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Gravel loop

Any news on this year’s gravel loop? What day, where, elevation, general gnarliness? I have gotten spoiled on wider low pressure tires on my gravel steed and am considering doing the whole week (gasp!) on it.

31 Replies

RDaryl Daryl, February 8, 2019 at 7:01 pm

The gravel loop will be Sunday.
Details will likely be provided when the full route is released in March.


KenH, February 8, 2019 at 7:22 pm

Both the GL and the MOS (mile of silence) are traditionally on the first day and this year does not break with tradition. In Just Go Bike podcast #103 there is a brief discussion of the GL and the MOS is mentioned. In summary TJ admitted to “hurting us pretty bad last year” so they will dial it back a bit this year. Andrea Parrot opined that it would be dialed down to 10 from last year’s 11. If you listen carefully to the podcast you can hear the JGB podcast drummer exploding faintly in the background at that point…. Give the podcast a listen and you will know as much as the rest of us know until early March as R-DD said above. It will likely get you excited about the rest of the ride too.

I bought a new touring bike when I got home last year, a Trek 920. It’s got 29er rims and will take a 2.2 inch tire for sure, maybe a 2.5. The Bontrager bargain bin tires it came with are nothing you’d want to ride much more than 30 miles on pavement so I am looking for 29er tires that can eat gravel for breakfast on Sunday and then roll like 23’s the rest of the week. If you have any thoughts on good “dual use” 29er tires, let me know because I will ride the 920 the whole week.

The forum has gotten a little testy of late so let me be clear that I do not criticize either Trek or Bontrager for the quality of the tires that came with the new bike. They are unlikely to pick the tires either I or anyone else will want in the long run if they did put high grade rubber on it and of course in the long run they are going to wear out and need replacement anyway. So, putting the cheapest tires available on a new bike is exactly the right thing to do, in my opinion. I want all my money spent on the bits that I will be keeping for a while and none wasted on tires that mostly likely won’t suit me! The stock tires will certainly serve while I decide what to get and the rims easily take my Vittoria 38’s which I used to do an 86 miler last fall if I do want to do another long ride before I get the new tires.


ESchiers, February 11, 2019 at 6:01 pm

Does the gravel loop have a specific distance or is it dependant on available roads?


Ron Barton, February 11, 2019 at 6:15 pm

Blind cyclist needs help transporting tandem from Denver to Iowa & back!


KenH, February 12, 2019 at 8:12 am

The Karras loop has a distance that is set by the main route’s length for the day. It is set to bring your total up to 100 miles for the day, give or take a few. I don’t believe there is anything driving the distance of the gravel loop. I think they just pick a nice route to get you to and from a town that wants to be a pass through town but isn’t on the main route. Two years ago I noticed that if I rode the gravel loop twice it would make the day a century for me. Since I was driving the team vehicle on Karras loop day that is what I did! Last year was the same except for two things: you’d have needed to run the gravel loop three times to make a century and last year’s gravel loop was an order of magnitude harder than any previous year’s gravel loop. I only just barely survived last year’s loop so running it two more times to get to a century was out of the question!!

We will probably get more details on the first or second Sunday of March when they will day by day reveal the full route. Stay tuned….


KenH, February 12, 2019 at 8:19 am

Couple of things about a blind rider on a tandem. First, BRAVO, glad to hear that people are doing this! If I had a blind friend who wanted to come this is exactly what I would suggest to him/her. The second is that this thread will probably not be a high traffic thread and you should re-post your request somewhere else. One alternative that is open right now is to start a thread in Clubs, Teams, and Charters. Eventually they will open a section for Looking For Rides 2019 and that might be the best place. Just starting your own thread with the title “Blind cyclist needs help transporting tandem” in the main forum will probably work well too.


mootsman, February 12, 2019 at 8:50 am

I’m hoping for a GL like the very first one which is the only one I’ve ridden. Pomeroy was the GL town. Gentle grades that really didn’t qualify as hills.

Last year the pics looked like the hills were steep enough that even strong riders had to walk because they lost traction and spun out. Did anyone have that experience?

As long as the hills are ride-able with regular road tires, I’m going to try it.


