RAGBRAI LI Day Passes are still available!

Des Moines going big for first visit since 1997

  • 17 July, 2013
  • Emily Schettler
Des Moines prepares for overnight stop

Des Moines prepares for overnight stop

The impending arrival of thousands of bicyclists into Iowa’s capital city means hundreds of hours of preparation for local business owners and others providing food, lodging and entertainment for RAGBRAI participants.

On Des Moines’ west side, Dereck Lewis and his staff at Thelma’s are making more than 1,500 chocolate chip and snickerdoodle ice cream sandwiches. Downtown, employees at Raygun are printing hundreds of cycling-themed T-shirts and event organizers have ordered 19,000 bottles of water to sell Tuesday when the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa rolls into town.

“This is a chance to show the world that Des Moines can throw a world-class event,” said Chris Diebel operations chairman for the Des Moines RAGBRAI committee. “That could help put us on the short list for hosting other major events down the road.”

RAGBRAI last traveled through Des Moines in 1997. Next week’s overnight stop offers a unique opportunity to show off some of the major changes the city has undergone in the past 16years, particularly downtown, Diebel said.

An estimated 10,000 people take part in the weeklong bike ride across Iowa each July, but officials said Des Moines could welcome a record of more than 32,000 participants Tuesday. Couple that with non-riders headed downtown to enjoy the festivities and organizers say crowds could swell to 40,000 or more.

“It’s important to be a good host and show them what they can do to enjoy themselves while they’re in the city,” said Glenn Lyons, President and CEO of the Downtown Community Alliance. “Between the hospitality at the campground and along the route and the big event downtown on the Riverwalk, I think there will be lots of things to do in addition to our normal fare.

The ride starts Sunday in Council Bluffs and makes its way across Iowa before moving into Des Moines on Tuesday.

Festivities planned

Local businesses, city staff, event organizers and others are scrambling to pull together all the loose ends before the mob of cyclists arrives. Tuesday’s relatively short 49.9-mile ride from Perry to Des Moines has people anticipating riders will make their entrance early.

Riders will be greeted in West Des Moines with a “Totally Tubular Tuesday” street party that begins at 10 a.m.

Three blocks of Valley Junction will be closed for live music, food, and even a flash mob put together by the Historic Valley Junction Foundation and CoOportunity Health.

Like a lot of businesses, the Tavern restaurant will be fully staffed and has purchased twice the amount supplies it would normally need on for a weekday.

The pizza place is open for all popular Valley Junction events during the summer, but general manager Nate Erickson said he expects Tuesday to be among the busiest.

“We plan on being a madhouse from the time we open until the time the crowd dies,” Erickson said.

Orlondo’s Bar and Grill at the corner of Park Avenue and George Flagg Parkway expects to be open 24 hours to accommodate the estimated 10,000 riders camping at nearby Water Works Park, bartender Bridgette Bobb said. “They’re riding right down Park and we’re going to be bombarded,” she said.

Orlando’s staff have prepared 2,000 Jell-O and Fireball shots in advance, and although they’ll stop selling alcohol at 2 a.m. Wednesday, they’ll have fresh pizza through the night. “We’re going to keep serving until everyone leaves,” Bobb said.

Meanwhile, at the RAGBRAI Events Village downtown, the motto is go big or go home.

“We’re going to throw the biggest, best RAGBRAI party Iowa has ever seen,” Diebel said.

300-plus volunteers

The area along the Court Avenue and Walnut Street bridges, Water Street and Principal Riverwalk will be lined with 68 vendors, including 16food operators as well as nonprofit organizations, retailers and the bike expo.

Eight bars, two beer gardens, a wine pavilion and a craft beer tent with 23 brews will be available to keep adults happy. For families, a tour of the World Food Prize building, a visit to the new RAGBRAI exhibit at the Iowa Historical Museum and a trip through the East Village are all options, Diebel said.

The whole operation will be managed by an army of more than 300 volunteers. Charities that provided volunteers to manage the bars will receive $500 and any tips they earn.

There will be live music starting at 11 a.m. The Summerland Tour Concert, featuring Everclear, Live, Filter and Sponge, is scheduled to begin at 7p.m.

A free shuttle will run between the Water Works Park campgrounds and downtown from 10:30 a.m. Tuesday to 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

All of the festivities are open to riders and non-riders alike. The organizing committee raised more than $100,000 from corporate sponsors. “City leaders made it clear it’s very important we have a completely free event that everyone can enjoy,” Diebel said.


Lots of work is underway across the Des Moines area to prepare for the 10,000-plus riders who will roll into the city.


Des Moines street crews have worked for several weeks filling pot holes and sealing cracks along the 8.5-miles of road RAGBRAI riders will take through the city.

The route will get a final cleaning Friday to make sure it’s free of debris, Public Works Director Pat Kozitza said.

He rode the route through the Des Moines 16 years ago and developed a “real appreciation for the condition our streets needed to be in.”

Des Moines Water Works Park looks pretty empty now, but on Tuesday, the 1,600 acre park will be inundated with tents, bicycles and team buses.

Shower trucks with 75 shower heads and 80 port-a-potties will arrive next week.

So far, local preparation has been minimal, said Scott Atzen, supervisor of grounds and facility security for Des Moines Water Works.

