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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

KenH, June 11, 2018 at 11:59 am

The bike I have been riding since 2010 is a Fuji Absolute 1.0. Back then they called it a performance hybrid, last I checked they called it a flat bar road bike. I just don’t get the flat bar thing. I tried it for a while after first getting the bike and no matter what I did my hands would go numb after 30 miles or so. I tried some other kinds of handlebars that fit the shifters and brake levers and they were ok, some of them are much beloved by others from what I read even if my reaction was meh. But I found my love with the Jones Loop H Bar. Plenty of hand positions, plenty of steering torque on gravel and off-road, easy to get low in a headwind, just great handlebars. So if you have a bike with flat bars and you want something better, much better, consider the Jones!

On the other hand if you get a good deal on a bike that is 12 pounds lighter you might want to consider that too.


Bruce Atkinson, June 11, 2018 at 8:04 pm

Thanks for the responses.

I should have wrote some of my thoughts in the form of questions. (This isn’t Jeopardy, but I’d like more information.)

My Target clearance 21 speed mountain bike is fast enough. I read some posts about average speed. i’ll be back with the recumbents and trikes, but I’ll get done.

I checked my college bike. Time flys when you’re getting old! There’s surface rust that can be removed using a scrubby pad. It needs new tires, chain, and a front derailleur — apart from that, Mrs Lincoln…. I might be able to replace the chain and tires and ride it as a five-speed at our local Father’s Day ride Ride the River

Is it practical to bring two bikes or is it overkill/redundant/the mark of a newbie?

I’m keeping my eye out on Craig’s list and garage sales. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a fourth contender.


cmparsley, July 14, 2018 at 8:15 am

Bruce, if you have the room to bring two bikes, and bringing 2 bikes will give you piece of mind, then bring two bikes. Don’t let stress over what bike to ride dominate RAGBRAI.

The number one most important thing you can do is have a qualified mechanic go through your bike top to bottom. Replace the brake pads, brake cables and housing, shift cable and housing, chain (if it needs it) and tires (if they need it.) All of this should be done with enough time for you do get at least 50 miles in BEFORE RAGBRAI. This is important because after an overhaul, parts will “settle in” and sometimes will need a little adjusting. Better to get that done now rather than out on the road in the middle of Iowa. Replacing all that stuff with labor should be $150 or less. It will make your bike feel like a brand new bike.

Don’t worry about how fast you ride. Period. I have ridden in pace lines around 30mph and I have ridden with friends at 10-12 mph. Just follow the rules of the road. Be courteous to other riders. Be predictable. Signal before you change position on the roadway.

If your bike has surface rust on the parts you can see, then what about the parts you can’t see on the inside that don’t have paint to protect them?

Everyone seems to be an expert when it comes to their bicycles. I am a Shimano Certified bicycle mechanic and I am a former service manager at a local bike shop. Take your bike to your LBS and have the mechanics you trust go through your bike then follow their advice.


delpreston, July 14, 2018 at 2:26 pm

depends on if you’re planning gravel loops


Bruce Atkinson, July 14, 2018 at 10:53 pm

Wow! Thanks for the input.

Here’s an update:
I found a used bike on Craig’s list. It’s older, but it’s well maintained — like it just came from a LBS tune up. Wheels were straight; brake pads looked good; it shifted effortlessly during my test drive.

I rode it to work once and my bike app reported I was going about 40% faster than my mountain bike. (My training method since April has been to ride to work everyday it’s not raining and I don’t have something afterwards. I’ve missed the last two weeks due to rain and wrapping up a work project.)

I still may bring two bikes. Not as much for a backup anymore. I’d like to explore the host communities on two wheels with my support team — especially my wife — after I’m done for the day.

See you in about a week-and-a-half in Jefferson!


cmparsley, July 15, 2018 at 12:24 am

Bruce, Great to hear that you found a good deal on craigslist! It really is a night a day difference between a bike before a tune up and one after. Preach that from the mountain top! My wife is our driver and we bring her bike for exactly that purpose.

One other suggestion…a proper bike fit.

I always thought I had a good fit on my bikes. They always felt comfortable and I never had any issues with soreness or pain. The shop I worked at had a certified Retul bike fitter. Since I worked there, I got a bike fit for a discount. It took a few hours and consisted of a flexibility test, measurements, then me on my bike on a trainer while hooked up to a spider web of sensor wires. I bet I rode for almost an hour. The guy crunched the numbers and we ended up raising my saddle about 1mm and we slid it forward about as much.

Holy crap.

The fatigue that used to set in after long durations in the saddle had gone away. Just 2 little changes and I don’t feel any faster, but I can certainly ride further. The best part is I got all the measurements so when I got a new bike, I simply set it up to those measurements and boom, feels like I have had this new bike all along.

So something to think about. Having a proper bike fit done might cost a little money up front, but for me….totally worth it.


Bruce Atkinson, July 15, 2018 at 12:16 pm

C M Parsley, I know what you mean about the seat. I read a long time ago that the top of the seat should be 109% of your inseam. I adjusted my seat. It was a simple fix with a HUGE payoff! I could out run the mastodons! OK, maybe not that long ago.

RAGBRAI has been on my bucket list for decades. As a student at ISU, a professor said he could be bribed: Just get him RAGBRAI luggage tags and a higher grade would be considered. He was joking, but I thought RAGBRAI would be fun. Of course, being an Iowan, I knew what RAGBRAI was.

For the last 12 Father’s Days, one of my sons and I participate in Ride the River., a ride using the trails and streets in the Quad Cities along the Mississippi. We take the some of the extra loops, but are limited in distance because we meet my parents for a picnic. We finish after that. I often wondered what it would be like to continue riding. I’ll find out doing RAGBRAI.

I decided to do it this year for 3 reasons:
1) AMES. I rode my bike everywhere when I was there as a student.
2) FLATNESS. Easy ride!
3) DO IT. One of my co-workers did it last year and had a positive experience.

See you on Tuesday.


cmparsley, July 15, 2018 at 3:53 pm

I lived in Cedar Rapids for almost 10 years. There was a group that did a bar hop ride on Wednesday nights. They talked about RAGBRAI. Me being from South Dakota, I had no idea what it was all about. So that year I loaded up my Raleigh M30 Mountain bike with everything I thought I would need to ride a day of RAGBRAI. I rode down my driveway in Marion plus another 80 miles to Tama where RAGBRAI overnighted. The next morning I was up in time to see the sun come up over this mass of people all riding the same direction. We rode to North Liberty that day. I had never in all my life experienced anything quite like it.

The next year I rode every single mile. I had a friend with an RV come along with so I didn’t have to carry everything. I dipped my back tire in the Missouri River, rode all the way across Iowa, then dipped my front tire in the Mississippi. Thank god for sunglasses. They do a good job of hiding the tears. It was such an overwhelming experience. It comes in third to having children and marrying my wife.

That is why I made the suggestions here that I have. I would love for everyone to have the best chance possible to have a similar good experience. RAGBRAI WILL change your life. It’s up to you if it is for the better or for the worse.

And wait in line for the breakfast bowl from Breakfast Delights. They are the ones with the pink banners. It is totally worth it.


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