Ringsted to host bicycle tour

RINGSTED – The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa has announced its route for 2014.?It includes nearby venues, including Ringsted and Bancroft.

Towns such as Okoboji, Emmetsburg, Forest City and Mason City will be overnight stays for the 8,500 cyclists participating in the yearly week-long bike ride across Iowa. This year’s event runs from July 20-26. On July 22, the third day of the trek, cyclists will travel from Emmetsburg to Forest City and pass through Ringsted and Bancroft along the way.

For both towns, this will be the third visit from RAGBRAI. Bancroft was first featured on the tour in 1982, and its second time was in 1996, the same year Ringsted debuted on the tour. Ringsted also was included in 2005.

Because this year’s route was just announced, the towns are still organizing all they need to do to greet, feed and entertain their guests.

“There will be a lot of focus on our Danish food and heritage,” said Cathy Wikert, city clerk in Ringsted. “A lot of cyclists made comments last time about our Danish foods, and there were many that had to-go bags made for them.”

Bancroft already has one well-known RAGBRAI attraction: Mr. Pork Chop, also known as Paul Bernhard.

“He’s currently recovering from a hip injury,” said Crysti Neuman, city director of Bancroft. “His son has been selling for the past few years. We’ll also have several of our non-profits helping with food stands, and lining up entertainment. I’m sure Bancroft will throw a good party.”

“My father was involved with RAGBRAI for 25 years, and I’ve been at the helm for the last five years,” said Matt Bernhard, Paul’s son. “The first time RAGBRAI came through in 1982, Dad was promoting pork because he was a pork producer. He was one of the first presidents of the Iowa pork board. We set up and grilled in the park. RAGBRAI wasn’t as well-known at that time, so we went to church that morning and he still thought he had plenty of time, but he got out of church and people were already pulling in, so he was a little behind the ball.”

But his smoked pork chops were worth the wait and became a RAGBRAI favorite.

“They were a big hit,” Bernhard said. “He used corn cobs to stoke the grill, and it gave them a different smoked flavor. RAGBRAI begged him to be on it.”

After a few rough starts, the pink Mr. Pork Chop bus became a welcomed sign of RAGBRAI.

“The first four or five years were a struggle; I can’t believe he didn’t give up,” Bernhard said. “But he learned a lot of things the hard way. For example, you don’t want to set up at the bottom of a hill; you want to be set up at the top or on the declining side. We try to find a nice open area, so there’s room for people. We don’t set up in towns unless they invite us, since a lot of towns are protective of their things. But we let some people set up with us because it’s more of a draw.”

This year, however, finding a spot won’t be a struggle with RAGBRAI coming through Mr. Pork Chop’s hometown.

“We’ve tried to bring Dad out to the RAGBRAI, but it’s getting tougher on him,” Bernhard said. “We let the RAGBRAI people know that if they want him, they’d have to come through Bancroft again.”

But having the RAGBRAI coming through Bancroft also means a lot more work for Bernhard.

“Everybody’s just getting the information, and it’s going to be a little crazy from here on out,” he said. “But we will definitely be ready. The town is all-in on this, and we will have everything ship-shape for when they show … Bancroft is the perfect halfway spot, and the riders will be ready to let loose.”