What's Cool In Road Cycling

TopRides: PEZ Does RAGBRAI

If it’s July, and you have a penchant for long cycling tours that offer everything from church tours to naked beer slides, then you’re going on RAGBRAI, one of the greatest cycling tours in the U.S.

RAGBRAI, which is run by the Des Moines Register newspaper, stands for Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. It’s the ride that most other states try to imitate but never duplicate. Over 8,500 riders partake, rolling through the lush green beauty that is Iowa in late July. For those who say the state is flat, I invite you to take part the next time they make it a southern route! Tall corn and healthy soy as far as the eye can see meets riders on varying terrains that can simply take your breath away with their simplistic beauty.

Every year the route changes, but the gist is the same: you start in the west and ride to the east, dipping your rear and front tire in the boundary rivers. Riders range from kids jumping on their Huffys doing one stretch near their farm, to full on teams with their own support vehicles. Racers, enthusiasts, curious fun seekers, the whole gamut is here. Young, old, serious and not, you can find any sort of velocipede pilot herein.

For me, it’s once again riding in the fold of Team Evil. The Black Train of Death rode well this year, keeping a smooth double pace line up at all times. For us it was town line sprints and PBR. I cannot lie, we do this ride to blow off some steam. Every one of us is an accomplished rider in some sense, and every one of us is here to relax and ride with friends and knock back a few beers, whether it’s taking a break from work, or a grueling cycling season. The 13 of us, armed with our black school bus support vehicle (complete with roof deck) set off from Onawa, Iowa, heading east until the end in Clinton, Iowa.

Personally, this was my 15th excursion on RAGBRAI, or at least I think so. They all blend together. I can remember town names, and sometimes people and host families, but I can’t remember the years. I know I did my first one in 1988, I’ve missed one or two completely, done other years partially, but if it’s late July, I’m in Iowa, somehow, someway. It’s all a green wash of names, dates, and golden sudsy goodness. For some teams, ours included, RAGBRAI is about beer and food, then riding. We ride to get to the beer stop (with pop. 650 towns’ bars crammed at 9am with thirsty hordes clamoring for Bloody Mary’s) then ride to get to the food stop. Averaging 70 miles a day, there’s a lot of room for both criteria.


The famous RAGBRAI chop man – coming to a rest stop near you.

Each town on the daily route rolls out the red carpet, with food vendors of all sorts vying for the cash of the thousands of riders. Sometimes the food vendors are on the route, like RAGBRAI’S infamous “Pork Chop Man”. People will line up by the hundred to get at these succulent chops. Grilled to perfection on a cornhusk laden charcoal bed, such savory pork goodness is impossible to pass up.

Some do it self contained, some in small groups, and some in full teams. Team Nad, Team Pink Floyd, Team Mosquito, Team Chickenman, the list goes on and on. At night all riders are greeted in the end town by drink specials at the bars, vendor alleys selling anything RAGBRAI related, and of course, food, food, food. The smells of every kind of edible draw hungry riders from everywhere.

Bike problems? Need a wheel trued? There are Iowan bike shops at the ready with mobile mechanics, ready to fix anything that comes their way. I tip my hat to these cats, as you can imagine they face every possible combination of problems and bikes, from simple flats to recumbent nightmares.

Of course, with this many people out on the road, the ride needs the help and cooperation of town officials and the Iowa State Patrol. I feel for the patrolmen, in their full polyester get ups, directing traffic on hot Iowa tarmacs. Some troopers, though, seem to like it.


Ol’ Schaeffer has been doing this detail for years. Schaeffer is cool in everyone’s book, Evil’s included.

For seven days, the back roads of the great state of Iowa are infested with cyclists. Many have likened the ride to a spiritual experience. When all the planets align, it can be a beautiful thing. If the peloton is hit with what we call a “4H” day, it can be hellish to say the least. 4H standing for Heat, Hills, Humidity, and Headwinds. I have seen some these days, as well as some of the super rainy days (any alum out there remember the infamous “Soggy Monday”?) and try as they may, it’s difficult to crush the spirits of the hearty RAGBRAI’ers.

If you’re game for having as much fun as humanly possible, I suggest and endorse RAGBRAI. Check it out at www.ragbrai.com, and if there are any direct questions, feel free to write me here at PEZ – [email protected].

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