COUNCIL BLUFFS -- Everyone is familiar with the saying, “The third time’s a charm.” It’s trite and overused, but it’s a popular idiom for a reason.
Just ask Lynn Leaders, Pottawattamie County Supervisor and bicycling enthusiast. This year – on his third attempt – Leaders was able to successfully navigate the entirety of RAGBRAI on an old-fashioned “big wheel” bicycle.
For 400-plus miles, Leaders pedaled the giant, cartoonish bike across Iowa.
“It was a good year for the weather,” Leaders said. “The previous two years were so hot the entire week.”
And this year, Leaders was better prepared for setbacks. Broken spokes stopped him last year, and he was bound and determined not to let them get him again.
On the sixth day of the event, Friday, he thought it was over. Seven broken spokes on the rough roads of Van Buren County were poised to cause him to quit. But Leaders said couldn’t let the dream die; he was too close.
“I rode for 25 miles with those seven broken spokes,” he said. “It was definitely slower going; you had to be more cautious.”
As if riding the big wheeled bicycle was slow going enough. Leaders said he can do roughly 11 mph on the bike, compared to the 16-17 mph he can do on a road bicycle.
“On Monday we had 88 miles from Harlan to Perry, so I was on the seat for a little more than eight hours,” he said.
The seat is just a swath of leather stretched across a couple of springs, and the tires are not inflated inner tubes, but solid rubber. When he hits a bump, Leaders said he knows it. There are also no gears or brakes.
Plus, it is twice as much work because a big wheel bicycle is what is known as a “fixie,” meaning the pedals move with the front wheel. They don’t stop rotating if you let off.
“It’s hard going up and down hills, and it’s scary going downhill,” he said.
But as scary as it is, there are several pictures of Leaders riding with his feet resting on the handlebars.
“I do it for two reasons: People like it and it’s the only way I get a break from pedaling downhill,” he said.
Leaders said he was told his bicycle was not made for such a ride, which is probably why the spokes broke, but he was determined to finish. After replacing the spokes in camp Friday night, he zip-tied several more to the fork of the bike for the 63-mile, final ride Saturday. With tools in tow, he finished the final day without a mishap.
Leaders, who has been riding RAGBRAI for nearly 20 years, said he originally bought the bike because it was something different. After attempting to ride it across Iowa, he was determined to finish RAGBRAI on it.
“It was fun. It’s amazing all the comments you get from people,” he said. “Everywhere I would go, I was the most photographed; it seemed like every fifth person who passed took a picture.”
So many people passed, he said that he lost his voice between the huffing and puffing to get up the hills and talking with passersby.
While it was a good adventure, Leaders said he will likely go back to riding the route on a “normal” rig next year.
“I’ve checked it off my list of things to do; I don’t think I will ever do it again,” he said, adding that the ride on the rigid bicycle made him appreciate the roads in Pottawattamie County even more.
“I knew (Pottawattamie County Engineer) John (Rasmussen) did a good job, but riding all those miles on county roads makes you appreciate what we have around here,” he said.