The Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour: Nostalgia on WheelsOn Saturday, 100 cyclists will set out from Red Wing on a two-day tour around Lake Pepin.
By: Nancy Saunders, The Republican Eagle
If you go ...
What: 2009 Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour
When: Saturday and Sunday
Where: Around Lake Pepin
On Saturday, 100 cyclists will set out from Red Wing on a two-day tour around Lake Pepin.
The bicycles will be old English 3-speeds with names like Rudge, Triumph, and Hercules. Speed is frowned on. Spandex is not allowed. The cyclists will wear tweed and argyle, floppy hats and bow ties.
"The Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour is based on cycle touring in pre-war England," said Shirt-Tail Organiser Jon Sharratt of Minneapolis. "It was a gentlemanly time; few people owned a car and recreation based on automobiles was extremely limited. To get away for the weekend they would pack a few things, mount up and head to the country."
That culture vanished as the automobile reached the masses and lighter and faster road and mountain bikes gained in popularity. By the 1970s, production had ceased. The English 3-speed was no more.
To a small and loyal group of enthusiasts, however, the old 3-speeds remain classic bicycles to admire and use.
"They are simple, inexpensive, plentiful, durable, beautiful and are the right bicycle for 80 percent of all cyclists," Sharratt said. "One of the goals of the Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour and the All-British Cycling Event is to revive some of these venerable old 3-speeds and prevent them from being lost."
The first Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour in 2003 was the brainchild of Noel Robinson during an All-British Cycling Event, the sister event to the 3-Speed Tour.
"He asked everyone within earshot, 'Wouldn't it be fun to ride our old 3-speeds around Lake Pepin?'" recalled Ron Grogg of New Brighton, Minn. "Everyone responded enthusiastically, although it might have been the ale talking. Little did they know that Noel and Jon would actually follow through and make it happen."
Fourteen cyclists or Nutters ("'Nutter' is an English term and seemed appropriate for people who like to pay money to walk their heavy English cycles uphill, in the rain," Sharratt said) took their 3-speeds on a two-day tour around Lake Pepin. The weather was rainy and cool, typically English.
The pace was relaxed, with stops in every town, at historic markers and scenic overlooks.
Unlike other bicycling events, the Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour is not a supported ride. A 3-speed lorry (translation: a van) follows the Nutters' route, but its purpose is to haul luggage, not act as a sag wagon.
In an emergency, "an injured rider may be transported in the 3-speed lorry if necessary," Sharratt said, but bicycle breakdowns are handled by the riders.
"We fix it ourselves. This is touring as it was in the 1930s, so all riders are prepared by carrying the proper tools and spares for the journey."
The slow pace, rain, and lack of a sag wagon didn't act as deterrents. Interest and participation grew.
By 2007, the decision was made to cap the 3-Speed Tour at 100 Nutters from the region - and beyond.
"We have Nutters of the Realm come from California, North Carolina, Manitoba, Quebec, Texas, to name a few," Sharratt said.
The 3-Speed Tour attracts a variety of people ranging in age from their early 20s to their 70s. Some are experienced cyclists, some not.
Veteran Nutter Matthew "The Vicar" Cole of St. Paul, "stumbled into the 3-Speed Tour Web site and it sounded like fun."
Jim Thill, owner of Hiawatha Cyclery of Minneapolis, "read some articles about how people in post-World War II England got around on their 3-speed bicycles, and I thought the bikes were interesting because they are so durable and low-maintenance."
Thill's mother, Cindy Olson of Woodbury, Minn., says that her son "talked me into it."