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  • Sat July 22 2006
  • Posted Jul 22, 2006
By Melissa Regennitter of the Muscatine Journal MUSCATINE, Iowa — Greg and Charlie Harper see RAGBRAI as a time for both work and pleasure. For the father-son cycling enthusiasts, riding bicycles and working on them comes naturally. They say it’s a passion that keeps them busy, healthy and happy. Riding, repairing and selling bicycles is also a family tradition that began prior to 1966 when Charlie established Harper’s Cycling and Fitness. Today, both men work on bikes, sell equipment, give advice and ride as much as possible. Greg has been racing bicycles for 29 years and tries to ride 150-200 miles each week. Charlie takes at least one leisurely ride every day. And for 13 years, Harper’s has been invited by the RAGBRAI Committee to be an official bike shop. There are 11 shops from around the state that provide service and products. The teams Greg, 47, covers the road assignments. He travels ahead of the pack to set up work tents in areas where riders will travel to on the next leg of the journey. He and his team of mechanics, three cyclists he’s befriended over the years, sleep overnight at a predetermined location and wait for riders to arrive. Charlie, 70, stays at the overnight stops, towns that are designated for the riders to sleep over for the night, and coordinates campground sales with a team of five friends who help with sales and mechanical work. Both Harpers service bicycles and sell equipment and accessories along the way. “You can find any part on the bike that somebody can lose, break or forget,” Charlie said. Sometimes people wreck or simply forget an item they need. Over the past few months, Harper’s has serviced bikes for local RAGBRAI riders to prepare them for the 444-mile haul from Sergeant Bluff to Muscatine that begins Sunday, July 23. The store also stocked up on gloves, parts, batteries, tires, water bottles and other accessories to take on the road. “It bums people out when they break down and think that they won’t be able to finish the ride,” Greg said. “We enjoy getting out there, fixing bikes and turning people’s frowns into smiles. … We keep them riding.” The father and son get to see RAGBRAI from a different perspective, and they love every minute of it. Greg said when he is working a road assignment, he watches a few riders trickle in during the early morning hours. Soon a stream of riders turns into a swarm as the bicyclists reach the day’s destination. People fill the streets and celebrate or relax. Later, vendors close down and most riders head off to bed. In the morning, the swarm leaves almost at once and Greg’s team is alone again. Greg has participated or worked at every RAGBRAI — 33 of them so far — and says even if he’s working, it’s always a good time. When on a road assignment, Greg likes to catch up with the riders after he tears his work tents down, often passing people he’s helped along the way. “We go pretty fast and often catch up to riders who were broke down and say ‘hi, how’s your bike?’ ” Greg said. “The people are grateful we helped them out.” Element of danger He also competes in short, high-speed road races throughout the Midwest. Greg admits that riding a bicycle can be dangerous. He’s had some bad crashes and broken bones during his long career of riding and racing. “That hasn’t happened lately,” he said. But he encourages riders to wear a helmet and use caution even if they aren’t riding in a race. This will be Charlie’s 26th RAGBRAI. You also may have seen him ride his ordinary bicycle in a local parade. The ordinary has one very large wheel on the front and a much smaller wheel in the back. Although it looks awkward, it’s just like riding a traditional-style bicycle, Charlie insists. “I have ridden the ordinary over 100 miles five times,” he said. “Twice last year.” At age 58, Charlie and his friends rode from San Diego, Calif., to Saint Augustine, Fla. The trip was 2,760 miles and took 34 days. Both men ride year round, and RAGBRAI is an event they look forward to. Every year they take vacation from their local store so that they can go to work along the RAGBRAI trail. The Harpers say it’s the sights, camaraderie and fun that keeps them coming back. Contact Melissa Regennitter at 563-263-2331 Ext. 317 or mregennitter@muscatinejournal.com

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