Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska marks rich 33 year tradition of community service & family health
By Katy Keller-Lautzenhiser
Not training wheels, nor a lack of confidence, proved to be the challenge for me in leaning to ride a bicycle: it was the scarcity of any hard surface while growing up on a cattle ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. While I eventually learned to balance my yellow and orange Huffy bike with the puffy banana seat in our vacant silage pit, my fascination with bike riding happened when our small community hosted an overnight camp for dozens of cyclists during the state’s annual Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska (BRAN). The yearly event has always been a reminder of summer’s initiation, like fireflies appearing in our cattle fields at dusk.
Since Sunday, over 600 BRAN cyclists have enjoyed the 33rd annual ride starting at Kimball and traveling to an overnight stay in Kearney tonight, journeying less than 300 miles. While the route varies in length every year, this year’s 480 mile event ends Saturday at the Strategic Air and Space Museum near Ashland.
The tradition of BRAN dates back to 1980, when Omaha Rotary Club member Jerry Baird sought a community service project, according to the BRAN website. His idea for a fundraising cross-state bicycle ride was inspired by a fellow co-worker, Ray Weinberg of Omaha, participating in the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). Weinberg, and his wife Sandi, continue to be a devoted BRAN volunteers.
“The very first BRAN (in 1981) had 68 riders, and we traveled east to west,” BRAN Committee member Sandi Weinberg reminisced over the phone while taking a break on the course. “Every other year, we travel west to east.”
In 1982, participation nearly tripled to over 230 cyclists. By the event’s third year, nearly 380 riders took to the road. Weinberg said from BRAN’s fourth year into the 2013 event, participation has been capped at just over 600 riders.
With a focus on providing a “summer vacation” of sorts for families, BRAN represents a healthy way to see the great state of Nebraska. Cyclists range in age from 9 to 89, with 5% of the riders registered as minors. Weinberg confirmed the average rider age has increased to folks in their mid-to-late 50s, retirees who can devote more time for training.
“I talked to one lady whose husband has ridden in every (BRAN) except first two. She and their kids would ride in a vehicle on the route,” Weinberg shared. “It’s always been family ride, but now we see adults that have ridden for years that are bringing their grandkids.”
In addition to being family oriented, BRAN embraces the diversity of its participants. Riders travel to the Cornhusker State from 32 states, as well as from outside the U.S. including Canada and England. Weinberg believes BRAN’s rider support and organization is what draws its participants.
“A lot of people from other states either have ties and roots to Nebraska, so they see this as an opportunity to come back, be with family and see the state from a new perspective rather than from a vehicle.”
Dubbed this year as the Historic Lincoln Highway Tour, BRAN organizers have customarily given each event a theme since 1986’s A Piece of Cake title. Also long-standing is the event’s course through small Nebraska towns.
“The big towns don’t care (about accommodating BRAN riders),” believes Weinberg, adding that small towns are significantly impacted economically by the participant’s presence. Rural communities also have provided entertainment for BRAN families, including cowboy poets in northern Nebraska, and offering exposure to country family musicians’. BRAN uses its excess revenues to offer scholarships to graduating high school seniors from BRAN host communities, and those attending Nebraska colleges and universities.
With a rich history in Nebraska, Weinberg said BRAN not only focuses on the safety of its riders, but giving back to the rural communities that have rallied around the organization for 33 years.