Of all the different kinds of rides we’ve organized in five years of the Labor Day Bike Festival — 120-mile road odysseys, single-speed hill climbs, 2-mile garden tours, mountain biking expeditions — by far the most popular are the Ice Cream Rides. Let’s face facts: riding a bicycle just means we get to consume more calories with less guilt. This year, we have an ice cream ride scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday; both are excellent rides for families, kids, and riders of all abilities on any kind of bike. Leader Carolyn Dvorak will choose the route each day to match the abilities of the group, but no ride will be longer than roughly eight miles, and all will take quiet city streets and bike paths to get to the goods.The four ice cream shops we’ll visit are the real deal; most are long-standing, locally-owned neighborhood shops, making their own recipes onsite. Great River Popcorn Company is the new downtown addition to the tour, selling Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream flavors made in Madison. The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor has been a crowded cornerstone of a revitalized and historic downtown since 1992, re-using brick buildings and antique fixtures to recreate a 1930s soda shop. Ranison’s Ice Cream has a longer history: located in the Holy Trinity-Longfellow neighborhood, it’s in a building that’s been a grocery store since 1871, and an ice cream shop since 1933. But the Sweet Shop has all of them beat — it’s been serving ice cream from the same North La Crosse location since 1922, and anyone who’s been there can tell you there haven’t been a lot of changes along the way.
Whether you’re ordering the Blue Moon at Ranisons, the Mississippi Mud at the Pearl, dark chocolate popcorn at Great River Popcorn, or everything they have in the display cases at the Sweet Shop, you can feel good that you’ll be burning off at least a few of those calories along the way. Bring a friend, bring the family, but be sure to bring your sweet tooth for the Ice Cream Rides: Saturday and Sunday at this year’s La Crosse Area Labor Day Bike Festival.