RAGBRAI XLV Countdown – July 23-29, 2017
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RAGBRAI XLV: Take it easy, go north

After 44 trips east across Iowa, organizers of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa have plenty of nostalgia to draw on – and their plans still manage some novelty, too.

RAGBRAI XLV this July will go where the ride hasn’t overnighted in four decades – into extreme northeast Iowa’s Driftless Area, the sole spot in Iowa missed by glaciers that once covered and flattened out the state. And the ride will begin in Orange City, a first-time overnight host.

The eight overnight towns that will welcome thousands upon thousands of cyclists were announced Saturday night at a RAGBRAI party in downtown Des Moines. The ride runs from July 23 to 29.

Organizers said the 411 miles and 13,078 feet of climb are both the third-easiest totals in RAGBRAI history.

The seven days of cycling, after the initial gathering in Orange City, will take Iowans and visitors from across the country and around the world past acres of fields and through dozens of Iowa towns (the complete route will be announced in March), where they will see local claims to fame, devour meats and desserts and other victuals, and experience hospitality from residents seeing their communities grow fourfold or more in a few hours.

The action is likely to be contained to Iowa’s two northernmost tiers of counties. RAGBRAI will raise the curtain in Sioux County for the ninth time in 45 years, but the starting point is new: Orange City is well to the east of Hawarden (three times) and Rock Valley (once) and southeast of Sioux Center (four times). The Floyd River, which feeds into the Missouri River at Sioux City, runs through nearby Alton. One of Iowa’s Dutch-heritage cities, Orange City hosts a Tulip Festival every May.

The next four overnight towns are RAGBRAI veterans: Spencer, Algona, Clear Lake and Charles City. Recent northern routes in 1999, 2005 and 2010 hit some or all of those spots. Riders can expect to see the Camp Algona Prisoner of War Museum, where Germans were held during World War II, and the famous Surf Ballroom where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper played their final show the night before the Day the Music Died.

Spencer boasts one of the state’s bigger county fairs, with more than 300,000 visitors a year stopping by the Clay County Fair (the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, for comparison, draws a little over 1 million). And Charles City boasts that it’s the birthplace of the gasoline-driven tractor.

INTERACTIVE MAP: See the overnight towns and learn more about them

Each of the final three days of RAGBRAI XLV concludes in a smaller town, with a population below 4,000. Cresco will get its fourth RAGBRAI visit, its third as an overnight town and the first since 2005. Many Iowans know it best as the hometown of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug.

Waukon is an overnight town for the first time (the ride passed through in its early days, in 1977). It has a tradition of strong high school sports programs, with Gene Klinge, the state’s winningest girls’ basketball coach, collecting a state championship during his 11 seasons there. On RAGBRAI’s final day, cyclists will climb 3,200 feet, by far the most of the week, while covering just 45 miles on their way to Lansing, population 999, hosting for the first time since 1977.

RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest and longest recreational bicycle touring event in the world. It started in 1973 as something of a one-time lark hatched by two Des Moines Register writers but quickly grew into a phenomenon. The organizers typically receive about 200 applicants to be a host city. The more than 10,000 official riders can bring $3 million a day to local economies, according to some estimates.




Saturday, July 22

Orange City

In the news: The contentious fight between Des Moines Water Works and rural Iowa over farm runoff included an attempt at common ground in Orange City.

Population: 6,004

Starting town

History: First time as host; Orange City was a pass-through town in 1975, 1993, 1996, 2002, 2005 and 2012

Sunday, July 23


In the news: An athlete’s tragic death set up a moment of sportsmanship recognized as one of the state’s most inspirational in 2016.

Population: 11,233

Mileage (from Orange City): 59.5; climb of 1,283 feet

History: Fifth overnight visit, previous ones were in 1979, 1990, 1999 and 2007


Monday, July 24


In the news: A Register feature in December highlighted the unique Nativity built by German prisoners of war during World War II.

Population: 5,560

Mileage (from Spencer): 73.8; climb of 1,631 feet

History: Sixth overnight visit, previous ones were in 1977, 1990, 1999, 2005 and 2010


Tuesday, July 25

Clear Lake

In the news: A perennial tourist favorite is the Surf Ballroom, site of the last concert before the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.

Population: 7,777

Mileage (from Algona): 51.4; climb of 934 feet

History: Fourth overnight visit, previous ones were in 1977, 1999 and 2010; Clear Lake was a pass-through town in 1985 and 2014


Wednesday, July 26

Charles City

In the news: A game between high school football rivals became something more with a boy’s memorable touchdown run.

Population: 7,652

Mileage (from Clear Lake): 57.5; climb of 1,290 feet

History: Fifth overnight visit, previous ones were in 1982, 1996, 2002 and 2010; Charles City was a pass-through town in 1977


Thursday, July 27


In the news: Cresco is the hometown of Norman Borlaug, whose agricultural research earned him a Nobel Peace Prize and inspired the World Food Prize. Borlaug recently became one of two Iowans memorialized in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

Population: 3,868

Mileage (from Charles City): 64.3; climb of 2,257 feet

History: Third overnight visit, previous ones were in 1996 and 2005; Cresco was a pass-through town in 1993


Friday, July 28


In the news: Iowa’s winningest girls’ basketball coach, Gene Klinge, coached his final 11 seasons at Waukon.

