At 90, Cedar Rapids man ready to ride RAGBRAI

Clarence Boesenberg one of oldest cyclists on 420-mile trek across Iowa

  • Photo

CEDAR RAPIDS — As a boy, Clarence Boesenberg shared a bicycle with his two older brothers. He still remembers his first ride.

He ended up in a ditch.

Decades later, Boesenberg is set to become one of the oldest participants in what organizers call the longest, largest and oldest bicycle touring event in the world. The 44th Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — or RAGBRAI — gets underway Sunday in Glenwood and Boesenberg, 90, of Cedar Rapids, plans to be there to set out on the roughly 420-miles trek across the state.

“I always wanted to do a lot of biking,” said Boesenberg, noting he began riding regularly in his 70s after his bad knees made it difficult to go on daily runs. “My son had done it for years, and I always thought that’d be so neat to do.”

Boesenberg has been training hard for the seven-day RAGBRAI journey that is to make stops in Shenandoah, Creston, Leon, Centerville, Ottumwa and Washington before wrapping up July 30 in Muscatine. He’ll be attempting to tackle the course with his son, Mike Boesenberg, and grandson, Joel Doty. His daughter, Mary Doty, and her husband may also join the family for one day.

“You need to train for it,” said Clarence Boesenberg, who rides every day, sometimes twice. “You can’t just go ride it. The younger you are, the more apt you could, but the older you get, you have to train for it.”

As they head east, cyclists are to climb more than 18,000 feet this year.

“We’re simply amazed by the ability of some people that complete RAGBRAI,” said T.J. Juskiewicz, director of the event. He said it is extremely rare for someone in their 90s to participate. This year, he said officials are aware of two men and one woman in that age range taking part. The oldest is 92.

“To be able to ride in your 90s is an absolute feat and our hats are off to them,” Juskiewicz said, adding there are no age restrictions for who can participate in RAGBRAI. However, he did caution all those taking part “to be smart out there.”

Boesenberg, who has completed every RAGBRAI since 2012, said he’s not making the journey again to prove a point or break a record. He’s simply doing it because he loves to ride.

“I don’t know why, I just enjoy it,” Boesenberg said. “I think it keeps me healthy. I enjoy riding out in the countryside and seeing the crops growing and the wildlife.

“It’s just an enjoyable thing to do.”

A BIKE CRASH

Born in South English, Boesenberg — who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs about 145 pounds — grew up on farms near Marion as the middle of five boys.

He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, worked a stint at Quaker Oats and spent 38 years as a pressman at LeFebure Corp.

Boesenberg married his wife Ruby in 1949 and spent many years caring for her after she suffered a stroke that paralyzed her right side. Ruby died in 2011.

As his knees began to give out, Boesenberg started riding a bike for exercise. He bought a used Schwinn Varsity 10-speed.

“I got a real expensive one at a garage sale,” he told The Gazette for a story in 2012. “I paid $5 for it.”

He had his knees replaced in 2007 and had to replace the bike a few years later after it was destroyed in a crash that left Boesenberg seriously injured.

He was riding on the trail near Center Point Road, cruising around a corner when two riders from the other direction suddenly appeared in front of him. The collision sent Boesenberg headfirst over his handlebars. He landed on his helmet, which cracked. He broke his leg, shattered a wrist, mangled his jaw and spent three days in intensive care, a total of a week in the hospital. His jaw was wired shut for three weeks.

But Boesenberg didn’t let it stop him from riding. He said he took inspiration from his mother, Catharine Erteld of Millersburg, who rode a three-wheeled bike until she died at age 99.

ADDED INCENTIVE

This year, Boesenberg has a bit of added incentive to complete the ride across Iowa.

He’s in the middle of a quest to bike 9,000 miles in his 90th year. He celebrated his birthday in February and hopes to reach his goal by Dec. 31. So far, he’s logged more than 6,600 miles, which he tracks on the odometer attached to his bicycle.

He’s also got his 1979 Schwinn Le Tour bicycle on the line thanks to a friendly bet with his buddy David Evans, 77, of Cedar Rapids.

Evans asked Boesenberg to sign a “contract” stating that if Boesenberg doesn’t complete all seven legs of this year’s RAGBRAI, he has to give Evans the classic bike.

The contract is all in good fun; Evans doesn’t actually plan on taking the bike, even if Boesenberg doesn’t complete the route. More than anything, he wanted to acknowledge what his friend is accomplishing at age 90.

“I wanted to find a funny way to try to get him recognition, but also to honor the fact he’s actually doing it,” Evans said.

Most importantly, Evans hopes to encourage him to “set new and higher training standards to ride in his 100th year.”

Boesenberg said he may not know the secret to a long life, but one can’t deny the value of hard work. He said he’s enjoyed every job he’s ever had and always tries to do his best.

That applies to cycling, too, and Boesenberg has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

“I’ll keep riding as long as I can,” he said.

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.