closing our doors and shutting down our Lake Tahoe rides … Bike The West is thrilled to announce that ownership and event production of America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride has been officially transferred to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.”
America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride has been one of the nonprofit’s major fundraisers, according to Vice President of Athletic Initiatives Stephanie Carlson, and once Fong first floated the idea of retirement a couple years ago, the organization was eager to step in.
“Given our relationship with him and the huge amount of volunteers we have that really rely on this event to help support the organization, we just felt like it was meant to be,” said Carlson. “We took it over so that we could keep the legacy of America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride alive.”
America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride has been held for 30 years in the Tahoe community and, since partnering with Fong 27 years ago, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has raised $110 million through the event.
“When I look across all the relationships we have with race and ride directors, Curtis has been one of the most special because it has been a true partnership,” said Carlson. “Our commitment to the area and the community is going to be the same as what Curtis’ was because I want to make sure we carry on the legacy of the ride … it’s about money that’s raised and making better research for blood cancers, supporting families that are affected by blood cancers, and making sure that we’re advocating for them too. (America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride) is one of our biggest events that we do every year.”
This year’s event will include 500 people from the organization’s Team In Training program, which seeks to raise money for research and advancements in the fight against cancer. Carlson said registration numbers have also surpassed 1,000 cyclists ahead of the event scheduled set for June 4.
Fong plans to remain onboard in advisory role for the next two years to help continue the race. He’ll also retain the Bike the West brand — a company he formed 40 years ago that has put on events across Nevada and California.
As an avid cyclist, Fong formed Bike the West in 1984 after helping start one of the area’s premier cycling organizations the Alta Alpina Cycling Club. That year he brought back the Death Ride, a more than 120-mile trek across the California Alps, and since then, Bike the West has put on events across the region under the brand “designed by bicyclists for bicyclists.”
“I had no experience. I learned by doing,” said Fong. “I learned from friends, and I built a course.”
Fong went on to put on iconic events such as the Comstock Silver Century, The Challenge with Greg LeMond Bicycle Race Series, Death Camp, The Nevada City Classic Century, The Altitude 9000 Ride with the Mammoth Cycling Classic, The X Rides, Tour Las Vegas Ride of the Century, America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, One Awesome Tour Bike Ride Across Nevada and Tour de Tahoe.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society also purchased Tour de Tahoe but won’t host a ride in 2023. Tour de Tahoe, which hasn’t been held since 2019, takes cyclists on a route that circumnavigates the highways clockwise around Lake Tahoe. Carlson said the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s focus is on America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, but they plan to continue the Tour de Tahoe in 2024.
Aside from organizing events across the Tahoe region, Fong has been a member of the South Shore Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce, North Lake Tahoe Chamber & Resort Association, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Reno-Tahoe Territory of the Nevada Commission on Tourism and serves his community as a member of the Kiwanis Club of Tahoe Sierra.
Fong has also been a ski journalist in the West Region of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association, where he serves as the Vice President of Programs. He is also a member of the International Skiing Heritage Association and the US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame. For decades, he has been involved in radio, television and columns in Lake Tahoe, including his “The Guy From Tahoe” Mountain Resort Reports on KTHO Radio AM590/96.1FM and his website, http://www.bikeandskitahoe.com.
He has hosted the morning television series “Mountain Resort Report” and produced “What’s Up Tahoe” on Outside Lake Tahoe Television. Fong has also contributed to the Tahoe Daily Tribune with a ski column titled “As the Bull Wheel Turns.” He is also an inductee to the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Other passions include fly fishing and racing Porsche sports cars as part of serving as the vice president of the Sierra Nevada region of the Porsche Club of America.
Going forward, Fong said he will take on an advisory role for two years in order to help smooth the transition as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society takes on production of the annual America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride and the Tour de Tahoe.
Fong said he will continue putting on One Awesome Tour Bike Ride Across Nevada, an event that takes riders across from Stateline across Nevada to Ely. The 32nd annual ride is set for Sept. 24, and will be produced by Bike the West.
For more information or to register for events, visit http://www.bikethewest.com.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun, a sister publication of the Tribune.
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