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Why WNY's a great place to join the party and bike for a cause

Perhaps the best way to describe a "Gran Fondo" to a Western New York cyclist is to invoke the Ride for Roswell. The popular event has never been billed as a Gran Fondo, but that's exactly what it is.

The Italian term, loosely translated as "Big Ride," is used in the United States to describe one-day event rides. Most have different distances and degrees of difficulty to choose from, making them accessible to beginners and families as well as attractive to experienced cyclists who are looking for a challenge.

It's been described as a "party on wheels" and has become a popular way to raise money for non-profit organizations. The rides also are popular because they are fully supported. All events have bike mechanics available – from driving around on the courses in a SAG wagon to working at rest stops. They help cyclists fix flats and other minor mechanical glitches. The events also all feature rest stops with food, drink and pep talks (if necessary).

There are a growing number of Gran Fondo-type events in Western and Central New York. Here are five that range from family-friendly routes to unique challenges:

Ride for Roswell

Date: June 24, 2017

Location: University at Buffalo and Roswell Park Cancer Institute

History: The second oldest of the Gran Fondo-style events in Western New York, the event began in 1996. Funds raised benefit Roswell Park Alliance Foundation which funds research and compassionate patient-care programs.

Routes: As the event has grown, so too has the number of routes offered. There are three categories of rides – Downtown, Country and River. The Downtown Routes, which start at Roswell Park, included a 14-mile slow roll and two Canadian routes, one 26 and one 44 miles. The Country Routes start at UB and include distances of 34, 45, 65.6 and 102 miles. The River Routes also start at UB and include a 3-mile family route along with rides of 10, 20 and 30 miles.

Parking: The large event has its own webpage devoted to parking. Participants receive assigned parking lots and hangtags with guides to assist riders at UB. Those with starting lines at Roswell Park may park for free at the 589 Ellicott lot on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus between North Oak and Goodell streets.

The party: There is a free kick-off party, the Celebration of Hope, from 5:30-8 p.m. June 23 at the UB North Campus near the ride day start and finish lines. Riders, patients and survivors receive a free meal while dinners are available for volunteers at $6 and guests at $10. On ride day, breakfast foods are provided at both locations. Rest stops will have food and drink with a lunch provided at UB after the ride.

Registration/Fundraising: Registration is $20 with a minimum fundraising commitment of $200 for adults and $50 for riders ages 17 and under. The minimum for the Canadian routes is $500.

Online registration/more information:

(Getty Images)

Hospice Grand Fondo

Date: May 13, 2017

Location: Krull Park, Olcott

History: The ride started in 2014. Proceeds benefit patients and families served by Niagara Hospice.

Routes: There are three routes. The 15-mile route (which begins at 9:30 a.m.) runs between Newfane and Olcott with views of Eighteenmile Creek, Lake Ontario and the historic Van Horn Mansion. The 30-mile route (begins at 9 a.m.) takes riders to Wilson with a few moderate hills. The 62-mile route (beginning at 8 a.m.) stretches out to Youngstown on a mostly flat route with a few moderate hills. All routes include pit stops, including wineries along the Niagara Wine Trail.

Parking: Free parking is available on the grounds of Krull Park (6180 Lake Road, Olcott).

The party: The post-race party will be at Krull Park and feature tastings from wineries along the Niagara Wine Trail.

Registration/Fundraising: Registration is $65. There is no fundraising requirement, but there are incentives for individuals and teams to do additional fundraising.

Online registration/more information:

The Ride for Missing and Exploited Children

Date: May 19, 2017

Location: Starts at New Era Field at 6:30 a.m.

History: This is the 11th annual ride in Buffalo, continuing an event that began in 1995 when a group rode from Central New York to Washington, D.C., to promote awareness of all missing children. Funds from the ride benefit the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children/New York (NCMEC/NY).

Routes: This is not your typical Gran Fondo event. This is a 100-mile ride, so experience is important, but for people wishing to do a century ride with a purpose, this is the perfect event. A support bus follows the group for riders who wish to "take a leg off" along the 100 miles.  The ride is police escorted with the group riding together at around a 15-mile-per-hour pace. Each leg is about 20 miles as the ride stops at five schools for a break and snacks.

Parking: Plenty of free parking at New Era Field.

The party: The ride regroups about two miles out from New Era Field so that everyone can ride in together. Family and friends are invited  to cheer riders at the stadium as they finish. A light dinner is donated by Illio DiPaolo's post-ride.

Registration/Fundraising: Riders must raise $300 to participate.

Online registration/more information:

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Tour de Cure

Date: June 3, 2017

Location: Old Falls Street, Niagara Falls

History: The oldest Gran Fondo-style ride in the area, the Buffalo Tour de Cure began in 1991 and was one of the first two national Tour de Cures put on by the American Diabetes Association. The event moved to Old Falls Street in Niagara Falls in 2015 to offer a more destination-style feel and give riders more local perks.

Routes: The 6-mile route (10:30 a.m.) is a beginner route that rides along the Niagara River Gorge to Whirlpool State Park. The 18-mile route (10 a.m.) is rated intermediate and follows the Niagara River Gorge through Niagara University with a turnaround at Veterans' Memorial Park. The 30-mile route (9 a.m.) is an advanced intermediate ride that heads to Sanborn and back. For advanced riders there is the 65-mile route (8 a.m.), which travels from Niagara Falls to Old Fort Niagara, then heads along the Lake Ontario shore before turning south at Wilson to climb the Niagara Escarpment. The 100-mile route (7 a.m.) is similar, riding past Wilson through Barker then heads south toward Tonawanda Creek.

Parking: Provided by title sponsor Seneca Resorts & Casinos, parking is free for participants. Parking volunteers will direct participants from the intersection of Old Falls Street and Third Street.

The party: It all happens on Old Falls Street with a lunch and healthy snacks. There are also chiropractors (to ease those post-ride pains) and bands for entertainment along with a Kid's Zone.

Registration/Fundraising: Registration is $25 with a fundraising minimum of $200.

Online registration/more information:

(Getty Images)

Chautauqua Gran Fondo

Date: August 26, 2017

Location: Webb's Resort, Mayville

History: This is the third year of the event, created to promote a healthy lifestyle for cyclists of all skill levels while raising money for local non-profits. The proceeds from the 2017 ride will benefit the Royal Family Kids' Camp, the Western New York Kidney Connection and the Chautauqua County Veterans' Endowment Fund.

Routes: All routes begin at 9 a.m. and travel, either partially or completely, around Chautauqua Lake. The 20-mile social ride includes a trip across the lake on the nostalgic Bemus Point-Stow Ferry. The 40.7-mile fitness route goes around the entire lake while the 37.3-mile challenge is shorter, but includes an elevation change of 1,500 feet as the route climbs the Chautauqua Ridge heading to Lake Erie. The new 58-mile challenge combines the distance of riding around the lake with the climb of the ridge.

Parking: Free parking available at Webb's Resort, 115 West Lake Road., Route 394, Mayville.

The party: The post-ride party will be at Webb's Captain's Table featuring a picnic lunch by Chef's On the Go food truck from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The party is free for family and friends but non-riders are encouraged to donate at the main gate. Also all riders receive finishers' medals.

Registration/Fundraising: The cost is $30. There is no fundraising requirement.

Online registration/more information:

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