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How to better motivate “bandits” to register

There’s been plenty of conversation on Facebook recently about official registration and “bandits.” I’m not looking to have the “why you should register” or “why bandits are bad” conversation here. Full disclosure: I used to be a bandit. I’ve learned the error of my ways. I register now, and encourage others to do the same. That said, I have some understanding of the “bandit” mindset, and I have questions/recommendations.

1) If RAGBRAI wants to encourage riders to register, and we know that we typically have 20-30k riders on the road most days (many of which are bandits), why limit weeklong registration to 10k people? My guess is that it’s more of a marketing tactic, to give it a sense of urgency & exclusivity. However, if someone misses the cut-off but wants to ride…they’re still going to ride. Why freeze them out if they want to register, and why turn away that money? I think limiting the number of registered riders may do more harm than good, as it gives people the impression that they don’t *actually* expect everyone to register and brings in less funds to RAGBRAI.

2) The people who are likely to “bandit” are those who are part of a team. Many teams offer transportation of bags/totes, so why not offer a lower-rate registration option for those who want to support RAGBRAI and take advantage of the myriad of services outside of the baggage transportation? It would be easy to manage, as they would get a bag tag if they selected that level, and their bags wouldn’t be loaded without the tag.

Right or wrong, “what’s in it for me” is human nature. “Do the right thing” often isn’t enough persuasion, and they don’t see the personal value in the $200 expense. The risk and reward are not high enough for bandits who feel like they would have the same experience either way. Last year I believe there were a couple of evening entertainment venues where bandits had to pay $5 to enter. They either paid or walked away, but I don’t think it changed the likelihood that they would register next year. RAGBRAI needs to come up with creative new ways to engage these riders, many of whom have been riding for many years, have always “gotten away with it,” and are resistant to change.

Again, this isn’t intended to be a “should you or shouldn’t you register” conversation/debate. It’s a “how can we better motivate people to register instead of shaming them into it” conversation. Any other ideas?

71 Replies

Ricky Armstrong, January 9, 2023 at 8:29 pm

This an easy one. The sag wagon will not pick up a bike without a bike band for any reason. Have two lines at bike repair, one for registered riders and one for bandits. The bandits can only be served until all registered riders are taken care of.


cmparsley, January 9, 2023 at 8:40 pm

Oh please will the blessed RAGBRAI gods find it within their mercy to forgive this poor petulant little soul who chose to ride bandit after years and years of dutifully paying any and all fees for riders, vehicles and drivers?

The original question was how can those who ride “bandit” be convinced to change their ways and register for the ride. I simply offered a point of view from someone who followed all the rules and then chose to ride bandit.

I have had private conversations with people in the Iowa bicycling community who have all shared a similar story that when the topic of increased funds from RAGBRAI coming back to Iowa was brought up, powers that be shot them right back down. This jives with the beginning of that article where it is admitted that they were not honest about just how much money was coming back to the state.

This event is about all Venture Endurance has left that makes a reasonable profit. It is my opinion that if it were not the 50th anniversary, VE would have already sold RAGBRAI to the highest bidder.

And RAGBRAI can have any vendors they want. The more the merrier. I personally will choose to spend my money with the locals in the towns we pass through. As long as that is ok with all the experts here….


direwolf, January 9, 2023 at 11:56 pm

Gee, I’d hate to see this thread die with only a little more than 6 months to go before the Gran Departe. So I’ll just mention that there are vendor bandits too – ones who don’t want to pay local, um, vendor fees; who don’t want to abide by RAGBRAI’s shutdown schedule. And then there are bandit towns who, similarly, choose not to abide. Marne, a real town, and Tallyrand, about 3 houses and some outbuildings, are the stuff of legend. RAGBRAI officially skirts such bandit towns, but word gets out …


Joseph Schlau, January 10, 2023 at 9:34 am

RAGBRAI gods, experts here. It seems to be a sore point here.

And now in an effort to justify cheating RAGBRAI of their registration fees, in comes the “ I have had private conversations with people in the Iowa bicycling community who have all shared a similar story” rationalization. As though this panel of experts somehow lends credibility to your claim.

But I also have a panel of Iowa people, who, like me pay their way and look at you in the same way as the Walmart shoplifter.

But in the case of the Walmart thief, their conduct may be motivated by the need to feed their kids. Yours is only motivated to steal a bargain priced vacation.


cmparsley, January 10, 2023 at 11:00 am

I’m not looking to have the “why you should register” or “why bandits are bad” conversation here.

Again, this isn’t intended to be a “should you or shouldn’t you register” conversation/debate. It’s a “how can we better motivate people to register instead of shaming them into it” conversation. Any other ideas?

I originally posted in response to the author of this thread. I said that I have done this ride both registered and unregistered. I shared the experience of doing it both ways and offered up one way RAGBRAI could possibly entice bandits to pay by deliberately, purposefully, and publically sending a larger portion of proceeds back to Iowa.

