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RAGBRAI is an acronym and registered trademark for the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, which is a non-competitive bicycle ride organized by The Des Moines Register and going from west to east across the U.S. state of Iowa, that draws recreational riders from across the United States and many foreign countries.[1] Held beginning in 1973, RAGBRAI is the largest bike-touring event in the world.[2]

Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa
260 px
Genre Bicycling
Location State of Iowa, United States
Organizers The Des Moines Register
Years Active 1973 to the present
Founders John Karras and Donald Kaul


Riders begin at a community on Iowa's western border and ride to a community on the eastern border, stopping in towns across the state. The ride is one week (seven days) long, ending on the last Saturday of July each year, after beginning on the previous Sunday. The earliest possible starting date is July 19 and the latest is July 25.

RAGBRAI holds an annual lottery which selects 8,500 week-long riders. The lottery is held beginning November 15 of the previous year and until April 1. Random computer selection determines the participants. A registration form is available on the RAGBRAI web site and can either be entered online or printed and mailed to the Des Moines Register. Entrants are notified by email on May 1 as to the lottery results. There are also passes on a first come, first served basis for 1,500 day riders; these are limited to three per person. Additionally, Iowa bicycle clubs and charters, as well as teams and groups (many from out of state), receive a number of passes for which members apply through those organizations.[1] Despite the official limits, unregistered riders have on many days swelled the actual number of riders to well over the registered number count.

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RAGBRAI is open to all kinds of people
The length of the entire week's route over RAGBRAI's first 40 years from 1973 through 2012, not including the Century Loop, averaged Script error: No such module "convert"., with the average daily distance between host communities Script error: No such module "convert"..[3] Eight "host communities" are selected each year: one each for the beginning and end points, the other six serving as overnight stops from Sunday through Friday for the bicyclists. At the beginning of the ride, participants traditionally dip the rear wheels of their bikes in either the Missouri River or the Big Sioux River (depending on the starting point of the ride). At the end, the riders dip the front wheels in the Mississippi River.

The 43rd event, RAGBRAI XLIII, will be held July 19-25, 2015, beginning in Sioux City and staying at overnight hosts Storm Lake, Fort Dodge, Eldora, Cedar Falls, Hiawatha, and Coralville before ending in Davenport.

Overnight stops

The ride has passed through all 99 of Iowa's counties in its history. A total of 13 communities have served as the starting point, while 12 have hosted the finish and 104 other communities have been overnight hosts during the week of the ride.

An event known as the RAGBRAI Route Announcement Party is held the last weekend of January to release the names of the overnight towns. The route is fleshed out in the following weeks and is announced in the Register and the RAGBRAI web site in early March. Even after then, changes to the route have sometimes been made.[1]


First year - The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride (1973)

RAGBRAI began in 1973 when Des Moines Register feature writers John Karras and Donald Kaul decided to go on a bicycle ride across Iowa. Both men were avid cyclists. Karras challenged Kaul to do the ride and write articles about what he experienced. Kaul agreed to do it, but only if Karras also did the ride. Karras then agreed to ride as well.

The newspaper's management approved of the plan. Don Benson, a public relations director at the Register, was assigned to coordinate the event. Upon the suggestion of Ed Heins, the managing editor,[4] the writers invited the public to accompany them.[5]

The ride was planned to start on August 26 in Sioux City and end in Davenport on August 31. The overnight stops were Storm Lake, Fort Dodge, Ames, Des Moines and Williamsburg. The Register informed readers of the event as well as the planned route. The ride was informally referred to as "The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride".

Some 300 cyclists began the ride in Sioux City; 114 of them rode the entire route. A number of other people rode part of the route. Attendance was light the first year. The ride was announced with only six weeks' notice and it conflicted with the first week of school and the final weekend of the Iowa State Fair.

