A Beginner's Guide to RAGBRAI

I’ve been on 7 RAGBRAI’s so far and always wanted to help out virgins with tips about RAGBRAI before they ride. I’ve learned a lot over the years and wanted to share this information with others. I finally got it all typed up and posted to a blog. Hope this helps out some people!

https://guide2ragbrai.wordpress.com/

30 Replies

Ken, January 1, 2016 at 6:31 pm

Hi, djdingo,

Thanks, pretty good guide. I am a six time rider. Just a couple of comments to add: 1. You can still get sunburn on an overcast day. 2. You recommend carrying a spare tire, I’m sure you meant spare inner tube. 3. Totes would be nice but not allowed on the Register truck nor most charters.

Thanks again,

Ken

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jelly0317, January 1, 2016 at 11:29 pm

Good article, but I have four comments: (1) When using the Register truck, one doesn’t “have to find it in mountains of bags”. The RAGBRAI crew does a good job of spreading out the bags, which are grouped by the time they were loaded on the truck. I’ve used the truck exclusively since 1983 and have always found my bag in minutes. (2) Sleeping “next to hundreds of strangers” is somewhat misleading. It’s not difficult to find a campsite relatively far from other tents. (3) Never in my thirty-plus years of RAGBRAIs have I suffered from “cankles”. (4) Four big towels is at least three more than I’ve ever needed. That’s the best thing about the ride: there are so many ways to do it.

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djdingo, January 2, 2016 at 9:42 am

Ken: 1. I’ve heard that too but I’ve never gotten sunburn on an overcast day and I get sunburned easily. Maybe I’m lucky? 2. Yes, spare tube, got that changed. 3. I did not know that about totes, got that changed, thanks for the info!

Jelly: 1. I didn’t know that, good to hear! 2. I think I was thinking of Pork Belly Ventures, where all the tents are the same and the only difference is the number labeled on them. 3. No cankles? Luck you! 4. I used to bring 4 big towels because it’s hard to keep them dry and they end up stinking so bad. I just got one of those shammie towels for Christmas and I’ve heard that’s all you need to bring on RAGBRAI. Can’t wait to try it out, it takes up so little room!

Ken & jelly, thanks for the feedback! I’ve updated it to reflect the changes.

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KenH, January 2, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Excellent job! I would offer the following second opinions on a few points for your consideration:

In terms of training RAGBRAI is going to be unlike any ride you are likely to have experienced in terms of the density of cyclists on the road with you. There will be times when it will be like driving on an urban highway during rush hour. In fact it will approach that continuously for the whole week! So if there are any big rides near you in the months before RAGBRAI I encourage you to sign up for at least one to get a feel for how it is to ride in traffic. I’d look for one with 1000 or more riders if you can find one, otherwise the biggest, most popular ride you can find. If you live near northern Illinois I would suggest the McHenry County Cycling Club’s Udder Century on the first Sunday of June. Having some experience with dense traffic will help you a lot with dealing with the shock of a mass ride your first day. If you can’t find one then be prepared to be alert and flexible and ready to learn by doing, hang in there, and by day two you will be a pro!

I’ve heard that new tires that fit the rims properly can be inflated to 2 to 3 times the sidewall pressure before they blow off the rim. But you don’t want to ride like that of course, even if it is true. Near max rated pressure is probably a good idea for tires 28mm and under but if you have larger tires you can have a more pleasant ride with a little less pressure, especially on rough roads, and you will have nearly no increase in rolling resistance. Look up Berto pressure if you want to know more. Personally I feel that you should ride the largest tires that will fit your bike. Large tires deal with road hazards better than narrow tires and they will slow you down very little. I run 38mm Vittoria Voyager Hyper tires that can handle anything I have seen on RAGBRAI when inflated appropriately and are very efficient at 85psi. But my Fuji road hybrid will take tires that big, road bikes may not.

Rumbles are dangerous for two reasons. People will make sudden moves to avoid them so be alert for that when you hear the rumbles call. Sometimes they come at the bottom of a hill and they are especially dangerous if you hit them at high speed. I’ve heard (but cannot confirm) that at least one rider hit them at speed on a downhill, blew both tires, and had a very bad but not fatal crash. The bigger your tires the less concern you need to have for them but treat them with respect on fast downhills anyway.

Meeting town is the proper term for the “midtown” and it may not be all that near the middle of a day’s ride. It is often the largest of the pass through towns, which vary in size and can be as big as the overnight towns or larger. It is the only place where support vehicles are officially allowed to meet up with riders along the day’s route, hence the name.

A lot of people did the gravel loop on road bikes. It helps if you can put bigger tires on them for that day but most road bikers did not bother. Stick to the well compacted tire tracks left by motor vehicles and you should be fine on gravel. Unless you run big tires, then you can pretty much ride anywhere you like on a gravel road! There may or may not be gravel loops on future RAGBRAIs but while the ride has avoided gravel roads on the main route in recent years there is always the possibility that the main route could include some gravel roads and they were somewhat common for much of RAGBRAI’s history. Doing a little training on gravel roads before RAGBRAI will do a lot to boost your confidence if you want to tackle any future optional gravel loops.

