Gravel Loop Thoughts and Questions

I would love to do the gravel loop, but am a little intimidated to do an 80 mile 4000′ of climb on day 1 in the Loess Hills area of western Iowa. Also, I’m kind of a neat freak with my bike & getting it full of grunge without having cleaning facilities following the day is another reason to put it off.

1. Is the gravel loop always on day 1?
2. Any thoughts on cleaning bike following the route (if it happens to rain on that day).
3. Has the message been received by RAGBRAI to instruct the highway department NOT to grade the loop with a fresh 3″ layer of sandy gravel as happened last year?
4. Has anyone tested a gravel grinder bike – which would eliminate my concerns of #2.

Thanks for reading & responding. A what the he??… if the weather is nice I think I will do it this year. haha

16 Replies

Kelsi Jurik, June 24, 2019 at 4:27 pm

You might ask this again in the Iowa Gravel Project on facebook. I haven’t actually ridden the gravel loop on ragbrai before, but I am planning on riding my gravel bike for all of ragbrai, mostly because it’s way more comfortable for that much distance. I know plenty of people who ride their gravel bikes the whole way.


Ted Larson, June 24, 2019 at 5:00 pm

Last year the gravel loop was really soft and sandy. I was on my gravel bike and it was not that much fun.
Other years, it has been fairly tight/compacted gravel especially in the tire lanes.
I, like Kelsi above, will be on my gravel bike again this year. A much softer ride.
Last year there was a big back up of the procession down the road. At least an hour of walking.
With the gravel bike, I just went down and rode the ditch. No one was riding the ditch with their road bikes.
Your bike will get dirty, and so will you.


David, June 24, 2019 at 10:29 pm

From the ride report and some photos that were shared on FB it looks similar gravel to last year. The hills aren’t as steep as the last half of last year.

Did last year on a road bike with 25c tires. It wasn’t that bad but it probably got much worse during the day as ruts formed. No lines or processions when I was there but given the way people were wobbling it wouldn’t have taken many riders to trigger that. I think only saw 3 people after leaving the town.

If you want to get a drive train clean on your bike after the gravel loop it would only cost around $20 for one of the bike shops to do it. I am sure they would spray your frame and wipe it down, or let you do it. For a reasonable price you can get about anything you need.


Bikingaddict, June 24, 2019 at 10:50 pm

The route inspection pre-ride report said that the gravel was in great condition. A bit hillier than last year, but the hills weren’t what made last year challenging – it was the deep and loose gravel. I don’t think they’ve announced the actual roads that the gravel loop takes, but taking some reasonable guesses, you can “ride” the entire route via Google Street View. From what I can see the gravel looks very rideable.

I’m looking forward to it again this year. It will be my fourth gravel loop and I’ll ride it again on my road bike unless I hit that magic window of opportunity to grab a demo-bike without having to wait an hour or more :)


Cory Hedin, June 25, 2019 at 12:36 pm

I think gravel loop has always been on day one.

I never had to clean my bike yet after the gravel loop but have only done the last two. A power spray at a car wash followed up by some chain lube or quick wax would do the trick in a pinch.

Last year, that sand was unexpected to say the least. Saw many a rider walking uphills, or riding on the grass on the side of the roads. Saw a couple of flop overs and downhill wipe outs. A road tire or anything less than 40mm would’ve sucked and made for a long slog. I rode my Salsa Cutthroat, which I’m running 29×2.1’s so the sand really didn’t matter. I’ve rode this bike the last two RAGBRAI’s, and it will come along for my third. I’ve also done the century days. This bike is super comfortable (it should if it’s built for Tour Divide). I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a do anything bike — I even ride it on singletrack and do group road rides on it. So, yeah, I would totally consider a gravel grinder bike for the full week! :)


skb-mpls, June 25, 2019 at 1:29 pm


Your riding a kick ass bike! I’m on a early retiree budget with my Fairdale Weekender drop 1×11 with 42cm tires… haha. I’ll be in much better shape than those riding the road bikes with 23’s.

I’ll look for your bike.


andytetmeyer, June 26, 2019 at 12:08 pm

your bike will get dusty, unless it is wet. If you have an excessively oiled chain it will probably turn into a mess, but it can be cleaned off. Chain wax is awesome in the cleanliness department. Last year’s sand added some excitement.


Scott, June 27, 2019 at 8:29 am

Gravel was in perfect shape on the route inspection ride. I rode it with 32 slicks but we did have someone ride it on 25s with no problems. I shot a video with my VIRB during the loop, it’s kinda long but feel free to check it out.