After the ride was over, Kaul and Karras wrote numerous articles that captured the imaginations of many readers. Among those who completed the 1973 ride was 83-year-old Clarence Pickard of Indianola. He rode a used ladies Schwinn and wore a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, woolen long underwear and a silver pith helmet. He said that the underwear blocked out the sun and kept his skin cool.[6] The newspaper received many calls and letters from people who wanted to go on the ride but were unable to for various reasons. Because of this public response and demand, a second ride was scheduled for August 4–10, 1974, before the Iowa State Fair.[5]

Second year - SAGBRAI (1974)

The 1974 ride, known as the Second Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (or SAGBRAI), was more carefully planned. The Iowa State Patrol was involved for the first time to control traffic safety, and arrangements were made to have medical services available for riders. For the first time, the route was driven in advance for inspection purposes. The start of the ride was in Council Bluffs, with the overnight communities of Atlantic, Guthrie Center, Camp Dodge (near Des Moines), Marshalltown, Waterloo and Monticello, and the ride finishing in the riverfront city of Dubuque.[7] The ride occurred in the same week as the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.[8]

Third year - RAGBRAI III (1975)

After the second year, the ride continued to grow in popularity. Michael Gartner, then the editor of the Register, directed John Karras to include the name Register in the ride title; thus the RAGBRAI name, with Roman numerals following it, was adopted for RAGBRAI III in 1975 (the 2012 ride was RAGBRAI XL).[9]

RAGBRAI V (1977)

This ride from Onawa to Lansing was the shortest in RAGBRAI history at 400 miles, and also has been regarded as the easiest since it had the fewest feet (until 2014) in vertical hill climbing.[7][10] RAGBRAI then, beginning in 1978, included a 100-mile century ride to offer a greater challenge.[11]

RAGBRAI IX (1981) and Soggy Monday

The first day from Missouri Valley to Mapleton was on July 26, 1981, but had a cold, drizzly rain and headwinds, then the second to Lake City also had rain and headwinds and was even colder, with temperature highs barely surpassing 50. The second day came known to be called Soggy Monday and is generally regarded as the worst weather day in RAGBRAI history. To commemorate the day, the Register marketed a bicycle patch.[12]

RAGBRAI X (1982)

Beginning with this ride, the dates were moved to the last full week in July, starting on Sunday and ending on Saturday. This ride was also the last for Donald Kaul as co-host; he had been together with John Karras on the first 10 rides. Chuck Offenburger, writer of the Register's Iowa Boy column, joined Karras as co-host in 1983.[12]


This ride from Hawarden to Clinton was the longest RAGBRAI ride in history at 540 miles.[12]


RAGBRAI incorporated a Century Loop for the first time. Instead of a day's ride of 100 miles, a loop was included on the route for cyclists who wanted to ride 100; the regular route was less than 100. This ride went from Council Bluffs to Muscatine and the optional loop was on the day between Perry and Eldora.[13] The loop, which continues to this day, was renamed the Karras Loop in 2001, in honor of John Karras.[14]


On this ride, the day from Tama-Toledo to Sigourney featured a strong south headwind, lots of heat and humidity, and many hills. The day would come to be known as Saggy Thursday.[15]


This ride, marked by many hills and considerable heat and humidity, achieved a landmark by staying overnight in Chariton, meaning it passed through Lucas County and that RAGBRAI in its first 25 rides had gone into all of Iowa's 99 counties.[15]


John Karras retired as co-host after this ride, which begin at Council Bluffs and ended at Burlington.[14]


Through the 2014 ride, 30 deaths officially occurred of ride participants or volunteers during the week of the ride due to causes such as accidents or injuries suffered on the ride.[16] It was amazing that the first death did not occur until RAGBRAI XII in 1984.[17] Many of the deaths were due to heart attacks that riders suffered while resting. However, in Sheldon on the first night of the 2005 ride, there was a weather-related fatality as Michael Thomas Burke (a native of Donnellson, Iowa who was living in New York City) died when a storm blew a tree limb down on the tent in which he was sleeping.[18]

