PARK RAPIDS, Minn. -- For nearly 25 years, a group of avid bicyclists have found friendship and adventure together.
In 1995, 18 members from the Hubbard United Methodist Church signed up for a Netherlands bike tour. Hubbard is a lakeside village, six miles south of Park Rapids.
Not only has the Hubbard Biking Group scheduled twice-weekly bike rides, they have traveled to Europe every year since – until 2020 when the pandemic hit.
A trip to Germany this spring was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Predominantly seniors, the biking group gathers on Mondays and Wednesdays from May through September. Some riders are in their mid-80s, most are 65 and older.
“We have a number of our riders go away for the winter, and they have been slow coming back this year. So every week there’s been somebody new coming back,” said Evonne Evans, who is currently the group’s volunteer coordinator, along with husband Ray.
“Some are just staying away,” Ray added, due to the pandemic.
Over the years, the Hubbard Biking Group has expanded to include anyone outside of its church. There are about 70 people on the mailing list.
“It was an instant success,” said Curtis Bakken, an original club member with wife, Ruth. The group rode “everything within a 100-mile radius” of Park Rapids. And everyone started buying better bikes.
“We had so much fun doing that, we then started a fall bike ride,” Curtis said.
The group takes a two- to three-day trip to another part of Minnesota. This year’s destination is Stillwater. In the past, they’ve traveled to Lanesboro, the Iron Range or the Twin Cities.
Bobbi and Bill Zigmant’s first foray into biking began when they joined the Hubbard Biking Group.
“We had the old Schwinn,” Bobbi recalled, before they upgraded to a Trek touring bike.
They’ve been on 17 European, guided bike trips.
“Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, Poland,” Bobbi said. “It’s wonderful. You fly into the big cities, then you are bused out and you are with people in the small communities. They interact with you.”
Ruth agreed. She and Curtis have been on 33 biking trips -– Ireland, Hungary, Bavaria, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Norway.
Biking through the countryside puts Americans in contact with rural Europeans. The locals are very welcoming, Ruth said. “The best part is the little villages and the cobblestone streets.”
The Evans joined in 2012. They have embarked on bike-and-barge trips to France, Germany and Luxembourg.
“You get off the barge in the morning. The barge goes downriver,” Ray said, then meets bikers later in the day.
“The hotel just follows you down the river,” Evonne chimed in.
Arnie and Sue Kuhn joined a couple years ago.
Sue sings in the Hubbard United Methodist Church choir “and we recently retired, so now we can pursue all these activities,” Arnie said.
Sue said they’ve taken biking trips through California and Vermont.
“It’s a way of life. You feel like you’re not so decadent. You actually do some exercise,” Arnie said of incorporating biking into vacations.
Sue recently had knee surgery, so she rides an electric bike to reduce any knee strain.
Another bicyclist was scheduled to have hip surgery on Monday.
The Zigmants transitioned to recumbent trikes about three years ago due to balance issues.
“We are the future,” Bobbi quipped.
Recumbent biking is “much easier, but you’re working different muscles,” she said. Because there is no downward pedal, Bobbi said you utilize your stomach/abdominal muscles along with your legs.
“You can look around. You can see everything,” she added.
A recumbent bike is about $1,000, Bobbi said, similar to a Trek touring bike. Road bikes – with all the bells and whistles – can be as expensive as $20,000.
Another advantage: they can be folded up.
“I can put these in the back of my Forester, both of them,” Bobbi said. “No screws; it’s all lever action. It’s 21 speeds, same as the regular bike.”
The Zigmants organized the group rides for 14 years, from 1998 to 2012.
Many members wear brightly colored shirts with the club logo.
“Every couple of years someone will say, ‘Maybe we should (print) a new shirt,’” Evonne said.
Fellowship is important to the group. Each ride ends with a meal.
“We’ll do a lunch picnic and socialize,” Ray said.
Evonne noted the group tries to support local restaurants by eating lunch or dinner while social distancing.
Larry and Karen Odegard have participated for a dozen years.
“We’re not even close to the old-timers around here,” Larry said.
“We’re getting up there now,” Karen said.
But the Odegards agreed that camaraderie is a huge draw.
“Fabulous people,” Larry said.
“The social part of it is great. Just the regularity of it gets you out,” Karen added.
Before each ride, they have a quick meeting to discuss the route and future events.
Before the kickstands go up, they lift their voices in a traditional song of praise: “Oh, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord for giving me the things I need, the sun don’t rain and a good bike seat. The Lord is good to me. Amen, amen, amen, amen, amen, amen.”
The riders, generally totaling 20 to 30, divide into smaller clusters based on speed.
“We’ve got a group that will go faster, a group that’ll go average and a group that will go slower,” Ray said.
Each group carries first aid and bike repair kits. There is also a designated leader and “sweep,” who rides at the back of the group.
“We’ve never, ever lost anybody,” Curtis said.