The Best View of Southeast Iowa
There’s no better way to see the gorgeous Southeast Iowa countryside than on two wheels. According to Fairfield, Iowa resident, Mark Smith, “Sure, running is fine, but it’s grueling. Walking gets you where you need to go, but it takes a while. But biking? If you ask me, it’s the best way to take in the scenery.”
“You get to see the countryside from a perspective that you don’t normally see,” Smith said. “You can bomb down a gravel road thinking about a million things and listening to the radio, but when you’re on a bike, you notice a lot of stuff, a lot of wildlife.”
From apprentice to owner
Smith wasn’t always a biker. A former runner, he began training for triathlons — and thus, began cross-training on a bike. When an injury kept him from running, he kept riding, and seeking more know-how about bicycling, joining AJ’s Bike Shop as an apprentice mechanic.
Soon enough, Smith was taking part in numerous cross-state rides, tours around the Midwest, and even rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, a 3,000-mile route down the Continental Divide.
“Touring is a pretty cool thing,” Smith said. “It’s a really neat experience.”
Smith became the owner of the bike shop, now named The Ride, after the former owner, AJ, retired in 2020. From repairs to retail, Smith sees a wide variety of bicycling enthusiasts come through his door, each with a passion for riding that stems from a myriad of emotions.
“I think it’s a joy of childhood thing for a lot of people. There’s something about moving like that — it’s like floating along,” Smith said. “I think it harkens back to a simpler time. It’s family friendly. And then there’s the mountain biking, which is an extreme sport — it’s exciting.”
Fun and fellowship
Biking is huge in Iowa — that’s undeniable, Smith says. After all, with its smaller communities and wide-open spaces, the entire state — not just Fairfield — is perfect for biking. Road riders will even find a relatively safe environment as opposed to areas with more traffic.
“Southeast Iowa has a certain charm. It’s hilly and there are more woods than usual,” Smith said. “There’s that sort of charm here, and not just Fairfield, but the entire region.” That scenery is a contrast to the rest of the state, Smith said.
Fairfield is especially friendly for bikers, Smith said, which is a pleasant surprise for a town of 10,000. In addition to bikeways in town, plus gravel roads and dirt paths in rural areas surrounding the city, Fairfield is home to a 16-mile Loop Trail that encircles the city. Built 12 years ago when the state added a four-lane bypass for U.S. Route 34, the Loop Trail is an ideal destination for a group of cyclists to get together — just like Smith does every week. What started as an expedition to check out the condition of Fairfield’s gravel routes became a large group ride that ends at the Fishback & Stephenson Cidery taproom.
“On the first gravel ride, we had about eight or nine people. Somebody said, ‘Boy we ought to call the people at the cider house. It’d be fun to just end up there,’” Smith said. “We called them up and they were super pumped. Then it really boomed.” Today, the weekly event draws anywhere from 25-50 riders who gather for a time of weekly fellowship and fun.
For Smith, the joy that comes with the sport itself is the key to Fairfield’s success as a cyclists’ paradise.
“We don’t have big, competitive events like Burlington or Iowa City, but for us, it’s just a nice place to ride,” Smith said. “It’s safe, out of the way, and that’s what we’re trying to promote.”