Imagine a busy highway, semis screaming by. A stoic cyclist pedals onward, defying punishing Kansas winds, for hundreds of miles every week.
At 69, local cyclist and Marion High School alumnus Roger Frans is that rider.
Frans recently placed 45th of over 93,000 cyclists and second among 1,179 Kansans competing in The National Bike Challenge, which calls on riders to traverse as many miles as they can from May until September.
“When you’re sharing the highway with trucks that travel 70 mph, crosswinds can get dangerous really quick,” Frans said. “The wind here is just unrelenting.”
So what in the world compelled him to propel himself 8,058 miles over traffic-laden highways, which is a little longer than Kansas City to Hong Kong?
“I just wanted to see where I would place,” Frans said. “I guess my competitive spirit is still there.”
Frans has biked for about 10 years and used to be a marathon man.
“I ran marathons for about 15 to 20 years before it wore out my knees,” Frans said. “I have always enjoyed long distance exercise. I like the freedom, and on a bike, you can cover a lot more territory.”
He was satisfied with the way he finished in the competition but admitted to falling a couple thousand miles short of what he originally hoped to ride because of part-time job responsibilities at Wal-Mart in Hillsboro.
During competition, Frans averaged about 400 miles a week, and 1,600 miles a month. His longest ride amounted to 140 miles, but on average, he rode 60 to 100 miles a day, five days a week. The other two days were rehabilitation days, during which he lifted weights and logged about 14 miles a day.
Frans installed a GPS tracker on his bike so his miles could officially be counted. He logged most of his miles on US-56, US-77, US-50, and K-15 in the mornings before he had to go to work in the afternoon. The direction of the wind often dictated which highway he rode on.
He rode a lightweight aerodynamic Cervelo road bike and tried to keep his 20-speed at about 90 rpms when riding.
He said he burned 436,799 calories during the competition, throughout which Frans maintained his vegetarian diet.
“I didn’t really keep track of my calories, but you are supposed to recharge your body within an hour after you get done with a ride,” he said. “I drink a lot of orange juice. I could live on fruit alone. I eat a lot of eggs, avocados, nuts. I also drink a lot of milk and I take protein supplements along when I’m on my bike.”
Frans said everything else fades away when he is out on the highway listening for traffic and watching the road.
He said the intense mindfulness that comes with riding long distances also helps him problem-solve.
“I’ve found answers just kind of pop in there after my mind goes blank,” he said. “I can’t make it work, it just works that way.”
Though it offered him answers, the road was not without its troubles.
“It wasn’t during the competition, but I got caught in a really bad front that came through near Strong City in the spring,” he said. “There was wind, hail, and lightning. Luckily there was an overpass nearby that I ducked under and a sheriff’s officer picked me up and took me to a gas station.”
Another time, he rode through sheets of rain, when cycling back from El Dorado.
“I stopped to put on my rain gear,” Frans said. “Then I just rode for about an hour in the downpour. It was the wettest I have ever been.”
Although he takes a cell phone along on rides from emergencies, Frans relies on the kindness of strangers if he has mechanical failure when riding.
“I can fix a flat, but there are times I have broken my chain and had to thumb a ride,” he said. “I’ve had some nice conversations with people who gave me rides home.”
All troubles aside, he savors the panoramic view cycling in the Flint Hills affords and likes watching crops and seasons change.
Frans also enjoys the overall effect long distance exercise has on his body.
“Being active keeps you active,” Frans said. “Wal-Mart employs a lot of Tabor students. Except for the football players, many kids have to try hard to keep up with me at work.”