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Best bike style for RAGBRAI

Some of my team newbies are asking about the best bike style choice for RAGBRAI. I have rode it once and don’t really have that much biking experience, so not real confident in how to answer. I have an endurance road bike Giant Contend. One has a Surly Long Haul Trucker, one has a hybrid with fairly wide tires. They are wondering if they should get lighter road bikes instead. I have told them that perhaps 85% of the RAGBRAI riders are on road bikes – but I’m just guessing; my last RAGBRAI was 29 years ago. Appreciate any advice.

23 Replies

Andrew Berman, May 15, 2018 at 8:08 pm

Thomas, I can’t say this is the “best bike style” as your question asked, BUT I rode cross-country on a 35 lb. hybrid and I lived to tell the tale. I’m toying with buying a new bike after all these years, but I will probably ride my trusty hybrid once again. Almost every long ride I have done has been mostly road bikes, for what that’s worth.


jwsknk, May 16, 2018 at 12:17 am

Probably see a lot of long haul truckers out there. The hybred rider might consider narrower slicks tires. No need for knobies but you will see some.


bdeltawoods, May 16, 2018 at 8:04 am

Things to consider for a “RAGBRAI bicycle”: (1) Rider comfort – choose a bicycle you can ride for 50 miles or more and get up the next morning without major wrist, shoulder or back pains. Consider a hybrid (flat bars) if you have back problems… Also, get a bicycle seat that is NOT painful; that may require some shopping around. (2) Gearing – a typical 50/34 dual chainring with a 9-11 speed cassette works for many riders. Avoid the 53/39 chainrings unless you are a strong rider. Some riders opt for a triple chain ring setup which gives you more granny gears for the hills. (3) Tires – skinny high pressure tires reduce rolling resistance; 700-25’s are popular. 110 psi doesn’t absorb the bumps but does require less pedaling effort than the mid size, fat tire setups. (4) Bicycle weight – over a long week, you’ll appreciate having a 20 lb. bicycle rather than a 30 or 35 pounder; graphite or light alloy frames are more expensive but… Try to avoid making your bicycle a cross-country RV; ride with only the essentials & an extra tube. (5) Tune it up – keep the chain and gears lubed and clean, insure your wheels roll freely and true. You want to minimize friction and maximize pedaling efficiency. (5) Establish a relationship with a good bike shop; they can offer lots of good advice and maximize what you can get from your current machine.


hnschipper, May 16, 2018 at 8:47 am

I rode my first few RAGBRAI’S on an $80 mountain bike I bought at Wal-Mart. I eventually upgraded to a hybrid, which I rode for many RAGBRAI’S, and then a road bike, which I have ridden the for the past four RAGBRAI’S. The difference between my “beginner’s” bike and the road bike is night and day. The road bike is my preference, but it may not be your preference. Ride what is comfortable for you.


KenH, May 16, 2018 at 8:48 am

Any rigid framed bicycle with road worthy tires will get you across Iowa just fine. If you keep your speed goals modest bicycle weight won’t matter much. If you want to go fast then get a road bike. If your touring or hybrid bike fits you properly and has slick or semi-slick tires rather than uber-knobby off road tires then it will likely be the most comfortable way to do this ride even if it is not as fast. As long as they are reasonably efficient wide tires will deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that will come your way on the paved roads better than narrow tires do and if you want to do the gravel loop you will be glad you brung ’em! I run 38mm Vittoria tires that roll as efficiently as all but the very top tier 23-25mm tires and they hardly notice the difference when I turn off to take the gravel loop.

On the other hand if your friends are looking for an excuse to get the road bikes they always wanted then yeah, you MUST use a road bike for RAGBRAI! ;)


jeffreydennis, May 16, 2018 at 10:22 am

Ride on the bike you know. Me, ive done 10 on Madone’s. On whatever you are comfortable


mootsman, May 16, 2018 at 11:56 am

Which ever bike you decide on give yourself time to physically adapt to it. Many people going to a road bike try to adjust the bike for every little ache & pain they get from it. Like setting the bars way too high. Actually a new ride will stress muscles not accustom to the stress for the riding position. When I did nothing in the winter each spring my neck and shoulder muscles would get sore for a good month. Then they’d get use to it (get trained) and cause no pain. The rider can adapt to the bike. Just get fitted correctly by the bike shop.


