Bike Northeast Wisconsin
By Courtney Cerniglia
Do you remember learning how to ride a bike? The memory is still clear for me. My dad packed up my pink hand-me-down bicycle, training wheels removed, and we loaded into the family van to drive to an open, vacant parking lot. When we arrived, I hopped out of the car with such excitement knowing what I was about to conquer. I could sense I was about to join a community of two-wheel riders where the big kids roamed. No more training wheels for this big kid. I clipped my helmet strap under my chin and grabbed the handlebars from my dad.
I started marching out to the vast parking lot of newfound opportunity. With my dad at my side, I threw my leg over the seat and prepared myself. Holding me steady, he gave some instruction and we started moving forward. I felt that initial fear of insecurity when I lifted my feet off the ground and felt my balance kick in. It was shocking at first, but my dad steadied me and encouraged me to go again. After a few trials and errors, my dad did that classic run-walk next to me as he kept just a guiding finger or two upon my handlebars. Soon after, off I went — with the adorable wobbly-pedal of a two-wheel bike rider. I felt like I was in a whole new world.
Riding my bike without training wheels opened new opportunities for play. Taking the bikes out was a staple for my sister and me through the years. We used to circle around our driveway playing some version of our own made-up game or pretending to perform a type of routine. We decorated our bikes for the 4th of July parade at Riverside Park. We spent hours trying to pop wheelies.
Riding a bike always felt like a taste of freedom to me; a way to play and explore that’s different than taking a walk or driving a car. You see more of your surroundings, yet at a slow enough pace to still appreciate them.
It’s also a treat to ride with other bikers. Many of the events I’ve ridden in, I rode with friends and family. My husband and I will go out for a mid-week cruise to High Cliff State Park, we’ll meet my dad on the weekend for a long ride around the lake, or I’ll link up with a group ride at a local shop. Cycling is a unique sport in that you can be alone, together. Every rider will ride their ride, but the camaraderie of a friend alongside you makes the journey a bit sweeter.
In these pages, we’ll share a bit of the magic of biking with you to rediscover it all over again. We’ll have maintenance and packing tips for setting out for your next ride. A few tenured riders will give you glimpses into the local biking scene and how it has evolved over the years. You’ll meet the Woolf family, who uses biking to raise awareness for Type 1 diabetes. We’ll also share our favorite local pit stops, because sometimes the lure of a good reward is enough to get you riding more.
So, gear up! Dust off your bicycle for the new season. New trails await you! There are fellow riders looking to link up, and there’s still not much else to do thanks to the pandemic. We hope you feel inspired to head out on the road with all the Fox Cities has to offer for riding in our community.
100 Miles for a Cause
For Dan and Megan Woolf, their entry into long-distance road biking wasn’t typical. A neighbor living with Type 1 Diabetes approached them to see if they were interested in doing a group bike ride in Death Valley to raise awareness and fundraise for JDRF. And by “ride” he meant riding 100 miles! Dan recalls his first question being, “Does it involve wearing spandex?” Jokes aside, they agreed to do it — even though they didn’t own a bike!
Eight years later, Dan and Megan continue to saddle up to raise awareness for JDRF in honor of their friend. Today, they’ve done over 20 rides for the cause. Dan now serves as a coach for JDRF Ride’s Wisconsin Chapter. Both Dan and Megan agree they’ve caught the cycling bug thanks to their friend’s initial invite, and they continue to ride with the added benefit that it’s helping people with Type 1 diabetes. I asked why they felt compelled to commit to a 100-mile race, when the easier answer surely would’ve been to give a financial donation. Megan explained, “Money doesn’t just make the illness go away. The ride provides a mechanism to keep the enthusiasm alive for finding a cure by raising awareness.”
Dan and Megan love the camaraderie provided by participating in the program. Dan shared, “The fundraising piece is manageable — what we really love is the people involved. We’re continuously inspired by the folks riding with us and have such a great time with the team.”
