A Bike Life

Four decades of touring, racing, commuting and recovery … a bike life indeed!

Category: The Bike Family

RAGBRAI – the next Generation

On RAGBRAI with Jaylee (I’m the one on the left)

I am a first generation RAGBRAI-er. I started riding as a 14-year-old on RAGBRAI IV in 1976. Over the years as my children have grown I have taken them on RAGBRAI. Jaylee is the  seventh of my eight children and over the years all of her older siblings have ridden on RAGBRAI with me.

This year I took my 13-year-old daughter Jaylee with me. We chose Wednesday, the shortest flattest day from Boone to Altoona. Jaylee was nervous about riding the whole 56 miles so we picked up the ride in the middle at Alleman. We got together with my friend Jared, a triathlete on his first RAGBRAI, and drove to Alleman. We unloaded the bikes and got on the road at about 8:00 am. Since Alleman was about 32 miles into the ride, our start time put us pretty early in the pack.

Weather was a big concern, there was a chance of thunderstorms and temperatures in the 90’s with high humidity. As it turned out since we got off the road early we avoided the heat and the storms never happened. It was a beautiful day for a ride. At first the ride was flat or even a bit downhill. Jared and I tried to encourage Jaylee to set the pace because we did not know if we were riding too fast or too slow for her. I think she was worried about keeping up with me.

As it turned out she need not worry. At 13 Jaylee is a competitive swimmer and in excellent shape. I am 50 and clearly out of shape. When we hit the few moderate hills on the ride the difference in fitness levels became apparent. Like all old men I get to reminisce a bit, in my younger days, the guys I rode with and I would charge full speed up the biggest hill of the day singing Monty Python songs. Once we reached the top, we would ride back down just to repeat the performance and climb it again. On days with especially big hills we would often pass the same people once going up, twice going down and a third time climbing up again. Well that was then and this is now. As soon as we hit a big hill I slowed to a crawl and Jaylee and Jared rode on ahead. At the top of the hill there was a stand selling fruit slushes so when I got there I stopped and enjoyed a smoothie in the shade. Jared and Jaylee waited so long in the next town they were almost ready to come back and look for me 🙂

In the end, we had a great ride. Jaylee had a blast and she is convinced that she can ride a whole day or more next year. The smile on her face says it all — mission accomplished. Now I have to get my wife to try it.

I was riding RAGBRAI before you were born!

My first RAGBRAI patch

RAGBRAI! The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa is a weeklong bicycle ride across the state of Iowa. But to call RAGBRAI a bike ride is a misnomer. RAGBRAI is the grandaddy of all cross state rides in the country. It is not the oldest, longest or largest ride but at seven days, over 10,000 riders and an average distance of over 450 miles it is certainly the biggest long ride in the country. The ride is not a race, it is sort of a rolling community of riders unlike any other.

My first ride was RAGBRAI IV in 1976. I was 15 years old and had just finished my freshman year of high school. After a summer of de-tassling I  had saved enough money to buy my first serious bike — a Schwinn Super Le Tour 12.2. I mail ordered a pair of (genuine Italian!) Detto Pietro cycling shoes and had a local cobbler nail on the cleats. I am pretty sure that I rode with a leather hairnet helmet.  I rode with my friend John, he had a Raleigh Gran Prix and had only ridden ten miles before RAGBRAI. The thing I remember most about the first day was not the ride itself but the sandburs that got stuck in everyone’s tires and caused numerous blowouts. I think I had at least three flats that first day.

I was 15 and John was 14 so his dad agreed to drive from overnight town to overnight town in their Volkswagen with our camping gear. I am pretty sure that he didn’t believe we could really do the whole ride 🙂 That first ride was a blast. John and I had a great time and would go on to ride other RAGBRAIs together. It was an incredible adventure, for me it allowed me to do something that none of my classmates even dreamed of doing. I was not a typical high school athlete but I knew that on the bike I could compete with any of my friends.

Riding RAGBRAI with my son

Since that time I have ridden numerous RAGBRAIs. I think I have ridden about 12 complete rides and a day or two of several others. Over the years I have also enjoyed riding with my children. RAGBRAI is coming in a few weeks and I am hoping to ride at least a day with my daughter or a partial day with my wife.

When people ask me how many RAGBRAIs I have ridden, I usually tell them that I cannot precisely recall. In recent years I have also been able to say to many of them, “I was riding RAGBRAI before you were born!”

It Looks like an Expedition

Lining ’em up

My wife and I have eight children. Even with my adult children out of the house, a bike ride for the whole family invariably involves not just my kids but their friends as well. On the Fourth of July we decided to go up and visit my father and brother-in-law in Cedar Falls. Cedar Falls was one of the first cities in the country to get serious about bike trails and for a city of its size, it has an excellent trail network.

