JANESVILLE—During its 17-year run, the Janesville Morning Rotary Pie Ride has steered drivers to thousands of fresh pies via a tour of winding roads that loop around the Janesville area.
A lesser-known part of the annual ride—and one that will again be an integral part of the June 16 tour—is the ham.
No, not ham sandwiches.
The main thrust of the pie ride was, is, and will continue to be that when bicyclists cross the Pie Ride’s finish line, they get fresh-baked pies.
The other part, the ham part, comes via amateur radio operators who the ride’s organizers say help make the tour go smoothly and safely. So that’s “ham” as in ham radio.
Jere Johnson, a Janesville Morning Rotary Club organizer for the Pie Ride, said that for the last few years, the Greater Beloit Amateur Radio Club—one part of the Rock Ham Radio amateur radio group—has helped by orchestrating race-day radio communications, radio outposts, and mobile monitoring of the routes on the race’s three long courses.
“They set up a radio operations base at Lions Beach (starting point), and using their ham radios, they’re in constant touch with mobile vehicles. They follow the route,” Johnson said. “They help out our club’s SAG (support and gear) riders with the club. They carry medical supplies.”
The Pie Ride’s 50k, 100k and 100-mile routes take riders through some surprisingly hilly areas around the glacially-sculpted north Rock County area. The 50k and 100k races can take riders anywhere from two to six hours to complete, and the 100-mile trek can take up to 16 hours or more.
In the course of the daylong bike tour, riders can fall, wipe out, get road rash, blow out tires, have bicycle equipment problems or even get lost if they miss turn signs placed along the rural routes.
Many bicyclists in the Pie Ride carry mapping equipment, maps and cellphones along with emergency phone numbers for race officials, but the volunteer radio team of about 10 club members canvasses the race route and keeps positioned throughout the race course at checkpoints and on the road.
From there, the amateur radio buffs can report race details, riders’ positions on the tours, a rider headcount and even alerts on road conditions such as gravel across the pavement. The radio crews are positioned to help riders in trouble more quickly get a lift back to a rest or check point for maintenance or light first aid.
“We realized we could enhance safety and troubleshooting and the flow of things if these folks were interested in assisting us with the radio support, so that’s what they do,” Johnson said.
Brett Johnson, president of the Greater Beloit Amateur Radio Club (his radio handle is K9BY) said his group used to help run radio communications for the annual MDA Tub Run, which typically runs the same weekend as the Pie Ride on a route around Janesville.
“We’re used to tracking bigger bikes, motorized ones, so the Pie Ride is not all that different,” he said.
The Pie Ride’s thrust—the 700-some cherry, blueberry and apple pies that organizers order up from the Piggly Wiggly in Milton—weren’t the impetus for Brett Johnson and his radio pals switching from radioing on a motorcycle run to helping on a bicycle tour.
Brett Johnson said the Pie Ride is one of a few annual events that help his club members keep their radio chops honed. Radio club members practice in case they’re ever called to jump in on weather emergencies. Often, ham radio operators are among the first to reach a scene in a weather disaster and set up radio communications.
The Pie Ride offers the opportunity to practice radio in a dynamic, moving event. And that’s what Brett Johnson said keeps his club pie-eyed.
“We don’t get to sit and eat a bunch of pies or anything like that,” he said.
Jere Johnson said if the weather stays peachy for the Pie Run, organizers expect about 600 to 650 riders, with some visiting from far out of state. That would approach the bike tour’s high-water mark of almost 700 riders set in 2012.
A new tidbit: It’s possible that next year, the Pie Ride might switch its base camp, the ride’s start and end point, to a new venue: the town square along South River Street in downtown Janesville.
“We thought about moving it there this year, but we think we’ll try to do that when the town square is completed,” Jere Johnson said.
“Maybe next year.”