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Pork Belly Ventures – Terrible this year

Do you like camping miles away from restaurants, vendors, activities, and where all your friends are meeting up every night? Do you enjoy riding buses, and waiting around for them to show, just to get to where everybody else walks to have dinner? Do you like being captive to your charter’s food? Do you like your charter telling the onsite vendors that they can’t sell drinks because only pork belly can sell drinks (ie dinky Gatorade for $2)?

Pork belly 2018 was all this and more. I’ll never use them again.

52 Replies

Thoreau, August 3, 2018 at 2:01 pm

I have used Pork Belly for the last seven years and I love their service and professionalism. Yes, they sometimes are mile or so away from the overnight festivities, but that seems like a small price to pay for a good campsite–and doable for folks that have ridden around 70 miles each day. I’m impressed with their organization, the help they give riders, and how they manage their crew and customers. I don’t mind waiting a bit until the camp opens–I usually hang out in town and come back when they are ready for us. I will use them again.


JLVanPelt, August 3, 2018 at 7:10 pm

I think anyone who uses a charter needs to ask themselves some questions about their riding style, what they want to do before/after each day’s rides, shower needs, personal dietary habits, etc. I have used PBV twice in the past and they are as advertised. If you don’t understand how your needs will mesh with theirs, then I encourage you to take a few items in to consideration. Our registration has included a dozen or so meals between the two of us over the years that we didn’t eat because we prefer to find a local restaurant or bar & grill. If that is going to tick you off, then you should look elsewhere. We considered it a “donation” in exchange for eating local whatever tickled our fancy that night. Plus, we meet up with friends most nights. Others might be frustrated that their fee includes craft beer they will never drink. Some charters offer free water, soda, snacks, etc. Others charge for coffee.

I think if you are the type who wants to meet up with friends who aren’t using PBV, are wrung out at the end of the day and 1-5 miles (and yes, it’s been that far out) and a couple extra hills will put you over the edge, you don’t mind showering in groups with various water pressure, temps and 3 inches of water on a locker room floor, you would prefer not to pay extra for snacks/water, Gatorade outside of your meals, you could care less if you see porcelain all week, you get up to pee in the middle of the night so finding your tent among hundreds of others after a quarter mile jaunt in the night will be a struggle and you are not happy in a small tent you can’t stand in, the PBV is not your charter.

On the other hand, if you are happily ensconced in the campground with meals selected by someone else and you never crave certain foods on RAGBRAI, would love a private shower with temps on demand, a trailer of flushing toilets, a smaller tent that contains your bags each afternoon which you don’t have to lug in the morning to a truck, craft beer, beverages that cost a couple dollars, no snacks, plentiful coffee when you awaken, locking cubicles for charging, KYBOs which can be several blocks away in tent city and not easy to find after a 2am bathroom run, entertainment chosen by the charter, an opportunity to sleep indoors even if it means adhering to a bus schedule that takes you away from the action and don’t mind waiting for a shuttle if you do wish to venture in to town, then PBV will make you immensely happy.

If you are somewhere between the two, you’ll need to do your research and make some decisions (also known as compromises). This year, we went with a charter that offered some of the amenities of PBV and other perks not offered by PBV (larger tent, smaller footprint) but trust me, I was on the hunt for PBV showers every chance I had.

At the end of the day, PBV can offer all the cool toys because of volume which means they can’t just plop down in any little park. In the past, I spent a few frustrated days sputtering about how far out we were until I got my head around the fact that in order to have three shower trucks, a rolling flushing toilet, a couple of charging trucks, craft beer, etc. there has to be enough registration fees and that limits where you can navigate those rigs and set up several hundred tents. Then, it was up to me to decide what my priorities were and what I was willing to sacrifice. I don’t think you’ll see a shower truck associated with a camp of 50 riders in any charter unless they are charging rock star prices.

I know when you’re angry with your charter, it’s hard to see this in a different light. I’m not pro or con any charter per se. I just hope that my comments allow you to take inventory of your personal needs so you make choices that work best for you.


mootsman, August 6, 2018 at 3:45 pm

Clearing up some potentially miss-leading info in the post above this one.

