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Looking to ride for fitness & altruism – need advice

Hello Folks –

I’m looking at doing RAGBRAI for the first time this year and I’ve been motivated by a couple of things.

First – I weigh about 295lbs and have a BMI of 40 – needless to say not good. I am working to get in shape and riding is part of that.

Second – I’m wanting to do some altruistic, in this case get a sponsorship to ride and get pledges to support anti-childhood obesity causes. I figure if I could spend a week of my life riding about 470 miles and raising money to help keep kids from ever having to go through what I have, then all the better.

In short, I’m completely green to the idea of a long distance ride, what gear I should have, what to wear, how to prepare (beyond just conditioning), etc I have a decent cyclecross bike I can take for the trip so the bike isn’t a big concern. Everything else though I’m really looking for advice on. I don’t know if I should go it alone, or try to find a team to help, I’m looking at potentially doing a gofundme to help with expenses and be able to donate the proceeds / pledges from to charity, etc.

Any advice anyone would have would be appreciated. I’d like to be able to do this ride and I’m thinking I have 6 months to get my ducks in a row plus be able to figure out the logistics and conditioning and everything else.

Thanks in advance for any help, support, or advice.

13 Replies

swiifg, January 21, 2016 at 10:08 am

Kudos to you for choosing to do something for yourself and for others.

You will gets lots of ideas on this site for what you may “need” to undertake a ride like RAGBRAI for the first time.

Here’s my two cents:
I rode the full route last year for my first time. I rode a 7 speed, Trek 700 and made it through each day without major difficulty. If you are told you must have a high dollar, specialized bike, it may make the ride easier but it’s not an absolute must. I saw a young woman riding last year on a single speed bike, it can be done!

As you accumulate gear, use what’s comfortable for you in your training rides. If you put in the miles training you’ll find what works for you. That goes for things as simple as your water bottle to the clothing and helmet you choose to your decision to carry a complete repair kit of your own or only spare parts, hoping to travel with a group or individual who is more of a bike mechanic than you may be.

I was able to find a group to travel with last year by keeping an eye on posts on this message board. That worked great for me, but not everybody wants to take on an unknown and some of those elect to go with a charter. You’ll see reference to the charters available on the RAGBRAI site as well.

Plan to have a great time traveling across miles and miles of the great state of Iowa. The trip is what you make it – I only wish I had started making this trip years earlier.


George Porter, January 21, 2016 at 11:06 am

Your handle is your first priority, ride your bike and now. If you live were it is too cold to ride outside , get a stationary bike or trainer, or join a fitness center that has them. If you can”t ride at least walk some . Get your body moving and keep it moving. Go to bikeforums.com There are many people there that have done what you are proposing . Good luck.


Jboz, January 21, 2016 at 12:48 pm

I applaud both your desire to improve your health, and your desire to give back to others. Just my opinion, but you need to focus on yourself first and foremost. At a 40 BMI, you need to get that under control, and that needs to be your #1 priority. RAGBRAI is only 7 days, and those 7 days will not instantly get you back to health, but training for RAGBRAI can and will help you regain some fitness. See your physician for a meal plan and an exercise plan…and make sure he knows that knows what your ultimate goal is, and that you want cycling to be an integral part of your plan. Once you regain your health, you can then shift your focus to more altruistic pursuits.

One further note of caution…in my experience, when people use a singular event (wedding, vacation, or in this case RAGBRAI) as their motivation for weight loss and fitness, it can be highly effective in the short term, but once the event is passed it becomes very easy to drift back into old habits. Your motivation should be overall health for it’s own sake…RAGBRAI is a fun way to celebrate newfound fitness, but shouldn’t be the goal itself.


Csprint, January 21, 2016 at 8:17 pm

Congratulations on your enthusiasm! It probably goes without saying that a doctor’s clearance to attempt this much of a consecutive effort should be sought.

A cyclocross (‘cross) bike is a great choice for Ragbrai! It has somewhat more laid back and stable geometry for long days. Clothing is crucial, including good quality shorts, a good jersey with pockets for sundries, obviously a helmet, gloves, good sunglasses, good shoes and socks that wick perspiration, and sunblock (I ran out last year!). A flat repair kit and a good multitool that you have practiced using on your bike beforehand, neatly packaged and easily gotten to under the seat, is a good thing.