Sandaltan ., May 16, 2018 at 7:57 pm

No need for a special bike, dance with the one what brung ya.



Jason Stoller, May 16, 2018 at 11:29 pm

If you are doing or attempting to do the suggested training for Ragbrai then you will figure out what the pro’s and con’s are of the bike you are riding. As another suggested, what you want to avoid if at all possible is back pain, neck pain, wrist pain, leg pain and so on. Part of this has to do with proper training. Part of this has to do with having a bicycle properly fitted to your body. Part of this is having a comfortable seat and riding position and part of this ( I cannot stress this enough, is having your bicycle properly geared for the ride.

Yes this is only one week out of your life, and as another said you can ride the bike that brought you. If you plan on riding many more Ragbrai’s in the future then take what I mentioned about into consideration. It not not my goal to convert anyone to the style or type of bicycle I ride but I am happy to share the reasons I ride it with you.

I ride a fully suspended Recumbent Trike. Yes you read right. It has suspension in the front and back just like a car to make my ride smoother. After 4 back surgeries and two fusions (one in my neck and one in my lower spine) comfort is important to me. I have a nice wide seat with plenty of air flow that supports my full back and butt. When I get up off of my bike I do not walk funny because of the pressure of the seat I have been sitting on. My handlebars are under my seat so I do not have to lean forward over my bike and put pressure on my wrists for hours at a time. I also do not have to lift or hold my head up in an unnatural position to see out in front up me. So no neck soreness or neck cramps. While I cannot stand up to pedal up a hill, I am forced to use my gears so instead of brute force I use science and mechanics to accomplish a hill climb. I maybe slower but my knees are not damaged when I am done and so far are original equipment. I also do not have to worry with balance because the fact that I am on three wheels is a big advantage for me when I am climbing or even riding. Down hill I can be a speed demon and make up for lost time climbing if I wish. Since I must spin going uphill I make sure my Trike is geared properly.

These are just some of what I see as the advantages of the type of bicycle I have chosen to ride in Ragbrai and when Touring as well. Yes there are lighter bikes and Yes there are lighter weight two wheel Recumbent Bikes as well. I made my choice based on experience over the years with the various types available.

As you can see I took a good hard look at what I am riding and why. If you do the same I am sure you will be just fine.



KenH, May 17, 2018 at 8:22 am

To put it in some perspective during the first RAGBRAI 83 year old Clarence Pickard rode the whole thing on an old ladies’ Schwinn cruiser bike that he trained on by riding it “around the block a few times.” You will see people on skateboards, on high wheelers, on unicycles, and on any bike that they can find. Last year in a variation of the unicycle thing one guy was trying to do a wheely the whole way. In 2013 two gentlemen ran the whole route, a feat that had been attempted but never completed many times previously. One year a rider from the UK recreated a common scene from his youth buy dressing as a French onion seller and riding an old, old bike with a bag of onions hanging from the handlebars. I passed him several times that year and his bike had an odd mechanism. By doing so web research when I got home I found out that it was an early two speed bike. You got one speed by pedaling forward and the other by pedaling backwards!

Personally I think you should get a new bike when you want a new bike, when you know why you want a new bike and what kind of bike will meet your expectations of a new bike, not because you are going to ride RAGBRAI. The only exception I would make to that is if you know that your current bike will not be comfortable for you during RAGBRAI. In that case you should have gotten one long ago but as the others have said, get it now, get a proper fitting at a good bike shop, and ride that puppy as much as you can so that you become comfortable on it and work out any kinks before the big ride.


Keith Misegades, May 18, 2018 at 6:27 am

I would caution against riding narrow tires (i.e. 25 mm or narrower) on this ride. While I do have 5 road bikes with these narrow tires, I will be bringing a bike that accommodates 28mm tires. Why? Iowa has many roads where cracks go down the length of the road in the same direction you are travelling. Narrower tires can get caught in these and throw you off your bicycle. I heard of many riders having accidents due to this on previous rides.

I personally will be riding folding Continental Gatorskin 32mm tires on my touring bike. Yes, I’m what you call a bagger, but I am also a registered rider as I want to support all that the ride provides.