Population: 3,897

Mileage (from Cresco): 60.1; climb of 2,483 feet

History: First time as host; Waukon was a pass-through town in 1977


Saturday, July 29


In the news: The closing of a longtime button factory has the town considering what comes next.

Population: 999

Mileage (from Waukon): 44.8; climb of 3,200 feet

History: Second overnight visit, previous one was in 1977

How the route compares

Total mileage: 411.4, the third-shortest of RAGBRAI’s 45 journeys

Total feet of climb: 13,078 feet, the third-flattest

Difficulty of ride: Rated the third-easiest RAGBRAI by combination of distance and climb

More RAGBRAI online

  • Download the RAGBRAI app for Android or iPhone to get the latest updates, photos, videos and maps you can use offline once route details are released in March.
  • Subscribe to the new Just Go Bike podcast for fun conversation on biking, trail and training suggestions and to meet Iowa’s favorite biking personalities.
  • Get this year’s biking gear at the RAGBRAI shop.
  • Don’t forget to register! Find more information and chat with other riders at RAGBRAI.com.
  • Find the best stories, videos and photos (and buy them!) at RAGBRAI.com and DesMoinesRegister.com/ReliveRAGBRAI.
  • Follow RAGBRAI on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for fun links, updates and photos.
  • Check back in March when the pass through towns and route details are announced.

17 Responses on “RAGBRAI XLV: Take it easy, go north

Profile photo of Jim


January 21, 2017 at 10:18 pm

What a wimpy route! RAGBRAI has given in to the partygoers and drunks.

Profile photo of Michael


January 22, 2017 at 12:06 am

Living in a wonderful, but polluted, city in China, I am grateful that there is finally a light at the end of my tunnel! While some will decry the length of the ride and it’s easiness, I am so looking forward to participating again and enjoying a week in the saddle with 15k friends new and old. 180 days to go! Ride on!

Profile photo of Kim


January 22, 2017 at 2:33 am

I’m okay with this. This is reminiscent of 2014’s route and that was a fun ride. I really enjoyed going through Clear Lake, such a beautiful area.

Profile photo of Sheldon


January 22, 2017 at 7:14 am

Jim: I’m not a party goer nor a drunk and I am looking forward the route. This will allow for more time to stop and visit with the great people of Iowa. One of my fondest memories of last years RAGBRAI was sitting on the porch of a retired farmer and his wife speaking of their happy life on the farm over the last 70 years…

Profile photo of George Kline

George Kline

January 22, 2017 at 11:05 am

I know people who partake heartily, but they ride hard also, the cycling is more important. I think it is more of the weekend warriors that complain about how hard the route is. People need to condition themselves for the ride. I would like a longer route with this one being so flat, I did not find last years route challenging, but I am from PA and regularly climb 4000-8000 ft. on rides. I figure it is what it is and I will make the best of it, sounds like a great route anyway. I suggest riding in a higher gear, adding miles to the route, maybe do HIIT if the road is clear enough to do safely. There are ways to make it a workout. Hope you enjoy the ride!

Profile photo of Timothy


January 22, 2017 at 11:56 am

The route is easier, if you want harder maybe do it on a fat bike.. I think someone talked me into that last night.

Profile photo of WILLIAM


January 22, 2017 at 4:00 pm

If, for you, the route lacks challenge become a bagger. An extra 20 or 30 pounds will certainly increase the effort.


Profile photo of Jim


January 22, 2017 at 6:29 pm

It’s about the friends and camaraderie. It will be what you make of it. Can’t wait!

Profile photo of Doug


January 23, 2017 at 7:31 am

Guys, the “easy route” is my fault. This will be my first RAGBRAI and I prayed for it.😊

Profile photo of Doug


January 23, 2017 at 7:49 am

This route reminds me of ’96. Tailwinds and flat for the first 4 or 5 days. Lot’s of fun and time to stop and check out the towns. I remember the first town was Orange and they were handing out oranges as we entered. The guy that made the remarks about the ride being too easy and only for drunks doesn’t get RAGBRAI.

Profile photo of Melinda


January 23, 2017 at 11:15 pm

I don’t drink or ‘party’, but I do like to have fun! Is RAGBRAI for me? ;p

Profile photo of Rosa


January 24, 2017 at 11:32 am

The shorter and easier route will be a good thing this year- a good recovery from last year’s southern route.

Profile photo of J


January 28, 2017 at 11:48 am

I’m going to spend another week with my sister. I do not get to see her that often now that we are grown ups. This is ride #12. We share pie. She is the best traveling partner.

Profile photo of Robert


January 29, 2017 at 5:09 pm

I was a 64 year old RAGBRAI virgin last year. I found the ride TOUGH TOUGH TOUGH — but — we had good weather and a fabulous cool tailwind on the 2nd longest day (Friday). So I know this year, despite its shorter length and flatter course, could still kick my butt: headwinds, thunderstorms, equipment failures, a crash or two (hopefully not!). Looking forward to a fun ride!

Profile photo of signe


March 6, 2017 at 10:42 am

I will be coming from Englewood Florida… Looking for ride to Lansing.
I will be camping with Pampered Peddlers….

Profile photo of Mary


April 1, 2017 at 5:50 pm

I just signed up-at 59, I am a bit worried-but what the heck! I love IOWA!

Profile photo of James


April 30, 2017 at 10:24 pm

I have a group of first timers, this shorter flatter route will be just about right. I am not going to party, but, probably will have a couple to recover everyday! Plus, I see in the comments that an old friend from Florida will be coming up. How cool is that!

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