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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

Linda Brooks, November 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Wow didn’t hear about the sinkhole in Springbrook .. but I had NO intention of riding up that hill. I’ve driven that hill and it was steep in a car! No pride loss in walking a hill – only did it twice in 2013, one planned, one by chance because of traffic and getting behind a low-rider trike on ‘Pleasant Hill’ in Des Moines (absolutely nothing pleasant about it except the people!)


Dan in Iowa, November 18, 2013 at 9:22 am

The best word I’ve ever heard for our Iowa hills is: relentless. With some exceptions, none are all that long or steep, but you get to the top of one and can see the next 5. They just keep coming at you. Southern Iowa, overall, is the most consistently hilliest. Northeast Iowa gets the name Little Switzerland for a reason!! Central east Iowa, like around the Elkader area is also very hilly and scenic. They hold motorcycle rallies in that area because of that.

Just ride a lot. You’ll handle it. NEVER TRAIN! “Train” sounds like work. Riding is fun though. If you ride 1200 miles before RAGBRAI with several rides of 60+ miles on 3 or 4 consecutive days, you’ll be fine. It’s only 10 miles to the next town and piece of pie!


dp, November 19, 2013 at 1:11 am

I plan to ride with Brompton (6 speed), will that doable for the Iowa Hills?



Trykeguy, November 19, 2013 at 5:29 am

Anything is doable if you put in enough training miles. In 2010 I rode a 3 speed trike. I wouldn’t do it again, but I proved to myself I could do it once.


zabo, December 19, 2013 at 12:29 am

I find the early season winds to be a great training aid. You can only go so fast into the wind, and excess effort used to beat the wind is just wasted effort. But slowing down in the wind causes a rapid loss of momentum. The sudden strong cross winds aid in control and balance. The overall affect is to teach patience and to improve skills like pedaling efficiency (smooth, continuous circles!!). A 60 mile ride through such winds is great!

I don’t profess to have seen all of the state yet. What I have seen (from an Easterner’s perspective) is long series of rollers as described previously that were easily managed through proper training and rest. The momentum that I gained from the downhills seemed to be sufficient to get me up a good portion of the uphills. Some of the hills looked so intimidating but it was mostly psychological (for me at least). I don’t think that you will have any issues at all.

Several folks complained about the Marshalltown hills in 2012 because they were long and the wind was strong. My personal experience was that, since I had trained in the wind and on the hills, I could deal with both of them simultaneously. I thought that they were easy, but the difficult part was the heat (one of the lower temps…98 degrees).

As someone else mentioned, training in the rain is good too if for no other reason than to test the effectiveness of your brakes (there will be a lot of riders around), your sight (if you wear eyeglasses), and your clothing (you can get very cold even though the air temperature is not). I took a chance on rain intentionally last year. I got thoroughly drenched for 30 solid miles…this is why I mentioned in another post an advantage of an east-west ride because I would have been in the rain for a shorter period of time. I would not have found my way back if it had not been for a recumbent rider in front of me with a fluorescent flag on his bike (I wear eyeglasses).

Shake up your routine and you will be fine.



CyclingCyclone, December 19, 2013 at 12:44 pm

This would be an interesting route. Not that I think it would ever fly. But if you want hills, here you go.
Google maps bike route has it at 514 miles.


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