Good advice from all; but remember, this is NOT a race. This is the best ride to slow down and talk to those around you.


andytetmeyer, May 18, 2018 at 4:28 pm

If you are going to look for a new bike, 10lbs can make a difference.
Big tires and (relatively) low psi are the best place to start. Lately I’ve really been liking 28mm schwalblvles at 35-50 psi.

But… like everybody has noted, run what you brung will be fine.


Bruce Atkinson, June 10, 2018 at 2:30 pm

This will be my first RAGBRAI. I have three plans:
1) Ride the middle three days — Jefferson to Sigourney.
2) Ride the middle three-and-a-half days — Jefferson to Kalona.
3) Ride the middle three-and-a-half days plus — Jefferson to Kalona — plus Wildcat Den State park to Davenport after walking my twenty-third Bix 7 on Saturday.

I also have three bike plans:
1) I’ve been riding my Target clearance 21 speed mountain bike to work every day that is free of after work activities and isn’t rainy.
2) There’s a 10 speed road bike I got at a garage sale. My son used it in his job as a bicycle burrito delivery dude. It needs a new rear derailleur; the cage is bent.
3) My college bike is a 10 speed road bike. I haven’t been on it for a while. At a minimum, it would need lubed and new tires.

I read the previous posts:
[quote quote=1286431]No need for a special bike, dance with the one what brung ya.[/quote]

[quote quote=1286392]Ride on the bike you know. On whatever you are comfortable[/quote]

I could ride my mountain bike, but it’s geared low: Often, I’m in the top gear on flat terrain. Although I’ve shaved about 20 minutes off my commute by slightly increasing my fitness, I may be hitting a gearing/speed wall. The road bikes would be better.

In a perfect world, I’d get a new bike, but we had to get a new engine for “Dumbo,” the support vehicle. I’m hoping (maybe this is overkill) to two bikes and use one as a spare.


cmparsley, June 10, 2018 at 6:43 pm

I will echo some of what has already been said here and add in a few things:

The best bike for RAGBRAI is the bike you are most comfortable riding and the bike you enjoy riding.

Any bike shop worth 2 cents will let you test ride any bike they have on the floor. Take a day and visit your LBS and test ride a bunch of bikes. Make sure you ride the entry level bikes and also ride the ones that might be over your budget. This is a great way to experience the difference between drivetrain components.

Leave the aero bars at home. Period.

Some people think they need every gadget and gizmo in order to enjoy the ride. You don’t. Just because they make that thing to attach to your handlebars doesn’t mean you need to go out and get one.

Practice changing the tube in your wheel at home before RAGBRAI. Buy extra CO2 cartridges and get comfortable using them. Know what you need to change a flat and how to change a flat PROPERLY. If you aren’t changing your own flat tire, you could become someone else’s hero and maybe even earn a beer in the next town.

Leave the aero bars at home.

25mm or 28mm tires at 90 PSI for a 180lb rider are faster (and more comfortable) than 23mm tires at 110 PSI. There have been a number of tests done on many different types of surfaces and the science stands true. 23mm tires at 110PSI are perfect for a velodrome. Anyone who tells you otherwise has been misinformed.

RAGBRAI is what YOU make it. If a person is going to be all wrapped up in the equipment, gadgets and gizmos, they might just miss the beautiful scenery we are riding through. Find the bike that you like. Get it properly fitted by a professional bike shop that you trust. If it is a new bike, get a couple hundred miles on it then have it checked over before RAGBRAI. New bikes sometimes need a “break in” period where cable housings kind of seat in and can cause minor shifting issues. This is completely normal. Get the bugs all worked out BEFORE you ride across Iowa, not during.


Geoff Butland, June 11, 2018 at 9:13 am

I love this question – my daughter was going to ride her big-box store mountain bike and I was growing more and more concerned she was going to have a rough time sitting that upright with so few hand positions available over 400+ miles. This weekend we scored a decent Craigslist find – an aluminum road bike with a triple in exactly her size. It is a solid 12# lighter than her mountain bike, and the drop bars offer a lot more choices for hand position. Now if I can convince her to get out there and RIDE more I think she’ll be fine.


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