Fri, Jul 8, 2011 | by TJ JuskiewiczShare
See video and full story at The Des Moines Register
Lewis, Ia. — It’s too soon to tell which of RAGBRAI’s 10,000 riders might dream up this year’s craziest costume. Or huff and puff over Iowa’s hills atop the oddest pedal-powered contraption.
But I’m confident that the largest working bicycle in the history of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa – possibly the world’s largest bicycle as well – will be parked in the elementary schoolyard across the street from Duane Weirich’s welding shop in Lewis. RAGBRAI visits July 24, with Lewis as the final pass-through town before an overnight stop in Atlantic.
All of this town’s 433 residents would need to stack themselves into a human pyramid to vie as a spectacle with what will be a steel bike 32 feet long and 15 feet high to the top of its handlebars.
Two 12½-foot wheels for now are all that Weirich has welded together from 2 3/8-inch diameter pipe, with 5/16th-inch steel rods used for the 37 spokes in each wheel.
The thing might weigh 500 pounds when complete, Weirich estimated, with a modest $350 or so worth of materials.
Just to clarify: This two-wheeled monster will be lucky to roll down a couple of city blocks in Lewis. Don’t expect to see Weirich dipping his tires in the Missouri River at the start of the 39th annual statewide ride, which runs July 24-30. Paul Bunyan would have a tough time wobbling along on it, let alone Lance Armstrong (with or without banned performance-enhancing drugs.)
“I build a lot of off-the-wall stuff,” Weirich, 49, said with obvious understatement earlier this week. He keeps a soapstone pen tucked in his shirt pocket that he often pulls out for a quick conceptual scribble on any nearby sidewalk or concrete floor.
Weirich had just returned from a work site where he dropped off his custom 46-foot-tall crane used in moving grain bins. A 12-foot fishing pole stood nearby, crafted from a Fiberglas pump rod salvaged from an oil well. He often welds solid steel cow or bull sculptures for community fundraisers.
The Weirich Welding Plus shop relocated here in October 2008 on three acres of land on the north edge of Lewis. Weirich’s wife and co-owner, Gwen, operates a convenience store that was added in May 2009. Their son, Logan, 22, joined the family business with his mechanical design technology degree.
“He’ll be lucky if (the bike’s) done,” Logan deadpanned when I first arrived.
Gwen smiled from behind her convenience-store counter. “He will have it done,” she said. “I don’t know if anything else will be done.”
This might rate the only welding shop-convenience store combo in the nation. Would you like a Little Debbie snack cake to go with steel feedlot fencing?
Weirich started welding at about age 10 in “an old farm shop that barely kept the weather out.” Several years later, he pieced together his first creation: a 6-foot fishing spear made from tempered hay rake tines and a broom handle. As a teenager, Weirich waded upstream through the Nishnabotna River to spear carp.
Weirich lost his dad at 16 when a feed wagon slipped off its repair blocks and crushed him. The 1980s farm crisis nudged Weirich into full-time welding about 20 years ago on his farm three miles northwest of Lewis. The business now has a staff of 10.
Weirich this week eventually uttered five of the favorite words a columnist loves to hear: “I’ll be honest with you.”
He pulled out a crumpled piece of note pad paper that he’s carried around in his shirt pocket for months. And that was the extent of Weirich’s blueprints for his giant bike.
Weirich got his brainstorm even before Lewis was confirmed as a RAGBRAI pass-through town. But he hadn’t ridden a bicycle since he was a kid, when he loved to jump ditches at the local rock quarry. So he took the opportunity to consult a true RAGBRAI veteran when he met with his tax attorney in February in Atlantic.
Unlike Weirich, lawyer David Chase, 63, has ridden all or part of 29 RAGBRAIs. He’s already hit 700 training miles this year and left for Colorado this week to rack up 100 more up and down the mountains.
Displaying classic RAGBRAI humor, Chase rides with “Team Trust Me”: two lawyers, a banker and a car dealer.
“I’ve got this wild idea about making a bicycle,” Weirich said to Chase in February. “I’d really like to have something that would make Lewis stand out.”
Chase encouraged him. “Well, whatever turns you on, Duane,” he said.
Weirich aims to top a giant German bike. It was the work of Dieter “Didi” Senft, a media ham and designer of oddball bicycles who also dresses up in a devil costume for roadside antics each year at the Tour de France.
Weirich’s bike will be a simple men’s bike. “One-speed – probably slow,” he said.
There will be no bell, basket, water bottle, headlight or other accessories.
What about brakes?
“That’s what I haven’t figured out yet,” Weirich said, scratching his head.
The welder has this in common with journalists: He’s deadline-driven. Weirich said he welded from 2 to 7 a.m. so that local students could see at least one wheel done by the last day of school.
About 45 fifth graders will sell photos of RAGBRAI riders posing in front of the giant bike as a fundraiser for their 2012 class field trip to Springbrook State Park in Guthrie County. The bike itself might end up sold or auctioned if it doesn’t remain as a landmark in front of the welding shop.
But first, Weirich has the RAGBRAI deadline to spur him on. He’s not going to build the world’s biggest bike rack, by the way. But there will be a kickstand.
I don’t think Weirich needs to worry about a lock.
Kyle Munson can be reached at (515) 284-8124 or email@example.com. Connect with him on Facebook (Kyle Munson’s Iowa), Twitter (@KyleMunson) and his blog (DesMoinesRegister.com/KyleMunson).
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