RAGBRAI LI Route Announced on Jan. 27!

2018 Hills

A few years back a gal on the forum was concerned with how steep the hills would be that year. I couldn’t tell her very well at that time, but I have recently found a tool that helps. It’s called “Ride with GPS at http://www.ridewithgps.com. This program can be used to plot a course. This will show distance, feet of climb and an elevation chart. I have been using this for a while, but just found a button on the bottom left that says grade. Clicking this shows the grade at any point of the ride. I was really excited at first, but then realized that it is not as accurate as I had thought. For example I have just done a 125 mile ride in California that showed a hill with an 8% grade for about half a mile. When I got there my Garmin said it was 10% for nearly a mile. On another ride, Ride with GPS said there was a 3% grade where it was actually flat. So, it would be best to test it on a ride you know.

I have plotted the days of Ragbrai 2018 and thought I would give you highlights of what I found. There are certainly more hills than I mention, but these are the steepest of the day. This is what I got from Ride with GPS, so with my example in mind I believe they are a little steeper.

Day 1 6.3 at mile 13, and another at mile 37.
Day 2 3.9 at mile 2
Day 3 5.0 at mile 35, and 6.9 at mile 44
Day 4 3.7 at mile 53, and the same at mile 57
Day 5 3.6 at mile 25, 4.2 at mile 60, and 4.0 at mile 102 Obviously with the Karras loop
Day 6 3.6 at mile 5, and at mile 37
Day 7 4.0 at mile 48, and 4.9 at mile 56

Many of you will scoff at a 3.6% grade. I point these out because if they are proportionally as accurate as my example, then a 3.6 would really be 4.5%. A four percent grade is about where I have to start working on my recumbent. In any case, these are the steepest of the day. Doesn’t look anything like the hill in Ottumwa. Certainly no Potter’s Hill this year.

Of course we can’t forget about what the weather will do to us! May the tailwinds be with you!

21 Replies

Anonymous, March 25, 2018 at 11:12 am

I’ve used mapmyride for the past three or four years to pre-calculate lots of rides. On yet-to-be-ridden routes, I have found that MMR under-estimates elevations by anywhere from 5-30%. This is true of the elevations that RAGBRAI publishes on their Day-ride Route Details pages.

I pre-mapped them as they were published. That first day, MMR had a 7% grade at that 13 mile marker you mention.

Here’s a link:



LawnchairMan, March 25, 2018 at 6:39 pm


Thanks for the link and the confirmation of mile 13. I suspect it will be closer to 7.5%, but remember there are three kinds of people in this world: those who can count and those who can’t.


KenH, March 25, 2018 at 8:00 pm

When they do the pre ride in June they will probably comment on any significant hills. Looking at max grades from online data does not tell you a lot because the length of the grade is a vital factor in determining how difficult it is on paper and of course the wind and the heat must be considered to determine how difficult it will be on any given day. Even your Garmin data is suggestive rather than dependable. Your Garmin display is heavily filtered with respect to time to eliminate moment by moment fluctuations due to wind noise, etc and while it may report the total ascent and descent numbers with pretty good accuracy it will not catch a peak grade unless that peak is hit and held for a while. Five seconds, ten, twenty, I’d just be guessing if I gave you an actual number but it has to be in that range based on the results I get from some short steep hills I ride frequently. I don’t even get the same peak grade result from my Garmin every time I ride them and I have never seen the number I know to be correct from other means.

The hills in Iowa tend to be the death of a thousand cuts more than a single killer blow. The big hills that Iowa has are hills that almost anyone could climb successfully if they believe they can and they know how to use their gears. From watching others on hills at RAGBRAI I am convinced that a lot of people fall down on that second point. They don’t know how to use their gears effectively and potentially some of them don’t know how to shift them at all! Those hills the last day of last year were cat 4’s by the online numbers but if you do the work to find the gear that works for your condition at the moment and then just dig in and grind them out they are over soon enough and they make a fine story to tell the grandkids!


