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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

KenH, February 15, 2019 at 12:18 pm

The new bike came with a very low grade of knobby tires and as I mentioned above that is ok, you really want all of your money going into all the other bits and none of it wasted on tires that will wear out. For my taste since bikes already commonly come without pedals, they could just as well come without tires. That would be a hard sell for most buyers however. But I have ridden the stock tires up to 40 miles and they do seem draggy. When I did a century late last fall that turned into 86 miles due to lack of time before the punkin pie service at the end of the ride closed up and left us without, I put my 38mm road tires on the bike. You can feel the difference for sure!

The tires I just ordered should be a whole lot better. Will they be good enough? If I were in my forties or earlier I would not give the matter any thought. Of course they will! At my present age, maybe, maybe not. I will have several months of experience with them and a few long rides on them by the time I show up in Council Bluffs in July. I plan to bring the 38’s as backups anyway so I am not worried.

The new tires will be tubeless however and that complicates matters in that tire swaps will be a bit messy. I know by now that the 38’s fit the bead hooks on the rim just fine. I also know that people have had success with running tube tires in tubeless mode by being generous with the sealant. So it might be possible to run the 38s tubeless so that I don’t have to pull the valves but it will still be messy if I need to swap them!

Mostly I want to run wider tires the whole week however. I know that if I’d had 2 inch and change tires on the bike last year I’d have made a few more of those gravel hills, if not all of them. I know that on every paved mile of RAGBRAI my 38s have had less trouble with road hazzards than the tiny tires so many people run. I know that I will never convince mootsman of this but wider is better, baby, wider is better!


superbicyclerepairman, February 15, 2019 at 12:27 pm

Bring a second set of tires. I run gravel tires for gravel day only then switch to road tires for the rest of the week.


mootsman, February 15, 2019 at 1:13 pm

Even tires needing tubes avoid the snake-bite pinch flats with good rim tape. And nearly all road bikes don’t have the clearance for gravel tires, so check your frame specs before buying gravel tires. Even running tubes I’ve never had a flat on gravel with 25mm or 23mm road tires. Some road bikes designed around being a loaded touring bike have the clearance. But most RAGBRAI riders don’t ride those.


KenH, February 15, 2019 at 3:26 pm

Anyone feel like guessing?

The official word is that CB to Atlantic is 58 miles, 2600 foc. A fairly direct route east from CB to Griswold on I92 then north through Lewis to Atlantic is 58 miles, 2800 foc according to Ride With GPS. So that is plausible and I’m not sure how far you could deviate from that without missing the mileage and foc targets.

My guess is that we will start the loop as we leave Griswold. There is a 16 mile loop that takes 550th St, Wichita Rd, I48, G66/Yankton Rd, and Kirwood Avenue to Elliott, the loop town in my guess. Then west on I48 and north on Juniper Ave/525th St which winds its way back to I92 and Griswold. There are plenty of options for longer routes by going farther east from Griswold before turning south and/or farther west from Elliott before heading north. A 16 mile loop might be on the short side of typical but it would be mostly gravel.

The Google street view shows almost none of this route, just the places where it enters or leaves a paved road. That is not unusual, I think that 2016’s loop was the only one where we could do a virtual ride of the whole thing from street view. But what you can see of it looks pretty tame. Much more like the first gravel loop than last years. If the loop is that short running it twice would bring you to 90 for the day so if you wanted to get in 100 you’d have to run it thrice or find 10 more miles somewhere else. If it is as easy as it looks like it could be that might be an option for many of us.

If I am right you could have your chance to join us this year, mootsman!


jelly0317, February 15, 2019 at 7:06 pm

I would guess that the mileage/feet of climb would be similar with an Underwood/Hancock or Oakland/Lewis route.


KenH, February 16, 2019 at 6:14 pm

RWGPS says yes on Underwood/Hancock but the foc looks too high on Oakland/Lewis and while the other two have a reasonable number of pass through town opportunities Oakland/Lewis looks a little spare. But more to the point what’s your prediction of the route of the gravel loop?

I don’t know how good their elevation data is on gravel roads but RWGPS says the loop guess I outlined above has about 600 foc, one of the tamer ones if I happened to guess right. On the other hand the Just Go Bike podcast 104 had TJ commenting that the route length has grown slightly already as they have started to talk with local towns and counties about the plan. But that is both the hazard and the fun of guessing!


jelly0317, February 16, 2019 at 7:20 pm

Sorry, I was a little off-topic, just suggesting other possible main routes. I’ll let the gravel aficionados speculate on their loop. Anyway, I think that it’ll be a tough first day.


genefruit, February 17, 2019 at 7:14 am

I’ll take a guess the day’s route runs along side 80, crossing over just after Neola. My gravel loop guess is a start just before Avoca looping down to Hancock and back.

day 1 guess – https://ridewithgps.com/routes/29248602
gravel loop guess – https://ridewithgps.com/routes/29246457


KenH, February 17, 2019 at 6:32 pm

It’s not off topic to suggest main routes, the loop will branch off from the main route!

