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Day 4 – 100,000 Riders – Really???

In an article posted yesterday on KCCI’s website (and on the attached TV news clip) Matt Phippen said that RAGBRAI was going to try to set a new world record for the number of riders at an event on the Ames to Des Moines leg, The record is currently a bit under 50,000 and Phippen estimated that up to 100,000 could ride that day.

Personally I question the wisdom of going after a world record and is it worth the obvious downsides. 100,000 (or for that matter 50,000 riders) could certainly swamp all but the largest of the pass through towns. Even if the flow of riders could be regulated to a steady stream, 100,000 riders means that 5 bikers will be entering and leaving every town EVERY SECOND for 5 and 1/2 hours straight. Then just how do you put that many riders safely on the road? It’s one thing to walk your bike through town in a crowd but to ride in that large a group is a whole different thing – especially if the majority of the extra riders are not accustomed to riding in a group. That’s just one huge accident waiting to happen!

As much as it would be nice to be abe to brag that “I rode in the world’s largest bike ride” is a record really worth jepordizing everyones safety?

35 Replies

Glenbo66, February 2, 2023 at 11:12 am

I think this is all just hype to get more interest in the ride. IMO there is NO way they can get that many cyclists in a day. Only time will tell.
Also, they better pray for the same weather as last year bc if it’s a 95-degree day there will be major issues hydrating everyone and I am not talking about with beer. lol

This reply was modified 1 year, 3 months ago by Glenbo66.


HelenP, February 2, 2023 at 12:54 pm

New riders, please bring at least two water bottles (and figure out how you’ll carry them). I prefer ones with insulation; they don’t cost much more. It’s dangerous to run out of water in such high heat and humidity. Also, occasionally a town has water supply problems, or it tastes bad. Whenever you’re near an isolated house, check your water supply before leaving. The Iowans are very generous about helping us, so go knock on the door if needed, and have a nice visit while you’re at it!


awdgg phan, February 2, 2023 at 3:55 pm

what is the current Ragbrai record anyway?


patrsnw, February 2, 2023 at 4:54 pm

Last I heard it was going in to, or out of, Des Moines but I can’t recall the number.

We saw a State Trooper tally in 2016 with the numbers counted for the week. We took a photo on Friday so the numbers are incomplete.

19,094 – Sunday
17,787 – Monday
19,245 – Tuesday
15,735- Wednesday
17,054- Thursday
18,310- Friday


KenH, February 3, 2023 at 9:30 am

I don’t believe RAGBRAI has said they are trying to get 100k riders, only that they hope to break a 48k record set in Italy. I have ridden 36k and 40k days at RAGBRAI and there were no problems with that.

Phippen has said the obvious. There is a lot of interest in the 50th anniversary ride and since RAGBRAI has no authority to control how many cyclists use Iowa’s public highways there could be a lot of riders on the days the ride enters and leaves DM. I’m sure that 100k is just a nice, round, attention grabbing number he pulled out of thin air. There is no way to know. I suspect it will be between 50k and 100k. Hopefully RAGBRAI, the ISP, and the transportation engineering department at that little university in Ames are putting their heads together to come up with a plan in case 100k is hit.

Or exceeded, there really is no way to control how many people will try to ride that day. That might be one day to break camp and hit the road early, riding like the wind to stay ahead of the tsunami!


Joseph Schlau, February 3, 2023 at 1:02 pm

“We’ll smash that day,” Phippen said. “If you have never done it, you’re going to see it and you’re going to come. Depending on where you go you could have 100,000 people on bikes that day.”

He said it, way back on July 30th

Source is the DesMoines Register


KenH, February 3, 2023 at 5:23 pm

He’s been saying it for a while, to be sure. Notice the word COULD. He’s not claiming that he is trying to hit that number. Some of the context of that quote is missing so I’m not sure what he said he will smash. If it were the previous RAGBRAI peaks or the Italian record then 55k to 60k are sufficient to smash those numbers and I believe that he has said he wants to do that.

If he really believes 100k could show up then he needs to do exactly what he is doing: voice his opinions about what could happen. The ISP and local governments need to be forewarned. The transportation engineers at ISU need to hear it so perhaps they will volunteer their expertise. RAGBRAI has no authority to control who uses Iowa roads and when. Phippen can’t prevent 100k from showing up. That authority can only come from the police and governments and they need to hear from Phippen well in advance so that they can weigh in and impose/enforce limits if they want to do so.