Only a few deaths resulted from injuries sustained while actually riding on bicycles. The first was in 1987 when 19-year-old John Boyle of Rockwell City fell under the wheels of a flatbed trailer.[19] On Monday, July 30, 2007 at 12:52 PM, a Waterloo man who was rescued from the Wapsipinicon River in Independence subsequently died: sixty-two-year-old Rich Droste had been participating in RAGBRAI, which made an overnight stop in Independence on Thursday. Droste was swimming in the Wapsi when he apparently got caught in the current upstream from the dam. On July 25, 2009, Donald D. Myers from Rolla, Missouri, died of injuries sustained in a crash at the bottom of the hill near Geode Lake dam at Geode State Park.[20] On July 30, 2010, Stephen Briggs of Waverly, Iowa died in an accident in which his bike clipped the tire of another bike and he was thrown from his bike.[21]

After Briggs' death, no more fatalities occurred until 2014, when on Monday, July 21, Tom Teesdale, 62, of West Branch died of a heart attack between Terril and Graettinger, and on Wednesday, July 23, George 'Frank' Brinkerhoff of Sioux City died of natural causes and was found dead in his tent Thursday morning.[16][22][23]

A plane carrying a pilot and a young Canadian woman who was making a documentary about the ride crashed during the course of the 2005 RAGBRAI. In this case, the pair suffered minor injuries. Pilot Jim Hill of Manchester, Iowa and Amy Throop of Ottawa, Canada were following the route on a plane near Riceville, Iowa when the plane went down. Both Hill and Throop walked away from the accident. Throughout the ride ultralights have flown over riders a few feet above the trees to get a good shot of the riders.

Crawford County lawsuit and ban

During 2004's RAGBRAI XXXII Kirk Ullrich was thrown from his bicycle after contacting a crack in the center of the road and died. Ullrich's widow Betty Jo Ullrich sued Crawford County and settled for $350,000.[24] The board of supervisors for Crawford County banned RAGBRAI (and other, similar events) to avoid future liability. As of December 2008, however, Crawford County supervisors voted to rescind this ban after the RAGBRAI organizers took steps to indemnify third parties in the case of such events in the future.[25]

2013 sinkhole along XLI route

On May 31, 2013, a large sinkhole, at least 20 feet wide by 5 feet deep, occurred along Iowa Highway 384 (160th Road in Guthrie County) under the asphalt at the entrance of Springbrook State Park, which is near the boat ramp at the base of Mockingbird Hill. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) contacted the Iowa Department of Transportation who deemed the sinkhole to be unsafe. The Iowa DNR immediately evacuated the campers at Springbrook.[26][27] In the spring (March, April, and May) of 2013, according to Harry Hillaker, the state of Iowa climatologist, Iowa had the wettest spring on record.[28][29] The record precipitation, both rainfall and snowfall, contributed to the formation of the sinkhole. On June 3, 2013, the RAGBRAI XLI route inspection pre-ride assessed the sinkhole for changes to the route through Springbrook and up Mockingbird Hill, which is the steepest hill to be on a RAGBRAI route; however, no changes to the RAGBRAI XLI route were made.[30][31]

Food vendors

Food and drink is made available at a very nominal cost in the campgrounds, in churches and restaurants, and along the route. Vendors that are officially sanctioned are identified by a sign reading, OFFICIAL RAGBRAI VENDOR. Many offer a discount in price to riders who have a participant wristband.[1] Perhaps the most famed vendor in RAGBRAI history was Paul Bernhard, who along the day's route at a rural location sold pork chops that were basted in melted butter and grilled on charcoal and corn cobs. He began selling chops on RAGBRAI beginning in 1985 and retired after the 2008 ride, leaving the vendorship to his son, Matt. In 1996, he sold 2500 chops in his hometown of Bancroft, Iowa when the ride passed through there. He was called Mr. Pork Chop and was known for his cry of "Pooooork Chooooooooooop!"[32][33]

Teams and charters

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An example of a RAGBRAI team bus

Riders come from all over the world, and many ride as clubs or teams. There are dozens of organized teams on the ride. In 2007 and 2008 Lance Armstrong organized a LIVESTRONG team of about 200 riders and participated in RAGBRAI; each rider raised $1000 or more towards fighting cancer.[34]

Teams create a social and support system that adds a non-cycling dimension to RAGBRAI. While some of the teams have a well-earned reputation for hard partying and heavy drinking, most are serious bicyclists. Teams often customize old school buses and vans. The team buses serve as transportation to and from the ride, and a combination clubhouse and sleeping quarters during the ride. These buses typically sport enormous custom stereos, roof mounted, rail-equipped platforms which serve as bicycle racks and a place to relax, and interior bathrooms. Several carry large 50-gallon plastic barrels full of water, which become warm during the day. Attached to a gravity-fed hose, these barrels provide teams with a spartan shower at the end of the day's ride.

