2007 Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour: A Timeless Cycling Adventure


2007 Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour Slideshows

Show One: Red Wing, MN Start Line
Show Two: Leaving Redwing, Bow & Arrow Marker, Bay City Hill, Maiden Rock, Stockholm, Laura Ingalls' Home, Pepin, Nelson, Wabasha Finish
Show Three: Wabasha Start, Lake City, French Trading Posts Sign, Old Frontenac, Hill Ave. "Rough-Stuffing," Redwing Finish
2006 Lake Pepin Tour slideshows and report

Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour: A Timeless Cycling Adventure

By Chris Kostman

Originally Published in Bicycle Quarterly Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 4 Summer 2007

Imagine a two-day cycling event which has no entry fee, doesn’t allow Lycra, requires no training (but lots of good attitude) and features riders in 1930s era “street” clothing who stop at every single scenic overlook, roadside historical marker, and café they encounter, while riding old British 3-speed bikes that are commonly seen offered for a few bucks in garage sales. This is the Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour and it’s the coolest, most fun, most enjoyable, and perhaps the most thought-provoking bicycle event I’ve ever attended. The fifth annual edition was held May 18-19, 2007 and I rode it with my girlfriend Elizabeth, my brother Keith, and his wife Poosa.

According to the ride website, “The Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour is based on cycle touring in pre-war England.  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. Most every farmstead had refreshments or a room to rent, every little village had a family-run restaurant; just look for the ‘Cyclist Teas’ or ‘CTC Recommended’ sign. It’s a romantic image to be sure but firmly based in reality.”

The spirit of the “gentleman cyclist” runs strong through the organizers of this event, Jon Sharratt, the “Shirt-Tail Organizer,” and Noel Robinson, the founder. After a brief exchange of emails, they offered to loan classic 3-speed bicycles to all four of us. That amazing generousity confirmed for us that the whimsical attitude featured on their website was not just their Internet persona, but an authentic way of life.

The route of this two-day event features a 75-mile, clockwise circumnavigation of Lake Pepin, a stretch of the Mississippi River which is wide and distinctive enough to merit the “lake” appellation. "City dwellers need go no farther than this if they seek romantic solitude," wrote panorama artist Henry Lewis in 1848. "One can not imagine a more lovely expanse of water than Lake Pepin in quiet, clear weather." So said one of the many roadside historical markers along the route, and I couldn’t agree more.

Blessing of the Bicycles, and More

Seventy-three hardy, smiling, and often curiously dressed cyclists from MN, WI, NC, IL, IN, IA, and CA gathered at 730am on Saturday, May 18 in Redwing, MN, a delightful town about 60 miles from the Twin Cities. There we each received a “tourbook.” Inside this little 4’x4’ full color booklet it read "This little pocket book is meant to be part queue sheet, part tour guide, part map and part memoir. On each page you will find a listing of a town or attraction or a spot to write your notes.” The 2007 edition featured numerous reprints from the 1935 BSA Cycles catalogue. With space to add comments and curiousities enjoyed along the way, it’s a personal diary and a keeper.

Before heading south on our voyage, we all assembled for a “church service” hosted by “the Irreverend Matthew Cole,” a Lake Pepin regular who had just been ordained over the Internet, “for no charge at all,” he noted. Cole, also known as “the Quicker Vicar,” handed out an eight-page pamphlet which included “responsive reading” sections for all of us. In honor of St. Dunstan’s Day, Cole had prepared a special “Blessing of the Bicycles” program that included a Blessing (“Remember Lord, that many of our bicycles have risen from the dead, much like yourself”), a Reading of the Commandment (“Thou shalt not covet they neighbour’s house… nor his Higgins, nor his Dunelt, nor his Raleigh…”), Psalm 23 (“Thou preparest a table before me in the Eagle’s Nest Coffeeshop: thou anointest my chain with oil.”), an extensive reading adapted from Shakespeare’s Henry V (“Cyclists everywhere now-a-bed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here.”), and a “Lenton Observance” during which Raleigh Lenton bicycles were sprinkled with water while a hymn was sung (“Amazing Gears, how sweet the sound.”) This concluded with the Dismissal “In the name of the Trinity, High Gear, Direct Drive and Low, go forth and ride.”