1) PBV has great showers that have private stalls. No public showering or standing water.
2) Its easy to find your tent at night in a large group, leave a light on so you can spot it easily.
3) PBV has a flush toilet trailer if you like to avoid kybos when possible
4) PBV camps are on the edge of towns usually. I never had to walk more then a mile or 2 to downtown.
5) PBV charges $1 for cans of soda or Gatorade. Lemonade and craft beer are no additional charge.
6) An invoted vendor in the PBV camp each day charges for lunch, snacks and more then $1 for a soft drink.
7) PBV does NOT include 12 meals in their cost. Just 3 actually. You can optionally buy more meals.


pmac, August 6, 2018 at 5:22 pm

I think Van Pelt’s response was pretty much spot on. PBV does exactly what it says it will do and it does it very well. It is extremely well organized, really great showers, mid-week laundry, in camp meals and entertainment, tent city, beer, bike shipping etc. They tell you what they are going to do for you and they do it very, very well. They make it very easy to ride and you definitely get a great bang for you buck.

The flip side, imho, is that due to PBV’s huge size and the many services it provides, it is almost like there are 2 weeklong tours operating simultaneously, the traditional Ragbrai, with much smaller groups, teams and Ragbrai trucks, searching out local food (some good some not so good), interesting showering experiences, etc. Not using PBV, (or another really big charter) is a bit more seat of your pants, but some people like things like that.

Both provide completely different experiences and both have their unique attractions. It really is whatever works best for you. While I really enjoyed the PBV charter, I think the next time I do Ragbrai it will be with a much smaller charter or no charter at all, not because I wasn’t happy with PBV, but to see a different side of the ride.

Have fun on your ride, however you decide to do.


jake d, August 6, 2018 at 8:20 pm

OooKaaay. I’m going to offer a totally different perspective. I have never gone with PBV. I have nothing against them or anyone who chooses their charter. I have only heard wonderful things from their customers. I go with a less luxurious charter, but if I had the means, would seriously consider PBV.
What does burn my backside is when a town chooses to put everyone in the same location and PBV, because of their size and number of trucks, has the easiest access to the entire campground.

Which means the rest of us poor bastards might have to walk an extra 1/2 mile for Kybos, showers, and shuttles. Think not? That was exactly the situation in Clear lake last year. That was only the most recent example.

The 1/2 mile was not an estimate, I walked it off with my bike, and there were plenty of folks forced to camp further out.


Tom Spahle, August 10, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Seethers to the left, loathers to the right. All others continue for adventure and fun.


Phil1961, May 30, 2019 at 8:23 pm

I have used PBV all 5 times that I have done Ragbrai and they have always provided awesome service. I am using them again for year 6. PBV is awesome!!


mcdermott1, May 30, 2019 at 11:07 pm

hmmm? I don’t understand some of these criticisms , I’ve used PBV for the last 3 years and will again this year and I am 100% satisfied. This charter is very professional and do everything they promise and do it extremely well . I honestly can’t think of one thing I would change with them. See you all in Iowa …. I’ll be drinking a cold beer after a hot shower , watching a band in camp and then see you later at night in the downtowns !


cmparsley, May 31, 2019 at 8:54 am

I would like to offer up my RAGBRAI experience as an alternative. I have never used a charter. I do remember being in awe of the scale of the PBV tent city on my first RAGBRAI 12 years ago. Not knowing what the deal was, I approached after spotting beer. The guy at “the gate” rather rudely asked if I was a part of that group. When I said no, he rather rudely told me to move along.

I left with a bad taste in my mouth about it. It was later that I was informed about who that group was. This was an opportunity for this guy to “sell” me on the benefits of joining their charter, and instead he acts like an ass.

That year, I rode solo and I had a drinking buddy drive his RV. He knocked on doors in the overnight town until he found a place that would let us park for the night. This was my first experience of hosts.

12 years later, my wife now drives the RV and our group is 12-15 people. We get on the host lists in each town the soonest we can. We have met some of the most amazing people. One time we were one of about 5 groups all staying in this one neighborhood. All the neighbors were friends and turned the whole thing into a neighborhood block party. One host had a garage with classic cars he was restoring. Another had a hot tub they let us use. One host a few years ago had a CNC plasma table and he made all kinds of custom metal signs and fire rings.

