A Group of Virgins with Questions/Concerns/Thoughts from the Group

A few “virgin” friends and I are contemplating our first RAGBRAI this year. Riding through some of the blog pages and other FAQ’s, it appears that 9,000+ riders rolling into a town half that size can be pretty overwhelming.

We aren’t concerned about getting in the miles; we are all experienced riders and very comfortable riding those daily distances. Our concerns and apprehensions are how reasonable it will be to get a nightly shower, food, and camp site given that number of participants. How do RAGBRAI coordinators, or the communities we are descending on, actually have enough showers and facilities for that many people and how is the usage managed? I’m expecting that the food is handled by all the non-profits that they can get to come out and provide food, plus it sounds like there are some vendors and food trucks that are trailing along with the group from night to night.

We have considered getting in a double-metric the first day to get in front of the crowd to avoid some of the congestion, but didn’t know if the advance communities would be prepared for that with showers, etc.

On the other hand, we don’t want to miss out on the experience – we just want to be mentally prepared for what to expect so we can truly enjoy it.

Any comments and thoughts from RAGBRAI veterans would be appreciated!

33 Replies

Denton Kernodle, January 31, 2019 at 5:01 pm

Concerning fluids, don’t buy any fluids or water. Every town will have free water so just fill your water bottles with free water and add one Nuun tablet to a bottle of water and you have Gater Aid like drink without the sugar. Nuun tablets come in a tube of 10 tablets for about $6.00 to $9.00 per tube. Actually Nuun tablets are better than Gater Aid because they are easy to carry…you still get the electrolytes and that kind of stuff without the sugar and expense. Last year Nuun was a sponsor of Ragbria and they had booths in some towns. And in a couple of towns Nuun drink was free.


John Wright, January 31, 2019 at 5:44 pm

My first RAGBRAI also. I’ve done week long tours before but this is my first with a paid charter and I’m using Bubba’s.

I’ve always wanted to try one so I figured it would be a good time to do it since this is such a huge event I didn’t want any uncertainty of where I’d sleep. Let’s be honest, I didn’t really feel like putting up my tent everyday either! ;-)

I can’t wait to be riding besides everyone, making friends with riders and locals, trying out all of the different foods, and taking in the sights. Can’t wait!



Sandaltan ., January 31, 2019 at 7:54 pm

“I find a lot of times the homeowners like to chat and learn a bit about you, and why you ride RAGBRAI. It’s a good way to build rapport with the locals who’s town just got overrun, or overridden.” Cyduke.

Most of our favorite RAGBRAI memories are of the people who have taken us in and offered their hospitality to include their bed, their automobile, dinner, breakfast and multiple other acts of kindness. I will never be able to walk past a bottle of “Gentleman Jack” bourbon without thinking about the couple who hosted us in Charles City both in 2010 and 2017. Arriving in 2010 and not knowing these people at all, I was offered my choice of beverage upon arrival, even before I walked in the door and first choice was Gentleman Jack on the rocks. Jack, our host was a retired judge, Helen, his wife was also retired, school teacher I believe, but before she taught school, before she met Jack she was a WAVE during WWII. WAVE stood for “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service” and as such she took boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Center and because she excelled in math she was sent to Rhode Island to teach young merchant seaman gunnery on 20mm and 40mm cannon. We marveled at that to say the least. Helen was a farm girl; mom, dad and another sister in the family when the war broke out. Helen’s father, not having a son to send to war, but wanting the family to do their part, took her to Des Moines and saw that she enlisted. Quite a story. Sadly, both Helen and Jack are deceased but we will always remember them and the wonderful hospitality we received in Charlie Town.



Gypsy Rose, February 1, 2019 at 8:33 am

One of the things that RAGBRAI does better than any other group ride I’ve ever experienced is to engage the people and communities along the way.

With the exception of RAGBRAI, the organizers of virtually all of the organized rides I’ve participated in focus pretty much exclusively on the riders, while setting up a form of a bubble that not only caters to all of the riders’ needs (leaders, sag stops, meals, camping/hotels, etc.), but also serves to disconnect the riders from the interactions they may have otherwise had with the people/communities along the way.

For example, last July I rode in a 100-mile ride in Vermont and New Hampshire called the Prouty, a well-attended fundraiser for cancer research that has been held for the past 38 years. 2018 was my first year on the ride. I was excited to take part because the ride goes through my hometown and so many other communities that I’m very familiar with. Well stocked Sag stops were scattered along the route. Intersections were staffed with those to point the way. At the end, there was a huge feast and awards ceremony in a park in Hanover, NH, all provided by the ride’s organizer. HOWEVER, there was almost NO interaction with the communities and their residents along the way. Yes, there were a few folks out on their lawns waving, but otherwise it seemed that no one was aware of or interested in our passage (except for the fact that our numbers were in the thousands, so they surely noticed the bike traffic).

