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Bike speed while training and/or on Ragbrai

This may be a difficult question to answer depending on conditions, however what is the optimum speed one is traveling while training and/or on Ragbrai to get from start to finish on a given day? Right now my training speed is about 14 mph. Should I be pushing for a faster time speed to better prepare for the ride?

15 Replies

Jason Kuehnhold, June 2, 2019 at 10:10 pm

14 is probably my average too riding alone. But I find that as I get in better shape closer to RAGBRAI time my speed increases. During the ride you’ll find that the people ahead of you “pull” you and the people behind “push”. Call it being in better shape, nerves or excitement. It is what it is. By the 2nd day or so I’m averaging 17-19 on a road bike. Jump in a line and see the speeds hit an easy 21-23. Keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be fine.


jwsknk, June 2, 2019 at 10:19 pm

No matter what your speed on RAGBRAI, there will almost always be someone going faster, or slower. Be prepared to adjust your speed. Slow people 3-4 wide or left of the center line. Crazy place lines of 3-30 people on the left doing 20-25 mph or more with many people hanging on the back of the more experienced riders. And then hills and headwinds come onto play.


SFC JKL 2, June 2, 2019 at 11:50 pm

It’s not a race. Ride at a pace you feel comfortable and safe at. My theory has always been that the better shape you are in, the more fun you can have. Riding to me is only a small part of the whole experience. The least amount of energy I put into riding, means the more I can put into other activities. It’s no fun to be sore, tired, and worried about getting to the next town. This is meant to be fun, not a suffer fest. There is no award for suffering.


Nico ZZZ, June 3, 2019 at 7:57 am

You left out a significant stat: how long are your training rides? Are you doing rides of say 30 miles or more every weekend day? Longer rides two or more days in a row? If so, how do you feel after the ride? Sore legs, shoulders, back, feet, or maybe some cramping? Fourteen mph isn’t a bad average if you are doing long rides, or lots of hills, but it is your stamina and pain/recovery that is a better indicator of how you will enjoy RAGBRAI. Having an overall healthy and fit body will make that week in Iowa a greater experience.
My first year in 2014 I packed 14 KIND bars, planning on eating two a day, much like my training regimen had been in the months leading up to that first RAGBRAI ride. Well, I ate two bars, and then I said to myself: “What in the H am I doing?! I need a pulled pork sandwich (the smell of grilled/smoked meat as you ride into every town is part of the Magic of RABRAI!), a beer, a slice of pie, a Beekmans root beer float, a morning Bloody Mary at a local bar!” So now I train differently: I ride 15 miles, looping back home for a breakfast, or a beer, rest 30 minutes, and then ride 15 more. BTW, I average about 16mph on flat, stop-signed neighborhood streets with only a few uninterrupted stretches – but I am talking Miami flat. Iowa, I will average slower due to the hills. BTW, you will go slower up hills in RAGBRAI due to the congestion as riders fade in front off you and you have to maneuver around this rider or that rider.
It is really about the long haul, how you feel day after day, not your average speed.
Ride On!


Hersh DeCouto, June 3, 2019 at 10:58 am

I weigh about 287 lbs and I have a 30 lb steel touring bike. My average mph on groups rides, where I live in Charlotte NC, is somewhere around 10 mph in the flats with some small hills where i slow down a bit, i do go faster then most on the downhills. I don’t typically ride large mileage but i really would love to ride RAGBRAI based on friends recommendations.

Any thoughts/advice from the experienced “large” riders like me?


LawnchairMan, June 3, 2019 at 10:59 am

As Nico alluded to, your average speed may be faster at Ragbrai since there will be long stretches of uninterrupted riding without many traffic stops. My estimate of the average Ragbrai speed is 10 to 12 mph, so you should be fine. Just be sure you can maintain your speed for long distances and multiple days in a row.
My training method is to workout a couple miles per hour faster than I expect to do in Iowa. When I get there I can ride comfortably a bit slower, but longer. I save a little for a sprint or two if desired.
I also carry a few extra items on my bike in training that I won’t in Iowa. I use two taillights now, but will go with one. I will take cash and a debit card, but leave my wallet. I will train with extra water, but take half when in Iowa. I expect to carry a pound less than I do now. Maybe more.
We have about six weeks to go, so get as much training in as you can. Train for distance and hills. It can’t be stated enough; the more you train, the better your Ragbrai experience will be.
Oh, one last point. I think coach Ertl said to increase your efforts gradually. I’ve read that you shouldn’t exceed 10% higher efforts per week. You don’t want to pull a muscle just before Ragbrai. So train at a good speed for you, and maybe through in some sprints here and there. Then come have FUN!


