RAGBRAI LI Route Announced on Jan. 27!

13 year old rider

Hello all. I’ve riden I. The last two RAGBRAI’s and am always impressed with the wide range of riders in both age and fitness levels.

My 12 year old son (13 by time of next RAGBRAI)wants to ride with me next year. He enjoys cycling, and I think it would b a great experi nice to share with him, but I’m wondering is it too soon?

This summer he earned the Boy Scout’s cycling merit badge (50 mile ride) and did really well.

The way I described the ride to Tyler was “when you look back after the ride is done you realize it’s a great week long event that is a lot of fun. But somewhere in that week you may a have a day (or 2) where you are really tired and wondering why you are doing this crazy thing, but you still have to get on the bike and ride all day to get to the next town”.

My thoughts are if we do this I’d want him to complete a couple of weekends with back to back long rides as well as the normal 800-1200 miles of training.

I’d love to hear from people that have taken their kids on the ride, and from people who experienced seeing kids in camp and on the ride. And, from those that Brought kids on the ride, what I can expect and what kind of training you did.



15 Replies

JLVanPelt, November 20, 2016 at 9:35 am

I think once you get past 12 yrs of age, the chronological age matters less than the mental and emotional maturity. If he’s been in scouting, my guess is that he has the discipline and work ethic of someone a bit older. I think your mileage plan sounds good. We took our 15 yr old out for a couple of days last year. Here are some things I’d recommend: #1 Seat time. Cardiovascular and muscle health for the average active teen aged boy will give them a strong base but they need time in the seat wearing bike shorts. #2 Heat training. The humidity and heat of July in Iowa brings its own challenge so make sure he gets miles in the hottest part of the day. #3 Nutrition/hydration. Our teen runs xc so he’s a huge fan of pickles and pickle shots. Experiment in advance with the different hydration drinks to ensure his digestive system can handle it. Weird how someone who can eat pizza and oreos may not handle a Gatorade. Practice long rides and let him fuel the way he wants on one long ride and then the way he should on a different day so he can experience first hand the difference. He’ll quickly get it. #4 Crowd training. If you can take him on group rides where he can learn to ride just inches away from others, that would be best. Otherwise, have him practice riding next to a curb, follow a white line on a bike path and other activities that will help him learn steady steering and keep him from getting anxious when surround by thousands of other cyclists. #5 Surface training. Make sure all of his rides aren’t on baby bottom smooth surfaces. Cross train tracks, ride asphalt patches, get on a little gravel and find some bumps. As you know, terrain on the ride changes. If he’s experienced these things (rumbles), he won’t panic and he’ll know how his bike responds and how to manage the changes. #6 Courtesy training. Make sure he’s using all the correct verbal and hand signals on all his rides. Explain to him the things he’ll hear on the ride: slowing, biker on, biker off. How to dismount and re-enter safely. The invisible 3 lanes of the right hand lane. #7 Hill repeats. I did a hill session on a 100 ft climb close to my house weekly. I started with 6 hills in a session and worked my way up to 10. Best thing I did for myself. #8 Plan some down time after the ride. Teens need some quiet recharging. We charged a battery charging pack during the day to power and recharge our phones at night. He’ll want to check his social media, chat with friends and reconnect with the world outside.

Our 15 yr old got a little bored at night hanging out with us at the downtowns. He’s a level headed, mature kid that we can let roam a bit. We gave him a little cash to find his own food, shop, explore and made sure texting worked or identified a meeting point/time. We wished that he had known another teen out there. I would suggest seeing if you can get a friend with a teen to join you or maybe start a forum topic just to have teens “meet” (bike pen pals) so that they have a friend out there they can connect with in July and hang out a bit. If you’ll be in a charter, maybe your charter can facilitate teens meeting virtually before July.

Our teen is considering re-joining us this year for a longer stint. It was a lot of fun to have him and I think it’s a great way to see and appreciate the beauty of his state. We know people in their 20s and 30s that started riding with family in their teens and they cherish the memories and are still avid cyclists who hope to do the same with their kids one day. –Julie


KenH, November 21, 2016 at 8:29 am

There are several threads like this every year, if you search for them you can find a lot of stories. But I’m not sure how well the search function works, come to think of it. Anyway, here is one from late enough last year that I can still remember it and also find it:



Sunflower, November 21, 2016 at 12:22 pm

I can be of assistance.

My son is 12 and completed his 8th RAGBRAI last summer. He’ll be 13 this year as well.

The sort of training you’re talking about will be plenty to ensure he’s ready. My son completed his 7th ride with no training at all. He said he didn’t want to do that again halfway through the 80 hilly miles into Storm Lake. I got much less guff about getting out for training rides this year.