The bike checked out for a clean bill of health a month before Ragbrai is a good thing too. It’s the unexpected that’ll get you. Something I saw last year happened to a rider I tried to help, and couldn’t. Her rear tire blew just before descending off the Coralville Reservoir Dam, and while volunteering to help fix the flat, I noticed the tire had separated from the bead, and there is no fix for that. She didn’t have, and no one else had a spare tire.

Fortunately the ride is a series of short rides each day, strung together. It need not be such a hard effort that you have to hurt yourself to complete each day. Getting in with a team/club is a source for a support system since you’ve never done the ride before.

I would certainly look up Ragbrai’s guide to participating, as well.

Good Luck!


Juan Medium Moose, January 22, 2016 at 5:45 pm

Quick notes:

  • As already mentioned, it’s not about the bike. I did my first RAGBRAI on an inexpensive ten-year-old mountain bike. It was easier last year on a road bike, but I didn’t go very high end on that either.
  • It is about the miles. Make sure you have a lot of miles in the saddle before you do RAGBRAI. My first RAGBRAI, I rode 500 miles before RAGBRAI started. I had so much fun that I did 1000 miles ahead of my second RAGBRAI. That sounds like a lot, but it turns out that it isn’t really that hard.
  • Get used to longer rides. 62.2 miles is 100KM. That’s a “metric century”. It’s a good idea to complete a couple of those before you try a week full of them.
  • Learn about butt cream. ‘nough said.


Juan Medium Moose, January 22, 2016 at 5:57 pm

What to wear…

  • A short sleeve bike jersey and bike shorts.
  • If you are new to riding, consider (carefully) inexpensive toe clips for your pedals. You will get the benefit of having your feet more securely connected to the pedals without having to buy the expensive shoes and clip-in pedals. If you do choose clip-in pedals, I suggest the SPD variety because you can walk comfortably in the shoes.
  • I recommend sun sleeves. They are white sleeves that you wear in addition to the jersey, and they have an SPF of about 50. If you get them wet, the water evaporating off of them will cool you down a bit. On that rare cold & rainy day they keep you a little bit warmer. I like them better than sunscreen. Use sunscreen on your legs.
  • Make sure that you have comfortable clothes for the evenings.
  • I assume that you’ll be camping. Test out your camping gear before-hand. You will want a sleeping bag. If it’s warm at night, you can use it as a mattress. It does get pretty chilly some nights, though.

I appreciate that you are interested in raising money for a good cause, but the most important thing here is that you have fun and enjoy the ride. If you’re not having fun, the rest won’t really be worth the effort.


statrixbob, January 24, 2016 at 10:42 pm


You have a great goal and I don’t want to dissuade you, but I do have some experience to share. I’ve ridden RAGBRAI twice, 2011 and 2013, and I’ll be back this year.

The first two times I rode I was as heavy as you are now, so weight isn’t a real problem for riding, though I’ll admit it doesn’t make things easier. I did work up to the ride though.

There’ll be a riding plan released later (here’s the 2015 version: https://ragbrai.com/2015/04/06/ragbrai-training-2015-ragbrai-training-plan/)

The first year I rode I stuck to it and managed to do the ride. I say managed because I did have some tough days but that was really more the heat than the distance, Hawaii for all of it’s image as tropical isn’t nearly as hot as Ohio in the summer.

The second year I was still heavy and had a bad hip but I’d ridden a lot of miles between 2011 and 2013 and it was much smoother – as I recall it was also a lot cooler.

Here’s the thing. I was riding lots of miles each year and not losing any weight. My cardio was great and I was a reasonably strong rider, if not blazingly fast.

But I wasn’t losing any weight.

In 2014 I had a hip replacement so I didn’t do any long rides, though I was on a stationary bike 3 days after surgery and on the road six weeks after surgery (doc didn’t want me to have an accident and shatter the hip, the motion itself was fine). I was still heavy.

In November that year (2014) I was really tired of being heavier than I would have preferred and changed my diet completely. I don’t want to get into a debate about what one should eat and so on, but I will say my choice was low carb. It worked for me.

Today I’m somewhere between 185 and 190. I’m still riding a lot of miles; about 5500 last year. My riding is still strong and I am faster, though still no speed demon (I prefer comfort and distance to speed).