Our hosts have given us the inside scoop on the best places to eat in their town. They know the easiest way to the route out of town. RAGBRAI is whatever you make it to be. Give staying with local hosts a shot. We have yet to be disappointed!


mootsman, May 31, 2019 at 9:12 am

PBV made RAGBRAI even more of a real vacation for me. Instead of setting up and breaking camp each night they set up a tent for me and delivered my luggage to it (tent service). And PBV picked up the luggage the next day. Then in camp we get good beer, lemonade and 3 dinners included with our trip fee. And you could purchase the rest of the dinners. Great entertainment also, a flush toilet trailer and the best showers on RAGBRAI. I like them so much that this year I’m trying out one of their “Phat Rooms”. I think PBV stopped having an admission person and now instead have the PBV wrist bands to avoid hoards of freeloaders pirating the beer included in their trip fee.


Luv 2 Ski, May 31, 2019 at 10:57 am

The great thing about RAGBRAI is that it is so big you can find what suits you.

I am with cmparsley. For me there is nothing better than being in a smaller group and getting the local flavor. Last year in Dennison our hosts were Mexican and they cooked us a Mexican feast complete with fresh homemade salsa. That was totally unexpected but greatly appreciated. It was one of the best meals I have ever had on RAGBRAI.

As for PBV I view them like similar to an “All-Inclusive” vacation resort. I have been to a few of those and they are great for what they are. But you can tend to get locked into their gig and not get the local flavor as much if you were more independent. While I have not used PBV I surmise that can be said about them as well. That is neither good nor bad, it just depends on how you want to roll.


mootsman, May 31, 2019 at 11:22 am

We’re completely independent with PBV. More so then some small groups from my experience. People go their own way in the over night towns. And of course the pass-through town experience is whatever you make it, a charter doesn’t effect that at all.

I’ve also went with a couple of different teams (small groups) and one tried to make you go along with their itinerary a bit too much for me. Starting many days riding together, sticking to their camp, all going to the same restaurant or bar. And shunned a bit if you didn’t. Each group has its own approach but charters are too big for that much togetherness.

PBV for example just takes care of the chores for you, freeing up your time to do what ever you want.


Nico ZZZ, May 31, 2019 at 2:50 pm

mootsman explains PBV perfectly. This will be my 5th year with them, and PBV is a significant part of what makes RAGBRAI a fantastic Week in the Corn.
They are such a well organized, accommodating, thoughtful, professional and friendly group of folks. I sleep one week in a tent every year, and that is RAGBRAI week. I have never enjoyed camping, but I DO look forward to my one week in a tent with PBV. And you bet, I use their magical tent service.
Each year I meet some groovy people in the neighboring tents, and the next year I will probably see them again at PBV getting an ice cold beer(s).
If you want to go into town I have never had issues with distance as there are always shuttles if camp is farther out from town. Big deal.
The amenities have been listed again and again, so I won’t bother listing them here.
For me, PBV makes sense. I live in FL so the logistics are simplified by being with PBV. Thirty years ago, when I lived in Omaha, I might have gone the regular RAGBRAI route. But back then, I thought the idea of riding across Iowa for a week on a bicycle was a ridiculous way to waste a week of vacation. Now, being older and wiser(?), I spend thousands of dollars to get to Iowa to ride my bike through the cornfields and bean fields. Now I wish I had started thirty years ago!
Ride On!


Ed Chimahusky, June 1, 2019 at 7:49 am

I used PBV last year for my first RAGBRAI and found that although they had a lot of service, they were too big and too far out of the way. Riding this year with the Out-of-Starters. Who know next year I may look for a small self-contained team.


patrsnw, June 4, 2019 at 1:29 pm

Nico ZZZ hit it on the head – logistics. My wife and I have been using PBV since last century and the important thing is that they handle the details so we don’t have to.

I’ve ridden using guest housing and rode solo using the Register’s truck. That was when I was much younger and riding solo. The older I get, the less time I have to deal with the little things, and the more I wish to preserve matrimonial bliss, the more we appreciate Pork Belly.

Yes, it costs. Yes, they’re not always in the thick of things (not a fan of RAGBRAI entertainment, anyway, where “if you ain’t good then be loud”). But we know where our stuff will be, long-time friends are nearby, and if there’s anything that we do need, the PBV crew is more than happy to help out.


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