Charles Lechner, June 3, 2019 at 11:17 am

I have seen lots of large riders at RAGBRAI, doing various speeds and using recumbent bikes and traditional. If your average is only 10 that’s OK but are you fit enough to cover 80 miles and 8 hours on the bike. I live in Charlotte and if you can get outside of Charlotte and handle the miles, I don’t think you would have difficulty with RAGBRAI. But as one of the prior comments noted, it isn’t necessarily how you do on one day, but how’s your recovery to do it another day. I’m still getting back in shape for RAGBRAI, but when I do get to ride 3 days in a row I’m ok doing so, but I am still building the miles up. Working with a great outfitter like PORK BELLY VENTURES will also make your journey much easier.


LawnchairMan, June 3, 2019 at 1:47 pm

throw, not through. I should have proofed better.


Luis Ortiz-Yambo, June 3, 2019 at 3:19 pm

You should not worry about your speed, because there will be times that you may have to go slower or walk in the towns. Like some people said speed is not important because if you can get behind others that go fast you may be able to go fast to, following them. At the same time there will be so many people or cyclist that will slow you down.


francoisvanzyl, June 3, 2019 at 5:04 pm

I average anywhere between 14 and 17 mph on my alone training rides depending on hills and wind. On the 2 RAGBRAI rides I have done my average was 12.8 and I was comfortably able to keep up with the masses at all times thoroughly enjoying myself. As others have said, it is not a race, just be able to do it for 7 days in a row. I aim for around 1500 miles in my legs in the 4-5 months leading up to the event with a few back to back to back longer rides (40 – 50 miles) thrown in. It has worked for me.


andytetmeyer, June 4, 2019 at 10:14 am

If we’re averaging 12, we are crushing it. We’ve never gone hungry or thirsty (although sometimes we do miss out on a couple pie flavors)


garywilk, June 4, 2019 at 2:23 pm

It is more like a lot of 15 mile rides joined together through the week. The week is important. Generally you will be in a pack with a draft but there always seems to be one day with a headwind, hills that eat at you. Just do not push early. My brother raced cat 2 and on day 3, his but hurt so bad he basically stood up the entire day. Make sure you seat is good and your set-up is right for a long week in the saddle. Even if you are heavy, if you can go out two days in a row for two or three hours, and not feel bad, you should be good. There are a lot of people that walks bikes up hills.


Roy Trent, June 12, 2019 at 8:00 pm

Some random thoughts from another “wide body”:
I am 235 lbs, 55 yr old with a little “done lop disease”. My flat speed averages about 17 but I do a lot of hills to get my legs ready to pull all this weight around. This will be my 3rd consecutive Ragbrai. Physically, I find the ride fairly easy. Although, about day 4 I do start to feel a little fatigue/soreness which seems to fade away fairly quickly.

As someone stated, the “energy” seems to push and pull you along. Just don’t get caught up in the excitement and spend more energy than you normally train with. There are plenty of people to draft with, without pacelining. I really enjoy riding in a good paceline but I shy away from them at Ragbrai because way too many people have not practiced riding at those speeds in crowds. It takes a lot of familiarity with riders to do it safely. If I am pulling a line of 5-7 people at a comfortable 18-20mph and I see 10 extra people jump on the tail, I will break off and bust up the line. That is just too much mass and too much speed for inexperienced riders. I can not tell you how many people will, upon hearing “on your left” look over their left shoulder and turn left, directly into my path.

Just draft with a few other people to share the load. Have a good saddle, a good/steady ride log in June/July, stay hydrated, rest when needed, eat early in the day(don’t wait ’til you are hungry), keep your eyes open for unexpected moves from others. I ride 3-4 thousand miles each year but my biggest fear on Ragbrai is being hit by another rider making a stupid move.

Enjoy the ride!


Kate Perkins, June 12, 2019 at 10:06 pm

I don’t think training speed is the issue. At most you have to make around 80 miles a day, & it’s best but not required to be off road by 6:00 pm when SAG ends. That’s pretty doable even at 10 miles an hour, plus your average speed on the ride is affected by a lot of things, like crowds, hills, headwinds, lines at food stands, stuff you stop to see or do. I think the issue is endurance – can you ride 8 or so hours a day for several days? Can you get up hills? How much saddle time have you had on your RAGBRAI bike? Can your butt handle being on the bike for days in a row?


Geoff Butland, June 13, 2019 at 12:44 pm

A 14 mph average is fine – that’s right about where I was on my last two RAGBRAIs. You will find plenty of people riding quite a bit slower than that. If you’re concerned about making it to the overnight town on time your best hedge is an early start. That gives you a time cushion to dial in a comfortable pace. The only prize for getting to camp early is *maybe* getting a shady spot for your tent. But who wants to spend time in a tent on a sunny day when there is so much to see and do? RAGBRAI done right is less about “go go go” and more about “stop and smell the roses and have some pie”.


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