Sometimes you unexpectedly see a familiar face when you’re miles away from home. Such was the case this past August up in North Dakota. After our first day of riding on Cycling Around North Dakota in Sakakawea Country (CANDISC), my wife informed me that the family of four from Johnson County we had often seen riding Biking Across Kansas (BAK) was with us on this ride.

From 2000 to 2004 and in 2008, I viewed from a distance, been passed by, and passed the Johnson family of Shawnee, Kansas on their tandem quad bike numerous times while journeying across the Sunflower State on a bicycle. The Johnsons are a fast family with eight sets of legs to power their unique bicycle. I hadn’t seen the family since BAK 2008 and now I know why. For the past six years, they have been pedaling farther north.

“We’ve always done rides with the kids since the beginning of time,” said Mark Johnson, father of the family. Besides CANDISC, the Johnsons have ridden on BAK seven times. The family has also opted to ride the Oklahoma Freewheel instead of BAK for the past two years. The Freewheel runs from a Texas border town to a Kansas border town and usually happens the same week as BAK.

Besides Mark, the Johnson family includes mother, Julie, and daughters Courtney, 15, and Natalie, 12.  Each member of the family has a function to perform in keeping the family rolling along on its cycling vacations.

Courtney said that she is the primary organizer for the family’s bike trips. “If something’s missing, I go, ‘who touched it?’” On this past year’s North Dakota ride, she said she enjoyed the scenery and the ice cream.  “Riding is fun,” she said, while also admitting that her friends in Shawnee “think I’m nuts.”

Her younger sister, Natalie, put camping and ice cream at the top of the list of things she likes about bicycling vacations.

Julie said that her primary job this year was “to pedal.” The prolific sunflower fields that adorned the landscape throughout this year’s CANDISC route were her favorite part of the ride.

Mark said his primary duty is to prepare the vehicle and the quad tandem for travel. His favorite part of riding? “When everyone gets along and has a good time,” he said, adding, “and also a cold beer or two or three” at the end of the day.

Mark Johnson is not only a tandem aficionado, but he also makes his living this way. Anyone interested in purchasing a tandem—whether a two-seater, three-seater, four-seater or more—may want to check out his company’s website at

Needless to say, when the Johnson family is cruising into town with matching bike jerseys on a four-seat bicycle, heads turn and smiles usually form.