Cyclists roll through Bemidji as part of Minnesota Bike Tour
Cyclists from all over the United States, Canada and even some from Central Africa gathered on Sunday to start pedaling a 350-mile journey for an annual Tour of Minnesota bike ride.
BEMIDJI — Cyclists from all over the United States, Canada and even some from Central Africa gathered on Sunday to start pedaling a 350-mile journey for an annual Tour of Minnesota bike ride.
After setting off along the Paul Bunyan Trail from Brainerd on June 19, and biking 66 miles north to Walker, the 2022 Tour of Minnesota group was met with heat advisories and tornado warnings within the first couple of days. But nothing is going to stop the 200 riders from seeing the beauty northern Minnesota has to offer as they continue along their route, including Walker, Park Rapids and Staples.
On Tuesday, June 21, the cyclists made their way from Walker to Bemidji and camped at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds, having the opportunity to traverse the area in the evening.
Assistant Tour Director Rich Gordon started participating in the Minnesota bike tour in 1990 with his dad at age 24. This year, the Star Tribune sports statistician and former journalist stepped into a leadership role alongside current tour owner and director Doobie Kurus.
“We typically try to keep the group together, on a lot of rides you'll see riders race off ahead and you don't see them the rest of the day,” said Gordon. “We have buses that bring them into town so they can go eat on their own or (explore) in each area.”
While most of the riders camp out in tents, they also have the option to stay in hotels if they don’t feel like roughing it anymore. Most meals are provided for the riders as local service groups and churches cater to the group in each town.
“Some people like to say we are an eating group with a biking disorder,” Gordon said with a laugh. “We love to eat.”
From 7-year-olds to participants in their 80s, the cyclists hit the trails again on Wednesday morning for a 63-mile trek to Park Rapids. Staples is the next destination where they will complete the last stretch of the tour back to Brainerd on Saturday, June 25.
Anthony Schmit, the youngest biker on the tour at age 14 traveled from Omaha, Nebraska with his dad and younger brother for their yearly week-long bike ride. While Anthony is strong enough to pedal the more than 350 miles, his 7-year-old brother, Daniel, gets to ride behind their dad, Chris, in a pull-behind trailer attached to his bike.
Melanie Herzog from Madison, Wis., traveled with three friends to experience the Minnesota tour for the first time.
“It’s lovely, we came because we all love this landscape,” she said. “Everything from being up at the North Shore in Duluth or canoeing the boundary waters, it's just a beautiful area.”
The unofficial oldest rider at 80 years old, Jim Victorsen from Maple Plain, Minn., has been doing the bike tour for about 36 years alongside his wife and a couple of friends he's made over the years.
“A lot of us have ridden together for a long time, it’s like a family reunion to me,” Victorsen said. “Biking is truly a gift.”
Keeping the tradition alive
This seven-day bike tour, originally known as the Klobuchar Ride or “Jaunt with Jim,” was started in 1974 by Jim Klobuchar, a longtime columnist for the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis and father of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar. The cyclist, adventurer, writer and leader of the Minnesota Bike Tours passed away in 2021, but his tradition lives on.
“Jim was a columnist and sports writer for almost four decades,” said Gordon. “He got started by riding around the state for his newspaper work writing articles on the places and people he would visit on his bike.”
According to Gordon, people started reading the popular articles Klobuchar wrote on his adventures to different parts of the state and would reach out saying how much they wanted to ride along with him on his endeavors.
From planning the routes, arranging the rest stops, reserving the campsites, and bringing the catered food from local churches and service groups, Klobuchar organized the event all on his own for 39 years.
“We still can’t believe it because now it takes more than 20 of us to put this event together,” Gordon said. “He started one of the first bicycle tours in the United States back in the early 1970s and it kept growing from there.”
As the event grew bigger and Klobuchar got older, in 2013 he turned everything over to Bob Lincoln who had been participating in the tour since he was a teenager. Lincoln was in charge from 2013 up until 2021 when it was put into the hands of Kurus and Gordon to begin organizing this year’s event.
“We like to call ourselves a rolling community on wheels,” Gordon said. “I never thought I'd be here helping to lead the ride Jim started so long ago, it's an honor.”
Klobuchar set forth three main goals for the Tour of Minnesota. He wanted it to go to different cities, small towns and vistas all over Minnesota, bring economic development to small businesses and lastly enjoy the heritage and culture each town has to offer.
Dolls and dumbbells
From pulling a harmless prank on a friend to sitting around camp and telling stories, having fun is the number one hallmark of the bike tour.
“Some days are harder than others, but although it’s challenging at the time, those moments lead to good stories down the road,” Gordon said. “One of the best parts is just sitting around the tents after we eat and shower and telling stories and being with each other.”
Kirsten Zeller, of Grand Forks, said she was exploring Bemidji on Tuesday when she stumbled across The Yard Sale Shop. The store owner's children were selling dolls outside the shop and she decided to buy them and take them along for the ride by strapping them to her handlebars for a front-row view.
Her friend Fred Pierce from Grand Junction, Colo., said Kirsten always brings the fun on the trips.
“Never a ‘doll’ moment,” Pierce laughed.
Another way the group likes to have fun on long trips is by pulling a prank or two.
According to a veteran participant, back in the days when cyclists had to carry their own luggage and tents on their bikes throughout the trip, one of the mischievous bike mechanics would sneak a 15-pound dumbbell into the bag of a friend without telling them.
“They would get back to camp and talk about how hard the day was,” said the participant. “They would start unpacking their backpacks for the night and find the dumbbell, even Jim Klobuchar had it in his bag one year.”
For more information about the Minnesota Bike Tour or details on next year's registration, visit their website at tourofminnesota.com .