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.


barbara bentz, Jan 27, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Personally, if you dislike the route, don’t ride it then. It’s enjoyable no matter how many miles. And it’s not even about the miles, it’s about the biking and the lovely people of Iowa….just saying!!

muskiemelon, Jan 28, 2013 at 3:34 am

For those complaining about a short route. Just ride more miles. Honestly! Have you ever ridden a bike before? Our team rides out from the Mississippi River to meet RAGBRAI. More days of riding. You could do it too.

Gobbs, Jan 28, 2013 at 6:49 am

It will be nice to be able to spend more time in the pass-through towns and not have to worry as much about beating the heat or trying to get someplace before 6:00 p.m. I plan on eating more pie, meeting more people, spending more time sitting on people’s front porches and chatting, and actually enjoying Iowa. Last year, with the wind, heat, and distance, this really wasn’t as easy to do for the average rider. It’s easy for avid cyclist to say “train more so you’re ready for 100+ degree heat and 30+ mph headwinds on 80+ mile days”, but that’s a lot harder to do when you have a job, kids, and other responsibilities of adulthood. RAGBRAI may not be for everybody, but it should be for as many people as possible. If an occasional shorter route helps that out, so be it. Personally, I find it refreshing, although my preference would be about 450 miles.

PJ, Jan 28, 2013 at 10:50 am

There’s so much more to Ragbrai than miles. The 2013 route sounds much more reasonable than the past two years, especially given the heat and humidity. This ain’t supposed to be the Tour de France. All the tough guys whining are missing the point.

Kenny, Jan 31, 2013 at 5:25 pm

After last year, I understand that the organizers would want to “go short”, but 50 miles a day is too short for me to take off a week and go to Iowa. I would prefer 70-80 a day average, with a short day, and a long day in there. Maybe 2014 for me because I’ll take a pass this year. Good luck all.

Rebecca O, Jan 31, 2013 at 5:41 pm

I am simply glad that RAGBRAI exists for us to participate in. I am a mother of five and ride each year with my eldest son. It doesn’t matter to me if the ride is long or short, hilly or flat, small town or city. I truly enjoy the opportunity to ride with my son, visit the host towns, see the countryside, talk with the other participants along the route… and take it all in. However, the coolest people during the entire RAGBRAI adventure are the gentlemen who man the maiun RAGBRAI semi that hauls our junk. They are so friendly and helpful. I have seen the same gentlemen for the last few years and THAT is awesome!

barbara, Feb 1, 2013 at 12:00 am

If the miles are that concerning, then you’re absolutely missing the point of Ragbrai….Really!!!!!

Carl Fulkerson, Feb 1, 2013 at 11:40 am

I am excited about the shorter/easier? route. My girlfriend and I planned on riding last year but then found she had some serious medical issues. After a year almost of surgeries, chemo, radiation and office visits she is ready for some recreation, but not to the extreme last year must have been. Timing for this was perfect for us. The time left before this Ragbrai should be abouit nright for us to get ready for it.
Thank you!

Eric Carleton, Feb 16, 2013 at 10:08 am

I suppose those wanting some additional miles could do a loop arond the pass thru towns. This is my first and likly only RAGBRAI after wanting to do it for 30 years. I was hopoing for a bit more challenge, so the short milage was a dissapointment. I will definatley participate in the ambiance of the ride and have a fine time. But 50 mile/day is just another Saturday ride.

Tom Dennis, Feb 16, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Maybe “it’s a ride, not a race” should be changed to “it’s a ride, not RAAM.” 😉

daytona 500 live stream, Feb 23, 2013 at 2:46 pm

hello there and thank you on your information ? I have certainly picked up something new from proper here. I did on the other hand experience some technical points using this web site, since I skilled to reload the website many occasions prior to I could get it to load correctly. I have been pondering if your web hosting is OK? Not that I am complaining, but sluggish loading cases times will very frequently have an effect on your placement in google and could damage your quality rating if advertising and marketing with Adwords. Anyway I’m adding this RSS to my email and could glance out for a lot more of your respective interesting content. Ensure that you replace this once more soon..

Michael Esters, Feb 24, 2013 at 4:31 am

Looking forward to my first and possibly only RAGBRAI. Having grown up in Webster City, missing last year was a disappointment. Coming from the UK where I now live, and riding with the Air Force Cycle Team will be an experience I will remember the rest of my life. Will be nice seeing parts of my home state that I haven’t seen before. SEE YOU IN JULY.

alsbbbsasda asdam, Mar 3, 2013 at 10:18 pm

wow! many thanks for that amazing piece of writing. I actually liked it for the main. Hope you keep posting these outstanding content

Barb, Mar 5, 2013 at 11:34 am

There should be more money for the overnight towns and the stops in between. That is always a good thing. Spend more time getting to know your fellow riders, and more time at each stop. I look forward to this years ride.

Deborah Dickinson, Mar 7, 2013 at 12:40 pm

This will be my first year and I also think the mileage is a little short, BUT I figure I can ride as many miles as I like by turning back, or doing some site seeing, and on the days I need rest I can do the miles necessary and have a short day! Let it work to your advantage!!

Katherine Oyston, Mar 8, 2013 at 2:18 am

Let’s register and get free unlimited Storage Space at
You can backup, protect and access your data Anywhere and Anytime.
Easiest Way to Share Large Files and Media your friends and family.

Wendy Lee, Mar 8, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Wish posters would refrain from throwing their advertising in this thread. This is not a message board for business. Looking forward to the next ride. Hope the ride through Des Moines is not like through prior large cities and that the majority of activites and housing is concentrated in the same area…otherwise Des Moines is a big sprawling midwestern city!

David Welch, Mar 8, 2013 at 1:14 pm

This will be my second year, RAGBRAI is what you make of it, it is not a race, it is a ride! So get off the computers and phones- ride your extra miles at home and have some fun. Which you forgot to have!!!

Donald Kowalewski, Mar 17, 2013 at 3:30 pm

This will be my first attending RAGBRAI; in fact, my first long ride ever! Like many others, I consider myself a rank amateur rider. Thus, it was with some relief that I saw a route for which I can easily prepare and train. I won’t exactly “get off my computer and phone” however… I’ll have a magneto hub for the smartphone so I might be able to blog my experience!

Leave a Comment