Unfortunately it takes a lot of work to get seven bikes ready for a ride. the first problem was that we didn’t have enough bikes in the right sizes. My son’s friend was coming along so his dad loaned us a bike. The loaner bike and my three bikes (road, fixed gear and mountain) all had clipless pedals of one sort or another and I was the only one in the group who knew how to ride with them. So, I had to swap pedals on a couple of bikes. Next I put the boys to work inflating 14 tires.

Seven bikes in the big van

Of course the other  difficult part of taking the whole crew on a ride is getting the bikes there. We have a Pointiac minivan that has the distinction of being one of only a few vehicles that neither Yakima nor Thule roof racks can fit. We have a Saris two bike rack that my wife and I use. Fortunately for big events we still have our Ford 15 passenger van. I have Yakima’s largest roof rack for it but as you can see on the right it is rarely necessary. With three of the seats removed we can fit 8 people and still have room inside for 8 bikes.  It is hard to tell but the picture above shows seven bikes in the back of the van.

The expedition was a success. We rode along the Cedar River on a tree-lined bike trail. The teenagers rode on ahead while my wife and I rode with her brother. Her brother hasn’t been on a bike in at least twenty years so we took it pretty easy. We probably rode about 7-9 miles. All in all it was a good ride. Her brother is interested in buying a bike since his house, in the Chicago suburbs, is surrounded by bike trails. We’ll have to make an expedition to go and ride with him.

The High Trestle Trail, Woodward to Madrid, Iowa

Jason, Jaylee, Josie (and Pop), Dave and Jan at the High Trestle Trail

The High Trestle Trail is a new bike trail that runs 25 miles from Woodward to Ankeny, Iowa. The highlight of the trail is the 13 story trestle bridge over the Des Moines River. This last weekend I took my wife and our three youngest to central Iowa to ride the trail. (My youngest brought her stuffed hippo — Pop)

We chose a perfect day, slight breeze, puffy clouds and temperatures in the low seventies. As a family we have a variety of riding abilities so I was not sure what to expect. I am an out-of-shape cyclist but I have years of experience and thousands of miles behind me. I was on my fixed-gear bike so I was not looking forward to any significant hills. My wife is relatively new to cycling and just getting accustomed to long rides. My son is an accomplished runner and my 12 year old daughter is a competitive swimmer, I knew they would have no trouble regardless of the terrain or distance. I was a bit concerned about my youngest. At ten, I had almost given up on ever teaching her how to ride a bike. This Spring she surprised me and a few weeks ago she learned how to ride. I put a basket on her bike for her hippo and now she rides daily. But this would be her longest ride.

The trailhead in Woodward is an old converted rail station. There is plenty of parking, restrooms water, bike racks and benches. The parking lot was pretty full several cyclists came and went as we unloaded the van. We got the bikes out, topped off the tires and I gave a brief trail etiquette lecture. We set off down the trail. It soon became apparent that the two older kids should be allowed to ride ahead on their own. My wife went on ahead with them and I rode with my youngest. She (and her hippo) had a great time. We listened to birds and talked the whole way. We re-grouped at the bridge and stopped to admire the view, it was spectacular.

We continued on to Madrid, 5.6 miles according to the sign. After having some ice cream we explored an exhibit to the coal mining industry. I know 11.2 miles is a short ride but we decided to turn around and head back. The ride was completely flat. The trail varied from open fields to wooded to the open expanse of the bridge.

Josie and Pop

As I was riding with my ten-year-old she asked to stop by the trail. I rang my bell and said stopping right … and she proceeded to cross the trail to stop on the left, when I told her I meant to stop on the right she crossed the trail again. I am so glad no one was coming by at the time (especially the triathletes in training who buzz by without announcing themselves) she definitely could have caused an accident. Once she was safely stopped I tried not to scold her but asked her what had happened. We had done a little trail riding at home so she should have known better. She said, “Daddy, sometimes I forget my right and left.”

It had never dawned on me. From then on I reminded her that we always stop on the side we are riding on, after announcing loudly, “Stopping!” and giving people around us time to react. I learned a good lesson, I will try to keep things simple.

The High Trestle Trail is a great family friendly ride. The portion we rode was flat but there are some mildly hilly sections. The bridge is spectacular and lit up at night.

The picture says it all, it is not often that my wife and I and our teen, tween and pre-teen (and her hippo) can all participate in an event and have big smiles on our faces. It was a perfect day.

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