RAGBRAI LI Registration is Now Open!

Iowa Hills

I’m a relatively new cyclist considering doing RAGBRAI for the first time in 2014 a few weeks before my 64th birthday. I know the route is different each year but am looking for some insight into what Iowa hills are like as I start increasing my mileage and hill riding for next year. Elevation charts really aren’t much help given how compressed they are but I get the sense the hills tend to be of the long steady variety. Is this a correct assumption?

21 Replies

David, August 15, 2013 at 9:09 am

There aren’t many long hills in Iowa other than very low grade rail beds. If there were then some actual altitude change would be achieved. Most are rolling hills. However, in areas there are a good number of steep, short and sweet hills. Most of these are over 5% grade and have less than 100ft total climb. Enough to make most people switch into climbing mode but it only takes a couple minutes to get over, then a short descent and another one. Do that for 60ish miles and you have the first couple days of RAGBRAI when we start in the SW corner. We rack up a lot of total ascent that way but you never climb very long. What seems to hurt people the most that are used to doing long steady climbs is they don’t know how to shift through the transition of descending to ascending and all that back and forth can wear on you if it isn’t smooth. Sometimes it is easier just to climb at your favorite pace for 5-10 miles and then have a nice long descent. But not in Iowa :)

If you are looking for areas to train don’t avoid hills. You will get better with practice. If you have a lot of choice areas with short steep hills would be great.

Oh, and large parts of Iowa are fairly flat. Often enough this leads to a head wind so don’t avoid training just because it is windy out. All riding is good for you :) RAGBRAI moves on wind, rain or shine!

I am sure you will love the ride Tom. You have plenty of time to ride and there are lots of stops to rest if needed. You can always spin up the hills in your lowest gear and almost all the biggest hills have someone on top selling snacks and refreshments.


Tom Garcia, August 15, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Thanks for the feedback David. The only multi-day ride I’ve done so far was on the Great Allegheny Passage which was an almost imperceptible uphill for mile after mile for about the first 130 miles. We tend to have more of the short steep variety where I live. If I head north out of my driveway the ride starts with a 200 foot gain over the first half mile and I definitely plan on riding in the heat and windy conditions, especially next spring. It was great following this year’s RAGBRAI so actually riding next year should be terrific!


jwsknk, August 15, 2013 at 4:33 pm

look at the iowa map, where the roads are in a nice grid pattern, pretty flat, where they start to meander like between Council Bluggs and Dioux City and northe east arounf decorah, it’s the hills. Also most of the river valleys south of Highway 20 will have a decent climb out


“Bicycle Bill”, August 15, 2013 at 5:57 pm

David is right; about the only significant hills in Iowa are along either edge.  There’s the Loess Hills (a series of low rolling hills made up of windblown glacial debris from several eons ago) in eastern Iowa, and the bluffs along the Mississippi River on the western side of the state — and we usually end up going down those to get to the end town.  About the only other significant climbs might be found when crossing the Des Moines, Iowa, or Cedar Rivers and coming back out of the river valley.  Other than that you basically have the terrain for which Iowa is known for; mostly level but with some rolling hills usually no more than 50 elevation gain (and you lose it on the back side) — and this goes on forever.

However, Tom, keep in mind that RAGBRAI packs a whole bunch of people on the road so the usual practice of pedaling like hell down the backside and trying to carry as much momentum as possible up the next slope will not work; it is all too easy to come up behind someone at relatively high speed only to find no way around them due to the congestion on the road and have to quickly slow down.  Remember the moral of the tortoise and hare — “slow but steady will prevail” — and learn to use your gears and how to spin the pedals.



Tom Garcia, August 15, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Thanks guys. So far all I’ve seen of Iowa is what you can see from I-80 from Davenport to Council Bluffs and I do remember lots of rolling hills. I’m not a speedster here so running up on others, even downhill, shouldn’t be a problem but then I’ve never ridden with a mass of people like that. Definitely looking forward to seeing more of Iowa and am sure it will be much better from the seat of a bike than the seat of a car.


T. Gap Woo, August 15, 2013 at 10:19 pm


Welcome to RAGBRAI!