Venturing Forth

Ride we did, immediately crossing the Mississippi into Wisconsin and turning south. Stops and attractions that morning included the Bow & Arrow Historic Marker, Bay City, the Lake Pepin Historic Marker, and then our first fine dining stop of the day at the Smiling Pelican Bakery in Maiden Rock.

This quaint refuge soon had a gaggle of cyclists - wearing skirts, hats, “breeks” (knickers), vests, tweed, cotton, and wool - strewn across its porch and flower-filled garden. Eschewing modern day cycling fare, we happily dove into giant slices of banana crème pie, ginger cake with rhubarb sauce, and other heart-warming delicacies.

Leaving Maiden Rock, the tourbook routed one south along the lake or offered the option of “pass-storming” through the hills to an overlook and then rejoining the lakeside route in Stockholm. We chose the hilly option and soon found that a mere three gears, along with the very upright, very “forward of the bottom bracket” position made for an impressive challenge. We loved it.

Swedish flags share the mast with American flags in Stockholm, home of the second dining stop of the day at the Bogus Creek Café and Bakery. We also headed down to the lake to dip our toes in the water, then we added our own pass-storming option by climbing back up into the hills on a south-easterly route.

Our destination was the birthplace home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the beloved “Little House” author who was born here in 1867. Sun ablaze overhead, we enjoyed a rolling ride through apple orchards and farm land to the little cabin, then an exhilarating descent to rejoin the “official route” in the town of Pepin. Here we reconnected with Keith and Poosa and made our third dining stop of the day at Great River Roasters for a proper lunch with panini and chai. (What’s a trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin at a British-themed cycling event without a taste of Italy and India to feed the soul and fulfill the palate?)

Big climbs behind us, it was now a beeline south towards Nelson, passing more little lakes, rivers, creeks, and patches of wetland than we could count. After stopping for a healthy drink and a snack at the Nelson Cheese Factory, we summitted the bridge over the Mississippi and dropped into our destination for the night, Wabasha. We’d spent about eight hours on the road, about half on, and about half off, the bike. Our legs were tired.

In Wabasha we had the good fortune of having booked a room at the Bridgewaters B&B, located right across the street from the “finish line” at the Eagle’s Nest Coffeehouse. After a shower we joined the group back across the street for a home-cooked dinner, lots of British brew, and live Irish folk music performed by an incredibly talented local musical group that was age 13 and under. Toasts and huzzahs were offered up to all the ride organizers and our hosts there that evening. With a wonderful conversation and good cheer, along with tasty food and drink, it was just the like the rest of the day, except without the bicycles.

Nothing Grumpy Here

The next morning we strolled through Wabasha, where the “Grumpy Old Men” movies were filmed. With a dramatic riverfront setting that made, and makes, it a port-of-call for paddle-wheelers, it’s one of those archetypal “middle America” towns that we just don’t have on the west coast. There’s a classic little hardware store, a city hall built in 1894, brick buildings everywhere, an impressive, new National Eagle Center, and more. After breakfast at the Eagles’ Nest, we all hit the road.

Practically as soon as we put foot to pedal, a thunderclap rung out and it began to rain. But no matter: Within minutes we’d all donned raincoats, or, in many cases, classic British-style rain capes, and continued riding. Coupled with the fenders which festooned all the bikes, we had no worry for Mother Nature. We rolled along just a hair above the lake as we passed through Reads Landing. The rain stopped by the time we reached the first scenic overlook and roadside marker shortly thereafter.