RAGBRAI is MUCH different. An abundance of the energy of the organizers (thanks, TJ and everyone else) goes to assisting the townspeople along the way with preparing for hosting the riders. The beauty of RAGBRAI is that it is an experience that is not only embraced by the participants, but also by so many Iowans along the way. You don’t have to be a bicyclist to enjoy the ride – young, old, athletic or not, and everyone in between. RAGBRAI is a unique event that unites not just the riders.

While we often refer to the 20 – 30K riders, there are equal, if not more numbers in the folks that come out to watch, support, and interact with us along the way. There’s just nothing like it, or even close, anywhere else!

See you all in July!

~ Kevin


Larry Klaaren, February 1, 2019 at 9:26 am

If you come ready to have fun, take it as it goes, and a little tolerance for everyone’s goofiness and some minor poor etiquette on the ride, you will one of the best times of your life. At first I did all the big vendors everyone talks about and got tired of the lines and the heat. Then we started eating in churches and Legion Halls, etc. They have seats, air conditioning, and flush toilets! That was a game-changer for us. But every body is different. Roll with it and you will be glad you came.


Brian Pentony, February 1, 2019 at 2:30 pm

Having done two RAGBRAI’s, I don’t consider myself a veteran near the likes of some of the “real” veterans that you’ll come across during your ride. They’re easy to spot because they always look like they’re having a great time, regardless of the circumstances. I learned that on my first day!

The other thing I learned is that in order to fully understand and enjoy RAGBRAI, I had to “roll” with everything; from the heat, to the rain, to the lines, to the nutty riders, it’s all a part of the experience. I went solo to RAGRAI my first time and immersed myself into this experience with no expectations but a lot of apprehension. Being retired military, structure and control become a big part of your life and for me, the first year was a bone-fide “out of my comfort zone” experience, and one I’ll never forget. I met lifelong friends who will return with me this year. Had I approached this ride with reservations or preconceptions, I would have kept to myself and rode in a vacuum for the week.

And that’s why I would highly advise that you don’t try to “get out ahead of things”, because you’ll get to the overnight town and then you’ll hear about other riders really cool experiences during the day…the ones you bypassed and missed in order to get ahead of things. It’s a crappy feeling and you’ll regret that you didn’t take in as much as you could. I can speak firsthand about this topic.

Keep your eyes and ears open on the first day and you’ll learn much of what you’ll need to know to make the rest of your trip enjoyable. Good luck to you!!


BarryTantlinger, February 1, 2019 at 7:04 pm

Doing a double century to get out in front of the crowds is the wackiest thing I have ever heard of. RAGBRAI is s series of one day rides, Riding any distance past the daily endpoint puts you on uncharted, unsupported ground. Riding two hundred miles the first day would put either along the side of the road or in a passthrough town from the fourth day. You might as well ride the route in June, as you would completely miss RAGBRAI if doing it the way you propose.

Leave early every morning or leave late, it doesn’t matter. There will be crowds. If crowds bother you, don’t go to Iowa in July.


Jboz, February 1, 2019 at 7:52 pm

“Doing a double century to get out in front of the crowds is the wackiest thing I have ever heard of.”

It’s like buying Super Bowl tickets, driving to the stadium and then deciding to stay in your car and listen to it on the radio so you can beat the traffic when the game ends.


dalebob, February 1, 2019 at 9:41 pm

There is a rumor that there is a group of self-contained riders that actually do the opposite of your idea. They hold back and ride a day behind the crowd. I have heard stories of free food, unlimited free beer and great camping spots. Haven’t been able to confirm this, but it is an intriguing idea. Same issues with no support. I for one love the crowds, the small towns doubling and sometimes tripling their population for a day and even the food lines. Unlimited opportunity for conversation while you queue for pancakes, sweet corn or pulled pork.
Make sure you check out the church suppers in the overnight towns. Spaghetti, lasagna or beef and noodles. Salad and pie. It’s not always great, but it is often enough. There has only been one time we were too late for the church supper, so we went downtown and found a local pizza place. You will not go hungry.


LawnchairMan, February 1, 2019 at 10:11 pm

Just a little defense for Steve. He suggested two METRIC centurys. That would be 124 miles which would put them in Winterset. With no Ragbrai services set it wouldn’t matter if it were a pass through or not. At least they wouldn’t be out in a cornfield somewhere.

