BAM (Bicycling Around Minnesota) was back in the area in full force this past week. On
Wednesday night, August 16, around 300 bikers from 20 different states and Canada made their way to Sylvan Park in Lanesboro, Minn. to begin their 2023 BAM experience. After dinner on their own in one of Lanesboro’s restaurants, they gathered to be welcomed by the BAM tour director, Mary Derks.
Derks shared the multitude of details about the four-day bike ride with the attendees.
According to Derks, what makes the BAM ride different from other rides is the fact that the riders are encouraged to take in the activities and sites that they encounter on their ride. She stressed that the locations along the ride were prepared for and looking forward to the bikers visiting them. She encouraged the riders to stop in and visit.
After registering, riders had been sent detailed PDFs of each day’s ride with elevation maps and detailed instructions including each turn and road. Riders could also download a GPS app to see the daily schedule, rest stops, and places to eat and drink along the day.
Derks also described the next day’s ride, saying it was one of the longer rides at 66 miles. Day one’s ride included the towns of Fountain, Preston, Harmony, Peterson, and Rushford. She cautioned the riders to be careful on the wooden bridges if there had been rain and urged them to space themselves out when they began the day on the trail to Fountain. She also reminded the riders of the rules of the road.
Places of interest Derks mentioned for that first day included the Fillmore County Historical Museum, the B&B Bowl and coffee and sandwich shops in Preston, BReaKeRs and other shops including the Amish bakery in Harmony, Peterson Fish Hatchery and Peterson Museum, Featherstone Farms, a CSA on the way to Rushford; as well as the Creamery and Norsland Lefse in Rushford.
In closing, Derks shared that there was an air quality alert that the next day might be in the orange range and noted BAM was prepared to have buses shuttle people if needed if they were not comfortable riding at that time.
Other amenities available for the bikers included massage appointments, a charging trailer for their devices, showers, three SAG wagons, a Free Wheel Bike Repair, and a luggage truck. While many riders brought their own tents which they had to set up and take down each day, Pork Bellies, a company originally started to help RAGBRAI riders, provided another 37 tents which they set up, took down, and set up in the next town for riders. Another option was to rent a “cabin” in one of two Phat Trailers. Each trailer had five cabins; each cabin had two bunk beds, capable of sleeping four people.
Derks shared that the biggest challenge in planning such a ride is getting a route with no construction, good pavement, low traffic, and interested communities. “There’s no substitute for actually being in the area and talking to people to find out about local attractions to include on the rides!” Derks declared.
Things have changed a bit since the first BAM ride in 2006. At that time it had only 30 participants. This year, e-bikes were allowed for the first time with the stipulation that riders using the SAG wagons needed to load their own bikes and the caution to use their power conservatively since it would need to last about 66 miles.
Another change this year was the inclusion of musical entertainment and the availability of beverages at the nightly camp; this was done to build more community among the bikers.
According to Lisa Austin, one of the founding mothers of BAM, it was part of the MnDOT State Bicycling Advisory Committee at the beginning. State agencies such as the Department of Health, DNR, and Explore Minnesota supported BAM to encourage biking for transportation, recreation, and health. Rides are during the second or third week of August; the group tries to schedule around local events; BAM has a tradition of promoting different areas of the state each year. The last year BAM had been in southeast Minnesota was in 2014.
Lisa Rippe of BAM’s marketing and communications emphasized that BAM doesn’t want to overwhelm the local communities and makes sure to give them a heads up when BAM will be there. They make a point to use local restaurants and caterers for meals, providing vegetarian options and keeping in mind that some people are also seeking gluten free meals.
Riders’ experience varies greatly. Many were first year riders with BAM this year, while some riders such as Glenn Lane has ridden in BAM six times and just rode in his 21st RAGBRAI. This year, 72-year-old Lane opted to volunteer to drive the luggage truck while his wife Kathie drove a SAG wagon. Lane shared that what he enjoys most about BAM is meeting all the people and hearing their stories. Lane stated you can’t train too much; he likes the ride to be the easy part of the trip!
New to BAM this year were riders Chris and Venke Davis; at the end of day one, Venke had a tale to tell. She had a spoke break in Harmony; they managed to get it fixed. Later a second spoke broke at mile 38 near Canton. Venke enthused that her day was saved when a local came out, asked if they needed help, and offered to drive them the 26 miles to Rushford!
Both Chris and Venke are members of the Minnesota Rovers Outdoor Club in the Cities and enjoy biking, camping, and rock climbing.
Mark Schneider and Betsy Lough came from Colorado to ride in BAM. This was Mark’s first time, while Betsy had ridden BAM in 2015, going through Brainerd, PIne River, Crosby,and LIttle Falls. Schneider and Lough thoroughly enjoyed the ride even though it was windy (another rider pipped in, “Yeah, It seemd like it was in your face no matter what direction you were going! 30 mph winds when you were trying to ride uphill!”).
Mark and Betsy loved the scenery, commenting on how different it was from Colorado. They appreciated the well maintained rural roads with less traffic than they have at home as well as the friendly small towns. The couple has done the Ride the Rockies several times, but opted not to this year because of the high traffic and bad roads. They train extensively through the year with Betsy riding 7,000 miles and Mark riding 4,000.
Day two of BAM promised a ride with two different route lengths from Rushford to LaCrescent both including a chance to ride on Apple Blossom Drive and along the Mississippi and a stop at the Riverview Winery.
Day three had the riders heading to Caledonia from LaCrescent with the opportunity to take in the Houston County Fair and enjoy Caledonia bakery treats as well as Schech’s Mill and the International Owl Center in Houston.
On the final day, August 20, the riders left Houston and headed to Spring Grove with the chance to enjoy some Spring Grove Soda Pop and lunch in Mabel before ending their BAM experience back in Lanesboro and returning home.