Purchase photos

Celebrating 40 years on 2 wheels

9/22/2013

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

When Jerrell Nichols expressed an interest in adding bicycle sales to his auto repair shop in the small southwestern Kansas town of Montezuma several years ago, someone told him bikes were built in Hays.

He made a call to RANS Designs Inc., and he has been a dealer for the Hays bicycle manufacturing plant ever since.

One of Nichols' yearly trips 130 miles north to Hays has been for the annual RANS Bike Rally, which this time included all five members of his young family.

The Nichols clan, aboard two bicycles, were among nearly 50 people who participated in this weekend's 40th anniversary celebration of RANS' history of manufacturing recumbent and crank forward bicycles.

Jerrell Nichols was captain of a tandem, with 10-year-old Dylan riding behind in the stoker seat and 5-year-old Dustin pulled along on a trailer cycle behind Dylan.

Nichols' wife, Kara, rode her own bike with an attached bike trailer carrying 18-month-old Aubree.

"They love it," Jerrell Nichols said of the couple's children as Aubree napped inside the Soda Shoppe on Friday afternoon in downtown Hays.

Paul Brown, an avid cyclist from a suburb of Dallas, drove to Hays with three friends to be part of the celebration.

"I weighed 270 pounds when I bought my first recumbent back in 2005," said Brown, who promptly dropped 30 pounds when he began cycling. "I joined the Dallas Bike Club, and have never stopped (riding)."

Now, Brown rides between 4,000 and 5,000 miles a year and participates in rides from 20 to 200 miles.

"Besides good exercise, it's fun," said Brown, a member of Recumbent Bicycle Enthusiasts of North Texas. "It's also the social aspect of it. ... You get to meet a lot of people. At these rallies, you look forward to seeing people you have met over the years and you know are coming to that particular rally.

"Plus," Brown added, "I love the comfort and the speed of the recumbent."

RANS got its start in 1973 when a young Hays man, fresh out of high school, began building Sailtrikes.

That evolved into the manufacturing of recumbent bikes, and the business took off.

It got its name from the founder of the company, Randy Schlitter, also an artist whose signature on his paintings in high school was written simply, "RANS."

RANS now sells worldwide and employs nearly 35 people who build bikes, as well as kit planes, at the Hays factory. Next month, RANS will celebrate the 30th anniversary of building planes.

One participant in the RANS weekend activities that included bike demonstrations and catered dinners -- and a lot of riding and socialization -- had heard about RANS bikes in another country.

Frank Rak, a native of the Czech Republic, said he bought a RANS recumbent bike off Craigslist and started checking out information about the company that manufactured the bike.

That's when Rak, who has been working in the Kansas City area for two years, learned about this weekend's bike rally and decided to attend. He enjoyed looking at all the different styles of bikes at RANS.

While there were a few who rode traditional upright bikes, most were on recumbents or the crank forward style.

Rod Sothers of Concordia said he prefers a recumbent, which features a laid-back reclining seat, because he can see more of the countryside and what's going on around him.

"I call it high-def cycling," Sothers said. "At the end of rides, I'll be talking aout what what I saw on the roads, and people (on traditional upright bikes) haven't seen it."