Before our strong-legged leader was elected governor, Pete Ricketts was a regular with the Dundee Chain Gang, a group of Omaha riders who pedal most mornings through the mean streets of Dundee -- and beyond.
He rode with them before dawn Wednesday, too, after a Tuesday evening meeting in Omaha.
“I got my 20 miles in," he said. "I’m pretty excited about that.”
I’ve met some of the Dundee Chain Gang members and ridden with a few of them, too, in their matching orange and black prison-striped jerseys.
They are Nebraska Nice through and through.
Now a pair of the governor’s security staffers have joined the gang, guarding the governor on new Cannondales, bikes purchased with private donations raised by the bike club’s members.
It makes sense that taxpayers didn’t pay the price for Ricketts’ cycling cadre’s accoutrements. The troopers are already on the payroll keeping our main guy safe -- but the Nebraska State Patrol budget doesn’t include padded shorts and clip-in cycling shoes.
But it doesn’t make sense to me that Ricketts, a multimillionaire, didn’t cough up the cash himself.
He thought it was better to seek help from the public rather than dip into his own pockets, he told the Omaha World-Herald last week.
Ricketts told me the same thing this week. “I thought it would be a great way for (the club) to welcome the troopers and create that community feeling,” he said.
He knew there was precedence. Last year, members of the bike club raised money for the Omaha Police Department’s bike unit -- buying bike racks, helmets and a variety of gear.
And he laughed when I said I thought it made him sound cheap.
It didn’t cause a stir as far as he knew, Ricketts said. And the Dundee group quickly came up with $2,500.
“We were happy to help,” Craig Kelley said.
Kelley is an Omaha attorney who co-founded the club in 2007 and has watched it grow from three -- himself and two neighbors, all on a quest to lose weight -- to an email list of nearly 400.
He figures Ricketts was inspired by the help they’d given Omaha police, not that he glanced at his checkbook balance and panicked.
Ricketts is known to be a generous giver. He and his wife, Susanne Shore, support a long list of charities, including the Boy Scouts and Holy Name School in Omaha, the Newman Center and Matt Talbot in Lincoln.
In January, he personally funded a new position -- senior adviser to the governor. And in 2006, he parted with nearly $12 million in an effort to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.
He’s got a pretty steady funding stream, too: successful business owner, part owner of the Chicago Cubs, son of a billionaire. It seems like he could have found the money for those bikes in the change jar on his dresser.
On the other hand, he’s got cycling fever, in a big way -- a mitigating factor.
“From all indications I’ve received from him, he’s going to spread his passion for cycling around Nebraska,” Kelley said.
Cyclist B.J. Green likes that, too. She hopes he’ll saddle up and ride in Lincoln, as well as his home base. (That's the plan. Ricketts has a second bike here, and as soon as he figures out a route, he’ll be on the trails aboard his Bianchi Italian road bike.)
As far as the donations for his security detail, he was probably in a no-win situation, Green said. Criticized if he used his own money, criticized for soliciting funds.
“On the other hand," Green said, "part of me is like, 'Wow, he’s got enough money ... save the donations for groups that are nonprofit.'”
I love the way Nebraskans step up -- whether it’s a donation to pay for a dying baby’s headstone or cash to help a colleague with cancer or hands to help a farmer bring in the crops. Or by helping outfit two-wheeled cops.
And the Dundee Chain Gang does plenty of other good deeds, promoting and participating in rides that benefit everything from money for trails to cab rides for cancer patients.
But the State Patrol Spandex Fund reminds me of Husker fans who paid off a $262 room rental debt at North Star High School after Bo Pelini met with his players there.
If you felt bad for the fired coach, send him a card -- or write him a love note or tag him on Facebook -- but it seems like a guy with a seven-figure salary could have covered that himself.
I feel that way about this Ricketts thing, too -- but like Green and Kelley, I love seeing a cycling ambassador on high.
He’d like to help hoist Nebraska to the top of the National Bike Challenge -- states and cities competing to ride the most miles during the cycling season, Ricketts said.
He hopes to free his schedule this summer to spend a day on the Tour de Nebraska or Bike Ride Across Nebraska.
He’d like to use his office to make motorists aware of safety challenges for cyclists. “We’re really vulnerable out there,” Ricketts said.
And he’d like to get more of us on two wheels with the wind in our (helmeted) hair.
His troopers are getting the hang of riding in a pack that clips along at more than 20 mph, he said. And as for their new bikes, the governor told the Bike Rack in Omaha (which sold them at wholesale) he’d happily pay for whatever his fellow cyclists didn’t raise.
Which so far turns out to be $20 plus change.