Bagger is kind of a dismissive term for some of the true elite riders on this ride. They typically specialize in self supported bicycle trekking and touring (and I have no idea what the difference between the two is! If there is one….). RAGBRAI is technically a tour of Iowa and they are the ones who are doing it right according to the traditions of bike touring. They carry all their own gear and they are indeed uncommonly well prepared to deal with mechanical difficulties since they typically perform without a net the rest of the year and rely only on themselves to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The rest of us cheat by using the wide variety of support services that are available!

Kybos don’t typically smell that bad! There is no reason to avoid them but of course any time you have the chance to use a “land toilet” by all means make use of it. Kybo comes from the name of a porta-potty company that served some early RAGBRAIs. However they may have adopted the name because Boy Scouts in some parts of the country use that term for outhouses and latrines, probably because one east coast Boy Scout camp used empty cans of Kybo brand coffee as “chamber pots” in the tents at night.

Your fellow cyclists will represent a very wide variety of cycling humanity. They range all the way from those who are only riding for one day and have not ridden a bike once in the last decade to Lance Armstrong. Literally Lance Armstrong. You can often tell the difference by the way they dress and by what they ride and if you need help from a fellow cyclist you are most likely to get it from someone who looks like a serious cyclist. Especially the Air Force team. The Air Force team is pure gold, there is no off position on their service to country switch! Everyone is willing to help you but some day riders are ill prepared to offer much help. Of course some very accomplished cyclists who can offer more help than you would think possible do not dress the part and they ride very atypical bicycles so it never hurts to ask anyone if you need help.

I think that by now a lot of locals can fathom why people want to ride across Iowa on a bicycle. A lot of them have done the ride or part of it, the rest have become familiar with the concept over the years.

I only drink water on the ride! I hate Gatorade!! But I do use electrolyte tablets too. Mine come from Hammer Nutrition, a company that specializes in cycling food products but there are others. There are two advantages to this approach. One is that water is cheaper and you can usually get enough free water from town watering stations to keep you hydrated if you look for them at every opportunity. The other is that by taking tablets you get electrolytes only when you feel you need them and in as little or big a dose as you feel you need. People who use water and Gatorade always seem to be fussing that they only have or can only get the one when they need the other! Your approach is good too and it could be supplemented nicely by carrying electrolyte tablets so that you have them available if you should need them between towns when you have only water on the bike.

There is plenty of non-fair food to be had on RAGBRAI, not that there is anything wrong with the fair food options. Look for church and civic organization meals in both the pass through and the overnight towns. You will get real home cooked comfort (usually) food and you will generally be helping a worthy cause. The same groups will often have pie stands in various towns and of late there has been at least one Amish family that has a roadside stand selling pies and farm engine churned ice cream. Some years the ride goes through towns with strong ethnic neighborhoods that will often have excellent food stands selling delights you won’t be as familiar with. Last year we went by Sutliff Cider who were selling their excellent cider and had a “food court” set up in their parking lot. There is actually more good food available on RAGBRAI than you could possibly eat so you don’t have to limit yourself to fair food although in any given town that may be all that is available and as I say, who doesn’t want a little fair food now and then?!

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Michrider !!!, January 4, 2016 at 10:13 am

I’d suggest a reference to RAGBRAI General Information, posted on this site!
https://ragbrai.com/about/general-information/

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swiifg, January 4, 2016 at 11:07 am

I found this article helpful in looking forward to the ride with a common sense and humorous approach for those of us who do not live with our bike beside us every moment of the day.

http://authorleefrench.com/2015/05/11/the-casual-cyclists-guide-to-ragbrai-training/

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jwsknk, January 4, 2016 at 1:31 pm

1 Gloves? yes. the padding might help some but don’t do the “death grip” or “white knuckeling” keep a looser grip, relax the elbows don’t lock them which will also decrease shoulder pains. think of your elbows are like shock absorbers. This does require more of your core and lower back strength.

2. Fill stations are usually after the downtown merchants on the way out of town. Usually a PVC pipe with hole drilled in it so water shoots up a little and connecter to a fire hydrant.

3. BIKER DOWN! one you don’t like to hear. somebody crashed you may need to be prepared to stop.

4. SAG wagon. stop before getting into town, turn your bike upside down on the LEFT shoulder of the road. Easier for them to pull off left since they will usually be driving in that left lane. They stagger their start times from the overnight. When the get full they go to the next overnight to unload before returning to the route. The only other way off during the day is if you just need to get to the bike shop in the next town.

5. Local lie. 🙂 not really but what seems like flat all the way to the next town in a car may not seem so flat on a bike. And “one more hill” yeah, right.

