Biking Across Kansas (BAK) is an annual, eight-day, bicycle tour across the state of Kansas. BAK promotes health and wellness through bicycling, the history and beauty of the Kansas, and the warm hospitality of the Kansas towns and people.
The very first Biking Across Kansas was launched in June of 1975. Inspired by the "bike boom" of the early Seventies, Larry and Norma Christie of Wichita decided that a ride across their home state would be fun. It would also serve as a pre-test for the Kansas section of the official Bikecentennial '76 cross-country route. (Bikecentennial, now called Adventure Cycling Association, sanctioned a bike route across America as part of the nation's Bicentennial celebration of 1976.) Less than 100 riders participated in 1975, but the numbers quickly grew into several hundred within the first five years.
Many others shared the Christies' enthusiasm and over 40 years later, BAK has grown beyond all original expectations. BAK now limits participation to over 800 participants on each year's event. From 1975 to 1981 there was a single annual route, in 1982 it was expanded to two routes, and then three in 1989. In 2004, BAK returned to a single route format.
The routes change from year to year and nearly every corner of the state has been visited by Biking Across Kansas cyclists. BAK has exposed people from all over the country to the beauty of rural Kansas and has done much to increase state tourism. In 1994, the Christies received the Governor’s Tourism Award presented by the Kansas Association of Broadcasters for their organization and promotion of Biking Across Kansas.
The Christies retired as Executive Directors in 2001, passing the reins to Charlie Summers of Newton. Under Summers' leadership from 2002 to 2012, BAK continued to thrive by visiting many new overnight cities and expanding the responsibilities of its volunteer committee.
Summers retired as executive director in 2012, transferring leadership to a group of experienced BAK committee members. They formed a new non-profit organization, Biking Across Kansas, Inc., governed by a board of 11 directors. Stefanie Weaver of Olathe currently serves as executive director.
The goals for BAK now, as they were in 1975, are to provide a safe, fun, and memorable adventure for everyone who undertakes the challenge of biking across the beautiful state of Kansas.
If you think you might like to give BAK a try, here's a brief overview of what to expect over the course of the week.
Contrary to popular belief, Kansas is NOT entirely flat. While the terrain may be less hilly than some other states, there are still plenty of ups and downs to provide a formidable challenge for most cyclists.
The weather is usually warm and sometimes hot, although there have been entire days with rain showers and cooler weather. The Kansas wind is always there, either pushing riders along with strong tailwinds, or less often, making their progress more difficult with an occasional (and unwelcome) headwind. Regardless of the conditions, the ride progresses from town to town across the open farmlands and prairies.
There's always something to look at or explore. One of the best parts of BAK is getting away from the rest of the world and exploring the out of the way places that still exist on the backroads and byways of Kansas. If you're lucky enough to find one along the way, an old-fashioned soda fountain is just the thing for a hot afternoon. Or, if history's your thing, there's usually some kind of interesting historical marker popping up in the least expected places.
At the end of the day, BAK cyclists stay in small towns along the way. Local high school gymnasiums and school grounds serve as a place for tired riders to shower, repair their bikes, eat and sleep. All the cyclists' gear is carried from town to town by trucks, so riders bring sleeping bags and several changes of clothing. About half of the participants bring tents and camp out while the other half prefer to spread out their sleeping bags and inside the gymnasiums.
Every evening, the group gathers inside the gym for a nightly meeting. This casual gathering is led by the staff and informs riders of the news and anecdotes from the day's ride, and reveals what the route has in store tomorrow. Sometimes there is local entertainment or an occasional impromptu singing performance.
The time spent in the overnight stops also provides a chance for BAK participants to get a feel for life in a small town. Whether it's a visit to a laundromat, burger joint, or the local "watering hole," the cyclists see a side of life that one misses in a larger city.
By the end of the week, riders have made new friends and had great adventures along the way. There are always a few sore muscles, but they are soon forgotten once riders cross the Missouri line. What's important is that they finished the challenge and had a great time doing it.