Genefruit’s loop is both plausible and it is on the Google street view so if it is the right guess or the loop is in that area you may be able to “ride” it on Google! In one of the podcasts or the route party interview TJ has said that the route “may” jog above I80 a few times. Shelby looks like a plausible reason to cross above I80 so your guess is probably better than mine.


KenH, March 17, 2019 at 6:35 pm

Well, day 1 details have been released today and the gravel loop runs from Underwood on the main route to McClelland, the loop town, and back to the main route. Of course at this stage the route map does not contain details like the road/street numbers on the gravel loop and it is an “artist’s concept” rather than a precise roadmap so the exact route is open to interpretation, especially at the end where it connects back to the main route. I think you can get a good idea about most of it however and this year is one of those rare (so far) years when the gravel loop is on gravel roads that the Google street view has documented.

As a result you can take your best guess as to the exact route and then do a virtual ride around the loop to get a feel for what it will be like. I looked at bits and pieces and to me it looks a lot like the roads we rode the first year through 2017. I think you will be able to run it on your road bike and tires. It has ~1200 feet of climb so it has some hills. Probably similar to 2016 and 2017. It might be feasible for mere mortals with a spirit of adventure to run it twice as I did in 2017 and make the day a century. This option appeals to me since I have volunteered to drive the team vehicle on Karras loop day so that the other three can do the century that day.

In one recent podcast TJ more or less promised to dial the gravel loop back a bit this year and it looks like he has done that. But my condition at the end of the first lap this year will have the final say over my plan to run it twice. I think it is a fun thing to do if you’ve the legs so keep that option in mind. The businesses in McClelland won’t object to having two chances to serve you!


bricycle Rothberg, March 18, 2019 at 9:29 pm

I’m a Ragbrai Virgin, so forgive me if this doesn’t make sense.
As far as I can tell, the route release is just a PDF map; no actual road details.
From the picture, the Gravel Loop returns to the original route, where we would have to re-ride some earlier roads. If that is true, the actual Gravel would be less than the 20.9 additional miles because it would include the paved roads of the regular route.
Does that make sense? If not, I would welcome some education.


KenH, March 19, 2019 at 7:48 am

Generally speaking you are correct on all points. The maps give some road numbers on the main route but none on the gravel loop. So you have to look at the map, which is an artist’s concept not a precise cartographer’s map, and try to fit what you see to the road network. As you head east from Underwood there are at least two potential points where you could turn south and match the pdf reasonably well. The last bit of gravel from McClelland back to the main route starts out matching the road network but there are no roads that match well with the turn north and the run west to connect back to the main route. Your guess is as good as mine.

In addition when I take my best shot at putting this route into Ride With GPS I come up with 26 to 27 miles for the loop length. I don’t expect my results to match theirs exactly but 26 versus 20.9 is an unusually large discrepancy. By going slightly farther east before turning south towards McClelland I can get the gravel part from Underwood back to the main route to come out to 21.3 miles which matches well with the stated length so while it would be unusual for them to report the loop length this way perhaps that is what they meant, the actual gravel portion of the loop is 20.9 miles. They will undoubtedly describe the gravel loop in detail during the pre-ride in early June and they may offer some comments on the Just Go Bike Podcast before then if you would care to tune that in.

If you are a dedicated gravel grinder then RAGBRAI’s gravel loops will tend to be pretty tame for you. This isn’t the Dirty Kanza. Last year’s might have been more your style, it certainly defeated me! But every other year they have been more like a pinch of cinnamon on your hot cocoa than a hearty prime rib dinner. You can run it twice or thrice if you’ve got the legs and the time however!


genefruit, March 19, 2019 at 10:44 am

I got 27.8 for the full loop with 17 being gravel that is very close on the quoted elevation. I also had difficulties determining the last part of the loop that connects back to the main route and made my choice based on interpretation. https://ridewithgps.com/routes/29246457


KenH, March 19, 2019 at 1:09 pm

I got similar results. Here are a few of my doodlings, assuming the link works. There is one complete loop and four more where I tried to keep the gravel portion at about the stated mileage of 20.9. The elevations are probably about as close as one can expect unless RAGBRAI also happens to use RWGPS to generate the numbers.


ltyoungster, March 19, 2019 at 4:56 pm

I think they might have an oops on this route map. Since you have to ride the L34/G30 section of the route twice. The total mileage for the day including the gravel loop is 85mi+. I am sure they added 20.9 miles of gravel through McClelland, but did not account for the double miles on the base route.


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