I wholeheartedly agree with David and BB, particularly about the training and preparation! A few years ago, I never thought I could do this, but I just completed my first RAGBRAI, only a few months before hitting the Big 60. Training in all kinds of conditions is the key. Try to ride in the heat and humidity, rain (both sprinkles and downpours!), blustery spring winds and over all types of terrain. Get in as many miles as you can, to build up both your strength and your endurance to ride in the saddle for long periods of time. Read and follow the training tips provided on the RAGBRAI site. Start training NOW and stick to your program. You’ll be glad you did when you encounter those first few hills next year.

Good luck and best wishes. See you at RAGBRAI XLII.


Davy Sprocket, August 16, 2013 at 5:42 am

“Bicycle Bill”: There’s the Loess Hills (a series of low rolling hills made up of windblown glacial debris from several eons ago) in eastern Iowa, and the bluffs along the Mississippi River on the western side of the state

BB,I think you meant to reverse the locations of those Hills.

Most of the hills are pretty gradual or rollers. Knowing how to ride hills is a key and the more you practice and find your rhythm the better. Don’t fear the hills. You are allowed to stop anytime to rest, grab a beverage or snack.




Tom Garcia, August 16, 2013 at 6:54 am

The plan is to ride in all sorts of conditions training and while I don’t “fear” the hills I did want an idea o fwhat types of hills to train on. Last June’s ride on the GAP was a leisurely four days over 150 miles with a group of 300 people with the longest day being 45 miles. The first three days did see temps in the 90’s and the last 18 miles were ridden in a downpour. As I backpacker I’m accustomed to hiking all day in the rain so being wet doesn’t bother me all that much.

Now it’s a matter of putting in the miles and keeping my fingers crossed hoping to get a wristband though it looks like there are quite a few for sale even if the lottery doesn’t work out.


Michrider !!!, August 16, 2013 at 8:07 am

It might be a bit late but I do have a wristband for sale!!!


Sandaltan ., August 16, 2013 at 9:50 am

Your ride on the GAP was mostly shaded Tom, you will have no shade on RAGBRAI so be prepared for heat….up to and even greater than 100 degrees on some days. Then, imagine tenting in that same weather….. Yep, that is what we call a really good time!!! See y’all next July Tom.



David, August 16, 2013 at 11:51 am

If you live around GAP then you have plenty of hills to train on. ST has a good point about the heat. One thing to remember, and people tend not to on RAGBRAI, is that there is plenty of water and cooling down with it on your head and down your back is quite effective. The damp little cloth might not be nearly enough to cool you down.
If you start to getting really hot then stop and most vendors will put a handful or two of ice in your middle back jersey pocket. Especially for a $ or two. This is very effective, there is a plenty of core blood flow and this will cool your right down. Bring a plastic baggie and the cold water will stay making it even more effective. If you can’t find ice then there are lots of convenience stores usually. Whenever I have grabbed a bag there have always been enough people around that also need ice to avoid it going to waste.


jwsknk, August 16, 2013 at 11:51 am

and if we get really lucky, they will re-seal or put down fresh blacktop just brfore the ride. as “they” say, “the blacker the road, the smoother the ride” course it also adds 10-15 degrees of bounce back heat, how is that on bent’s? hear it can get much warmer down there.


Tom Garcia, August 16, 2013 at 11:54 am

I’m actually in Connecticut but we have plenty of heat and hills too. The GAP did have plenty of shade other than the first 12 miles or so out of Pittsburgh but I’ve certainly gotten a taste of hiking and tenting in the heat though that was shaded too. I did learn the importance of hydration and electrolytes long ago.


David, August 16, 2013 at 12:22 pm

jswink, I am not sure that conventional wisdom held in Springbrook this year. At least they were able to fix the sinkhole that was discovered a few weeks earlier.


“Bicycle Bill”, August 16, 2013 at 3:38 pm

<i>Davey Sprocket said: “BB,I think you meant to reverse the locations of those Hills.”

Davey, you’re correct, but for some obscure reason this ferschlugginer forum refused to let me go back, even within the first ten minutes or so, and edit out any errors like that one — so I had to let it go and hope that no one would notice.



Viewing 15 replies - 1 through 15 (of 21 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.


RAGBRAI L – 2023




Gatherings & Meetings

Lost and Found


Clubs, Teams & Charters

Friends of RAGBRAI