Munson: Texas mayor serious about biking for public health
TERRIL, Ia. — Y’all may not believe this, but I’m willing to bet that the mayor of Fort Worth, Texas, puts most RAGBRAI riders to shame in terms of pace and fitness.
Mayor Betsy Price, 64, downplayed her Lone Star grit Monday as I huffed and puffed behind her and her carbon-framed Cervélo bike into Terril early in the second leg of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
“It just happens to feel really good this morning,” she claimed.
She also runs half-marathons.
And what about Monday’s heat index that was predicted to push past 100 degrees? No reason to break a sweat, Iowa.
Texas doesn’t have the “Hotter’N Hell Hundred” century ride every August for nothing.
Sure, Price prefers country music and the likes of Lyle Lovett, whom she saw in concert earlier this summer. But she also enjoyed the blaring hard rock of cover band Hairball on Sunday night in Arnolds Park.
“They were good — real good,” she said.
“Don’t mess with Texas” took on new meaning as I shared a stretch of road with the chief executive of the nation’s 17th-largest city, nearly 800,000 residents.
This may be America’s bicycling-est mayor.
Her city is in the middle of her own Tour de Fort Worth — a monthlong schedule of daily bike rides through different neighborhoods.
She also has led weekly rolling town halls for the last 2 1/2 years. That’s right: Citizens simply pedal up alongside Price and air their grievances. Staffers sometimes record the Q&As with a GoPro camera.
Yes, Price, a fiscally conservative Republican, has been confronted by a hot-tempered constituent or two. And the mayor’s security detail did make her switch to rubber-soled biking shoes in case she needs to flee on foot.
But she’s undeterred as a biking evangelist for public health.
Price rolls more under the radar on this, her second RAGBRAI, following her first visit half a dozen years ago when she was a county tax assessor.
She hears the occasional, “Hey, Texas!” flung in her direction on the route.
She’s aware that a couple of her fellow prominent Texans, namely Gov. Rick Perry (in the playing-footsie phase of the 2016 presidential race) and polarizing former bike-race champ Lance Armstrong (slinging beer on RAGBRAI), also have been lurking in Iowa this week.
She attended the Tour de France twice when Armstrong won it.
“I hate the doping piece,” Price said of the Armstrong scandal, calling it “shameful.” “But I think he did phenomenal things.”
Price’s husband, Tom, a State Farm agent and competitive trap and skeet shooter also here to ride, is equally swift on two wheels.
The couple have three kids and three grandsons.
Price has been a serious cyclist for about 25 years, since around the time her father died at age 73 from his second heart attack.
She didn’t know anybody in Iowa when she first brought her bicycle north.
“Everyone who cycles even semi-seriously knows about RAGBRAI,” she said.
Well, yes, we Iowans like to think so. Everything’s bigger in Texas — except biking.
But the mayor had another reason to return to RAGBRAI: She’s in the middle of a new civic health push.
More than half the schoolkids in Fort Worth are obese, and the mayor has launched “FitWorth” as an antidote.
Of course, human empathy is the main driver. But it’s also economic development, Price said, as more companies crunch public health data on workforce costs before they build in a given city.
So she biked Monday with like-minded public health guru Dr. Richard Deming, the Des Moines Mercy Medical Center oncologist whose Above + Beyond Cancer team rides on RAGBRAI.
The mayor and the doctor agreed: Hills are healthier than pills if you can stay active your entire life and are lucky enough to avoid chronic disease.
The mayor gazed out across the cornfields and noticed all the wind turbines that had sprouted here since her last RAGBRAI.
She was eager to sample a Mr. Pork Chop chop — and was thrilled to hear that today’s route winds through Bancroft, the hometown of the original Mr. Chop, Paul Bernhard, and his son who has succeeded him in the business, Matt.
Price leaves the route after Tuesday’s ride. She has budget hearings to look forward to next month.
“I’d love to see this gridlock settled,” Price sighed Monday. “It just drives us crazy.”
She was talking about Congress in Washington, D.C., not the long lines for pork chops or the clogged lanes full of 18,000 bicyclists on RAGBRAI.
I’ll have to be able to keep up with Price for more than 10 miles in Iowa before I can contemplate taking my bike and Jell-O legs to Texas.