Cory Rood, June 27, 2019 at 9:26 am

The only thing that IMO would eliminate riding the gravel loop is if your bike has rim brakes and carbon wheels. Other than that if you are so inclined, check it out. Gravel is a lot of fun.


KenH, June 27, 2019 at 12:09 pm

1. Is the gravel loop always on day 1?

It always has been since the gravel loop has become an optional feature of the ride. Nothing forces RAGBRAI to have the loop on Sunday, however, or to have it at all for that matter. If you like the gravel loop then support it by riding it and encouraging others to ride it. The more of us who ride it the more secure it becomes as a RAGBRAI tradition that cannot be eliminated.

2. Any thoughts on cleaning bike following the route (if it happens to rain on that day).

Seek professional help for your obsession? ;)

Seriously, this is not my thing but you can probably find a place to wash your bike. Lines can be long but I believe the mobile bike shops will do this for a fee. Local brick and mortar businesses may be able to help you. Almost certainly you can find a home owner who will let you wash your bike off with their hose if you ask politely and offer to buy them an adult beverage….

3. Has the message been received by RAGBRAI to instruct the highway department NOT to grade the loop with a fresh 3″ layer of sandy gravel as happened last year?

I am not sure that is what happened last year. People who rode the loop early reported it to be in good condition. Those of us who followed in their tire tracks found it much, much harder. I think the early riders cut up the surface of the road which was not, perhaps, a “B” road but which did not seem as well built and maintained as the other gravel loops on RAGBRAI and I have ridden them all so far. I have not been shy about admitting it in the past and I will admit it again, I had to walk as many as a dozen of those hills, the only time that has happened at RAGBRAI to date.

I think the road this year will be better than that and will hold its condition as hordes of riders run it. But I could be wrong. Nothing that happened previously prepared me for last year’s conditions. I’ve since upgraded my bike which now has 2.15 inch tires and that should help. Riding in the ditch did not occur to me last year, I will keep that option in mind and assess its feasibility if the need arises. But if all else fails my experience last year proves that you can walk gravel hills!

4. Has anyone tested a gravel grinder bike – which would eliminate my concerns of #2.

I think lines tend to be long but sure, this is an option again this year with a vendor whose name escapes me signed up to provide demo bikes at the loop entrance. It’s a great service for those thinking of buying a gravel bike and for those who have not yet realized that it is possible to do this ride in extreme comfort on something other than a road racing bike. Both my old and new bikes and tires are quite gravel worthy so I never availed myself of the opportunity to ride the loop on a demo bike, preferring to help those without by not getting in line ahead of them. But if you can stand the wait, go for it. You might just find that a gravel bike is more your thing than whatever you are riding now! You will get the chance to run it on pavement for a few miles too and it will probably surprise you.


skb-mpls, June 27, 2019 at 12:24 pm

Thanks much to all for great info and video. I’m all in. See you on the gravel loop!


KenH, June 28, 2019 at 10:27 am

Thanks for the video, Scott. The road surface appears to be well packed Iowa standard country road gravel and not like last year’s sand box. I don’t think it will be a problem even after a thousand or two riders have ridden it ahead of you.

One question though. Did you lose someone or are we all obligated to circle that one intersection five times??



RoyBoy, June 28, 2019 at 10:49 am

If you are thinking of riding the gravel loop, get some saddle time on some gravel before RAGBRAI. Case in point, a rather tall, muscular guy was bragging how easy it was on the first half of the loop with his carbon fiber fat bike. But when it came to the hills on the second half, he kept losing traction and had to walk up. I had no trouble with my 32mm road slicks on my heavy steel Surly Straggler because I ride a lot of gravel all year long. You don’t need a special gravel bike, just one you know will get you from point A to point B.

So get on your bikes and ride.


Scott, July 1, 2019 at 11:00 am

[quote quote=1306649]
One question though. Did you lose someone or are we all obligated to circle that one intersection five times??

Ha! Ya we got split up and I was just circling waiting for the rest of the group to catch up. I think if yo do the gravel though, you should circle that intersection too!


MadRanger, July 2, 2019 at 11:27 pm

Last year’s gravel loop felt extra satisfying a-f-t-e-r surviving the loess spin and slalom experience on 25mm road bike tires. Looking forward to riding 28’s this year! – unless there’s no line for a right-sized gravel demo bike. RAGBRAI is all about embracing new adventures so hope you all have a great time!


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