Preparing legs and liver for RAGBRAI with Tour de Brew biking and beer

BY ERIC ANDERSEN | JULY 09, 2009 7:21 AM

Iowa City is a bicycle enthusiast’s dream come true. The city features great bike shops, nationally renown trails, and numerous racing teams. These factors are a big part of the reason Iowa was voted the sixth-best biking state in the nation by the League of American Bicyclists. With RAGBRAI fast approaching, Iowa City bikers are preparing for the event by participating in group and solo rides in the area — some of which involve beer.

Saturday marks the ninth year for the Tour de Brew, a daylong ride that starts and ends at Millstream Brewery, 835 48th Ave., Amana. Registration will run from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. the day of the 37-mile ride. A $20 entry fee buys a rider a T-shirt, brat, beer, door prizes, and live music. Also sponsoring the event is 3rd Base Brewery in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City’s World of Bikes, which will provide free pre-ride tune-ups and support during the tour.

Despite involving a little bit of drinking, the Tour de Brew is a event cyclists take seriously.

“It’s not an easy ride,” Millstream Brewery co-owner Teresa Albert said. “We do it the week before RAGBRAI as a warm-up for it. It’s got some hills, some distances, and hot routes, but yeah, it’s open to everybody.”

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Millstream Brewery is the largest microbrewery in the state, producing beer and ale, including Iowa Pale Ale and John’s Generations White Ale. Albert said her personal favorite is the award-winning Schild Brau Amber, which she calls “a great multi-full-body beer.”

While the ride does feature the Iowa beer, the brewery takes precautions so that cyclists don’t overindulge. Consider it a pregame for the main event.

“The course route has two beer stops over the 37 miles, and we give riders a beer and a brat when they get back,” Albert said. “They can only have one beer per stop. We want it to be a responsible ride, too, even if that’s not always the case with RAGBRAI. We’re gradually working them up to RAGBRAI. Giving them beer, but in moderation.”

Tour de Brew also includes music from the Beatles cover band Silver Wings, which will take the stage when the ride ends at 6 p.m. Albert said the event usually has a turnout upwards of 300 people, many from the Iowa City area.

“Iowa City is so big for us it’s not even funny,” she said. “We have so many people on bikes who come down to the brewery. We have a nice bike trail here in Amana, and they’re trying to hook it all the way around the Amana Colonies and, hopefully, to Iowa City someday. So part of this is a fundraiser for our local bike trail.”

While Tour de Brew is one of the larger warm-up runs for RAGBRAI, other options are available for bikers in Iowa City. The town features routes such as the Iowa River Corridor and Clear Creek Trails.

“The river trail is really nice,” 30th Century Bicycle owner Cody Gieselman said. “It’s interesting to go from picturesque parkland to the more industrialized recycling center, where it’s kind of dodgy. It’s definitely one of the smarter trails. The bike paths in Iowa City are getting better all the time.”

Gieselman and Steve Goetzelman run 30th Century Bicycle, 310 Prentiss St., which opened for business in April. The shop emphasizes the sale of commuter bicycles, and its owners recently traded in their gas guzzlers for the more economic mode of transportation.

“Both of us live car-free,” Gieselman said. “For me, it was kind of a process. The more I rode my bike, the less I drove my car. It was less expensive to ride a bike around town, and health-wise, it felt really good, so the scale kept tipping toward bikes.”

Gieselman said that cyclists are part of a culture all their own, and she enjoys the visual side of bicycles in addition to the other benefits they can bring.

“I see a lot of art in bicycles,” Albert said. “I really like the concept of making the bike a part of your lifestyle. Your personality can really be expressed with what you ride and how you ride.”

More people are getting interested in biking in Iowa City, she said, a trend that UI English Adjunct Assistant Professor and biker Sean Scanlan also noted.

“It’s going gangbusters,” he said. “I’ve been at the UI for the past nine years, and every year, there are more bikes on the bike racks.”

Scanlan rides his Lemond titanium road bike approximately 200 miles each week around Iowa City, and he recently completed a one-day, 100-mile ride by himself. Despite his solo adventure, he said, he enjoys riding with others, and he frequently takes part in the group rides that start from College Green Park at 5:30 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.

“Oh my gosh, it’s a blast,” Scanlan said. “You’re going so fast, like you could never go that fast by yourself, so it’s like you’re inside an animal. It’s a rush, a total speed-freak rush, and there’s nothing more exciting than that.”

As far as local trails go, he said, the paths around 200-acre Sugar Bottom recreation area are some of the best around — these trails were featured in Outside Magazine.

Iowa’s strong bike culture is what brought mechanic Jeremy Wofford of Geoff’s Bike and Ski, 816 S. Gilbert St., back to the area after he had lived in Texas for a few years. For many workers at the bike shops in Iowa City, biking is more than just a hobby — it’s an obsession.

“There are bikers of all types, ranging from recreational to really elitist in Iowa City,” he said.

Riders from around the world come to take part in RAGBRAI, which is the largest ride of its kind in the nation. The route varies each year; generally, riders travel across the state covering a distance of approximately 440 miles. This year’s RAGBRAI will kick off on July 19 in Council Bluffs and end in Burlington on July 25.

“If you are remotely interested in bikes, it’s the most fun you can have on a bike,” Wofford said.

Whether it’s on the local trails or events such as the Tour de Brew and RAGBRAI, all of the cyclists agreed that Iowa City has one of the better bike scenes in the state of Iowa and the nation.

“What I love about Iowa City is that there are people who race and people who do Tour de Brew,” Scanlan said. “There’s a lot of crossover. There are a lot of casual riders who love racing, and there are a lot of racers who love to casually ride.”

Albert said she expects to see lots of Iowa City riders at Tour de Brew, and she encourages those thinking about participating in RAGBRAI to come out.

“It’s all about fun and raising some money for the local community,” she said. “Good beer, lots of friends — just relax, and enjoy your day.”

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