The Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa


RAGBRAI 2013: Short, south, through Des Moines


RAGBRAI is trading villages for some big cities in its 41st year, including a stop midway through Iowa that will have more than 10,000 bicyclists rolling into the state capital.

Interactive map of the 2013 overnight towns

The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — the world’s oldest, largest and longest two-wheeled recreational tour — kicks off July 21 in Council Bluffs and ends 406.6 miles later in Fort Madison.

Along the way, riders will overnight in Harlan, Perry, Des Moines, Knoxville, Oskaloosa and Fairfield. The Des Moines stop is the first there in 16 years.

The ride is July 21 to 27.

RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz described this year’s river-to-river ride as a chance to experience an eclectic sampling of Iowa that proves mutually beneficial to riders and hosts. “There are some great little spots — good-size towns, large communities and diverse towns that RAGBRAIers enjoy,” he said. “Plus, they like showing off what’s there to do. This is the biggest event they’ll host this year, and in some cases, in their history.”

Juskiewicz estimated the ride brings an average of $3 million in spending to each town, with more for bigger cities that can meet hotel demand.

The stop in Des Moines is significant because the city has transformed so much since RAGBRAI last visited in 1997, with major development in the East Village, Court Avenue District and along the riverfront. (Juskiewicz said camping will be “close to downtown.”) With 70 percent of participants coming from out of state, Des Moines could be a brand-new city to many riders. “When they see how far Des Moines has come, and how much has changed, they’re going to be pleasantly surprised,” Juskiewicz said.

After a sun-baked RAGBRAI in 2012 that had riders sweating across Iowa on some of the hottest days of the year, organizers are going easy on participants with the second-shortest route in history, at 406.6 miles, including four consecutive days with 52 miles or less. The route is also the 15th-flattest in RAGBRAI history. Only six RAGBRAIs since the ride began in 1973 were easier.

“Last year it was so difficult with the heat, even though on paper it was an easy route,” Juskiewicz said. “I think after last year, anyone that rode RAGBRAI deserves a break.”

But the ride won’t be all downhill. The stretch from Harlan to Perry is the hilliest with 4,239 feet of total climb. At 83 miles, it is also the longest.

Here’s a day-to-day breakdown of this year’s route:

Council Bluffs, July 20

The border city of 62,230 shares a pedestrian bridge over the Missouri River with Omaha at the base of which is the soon-to-open River’s Edge Park. RAGBRAI has come to the seat of Pottawattamie County five times before, most recently in 2009. The starting point of the historic Mormon Trail, Council Bluffs saw many settlers and explorers pass through its limits, including members of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The county’s pie-shaped revolving “squirrel cage” jail, located here, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Harlan, July 21

Just 5,106 residents will welcome riders to their first overnight stop in the least populous of this year’s RAGBRAI towns. Located along the West Nishnabotna River, Harlan is home to the Shelby County Speedway, where the Tiny Lund memorial races held each fall honor the town’s own Daytona 500 winner of 1963. And Harlan has more sports claims to fame: its high school has won 12 state championships in football. This is Harlan’s sixth RAGBRAI, and the first in five years.

Perry, July 22

At just 4.17 square miles, this bike-friendly town is the smallest on the route. A host of the annual BRR — Bike Ride to Rippey (coming up Feb. 2) — for die-hard winter cyclists, Perry pays tribute to another legendary ride at the historic Hotel Pattee. Themed rooms are devoted to topics as diverse as Central America, cream and eggs — and, of course, RAGBRAI. It’s the town’s first time hosting riders since 2001.

Des Moines, July 23

With some 70 percent of riders coming from out-of-state, Iowa’s capital will be new to many of this year’s participants; it’s the first time RAGBRAI is rolling through Des Moines in 16 years. With the Iowa Cubs in residence at Principal Park, cyclists can check out a home baseball game against the New Orleans Zephyrs.

Knoxville, July 24

This town of just 7,313 residents knows a thing or two about speed; the “dirt racin’ capital of the world” is home to the Knoxville Raceway and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum. Side-trippers looking to get away from wheeled recreation can head six miles north to Lake Red Rock, the largest lake in Iowa. Though it was a pass-through town in 1988 and 1992, Knoxville has hosted RAGBRAI just twice before — last in 2000.

Oskaloosa, July 25

The home of William Penn University invites cyclists to unwind for the first time in 10 years, and its fourth time overall. The town was known for its coal-mining operations until an explosion in 1902 killed 20 workers. Today, it’s known for its summertime Sweet Corn Serenade, an acclaimed Christmas parade, and the Oskaloosa Municipal Band, which plays Thursdays in downtown’s city park.

Fairfield, July 26

Foodies can look forward to a night in this southeastern Iowa town, which claims to have more restaurants per capita than San Francisco. (Granted, Fairfield is just over six square miles.) And art lovers will find something to gaze at in more than 25 galleries.  Home to the Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield also features a sub-city devoted to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, teacher of transcendental meditation, where weary riders can “restore balance” at the Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Spa. Fairfield last welcomed RAGBRAI in 1997.

