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

Advertisement

Latest Blog Posts

  • 15 RAGBRAI photos: The food

  • 12 RAGBRAI photos: Getting wet and wild on the route

  • 69 Photos: The best of RAGBRAI

  • Another (adjective) RAGBRAI comes to a close

    Davenport — This is the 43rd article about tire-dipping at the end of the Register’s 43rd Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. So unless you’re new to Iowa or RAGBRAI, you ...

  • Video: Bud's gift to RAGBRAI

    “This is my gift to you guys,” said pool owner Bud Henson whose house is right along the RAGBRAI route this year in Moscow, Iowa. Not a rider himself, Henson ...

  • Video: First time RAGBRAI rider experiences Iowa on two wheels

    First time RAGBRAI rider Gina Fish talks about her experiences in Iowa on two wheels.  

  • Munson: Summing up the trends, tastes and good people of RAGBRAI 2015

      Davenport, Ia. — If I rode RAGBRAI for no other reason than to pedal myself ravenous and then enjoy a roadside breakfast of Amish gooseberry pie a la Mode, I ...

  • Munson: He will end RAGBRAI with canoe dip and float away

      Struggling uphill on RAGBRAI feels like enough of a chore near the end of the ride. But Forrest Ward of Marion has given his fellow bicyclists far less room to complain ...

  • What to look for Saturday on RAGBRAI

    A forecast and a few things to expect on the final day of RAGBRAI XLIII

  • Viking-helmeted Ankeny man rides RAGBRAI

    Eric White, 49, of Ankeny cycled almost 400 miles this week while wearing a Viking helmet glued on top of his bike helmet. White, riding in his ninth RAGBRAI, had a ...

Latest Videos

  • "This is my gift to you guys," said pool owner Bud Henson whose house is right along the RAGBRAI route this year in Moscow, IA.

  • First time RAGBRAI rider experiences Iowa on two wheels.

  • All Ability Cycles gives bicycle rides to residents of the Hiawatha Care Center on Friday, July 24, 2015. The group gives rides to senior residents along the RAGBRAI route.

  • Jabara the camel stole the show in Mount Vernon for RAGBRAI.

  • DM Register scribes scarf more rhubarb cream pie than NPR!

  • Tony Ron, of Fort Dodge, sells jewelry made of recycled bicycle spokes to pay for a flight and visa to Ecuador.

  • Patty Ankrum explains a project in Mount Vernon to take advantages of the thousands of RAGBRAI cyclists passing through.

  • Hundreds of riders flock to Team Google's complimentary charging tent set up in the RAGBRAI meetup town.

  • Taking advantage of a creek that runs through Shellsberg, the Air Force RAGBRAI team held their own mini-triathlon to stay cool in the water.

  • Massage therapist restoring riders' muscles

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).

© 2015 RAGBRAI | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy