Some might call Carl Meiners from Toddville, Iowa, a turncoat. The veteran bicycle tourist and longtime RAGBRAI participant has been on three of the four previous Big BAM (Bicycle Across Missouri) rides and is signed up again for this year’s fifth annual event from June 9 to 14.
“Big BAM is what RAGBRAI used to be. The towns are welcoming. There are no huge crowds or lines to deal with,” said Meiners. “What brings me back is the people, the culture, and the friends I’ve made. And there’s just something magical about Missouri.”
Missouri Life magazine started its adventure cycling tour in 2015, when the route called for five days in the far northern part of the state. The riders passed successfully through towns like Rock Port, Maryville, Albany, and Unionville, but by the time they reached Kirksville, the area had seen its worst flooding ever. So, instead of pedaling to Canton on the final day, participants were transported by bus.
“We learned a lot that first year,” said Greg Wood, Big BAM executive director and publisher of Missouri Life. “But what surprised me was how many riders came back and how many have been on every Big BAM ride.”
Since 2015, Big BAM has visited northern Missouri two more times. “Fortunately, we’ve not experienced again the unusually extreme weather that first year gave us,” said Wood.
In its second year, Big BAM traveled from St. Joseph to Hannibal. It went from Weston to Louisiana in 2017, and last year headed south to follow historic Route 66 from Joplin to Eureka. Each year has seen rider numbers grow.
Big BAM is a fully supported ride, with registration fees including gear transport and SAG support, water and food stops every 10 to 12 miles, bike repair services, live concerts every night, free coffee in the morning, and shower trailers next to each overnight camping area.
“We work with the pros in the industry to make sure everything goes like clockwork,” said Wood. That includes Pork Belly Ventures, which provides tent concierge service and a “motel trailer” consisting of five air-conditioned rooms for an additional fee. (Each room has two queen bunk beds.) Ultramax Sports runs the daily operations, including marking the route and manning a command center from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.
This year, Big BAM expects more than 500 riders from 30 states to tackle a nearly 300-mile loop beginning and ending in Columbia. Participants will gather on June 9 and leave the next day. They’ll head northeast to Perry, on the southeast side of Mark Twain Lake, spend the night there, and then pedal to Macon, Moberly, and Arrow Rock before returning to Columbia on June 14.
“This is the first time we’ve done a loop,” said Wood. “Maybe it should be called Bicycle ‘Around’ Missouri, but it’s still Big BAM either way!”
Each town will open its city park or fairgrounds to welcome the riders and anyone who wants to attend. (The public is encouraged to come enjoy the festivities.) Visitors will find free live music and entertainment from 3 to 9 p.m. at the event area in each overnight town, including the pre-ride party at Columbia’s Blue Note from 4 to 8 p.m. on June 9 and the post-ride finale at the Rose Music Park from 4 to 9 p.m. on June 14.
Big BAM works with local authorities along the route to help create a safe and fun environment. “We also encourage people along the route to set up refreshment stands and cheer on the riders,” said Wood. “We have riders coming in from all over the United States and many other countries. For some, this will be their first time in Missouri. We hope all the towns along the route will join in on the excitement.
“Central and northern Missouri has so much to offer to bicyclists,” Wood continued. “We travel mostly on roads with little traffic and very scenic countryside.”
Can’t get away for a week? Big BAM wants riders to participate even if they can only pedal for a day. “We’ll work with each rider to make sure they have a great experience, and that includes shuttling them back to their cars,” said Wood.
Author: Lynn Gregory