Worcester, Mass.

June 6, 2004


Quabbin ride offers challenges at every turn

Mark Conti

Fran Benoit of Leicester enjoys slicing watermelon for bicyclists finishing the Kings Tour of the Quabbin.


The sweet, cold watermelon is a refreshing taste after riding 125, 100 or 62 miles around the Quabbin Reservoir.

And he should know.

Benoit, 61, has ridden the event every year since it was started by Dick "The Pole King" Avery of Worcester about 15 years ago. Benoit begins riding early so he can be back in time to slice watermelon for other finishers.

"Dick always supplied the watermelon. He started the tradition that the first one back cuts watermelon,'' said Benoit, who logs about 7,000 miles a year on his bicycle.

But Benoit does not just ride the course, he tackles the event with a race pace. One year, he completed the double metric with an average speed of 17.5 mph, and he has covered the 100-mile course many times in five hours.

"I'm getting older. It takes me about six hours now,'' Benoit said of the 100-mile ride.

The King's Tour of the Quabbin will be held Saturday on three challenging routes around the Quabbin Reservoir.

The event, which is a recreational ride, not a race, is run by Seven Hills Wheelmen. The group offers three options -- a double metric century (200 kilometers, or 125 miles), a century (100 miles) and a metric century (100 kilometers, or 62 miles).

Avery, 70, worked for the phone company for 40 years, and his co-workers gave him the name "Pole King." He started the event as a challenge among a few friends in Seven Hills Wheelmen.

"It's a fun day, a festive day," said Avery, who stopped riding on the road two years ago and now bikes on paved paths and rail trails. "We used to write all over the roads."

Avery said he loved writing notes near the end of the century. He said his favorite was putting "Bike riders this way" at a split in the road just before the last big hill on Coldbrook Road in Oakham next to "Wimps here" at an alternate route that went around the hill on a flatter terrain.

Covering the road near the end to motivate riders toward the finish, Avery would write things like, "Nice job," "Half mile to go," and "Come on, Lisa, there's watermelon at the end."

All three courses start at Naquag Elementary School on Route 122A (Main Street) in Rutland, and offer challenging hills. The century has about 6,000 feet of climbing, according to Lynne Tolman of Worcester, a member of Seven Hills Wheelmen.

From Rutland, all the routes head uphill on Route 122 to Barre and then clockwise around the Quabbin Reservoir. The metric century splits off in Ware, with a spectacular downhill return to Hardwick via the covered bridge in the Gilbertville section of Hardwick. The metric century riders then enjoy a flat stretch of Route 32 into South Barre before the final climbs in Oakham and Rutland.

The century and double metric century riders climb from Route 9 to the lookout tower in the Quabbin Reservation at the 44-mile mark, then descend to Belchertown, where the two long routes diverge. The century riders face 20 miles of roller coaster hills heading north on Route 202 while the double metric course heads into Amherst and loops back through Shutesbury and Wendell with some gentler grades.

"The buzz among experienced riders is that the double metric is worth the extra miles in the saddle just to avoid Route 202," Tolman said.

Avery agreed, saying it's easier to ride the extra miles on flatter terrain than tackle those hills.

Both the century riders and the metric century riders can enjoy another picturesque stop on Petersham Common, then head back to Barre and more climbing in Oakham before finishing in Rutland.

The double metric century ride starts at 7 a.m., the century at 8 and the metric century at 9.

The event is held rain or shine. The cost of the ride is $10. There is no preregistration. The entry fee covers cue sheet, arrowed routes and snacks.

For more information on the event, visit


Mark Conti can be reached by e-mail at


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