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Input sought: road safety, campground quiet

This was my first ride and overall it was a great experience. Memories of the few bad moments are crowded out by the many cool things that I experienced and the overall good vibes of what seems to me a unique social event. But I have not been able to dismiss a couple of concerns that developed during the week and that I think the RAGBRAI organizing team needs to take action on. First, and most importantly, there needs to be better education about safe riding. (A start would be to dump Ride Right as a slogan and replace it with Ride Safe. The former sounds like a directional aid; the latter is pretty clear.) Far too many riders ride aggressively in crowds, getting on the asses of people in the left lane (who, in crowded situations, may be there because there is nowhere else to go or in anticipation of passing when space opens up) and generally acting as if they are on one of their race club rides. A prime offender was the jerk wearing a Masi jersey on Monday, who nearly sideswiped me and then almost mowed down a woman a few minutes later. Too many also fail to alert riders of their intent to pass, either on the left or the right. And bell ringers, please be aware that a bell does nothing to indicate what side you are passing on. You need to speak up, not just ring your bell. The ride team should consider making and posting videos that clearly illustrate the road etiquette outlined in the participant guide and require viewing them as part of registration. Graphics in the guide would also help. Another idea would be appointing ride marshals with authority to pull offenders off the road. My other chief concern was campground behavior. In Denison, I had to walk up to some yahoos who were making noise at 1 am and tell them to be quiet. They were a-holes about it, but eventually quieted down. That same night/morning, a truck was left with its engine running all night at the edge of the campground. I called the sheriff’s office twice but they never came out. I do not know what they could have done anyway. I mentioned both of these things at the RAGBRAI info booth the next day and asked who on the team was available to handle such overnight issues. I was told that no one would be available and that calling local law enforcement was the only option. That seems to me a total abdication of responsibility. The police have no authority to enforce the campground behavior rules outlined in the participant guide and most departments have more pressing things to deal with in the overnight hours. It seems wrong for the RAGBRAI team to create a densely populated overnight community, promise certain conditions, ie quiet, and then wash their hands of any responsibility for enforcing their own rules. Overall, I think the team does a great job (and please tip the bag crew generously), but these areas need discussion and action. What do others think?

26 Replies

hnschipper, August 9, 2018 at 9:30 pm

We have been fortunate to have a support driver each year, so we never stay in the main campground. We always opt for the quiet campground if there is one. I’m a white noise sleeper and not having white noise (i.e. my fan) makes sleeping difficult for me. Yes, I have a battery operated fan, but it does not produce near enough white noise. A generator running all night is heaven for me – perfect white noise. A group of people talking and laughing into the night – that will keep me awake.

Campground quiet is not observed by many riders, and it is never enforced by anyone. I always know going into RAGBRAI I’m going to sleep terribly because you just can’t get away from people in most towns. At least people in the designated quiet campgrounds are usually more respectful of quiet at night. But if you’re relying on the baggage truck for transport, that isn’t an easy option many times.

Ames was my favorite overnight this year in terms of campground quiet – we were the only people camped at the park where we were. No loud people talking and laughing into the night, or coming back very loud after the band was done.


Niles, August 9, 2018 at 10:26 pm

Jerks are always jerks. Fortunately, jerks appear to be kind of predictable: they are often on the outside of left lane and more jerks when the rod become crowded. So for your better experience of RAGBRAI, avoid those spots and those bad times. You can’t change jerks but you can avoid them as much as possible.

I actually am more afraid of inexperienced riders because they are much less predictable and they could be anywhere and anytime. And I hate the social butterflies who hold the whole width of roads while ride in 5 miles per hour and they don’t like anyone to interrupt their endless chats. And I’m annoyed by the “on your left” announcers when the left side of me is so wide open to allow a tanker to pass by (call me sexist, they are most ladies)

In an ideal world, “Ride Safe” is a great rule. But for people who don’t even understand “Ride Right”, your great rule means nothing. That’s why you see more “Don’t drink drive” or “Buckle up” than “Drive Safe” signs on roads.

Again, people and things (generators, vehicles, bands, etc.) will always make more noises then what you prefer to. This is RAGBRAI and they are only strangers and will not act as your considerate grandmas. But the good news is that this is RAGBRAI. Helped with a couple of beer and the 60,70-mile ride, you’ll eventually fall into sleep if you try to ignore instead of become overtaken by your upset. I learned this trick and it works like a charm.


LawnchairMan, August 9, 2018 at 11:08 pm

Hi Joe,
I share your frustrations of campground noise and careless riders. I have to remind myself that I can’t expect a perfect experience with 20,000 riders for seven days. That being said, there are some things we can do to minimize some of the problems.

