- Associated Press - Monday, June 25, 2018

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) - If you call Richard Keir a pioneer, he’s likely to give you a dubious smile.

The 82-year-old was recognized earlier this month by the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota for his efforts as a founding member of the Greater Mankato Bike and Walk Advocates.

He admits he was there at the start of the group but said he was far from alone.

“There were a lot of people who got the advocates going,” Keir said. “People like Tom Engstrom, Linda Engstrom and Lee Ganske.”

Despite what he describes as a group effort, it is Keir that has been bestowed with a Lifetime Service Award from the Bicycle Alliance for working to make “the Mankato area more bicycle friendly” for the last two decades, The Free Press reported.

Keir, who is an active League Cycling Instructor, was also instrumental in Minnesota State recently winning the Bicycle Friendly University Award. And he continues to promote the virtues of cycling from his garage-based bike shop, Keir’s Wheelwright.

“He was there from the beginning,” Tom Engstrom said. “It was evident he wanted to make the area more comfortable for bicyclists. He’s spent a lot of his time and effort pursuing that cause.”

Keir came to the Mankato area in the late 1990s. He was previously a flight instructor at the University of Illinois while his wife was a college professor here at Minnesota State.

He would spend his summers in Mankato where he pursued his passion by bicycling.

“It wasn’t the best place to ride back then,” Keir said. “A lot of times, I’d be out riding about town and drivers would speed past me yelling to get … off the road. I knew something had to be done.”

Keir, who was in his 50s by this time, said there wasn’t much for bike enthusiasts around town. The mountain bike craze hadn’t hit yet, the streets were pretty rough, the Sakatah Trail wasn’t paved and the Red Jacket trail didn’t exist.

There were basically no bicycle shops in Mankato, and Keir believed it was because there were very few casual cyclists in town.

“Nobody wanted to ride through the streets getting terrorized,” he said.

Keir decided to approach the Mankato Multi-Modal Transportation Committee about putting sharrows (stencils) on Val Imm Drive to indicate a bike path up the hill. A sharrow not only gives bikers permission to use the road but alerts drivers to the possibility that there may be cyclists out there.

It turned out to be a three-year process, but they finally got it done with the help of Paul Vogal, the city’s director of community development.

“Dave Bullard and I kind of got it going,” Keir said. “The city supplied the paint and the truck, and Dave and I put down the sharrows. We got Val Imm and Monks (Avenue) and Warren Street and a few others done before the city finally took it over.”

By that time, Tom Engstrom was involved, and he and Keir started talking about forming a bike advocacy group. Tom’s wife, Linda, was on board, along with Ganske, and they soon had the support of Bike Minnesota in the Twin Cities that had the ear of the state house.

“Long story short, Mankato began developing into a much more bike friendly community,” Keir said. “Tom suggested the River Ramble and, with the help of Richard Arey from the Bicycle Alliance, we started that up in 2011. That’s become a pretty good showcase for Mankato.

“I remember with that first one, we thought if we could get 500 riders we’d be ecstatic. Well, we got 700. And last year I think we had 1,400 so that’s really taken off.”

Keir likens the River Ramble to RAGBRAI.

“What RAGBRAI has done for cycling in Iowa, the River Ramble has done for Mankato,” he said. “Even people who don’t ride are rah-rah-rah for the Ramble now.”

Other ventures that have popped up are the Nature Valley Grand Prix series, which is coming back to the area this year, and the North Mankato Triathlon, which has blossomed into a big event.

“These are all things that the community gets behind,” Keir said. “It’s great to see so much involvement.”

As for being terrorized in the streets of Mankato, Keir said that’s no longer the case.

“I don’t hear the expletives anymore; the bicyclists and drivers are learning to co-exist. That’s a neat thing about this community, now.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide