by Tom Winter
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine April/May 2022 online issue.
What if, when you land at a Nebraska airport, you want to explore the town? Take it from me, there are some great bike rides out there. Small town Nebraska is great for bicycle tours, and the people you stop and chat with are delighted that the guy on the bike got there (deliberately!) in an airplane.
Here are some towns in Nebraska I have explored by plane and portable bicycle.
Albion (KBVN) is a favorite, a three-mile bike ride through rolling countryside, with pleasant stops along the way to admire, and even to photograph the landscape, including a stop on the bridge over Beaver Creek.
Red Cloud (7V7), as a bike ride, is barely worth mentioning, as you could spit from the airport to the town, but you unfold the bike anyway, for the sake of exploring the town. Park anywhere. Drop in at Scott Osborne’s bookstore for some hospitable free coffee and discussion. It’s the first building south of the Willa Cather Center.
The road at Brenner Field, Falls City (KFNB), which is also a “stone’s throw” from town, is now paved with rocks as big as your fist. I learned to ride a bike 70 years ago, and have never had an accident, but I dumped the bike navigating this rock-strewn route. The Mars Rover would not be safe to land there.
Philip Chaffee at Brenner Field asked me if I would like to use the courtesy car. Next time, I’m going to say yes, and will stuff the folding bike in the trunk so I’m not stuck with a car when I get to town. Love the town, though! There are many old and picturesque homes. Friendly people, too. The guy running the service station happily aired up my soft rear tire from a compressor he had in the back of his truck.
At Scribner (KSCB), you have a choice of small-town tours, because the airport is smack dab between Scribner and Hooper. Skylar Steffes (2019 Nebraska DOT Division of Aeronautics Employee of the Year) will offer you a ride into town. If your choice is Scribner, take him up on it. It’s no fun bicycling 3 miles on Hwy 275. For biking, Hooper is the better choice: ride straight east 4 miles on County Road J into Hooper. There’s a little “mom and pop” restaurant at the edge of town where you can refresh yourself with a soft serve cone.
Don’s Barber Shop, on Hooper’s historic main street, is where I go to get my haircut. $10, and you “look like a gentleman,” as Don puts it. (The Hundred Dollar Haircut!)
Planning helps. I often get on Google Earth, which is easier nowadays. Simply enter the town name in the search box, click on the map, then click on “satellite” at the lower left-hand corner, and zoom in. You can get close enough, if there is a highway, to see if there is a ride-worthy shoulder. This often doesn’t matter, as the typical road from a small-town airport to the town is not heavily traveled.
The road from Matt Christen’s shop at Pawnee City (K50K) has two lanes and is blacktopped and you’ll be the only traffic on it! Sometimes I call airport manager, Matt Christen, to check on the grass strip first. Exploring Pawnee City, you will soon find a bike trail past steel sculptures, that are aptly titled “Children at Play.” The Pawnee City bike trail ends up in the 710 Trail. Again, you will be the only traffic on it!
What makes all this fun possible is a folding bike that I can place in the back of my plane – “The Bluebird of Happiness” – a 1967 Cessna 150.
At the Monkey Wrench bike shop, they recommended Dahon folding bikes (usa.dahon.com). A Dahon comparable to mine is $979.00…another model sells for $899.00, although their website does list some less expensive manufacturers.
A friend owns a Bike Friday bicycle (bikefriday.com), which was hand-made in the USA, and costs $1,200.00. Brompton Bikes of London, England, also has a handmade folding bike (brompton.com). Folders start at $1,400.00 and go up to $2,400.00. I own a Downtube Nova (downtube.com), made in Avon, N.C. Still just $359.00, and in my opinion, better by actual comparison to the Brompton and Bike Friday.
EDITOR’S NOTE: While many general aviation airports provide courtesy cars, there’s no guarantee they will be available upon your arrival, and COVID-19 free! Portable bicycles offer an alternative, so long as they are transported in your aircraft safely, legally and according to the aircraft manufacturer’s recommendations.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of others, and refer to aircraft owner manuals, manufacturer recommendations, the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials for guidance on aeronautical matters.