Rich Andre

Imagine if half of the population of Yankton took to their bikes.

Not just for recreation or exercise — imagine if they did it as their main means to get to school, work, the store or elsewhere.

What would this town and its people be like? It’d be the benchmark of a great bicycling culture — one that both Rich Andre and Matt Dvorak of Yankton imagine often.

With more than a dozen bikes between the two of them, Dvorak and Andre recently sat down with His Voice to talk about their experiences biking and the culture they see changing around it.

A Deep Interest

Dvorak said his interest in biking goes back to his youth.

“I grew up around the Sioux Falls area and went to school in Harrisburg,” Dvorak said. “I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and back then, I remember going to my Grandma’s … She had an old one-speed bike. My cousins from Parker and I would stand on this big wooden box and we’d try to get on the bike, kind of like you’d get on a horse. We’d get on the bike and peddle as fast as we could and go as long as you can.”

He added that it was also an effective means of transportation.

“Growing up out in the country, that was just your way of getting to your friends’ house,” he said. “You’d ride several miles to go and see your friends, hang out and then ride home. That was your freedom — your bike.”

Andre said one of the factors that led to his deep interest in cycling was the experience of commuting prior to his move to Yankton in 2007.

“I worked at an insurance company in Minneapolis,” Andre said.

“I commuted into Minneapolis. It was an hour commute into town and an hour commute back home. That’s two hours in a car. You can consider being inside of a car kind of like being inside of a box. Then when I got into Minneapolis, I’d go into the insurance company and I sat in a cubicle for eight hours. That’s 10 hours per day in a box — life in a box.”

He found Yankton to be a perfect fit for him.

“One of the reasons why I chose to move to Yankton is because Yankton’s the size of town you can get anywhere you want to on a bike,” he said. “Every day that I ride a bike around Yankton, I appreciate the fact that I don’t have a roof over my head at that time. Instead of living in a box, you can see the sky. For 17 years, I would rarely see the sky during the day. That was huge for me. It was a completely life-changing event to move to Yankton because I could finally see the sky.”

Prior to coming to Yankton, Andre said he did a little bit of biking recreationally in Minnesota.

Matt Dvorak

“I wasn’t serious about cycling,” he said. “I had bikes but it wasn’t on my radar to be thinking about riding a bike to get to a certain destination. I would take a bike and go for a ride for a while.”

Upon leaving the insurance industry, the first thing Andre did was buy an orange cruising bike.

“When I came to Yankton, I rode that bike absolutely everywhere,” he said. “Anybody that saw me saw me on this bike.”

From there, Andre’s collection grew to include road bikes, a cargo bike, a tandem bike and others. Today, Andre is up to 14 bicycles of all types.

“There’s no excuse for me to not ever ride a bike,” he said. “Rain, shine, snowpack, ice, I have a bike to get me where I want to go.”

Dvorak said he currently has a road bike and a touring bike that he uses regularly.

He’s developed such a passion for biking that he even applied the special name to a business he owns — Peloton Physical Therapy.

“It’s a biking term that means a group of bicyclers that ride in a group together,” he said. “Peloton PT kind of has a ring to it. Most people don’t know what it means, but we put a big definition on our wall when you first come in to the clinic that explains that.”

Dvorak even took to hanging a couple of his old bikes high up on the clinic’s walls.

But Dvorak also shares his love for cycling with his family.

“My kids all grew up riding bikes, too,” he said.

“It’s just our way of being healthy, being active, getting the kids away from TV and video games as they became popular. It’s a family thing.”

Group Riding

One of the more popular trends in cycling is group rides, such as RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) — and Dvorak and Andre have both participated in group rides.

While Dvorak has done RAGBRAI and a number of other group rides, there’s one ride that has a special meaning to him that he continues to participate in every year.

“I had a friend that got me started riding for the Multiple Sclerosis Society,” he said. “Last summer, I did the one in Omaha and that’s been 28 years in a row I’ve ridden that. My mom had MS, so I got started riding that ride. I’ve done all kinds of other rides, too, but that’s the one I support every year.”

Andre said he started going on group rides about the time he came to Yankton.

“When I moved to town, I just got involved with things like the Sertoma Club and there was a running club,” he said. “I got to know some of the people that liked to do (group rides) so you get in on the circuit, so-to-speak and you just jump in, go where the people are riding the bikes and join them.”

He said that, so far, his favorite experience has been riding across Iowa as a participant in RAGBRAI.

“That’s an experience any cyclist should have on their bucket list,” he said. “You’ve got thousands and thousands of bike riders from all over the country — and even out of the country — that come to Iowa to ride across the state. It’s like a rolling fair.”

Andre has participated in the complete RAGBRAI twice and has run certain segments several other years.

A Changing Culture

In many ways, bicycling is a culture — a culture that both Dvorak and Andre are seeing more and more participation in as the years go along.

Andre said he sees an importance beyond simple recreation. “I’m interested in cycling as transportation,” he said. “I do all types of cycling — I’ll go out and do group rides and things like that around town. I’ve gone on RAGBRAI, I’ve gone on RASDak (Ride Across South Dakota) across South Dakota, I’ve toured across South Dakota with Panniers and Load Up Your Tent and everything like that. I like every aspect of cycling, but what interests me the most is using a bike for getting to places you want to go.”

Andre is no stranger to this — living nearly 10 miles west of town, Andre is more than willing to frequently make the trip to town using a bicycle, no matter the season.

However, he said he doesn’t see that everywhere.

“That’s something that’s severely lacking, not only in our country, but particularly in the Midwest,” he said.

Dvorak said biking is a great asset, but more needs to be done in the Yankton area to facilitate it.

“It’s a healthy way to get around, but it’s an economically smart way to get around,” he said. “We have to have the path system in place to do that because it’s dangerous out on the roads. People are texting more. People aren’t paying attention. That could change more in Yankton with more bike paths and more education.”

Andre cites the cycling culture in locations like Denmark as an example of what is possible.

“In Copenhagen, Denmark, about 40-50 percent of their population rides a bike to work or school,” he said. “That’s phenomenal. That’s about 400,000-500,000 people that ride their bike to work or school. About 80 percent of those people that do that do it all through the year. … I don’t think it’s a coincidence — Denmark is annually within the top five of the happiest countries in the world and we’re not. We’re in the teens a lot of the time. … They’re always up there and I think a lot of that has to do with cycling in their culture.” He said that he can see that being translated to America if we’d start opening up to the culture.

“The potential is there,” he said. “It’s a matter of bringing the bicycle back into our everyday culture.”