6. Flashlight. double as you bike headlight, they may be a foggy morning when you need a headlight and tail light. not so much for you to see, but for others to see you.. take it when you go into town at night.

7. always put the rain fly on when setting up. storms can move in fast and I’ve seen lots of people come back from a shower or going downtown to find everything inside wet.

8. wet gear brings up another. only unpack what you need for the next day. you may want to start off with each days packed in its own ziplock. I only take 4 sets on the ride, which means everything has to get rinsed out at least one time. the overnight drying may not happen though.

9. it’s not just poison Ivy. Wild Parsnip is in the ditches too. http://www.bleedingheartland.com/2015/06/03/iowa-wildflower-wednesday-poison-hemlock-and-wild-parsnip/

10 One more post-RAGBRAI problem. stopping eating every 2 hours. Hey it’s 9 am, time for pie?

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Sunflower, January 5, 2016 at 4:31 pm

TL;DR version

https://youtu.be/MGRaKuuoL4s

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Michrider !!!, January 6, 2016 at 6:20 am

Sunflower: TL;DR version
https://youtu.be/MGRaKuuoL4s

Ahh yeah, he RAGBRAI Jedi!!!!

null

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Iceman, January 7, 2016 at 5:40 pm

Once again:

RAGBRAI PACKING LIST

Bike case (ship FedEx); use PBV bike shipping or High Country Shipping.
1. Bike with loaded under-saddle bag.
2. Pedal wrench for pedals, alien tool, four CO2 cartridges, two tubes, lube (double bag the lube with the CO2 and tubes; note that CO2 not allowed on airplanes).
3. Bike shoes & helmet. Light rain jacket in baggie.
4. Water bottles; large empty Gatorade bottle for tent use(you figure out why, genius).
5. Tent fan and 4 extra batteries (for fan).
6. Half of bike clothes (see #11, below).
7. Pillow if you can get it in.
8. Green dry bag.
9. Sun screen; use small mountain carabiner or key ring to hang off bike seat bag.
10. Six sturdy extra baggies.

Duffle Bag #1.
11. Extra flashlight (small) with fresh batteries. Check to see if batteries all compatible.
12. Arm/leg warmers, doo rags in baggie. 1 chamois towel in mesh bag.
13. Thermarest pad; sleeping back insert; sheet. Thermarest pump.
14. Extra 2 gallon size baggie for dirty clothes.
15. Other half of bike clothes (in 2 gallon sealable baggie): bike shorts; jerseys; socks; head sweat/do rags; gloves. Need four complete sets.
16. Evening Baggie: (a) liquid camp soap – double bagged; deodorant; comb; Gold Bond powder; bug repellant. (b) one razor.
17. Morning Baggie: Chamois Butt’r, sun screen, toothpaste/brush, baby wipes (put wipes in sandwich baggies during daily rides). any prescription meds – double bag those; u/v lip balm; ointment; advil; electrolytes.
18. Street clothes (in 2 gallon sealable baggie to protect against rain): walking shorts; hat; t shirts; sandals; underwear.
19. Twelve year old Balvenie scotch; five or ten Partagas Serie D robustos.

Bag #2.
Tent and tent gear in bag; best to use open mesh bag so tent will dry out each day while in transit to next overnight town.

Airplane carry on bag.
20. Cell phone charger (battery powered).
21. Audio book pre-loaded onto phone.
22. Miners headlight.
23. Reading glasses and non-bike sunglasses each in a case.
24. Camera in baggie.
25. Clear plastic case or small baggie w/ cash, credit card, drivers license, insurance card, electrolytes, cell phone and RAGBRAI credentials.
26. Sunglasses in a case.

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jelly0317, January 7, 2016 at 6:07 pm

(1) Keep in mind that, if using the Register baggage truck, you’ll need to fit everything into one bag.
(2) What is the “alien wrench” used for?

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mclousing, January 8, 2016 at 7:15 am

Allen Wrench is a tool that is always on my bike in the saddle bag. Almost all aspects of a bike can be adjusted with one. But in the specific case of shipping the bike, the allen wrench is necessary to put the stem back on(I remove the handlebars at the stem and headset not the handlebars themselves so my handlebars are in the perfect position every time). Also the allen wrench would be necessary to secure your seat post.

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Michrider !!!, January 8, 2016 at 8:45 am

jelly0317: (2) What is the “alien wrench” used for?

I’d love to have an “alien wrench”! I’m thinking it’s a one size fits all kinda tool!!!!

#1116559

igor, January 8, 2016 at 9:02 am

Topeak Alien

I was thinking of the Topeak Alien. Sort of an alien wrench.

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jelly0317, January 8, 2016 at 9:42 am

Yes, mclousing, I know what an Allen wrench is; I was trying to make a humorous comment on Iceman’s listing of an “alien tool”. BTW, since I ride a 1972 bike, an Allen wrench is completely unnecessary to secure my seat post.

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