Gravel Day 2021! (not loop)

Good to see that RAGBRAI leadership looked outside the loop and came up with a gravel day. It keeps the main route less congested with riders hitting the same section twice and gives gravel fans more miles of gravel. New ideas are appreciated.

This topic was modified 3 weeks, 5 days ago by mootsman.

18 Replies

Jim Martin, January 31, 2021 at 10:35 pm

As I want to do the gravel loop, this has me concerned. My road bike won’t even fit 25’s.
Will have to see what it is like, but I am now thinking of how to bring my CX bike and two wheelsets.


KenH, February 1, 2021 at 8:23 am

This is a great move by RAGBRAI, Steve Hed would have approved as I am sure his family and company do.

I would not worry about the change with respect to your road bike and tires. If you think you could have done the traditional gravel loop on them consider this: it is only around 20 miles from Fort Dodge to Webster City and not all of the distance will be gravel. So you should be as able to ride the first leg of the gravel route as well as you could have done a traditional gravel loop which would be about the same distance.

The wild card is the condition of the roads on the day we will ride them, a point they emphasized during the RAP, as they do every year at some point. In the short history of this loop we have seen gravel that was nearly pan flat and compressed to the point of almost being pavement. And then we have seen 2018’s excursion through the Loess hills, gravel style. That day illustrated how difficult Iowa gravel can be and how quickly it can change even in the absence of a downpour which could make almost any gravel road very difficult and unpleasant to ride. The earlybirds reported a road surface that was easily rideable on any tires, if a bit hilly during the second half. Those of us who got there later in the day had to ride a surface that had been cut through to the underlying sand like Loess. Riding on the flat was tiring, climbing those hills was brutal, and descending them was the stuff of nightmares since you wanted to carry all the speed you could to the bottom of the next hill but you were taking your life in your hands by trying to ride fast on a surface that was nearly impossible to steer through. Good times!

Whether the route itself has been good, bad, or ugly the scenery it passes through has consistently been among the best that Iowa has to offer and that is saying a lot. Those Loess hills were also quite lovely!

That said if you want to ride the whole route and you have a CX bike then you would be doing yourself a favor to bring it instead of the road bike. You don’t need two wheelsets, you can ride the whole week on gravel tires or tires that are wide enough to be competent on both surfaces. You will be a little slower on the road if you are a very fast rider, more average riders won’t notice any difference. The extra width of gravel worthy tires might even save you from a nasty fall some time during the week due to a road crack that would eat your 23s whole but merely give an unsuccessful nibble to 42s.

I have ridden every RAGBRAI since 2012 and every mile I rode has been on 38’s except for 2019. That was the year I brought my new Trek which has knobby 55s. I’m looking for 55s or bigger that don’t have knobs but even those roll well and give a comfortable ride that laughs at most road hazards.

This reply was modified 3 weeks, 4 days ago by KenH.


KenH, February 1, 2021 at 8:34 am

I would not count on this gravel day relieving the congestion on the main route however. In years past the gravel ridership has been 10% and less of the total. I get the sense that they will promote this gravel day concept to riders who might not have much interest in RAGBRAI but who will show up for a day of fun on the gravel. So you could potentially see quite a bit of traffic on the gravel without drawing much of it from the main route which would then be even more congested on those portions of pavement that everyone has to ride. It will be an epic day either way, you don’t want to miss it whatever route you take. Imagine the fun you pavement riders will have if it rains that day and you get to watch the parade of mud rats rolling into the overnight town!


David, February 1, 2021 at 8:59 am

While the gravel section won’t reduce congestion much below the typical level, removing the “loop” which sometimes involves riding part of the main route twice avoids that extra congestion.

Sometimes, the gravel loops worked out so that we don’t have to ride that much of the main route twice. It really depends on how the roads and routes work out.

The Karras loop is usually worse about that. This year we will be on a large section of the main route twice. That will be somewhat balanced by the start of the loop being the end of the route. Traffic is more spread out then. Fewer people will want to start the loop when they are a few miles from camp as well.


Theo Mellis, February 1, 2021 at 9:44 am

Is the gravel day option the same distance or Further?

This reply was modified 3 weeks, 4 days ago by Theo Mellis.


DenBiker, February 1, 2021 at 10:05 am

MORE MILES FOR SURE – We won’t know exactly how much until it gets posted but my best guess (based upon the north/south deviation from the measured route) is that the first leg will add 4 to 6 miles and the second leg will add another 14 to 16 miles. That could easily make it a 70 to 80 mile day for the truly adventurous.


Anne Lawrie, February 2, 2021 at 11:35 am

Gravel Day is 70 miles. Two sections. Sections meet in the meeting town.


Anne Lawrie, February 2, 2021 at 11:36 am

Check out the map on


trknight, February 5, 2021 at 7:37 am

3 or 4 years ago I brought a road bike that can take 28mm tires which I used on the gravel route which I think was the first day (a little challenging where the gravel was deep) and had brought 25mm tires along which I changed into for the balance of the week. Since then, with that bike, I’ve gone tubeless and ride 28’s regardless. Now, I would probably bring a different bike and ride 30-40mm+ tires that are the best combination for gravel and pavement for the whole week.


“Bicycle Bill”, February 7, 2021 at 9:37 am


After looking at the map, it appears that for at least one day RAGBRAI will effectively be split into two separate routes – the paved route and the gravel alternative.  This does raise a couple of questions, and I wonder if the powers-that-be at RAGBRAI have thoroughly thought them through.

