The Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa

Should SAG service remain free of charge for everyone?

Since it seems that more and more people are attending RAGBRAI with the notion, “if I can’t finish the distance each day, so what? I’ll just use the SAG wagon.” RAGBRAI states:

“SAG wagons do not provide taxi service from campground to campground, nor should riders make a habit of using them. If you aren’t in condition to ride the distance, you should not come on the ride. “

So here’s my question: Should SAG service be free for anyone regardless of the reason they are using the service? After all the cost of the SAG service (gas, driver, vehicle) comes out of the fees paid by those who register. Why should people who make an effort to attend RAGBRAI ready to ride the distance have to foot the bill for folks who really never intended to ride the distance in the first place? And just to be clear, I’m not saying if you’re injured, or your bicycle breaks down, or you come up lame or sick, that you should not have SAG available. I’m talking about folks like the guy on my bus last year on the way across the state bragging about having ridden only 40 miles before the event. Needless to say he was using the SAG big time. Shouldn’t he have to pay for the haul? Thoughts?

See you on the road.

67 Replies

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Kate, April 8, 2013 at 4:47 pm

I don’t think so. How is the organization to determine who is sick and who is faking? They need to have the SAG running regardless for those who do come up injured or sick. There will always be a percentage of people taking advantage of services. That’s the cost of offering it.



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murphymp, April 8, 2013 at 6:19 pm

I understand your point however I agree with Kate on it being a problem for Ragbrai to determine who is in real need and those who are not prepared to do the ride.

I enjoy the challenge of Ragbrai and don’t understand the need to turn a great ride in to a beer fest. Anyone can attend a festival in their home town. I don’t care if you drink your way across the state, but take some pride in doing the ride and not sagging the ride.



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KC, April 8, 2013 at 6:48 pm

While RAGBBRAI is certainly supposed to be for those people who are in good enough shape to ride the distance, it’s also supposed to be for the 70-year-old trying to challenge himself one last time and ride that heavy bike he’s had for years through Iowa. It’s supposed to be for the guy who weighted 330 pounds, worked his butt off for six months to get down to 250 and thinks he’s up to the challenge but will never know for sure unless he tries. It’s supposed to be about all kinds of people who are challenging themselves in many different ways.

If you discourage people like this from doing RAGBRAI, you are changing RAGBRAI, and not for the better (in my opinion). Yes, it’s a shame people abuse the SAG service, but it would be a bigger shame to punish them at the expense of the people who inspire others and are willing to put their necks out and try something that others may have told them is impossible. Don’t discourage these people, encourage them and make sure you have their backs. RAGBRAI has their backs in many ways, including by letting them know they have somebody who will help them if they come up short in meeting the personal goals they want to achieve. Someday, these very same people just might have your back, too.



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derek duncan, April 8, 2013 at 7:38 pm

PBV charges $25 per person per day to ride their sag for the day.
They stayed pretty busy last year.



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CyclingRoberto, April 8, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Who said anything about not helping someone who needs it? In fact, I said just the opposite. I’m referring to the clown who shows up thinking he will ride as far as he feels like it, then pull over and wait for the SAG wagon to haul his butt to the overnight town. As to determining if a person is really in need, it wouldn’t be all that difficult to access. Besides, if it was known that it might cost you $$$ to SAG, you might just tough it out. Finally, remember, there are only four SAG wagons for the entire event. And each one can only carry 15 cyclists. So if you think you might not be fit enough to do the ride, do as the DMR suggests, don’t come. To say this is discouraging people who want to challenge themselves is perverting the idea that you know up front you can’t do the mileage. I want everyone to challenge themselves, and if they can’t do it, then fine, get help. But don’t show up with little training, and expect to go out in July and ride 400+ miles in a week. Not going to happen. And the SAG should not be part of your plan. It’s your backup, not your ride. That’s what the bicycle is all about.

See you on the road.



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Sandaltan, April 8, 2013 at 8:32 pm

From what I have been told, mostly second and third hand information, riding the sag is not a quick ticket to the next overnight town. There have been days when some sag riders don’t arrive the overnight town until as late as seven, eight or even nine o’clock. That would be a horrible day for me. As to the question, I am sure there will be no change to the policy of registered riders being transported at no charge.




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shaggy, April 8, 2013 at 9:19 pm

How much less would your entry fee be if you didn’t have to pay the passage for these “clowns”? I’m guessing something in the neighborhood of $1. 10,000 riders x $1= $10,000. I bet sag for the week doesn’t cost more than that to pick up circus performers. How about this idea: put s scarlet “s” on their Ragbrai jersey so everyone knows?
Of course the good thing about clowns is that you can fit a whole bunch of them
into a very small car.



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SFC JKL2, April 8, 2013 at 9:27 pm

My understanding is that they work zones. It’s not an express ride to the end. It’s a ride to the next town where you will wait until the next ride comes along.If you just want a ride to the next overnight town, there are many easier options out there.