I’ve found that 300 miles of training with one or two 45 miles rides is plenty for my son. Our standard ride is 23 miles with some decent Iowa hills. 500 miles gets him into good enough shape to ride a bit faster. He’s more of a fan of RAGBRAI than riding his bike so I don’t bother getting him anymore fit than required to enjoy the week. My son’s attention span has always made a day on RAGBRAI look more like six 10 mile rides instead of one 60 mile ride. Its not that challenging for a 12 year old to ride six 10 mile rides in a day.

Be sure that he’s eating enough. Kids’ appetite can drop off strangely under RAGBRAI’s conditions. A bonked 13 year old on a hot day is going to be a bummer.
Cliff bars in the bag are a must.

The only real challenge you’re going to face is extreme conditions. A really bad headwind or cold rain is going to test a child’s mettle. Adults can suffer for hours, kids not so much but of course that varies with the child. Mine has yet to face truly miserable conditions that went on long enough to cause a meltdown that ruined the day. Use the weather radar on your smart phone to try to avoid thunderstorms and cold rain as much as possible. Don’t hesitate to wait until noon to start or to leave very early and find a place to ride out a mid day storm.

I spent a lot of time teaching my boy to confidently ride a very straight line. He’s a solid pace line rider and has been since he was 9. People grouch about pacelines on RAGBRAI but when the road is crowded the whole ride is a de facto pace line. He needs to be comfortable in tight traffic and know how to avoid fixating on the wheel in front of him by keeping his head up and eyes moving.

I’ve met a father who started his kids out on RAGBRAI on their own bikes when they were 5 and 6 and they were almost immediately riding the century loops. His youngest girl is a machine. 13 year old boys that like to ride aren’t going to have any issue at all. My son did 3 days at 8 and enjoyed every minute of it. At 9 we went self-contained and had no problems.

If you think he’d do well with someone his age to ride with let me know, I’m sure my son would be up for company his age.


CyclingCyclone, November 21, 2016 at 3:44 pm

I was 13 when I rode my first RAGBRAI in 1983, and had a blast. Even though I went with my friend, and his dad as our chaperone, I never saw them until camp that night as they were always hours behind me. By Thursday in Grundy Center they dropped out, and left me to decide if I wanted to continue the last 2 days. 105 miles to Manchester, and 45 to Dubuque. I chose to ride.
RAGBRAI at that early age taught me a lot about myself, my limits, and self-reliance. Most of my training rides were comprised of riding north of Ames to Gilbert and back, a whopping 10-15 mile round trip. Made a solo ride of about 70 miles a few weeks before RAGBRAI which gave me all the confidence I needed to know I could finish.
Rode that first RAGBRAI on a bike my Grandfather bought at a police auction for 5 dollars. By the end of the ride, spokes were breaking, and the rear-der cable broke. I was hooked, and would only miss one ride since then.
RAGBRAI became sort of like summer camp for me and my friends. In fact, after 33 RAGBRAI’s, it’s still like summer camp.


Luv 2 Ski, November 21, 2016 at 3:54 pm


As most have said physically your son should be fine especially with the amount of training you plan to do. Mentally and emotionally is the key question and only you can judge that. What kind of bike does he have? I am an advocate of a road bike for this ride and would recommended that as the bike of choice. While many do it on other types of bikes nothing rolls along like a road bike. A road bike allows for less work between towns regardless of how fast, or how slow, you ride.

I took my then 14 year in 2014. We rode a tandem together so I did not have to worry about his riding ability in crowds. That is something that your son should get exposure to prior to RAGBRAI. Join in some of the large local bike rides in your area for your training.

Probably the most important thing I learned was to follow his lead on how long to stay in towns, what to do while in the towns, and what to do at night. I was just along for the ride when it came to that. I did present our options but he made the final choice for the most part. My son tended to want to rest a little and then move on. We did not hang in any pass through towns for hours on end. Longest stop that year was at the Surf Ball Room, about 2 1/2 hours.

I would also recommend having a conversation about pacing oneself, and that RAGBRAI is not a race. Kids can tend to go out too fast at the beginning of rides and this could lead to disaster down the road. Especially important when riding 7 days straight and close to 500 miles.

In 2014 I pretty much dictated pace but that was due to riding the tandem. My son was very strong so we were very compatible. I assume you will both ride singles so you may have to ride at his pace unless you are totally comfortable with letting him go on his own.

This year my son and I will be riding on singles. He will be 17 by then, and he is much bigger than me now. It will be interesting to see who has to keep up with whom. I think I will be up to that challenge, and will not be ashamed if I have to tuck in behind him and take a break once in awhile.

Have fun riding with your son. He will remember the experience of riding RAGBRAI with you for the rest of his life.


