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Klobuchar will no longer lead bike tour, makes announcement in Wadena

Jim Klobuchar, standing, speaks with Karen Vogl of Lutsen, Minn., left, and Jim Basset of Randolph, Minn., right, at the Wadena Elks Club during a stop on Klobuchar's Jaunt With Jim bicycle ride on June 13. Klobuchar announced that night to the bicyclists assembled at the Elks that he would no longer manage the ride.

Inside the Wadena Elks Club last Thursday night, a Minnesota institution changed forever. Jim Klobuchar, renowned Star Tribune writer and founder of the Jaunt with Jim bicycle ride, announced that this year would be his last as manager.

“I’ve decided at the age of 85... that a younger person should take it over, and get it more involved in the digital age,” Klobuchar said in an interview with the PJ an hour before he was to make the announcement to the group of bikers assembled at the Elks, some of whom had been riding with him for more than a quarter of a century. “I’m just so gratified at this point; after all these years.”

Klobuchar, who has led the tour for 39 years, said ‘Jaunt With Jim’ began when the columns he wrote describing his own bike rides started to cultivate a fan base of like-minded cyclists. When people kept calling in to find out if they could come along the the next ride, Klobuchar convinced the Star Tribune to sponsor an organized tour. He personally cycled with the Jaunt for decades until his doctors told him to stop. After that, he rode along with the supply caravan, still organizing every stop down to the minute.

Greg Liefermann, a 25-year participant who lives in between Staples and Motley, said Klobuchar’s leadership style can seem regimented to some, but ultimately it makes for a tighter bond between riders since the strict schedule keeps everyone in one group for the entire route as the ride makes its weeklong journey across one section of Minnesota. The specific region varies from year to year -- the Jaunt has been everywhere from the North Shore to the southeastern prairie-- but Klobuchar has made sure the camaraderie stays constant.

“That ride for 40 years has been, ‘We’ll ride together --  you may ride faster or slower, but at every break, at every lunch, we will be together,’” Liefermann said.

Creating a close-knit group of brothers and sisters in cycling was the reason Klobuchar said he started the group in the first place.        

“The whole idea... is to create a community on wheels,” he said. “They are, and it’s a joy to see the friendships that mature as a result of the bike ride.”

Rhonda Plautz-Linnear of Apple Valley, Minn., has been on the ride for 28 years. She said the chance to see the friends she’s made on previous trips is what keeps her coming back.

“It’s just that sense of being outdoors and... seeing all these friends that you only see once a year,” she said. “It’s like a rolling reunion.”

Klobuchar said he had asked Bob Lincoln, a teacher from the Twin Cities, to assume the responsibility of leading the band of bikers.

“He’s very adept in the outdoors, and popular with group,” Klobuchar said of Lincoln. “He’s going to continue our tradition of this being essentially a rolling family.”