Friends: Rider found dead helped give away bicycles
GREENE, Ia. — Friends of a Sioux City cyclist found dead Thursday morning remember him as a skilled mechanic, generous and easily able to ride faster than men 20 years younger.
A teammate found George “Frank” Brinkerhoff, 74, in his tent at Parker’s Woods Campground in Mason City, shortly before 6 a.m. after noticing Brinkerhoff wasn’t awake at his normal time, said teammate Dick Billings, 54. No formal cause of death was immediately established, but it appeared Brinkerhoff died of natural causes, said Mason City Police Sgt. Greg Scott.
Mason City is the fifth overnight town this year on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
Brinkerhoff was president of the Siouxland Cyclists bike club and was riding RAGBRAI XLII with the club’s 76-rider team, said Billings, the club’s vice president. Brinkerhoff, who began riding around age 50, served as president of the club for several years.
Brinkerhoff was in good spirits this week and rode the extra 26-mile Karras Loop on Tuesday’s ride between Emmetsburg and Forest City, shaking hands with RAGBRAI co-founder John Karras, Billings said. His death made Thursday’s 65-mile ride from Mason City to Waverly a somber one for the Sioux City group, but Brinkerhoff would want the team to take advantage of the day’s pleasant temperatures, Billings said in a phone interview from Waverly.
“Frank would have wanted us to enjoy the weather and enjoy the day and enjoy ourselves and he died with his boots on,” he said. “Or in this case his bicycle shoes.”
Brinkerhoff will be remembered also for his passion for refurbishing used bicycles and giving them away to children or people who wanted to start biking, said his stepdaughter, Richelle Burr, 40. Last weekend, Brinkerhoff gave a bicycle to a family in Rock Valley who’d lost one to flooding earlier this year.
“A lot of people on his street have bicycles because of Frank,” she said. “There’s people riding bikes now that didn’t before they met Frank.”
Brinkerhoff first began talking with his wife, Burr’s mother Linda, when the two were riding on RAGBRAI, Burr said.
Brinkerhoff began cycling more than two decades ago “to get in shape and to meet people,” said Sioux City attorney John Gray, 59. Billings said Brinkerhoff told him that he’d suffered a mild heart attack in his late 40s, gave up smoking and wanted to get healthier.
Gray first met Brinkerhoff at a February bike ride, when Brinkerhoff was new to the hobby, he said.
“Who should ride up, this guy in his cruddy old bike, with basically tennis shoes and a parka and it was Frank,” he said. “He made it on the ride and decided then to become a good cyclist.”
Brinkerhoff spent increasing amounts of time on his bicycle after he began riding and both Billings and Gray agree he could ride faster than men much younger than him. At age 64, Brinkerhoff rode with a group of cyclists in a ride across the United States, Gray said.
“He was a very strong rider, he rode much faster than I did,” Billings said.
RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz in a statement said he met Brinkerhoff when he helped organize the ride’s visit to Sioux City in 2010.
“The thoughts and prayers of the RAGBRAI family are with the family, friends and teammates of George Frank Brinkerhoff,” he said. “He had a great passion for cycling. He will be missed by the entire RAGBRAI Nation.”
Brinkerhoff is the second man to die during this year’s RAGBRAI. Tom Teesdale, 62, of West Branch, died of a heart attack between Terril and Graettinger on Monday.
Prior to Teesdale, the last RAGBRAI rider to die during the event was in 2010. Stephen Briggs, 68, of Waverly, died from injuries he sustained in a collision with another cyclist.
Thirty people have died during RAGBRAI in 42 years.