RAGBRAI XLIV Countdown – July 24-30, 2016
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Air Force team provides helping hand along the route

There’s a story Mike Widener likes to tell about someone on RAGBRAI who once asked what kind of tire tubes the Air Force uses that cause so many flat tires.

“They apparently thought we were on the side of the road because we had flats, but really we were helping other people,” said Widener, an officer at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

All week long he and the 93 other members of the Air Force cycling team have been helping riders along the route.

They’re the largest military group and one of the largest teams overall on RAGBRAI.

Members provide basic medical assistance and direct traffic around accidents until local authorities arrive, fix flat tires and help with other bike problems.

“Sometimes it’s just to give them a little bit of company at the end of the ride,” Officer Ryan Gabel, also of Virginia, said.

Members of the large group, which also includes a support crew of about a dozen people, hail from all over the country.

For the most part, they pay their own way, but they get free time off, Gabel said.

The ride is part recruiting trip and part vacation.

“We’re here to promote a positive image of the Air Force,” Gabel said.

That’s one reason they help other riders and wear their Air Force gear day after day.

The opportunity to meet new people and take in Iowa are two things that keep Widener and others coming back.

He’s on his fifth RAGBRAI.

“On other long rides I’ve done, the focus is on the bike,” he said. “Here it’s on the socializing and taking in the small towns and scenery.”

11 Responses on “Air Force team provides helping hand along the route

R. Hillen, Elmhurst Illinois

July 27, 2013 at 9:49 am

“We’re here to promote a positive image of the Air Force,” Gabel said. Mission accomplished Officer Gabel, many thanks to three kind and resourceful airmen that repaired a frozen freewheel about three miles short of Oskaloosa on Thursday.

Rae Jean Ulrichs

July 27, 2013 at 5:51 pm

My son Matt was part of the support group so we came down and spent a few days with his Air Force family. What a great group of people that really are “family”. We will see you next year!!!

Joe Prochaska

July 28, 2013 at 11:59 am

After my first day on RAGBRAI, I started counting how many flat tires I saw WITHOUT two Air Force jerseys clustered around helping. For the rest of the week, I did not count more than five. It was really very, very impressive how quick to help and how supportive the Air Force Cycling Team members were on this RAGBRAI (my first).

It seemed like the Air Force team was there, every time someone needed any help at all. It was very, very impressive (if I repeat myself, it is intentional). The Air Force presence gave me real peace of mind when my son would take off and leave me miles behind (which he did nearly every day)– I knew that if something happened, he would have help and support immediately. This allowed him to explore RAGBRAI and Iowa independently, and to really grow up on this ride. The Air Force team was an invisible safety net on a very wonderful trip.

Thank you not only for the help you gave to others, but to the comfort and relaxation you gave to folks like me.

Lee Smith

July 29, 2013 at 11:16 am

I was grateful for the cheerful help in fixing a flat that a kind Air Force couple offered me. Thanks!

Daniel Moore

July 29, 2013 at 12:37 pm

It’s a nice gesture to assist someone with a flat tire or pick up trash in the town squares,


More importantly, I suggest that at RAGBRAI 2014 there be a team meeting regarding safety and rules for team riders. On multiple occasions, I witnessed pace-line after pace-line traveling well in excess of 30 mph on the left hand margin, screaming “on your left” in solid slow moving huge traffic jams. I rode every mile and on every day, I witnessed pace-line after pace-line at times traveling twice the speed of nearly all others, forcing their way into an overcrowdwed right hand lanes when a there was a “car up”.

On two occasions, I witnessed crashes due to the Air Force Team forcing their way back to the right lane when there was NO ROOM. Why? Is RAGBRAI now a race? Is SLOWING DOWN and SAFELY merging back into the right lane too much to ask? I can also ride at very high speeds, but not in Des Moines, or climbing a grade where there are walkers. Why did you need to endanger everyone else?

Keep changing tubes for people and picking up trash. STOP riding at unsafe speeds in huge crowds of casual day riders. PLEASE limit your Lance Armstrong dreams to open roads in light traffic where it is safe to pace-line at high speeds.

Please go to Colorado Springs, hold your own event where you can make your own rules and compromise the safety of others who will at least know in advance.

Cynthia Rohde

July 31, 2013 at 1:34 pm

The 1st Air Force guy was rude beyond belief, the second stopped to help me before I was hardly off the road. Thumbs up to one, the other oh well!?!?

Donald Woolsey

August 6, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Thanks AF for fixing my tire when i thought i would have to walk to tget help. You were like triple A service at every moment. THANK YOU

Larry Gallo: Director of Aur Force Cycling Team

August 18, 2013 at 9:20 am

Thank you all for the kind remarks you have made towards the Air Force Team and for the the other remarks that are not so positive. This year, 85% of our team was 1st time RAGBRAI participants. This is the 1st I have heard of any accidents cause by AF members. I briefed at the initial team meeting on Saturday the dangers of paceliines and they were not allowed.
I will continue to brief and police this area. I will also remind all that we are a service to the Iowa community and a smile is the first service we can give any. Thanks again for your comments. Larry, Executive Director, Air Firce Cycling Team. (writing from iPhone, big fingers and little buttons)

June Lindner

August 26, 2013 at 7:38 am

I was a rider on the AF team and was so proud of how most of the members were kind and helpful along the way. I am so sorry that a few of them decided to break our own rules and ride in pace lines. Daniel, I hope you understand that those few riders who did that are not representative of who we are as a team. I love RAGBRAI and I think that most of the riders are considerate, fun to talk to, and fun to ride with.


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Todd Burkholder

January 23, 2014 at 10:10 am

I meant to write this thank you two years ago but I procrastinated. I want to thank the two USAF cycle saviors from Ragbrai #40. It was the first day ride of 80 miles on my first Ragbrai ever and it was 103 degrees. I was 75 miles into the ride just outside of Cherokee IA and I blew a tire. I was on the side of the road changing out the tube and my mind was a little loopy when I let the air out of my only CO2 air cartridge by mistake which left me nothing to inflate my tire. I looked up into the Iowa landscape cursing myself and feeling the river of sweat flowing into my eyes. I was feeling a little desperate when two members of the Air Force cycle team pulled over to help me. They used their own equipment and cartridges to repair the bike. I offered to pay them for their materials but they would not accept any money. They were sweating as hard as I was on that terribly hot day but they definitely saved my day. I have meant to write this for two years and I finally sat down today to write it. I want to thank the USAF for supporting Ragbrai. I will be riding again this year so I will see you on the road.

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