Here’s the deal. My experience is that exercise alone isn’t going to help you lose a lot of weight. Yes you’ll be healthier and feel better, but without changing your diet the weight isn’t necessarily going to come off.

However with a good plan for changing your eating habits your weight will come off and riding will help and become progressively more fun.

Ultimately the point is, you can do it. You’ll have to stick to it and remember to have fun…if I weren’t enjoying myself and the results I probably wouldn’t have stuck to it.

To prove it can happen, here I am in 2013 in Council Bluffs across from Omaha if I’m not mistaken: https://flic.kr/p/foNr2z

Here I am after riding the GAP/C&O last summer: https://goo.gl/photos/rna3QGrTzGCRbMBF6

Good luck and see you o the road!




Chris, January 25, 2016 at 9:05 am

“If you are new to riding, consider (carefully) inexpensive toe clips for your pedals. You will get the benefit of having your feet more securely connected to the pedals without having to buy the expensive shoes and clip-in pedals. If you do choose clip-in pedals, I suggest the SPD variety because you can walk comfortably in the shoes.”


Clips n’ Straps or Clipless is one of the fastest, easiest, single-item changes that improves your comfort, power, and speed on the bike, and one of the more overlooked ones. Any of the human-bike interface points are worthy of careful consideration, but the seat and bars is a whole different thing for a different discussion. While you can ride RAGBRAI barefoot if you wanted to (and I’m sure someone has), having a dedicated pedal system makes it a lot easier.

With the prices being what they are for clipless, I wouldn’t recommend clips and straps to a new rider anymore. If you hit up an online vendor like Performance or Nashbar, for less than 100 bucks, you can walk away (well, it’s clipless, so sort of walk) away with both shoes and pedals. It won’t be the highest quality, and it might not even be brand name, but who cares: it’ll get you going. Clipless is easier to live with than clips and straps, especially on an on-the-bike-off-the-bike-on-the-bike event like RAGBRAI. I completely agree with Juan about SPD-type (with a recessed cleat) system. RAGBRAI causes hell with exposed cleat systems, though plenty of us ride them. If you can only find a Look system in your price range, then go with it, just be careful of the muddy areas and dirt.

You have a good bike. A good seat, a set of riding shoes/pedals, and few tools….you’re ready, from the bike end. As someone just above said, it’s not about the bike. It’s what you put on top of it that matters.

Just my 0.01


Mark Hartung, January 25, 2016 at 3:35 pm

Another suggestion is to try and find a riding/bike club in your area. They would surely be of assistance…and you never know, there just may be some people that have ridden or will be riding RAGBAI this year…Good Luck….


TeamPowellMom, January 26, 2016 at 8:13 pm

Some great advice here, and I think you can do it.

I recommend 1000 miles pre-RAGBRAI.

Also, as Bob said, riding likely won’t be enough for real weight loss. I’ve done about 1700 miles per year over the last 2 years, with a weight loss of about 10 pounds in the first few months of riding. I’ll take it, especially since it’s not the only benefit of cycling, but real dietary change would be needed for a better result.

This is not meant to discourage you in any way. It will be well worth your efforts. Good luck!


heknits, January 31, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Hey Mike! My advice; Do not fear the lycra!
Get a good pair of bike shorts or bib shorts. I’m a heavier rider, too, and when I started riding, I thought I would wait until I lost some weight before I tried to stuff myself into a pair of lycra bike shorts. Instead, I opted for some baggy mountain bike shorts with a liner and padding and they were fine for riding to and from work (about an hour each way), but with the extra fabric, things got really uncomfortable on longer rides. Once I got a pair of bibs, it was a different experience altogether. So much more comfortable when you’re spending hours a day on the bike. I take three pairs on the ride, so I can rinse them out at the end of the day and they have a couple of days to dry before I wear them again. Oh, and Chamois Butt’r! Butter ’em up! Yes to lycra, no to friction!
Good luck and have a great time.


Dizzy, February 6, 2016 at 3:10 am

GOYB&R: Rock on!


TeamPowellMom, June 6, 2018 at 10:17 pm

I’m happy to say that since writing this response I have lost and kept off an additional 60 pounds, but it was not from cycling. Diet was the key. Exercise, I’m afraid, is secondary.


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