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Killer Roads?

This was my second RAGBRAI, so please excuse my ignorance – I was a little dismayed by the quality of roads, especially around Indianola. I saw four separate incidents of people going down, of which only one was the biker’s fault (elderly gentleman on heart failure meds just veered off road). I did notice highlighted spray paint on cracked pavements on the last two days, but wonder if spending a few hundred extra dollars on more paint, esp on hills descending into Indianola area could have saved a few injuries. Is there a mechanism for providing this feedback to the organizers?

34 Replies

PAM JUSTEN, July 30, 2019 at 3:48 pm

roads were horrible. Appreciated the marked hazards, but with the influx of the DesMoines one day riders and bad roads, made that day one of the most dangerous ones.


LawnchairMan, August 1, 2019 at 12:04 am

Yes, the railroad tracks in Mystic were harsh. There was a patrol car sitting off to the right, but there were no signs or officers telling us to slow. I hate to lose my momentum, so I hit it full bore. I got a real jolt, but stayed upright. I think it must have loosened my headlight, though, because when I got into Centerville my light fell off. It landed in front of me and I hit it and fell. I managed to straighten my handlebar, but it my bent derailleur hanger.

In Council Bluffs on of our charter members crashed just before the expressway. He veered left to avoid other riders with a problem in the right side of the road and he hit a two inch raise in the pavement. He injured his shoulder and couldn’t ride until the last day.

Coming out of the dip site there was a steep hill with partially repaired pot-holes. In my opinion there should have been someone at the top to direct traffic. I struggled to climb, and had to stop at the stop sign at the top before the hill crested. It was so awkward on my recumbent that I nearly fell over. Had I known the street at the top was clear I wouldn’t have had a problem.


Neil Havran, August 1, 2019 at 10:28 am

This was my first Ragbrai. I did it on a 48 year old (modified) Schwinn and tennis shoes. I did the Karras Loop but not the gravel loop and logged a total of 520 miles. I walked no hills. I was chatting with Paul from Denver on the route and he told me about some guy in the early 20th century that road clear across the USA on a Penny Farthing. Imagine the “road” conditions for that ride. Now we complain about cracks in the highways going across Iowa. SMH.


Richard Reiter, August 3, 2019 at 4:22 pm

With the amount of gas taxes , the 1 cent option tax and the property taxes we pay in this state we should not have roads like we had on this years Ragbrai .


BarryTantlinger, August 3, 2019 at 5:37 pm

[quote quote=1310661]With the amount of gas taxes , the 1 cent option tax and the property taxes we pay in this state we should not have roads like we had on this years Ragbrai .[/quote]

Supposedly (meaning I spent 2 minutes searching the internet) only 43% of the costs of roads come from gas and use taxes. So a lot of the cost is probably being offset by property, sales, and income taxes.

Gas taxes having been failing to cover the cost of car infrastructure, as improved mileage and electric vehicles erode the tax base. Factor in that gas taxes are not indexed to inflation and gas taxes don’t go as far as they used to.

Roads are expensive. The only solution I see is that we all ride gravel bikes.


Sunflower, August 4, 2019 at 12:35 am

Or leave at 9 when you can see the road?


Uncle Kraig, August 4, 2019 at 10:29 am

Warren County (Indianola area) is widely know across the state has having some of the worst roads in the entire state. It is an absolute shame. The county is poorly run at the top, the engineers office has traditionally been a revolving door job, it has been direly underfunded and their secondary roads are notoriously impassable for weeks out of the year. The only time I was legitimately scared/nervous during the ride was on some of those hills in Warren county and looking down to see an unmarked gap in the road wider than my tires :( There were problem spots in other areas as well but at least they were marked well with orange or pink spray paint. I dont recall seeing those markings in Warren county but did notice them again as soon as we crossed over into Lucas county. Oh well, all’s well that ends well. It was another great ride and I realize that there is not much you can do to improve roads for RAGBRAI in counties that have largely ignored them for years.


Brian, August 4, 2019 at 11:24 am

I thought the roads were fine for the most part. Yes there were a few rough stretches, but there was also some pristine pavement. We can’t expect the roads to be perfect for the entire route. Even if the route was patched prior to the ride, problems can creep up, so we need to pay attention to road conditions.

Since Ragbrai is a tour and I’m not racing, I have switched to using larger tires on my road bikes. This year I took a gravel bike with 32mm road tires. The ride was comfy and the tires big enough to avoid issues with most problem pavement. If you’re bike has the clearance, consider riding with bigger tires. It makes a huge difference in ride comfort and doesn’t really add much to rolling resistance.