Fort Madison, July 27

It’s been 10 years since Fort Madison’s 10,980 residents welcomed RAGBRAI to their banks of the Mississippi, in the southeastern corner of Iowa. Fort Madison is known for its historic downtown, the oldest prison west of the Mississippi (although a new prison is being built), and the world’s longest double-deck swing-span bridge — the last remaining of its kind. But as much as it looks to the past, Fort Madison is also nodding to the future as the home of Siemens’ wind turbine blade manufacturing. The town previously wrapped up RAGBRAI in 1975, 1988, 1997 and 2003.

Picture 1 of 55
John Karras poses for a picture at the RAGBRAI Route Announcement Party on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 at the Iowa Event Center in Des Moines, Iowa.


Victor Kelley, Jan 27, 2013 at 7:40 am

To short, last year was tough! Maybe people should show up in better shape.

John, Jan 27, 2013 at 9:13 am

Photo caption: “Two men share a laugh…” Seriously? The person writing this does not know that the man on the left holding the Karras loop sign is John Karras?

Gerald, Jan 27, 2013 at 9:30 am

With a short route… I may bring my cruiser bicycle it is heavy and slow but so am I. If my memory is correct this would be my 13th ride across the state…. 2013 and 13th ride. Been wanting to ride across since 1995 when I rode my first
RAGBRAI. (Short or long… its fun… I eat my away across… more time to eat).

Al M, Jan 27, 2013 at 9:57 am

THe combination of short routes and small mid-route towns will create a strain and surge on the small-town infrastructure — cyclists will arrive earlier and in a tighter bunching. So, hopefully we will find some interesting rest stops along the way like we had a couple years ago to slow things down and even out the arrivals and also lower demand on the small-town infrastructure.

I also prefer the longer routes of the past and am not a fan of the shorter, easier routes.

NursePink, Jan 27, 2013 at 9:57 am

I’m not so keen on the short route either!!!

Kevdog, Jan 27, 2013 at 10:23 am

The endurance of a long hard ride is what makes Ragbrai Ragbrai, but it will, of course, still be fun.

SLB56, Jan 27, 2013 at 11:54 am

Thank you God for a shorter route. Last year’s weather was brutal. Saw so many people that were “cooked” by 10:30 am. The name of the game is to enjoy, not how tough you are.

Ryguy, Jan 27, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Boo on the shorter route!

Dougt, Jan 27, 2013 at 1:07 pm

We don’ need no steekeen short routes!!!
Team ******* Cycling Fearless Leader

Dougt, Jan 27, 2013 at 1:09 pm

That was Team Bast**d. Why the censorship of a name that came from a Seinfeld episode?? Sheesh!!

Ben, Jan 27, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Short day rides around central Iowa (Des Moines) equates to nothing more than a surge of day riders and a tremendous amount of “wanna-be-RAGBRAI’ers” which will mean jammed up roads. I like RAGBRAI when it stays a long ways from Des Moines.

Cjp, Jan 27, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Not sure why everyone is complaining bout a short route. Take your time and enjoy. Beats working. Ride each route twice if you need want to ride all day.

jason miller, Jan 27, 2013 at 2:06 pm

im riding ther from ohio nd then riding back, biking i mean

1orbea4me, Jan 27, 2013 at 3:07 pm

I am thankful for a shorter ride. Because of heart issues, I was concerned about a possible difficult ride this year. My 4th Ragbrai and a Tall Dog.

Matt, Jan 27, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Those of you that complain about the bunched up riders must not be doing Ragbrai correctly. If you are getting into the overnight towns before 5pm you are not enjoying yourself enough. 🙂

Mrs. 1500, Jan 27, 2013 at 6:05 pm

So thankful for the shorter route. I love stopping at all the pass through towns, and will be riding with my father in law for the first time. Last year’s all-headwind day still in my mind.

My favorite week of the year!

Randy, Jan 27, 2013 at 6:39 pm

This is my 7th yea, and every year I invite a new group to go with me. I tell them we are riding 500 miles in one week. Every year the ride seems shorter. Each year we find extra miles to hit our goal. We tend to go against the grain of cyclist which sometimes can be dangerous. If I am going to bring a group of people and a bunch of money, my team and I want to ride our bikes not sit around camp all day. This may be my last RAGBRAI if this trend keeps happening. Now if you want to fix the problem give us another 94 miles of loops. Maybe some other towns could benefit from this plan. Maybe add on the 50 mile days scheduled. PS. (Granted it was hot last year but that’s why you should train. I’m not that great a rider or that great of shape but I trained and loved last year.)

dbkguy, Jan 27, 2013 at 8:21 pm

I tried to watch the live stream last night, but it was a no go. Site was overwhelmed. Couldn’t even bring it up.

Looks like a nice route, plus gives us a little more time to enjoy Iowa.

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