For noise in camp, most towns do have noise curfews, and police do come out. I saw this in the end town before the ride one year. If that fails (probably), try earplugs. They help me more that I’d expected, yet I can still hear my alarm. You might also consider a charter service. Brancel usually finds quiet camp areas.
Since the roads are open to the public, we can’t force everyone to learn cycling etiquette. We never know if the guy next to you just decided two days ago to see how far he could go. I was frustrated this year when passing two riders. They were in the middle of the road while the ride side of the road was empty. As I got close, I saw they had jersey badges that said “Ride Right”. My solution to this is to ride early to avoid the crowds, and ride on the wrong side of the road when needed. I also treat everyone as a newbie.
Don’t let these problems discourage you from coming back. Each year has different pros and cons. This years weather couldn’t be beat. I enjoy the good, and try to let the bad roll off. I look forward to the next time I can come. Hope you do too!


Joe Stalvey, August 10, 2018 at 6:10 am

Thanks for the input. Not sure how my grandma entered into the discussion but never mind. I understand that there will be some jerks both on the road and at the campground. I do not think that wearing earplugs or riding at dawn to avoid them is all that can be done. The organizers need to own both of these issues to a greater extent than they do now. Elsewhere on this forum a rider mentions being injured because of the actions of a careless rider. Who knows how many such incidents happen each day of the ride? There should not have to be a fatality before the organizers decide to do more to enforce their rules of the road. And if my “conversation” with the noisy boys had gone much longer there could have been a fight. Things should not have to get to such a point in either case before the organizers step up to address such obvious issues. The RAGBRAI team needs to do more rider education and needs to have designated people to do enforcement of both its safe riding rules and campground etiquette. Anyone’s grandma can see that.


KenH, August 10, 2018 at 10:45 am

As far as noise goes, I don’t think there is much to be done about it. This event is not completely under the control of anyone to the level that would be required to keep the noise low enough to suit everyone. It’s not going to happen.

Safety is much more important and everyone should try to ride predictably and check carefully before deviating from their current path. I do. Bells, on your lefts, and all that are not that helpful because you can hear them many riders back and you never know who they are intended for. When you pass, leave PLENTY of room. If you don’t have it, wait for it. If you intend to pass someone at a high relative speed leave PLENTY SQUARED room! Leave WAY more than you think necessary. And if you don’t have it slow down or wait for it. DO NOT scream ON YOUR LEFT and hope that people scatter out of your way in time. That is what too many pace lines and reckless individuals do.

Here’s something that actually happened to me and the friend I was riding with at the time this year. We were rolling along in the right half of the right lane. There were three riders just ahead of us and to our left. Without warning the middle one of them cut right across our paths and nearly ran into a bridge abutment at the edge of the road. I had to brake sharply to avoid him and I don’t know how either the rider ahead of us that he cut off or my riding buddy avoided him at all. It did not seem humanly possible but they did it. There was no time for us to warn the riders behind us. Luckily no one was close enough behind us to pile into us.

So what an incredible idiot that rider was, right?

What a jerk that guy was, right?

What a careless excuse for a human being he was, right?

No, it was none of that. There were riders ahead of him too and he did not see the pothole they veered around at the last moment in time to do likewise. It caught his front tire and threw him out of control across our paths. This ride is heavily trafficked and things like this can happen at any time. Some riders are jerks, some are idiots, some are incredibly careless but things like this can happen at any time to the very best of us. THAT is why you keep your relative speed to a reasonable level and leave PLENTY of room when you pass. THAT is why you keep your eyes open for trouble every moment of the ride. Only you can make the ride safe for yourself and if we all do that it will be safer for all of us because safety measures are synergistic.


mootsman, August 10, 2018 at 12:11 pm

It seems that you want RAGBRAI to change to meet your expectations. The real solution is how you can adapt to improve your experience. Few people would watch the videos and there will never be bike-cops pulling over offenders so lets get real. Few even read this forum. And a slogan change would change nothing.

Ride safety: Let’s forget about how thousands should change for you and focus on how you can improve your experience. 1) don’t expect people to call out passing in all cases. Some of us would call it out hundreds or thousands of times a day and would go horse. Instead you focus on riding a straight predictable line and look to see if its clear before moving right or left. 2) you can almost predict who will move into your line of travel by watching for riders closing in on those in front of them. 3) when going through areas with vendors, slow up and watch for anyone cutting across the road.

And campgrounds will never be quiet to meet your expectation. Use earplugs.

You’ll adapt to RAGBRAI, not the other way around.


bugs11, August 10, 2018 at 2:08 pm

Jerks on the road? Un-possible… just something everyone deals with.

The first night I had ear plugs in because I’m a light sleeper and everyone warned me about the campground noise, after that night I never used them. I must of been very lucky in my choice of tent spots. I only woke up during the night two times during the entire week, once in Newton when the storm blew through and the other time in Sigourney when some yahoo came into camp at ??? hours screaming “Wooo-Hooo” at the top of his lungs a half dozen or so times. Neither times was I really bothered or upset by the noise or disturbance, just part of the experience. Ok, ok… watching the wall of my tent bow in a foot or so during the storm was a little disturbing.