Joseph Schlau, February 3, 2023 at 5:50 pm

Yea, I think it’s safe to assume that all interested government agencies have had a heads up on this for awhile. They didn’t just hear about it last Saturday. When I read about the 100 K in the Register on July 30th, there was only one location with roads big enough. Des Moines.


Raymond Johnson, February 4, 2023 at 12:22 pm

As a math educator and a cyclist, I really enjoy it when we do math on the forums. (Thanks, Rob!) Stuff like this keeps my brain going while I’m pedaling.

If you’re modeling the problem thinking about pavement area, and assume everyone is on the road at once, it’s pro peloton-tight:

50 miles * 5280 feet/mi * a 12-foot wide lane = 3,168,000 square feet of pavement to work with, not counting passing space in the oncoming lane
3,168,000 square feet divided by 100,000 riders = 31.68 sq ft per rider (a bit more than 5 feet wide and 6 feet long)

However, we won’t be all on the road at the same time. As an early, faster rider, I’ll be finished before some people even start. So here’s another model using time:

6 hours of starts (from 5 am to 11 am) * 60 minutes * 60 seconds = 21,600 seconds
100,000 riders divided by 21,600 seconds = 4.6 riders per second

Also tight, but perhaps not totally out of character for RAGBRAI when riders get particularly dense. (Except that’s usually a crowd that might be a few hundreds of yards long – not 50 miles!) It’s certainly not my favorite kind of riding, which is why I go earlier and faster, but it is the kind of crowd that gets the photos that make RAGBRAI famous. If I were Matt Phippen, and I had good reason to believe that 100,000 riders was a possibility, I’d be thinking of not just a paved route and a gravel route for the day, but maybe *two* different paved routes and a gravel route.


LawnchairMan, February 4, 2023 at 3:20 pm

You have a great idea there of having two paved routes to Des Moines. I would never have thought of it. It would give a whole new flavor to the ride.
When I read the first line or your last paragraph I was thinking that I’d seen some particularly dense Ragbrai riders too. Further reading showed me I was off track.


Dizzy, February 4, 2023 at 5:44 pm

James: “I know I am concerned this year since PBV sold out their tent service in minutes meaning numbers are certainly up due to the 50 year.”
Response to James: My gut reaction to PBV’s rapid sellout was the same as yours. However, we now know that some of that “sell out” issue was due to the collapse of their financial processor. With all the hype, it’s possible that most of PBV’s rapid sellout was the usual PBV participants getting in as early as possible, not necessarily an indication of the eventual rider numbers.
Yes, there will be more participants than usual and there may be occasional episodes of hard to find water, food and services. But if we all think/plan ahead, stay flexible and celebrate the gathering of all our fellow cyclist (remember “Woodstock”) we’ll all have a great time and can say “we were there”. D


direwolf, February 4, 2023 at 8:30 pm

“The New York State Thruway is closed, man!” – Arlo Guthrie, August 15, 1969

Maybe they (we) need to shut down I-35 for this thing.


Joe Chavis, February 4, 2023 at 8:40 pm

I’ve ridden every RAGBRAI since the year of the first RAGBRAI jersey. I’d like to see 200,000 riders. I don’t care how long it takes to get
there (retired) – who’s hungry (I’ve been hungry before) AND OR how many cornfields have to suffer because the Kybos resemble a Mt. Muchalaka Chocolata eruption. BUT I think that trying to blame the fact that such numbers may happen… on the orginizers is misleading. NOT A DANG THANG they can do to stop it. So they may as well embrace it. IF the sheer numbers and logistical nightmare of that many riders upsets you. You have the right to stay home, and make it 999,999. Ima drive all the way from NC once again, just to witness and participate.

This reply was modified 1 year, 3 months ago by Joe Chavis.


Barry Schnoor, February 7, 2023 at 2:31 pm


The locusts will be the food! That’s what I did last time the cicadas visited. Cicada paella. Pretty tasty, washed down with a cold beer.


JohnHMoore, February 18, 2023 at 2:20 pm

Has anyone heard a number of how many people are registered? With all the charters filled up we would need to be getting close to 15,000 to 20,000. I am afraid they might sell out of beer each day.


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