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RAGBRAI history – 1970s

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The Second Year
August 4-10, 1974

Benson had more time to organize the ride that year, so arrangements were made to involve the Iowa State Patrol and include other services, such as medical aid, sag wagons and baggage trucks. The route was driven ahead of time and the communities on the route were contacted.

The SAGBRAI route went from Council Bluffs to Dubuque with stops in Atlantic, Guthrie Center, Camp Dodge (north of Des Moines), Marshalltown, Waterloo and Monticello. Approximately 2,700 riders showed up that Sunday morning in early August. The Howard Johnson motel in Council Bluffs was packed and an adjacent golf course was filled with campers!

The first two days were tough and hilly. That, plus the fact that many riders hadn’t trained for the ride and it was a rainy day with head winds between Waterloo and Monticello, took a toll. An estimated 1,700 made it all the way to Eagle Point Park in Dubuque.

August 3-9, 1975
The overnight stay in Guthrie Center during the 1974 ride was such a pleasant experience that ride organizers were convinced that smaller towns should not be overlooked as overnight hosts. So, in 1975, the little town of Hawarden, with a population of about 2,700, was chosen as the August 3 starting point.

It had become a tradition for the ride to begin on the Missouri River, so riders could dip their back wheel in its waters, and end at the Mississippi River, where they could dip their front wheel as a finale to the ride. Hawarden is on the Big Sioux, but the organizers decided it qualified because the Big Sioux is a branch of the Missouri on the South Dakota border. That year’s ride spent the night in Cherokee, Lake View, Boone, Newton, Sigourney, Mount Pleasant and ended in Fort Madison on August 9. There were about 3,200 riders and probably 2,400 made it all the way.

It became apparent that the ride’s popularity would not allow it to end with the 1975 event, so it was given an official name “the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa” along with the acronym RAGBRAI, with the year designated in Roman numerals.

August 1-7, 1976
RAGBRAI IV in 1976 began in Sidney in southwest Iowa on August 1. Riders remember the sand burrs in the campgrounds that caused the thin bicycle tires to explode, sounding like fireworks on the Fourth of July. It was a roundabout ride to Muscatine through Red Oak, Harlan, Jefferson, Nevada, Grinnell and Iowa City.

July 31-August 6, 1977
RAGBRAI V in 1977 began July 31 in Onawa and followed our shortest and flattest route of 400 miles through Ida Grove, Laurens, Algona, Clear Lake, New Hampton and Decorah before finally ending in Lansing on August 6. Everyone expected the hills in northeast Iowa to be killers, but the roads there were laid out in the early development of the state and followed the valleys and ridges, avoiding many of the hills. However, the roads in the remainder of the state followed the section lines over the hills.

July 30-August 5, 1978
On July 30, 1978, RAGBRAI VI started in Sioux City again and closely followed the route of the first ride as far as Storm Lake. Then the ride went to Humboldt, Iowa Falls, Vinton, Mount Vernon and Maquoketa, and ended in Clinton on August 5. It was RAGBRAI’s second experience on a college campus, Cornell College in Mount Vernon. (RAGBRAI had been at Luther College in Decorah the year before.) It was wonderful for the riders, the college and the town.

July 29-August 4, 1979
RAGBRAI VII in 1979 started July 29 in extreme northwest Iowa at Rock Rapids on the Rock River, a branch of the Sioux River, and ended in Burlington on August 4, with stops in Spencer (where riders encountered the first major rain storm during RAGBRAI), Rockwell City, Story City, Tama-Toledo, Fairfield and Wapello. It had become a tradition to have a ‘ Century Day,’ which was a 100-mile day between two overnight host towns. The Century Day in 1979 was between Tama-Toledo and Fairfield.

More RAGBRAI history
The first RAGBRAI | The 1980s | The 1990s | The 2000s | The 2010s | Facts and figures

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