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Gravel Loop????

Will we have a Gravel Loop this year? I really enjoyed that last year!!!

77 Replies

T. Gap Woo, March 11, 2016 at 10:25 am

brian wallenburg: You’ll hit Beekman’s, gravel or not! I assure you, they will be on a paved road. It’s worth the stop. Ice Cream, lawn chairs and shade, while taking a break on a hot summer bike ride…..

…. and if you’re lucky, there will be pies baked by Amish ladies as part of the setup. Pie ala mode can’t be beat! This experience gives new meaning to that famous phrase from Field of Dreams, “Is this Heaven? No. It’s Iowa.”

See you along the I-O-Way.


515rider, March 11, 2016 at 12:40 pm

Ahh, Beekman’s Ice Cream! I can’t wait to hear the sound of the steam engines making the ice cream!


jonlumpkin, March 22, 2016 at 1:29 pm

Question for the locals regarding tire selection for this. I am almost certainly going to ride my Cannondale CAAD10 for RAGBRAI, and this loop, as I don’t want to ride my Cyclocross bike for the entire week and bringing two bikes is not practical. I do intend to do the gravel loop and am reasonably comfortable on limestone, light gravel, dirt and other open surfaces that still count as roads on my CAAD10. Reading through everything I would probably try the 100% gravel loop with a return on 130 unless a hard rain turns it to mud and then all bets are off.

So that brings up the question of tires. I would prefer not to have to swap tires after day 1 and thus the goal would be to go with the same set for the whole week. I have three ready options for the tires I could run for RAGBRAI and am seeking some advice regarding how worried I need to be about flats (particularly sidewall damage) on this section of road and Iowa gravel in general.

Continental GP4000s II 25mm
Continental Grand Prix 4 Season 28mm
Vittoria Open Pave 27mm

Despite the different size labels all three of these measure out almost identically at 27mm wide on the 23mm rims I would use (Pacenti SL23). Main difference comes down to weight and rolling resistance (advantage 4000s) vs anti puncture belts and reinforced sidewalls (advantage to the 4 seasons and paves). All three are high TPI slicks with no tread to speak of and the largest tire that will fit my frame. All would run at 70/80 psi f/r and I’m 6’1″ 175.

My inclination is to go with the 4000s unless local experience tells me those tires would get shredded on this loop. Tubeless road is also a theoretical option with these wheels but I’ve never tried that with tires under 40mm and would need to buy new tires to experiment.

I also would consider a detour onto the Wabash Trace trail as well but know nothing of it. From a quick look it seems like a converted rail trail similar to the American Tobacco Trail in my current home of Durham, NC. Are the nicer sections north of south of Imogene?


mootsman, March 23, 2016 at 6:56 am


I road the gravel last year on 25mm Hutch Inversions tubeless with no issues at all. 25mm is plenty wide enough especially if you have off-road riding experience which is more helpful then the tire selection. The biggest issue would be pinch-flats on gravel but tubeless eliminate that possibility. I assume new tubeless compatible wheels are not in your near future though. I saw a few people riding the gravel just fine on 23mm tires also. RAGBRAI does not pick the most challenging gravel possible. If your selection of Continentals includes a version with a Gatorskin Hardshell that would be best for tires with tubes.

Your right, a cyclocross bike would be a waste of energy the other 420+ miles, not worth it for 13 miles of gravel.

If you are thinking about tubeless rims though I went from 2-6 flats a year to 1 flat in the last 3 years. A bit tricky to learn how to mount the tires though.


jonlumpkin, March 23, 2016 at 8:23 am

Thanks for the tips Mootsman. To your suggestion the wheels I plan to use ARE Tubeless Compatible (Pacenti SL23 laced 28/32) and are currently set up ghetto tubeless with 40mm WTB Nanos for my CX bike. I’ve also used them just fine with tubes using Conti Attack/Force (22/24) and Conti 4 Seasons 28mm. And yeah, the first few times I mounted regular tires to them was a pain as the rims are tight.

The question becomes do I bite the bullet and try road tubeless for RAGBRAI as this would require buying new tires (never seen good tubeless for under $60 each and usually more) or rolling with what I have in the garage today. Setup on tubeless may also require a trip to the bike shop as I don’t own a compressor and needed their help to set the bead on the Nanos. I do have a 28mm Ultra Gatorskin that would fit the rear of the bike but is too tall for the fork. Biggest difference between the contis in my experience though is the sidewall protection and not pinch flatting as well as how smooth they’ll roll the other 450 miles that week.