Sunflower, November 21, 2016 at 5:13 pm

There are all sorts of opportunities to make memories with your kids on RAGBRAI. Let It Snow makes a great point- let your kids make some decisions about what to do every day. Mike wanted to stop at the Air Power Museum and since I’m a fan of all things aviation it was a no-brainer. We wandered around for an hour and ended up at the card table where the barnstormers were taking names for a ride. Turned out to be a 20 minute wait so, what the heck….


Here he is near the end of the week when he was 10:


This year I plan on handling things like Cyduke’s dad did- if Mike wants a 20 and spend the day riding his own ride I’m fine with it.


Jboz, November 23, 2016 at 7:45 pm

My son’s (Bozlet #1) first RAGBRAI was 2012 (very, very hot). He was 13 at the time. He had virtually no meaningful saddle time, but I knew that he was extremely mentally tough. I was right…he powered through every day, every mile. I have another son (Bozlet #2), about 1 1/2 years younger, and I would never take him on RAGBRAI unless we had done the requisite training. Bozlet #1 can sleep on a bed of broken glass and not say a word. Bozlet #2 likes his creature comforts, and sleeping on the ground would get old for him after about 10 minutes.

Both are great kids, but they are night and day different. The key is to know well ahead of time whether then can handle it. It’s a tough slog at some points. If a kid can be a bit of a whiner, then it will be a very long week for both of you.

One other piece of advice for the OP or anyone else considering letting a child do this ride. Cycling is obviously your thing, or else you wouldn’t be on this forum. But make sure cycling is really their thing before you commit them to RAGBRAI. If they are doing it because you kind of pushing the idea, or they aren’t really into it but they are trying to please you, it might not go well. A two day training ride of 50 to 60 miles per day, and with overnight camping will tell you everything you need to know.


Sunflower, November 24, 2016 at 3:59 pm

JBoz has a great point. There’s at least one more sort of kid- the whiney party animal. My kid can whine with the best of them but he doesn’t whine about, or on, RAGBRAI.

It makes me smile.


Tim Richardson, December 3, 2016 at 4:18 pm

I’m signing my 13-year old up. He’s excited, riding group rides already but he needs more saddle time.

Great advice on this thread.

On Registration, does the birthdate default to the adult? I can’t seem to get the Ragbrai website to show his birthdate (2003)?



RDaryl Daryl, December 3, 2016 at 10:18 pm

The RAGBRAI website gives step-by-step instructions under “REGISTRATION” then selecting “Submit a Ride Entry for a Minor”
Here is a link to the PDF


Bill Barry, December 8, 2016 at 8:53 pm

Thanks for all the feedback.


Steven Hardy, December 29, 2016 at 2:21 pm

I’ve done the last 2 rides with my grandson. He was 7 in 2015; 8 in 2016. He rode his own bike, and made it river to river both years. If a kid is a bike rider (i.e. simply rides all the time around town, to swimming pool, etc.) there’s no problem stamina-wise. I did take him to Ledges State Park to show hi what he’d be seeing for hills. On the ride, my only problem was keeping him moving. We were not only one of the slower ones on the road, but kids that young like to stop and check out every single thing. Our typical day was probably 10+ hours. I’d imagine a 13 year old might not be as bad as my 7-8 year old. Over the course of the week, I did notice the energy level dropping in the later parts of the day. But he loved it, and it looks like he’s not gonna let me out of any future RAGBRAI.



Sunflower, December 31, 2016 at 5:42 pm




Pirate Brewer, January 2, 2017 at 12:07 pm

My son did RAGBRAI with me for his first time when he was 14. All the advice here is excellent. Get him used to communicating with other riders and also listening for communications. It should be practiced until it becomes a habit for him. I’m sure he knows how to apply sunblock before it is needed and make regular use of a chap stick with some sun protection.

My biggest worry was getting separated from my son. To address that we set up communications using walkie talkies because cell phone are not reliable. Also we pre-arranged meeting locations. Our meeting location was at the close edge of the next town, on right side of road, prior to the crowd getting too thick. Once you are that close the walkie talkies should be in range if you do not see each other. It came in handy a couple times.

Teach him how to find the first aid stations in case he needs help without you. Also instruct him on how to find your camp site on his own in case he needs to do that once. Let him take the lead with you on the first night so he learns.

Don’t forget to have fun. You will both remember the first RAGBRAI together for the rest of your lives.


flyinbrian, January 11, 2017 at 4:37 am

I rode my first Ragbrai at age 12. He’ll be fine if he likes riding. Based on his merit badge I’d say he’s good to go. From my experience the younger riders don’t suffer those couple of bad days as much. They tend to recover more overnight than older folks. Good luck and have fun.


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