At no point did I mention if I planned on attending RAGBRAI this year, nor did I say whether or not I would register.

There are people you run into during the last week of July who impatient with waiting in line. Some will yell at you because they don’t like to be passed on the road. Some believe that they are experts and no one is going to convince them that the clip on aero bars on their hybrid are pointless. You don’t need to prove anything to them.

I encourage anyone, especially those who have never participated in RAGBRAI to do their thing. You get out of this event what you put into it. You wanna be an angry know it all? You do you. You want to register?
You do you. You want to take your chances riding unregistered? You do you. But if this is your first time and someone says you need to do it their way, just nod and smile and walk away. I take a week off every July to ride my bike. I have no schedule, and my only goal is to get to the end town.


bobola, January 31, 2023 at 11:21 am

I rode my 1st RAGBRAI last year. Rode solo self supported from NM Wisconsin. Intended to be a bandit as I felt I didn’t need any services offered – I carry bike tools and parts and can fix almost any breakdown myself. Bought a wrist band in a Le Mars, IA bar for $100 from a guy who’s plan changed. If I do the ride again this year I may also intend to be a bandit. If a very affordable wristband last minute deal can be arranged, I’ll probably buy again. Do I feel guilty by not registering and buying – not really. By not registering and buying at full price, I’m allowing another rider a better opportunity to buy. By limiting the sale of wristbands, many riders who want to ride will stay home, and others (like me) will decide to just do the ride. If its true that the organizer gets 50% of vendor profits, they aren’t hurting for cash. I like the idea of 2 prices for beer, pie and food – make the bandits pay more. Makes sense to me. But then I would look elsewhere for food and drink if I thought the bandit price was prohibitive. The expo at the start and the nightly music wouldn’t be enough incentive for me to buy the band. One thing that would change my mind on the wristband thing is full financial disclosure of costs VS profits on big signboards along the route. Does anyone know the organizer’s profit year to year, or the costs year to year? If I knew the organizer was in dire financial straits, year to year, I would pay for the wristband. I financially support various charities like animal charities, public radio and public TV. I listen to SOMA FM daily (entirely listener supported internet radio – no ads) and send them about $200 cash every year. I have done numerous MS 150 rides through the years and have raised a lot of cash for them. The commercialism of RAGBRAI seems different to me. A lot different.

I would like to see a discussion about the the number of riders who can’t buy the wristband and never do the ride, thinking that riding as a bandit would ruin it for them. Folks who want to ride with the wristband but can’t buy one may instead stay home and aren’t buy stuff along the route, thereby denying the ride organizer a share of more cash from the vendors. Question for long-time riders; does the ride organizer discourage riders wanna-be’s from participating if they were not lucky enough to buy a wristband by the day #1 of the ride? Why not set-up tents along the 1st day’s route and sell wristbands at a slightly discounted price for those who want to buy one but didn’t or couldn’t? Discount them a bit further on day #2. Same thing on day #3. I didn’t attend the expo – maybe they were offered there..??

This reply was modified 1 year, 2 months ago by bobola. Reason: typo

This reply was modified 1 year, 2 months ago by bobola.


Joseph Schlau, February 1, 2023 at 6:34 am

Yea, this is just another variation of the “I don’t like the prices at Walmart, so I will just be a shoplifter” excuse.

If you want to ride bandit, then go ahead a just do it. But don’t look to be he greater audience here to support your flimsy rationalizations of being a thief.


jelly0317, February 1, 2023 at 8:56 am

Every time the bandit and/or ebike arguments start on this forum, I’m reminded of Tony “Duke” Evers’ advice to Apollo Creed in “Rocky II”: “I know what you’re feeling. Let it go. Let it go!”.


garywilk, February 1, 2023 at 9:21 am

I agree that they just supply flimsy excuses of being a thief. People spend time organizing the ride, pay EMS, police and others to insure your safety, also pay entertainment and several other for things that make this such a great ride. I do wish they would say under 18 a 50% reduction or a family package. I wish all the venders and local places would have one price for people with a wrist band, and include locals within 50 miles one price and then people without a band, charge them tripple. Even include Hyvee caseys or any other store. Anyone not within 50 miles or a band gets a surcharge of 300%. If you do not want to pay for the vacation, stay home. It is like saying I want to go on a cruse ship but do not want to pay for it.


