RAGBRAI XLIV Countdown – July 24-30, 2016
Friends of RAGBRAI

RAGBRAI

RAGBRAI history



In the beginning, when a few friends got together for a casual bike ride across Iowa in 1973, no one imagined that a tradition would be born, let alone that it would become the longest, largest and oldest bicycle touring event in the world.

More RAGBRAI history
The 1970s | The 1980s | The 1990s | The 2000s | The 2010s | Facts and figures
History map: See which towns have hosted RAGBRAI the most and when

John Karras

John Karras

RAGBRAI’s Beginnings & The First Year
August 26-31, 1973
The Register’s bicycling tradition began with an idea (a kind of a challenge) between Des Moines Register feature writer/copy editor John Karras, an avid bicyclist, and Don Kaul, author of The Des Moines Register’s “Over The Coffee” column. Karras suggested to Kaul that he ride his bicycle across Iowa and write columns about what he saw from that perspective. Kaul, also an accomplished rider, lived in Washington, D.C., and wrote his column from The Register’s Washington Bureau.

Kaul liked the idea but issued the challenge that he would ride across Iowa if Karras rode with him. Karras agreed and the plan was approved by the managing editor. Coordination of the ride was assigned to Don Benson, public relations director, and the RAGBRAI trio was formed. Benson served as coordinator of the ride until his retirement in 1991, when Jim Green took over the duties.

Don Kaul

Don Kaul

Kaul and Karras then invited ‘a few friends’ (the public) to ride along. The route was laid out on maps and readers were told that the ride would start in Sioux City on August 26 and end on August 31 in Davenport. Overnight stops were scheduled in Storm Lake, Fort Dodge, Ames, Des Moines and Williamsburg. (Year One’s overnight towns had the largest average population of any RAGBRAI through RAGBRAI XXIV.) The ride was informally referred to as ‘ The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride’ and was scheduled to tie in with a Register and Tribune circulation sales meeting in Des Moines.

Because the readers were only given six weeks notice before the late-August ride, response was light, which may have been fortunate since the route had not been driven prior to the ride and no camping arrangements had been made. Don Benson had made motel reservations for himself, Kaul and Karras, because, after all, it was their ride. Motel operators along the way and the Naval Reserve Center in Des Moines came to the rescue of the riders by letting them pitch tents on their lawns.

An estimated 300 people showed up for the start of the ride in Sioux City. By actual count, 114 riders made the entire distance that first year. The number swelled to 500 riders on the stretch of the route between Ames and Des Moines.

Among the many interesting people the ride attracted was Clarence Pickard of Indianola. This 83-year-old gentleman, who hadn’t ridden a bicycle much in recent years, showed up for that first ride with a used ladies Schwinn and rode all the way to Davenport, including the 100 degree plus day from Des Moines to Williamsburg, a 110-mile trek. Pickard’s attire for the ride was a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, woolen long underwear and a silver pith helmet.

Kaul’s and Karras’ articles and columns about Pickard, and points of interest along the way were, perhaps, responsible for the growth of the ride. After the ride, letters and calls poured in from people excited about the ride but upset because it was held the first week of school so students and teachers couldn’t go. Others were upset because the ride started on the final weekend of the Iowa State Fair. And still others wished more notice had been given so vacation arrangements could have been made.

Basically, the theme was the same “please offer another opportunity to participat in the ride! So the seven-day, Second Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa “SAGBRAI” was scheduled for August 4-10, 1974.

More RAGBRAI history
The 1970s | The 1980s | The 1990s | The 2000s | The 2010s | Facts and figures

Latest Blog Posts

  • Honoring the Veterans of RAGBRAI

    RAGBRAI to honor Veterans in Creston

  • Online Registration Closes June 1

    In order to receive your wristband, your registration must be complete, paid, and finalized by June 1.  For a registration to be finalized, it must be submitted with waiver and payment ...

  • Merch Monday - Riders Try On the 2016 Jersey!

    It's Merchandise Monday! This week we had real RAGBRAI riders try on our 2016 jersey for size, and this is what they thought.

  • RAGBRAI Training: 5 Rules of Training

    I am going to let you in on a little secret. My secrets of coaching. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. But here they are.

  • Businessolver Foundation Partners with RAGBRAI Foundation

    We are proud to announce our partnership with the Businessolver Foundation in memoriam of Chris Charron, former Businessolver and Register employee.

  • RAGBRAI Expo Exhibitor Preview

    The RAGBRAI Expo is where RAGBRAI begins and is always a great way to start off the week. Check out the latest bicycles, clothing and accessories as you take a ...

  • Variety- the Children's Charity Joins RAGBRAI 2016!

    Variety is partnering with RAGBRAI this year to give bikes to kids in 5 overnight towns!

  • Hydration Tips from nuun: If It Isn't Broke...

    ... then you are missing the opportunity. two and half years ago, we asked ourselves the question: if we started all over again, how would we design nuun? would it be ...

  • Want to be in a RAGBRAI Video?

    Hey RAGBRAI Nation! We want to show off our 2016 merchandise and we want YOUR help! We are looking for a wide range of riders to be featured in an ...

  • RAGBRAI Lottery Results Are In!

    Did you make the cut? Do you know where you will be spending your vacation during the last full week of July 2016? Emails have been sent to those who ...

Latest Videos

  • RAGBRAI 2016 Jersey

  • Merchandise Monday! Riders Try on the 2016 RAGBRAI Jersey

  • Darrel Harken of Riceville said goodbye to his daughter Grace as she headed home on her bike. Moments later he and his other daughter Hannan stop at a car accident only to discover the woman who was hit by a car is Grace.

  • Where will RAGBRAI ride in 2016? See the full RAGBRAI XLIV route including overnight and stopover towns.

  • Register reporters talk with RAGBRAI founder John Karras about the announcement that RAGBRAI and the Des Moines Register were working to create a statue of Karras and fellow founder Don Kaul.

  • RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz talks about the southern Iowa 2016 route. "We haven't been to some of these towns in a long time!" he says.

  • Miss the live RAGBRAI 2016 overnight town announcement show? Join Kyle Munson, Michael Morain as they chat with RAGBRAI riders and towns vying for a spot on this year's route. And learn the overnight towns, of course!

  • Watch as RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz unveils the 2016 RAGBRAI overnight towns. The route is heading to the southern cities of Glenwood, Shenandoah, Creston, Leon, Centerville, Ottumwa, Washington and Muscatine.

  • Get the details on this year's RAGBRAI overnight towns in southern Iowa.

  • Join the "Tr3s" amigos for the 2016 BACooN ride June 18 on the Raccoon River Valley Trail. There will be a plethora of bacon.

Find us socially

Email Signup

Sign up for the latest RAGBRAI news and notes (if there is no news in a day, you won’t get an e-mail).

© 2016 RAGBRAI | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy