BFB+R+R=321.

No it’s not some strange algebraic equation that will leave you scratching your head. It’s a bike tour five friends take each year, setting out on their recumbent bikes to take in the scenery, meet new people and enjoy each other’s company.

The Bill, Frank, Bill, Ric and Rich 2017 tour brought four of the five (the second Bill couldn’t take part this year) to the Panhandle of Nebraska and eastern Wyoming. By last Thursday afternoon, Rich Hartom, Bill Staley, Ric Hines and Frank Jenson were taking a quick break in Chadron before continuing on to Chadron State Park, where they planned to spend the evening.

The group began in Scottsbluff June 5, setting out for Fort Laramie and Lusk, Wyo., before they crossed back into Nebraska on Highway 20. From Chadron, they traveled to Alliance and back to their starting point in Scottsbluff. That’s 321 miles for this year’s week-long bike tour.

“We’ve been in a lot of different places,” Staley said, “Anywhere we think we can survive.”

The 2016 version of their tour took them to Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin for a total of 338 miles.

Staley, who lives in Omaha, is a life-long bike rider, while Jenson, from Elkhorn, took up the sport for his 50th birthday, when he rode in the annual Bike Ride Across Nebraska. Staley and Jenson did three BRAN rides together before deciding that format was too structured for their liking. For the last 20 years they’ve struck out on their own, including for a week-long adventure each year.

In the early years, they mapped out their routes in detail, trying to plan each stop.

“Nothing went as planned,” Staley said. Between flat tires, broken chains and bad weather, the group has since tossed the map in the ditch. Instead, they pick a general route and figure the rest out along the way.

“It’s the unknown that’s the fun part,” said Hartom, who joined the group in 2012. He met Staley and Jenson while he was on vacation in Montana when the pair was in the process of completing a cross-country ride, raising money for the Tourette’s Syndrome Association.

When Hartom, who lives in New Jersey, found out they didn’t have any plans once they reached the coast, he told them to call him.

Later that summer, when they arrived in New Jersey, they took him up on his offer. That led to an invitation for Hartom to join the pair on the road during their week-long trip.

Hartom used to race bikes when he was young, “but life got in the away.”

“But I always had it in my blood,” he said. He picked up biking on a recumbent when he met Staley and Jenson.

Hines didn’t start bike riding until 2006 but has found a passion for the sport that earns him some ribbing about being the fanatic of the group. He’s done a cross-country trip of his own, riding for the Special Olympics of Nebraska last year, and he’ll be back in Chadron in September on the Circa de Nebraska Tour. That tour will take roughly a dozen riders along a route along the entire Nebraska border.

This year’s BFB+R+R tour was based off a ride Staley did 20-25 years ago in the area.

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“I knew it was a really beautiful ride,” he said.

Four days into the ride, Hartom was pleasantly surprised to learn that Nebraska isn’t all corn.

“There are a lot of nice people out here,” he said.

“We meet good people everywhere we go,” Hines said, with the other three agreeing that the people and the pure enjoyment of the ride keep them at this year after year.

They tow trailers, fully prepared to camp at any given stop, though they’re more willing to check into a hotel these days if they feel like it. They’ll ride 50-110 miles a day on a week-long trip like this, though Staley said it’s driven more by how far they have to go until the next stop instead of achieving a certain number of miles per day.

All four agreed that bike riding is the best way to view the scenery.

“You get to see the little bitty flowers,” Jenson said. “And the rattlesnakes,” Hines interjected.

“Bike riding is slow enough to enjoy your surroundings but fast enough to get you where you want to go,” Staley added.

“We’re just thankful we can still ride,” Jenson concluded.

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