Any of you guys ever ride GRABAAWR? My wife cannot do RAGBRAI this year and is thinking about Wisconsin ride and wants to know – in comparison to, say, a central Iowa RAGBRAI – how hilly it is. She has a bit of a bad knee plus she’ll likely go with a few girlfriends that are ok as riders, but not great.

17 Replies

madison5302, November 3, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Yes, I have done Grabaawr. It is very different than RAGBRAI. It is much hillier than Iowa. The mileage used to be very high but the last few years they have cut that way back. When I went, only about 30% of the riders were women. The ride is very small in population next to RAGBRAI. You won’t find police blocking the intersections and the lightly driven roads will be wide open. The towns are not set up for a carnival. In fact you may find people in the towns that didn’t know a tour was coming through. The course shifts a little each year but is very pretty. PM me if you want more.


knees36, November 3, 2013 at 7:25 pm

If those fine ladies do Grabaawr they may want to consider another activity after the ride that is well worth their time and effort. Our family went on a “Tubing the Apple River” adventure one year after finishing RAGBRAI at Dubuque. The Apple River empties into the Mississippi near the Minneapolis/St.Paul area but the actual tubing starts well upriver in Wisconsin. There’s camping near the starting point and the ride downriver on inner tubes was most relaxing and fun. It was a great way to end a week long bike ride. Doing a “search” was easy and very informative. Good luck and Cheers.


Iceman, November 4, 2013 at 7:01 am

Madison – “a lot hillier?” They don’t care about distance or size of crowd. They want to know about hills.

So – maybe 30% more hilly% 60% more hilly?


“Bicycle Bill”, November 4, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Iceman – a lot hillier.  Wisconsin is not Iowa; never was, never will be.  Closest Iowa has is going to be found in northeast Iowa (Allamakee/Clayton/Winneshiek/Delaware/Dubuque Counties).  Just because this ride generally follows a river valley doesn’t mean the road always does; you’re likely going to be climbing in and out of the valley, around a mile at a time, usually on a winding road up the bluffs, and gaining anywhere between 400-600 feet up those bluffs.  But remember — once you get on top the roads tend to stay on the ridgelines whenever possible.

Keep in mind too that what goes up must come down.  You can get some really neat downhills when you come back down off the ridgelines after climbing some of the bluffs out of those coulees.  Just make sure your brakes are in good condition; there’s at least a 50-50 chance there will be a stop sign at a T-intersection at the bottom, just as sure as God made little green apples.



“Bicycle Bill”, November 4, 2013 at 3:08 pm

“The Apple River empties into the Mississippi near the Minneapolis/St.Paul area but the actual tubing starts well upriver in Wisconsin.”

Knees — the Apple River actually empties into the St. Croix River, which forms the boundary between Wisconsin and Minnesota once you get north of Prescott, which is where the St. Croix joins the Mississippi.  Best tubing on the Apple River is located in/near Somerset, Wisconsin; there are several locations that rent tubes and provide shuttles in much the same way that canoe outfitters do elsewhere.



knees36, November 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Thanks Beebs. My atlas map was small and my eyes are old. I did find Somerset though…many years ago where we started our tubing adventure. Cheers.


Iceman, November 5, 2013 at 2:47 pm

So, Knees and BB, I understand that a road can weave in and out of the fall line of a river valley, making for lots of ups and downs. My question simply is does that generally occur all 7 days on GRABAAWR, or just one or two of the days?


knees36, November 5, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Iceman-It’s been a very long time since I have driven in Wisconsin…have never biked in that state. My “take” on your question…Anything near the Mississippi River will probably have very deep valleys and high hills with steep climbs and fast downhills (strong erosion occured when the glaciers retreated and there was fast water downhill to the Mississippi basin for many years)~~~think Potter’s Hill or climbing out of Decorah on RAGBRAI or the usual hills of northeastern Iowa’s counties if you’ve biked those on RAG. I believe that south central Wisconsin is more rolling and/or more gentle hills like the southern and central counties of Iowa…have been only as far east as Jefferson in southern Wisconsin and that was in 1968. In regard to northern Wisconsin, our family camped on the southern shore of Lake Superior and it seemed to be quite a bit more flat. It’s been at least 40 years since that trip so my memory is very likely to be flawed somewhat. Once the route of this year’s GRABAAWR has been determined and is shown on the internet it should be easier to determine it’s topography. If these fine ladies could drive the route months before they register for the ride they’d have the best information about its difficulty. My guess is that the ride will probably start in northern Wisconsin and go down through the cental part of the state and then head either west or east. Best of luck to these ladies on the ride.


mootsman, November 6, 2013 at 8:12 am

The “driftless” area is the SW part of Wisconsin. Driftless refers to glacial drift (think landscape and soil features) because the glaciers never covered the area so they never mowed down the hills. They avoided the area because SW Wisconsin is basically a dome of bed rock, slightly higher then the surrounding areas.

GRABAAWR though follows the Wisconsin River valley and usually does not go up and down the coulees (ravines) associated with the river valley and its tributaries. I saw a profile of it a few years ago and they only hit 1 coulee climb the entire week that year. The northern part of the state does have hills but they are of the gently rolling variety. The SW part of the state’s coulee climbs are in the 350-550 foot elevation gain variety mostly. GRABAAWR seems to avoid them for the most part and sticks to the river valley which is several miles wide. GRABAAWR’s route does not make it to the SW driftless area until just after the Dells around mid-week.