Anonymous, February 12, 2019 at 4:14 pm

The hills on the GL were challenging last year, but I rode it on my road bike with 25mm road tires (Conti GP4000S II). There were times that my rear wheel spun as I was standing and mashing on the pedals and there were times my front wheel got a bit loose. But I never had to walk any part of it. I did stop for a couple pulls on my water bottle since riding one-handed was pretty dicey at times. But depending on your experience with gravel I’d say it was definitely rideable.


mootsman, February 13, 2019 at 8:26 am

I did notice when I rode the GL-1 many riders I thought were going too slow to be cautious. I had ridden gravel before on a road bike and done a lot of off-road so I knew keeping up your speed actually helps on gravel, as long as its not crowded. GL-1 was not crowded so you could ride at a good clip without encountering many riders. But if its more crowded now extra speed might not be a good option.


KenH, February 13, 2019 at 12:01 pm

I had some rear tire slippage last year but that did not cause me to walk up hills. I walked up hills because the surface was so soft and effort required to plow through it so high that I simply could not generate the Watts required to go up those hills even at minimum speed. The hills were just as steep going down in most cases and even though you got going fast enough to have steering trouble your downhill speeds were only half to a third of what they would have been on pavement.

The thing is that early riders reported none of this and the official RAGBRAI pre-ride reports didn’t either, although one of thier riders did come off the loop hating gravel. I think the passage of 1500 or so bicycles cut the surface up to the point where it became much softer than the organizers anticipated or experienced in the pre-ride. At least I’d like to think that TJ would have warned us about this if he had known. I actually saw him in Moorhead and he warned me that the flat part was over and the hills were about to start. But he did not warn me about how hard the road surface was going to make those hills so he may not have known. Younger guys and gals were handling them without walking however and probably on 25s, perhaps even 23s.

I’m going with 55’s, up from 38’s, this year. JIC….


Chris Harbaugh, February 13, 2019 at 12:02 pm

I am checking out Maxxis Hookworm tires (29×2.5). I have seen some good things and I believe $45 per tire. Also interested what others have to say.


KenH, February 14, 2019 at 8:21 am

Hey Chris, I’ve noticed the Hookworms and they look like plausible RAGBRAI tires. I admit that I have pulled the trigger on a pair of Hutchinson Skeleton tires just yesterday. There is not much information out there on them and they are knobbier than I would like for road use but I decided to take a risk on them.

You see I just could not resist the temptation to have my name emblazoned on my tires!!

Besides that the model name fits in surprisingly well with my dream to die in the saddle when I do die some day. The current version runs something like this. In a few decades from now when I would be impossibly old to still be riding RAGBRAI I go flying down a hill in one of those rare traffic “bubbles” where there is no one within eyesight of me except for a knot of people ahead of me who cannot, of course see me. I miss the turn at the bottom and end up lifeless in the bottom of a wooded ravine. The riders ahead hear the clatter and a couple of them turn around but by then there is nothing to see. So they chalk it up to one of life’s mysteries and continue on. My next of kin eventually file a missing persons report when I am not heard from at the conclusion of RAGBRAI but those riders never learn of it and so that potential clue to my whereabouts is lost. My bicycle and skeleton are finally found a decade later and the ISP are trying to identify my remains. Suddenly one of them remembers that old missing persons report and gaining a sudden flash of insight from looking at my tires exclaims to the rest of the investigation team “Say, you don’t suppose this is the Huctchinson skeleton, do you?”



Chris Harbaugh, February 14, 2019 at 3:05 pm

Quite the story Ken and that would be a good way to go out. May even make the side of a milk carton. I would like to have my name on a set of tires but I have to settle for throwback Chicago Bears or Michigan football jerseys.


Dizzy, February 14, 2019 at 5:09 pm

The Red Kite Prayer web blog has done numerous gravel bike tire reviews over the past year. Those looking forward to the Gravel Loop may want to give those reviews a read-through before deciding on new tires. D


mootsman, February 15, 2019 at 9:14 am

I’ve done the GL on 25mm tubeless road tires without issues and no doubt plenty have done it on 23mm tires. Tubeless are nice in that they eliminate pinch flats which seem like the most common cause of GL flats but you need tubeless compatible rims. Running gravel tires though the whole week for a 10 mile stretch of gravel could take a lot of extra energy.


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