Since Steve has never done Ragbrai before, I thought it was a legitimate suggestion. What Ragbrai virgin wouldn’t wonder about the logistics of 20,000 riders traveling town to Iowa town. On my first I wondered if it would be a mass start. How many miles before it spread out? Did I train enough? How steep are the hills? How will I compare to others? Making suggestions and asking advice is a smart way to plan an adventure.


Carl, February 2, 2019 at 2:32 pm

I’ve have participated in the last six RAGBRAI’s. My first was at age 55 and I rode just 2 days with some friends and fell in love with it. I’ve done the last 5 (still a newbie), three complete and 2 partial (knees gave out) and plan on going again this year. As stated above the riders you meet from all over the country and around the world in it self make for a great ride, throw in the all the people you meet in the towns and along the route makes the ride even better. I ride solo and use the RAGBRAI trailers to haul my gear. Although I’m not sure it qualifies as solo with 15,000+ riders. Using the RAGBRAI trailers I’ve never had a problem finding showers or food at the end of the day. As for camping, that is a sight to behold. Every open spot will have a tent, everything from hammocks, and lean-tos, to large family tents. Other riders will offer help you set up if you are or aren’t having problems setting up. You don’t have to worry about your gear or your bike when you are out enjoying the overnight towns, and do go out. As crowded as the camp sites are they are amazingly quite, that is if you can ignore the snoring :). So ride right, be courteous to the other riders and enjoy.


Andrew Buffenbarger, February 4, 2019 at 7:09 am

Thanks LawnchairMan for the note, and everyone else for chiming in. I’m on Steve’s team and this will be my first Ragbrai as well. I have been to most of the towns on the route and fully appreciate how small they are – hence the question about riding in front of a pack of thousands. Our team doesn’t worry about crowds, are quite sociable, and will not flinch at any level of irreverence along the ride. After reading these comments it is clear that we should view Ragbrai as a festival that happens to include some riding. Perfect.


mootsman, February 4, 2019 at 9:28 am

Your post can be taken in several ways. Maybe some more detail would help us help you.

It seems you are concerned about getting camping but all that should be arranged before you get there in advance. I assume you are not having your own follow vehicle but if you are you need to get a pass for it. It would be much simpler logistically to use a charter or go with a team (group).

As someone else suggested PBV is a great charter although I’d recommend signing up for their tent service also. Not only do they put up a tent for you in a prescribed location each night but they pickup and drop off your luggage right to it. It saves that daily hunt for your luggage which can take some time. And everything is right there for you.

I would recommend against using your own follow vehicle if you haven’t secured a host camp spot in each over night to begin with. That would be tough for your riders to track down each day, if the driver would just find someplace when they drove into town each day.

You can keep an eye on this forum for teams looking to fill out there group also. Teams arrange their own overnight hosts and most have a team converted school bus for transport. They leave and return to the same location also where you park. The ones I went with had their own shower. Once had a shower tent and semi-heated water from tanks on the bus. The other had 2 shower stalls hanging off the side of the bus with a blast heater for water. One required host restroom use and the other would rent a kybo (Iowa for porta-poti) for each host location. Teams can be fun and you get a new group of people to hang with also.

Its not clear what the purpose is of doing a double-metric the first day. Are you trying to get to Monday’s overnight town when everyone else will be in the Sunday’s overnight town? And then stay a day in front of the tour the entire ride? That would miss everything thing about RAGBRAI.

Or do you mean set up camp on Saturday in Sunday’s overnight town and ride the route backwards and then forwards on Sunday? That would be insanely dangerous. We’ve seen a few people ride against the crowd for a while but keep in mind much of the route will cover the road shoulder to shoulder with riders. A bike crash would be a likely result for a group of wrong-way riders.

If you are riding on a budget you can use RAGBRAI’s luggage service and pay for showers somewhere. If you have some extra cash to spend, go with PBV and their tent service: http://www.pkbelly.com .


Steve Tenhouse, February 4, 2019 at 9:57 am

I appreciate all the feedback and our thought was to be a day ahead of the crowd in order to miss the “chaos.” However, in reading the comments and feedback from past experience, we now know we’d be missing out on the point of RAGBRAI! Andy my wife realized she’d be wondering around rural Iowa with our gear for a week with our daughter with absolutely nothing to do. :-)

We’re getting our team together and have our charter options narrowed down. Looking forward to seeing everyone this summer!



mootsman, February 4, 2019 at 10:02 am

If you do go with PBV and use their tent service you can form a group within the tent service camp when you register. Each day your tents will all be next to each other. They have sort of an address for tents and you get the same address each day making locating them a snap.


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