Since GRABAAWR has announced its route already I suggest you email them asking about the hills this year. You can find the contact on the website (

The route this year though is very different then a typical year. It doesn;t hit the big hill area until after Baraboo, the 2nd to the last day. I copied this from their website

Saturday June 21
Staging Area and Finish:
Richland County Fairgrounds, 23630 Cty AA, Richland Center WI,
Load bikes and board motorcoaches to Tour Start in Eagle River.

Tour Start:
Overnight at Northland Pines High School, 1800 Pleasure Island Rd. Eagle River WI. Eagle River Chamber
Registration Time: 3-5pm
Evening All Group Rider Meeting & PreRide Party and Ice Cream Social

Sunday June 22 Cycling starts today to Rhinelander
Overnight at Rhinelander High School, 665 Coolidge Ave, Rhinelander WI. Rhinelander Chamber

Monday June 23 Cycle to Merrill
Overnnight at Prairie River Middle School, 106 N. Polk St., Merrill WI.
Merrill Chamber

Tuesday June 24 Cycle to Amherst
Overnight at Portage County Fairgrounds, 4504 Fairgounds Rd., Amherst, WI

Wednesday June 25 Cycle to Adams-Friendship
Overnight at Adams-Friendship High School, 1109 East North St, Adams-Friendship, WI. Adams-Friendship Chamber

Thursday June 26 Cycle to Baraboo
Overnight at Sauk County Fairgrounds, 700 Washington Ave., Baraboo, WI. Baraboo Chamber

Friday June 27 Layover day – Bike loop
Overnight at Sauk County Fairgrounds, 700 Washington Ave., Baraboo, WI. Baraboo Chamber

Saturday June 28 Cycle to the Finish at Richland County Fairgrounds, 23630 Cty AA, Richland Center WI. Richland Center Chamber
Celebration lunch and hot showers for all!

This reply was modified 6 years, 11 months ago by mootsman.


Sandaltan ., November 6, 2013 at 9:54 am

Give the owners, Eric and Kathy Schramm, a call and get their opinion. My GRABAAWR ride years ago ended in Prairie du Chien with significant hills, this ride ends in Richland Center which may mean fewer hills. My guess is they will encourage you to steer your wife and her friends to one of their other rides which are just as much fun but less difficult.



“Bicycle Bill”, November 6, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Surprised they’re ending at Richland Center, which is 1) not even on the Wisconsin River (neither, for that matter, is Amherst or Adams/Friendship) and 2) almost 40 miles as the crow flies from the Mississippi River (and almost 60 miles to where the Wisconsin hits the Mississippi at Prairie du Chien).

The acronym GRABAAWR which originally stood for the GReat Annual Biking Adventure Along the Wisconsin River.  Apparently the word “Along” has been replaced with “Approximately close to”.

I still wish Wisconsin had SAAGBRAW as it was in the late ’70s/early ’80s, when it was a true cross-state ride, starting in La Crosse and finishing in Milwaukee.



CyclingRoberto, November 6, 2013 at 6:39 pm

I did it once about seven years ago. Like Sandaltan, same end point. Hills, not so bad really. In fact a good deal of the northern part was rollers, that when ridden correctly (pedal downhill) are quite enjoyable. The southern end had one big hill that everybody talked about for a couple of days, but when I got there it really wasn’t that daunting. Keep in mind I live in Pennsylvania, but even so, the biggest hill was only about a mile long.
The ride is known to many as the “Un-RAGBRAI” for good reason. It seemed the route purposely detoured us around towns. There were zero vendors selling stuff. Long gaps between convenience stores. Overnight towns had no clue we were coming or even there for that matter. About 1000 riders in all. Primitive route marking, no police presence, and yes, open roads.
I found the scenery to be amazing, the people warm and friendly, and the tour very well organized. But it was too Spartan for me. I was spoiled by the carnival that is RAGBRAI, and this is nothing like it. In fact, what is?
I’ve thought about going back for a second time, but haven’t made it because of dreams of other places. Meanwhile, I’ve done RAGBRAI six times.
If you’re up for a basic ride, with no frills, then this could be your ride.


CyclingRoberto, November 6, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Oh, and if you are looking to meet and ride with new people, might not happen on this ride. I rode for miles day after day hardly seeing another cyclist. Again, not at all the parade that is RAGBRAI.


mootsman, November 7, 2013 at 11:54 am

As far as numbers go, it has been years since they got near 1,000 riders. Last yeat I heard they had 291.

This reply was modified 6 years, 11 months ago by mootsman.


BackInTheSaddleAgain, December 4, 2013 at 12:22 pm

I participated in the 2012 GRABAAWR ride and did not find it any more hilly than my 2011 RAGBRAI experience. Our biggest challenge for the ride was head winds all day every day. Nothing dramatic, but we were constantly aware of and fatigued by them. As the route shifted from southerly to westerly, so did the winds. And, as others have noted, it was a tiny, mostly older crowd. There weren’t any vendors and fairly sparse sag stops along the route, so you had to be MUCH more careful about your food and water supplies throughout the day. All the campgrounds were on public school grounds, so there were no adult beverages allowed in camp, and if there was any shuttle service available into town for access to food and drink, they usually shut down by 9, so that was effectively curfew. The scenery in northern Wisconsin was amazing, but we rode out of that northwoods landscape on day 3 and things were much more “subtle” after that.


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