For more than 30 years a family friendly bicycle ride has been a feature of Country Days and Farmington businessman Dan Combs — who originally conceived of the ride as a way to involve families in the premier event of the year — is ready for another go later this month.
As with Country Days itself, the Little Caesar’s Moonlight Bike Ride has seen exponential growth over the years.
“The first year we had it at Pantera’s, we had about 50 to 75,” Combs said. “We have had as many as 300. When you have 300 bicycles in a line up going down the street it's something to see. One year we had a procession of bicycles that was about a mile long in itself.”
Combs reflected on how he and Bud Norman originally designed the bike ride as a community event and why it was decided to hold it at night.
“Probably 1989 was the first year we did it,” he said. “In the early days of Country Days when it first came about, we had pizza eating contests and turtle races. That year, Bud Norman [of Farmington Parks and Recreation] and I — we have always worked closely together — wanted to have a bike ride, something for kids and adults. We wanted to have it late at night when everything else had kind of died down.”
The start and end of the bike ride originally took place at a previous business Combs managed and took a different route through town.
“Walmart was located where Tractor Supply is at,” he said. “There was a grocery store in the other half of the building. In that building, we had a place called Pantera’s Pizza. We started and ended it in the parking lot where Pantera’s was at, we went down to the airport and circled around there and went down Aldergate and circled that south part of town.”
After opening Little Caesar’s Pizza on Karsch Blvd., the event location and route was changed to better suit Comb’s new business location and sponsorship.
“We’ve changed the route where we make a big circle around the downtown area,” he said. We started out to have something late at night to do. An opportunity for kids to get out. What makes this thing so successful and safe is that the police department have roughly eight to 10 cars involved and two policeman on bicycles. And as we’re riding through town, they close off the streets.”
“We meet in the Country Mart parking lot, behind Little Caesar’s Pizza. We close off North Washington and start down Karsch Blvd. We’re riding in a procession. You have to have lights on the bike. We would like for you to have a helmet, but it’s not a necessary thing. It’s a leisure ride — it’s not something we try to get from point A to point B in X amount of time. It’s about a four-and-a-half-mile ride that takes roughly 35-45 minutes, depending on how the police shut off the streets and if we have a lot of people out late at night.”
Another change made to the event was due to a practical lesson learned by Combs, along with feedback from some of the parents with children involved in the ride.
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“Originally we started out meeting at 10:30 p.m. and started [the ride] at 11 p.m., not getting back until midnight,” he said. “It was truly a midnight moonlight bike ride. We found that was a little bit too late [in the evening]. The kids loved it, but the parents were getting their kids to bed at 1 a.m.
"We moved the time up. Registration starts at 9 p.m. We fill up Country Mart’s parking lot. The bike ride starts at 9:30 p.m. and usually is done by 11 p.m. It works out real well. We give out all kinds of prizes after the bike ride and everybody gets a free drink from Little Caesar’s. The key to it is it’s free, safe and fun.”
Being a truly community affair, Combs explained that participants represent a cross section of all age groups. He's seen many close knit families enjoy the event.
“One year when my grand kids were four, they rode little 18-inch bicycles with training wheels,” he said. “They had to ride in it because grandpa’s having this bike ride. They rode the whole four-and-a-half-miles on those little bicycles. Those were the youngest we’ve had. The oldest was someone in their early 80s. So we have a wide range of ages. We have a lot of families that have been doing this for years.”
Combs noted that weather conditions have rarely been an issue. When they first had the rides, Country Days was held on the first weekend of August. That made for some very hot rides, even at night. Eventually, Country Days was moved to the first weekend in June. Surprisingly, there has only been one year when the ride had had to be cancel because of rain.
According to Combs, most of the credit for the continuing popularity of the bike ride is due to the assistance of various city of Farmington departments.
“The success of this all comes back to the police department and parks and recreation,” he said. “I’m just the guys who furnishes the prizes and a place and advertises it. We have an ambulance that goes with us and Bud Norman drives a truck with a trailer. If somebody breaks down, we pick them up. He goes the whole route.”
Combs always enjoys the Moonlight Bike Ride, including disturbing all the dogs at residences along the bike route.
“It’s neat to make people laugh and dogs howl,” he said. “As we’re riding through town everybody that has a dog hears ‘ooowww’!”
The Little Caesar’s Moonlight Bike Ride begins May 31 at Country Mart, 125 W. Karsch Blvd. For more information contact the Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce at 573-756-3615 or check its website at firstname.lastname@example.org.