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Questions from a first time RAGBRAI rider…

Hi all,

I’m new to RAGBRAI. And, full disclosure, I’ve never even been to Iowa before. I’m a little anxious about trying something new, but I hear RAGBRAI is a blast. I’ve been cycling for about 12 years and I’ve done more MS 150s than I care to count. I’ve never done this long of an event and not stayed in hotels before, so this is all new to me. I’ve read through the FAQs and Blogs, but I’m finding everything to be a little overwhelming. Can any veteran riders offer any insight into some of the random questions I have so far? Thanks so much in advance for the help! Looking forward to a great ride!

1. I’m driving from Pittsburgh, PA to the ride. I’ve read about charters available for hire, but do they operate before the race? Ideally, I’d like to leave my car at the finish and charter to the start before the race begins. Also, it sounds like I have to wait to reach out to a charter to make arrangements until I find out if I got picked in the lottery? Is that right? Is there camping available the night before the race starts somewhere near the start?

2. So this lottery thing. It’s my understanding we find out on May 1 if we’re in. What happens if we don’t get in? Do we get a registration refund? I read about the split and birth of Iowa Ride…is it more likely to be accepted to RAGBRAI because of that?

3. I’m seeing posts about people making arrangements at campgrounds. Is that necessary? Each town does provide a designated camping area, right? Is there a reason people opt not to do that and go to their own campground?

4. On the note of camping, is it safe to camp in the designated area? All the races I’ve been to have been full of super awesome and friendly people. Is there any reason to be concerned about safety?

5. HOW DO I FIT ALL MY STUFF (camping gear included) IN ONE BAG?!?! I’m all for roughin’ it, but for real. I’m nervous about this.

6. Stupid question, but how do people charge their phones? Or do people bring their own power banks? I’m doing this alone, so I won’t have a personal SAG van or any sort of amenities to use. I don’t need to use my phone to meet up with people on the ride or anything, but I’d like to be able to use it to let people at home know I’m still alive :)

7. Back to the idea I’m doing this alone… can I do this alone? Like, do people do that? I’ve done MS150s alone and left with lots of new friends. I realize, though, this is much, much bigger than any MS150.

8. Anyone have any advice/tips/tricks/whatevers you’d like to share that you wish you’d had known before your first RAGBRAI?

Thank you all and I hope you have a great ride!

36 Replies

Bentongoing, February 5, 2020 at 2:22 pm

1. It’s NOT a race – at least I’ve never seen a winner announced.
2. This will be my 9th, and I confirm – it is a blast!
3. I do this alone EVERY year. But I do use Brancel Charters, both during the ride AND to transport me, my trike, and my equipment from the ending town (Clinton) to the beginning town (Lemars). Then I just pedal my butt back to my car in Clinton and drive home with a big smile on my face. Using the charter during the ride deals with a whole host of logistical problems, like how do I charge my phone? how do I get all my stuff in one 52 lb bag? (answer – ya don’t – they allow multiple bags) How do I get a shower at the end of the day? – They look after that.
4. It is safe! I doubt you will ever feel this safe and secure at any other time in your life.
5. I really think everyone wins the lottery – if not, you will be refunded, and you can still buy a wristband in the aftermarket if you still want to go.
6. It’s a blast!
7. My trip is about the same as yours (about 800 miles each way, and I drive) and I’ve done this 8 times – I think that says it all!


ESchiers, February 5, 2020 at 4:11 pm

1. Charters are available- the best IMO is Pork Belly Ventures. I’ve used OOS and PBV in the past with PBV being far superior in amenities, service, friendliness, and camp fun. They offer a very comfortable bus to cross the state to the start. They are BIG, for some folks, that’s an issue. Every morning coffee! Every night beer, food, and a great band (if you don’t want to go into town, there’s still something to do). Did I mention flush toilets & showers? Yes–the best showers, private space (no mass group showers) and AC which are included as a part of the fee. You can rent a tent which is set up for you from many of the charters, or not, your choice. Sign up for a charter now, especially you want to go for the tenting option because it sells out. Don’t worry about the lottery.