Our next stop was Lake City, founded in 1853 and made famous in 1922 when water-skiing was invented here by 18-year-old Ralph Samuelson. Here some of our “nutters of the realm” stopped for lunch at the Chickadee Cottage Tea Room, while the rest of us tourists enjoyed food, drink, and live bluegrass at the Rhythm and Brew Coffee Shop on the waterfront. Back astride our steel steeds, we were amazed to notice that we were enjoying a tailwind for the second day in a row: that’s quite the trick on a loop route!

After stopping for more Historic Marker education - about the French trading posts and forts which were erected here in the 18th century - we turned off the main road into old Frontenac. Quaintness reached a new height with the flood-plain forests, quiet and car-less lanes, and lovely, wood-sided homes of Old Frontenac. An annual tradition was continued with numerous photos taken of riders and bicycles along a Civil War era stone wall.

One Last Pass to Storm Before The Finish

Leaving Old Frontenac we headed over aptly named Hill Ave., a gravel road that ascends a few good humps - good enough for many a 3-speed tourist to walk - while passing through idyllic farmland and forests. From there it was a quick roll back into Redwing and the unfortunate, too soon conclusion of our journey around the lake and back in time.

Handing our steeds back over to their rightful owners and guardians in Redwing, Elizabeth summed up our collective feelings when she stated, in all sincerity, “I want to do this ride every year for the rest of my life.”

Addendum: The Bicycles

Before we conclude, mention must be made, of course, about the bicycles. The Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour is a rolling vintage bicycle rally of sorts, after all. Jon Sharratt rode a 1935 F.W. Evans with a Sturmey KS5 close-ratio hub. Evans was a bespoke builder that got his start in the 1920s. Noel Robinson was riding a 1957 Phillips. From Jon’s stable, Poosa was riding a 1957 Raleigh Lenton Sports with Reynolds 531 tubing, while Elizabeth was riding a 1956 Raleigh Sports with an alloy Sturmey AW hub. (What a true gentleman to have two fine ladies’ bicycles to loan to two fine ladies.) From Noel’s stable, Keith rode a 1973 Raleigh LTD-3 and I rode a 1966 Robin Hood with heavy-duty rims and a St. Christopher bell, both equipped with Sturmey AW hubs. All four bikes road like a charm.

Some of the particularly interesting bicycles in use over the weekend included LeAnne Eikhoff (MN) on her 1940s Bates, Tom Majure (Winnepeg) on a Rudge Aero, Dave Siskind (MN) on a Moulton Stowaway, Melanie Steinborn (MN) on a full-chrome Moulton Standard, Joe Richards (OH) on a home-made recumbent (yes, a 3-speed recumbent) made from Raleigh bits, Brady and Lucia Robinson (NC) on a home-built tandem (welding two Raleigh singles together) with four-month-old daughter Tessa in the trailer, Scot and Carrie McCollum (WI) were both riding Thistle prototypes (Scot’s up-and-coming 3-speed brand), Terry Osell (MN), a retired frame-builder, was riding an Osell, and Jane Stonich was riding a Stonich, built by her husband Mark.

Other marques in use included lots of Raleighs, of course, plus Rudge, Robin Hood, Humber, Pacemaker, Pashley, Gazelle.


I want to offer a giant "bravo" to Jon and Noel and everyone else involved in the organizing of this stupendous weekend. The 3-Speed Tour is a real pleasure and a true treasure and Lake Pepin is easily one of the nicest, most charming, and most hospitable areas in which we've ever cycled! Thanks as well for the great company, conversation, and support of all the other riders. Elizabeth, my brother Keith, his wife Poosa, and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves out there.

For more info on the Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour, visit www.3speedtour.com

For info on the All-British Cycling Event held in the Twin Cities each September, visit www.abcetour.com.

To join the e-mail discussion group, look up “Gentleman Cyclist” at Google Groups.

For some new 3-Speed Adventures in California, visit www.3sa.com.

back to top