Committing to the 100-mile ride, riders have access to a network of support. There are coaches, like Dan, who help with training plans, organizing group rides, and offering coaching to ensure the riders meet their goals. Megan described how she managed the long-distance goal, “It’s true, 100 miles sounds crazy to someone who hasn’t done it before. I take it in 20-mile chunks. I know I can get through 20 miles! JDRF’s ride program is accessible, so any level of rider can participate. All the courses are out-and-back and typically 20-25 people are out on the ride together. We go out on the same course and all get back safely as a team.”
When she really starts feeling the challenges from miles in the saddle, she remembers this: “I see similarity in those with Type 1 and what we face with the ride conditions — it’s the hand we’re dealt that day. The riders with Type 1 exhibit such perseverance. They don’t get a day off or try again tomorrow if they aren’t feeling well. It’s something they live with every day.” The experience has been humbling for both Megan and Dan, and it keeps them committed to continue supporting the cause.
The Woolf’s invite you to join them! “It’s a chance to reach a milestone goal and be a part of something bigger that will have a lasting impact on you,” Megan said. “You’ll be healthier and accomplish something fantastic!” Ages 14 to 75 plus ride on race day, and it’s viewed more as a celebration. With the wide range of abilities and skill levels, the scene is safe and fun. Join their team or donate to this season’s fundraising by visiting Ride.JDRF.org. (And hey, if riding isn’t your thing, they take volunteers, too!)
Electric Bikes Help Riders Get Back to Riding
If you’ve ever set foot in Wheel and Sprocket of Appleton, chances are you’ve bumped into Pete Kunz. Pete helped start Appleton’s Wheel and Sprocket store, which has grown to be the largest location. With over 20 years at the store, and even more tenure in the industry itself, Pete knows his way around bikes and the technology manufactured over the years.
And while much hype revolves around emerging technology for racers and “fancier” bikes for road riders, there’s another bicycle that’s having its moment — the electric bike.
What used to be a heavy, non-aesthetic “cheater” bike is making a comeback as a way for riders to get back to the sport of bicycling. With the magic in the battery technology, the lithium ion batteries are able to power the bike much further than ever before. This makes them more convenient to ride and reopens the world of biking to riders who traditionally would have given up cycling.
From Pete’s time in the bike shop, he recalls his most rewarding sale of an electric bike. “The biggest smile of the day came when someone test rode an e-bike for the first time. Once you try one, they sell themselves.”
E-bikes open cycling to those who may not have been able to keep pace or power up hills with a traditional bicycle. Notably, the older generations are opting for e-bikes as they’re able to return to a sport they loved. With the boost of power provided by the bike itself, routes with hills or trips with other faster riders are now possible for those who may have had to opt out in the past. Pete said, “Now we see Grandpa able to go for a ride with his grandson, both able to enjoy the pace and route.”
E-bikes aren’t just for the tenured riders, however. Many are using them to keep up with their partner or friends. Pete shared a story of a couple in which the husband was an Ironman and incredibly fit for biking. While his wife was not at that level of fitness, with the support of a carbon fiber electric road bike, she could go for 30 to 40 mile rides with him and keep pace.
Another group of riders also nabbing up electric bike inventory is commuters. With so many of us at home, electric bikes become a form of transportation. With less effort required to ride them, they can power a trip to a bite to eat, the library to drop off your books, or just as a means to get out of the house for an hour or two.
Electric bikes continue to serve as a tool for riders to keep biking throughout their life. With other sports that one may have to retire from as they age, biking has become even more accessible thanks to the recent evolutions of electric bikes. We all know the more we can stay fit and active into our later years, the more enjoyable life is and the longer we may live as a result. Visit Wheel and Sprocket this month, or any of our local bike retailers, to test an e-bike out for yourself — especially if you’re feeling the longing to get back on a bike.
Life from the Saddle
Two tenured Fox Valley riders share what the past 35 plus years have felt like biking in our community.