2. Don’t worry about the Lottery- you’ll get in. Make your plans now.

3. You have charter campgrounds, the RAGBRAI campground, or local homes arranged for teams/ individuals who request them at each town.

4. Yes- RAGBRAI is safe. I have been attending as a solo female for 4 years without ever experiencing an issue. People will go out of their way to help– welcome to Iowa Nice. The occasional mosquito and sunburn will be your biggest concern.

5. The amount you can take will depend on who/ where you will camp. Some charters allow you to take everything but the kitchen sink, others not so much. Look up RAGBRAIs baggage rules, if I remember it’s somewhere around 2 bags and 30#. Either way- remember you Have To Carry all that weight to where you will set up your tent. That can be a distance. Take along what you need, leave the rest.
I’d leave the hairdryer, extra shoes, books, multiple evening clothes at home. My trick is to pack what I want, then remove half, and then remove half again. After that, it might be just be right.

6. PBV has a charging trailer for everyone’s phone, iPad, Cpap, etc. There are stations at the meeting towns (the midway town) and dinner spots (like churches and schools) have outlets available. I take a larger battery (4x charge) so I can charge my phone several times before I need to recharge the battery. You may be surprised that phone calls will not get through, texts or emails have a better chance. The hoard of people tends to overwhelm the cell towers and getting through is a crapshoot. May I suggest making the call during the day, if possible. Either way, warn your loved ones that you may or may not get a call through and should not worry if you can’t make contact at a designated time.

7. Yes- you can do this! (alone). There are dozens and dozens of people you will talk to who have come to ride by themselves. You’ll find even more people who are traveling as a family, team, or group. After 15 minutes of hitting the Iowa line, everyone will be ready to call you a friend.

8. •Ride, ride, and ride some more. The more hours you have on the seat, the better your week will be. If possible, put in back to back days with extended miles (50+). Your backside needs to experience multiple days on the road. It will give you a good idea of how your kit fits (or not).
• Take as little as possible, the baggage can be well “baggage” after lugging it around several days in a row.
• Plan for at least one day of rain or “chilly” weather. It doesn’t always happen, but a pair of socks and something to cover your head can make the difference between shivering all night or being comfortable.
• Have fun journey planning and have fun along the way! I hope to get the chance to meet you!


jelly0317, February 5, 2020 at 4:35 pm

The RAGBRAI baggage limit is one fifty-pound bag per rider.


Travis Newman, February 5, 2020 at 5:03 pm

Here’s a good video on what and how to pack…..


Uncle Kraig, February 5, 2020 at 5:12 pm

Don’t have time right this minute to go through all your questions but quickly, so you dont end up at the wrong event, it is not a race. It is a ride, not a race. Not sure what the MS150 is but if it is a race, you may be a competitive racer, this is not a race at all, fyi.


Lauren Caldwell, February 5, 2020 at 5:16 pm

Thank you all so much for the info! This is BEYOND helpful! Shouldn’t have used the word *race*. My bad. Totally get it’s not a race. All about the journey and good times. Thank you for the correction!


Uncle Kraig, February 5, 2020 at 7:32 pm

Some more answers with time now……and you now know you are chilling, not racing :)

1. No worries on the lottery. You will get in, guaranteed. If not, you can ALWAYS buy credentials later from others. So, if you want to go, plan on it and dont worry about the lottery.

2. I am guessing there are few safer places in the world than RAGBRAI. Quite the opposite, people will go OUT of their way to help you, not hurt you. Look forward to a comfortable, safe and fun week. Dont worry about safety.

3. You can park in Clinton (details to follow later in the summer) and hitch a ride to Le Mars with any of a number of charters. Or, there will be many people here posting offering rides later this summer too. No worries on this one either.