KenH, March 23, 2016 at 10:18 am

This web site does some interesting testing on rolling resistance and puncture resistance:

I like it because the owner will test touring tires that are wider than, oh my gosh!, 28 mm. Maybe it will help you to know that all my RAGBRAI riding since 2012 on a 38 mm pair of what is now known as the Vittoria Voyager Hyper tires that he recently tested. That includes last year’s gravel loop and a training ride on gravel last year. Altogether I have about 8000 km/5000 mi on them and have had one flat in that time. A lot of the time, including on gravel roads, I run them at the Berto pressure to get MUCH BETTER ride characteristics. I think he has tested some of the tires you are considering so perhaps this information will help you calibrate your puncture resistance expectations against my experience. The one puncture did occur during RAGBRAI XL. Picked up a piece of glass on a paved road….

Most of your weight is on your rear tire therefore it makes sense to use a larger rear tire. One of my riding buddies did the gravel loop last year with a 25 on the front and a 28 on the rear. That worked fine for him although he did stay pretty close to the well compacted automobile tire tracks.

I’ll be riding on new tires this year: I recently bought another pair of 38 mm Voyager Hypers! Probably do most of my training on the old ones but I’ll put the new ones on a few weeks before heading to Iowa. Those Vittorias are not as bullet proof as many touring tires and if you live in an area with a lot of glass or tire eating thorns on the roads then you might need something more robust. They have been fine for me next door in Illinois and during RAGBRAI however and they roll nearly as well as a racing tire and a 38 mm tire will shrug off road cracks and other hazards that give 23 riders white knuckles. I know that they will not fit your frame but for any other readers who have frames that will fit them you should know that wide is where its at for a ride like RAGBRAI!


jonlumpkin, March 23, 2016 at 11:30 am

Yep, good advice and I’ve read a lot of the articles on that site before. I tend to run either the max tire that will fit my frames or bias to a larger one in the rear than the front. My CX bike will fit (and runs) 40s. CAAD10 road bike will fit a fat 25 or skinny 28 under the fork and a true 28 in the rear. My Rando bike will fit fat 28s under the fenders. Also I often run pressures below the minimum listed on the sidewall based on weight charts for sizes.

In truth I rarely have issues with flats and have no concerns with fixing one or two roadside during RAGBRAI if I have issues. And that includes riding on rougher roads and light gravel with a skinny tire road bike. Mostly I just want to get a better idea of what kind of gravel this is. Small crushed stones and dirt are in my opinion fine on vectran belted 4000s tires in a fat 25. Large (golf ball) gravel roads like you can find in PA and NC forests and I’d want to go with something reinforced as I’d be worried about sharp bits shredding the sidewalls.

My prior run of RAGBRAI in 2012 was on my CAAD10 with the OEM Schwalbe Luganos in 23mm at 120 PSI. No flats or other issues that week. But, that year didn’t have a gravel loop and I’ve since caught religion on wider and softer being better.


Juan Medium Moose, March 23, 2016 at 6:03 pm

@wnl256: Since I don’t have the right equipment for the gravel loop I will probably go the wrong way down J18 to get to the trail.

I rode the HED loop last year on a road bike. I fishtailed a little, but I managed the whole thing without incident. I had Specialized Armadillo tires on my bike, which I chose for durability on long rides. They’re similar to the Continental Gatorskins.

So, I wouldn’t say that I have “the right equipment”, but it was certainly good enough.


mootsman, March 24, 2016 at 7:02 am

The cross bike for 13 mile of gravel would not be worth it the other 420 miles. If 25mm tires are the biggest that fit your road bike those work be fine. I used some last year. But tubed tires work also.

For mounting tubeless there are a couple of tricks.