LawnchairMan, March 25, 2018 at 9:26 pm

Ken, you are absolutely correct that online data does not show everything, and the cumulative effect of several small hills adds. For example, my recent ride on a ten percent grade nearly killed me after the 110 miles to get there. On shorter rides it was work, but not a killer. I don’t believe in my Garmin as Gospel, but several in my cycle club agree on local grades. I trust Garmin more than I do Ride with GPS. I just put the program out as an indicator. If people map their local rides they can compare the results. Certainly they should consider other factors too.

You sound like you know more than I about how GPS works. Can you explain how wind noise affects global tracking? Thanks!


higdonx5, March 25, 2018 at 11:39 pm

Knowing too much about the hills really psychs me out! I’d rather just take them as they come. I really don’t want to know that the next hill is the biggest one of the day.


montestaples, March 26, 2018 at 12:13 pm

A few years ago coming into Indianola there was a sign at the bottom of a short steep hill. It said “one more hill”. I thought, “OK, lets see what I got left.” and I blasted up the hill and burned out my legs. I soon learned the sign meant one more hill after this one. A sick joke if you ask me. I barely made it up the next hill and nearly fell over. I learned: Never ever ever believe locals or a sign put up by non-bikers, or any sign about hills for that matter. Just take em as they come. On a really long steep hill do not look at the top of the hill especially if there is a turn at the top because it can psyche you out when you turn and see it still going up. Just look 20 feet ahead and keep saying “I can make it to there.” over and over and over.


Alan_50501, March 26, 2018 at 12:16 pm

I have a gps I have on my bike it tells me the % going up or down need to see how to get route programmed into it


KenH, March 26, 2018 at 12:46 pm

Unless they have improved it recently GPS is notoriously poor for altitude data. Most of the better Garmins use a barometric pressure sensor to determine altitude and those are susceptible to wind noise. The filtering that removes the noise gives you very good altitude data when stationary and it seems to record total gains and losses well while moving but it does not capture moment by moment grade numbers accurately.

The last time we went to Coralville there were between 5 and 10 groups of locals at the tops of hills cheerfully telling you this was the last hill before town. All of them were lying. Iowans are wonderful people, lying about hills seems to be their one vice.


RDaryl Daryl, March 26, 2018 at 1:14 pm

The Hill 2006


RDaryl Daryl, March 26, 2018 at 1:15 pm

The Hill 2006


mclousing, March 26, 2018 at 3:20 pm

I am sorry but the gold standard for hills in my opinion is potters hill, if it is not that behemoth whith up to 21% grade (according to my garmin with the barometric altimeter) it is just a hill


T. Gap Woo, March 26, 2018 at 4:29 pm

During Ragbrai week, I try to disconnect from technology as much as possible — no internet, no GPS, no tv news, etc. I use the cell phone only to contact Mrs Woo, my support driver, as needed.

The plastic route maps, given out at the Expo, suit me just fine. I don’t need a GPS. As Daddy Woo used to say, “Wherever you go, that’s where you are!”

I also eschew the fancy-schmancy electronic gizmos that compute grades, hills etc. A simple odometer/speedometer works for me. As far as not knowing how steep a hill is, it doesn’t really matter to me. As long as I am physically and mentally prepared, there’s no hill I can’t handle (or walk!). As Daddy Woo also used to say, “The HILL with it!”

See you along the I-O-Way in July.


W Fanning, March 26, 2018 at 7:35 pm

Lot’s of great comments here.. I’m not afraid of any hill.. at the top is a great view or a great downhill.. one crank at a time… there’s no such thing.. as a bad bike ride.. especially in IOWA.. The people, the places, the friendships, the bond.. the memories.. worthy of a lifetime… isn’t that the reason we come back…


Bentongoing, March 27, 2018 at 11:44 am

It’s just a hill.
Get over it!


Chris Harbaugh, March 28, 2018 at 12:10 pm

What the hill did you just do there?


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