4. There will be camping both Friday and Saturday before the ride in Le Mars, again, no worries.

5. There are tons of places to charge your phone. In each pass thru town, there is usually a charging station. Plus, there is always an outlet somewhere….bank, restaurant, Caseys, bar, city hall, church, library, etc, etc. You’ll be fine. Put your phone on airplane mode during the day when you are riding. It will save a lot of battery not looking for a signal with 20,000 other phones doing the same.

6. DO NOT OVER PACK…this is number one rookie error. Really, you dont need much….I wont do the list here but suffice it to say, everyone over packs, especially their first few rides. Veterans have a toothbrush, a pair of shorts, 2 or 3 t-shirts a pair of flip flops, a 3 pound tent, a sheet, a blow up pillow a therma rest some butt butter and thats about it. That can all fit in a small back pack weighing about 25 pounds.

7. You can absolutely do it alone. I did my first two alone and actually loved it. My own pace, my own stops, meet some people along the way, etc. You are never alone, you are with 10,000 or so friends that you just haven’t met yet :) In fact, I’m going it alone again this year it looks like.

8. My two biggest and first tips to Virgins are…..go slow, take your time, spend time in the pass through towns, talk to the locals, talk to the riders, meet people etc…..go slow…..Second, dont over pack. Everybody does it, but I still tell everyone, dont overpack. You wont need or use half the stuff you bring.

Lastly, be prepared to be addicted. This is the most fun week you will ever have. It truly is a special week that is hard to explain in words, you’ll see but be prepared to be back in Iowa every July for awhile :) Welcome, see you in July!


jelly0317, February 5, 2020 at 9:34 pm

Excellent, informative post. My only disagreement is with “DO NOT OVER PACK”. I’m sure that many “veterans” need to bring much more than what you list, but still come in well under the weight limit. As long as the rider can carry the bag several hundred yards, the extra weight may be worth it.


Mike Howe, February 5, 2020 at 9:58 pm

1. The Pork Belly Ventures charter offer several different options for shuttles. I don’t think you need to be a part of their charter to use their shuttle service, but there will be a fee. Lots of people camp Friday night.

2. I think almost everyone gets accepted into the lottery. If by chance you don’t you can get a refund. If you don’t get in the lottery there will be tons of people selling their wristband/spot on Ragbrai. The transfer is done through the Ragbrai website so it’s on the up and up and there isn’t fear of being scammed.

3. If you use a charter they will have a reserved camping area set up through Ragbrai. If you don’t use a charter there will be a main Ragbrai campground. Local residents will offer their homes for riders to sleep or their yard to set your tent up in. Regardless, you won’t have any issues finding a place to camp no matter which route you go.

4. Theres no reason to be concerned about safety in the campgrounds. I’ve never heard of any issues regarding safety in the campgrounds. You’ll want to bring a small flashlight so you can see where you’re walking at night in the campground and just be careful of the tent guy lines/rope at night so you don’t trip over them.

5. I’ve used Pork Belly Ventures and you’re allowed 2 duffle bags. I believe if you don’t use a charter and just use the Ragbrai truck you’re only allowed 1 bag. There are several you tube videos and websites that will give you ideas on how/what to pack.

6. Pork Belly Ventures has 2 trailers full of outlets you can charge your phone, bike computer, watch, iPad, etc in. You can also lock whatever you’re charging in the trailer while it charges. I know there are a couple of other charters that offer charging stations in their camps. You’ll find places in pass through towns and overnight towns that offer charging stations too. Finding an outlet thats not being used always works too. As mentioned in another reply, put your phone on airplane mode while you’re riding your bike so your phone isn’t draining its battery looking for a signal. Take it off airplane mode to make a call, text, email. Sometimes you’ll get a signal. Sometimes the signal is hit or miss. Sometimes you will get no signal at all. Just depends. Sometimes if you’re in a overnight town with little to no signal, late at night when everyone is asleep, you’ll receive texts that were sent earlier in the day. It’s a good idea to let your family or friends know you may not be able to always get in thouch with them due to the cell phone towers being over crowded.