Mike Howe, August 10, 2018 at 3:15 pm

Calling the sheriff because someone left their truck on and you couldnt sleep? Im glad they didnt come out. Could you imagine if the sheriffs office or pd was called because someone couldnt handle some adversity or something didnt go exactly as planned? Its ragbrai, seems theres lots of complaining this year…. deal with it. Thats my advice.


hnschipper, August 10, 2018 at 3:46 pm

In my 17 RAGBRAI’S, campground quiet has never been enforced. I don’t expect this to change. I agree with what Mootsman posted above – don’t expect RAGBRAI to change for you. You’ll need to change your expectations.


Sandaltan ., August 10, 2018 at 7:25 pm

This was not my first ride. On my first RAGBRAI people hooted and hollered virtually all of Saturday night. Sunday night the grounds became quiet about 3:00, Monday about 2:00 and by Wednesday quiet arrived at Midnight which held for the rest of the ride. RAGBRAI has evolved since then, gotten bigger, louder and motorized with team buses, charters, POVs and thankfully more KYBOs. Some riders are “one and done” with RAGBRAI others are “maybe one more” while others are looking forward to next year while riding the bus to their car. I am looking forward to next year and by the way don’t change a thing. I will take my RAGBRAI straight from the bottle….neat.

A little side note, I have done more than two dozen other commercial rides of four days or more and have seen one rider put off a ride, in a police car to the bus station no less, it is a rarity. The little stoker and I had front row seats to that spectacle, careless riding was not his problem….it boiled down to “I am right and the world is wrong and you must listen to me”.


jake d, August 11, 2018 at 9:05 am

Well I declare Joe, you’re right. This is starting to get way out of control.
We need to Nip It, Nip It, Nip It, in the bud while we still can.
I hereby nominate You, Barney Fife, Dudley Do-right, Quick Draw McGraw,
and Roscoe P. Coltrane to head up next years Ride Marshal committee.


JLVanPelt, August 11, 2018 at 10:29 am

I go in to RAGBRAI with the understanding that part of its charm is the raucous and unpredictable. In Newton, we were camped next to team with a tuba and a trumpet. The storm cut their party short but we were in our tent giggling about their music. I love sleep like none other but long ago I realized that is not the week for sleep. If I wanted a restful experience I would go to a beach resort. I agree that your body will eventually override your mind if the need for sleep becomes critical.
As for riders, I do not know what the solution is. I am also scared when people dive out of rumbles, stop pedaling as they lose momentum uphill as I am fearful I will topple and not be able to get out of my pedals, families who bring small kids in ill-fitting bikes who weave all over, people who can’t hold a line, etc. This isn’t an inconvenience like campground noise, it’s a danger. That’s different that the situation described above with the pothole which can’t be managed as easily. That you have to adapt as quickly as you, pray for the best and pray again when it works out. I share your frustration with people taking up all the lane riding two abreast solving the world’s problems, people who brake at 20 mph on a downhill killing my best asset, gravity, and those who chill at 10mph hugging the Center line. I actually told a few people to pedal as they didn’t climb a hill and one man angrily responded that I could jump in the oncoming lane. I reminded him of the Ride Right mantra. He didn’t move an inch or even make an effort to climb at a speed (like more than 5mph-I wasn’t asking for the impossible) that supports continuous movement. I heard another man explain to a rider that she needed to choose a lane. She appeared upset but he was correct.
It’s a tough predicament. We want new people to fall in love with this event to secure its viability but that means more people who don’t know things. Perhaps the message isn’t ride safe or ride right. Perhaps the message is Coach and Listen. Those of you who are seasoned veterans can still teach me things with only six years experience and those who still remember what it’s like to be out there as a virgin can coach the newbies and we ALL need to LISTEN to ensure that we are conducting ourselves in the safest and most courteous manner. I know sometimes I might be hangry or deep in thought and unintentionally be driving someone nuts. I would expect a little coaching and thank them for the reminder or guidance. Coach and Listen!


James Bare, August 11, 2018 at 11:21 am

Safety tip – My clip on pedals are flat on one side, intentionally bought them that way. I rode most of the week unclipped , just in case, because the road was usually crowded with cyclists. I did see one person fall because he couldn’t get out of his pedal clip in time, fortunately he was not hurt. Regarding noise at night, the trains woke me often the first couple of nights, and the band, in Jefferson I think it was, played loudly until 11:30 or so. Part of the experience. This 76 year old had a good week!


mootsman, August 11, 2018 at 12:51 pm


Your latest post expresses a good deal of fear. Maybe you can’t adapt in which case you maybe want to consider other rides instead of RAGBRAI. Crashes are rare and if you see unsafe riding, the real solution is for you to figure out how to recognize it before it involves you in a crash and how to avoid it. And don’t worry about RAGBRAI being viable. It is and will be despite your worst fears.


Jill Ellenbecker, August 11, 2018 at 1:06 pm

The noisiest campground was Brookside Park in Ames with the @#&!insects (cicadas?) I could hardly stand it, even with earplugs. Heard some hooting and hollering after midnight in Onawa, but was otherwise unbothered by humans. Long days in the saddle help me sleep like a rock. But those insects…I was about to go out of my mind.


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