It’s a sunny morning. Crisp air greets you at the window as you take your final sips of coffee. Your gear is on, your oatmeal is in your belly, and your bike is leaning on the garage ready to go. You’re headed out for a ride.
In a world of distraction, it can be hard to find time for simple pleasures. For anyone who has ridden a bicycle, you know that mornings like these prior to a nice, long ride are one of those gifts of life. Biking brings us to the present moment. It follows us further into life than most sports allow. In the past year, it has seen an onslaught of new riders vying for a bicycle ride so they can escape the monotony of pandemic living and have a chance at a little freedom.
A few pages ago, I talked about my first time riding on two wheels and getting a taste of freedom. In “Average Joe” this month, Joe Cerniglia talks about bike riding as freedom. For Paul Kourdus and Pete Kunz, tenured riders of Neenah and Appleton respectively, biking is a form of freedom. It’s you, the bike, and the road, and wherever you want to pedal next.
Pete started biking seriously at the age of 19. He watched a race in 1980 in Downtown Appleton featuring an Olympic rider, Eric Heiden. Inspired by the athleticism, color, and pageantry of the race, Pete felt compelled to get more into the sport. He dove right in, and over the course of his racing career he achieved many milestones — winning Wisconsin state championships, competing in Olympic trials, and winning a world race in Russia for the U.S. national team.
His passion for biking became his career. In the cycling industry, he co-founded the opening of Appleton’s Wheel and Sprocket store, now the largest location. After 20 years of helping people find their perfect set of wheels, keeping them maintained, and offering guidance and support, he knows the impact riding can have both on an individual and a community.
“People are looking for the overall health and wellbeing that comes with riding a bicycle. It’s a simple solution to a lot of complex problems we may face with our health if we become inactive. Bikes are simple devices. It’s you, your body, and the machine. Biking provides the opportunity to keep you healthy for a lifetime,” Pete described.
Paul Kourdus, a lifelong rider from Neenah, is full of the biking spirit. If you need motivation to get on your bike, talk to him. I could see his love for the sport simply by observing his T-shirt, which stated “Cyclopath” when we sat down to chat.
His biking passion ignited back in 1972 when he purchased his first bicycle, a Raleigh Pro, on base in Florida while serving in the military. When he left the service, he returned to the Valley where he linked with old high school friends and they started riding together. His riding evolved, and he even cinched a win at the Otto Grunski bike race. A true testament of his respect for the sport, he still owns the bike he raced that day and the bike model of the rider he beat. That’s passion!
Both riders started when road biking was really the only available or popular form of the sport. E-bikes, mountain bikes, and cyclocross didn’t hit full swing in popularity and accessibility until much later. Nor was the technology at the level it is today. Paul remembers planning bike routes with a measured string and paper map so he could track his mileage. There weren’t bike computers and smart watch devices to help plan a route, let alone also track your heart rate, pace, mileage, and hydration loss.
One thing seems to have stayed the same — the camaraderie that comes with the sport. Both Paul and Pete enjoy the culture of the biking community that comes with group rides, bike shops, and being with other riders on the road. Group rides allow for connection with a mutual enjoyment of the sport. Paul explained the benefits of riding with a group. “Typically, ten to fifteen people will gather for a longer ride. You don’t have to plan the route or your stops, you can rely on the lead. There’s a rapport built when you’re out together, making sure you all make it to the end of the ride safely. If you’re riding in back with someone and you both are struggling a bit, you can lean on each other to keep moving. When you finish, you get to share that sense of accomplishment with each other … and a beer or two!” Biking with friends, new or old, gives us that quality time we seek to spend with each other by doing something healthy and fun. It’s a great way to be together and work towards common goals.