Chad Frana, August 5, 2019 at 7:43 am

Just throwing this out there…. the roads we were riding on were meant for cars/trucks/tractors. And for them, they were pretty good shape. If we were riding on most of the bike trails in Iowa, they are mostly smooth. If your looking for the best ride, its not on the Iowa roads.


heknits, August 20, 2019 at 2:04 pm

We stopped at a lemonade stand before heading to Mystic and the neighbors warned us about the railroad tracks, so we took them nice and slow. Did you notice how many water bottles escaped their cages from the jolt!? There must have been a couple dozen scattered around the tracks when we went through later in the day.


Roy Trent, August 20, 2019 at 8:23 pm

Yeah, there were some very rough roads this year. I did a lot of standing to take some of the punishment off my rear.
Note for Ragbrai: Perhaps the towns/counties could be given some guidance on how to mark these obstacles. There should be more than a simple squiggly orange circle around the pothole. I like it when they mark the hole with a large/long “V”, pointed toward oncoming traffic with the wide part of the V on the edge of the hole. This V should be at least 6 feet long to allow for the speed of the rider. The bigger the hole, the longer the V needs to be. Just a thought.


mcpartla, August 21, 2019 at 8:58 am

I found most of the roads to be in good condition but there were more exceptions than usual and that downhill on a curve crossing rough railroad tracks a oversight on safety’s part.


Will (Willard) Johnson, August 31, 2019 at 10:02 am

The last two years I have determined the route inspection is a joke, has nothing to do with the track we’re going to ride or is manned by the blind, sorry to insult the blind. That said yes if you take the time to paint or mark holes, you would think some tar to relieve the problem temporarily for safety sake would take place, especially in pass through or overnight towns. They for the most part want Ragbrai to come through along with some cash spent if they have themselves organized. Someone else mentioned Cumming this year. Pretty sure I remember multiple welcome to town large pot holes from about 2 miles out all the way in sprayed pink. Yes don’t fall welcome to town spend your$$. Thanks! I ended the ride on day 5 2018 taking one of our rider’s to the hospital after he took a center crack fall on the way to Sigourney. The whole day was full of vertical road cracks and 3 or 4 serious crashes, our rider had to return home to the UK. Granted you have to pay attention and avoid crashes, but some tar put down instead of paint or cones wouldn’t be too much to request or just about require. I get these are small towns, but we’re not buying food in the firehouse and in their establishments spending zero But then what’s the route inspection really about? Knife fork and beer club my guess. I ride 35mm tires and keep my eyes on the road! Rely on yourself out there and look out for your friends.


mcpartla, August 31, 2019 at 12:56 pm

In 16 years riding Ragbrai I’ve seen a significant improvement in the quality of roads but of course there’s bound to be a few miles here and there of lesser quality and it’s in our own self interest to drive with care especially when our vehicle and body is subject to severe consequences if we fail to do so. 16 years and I’ve not come close to crashing myself and neither have any of the friends or youngsters with me. Partly luck no doubt but also practicing “riding right”. And I appreciate the kindness and spirit with which we are welcomed by the thousands all over the great state of Iowa. You want to see some nasty roads come Bike in Pennsylvania if you dare.


T. Gap Woo, August 31, 2019 at 8:00 pm

[quote quote=You want to see some nasty roads come Bike in Pennsylvania if you dare.[/quote]

Truer words have never been spoken! I have had the “pleasure” of biking US Rt 209 through the Delaware Water Gap national recreation area, the Stroudsburg Greenway through the Cherry Valley nature preserve, and PA Bike Route Y from Hawley PA to Narrowsburg NY. I didn’t mind the hills and curves, as they were nothing I couldn’t handle. However, the road surfaces were barely passable — potholes, cracks, and poor sight lines.

The vehicular traffic was a story unto itself. Between the high volume, the speed demons, and the idiots who think bicycles are targets to challenge them to see how close they can come without hitting anyone, I feel fortunate to have survived and am able to tell the tale.

I prefer to stick with rail/Canal/Bike trails. I don’t mind driving to the Delaware and Lehigh Canal Trail (many access points), the Buffalo Valley rail trail, or the Pine Creek rail trail. I rode the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail this past June and have scheduled the C&O Canal Trail for next month. Too bad the highways to get to these places are not in good shape.

Several years ago, I spoke with a PennDOT highway engineer about the state of our roads and the lack of safe bike lanes/roads. His reply: “T. Gap, if money were no object, we’d have perfect roads and safe places to bike. But there’s never enough money to do everything we NEED to do, let alone things we’d LIKE to do.” *sigh*

Meanwhile, I’ll do my best to ride right and stay safe.

Mrs Woo and I wish you a safe, relaxing Labor Day holiday.

See you along the I-O-Way next year.


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