Pisek, N.D., to host 'gravel grinder' bike race, street fair this weekend
Second annual Nepomuk Narly event also will feature live music, food trucks, kids activities, bonfire and street dance
PISEK, North Dakota – If you're into bicycling or racing – or just looking for some family fun – you should head to Pisek, N.D., this weekend.
The tiny Walsh County town, about 50 miles northwest of Grand Forks, is hosting the Second Annual Nepomuk Narly on Saturday, July 23. It’s a “gravel grinder race/ride with street fair” that’s shaping up to be a memorable event – for cyclists and non-cyclists alike, organizers say.
The event includes 15-, 40- and 100-mile competitive races. In another run, the Six-Mile Ice Cream Loop, three miles up and back down a hill, “if you finish, you get an ice cream cone,” said the Reverend Jason Lefor, who launched the event last year. About 120 kids and parents participated in that run, which is “perfect for riders of all skill levels; families are welcomed.”
Nearly $20,000 in cash and door prizes will be awarded, Lefor said. The 100-Mile Pro Platinum race winner will take home $10,000.
To register for the race, or for more information, go to https://www.bikereg.com/55086 . Those who sign up to volunteer at the event “will receive our famous Nepomuk Narly t-shirt for free,” he said. Anyone who would like to have a booth – such as quilters or artists – at the street fair may contact Lefor at (701) 520-0369.
The event draws its name from John Nepomucene, the patron saint of the Catholic church in Pisek, who was born around 1340 in Nepomuk, a Czech Republic city known for its gravel.
Family and fellowship
Gravel cycling “is all the rage right now,” Lefor said. The third-ranked cyclist in the world is planning to compete “and bring a film crew with him” to Pisek. The world’s seventh-ranked cyclist and the top South Dakota cyclist are also expected.
But the event is more than a contest between bicyclists, said Lefor, 52, parish priest for St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pisek, as well as parishes in Lankin and Bechyne. “It’s all about life, family, fun, competition and fellowship.
“We’re trying to bring life to our small community,” he said. “We want to give everyone in the world a reason – one day of the year – to come to Pisek, North Dakota.”
The competition is a way to capitalize on a burgeoning enthusiasm among cyclists nationwide who seek out gravel roads to race on with bikes fitted with larger tires.
Similar races have grown in popularity in states such as Kansas and Oklahoma, Lefor said. “We have better gravel roads here. We have the best gravel roads in the world.”
Lefor and other organizers are hoping that Canadians too will visit this tiny town – population: about 120 – for the event, which will also feature activities for people of all ages, including a street fair, food trucks, kids games and train rides, live music and a bonfire, he said.
“We’ll have cotton candy, snow cones, all kinds of good stuff,” said Lefor, noting that traditional Czech food, beloved by immigrants – many from Pisek, Czechoslovakia – who settled this area in the late 1800s, will also be served.
Fargo-based bands “Stella!,” with Grand Forks drummer Dave Jeffrey, and “The JT Kennelly Band” will perform Friday and Saturday, respectively, Lefor said.
‘A leap of faith’
The first Nepomuk Narly was held in Pisek in 2021.
“It was a leap of faith,” Lefor said, and interest in this year’s race has been building, fueled by social media publicity.
Last year’s event attracted a cyclist from Russia, who won the 100-Mile Pro Platinum race, and about 150 other racers, including some from Virginia, Colorado, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Lefor said.
Organizers were encouraged by last year’s participants who said, “Wow, this is the greatest bike race we’ve ever been part of,” he recalled. “I credit the locals” who supported the idea and made the race a reality.
This year, about 65 local businesses have contributed, including a “big sponsor,” Francis Jelinek, owner of the J-Mart, who “has decked out the whole store” for the event, Lefor said.
Childhood interest in racing
Lefor has been interested in bicycling since childhood, he said. “I was always into it as a kid.”
As a UND student in the early ‘90s, he started a cycling team. He used to race competitively and owned a bike shop in Oregon before entering the seminary, said Lefor, who was ordained in 1999. He is in his sixth year a spiritual leader of the three area parishes.
The whole Pisek community is gearing up for the races, which will be held “rain or shine,” but may be shortened, delayed or canceled if extreme weather conditions or a public emergency deem it unsafe, he said.
“If you cannot attend this year’s event, please click on https://www.bikereg.com/55086 to increase web traffic to help promote our event,” he said in an email to the Herald.
He’s excited about the event as well as the post-race party when racers and others can “relive the adventure with friends old and new, while enjoying great local food and drinks,” he said in a website post. “We can’t wait to hang out with you in small-town North Dakota!”