Progress 2022 – Going Out On Bike With Mike: City Manager, Woman Cycling Through Iowa | News
ASHLAND “Bike! Bike! Bike! I want to ride a bike, I want to ride it wherever I want.
When Freddie Mercury sang those lyrics in Queen’s hit “Bicycle Race,” it’s hard to say what he was planning – was he thinking of riding around town on a cruiser? A walk in New Jersey? Or pumping your legs on a road bike in the French countryside?
No one will ever know – but what we do know is that for City Manager Mike Graese, Iowa is a great place to ride a bike.
Not Des Moines or Cedar Rapids or Davenport – the entire Hawkeye State.
Last year, Graese and his wife, Francine, loaded up the bikes and rode all over the state of Iowa from Le Mars (near Sioux City on the Nebraska and South Dakota border) to Clinton on the Mississippi River.
Called the Register’s annual Great Iowa Bike Ride (RAGBRAI), the massive 454-mile ride through Iowa isn’t just a feat of athleticism for those who complete it (Graese said they were dipping the front of their tire into the Mississippi at the end), but a “rolling festival”.
“You have halfway stops along the way where there are food trucks and bands and when you get to your last stop of the day, it’s just one big party,” Graese said. . “I’ve heard it’s ‘spring break for adults’, but I don’t know if that’s a good description. It’s just a really fun time.
The event has been running for nearly 30 years, with the route changing from year to year. For seven days, runners traverse cornfields and plains in stages, settling into hotels, on spare sofas, or even camping overnight on the lawn of a gracious host.
Roll back to 2014 and Graese is an officer in the US Army. He and Francine have always been an active couple, running and jogging a lot. However, Francine injured her foot, so a base commanding general suggested the two try cycling for a change.
“He was an ex-Army triathlete, and he did a lot of biking around the facility,” Graese said. “We started talking to him and he talked about the benefits of cycling when you get older because it reduces knocking your knees and stuff.
On the advice of the general – who told them not to buy low-end because it wouldn’t measure up, or to buy high-end because they might not like it – the couple bought a couple mid-range – road bikes, race-style bikes that you might see in the Tour de France.
At first, Graese said there was a bit of a learning curve – while the store clerk showed them how to change gears, it took a while to figure out how to adjust the bike so they didn’t take not an upward spill. .
Then there was the matter of spandex. Before getting on the bike, Graese said he laughed at the outfits. But after that first ride – a short 12 miles – Graese said he was in pain for the next week. So he found the wisdom to wear spandex pads on his buttocks.
When Graese transferred to serve at the Pentagon, he said biking “really became an active hobby.” With various rails-to-trails (bike paths converted from old railroad tracks) and the Chesapeake and Ohio Rd and all sorts of bike paths, it was not something to go out biking on the weekend.
After moving to Ashland in 2017, Graese said at first he was a little nervous about the roads here, but after getting on the tarmac he found that most drivers don’t cram drivers and keep safety distances.
“I think here in the community there are places where people are used to seeing bikers. On (US) 23, between Ashland and Catlettsburg, you see a lot of bikers heading over the bridge to get to Kenova,” Graese said. “There’s a lot of driving at Rush and the drivers seem very aware. Every once in a while there’s an aggressive driver, but the vast majority of people really give you space.
One tip Graese said is important when riding in the area is to pack with other cyclists. Graese and his wife enjoy riding with other local couples on lightly traveled roads such as the Industrial Parkway.
“I rarely go riding alone,” he said. “I think there is safety in numbers.”
Eventually, Graese turned to the Bourbon Trail Burn, a series of rides around the Lexington area that loop around Kentucky Horse Park over a three-day period. Along the way, riders can stop at various horse farms and distilleries, take tours, and even order bourbon to be brought back by “Sherpas” to base camp.
“It’s flatter there than here, but those hills are consistent,” he said. “The first day can be 80 miles, the second 60 miles and the third is usually a 30 mile recovery day. People come from all over the country to do it—it’s really been a success. I think the first year they had several hundred runners and this year they are on track for a thousand.
While bike culture has its diehards – the true extreme enthusiasts who train for big races and events – there are also characters who are just there to have a good time on the bike.
“If you want that really intense look, this is it. But then there are people who ride Pee Wee Herman type bikes, who just ride for fun,” he said. “You will find your place there.”
For example, Graese recalled a team of bikers at the Bourbon Trail Burn who wore lederhosen-style bike gear and brought their home-brewed beer to share in the evenings. Then there was the “Godfather”, a 70-year-old man who could go out and pump the pedals with the best of them.
In fact, Graese said that after meeting the “godfather” at Bourbon Trail Burn, he met him again at RAGBRAI.
Graese said Curt Carson, the vice president of human resources at Unity Aluminum, got him interested last year in checking out the RAGBRAI. The Graes and the Carsons rode together a few times in the area and that’s when the city manager heard about the RAGBRAI – Carson, according to Graese, is from Iowa.
So they joined a team called Lanterne Rouge, which is named after the last Tour de France rider. Traditionally, the Red Lantern carries a red lantern on the back of his bicycle during the great race of the cycling world.
Clicking in teams is a great way to participate in a long-distance stage race like the RAGBRAI, Graese said. Team captains work out the logistics of where riders can sleep after completing part of the race and have refreshments available mid-race.
And hydration is key, especially in hot, shadeless Iowa.
“I think they said it was the hottest RAGBRAI ever,” Graese said of July’s race. “You’re out there in those cornfields and there’s nothing else around. No shade. You think you’re not going somewhere, then you see a water tower and you know it’s a city. They’re like those little oases in Iowa, those beautiful historic towns.
While the heat and shade were a challenge, one aspect of the ride was not – the hills. Throughout the race, riders only pedaled 12,000 feet in elevation—evenly distributed, that equates to about 26 feet of elevation gain per mile.
Compared to cycling at Rush, Graese said it was nothing.
“There’s a hill going up and we start to get scared and then we go through that hill,” Graese said. “We started joking with other people, ‘it’s not a hill, it’s a slope.'”
Now, you would think that preparing for a hike of this magnitude would require months of training, riding a stationary bike five days a week and eating nothing but kale and smoothies. Graese said for him and Francine, there wasn’t much concerted training.
“I ran a marathon once in 1996 and it was a four month workout,” Graese said. “I’m sure for people who ride seriously they do something along those lines, but I think you own a bike and you’ve used it a few summers, I think you could do it (RAGBRAI), but you ‘I would hurt.
For the most part, the couple hit the gym five days a week, take CrossFit classes and keep riding on weekends in the spring, summer and fall. He said keeping decent cardio shape is key to long distance.
Like any physical activity, Graese said safety is important to consider. Last year, he had a bad fall while cycling with his wife, son and daughter-in-law. He said he was rolling when he turned his head to look at something and hit a ditch. This sent him flying through the air, landing him in a hospital bed.
“I think I may have been laissez faire safety-wise. I had the helmet, the mirrors and the reflective gear, but that was because I was worried about other people. I wasn’t worried about myself – I am now. You have to be really aware,” Graese said.
While the wreckage put the skids on Graese’s bike for a while, he said come spring he’ll be on the roads again.
“My goal for the summer is to get back to where I was a year and a half ago,” he said.
For those who might be thinking about getting in shape, Graese said cycling is a great option for young and old.
“I would say it’s a great option, especially if you think you’re past your athletic peak,” Graese said. “You still get the same joy when riding a bike as when you were a kid. It’s very free. It’s so different than driving a car. You can take in the scenery as you go.
For those considering taking up the hobby, he recommended checking out the Ashland Cycling Enthusiasts group, where there are “really passionate people who know it well”.
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