For example — anyone taking the gravel alternative is going to end up skipping the pass-through towns of Duncombe, Blairsburg, and Williams.  What other options are there going to be for the people who DO opt for the gravel route?  The map doesn’t seem to show anything except the meet-up town of Webster City, and then once again gravel-route riders appear to be on their own until they rejoin the main route again at Alden, less than 10 miles from the day’s endpoint of Iowa Falls.  60 miles, much of it on gravel, with only two pass-through towns?  Seriously??

How about the people of Duncombe, Blairsburg, and Williams?  I don’t suppose there will be a HUGE number of people who choose to go off-road rather than stay on pavement, but some certainly will.  How are these communities going to be able to plan for how many people will stop for breakfast or whatever?  Since they agreed to host the ride as a pass-through town, shouldn’t they get the opportunity to host ALL of the riders??

And as long as we’re talking about the gravel route, how are you going to allocate your sagwagon and bike-repair shop facilities between what becomes two parallel routes?  My personal opinion is that this is one case where the whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts, and dividing your resources into two separate units will result in both routes receiving sub-standard service. There will be longer waits on either route for riders on either route who have need of the sagwagons, or fewer opportunities to reach a repair facility where they could get a needed part (tire, for example), effect repairs, and continue on their way.

Or are the ride organizers now assuming that every RAGBRAIer is part of a large organization, club, team, family RV support group, or something and have their own personal support vehicles at their beck-and-call — just ring them up on the cell phone and they’ll be there to pick you up?  I certainly hope not; first of all, cell service in much of rural Iowa is spotty at best, even without the tower congestion that RAGBRAI would cause, and second, all these personal ‘taxi-cabs’ and ‘Ubers’ coming onto the route to pick up riders in distress, especially on a gravel road, sounds like a recipe for chaos.

This sounds more like change merely for the sake of change, not because it is something that is going to enhance the ride.  I hope it doesn’t backfire on you, Ms. Lawrie.


Jboz, February 7, 2021 at 2:34 pm

60 miles, much of it on gravel, with only two pass-through towns?  Seriously??

Definitely is a more rugged day than a typical RAGBRAI day. Gravel riding in general is a bit of roughing it. But it does look like Dows falls roughly along the gravel route, and I suspect that’s part of the route. So it’s more like a pass-through town about every 20 or so miles. I guess that’s not easy by RAGBRAI standards, but I’ve done many 25+ mile solo rides out in the country without seeing anything other than farmhouses. It’s kind of part of the deal with gravel riding…you jump up one cassette cog and bring along a little extra water. Riders who opt for the gravel route will know exactly what they are getting into, and I doubt they will mind.

Also, I think Gravel Day part 1 will be fairly well attended, including those familiar with gravel riding as well as those wanting to give it a try. Part 2 is longer and I bet will be much thinner, with only the true gravel enthusiasts remaining.


KenH, February 8, 2021 at 10:41 am

I think that gravel day is meant to appeal to two groups of riders. Those who have long championed having a parallel gravel route for either a day or the whole ride! And those who are dedicated gravel riders and will probably join RAGBRAI for that day only. Both are the same type of self sufficient rider and won’t be put off by this plan for a day of gravel at RAGBRAI. They aspire to do or have done Dirty Kanza in other words!

The rest of us have two options. We can just buck up and do it already, much as we do on Karras Loop day. Or we can just take Part 1 of the gravel loop which looks to be very similar to previous year’s gravel loops and may be easier than most. This area of Iowa appears to be pretty flat on the few Google street level views that I have checked out so even this whole day of gravel might turn out to be easier than the Hell Of The Loess that we had a couple of years ago, to pick one example. But to do the second par you might want to pack along some snacks and plenty of water of course.

Dows is 8 miles, round trip, from the gravel loop as published. So unless they change the route it is not on the route. If your energy is starting to flag from lack of food at that point it is close enough to detour to and appears to have enough amenities to fill your tank again. Personally I think it ought to be on the route but others might prefer to lose those 8 miles.

Popejoy is much closer to the route and much smaller. On its own it does not have much to offer hungry, thirsty, weary riders although I am sure it is a fine town. It could easily be added to the route however and it might make a nice place for vendors to set up. I believe RAGBRAI has said they hope to have vendors on the gravel route.

Woolstock is near the first part of the gravel route. Seems to have more native amenities than Popejoy, less than Dows. You are quite close to Webster City at that point however so not much to gain from including Woolstock from our perspective although the town might feel differently about that.

RAGBRAI has said that they plan to have more support this year to address Covid concerns so I think they would have enough to cover both routes, especially since the two are close enough to share support vehicles. I honestly cannot say that I have ever seen the SAG wagon or an ambulance on any of the gravel loops but I believe that RAGBRAI has been prepared to divert them there for an emergency and I assume the SAG wagon does an end of day “sweep” of them. This year is not much different than most in this respect.

I think they have a good plan in place that will appeal to more day riders than the traditional loop. The experience this year will determine if they need to make adjustments next time or if there will be a next time.


mootsman, February 8, 2021 at 11:25 am

And what happens to the Gravel Loop patch. Do you pick up some sort coupon on the first segment and turn it in for a patch on the second?

This reply was modified 2 weeks, 4 days ago by mootsman.


Papa T, February 13, 2021 at 4:35 pm

GRAVEL SUCKS and does not belong on Ragbrai! Since my last Ragbrai was 2019 it is an appropriate farewell to THE RIDE! Some of us remember why ragbrai abandoned gravel (the road maintenance folks put new gravel on the road shortly before the ride and it rained that morning). it was a MESS. Hope it doesn’t happen this year. (but it might).


David, February 13, 2021 at 7:54 pm

Papa T, not sure why the outrage. It is still optional it just doesn’t “loop” because it rejoins the main course down the route.


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