ST. JOSEPH — Don't let the acronym fool you. It reads like Defense Department shorthand.
RAGBRAI. Maybe a missile system.
Actually, participants say, it's a gathering of 10,000 best friends. Bob and Cindy Neidinger hated missing it this summer.
The St. Joseph couple have become regulars in the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. They consider themselves in a family, distant pedaling cousins, with the Harlan Huff-N-Puffers of that state, with a reunion every July.
In organized bicycling events in other states, and the Neidingers have been to plenty, miles can pass without seeing other riders. That's fine, they insist, just a different experience.
The 470 or so miles across Iowa more resemble, in Cindy Neidinger's estimation, "a party on wheels." A healthy party, to be sure, but a communal happening all the same. They ride, rest and camp together. They take to the roads and speak the language of self-propelled movement.
"You don't meet a stranger if you're on a bike," Bob said.
Were it not for shared interest with a bigger group, the Neidingers might never have embraced the cycling habit that so identifies their lives.
There are hours, of course, spent on the road. But there are also household keepsakes, the bicycle silhouettes and trip mementos that adorn their home.
The Neidingers were evangelists in the service of bicycling long before the Tour of Missouri handed out its first yellow jersey.
Cindy Neidinger grew up in King City, and Bob Neidinger grew up in St. Louis, though his parents came from St. Joseph. They met in star-aligned fashion while standing together in the wrong line at Northwest Missouri State University.
Bob Neidinger earned a communications degree and became a math teacher. Cindy Neidinger spent years directing a day care facility and a regional Head Start program. They both now teach in Atchison, Kan., in communications and kindergarten respectively.
They adopted bicycling as an activity to share with their sons, and the tentative early jaunts down the road seemed a stretch. When Cindy Neidinger had some health problems, her doctor suggested the St. Joseph Bicycle Club. She bought a used 10-speed for $25, and the family became club regulars.
"They started taking us out on little rides one at a time," Bob Neidinger remembers. The first ride took them up DeKalb Cemetery Hill south of St. Joseph, a wind-sucking slope of discouragement. But they kept at it.
Early rides stretched between 10 to 15 miles, whereas a typical after-work ride now is 20 to 30 miles. Most years, they log 5,000 miles.
The Neidingers took advantage of the burgeoning rails-to-trails routes. The Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota proved so new they found time-worn spikes on the route. The biking journeys, to Wisconsin,Michigan and Nova Scotia became their vacation routine.
At home, local riders grew into an extended family. "The Bike Club was really instrumental in teaching us what to do, where to go, how to dress, what to look for in a bike," Bob says.
Their son, David Neidinger, who grew up in this hothouse of pedaling, has since become president of the cycling club at the University of Kansas. "Everybody around here in cycling knows him and feels responsible for how well he's doing," Cindy Neidinger says.
The couple began tandem cycling as a means of togetherness and for ease of longer rides. The more ergonomic recumbent machine they now use, one allowing riders to pedal in a reclined position, gives them cycling's health benefits with less physical rigor.
As for mental health, they ride on pavement but among God's creations, and the stress of a day pours off into the activity.
"I love when she has a bad day because she pedals harder," Bob Neidinger jokingly says.