One thing Atzen’s grateful for: dry land.

“A couple months ago this area was completely underwater,” he said. “We were definitely worried.”


Riders will be treated to a “fair-well” breakfast Wednesday as they leave Des Moines and make their way to Knoxville.

The crush of cyclists will make their way through the Iowa State Fairgrounds and ride along the Grand Concourse where several vendors will serve fair staples.

Jalapeno Pete’s, Steer and Stein, Diamond Jack’s and others will all be serving breakfast for hungry riders.

Campbell’s Concessions will open the Depot and its corn dog and lemonade stands.

The company has been a part of past RAGBRAI stops downtown. Now they’ll get to do it on their home turf.

“It’s going to be fun,” Helen Little of Campbell’s said.


Cyclists will pack many Des Moines-area hotel rooms Tuesday night, including those at the Renaissance Des Moines Savery, which sits just blocks from the downtown festivities.

“Rooms went very quickly when they found out it was in Des Moines,” said Barbara Eslick, director of sales and marketing for the hotel, which has 212 rooms.

Other operators around downtown and near the airport reported having rooms available in the week leading up to RAGBRAI.

Some said it appears roughing it at the campgrounds and staying with family, friends and host families will trump shelling out money for a comfortable bed and a warm — or cool — shower for many cyclists.

The Hyatt Place Des Moines/Downtown, for instance, typically sells out all 93 rooms Monday through Wednesday to business travelers, director of sales Ryan Moore said.

Only about 10 of next Tuesday’s rooms are booked for a single night, he said.

“I just think people probably aren’t willing to spend $189 on a hotel room and would rather have the full experience and just camp out,” Moore said.

— Emily Schettler


West Des Moines: Railroad Avenue will be closed between First and Eighth streets after Tuesday’s morning rush hour through later in the evening.

Fifth Street will be closed from Railroad Avenue to Walnut Street and portions of Maple and Elm streets near Fifth will be closed Tuesday.

Des Moines: The following roads will be closed from Monday at noon to Wednesday at noon: Court Avenue west of Water Street to East First Street. Walnut Street to the alley south of Court. East First from Walnut to Court.

On Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. the following roads will be closed: The southbound lanes of 63rd Street from Railroad Avenue to Thornton Avenue; northbound lanes will carry two-way motor vehicle traffic. Park Avenue from Southwest 63rd Street to Southwest 56th Street. George Flagg Parkway from Park Avenue to Southwest 30th Street. The eastbound lanes of Park Avenue between Southwest 56th and George Flagg Parkway will be open to traffic and cyclists will ride in the westbound lanes.

On Wednesday from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. the following roads will be closed: Northbound lanes of Fleur Drive from Gray’s Lake to Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway; southbound lanes will be open to traffic. Eastbound lanes of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway from Fleur Drive to East Sixth Street; westbound lanes will be open for traffic. East Sixth from Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway to Walnut Street. Walnut from East Sixth Street to East 30th Street. Dean Avenue from East 30th to east city limits.

Pleasant Hill: No roads will be closed, but motorists should expect delays and use caution along Fairview Drive near South Pleasant Hill Boulevard, Parkridge Avenue, S.E. Sixth Street, 68th Street and Vandalia Road.


A look at Des Moines’ preparation for RAGBRAI:

287 — The number of Raygun’s “Des Moines: Even better in spandex” T-shirts sold as of Tuesday morning.

60 — Approximate number of families and organizations hosting riders overnight.

216 — Portable toilets that will be set up for cyclists and others who venture downtown for the RAGBRAI party.

30 — Police officers stationed along the route, on the campgrounds and at the downtown Events Village. That’s an entire patrol shift. Other officers will work 12-hour days to cover the rest of the city.

19,000 — Bottles of water the RAGBRAI committee will have at the Events Village.

$500 — Amount, plus tips, charities receive for managing each of the eight bars at the RAGBRAI Events Village.

75 — Shower heads that will be set up in five trucks at the Water Works campsite. Showers are $5 for those with wristbands and $6 for those without one. Towels will cost $1.

$100,000 — Corporate donations raised to help cover the cost of hosting RAGBRAI in the capital city.

2,000 — Jell-O and Fireball shots being made in advance at Orlondo’s Bar and Grill.

1,500 — Ice cream sandwiches Thelma’s will have available. The cookie and treat company is known for its chocolate chip and snickerdoodle varieties.

500 — Free breakfast burritos that Andersen Corp. will hand out to riders.

8.5 miles of road — Des Moines Public Works crews are inspecting, repairing and cleaning.


See the exhibit that tells the story of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa and bicycling in the state.

WHAT: “Riding Through History” exhibit opening July 19.

WHERE: State Historical Museum, 600 E. Locust St. in Des Moines

WHEN: The museum is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 4:30p.m. Sundays. It is closed holidays.

COST: Admission is free.

MORE: The museum will host “PedalPalooza” on July 23 from 9 a.m. to 5p.m. Besides the new exhibit, attractions include bands, food vendors, presentations and kid-friendly activities.

1 Comment

  1. Rangermutt

    You missed a RAGBRAI BY THE NUMBERS fact – the number of bicycles that will be stolen while overnighting in Des Moines.

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