• Mike Kilen
  • Mon January 21 2013
  • Posted Jan 21, 2013

Iowans get a rap for being winter wimps, curling up indoors when the weather turns frigid instead of playing outdoors, like our Upper Midwest neighbors. But is it a bum rap?

Wisconsin touts its cross country skiing, with one in 11 cheese heads involved in the sport, according to the state’s outdoor recreation survey. Iowa’s similar survey doesn’t even include cross country skiing. Minnesota claims 253,855 registered snowmobiles. Iowa has only 24,848.

But wait a minute. Iowa doesn’t typically have as much snow. One thing we do have is a lot of is bicycles. The people that ride them are often a bit nuts. They’re starting to ride more in the winter, and a growing list of winter party rides are beating Iowa’s bum rap.

The Bike Ride to Rippey (BRR) in Perry, this year staged on Feb. 2, started on a lark 36 years ago as a sort of dare to beat winter boredom. Now several more big rides are on the winter calendar, starting with the Jan. 26 Okoboji Winter Games Freeze Your Fanny 16-mile ride.

“People are seeing they can ride year-around,” said Scott Sumpter of, a source of bicyclist news and events in the state. “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.”

Sumpter said there is an explosion of fat bikes around Iowa. Fat bikes are essentially mountain bikes with enormous tires up to four inches wide that can blast through snow. The bikes are available at specialty bike shops and start at $1,200 for an entry-level model. That trend is fueling not only competitive rides but numerous impromptu rides among cyclists who connect online.

BRR remains the grandfather of the organized Iowa winter rides, but others across the state have picked up on the idea. A look at your upcoming options:


The Okoboji Winter Games can make the best case that Iowans are not winter wimps. In its 33rd year, the games that started with a handful of guys on the frozen lake who wanted to play broomball has grown to more than 40,000 revelers and 60 events, one of which is now the Freeze Your Fanny Ride.

It started with a handful of hardcore riders at the local bike shop, Okoboji Expedition Company, nearly 15 years ago. Last year, more than 100 took part, many stopping on the 16-mile trek to hit the bars in nearby Spirit Lake.

Drew Mills, the bike shop’s manager, says the ride has grown each year, traveling down Lake Shore Drive and on lightly traveled roads into Spirit Lake and back around to the bike shop.

How to take part: The ride starts at Okoboji Expedition Company, 1021 Highway 71, Okoboji, at 10 a.m. Jan. 26. $20 pre-registration ( or $25 the day of the ride.


The Bike Ride to Rippey started it all 36 years ago as a sort of challenge for a small group of local guys. It grew to as many as a few thousand cyclists, pedaling in all kinds of nasty weather.

“It’s a sickness,” said Bob Wilson, director of the Perry Area Chamber of Commerce. “Once you do it you’ve got to come back.”

People have come from all over the Midwest to take part in the 24-mile ride from Perry to Rippey and back, but they have had so much fun, some groups are starting their own rides closer to home. Attendance last year dipped to 800.

“We lost uniqueness, and BRR is not the beast it used to be,” Wilson said. “But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

This year’s new addition to BRR is a natural for a party ride — an expansion of beer offerings. The Iowa Craft Beer Tent, known to many who attend the Iowa State Fair, will bring its new mobile truck with 48 taps flowing Iowa beers.

“We’re billing it as the trailer with the most taps in the world,” said Steve Linn, whose truck will also stop at the Okoboji Winter Games.

Cyclists and craft beers have long been partners because cyclists tend to be older with more disposable income, he said. And the winter rides are great for enjoying the heavier, darker beers.

How to take part: BRR starts at 10 a.m. Feb. 2 at the corner of Second and Willis streets, in Perry, with registration and material pickup starting at 8 a.m. at Hotel Pattee, 1100 Willis Ave. Pre-register at or call the Perry chamber at 515-465-4601. $25 or $30 the day of the ride. Riders may also register for $15 and forgo the T-shirts, drawings and other goodies but still support the ride, which is a major fundraiser for the chamber.


No dogs are doing the work on this ride, named after the famous dog-sledding race and hatched in 2010 byDubuque-area bicyclists tired of traveling to Perry for BRR.

They planned their own ride on the same day. Last year, it grew to 75 cyclists and this year organizers expect more than 300.

“It’s a bit of cabin fever. People want to get out and do stuff,” said organizer Lyle Theisen.

Not to mention, the 22-mile ride to Epworth and Farley features numerous bar stops with live music.

Here’s the other selling point: There is no registration or fees.

“Just show up,” Theisen said.

How to take part: Ididaride starts at 11 a.m. Feb. 2 at Trackside Bar and Grill in Peosta, Ia.


Cedar Rapids Alternative to BRR, Frozen-A** Road Tour has a name that will give a clue to the spirit of this ride, which started 10 years ago on the same weekend as BRR but has moved to Feb. 16.

What also started as an organic cabin-fever buster among a few friends has grown to 100 people, despite the weather. “One year we had a high of 5 degrees,” said organizer Marsi Pedelty. “But you’ve got to take advantage of it, or you go crazy living here.”

The 12-mile ride over the streets and trails of Cedar Rapids is not long, unless you count the layovers, which include the historic bar appropriately named The Shack.

The ride is meant to be low-key and has no registration fees, T-shirts or heavy promotion to get in the way of a good party.

“If you don’t like the bars I picked out, I don’t care,” said Pedelty, in her low-key promotion mode. “Go somewhere else.”

How to take part: CRAB FART starts at 11 a.m. Feb. 16 at J.M. O’Mally’s Pub, 1502 H Ave. N.E., Cedar Rapids.




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