Whether riding with friends or trekking out solo, riding for 100 miles or taking a cruise down the Friendship Trail with your family, the pleasures of biking are making the sport exceedingly popular. Paul reflects on some of his favorite aspects of the ride, “When you get on a bike, you feel and see and smell so many different things. You smell the pines and cut grass. If you’re in a car you just don’t get the same experience.” For Pete, it’s the opportunity to stay moving and healthy until he enters retirement. Whatever you ride for, it’s clear that biking offers more than just a form of exercise. As the technology evolves and the Fox Cities adapts to our community’s newfound love of cycling, one thing’s for sure. It feels good to get out on a bike.
10 Bike Safety Tips for Your Next Ride
1. Always wear your helmet.
2. Make eye contact with drivers at stop signs. Never assume drivers see you, even if you have the right of way.
3. Use hand signals.
4. Wear bright colors and use bike lights. Even in the daytime bikers can easily blend in with their surroundings.
5. Don’t wear your headphones. You need to be aware of your surroundings on a bike, especially to hear approaching cars or fellow riders.
6. Stay in your lane and take space. Bikers should always ride with traffic. Use bike lanes when available and when not, ride safely with 3 feet of distance from the curb. Don’t feel you need to hug the edge of the road, which can make it harder to maintain control if a car does pass you.
7. Follow the same rules as cars. Bikers may have the right of way on the road in certain circumstances, but better safe than sorry. Always make sure you signal, stop, and confirm it’s safe to ride.
8. Ride with identification and tell someone your route. Especially when cruising alone, always carry some form of identification or emergency contact info. Have a buddy you can share your routes with and an anticipated return time, just in case.
9. Dismount to use devices. Answering a call? Checking the map? Making a sweet TikTok of your ride? Cool. Just hop off your bike before you do.
10. Stay hydrated. Throw a water bottle in the holder on every ride.
Three Things to Check on Your Bike Before Every Ride
Take a few minutes to make sure your bike is in good condition before you head out! These tips come from a local bike enthusiast, Paul Kourdus, after over 35 years of riding. Following his tips may just save you from a flat or other mishap and keep you riding smooth.
While these tips are great for pre-ride, Paul also suggests keeping your bike clean post-ride. That way, when you set out for your next adventure, you’re set to go with just a few last-minute checks!
Pump those tires! Always add air to your tires before a ride as it’s normal for them to lose air after a ride and while in storage. Tire pressure helps you maintain speed for a smooth ride and avoid flats. The psi is usually on the tire itself and varies by bike type. The skinnier the tire, the higher the psi.
Test the Brakes
Peek at the brakes at the front and back of your bike to make sure they’re not rubbing on the tire itself. Give the wheels a spin and make sure when you trigger the brake, they indeed stop the wheel.
Lube the Derailleur & Chain
Spin through your gears and make sure things are rotating smoothly. It’s good practice to keep these mechanics well lubed and clean to avoid issues on the road.
Will Bike for Treats!
Tandem Wine & Beer — Appleton
This relaxed atmosphere lends itself well to meeting new people … and a new favorite pour. It’s also named after a bike; how could you not stop?
Bare Bones Brewery — Oshkosh
A favorite pit stop for those taking rides on the Wiouwash Trail. More than likely, you won’t be the only cyclists there.
River Tyme Bistro — Appleton
This newer restaurant features a lovely selection of cocktails and great post-ride appetizers. Located right off the Newberry Trail, it’s a great spot for river views.
Seth’s Coffee — Little Chute
A local favorite, Seth’s Coffee in Little Chute is just two blocks from Island Park that has a unique trail system with water on both sides. There’s also a section of single track for those looking for a bit more adventure.
Emprize Brew Mill — Menasha
Loop the Little Lake trail is a popular 5k route for families. Taking a detour just a few blocks into Menasha’s downtown will lead you to a cold pour of local brew.
Cycling has been a lifelong endeavor for me and the friends I’ve made and the memories we shared makes me smile to this day, yes it is hard to do the long rides but the rewards are innumerable and it is a lifelong sport. It’s quite interesting watching the progression and technology of the sport since I started to ride in 1972 when it was so different than today.
So true! We love all the new tech helping us track our progress and journey!