Charters are bicycle clubs and for-profit companies that provide weeklong support for riders. For a fee, charters typically transport riders to and from the ride, secure preferred camping areas, rent and sometimes pitch tents, provide some bicycle repair services, and offer additional evening social activities. Charters are a common option for riders coming from outside Iowa.

Team Gourmet, based in Chicago, is a group which currently does RAGBRAI and has done the ride more than 20 years. This group travels with three chefs who prepare an elaborate meal served at 6 PM. Membership in the team for RAGBRAI and the cuisine included costs around $900.[35] Another charter from Chicago is CUBS, which stands for Chicago Urban Bicycling Society, which was formed in 1996 specially to ride RAGBRAI.[36] Other charters and clubs involved with RAGBRAI XLII in 2014 include Bicycle Illinois, Shuttleguy, Brancel Charters, Bubba's Pampered Pedalers, Out of Staters, Pork Belly Ventures, Riverbend Bike Club, Quad Cities Bicycle Club, Lost & Found Adventures, Bike World, Lake Country Cyclist Ankeny, RAGBRAI In Style, Emmetsburg Bike Club, Bikes To You, Bicyclists of Iowa City, Iowa Valley Bicycle Club, North Iowa Touring Club, Melon City Bike Club, Cedar Valley Cyclists, The Pfalcons, Overland Touring Charter, Padre's Cycle Inn, and Ron Oman Charters.[37] The Sprint Selzer Bicycle Club is among the longest running clubs in existence, having formed at RAGBRAI III, by creating a fictional celebrity named Sprint.

Media exposure

RAGBRAI has had nationwide media exposure, and other rides based on RAGBRAI have been started in other areas of the country. Bil Gilbert, after riding in SAGBRAI, wrote an enthusiastic report that appeared in Sports Illustrated. Harry Smith of CBS This Morning rode part of RAGBRAI XXV in 1997 and aired a report.[38] In addition, numerous articles about the ride have appeared over the years in The Wall Street Journal.[39][40][41]

