As RAGBRAI is rapidly approaching this weekend there will be literally thousands of people descending upon Cherokee from all over country and even the world. There are even some from Cherokee who will brave the blistering heat to tour the state by bicycle. J.R. and Pat Johansen, life time residents of Cherokee County, are just one couple enjoying the experience. However, their experience involves two people riding one bike.
That's right - for the 11th year now the Johansens are embarking on another tandem bike ride across the beautiful state of Iowa. The couple began riding in RAGBRAI in the early 1990's, usually only riding on the first day on separate bikes. In 1998 some friends of theirs, from Sutherland, introduced them to riding a tandem bike.
They enjoyed it so much they continued to ride tandem around the area as members of the Iowa Tandem Bike Club or as they affectionately call it the PIGS (Paired Iowans Going Somewhere). The couple even take biking vacations and have attended the Midwest Tandem Rally held on Labor Day weekend for the last several years.
In 2000 the couple decided they would like to ride in RAGBRAI together - literally - on their tandem bike for the full week. Thus began their adventure of RAGBRAI. The couple says they enjoy riding in RAGBRAI on a tandem bike because they don't get separated and can share the experiences they have along the route.
Of course, you can't just get on a bike and ride across the state, there is training involved. Dr. Johansen says that RAGBRAI officials recommend 500 miles of conditioning prior to the event. Johansen rides and trains nearly every day on his single bike. Biking is his passion; he is a charter member of the Little Sioux Spoke Folks which was started in the early 1980's. He estimates that by the time he and Pat train on the tandem bike he will have logged around 700 miles of conditioning. There are many times when the couple will ride 40 miles before church.
Riding tandem works well for the Johansens who have been married for 42 years. They say communication is the key, especially during RAGBRAI. It helps them get a rhythm going so the ride is smooth and enjoyable. What they like most about the RAGBRAI experience is the challenge of riding 500 miles in a week. They also enjoy the social interactions with other cyclists, which involves meeting people from all over the country and even the world. They also take pleasure in being able to explore the communities across the state. Each community has its own uniqueness, history and culture.
The Johansens also shared some tips for cycling long distances. Good equipment is very important. A light weight, smooth shifting bike will be much more enjoyable than a heavy rough riding bike. Other equipment they recommend is cycling shorts with padding, a comfortable seat (saddle) on the bike. Proper safety equipment like helmets are imperative. Pat also prefers cycling jerseys that have bright colors so they are visible to motorists and other cyclists. Cycling shoes are important too because they have a mechanism on the bottom that allows you to attach your feet to the pedals so they don't slide off accidentally but let you quick release if necessary.
Be prepared for all kinds of weather but don't carry any more than you have to on your bike. The Johansens usually carry spare tubes for their tires, jackets, snack bars and water. Above all else a cyclist must stay hydrated. The rest of their gear is carried in their support vehicle, which up until last year, was driven by Pat's father, Dale Sleezer Sr. The couple doesn't tent and they seek housing with friends and acquaintances from across the state. They have always been successful in getting housing and are also sharing their home at the overnight stop in Cherokee this Sunday with some cyclists they met from years past.