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knees36, April 8, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Sag service isn’t free and it isn’t for everyone. When you pay your registration fee part of that money goes for overall cost of Sag service in the event you will need it. No one is immune to the possiblility that they may need Sag service. Those who don’t pay a registration fee (riding “bandit”) soon discover that little tidbit if they should need the service. I would suggest that nearly all of the riders who need a sag are not clowns but suffered some misfortune (health problem, mechanical breakdown, miscalculation regarding what it takes to do this ride, etc.)that has prevented them from riding the full day. Those that abuse the service day after day are soon discovered. The Sag service is no panacea for riders who want to abuse the system but it is a valuable service for those who truly need it. No, I have never used it myself, but I’ve seen the Sag wagons out on the road well into the late afternoon when the majority of riders have made it into the overnight town and are eating, dancing, resting, etc. Ride strong, have fun and think positively of your neighbor on two wheels. Cheers. 😎



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LawnchairMan, April 9, 2013 at 12:01 am

Hi everyone. This is my first blog on this site.

I agree that SAG should be there when we need it, but not be abused. I haven’t SAGGED yet on two RAGBRAIs, but I know several RAGBRAI vets who had to use it last year. The continued heat took its toll.

I like Jef’s idea of the scarlet S. Tattooed on their forehead would be good.

Realistically, though could the SAG wagon scan our wrist bands? Then the first trip would be free, the second $15, the third $30, and so on. This would be for non-mechanical problems. If your bike is broken SAG should be free (to the nearest mechanic).



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CyclingRoberto, April 9, 2013 at 12:21 am

I like the scan idea. As for the scarlet S tattoo, I think a red rubber nose and big rubber feet would be more appropriate.

See you on the road.



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Michrider !!!, April 9, 2013 at 3:56 am

RAGBRAI is the kind of ride where you can lay down in the shade (if there is any) and rest until you feel like getting back on your bike. Waiting for a SAG (never done it) is pretty miserable, all by itself! It’s there for those that need it. It doesn’t give me heartburn that a few may abuse the service. Last year was not a “beer drinking” kind of ride, at least not for me. It was just too DAMN hot to drink, while out on the route. I saved my beer time for later!



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jwsknk, April 9, 2013 at 7:59 am

The sag wagons take off from the overnight towns at different times, about 1 hour apart I think, we had breakfast with one of the drivers one day that wasn’t starting until 9:00. Then they drive unti full before going to the next overnight, then they go back out and get behind the “closing time” of towns so there should always be at least 1 there when a town closes.

And it would be kind of easy to take down wrist band numbers and have an inters enter them into a database. I might give the first 2 before charging extra. maybe $10-15 a day.

Just hope last year isn’t the new normal for temps the last week of July, kind of dount it since this year is starting off so different. Last year I think the did just shuttle people ahead to larger vehicals but usually once you are on you are there until they reach the overnight except for mechanical issues. Then they will let you off at a repair shop



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KC, April 9, 2013 at 9:06 am

First, how on Earth can you distinguish the clowns from the legitimately injured? To even attempt to do so is insane unless you are going to have x-rays, doctors, and technicians riding with SAGs. I did something to my back, it hurts….now prove me wrong. My pedal broke off (are you going to check my backpack to see if it is in there?). So, the premise that you can distinguish between the people who really need the service vs. those using it as a taxi service is simply flawed from the start. (Also, as people say, it’s not necessarily a good taxi service. I understand there were eight-hour waits on Day 4 last year and that was at 3:00 p.m. People were not getting to the next town until midnight.)

Second, I know many people who could have done (and did) RAGBRAI last year with weather in the 100s. I know many who could have done (and did) Days 3 and 4 with massive headwinds. I know many who could have done the day with good weather. However, a few of those people may not have been able to do it with 106 degree weather and 30 mph headwinds after suffering two flat tires that morning and waiting in line at the bike repair shop until mid-morning like I did (and no, I did not use the SAG). So, not only would this be asking drivers to determine medical health and bike fitness, but you’re also asking riders to anticipate the weather and road conditions four months in advance???

In addition, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that charging some for a service, but not others, will raise all kinds of problems and red flags. That doesn’t even take into account that, depending on how you chose to administer the program, you may have to have drivers carry cash or take credit cards. Now you are just asking for theft of cash (by drivers or, worse yet, people robbing drivers) and/or identity theft. At the very least, you would have to have drivers carry scanners and require people to have a credit card on file with RAGBRAI – even those who paid cash. That would be a nightmare for teams and their leaders (because, as a team leader, you certainly aren’t using my credit card if you SAG) and RAGBRAI would have to hope the credit cards they have on file are valid four or five months later when a rider tries to charge a ride against it.

It also doesn’t take a genius to figure out that trying to embarrass people who use the SAG would discourage many, many, many of the very people RAGBRAI is built around from participating in it. I certainly don’t want to be the guy wearing a scarlet S on my helmet (and I’d just take it off, anyway).

All-in-all, while I agree with the premise that people are doing RAGBRAI and using the SAG service as transportation when they shouldn’t, solving the problem by attempting to charge them for SAG service is not feasible in the slightest, causes more problems than it solves, and would be a hindrance to many people who would be slightly challenging themselves by doing RAGBRAI.



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pmac, April 9, 2013 at 9:22 am

I’m with Kate amd KC. I understand and appreciate CR’s point. If you sign up for a weeklong bike ride, you should plan on riding your bike unless a real emergency prevents it. However, the idea of a SAG volunteer deciding who is sandbagging and who has an emergency (however you want to define that) will put an unreasonable burden on the volunteer to make that call. As for scanning the bands and charging after a certain number of SAG uses, when and how are you going to charge the person who claims to need the SAG? That seems like a logistic nightmare to me, all things considered.



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