Celebrities and athletes

Ben Davidson, former pro football star player mainly with the Oakland Raiders, rode on RAGBRAI for several years beginning in 1987.[42] Lance Armstrong rode the Wednesday and Thursday stages in 2006, speaking to a large throng of the riders in Newton. He then did most of the 2007 ride before leaving a couple days early to support Team Discovery's Alberto Contador and his Tour de France victory.[14] In 2008, Armstrong also made an appearance on the Ames, Iowa leg of the trip. In 2011, 2013, and 2014 he again participated.[43][44][45] Ottumwa-born actor/comedian Tom Arnold has ridden a few RAGBRAIs, including XXIV in 1996.[46][47] Other participants have included three-time Tour de France champ Greg LeMond, columnist Dave Barry, 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean and former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.[48]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "RAGBRAI General Information". 
  2. ^ Crosbie, Nicole (5 February 2014). "Rock Valley selected to host RAGBRAI this July". Sioux County Index Reporter. New Century Press. Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  3. ^ "RAGBRAI Past overnight towns grid". 
  4. ^ Karras, John; Karras, Ann (1999). RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces It Wrong. Iowa State University Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-58729-538-6. 
  5. ^ a b "RAGBRAI history". 
  6. ^ Karras, John; Karras, Ann (1999). RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces It Wrong. Iowa State University Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-58729-538-6. 
  7. ^ a b "RAGBRAI history - 1970s". 
  8. ^ Karras, John; Karras, Ann (1999). RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces It Wrong. Iowa State University Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-58729-538-6. 
  9. ^ Karras, John; Karras, Ann (1999). RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces It Wrong. Iowa State University Press. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-58729-538-6. 
  10. ^ "GeoBike RAGBRAI Least Climb". 
  11. ^ Karras, John; Karras, Ann (1999). RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces It Wrong. Iowa State University Press. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-58729-538-6. 
  12. ^ a b c "RAGBRAI history - 1980s". 
  13. ^ Karras, John; Karras, Ann (1999). RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces It Wrong. Iowa State University Press. p. 108. ISBN 978-1-58729-538-6. 
  14. ^ a b c "RAGBRAI history - 2000s". 
  15. ^ a b "RAGBRAI history - 1990s". 
  16. ^ a b "Rider found dead helped give away bicycles". Retrieved July 24, 2014. 
  17. ^ Karras, John; Karras, Ann (1999). RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces It Wrong. Iowa State University Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-1-58729-538-6. 
  18. ^ "Michael Thomas Burke". Retrieved July 27, 2005. 
  19. ^ Karras, John; Karras, Ann (1999). RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces It Wrong. Iowa State University Press. p. 96. ISBN 978-1-58729-538-6. 
  20. ^ Strong, Jared (2009). "Crash near state park kills Missouri RAGBRAI rider". Des Moines Register. Retrieved July 28, 2009. [dead link]
  21. ^ "Waverly Man Dies Following Bike Accident on RAGBRAI". KCRG. 2010. Retrieved July 31, 2010. 
  22. ^ "One of Iowa's secret famous people". Retrieved July 22, 2014. 
  23. ^ "George 'Frank' Brinkerhoff obituary". Sioux City Journal. Retrieved July 27, 2014. 
  24. ^ retrieved October 12, 2007 "Crawford County Ban". Des Moines Register. Retrieved May 2010. 
  25. ^ "Metro/Region". Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  26. ^ Associated Press (AP) (2013-06-01). "Central Iowa's Springbrook State Park is closed". The Des Moines Register. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  27. ^ "Campers evacuated from state park". KCCI. 2013-06-02. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  28. ^ Associated Press (AP) (2013-05-29). "Spring '13 wettest on record for Iowa". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  29. ^ Hillaker, Harry (2013-06-04). "Iowa May 2013 Preliminary Monthly Weather Summary". American Association of State Climatologists. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  30. ^ Juskiewicz, TJ (2013-05-28). "RAGBRAI Route Inspection Pre-Ride set for June 2-8, 2013". Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  31. ^ aparrott (2013-06-04). "RAGBRAI Route Inspection Pre-Ride Day 2 - Harlan to Perry". Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  32. ^ Karras, John; Karras, Ann (1999). RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces It Wrong. Iowa State University Press. pp. 144–145. ISBN 978-1-58729-538-6. 
  33. ^ "Mr. Pork Chop honored for years of RAGBRAI service". Retrieved August 7, 2008. 
  34. ^ Bisbee, Gene (2007-07-21). "Who's riding with Lance Armstrong at RAGBRAI". Biking Bis. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  35. ^ "The gourmet way". Retrieved July 28, 2012. 
  36. ^ "Chicago Urban Bicycling Society home page". 
  37. ^ "RAGBRAI Charter Services". 
  38. ^ "RAGBRAI history - Factoids". 
  39. ^ "Moveable Feast". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 20, 2012. 
  40. ^ "Pie, Pork Chops and Corn on the Cob". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 20, 2012. 
  41. ^ "A Ride Across Iowa". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 30, 2006. 
  42. ^ Karras, John; Karras, Ann (1999). RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces It Wrong. Iowa State University Press. pp. 134–136. ISBN 978-1-58729-538-6. 
  43. ^ "Lance Armstrong finds support". Miami Herald. Retrieved February 2014. 
  44. ^ "Lance Armstrong 2010s". 
  45. ^ "RAGBRAI history - 2010s". 
  46. ^ "A story of RAGBRAI XXIV". 
  47. ^ "RAGBRAI Santa Cruz". Santa Cruz Patch. Retrieved July 18, 2012. 
  48. ^ "Celebs 'escape reality' on RAGBRAI". Retrieved July 22, 2006. 

External links