1) Unfold the tire, unkink the folds and let it hang for day. Those folds can be tough to get to cede on the rim.
2) Soak the tire in very hot water in the wash tub for 5 minutes before drying them off and mounting them. Making the rubber more pliable is the trick. And use good tire levers with metal cores. Ignore the baloney about not using levers.
3) After mounting them, put the bead in the center of the rim and brush soapy water around inside of each side of the rim. Use very soapy water with a liquid soap.
4) Pump like a maniac (fast as heck). I’ve since purchased a particular Bontrager floor pump specifically designed for tubeless that has a pressure chamber. You pump the chamber up to 140 PSI and pull a level to release it suddenly into the tire. Much less work. A road tire ends up with about 80 psi after releasing it. I pump it up to 110 to make sure it cedes even though I only go 90 for riding.
5) Then hang the wheel up (I use a truing stand) and release all the pressure making sure not to break the bead.
6) Remove the valve core (special tool needed) and put about 1-1.5 ounces of sealant in the tire. The stem should not be at the bottom or top to do this, maybe 15 degrees from the bottom. The wheel should remain suspended.
7) Put the core back in and re-inflate.

Of course if your using the tubeless compatible road wheel tubeless rims for the 1st time Stan’s 21mm rim tape is good but I’ve had trouble with Stan’s valve stems sealing. I use Mariposa stems with the rectangular adapter but any stem with a rectangular sealing block instead of a round one like Stan’s should seal on road rims more easily.


mootsman, March 24, 2016 at 7:10 am

And the type of gravel last year was not crushed lime but regular gravel. Mostly though you follow car tracks though where it is mostly compacted dirt. It only gets a little deeper at road crossings. But that was last year so who knows.


KenH, March 24, 2016 at 8:37 am

Last year’s gravel loop was a mystery to those of us who did not live close enough to inspect it before hand. The best the Google Maps street views would do for you is to let you look down the start and end sections from the paved main route. This year however the entire gravel route appears to be available on Google street view so you can “ride” it any time from the comfort of your own home and see what you think of it for yourself. I “rode” maybe a third of the official route this way and all of the unofficial 130th street return route and it looks like ordinary midwestern road gravel to me, just like last year. The only exceptions I could see were two miles of dirt (or at least minimal gravel) B road sections of the 130th street return route and if they are too soft for you to ride or enjoy riding you have the option to head back to the official paved return route using roads that should be as passable as the official gravel route is.

The biggest difference I see is that last year’s gravel loop had about 200 feet of climbing where this year’s has about 1000 feet. That might make it more interesting. I don’t know if it would or should affect your equipment choices for the day. It might make it more likely that you will be stuck behind slow riders, especially on climbs, and more tempted to leave your safe tire track to get around them. That might encourage you to find a way to get fatter tires on your bike for the day. Last year the traffic on the loop was so light that this was not much of an issue. It will be interesting to see if more riders opt to go with the gravel this year. The official paved return route may entice more to try it. I’m glad there is what appears to be a full gravel option available for those who want it.


andytetmeyer, March 25, 2016 at 3:04 pm

you all know what Ragbrai is like, right? If you have a cross bike and something else to choose from, and/or you have multiple tire choices… then I have to think you are going to be fine all week on whatever you bring. You might not win the GC or get the spotty jersey but it will still be OK. You’ll do the ride and have fun no matter whether you are on 25s or 38s, road or cross.
That being said, I’ll probably be on 20″x 4″ for the whole week. They’ll be slicks but even so, I don’t expect the gravel will be any challenge. If you are closer to the back than the front, then the Dragons will see you out there. You’ll know us by our tutus.

(stepping off my soapbox now)please carry on, it’s good reading.


Stephanie Chloupek, May 9, 2016 at 10:17 pm

Just rode the Wabash from Malvern to Shenandoah last weekend. They were laying down fresh sand that morning and are super excited to have RAGBRAI come thru so are taking extra good care of the trail this year. Unless there is tons of rain it will be perfect by July. We often ride the day after a rain with no trouble.


flyinbrian, May 10, 2016 at 11:45 pm

I rode last year’s gravel loop on 700×23’s and it was fine.


Thoreau, May 11, 2016 at 11:56 am

I chickened out of the gravel loop last year and later regretted it. I’ve done some Iowa gravel in my standard 700×25 road bike tires (including a visit to the Buddy Holly monument a few years back) and it was fine if I took it slow. I think I’ll see how it goes for the first few miles this year and then turn back if it seems unsafe. I may ask my local bike shop about a tire that will give me a little grip–but nothing major. If I have to walk bit, then so be it–it’s all about the adventure. Thanks for all the advice on this list.


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