LawnchairMan, February 1, 2023 at 11:24 am

How big a crime it is to go bandit? Posters have compared unregistered Ragbrai riders with Walmart shoplifters. That’s pretty harsh. If I swipe something from a shelf, then that item is gone. No one but me can enjoy it. Conversely, Iowa roads are open to anyone, and a Ragbrai bandit does not prevent another rider from participating. So, what are they really “stealing”? I wouldn’t call it stealing, but bandits do enjoy advantages that wouldn’t exist if not for Ragbrai. If not, they could do their own ride anytime.
I did my own ride in 1973 from Ames to Sioux City. I went to the local courthouse or DOT to get detailed county maps. I planned my route to avoid busy roads and gravel. I camped at parks and paid the fees. I arranged everything myself. Logistics is one thing that Ragbrai provides.
Another is safety in numbers. There are so many riders that most traffic is diverted around us. That wouldn’t happen with a small group of independent riders.
The most important benefit of registering for Ragbrai to me is SAG. I crashed the first day of Ragbrai in 2015. I had to be sagged and taken to a hospital. Since my wrist band matched my bike band, my bike was returned to me without any hassle. I can only imagine the red tape to get the bike back for a bandit. So, in my opinion, high SAG fees should apply to anyone picked up without a bike band. I’m thinking more than the cost of registration, so that registration becomes the bargain.
While I think it is not accurate to call bandits thieves or shoplifters, my adjective of opportunist may be even harsher.

This reply was modified 1 year, 2 months ago by LawnchairMan.


garywilk, February 1, 2023 at 12:10 pm

Ragbrai does supply many services like you mentioned and you may not use them all and may only enjoy the improved safety of the police diverting traffic like you mentioned, it is still a service that they planned and pay for. These bandits are steeling a service of the police, EMS, Entertainers, and the list goes on. If everyone signed up, the fee may only be $175 next year instead of $200 or they may have a reduced family rate or youth rate. Actually a walmart shop lifter is a good comparison. Because they take something from Walmart, the rest of us have to pay more. Steeling a service or steeling an item, it is still steeling. I guess if everyone went out and cancelled cable and then re-hooked up the cable to their house, that is not steeling?? You are not taking away from anyone else but if you get caught, I think the courts see it differently.


steve zink, February 1, 2023 at 1:33 pm

I was under the impression that my registration fee went towards the “cause” and in case I got run over by a rookie, a wristband might get me life flighted out of there quicker..
But there will always be those that want to ride in the wagon but not pull the wagon..


garywilk, February 1, 2023 at 5:06 pm

Been a rough day and sorry for some of the negativity. Overall I have no issue with a few last minute riders jumping in where their plans have changed or a local rider just jumping in because it is coming close to their location. Please join us for the fun. I just have an issue with others that make the decision not to pay several months ahead of time just to cheat others. This is a great social event that our family and friends have been enjoying for several years and hope to enjoy for several more. Please keep supporting this and also please support the local churches, or other groups along the way so we can keep this going for years to come. Peace


LawnchairMan, February 1, 2023 at 11:58 pm

I remember when I paid for my first Ragbrai in 2007 there was a statement that said once expenses were met the extra funds from registration would go to charity. I haven’t seen that for a while. I think Ragbrai is now a business for profit. If, as bobola mentioned, the Register would publicize costs and income from the ride we could see if and how much bandits affect the price of registration. Without that, we will never know. Why would they drop prices in a for profit business? What the market will bear.
As for stolen services, I assume that EMS and entertainers were only free to wristband holders. So those can’t be counted against bandits. By the way, when I went to the hospital, I paid for the ambulance ride and the hospital expenses. I did get free sag and a free ride back to my campground. The safety of numbers is a free byproduct as far as I can see. The press reports the event and locals know to avoid certain roads for a day.
Even police support is debatable. Would a bandit get across a busy highway faster or safer with Ragbrai or some other day on his own? Will there be more officers present when more bandits are expected? Here again we would need full disclosure. Granted, when police have to stop traffic so groups of cyclists can cross, the more bandits present, the more paying cyclists have to wait for a turn. Wristband holders should get preference.
I didn’t want to broach this service in my last post, but it should be considered: KYBOs. Do bandits use them or take care of business in the corn fields? If there are going to be 100k riders on day 4, I would think we might need more KYBOs. Are these units paid for by the Register? If there are going to be that many riders, that means more sales in the towns. I would think the towns would spring for them. If any rider buys a meal in a town shouldn’t he deserve the use of a porta potty? Bandits shouldn’t be camping in the main campground, so there shouldn’t be an extra need there.
So, I only see the police as a possible extra expense incurred by bandits. What am I missing?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not condoning not paying for services. I have always paid registration and other Ragbrai fees. I am still just objecting to calling bandits thieves, odd as it sounds that way. I’m just now realizing that calling them bandits makes them seem like harmless rebels. I need to refer to them as non-paying riders. That is something for me to work on. Calling them shoplifters, though, will just alienate them more. Don’t we want to bring them into the fold?


HelenP, February 2, 2023 at 1:03 am

The long and short of it is: each and every one of us — even out of pure self interest — should consider how we can help this amazing event to run well, for this year and those that follow.

RAGBRAI is really about people, so let’s all have fun together! :-D


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