7. You can certainly do this alone. Tons of people do it alone and some prefer to do it alone. You’re truly not alone though because you have thousands of people around to help at any time.

8. Don’t over pack. No need for clean clothes all 7 days. 2 or 3 days of clothes is enough. You can wash them out in the shower or go to a laundry mat in a overnight town. A bike mechanic told me to make sure to bring a back up rear derailed hanger. He said that bike part is so specific to your bike that if it happens to break you might not be able to find that exact one on the route or with an of the bike repair stands. I paid the $10 to get a pair one just in case. Rather have it than be without it and have my tripped ruined not being able to ride my bike.

Getting addicted to Ragbrai is a thing. I planned to do it once and that was it. This will be my 4th straight year. There are many riders who have done it 20+, 30+ plus years. You will love it.


sjmaring, February 5, 2020 at 10:15 pm

The Riverbend Bicycle Club in Clinton typically has a charter to get you to the beginning of the ride. We used them last time the ride ended in Clinton and they were very helpful. The long term parking in the end town usually is announced fairly late like in May, so you will have to be patient there, but it always exists, so you don’t have to worry. With your normal training you will be more that fit enough for RAGBRAI. I actually get stronger during the week of the ride, so the extra days of riding shouldn’t be an issue as long as your bike and gear fit properly. This year will be somewhat hillier than recent years, so a little extra training attention there never hurts. You will have a blast.


SFC JKL 2, February 5, 2020 at 11:56 pm

If you are planning on using the baggage truck, you’ll need an east/west shuttle to get to the start (around $150). Using a charter for the week will vary greatly upon what you want. Carrying your bags v. a tent set up with your bags in it. Don’t sweat the lottery. Lock your bike if it makes you feel better. No worry about safety. Check the board here or with your local group. You can find someone to ride out here with if you want. I did it from Philly the four years I lived there. Pack the minimal stuff you think you could get by with, then get rid of 1/3 of it. Put everything in a plastic bag. You’ll never go more than a couple miles without seeing something to eat or drink for sale. If you see someone in a lawn chair, ask them if you can plug in your phone. 95% will say no problem. I had a friend who used to knock on doors and ask if he could take a shower. He said he never had to knock on more than three doors. After a day or two you’ll figure out why this is the greatest ride in the world. If you want to do something, there are 500 people who would like to do it too. Slow down and enjoy the ride. It’s your ride. If you have any more questions ask. There will be 20 more of these threads before the ride starts and tons of helpful people here.


Amanda, February 6, 2020 at 9:20 am

Even though this will be my 22nd RAGBRAI, I am using RAGBRAI support for the first time. The 1 bag thing freaks me out! It’s not the clothes so much but I am use to my double high air mattress, my fan and comforts like that. I have already decided no double high mattress and no fan. I am thinking a single mattress – it is 4 pounds. And I can’t believe that my clothes will weigh much. I will do this 1 50 pound bag but it will be a struggle for the Princess. Only can bring 1 tiara!


garywilk, February 6, 2020 at 11:20 am

If you want to stay on the low cost side. OOS or out of staters is a good group. they charger you across for about 160 and then another 200 for the week but take care of a lot of things for you. All of the chargers have great web pages so you can pick what you want to pay and what you get. Next up is Bubba’s. With them, you do not need a tent. They have it set up with air mattress and your bags at you tent. I have done both and if you have the $$ someone like Bubba makes it nice especially if or should I say when it rains. I have done many MS150’s and this is not much different. A lot of 15 mile rides and then stop, rest eat and drink and most importantly, enjoy the towns and what they have to offer. As many said, no race but a tour across Iowa.


2newknees2newbeers, February 6, 2020 at 3:27 pm

No one has mentioned about teams. My first couple years were with OOS, had a blast but the second year the group size almost doubled. There were people I didn’t see for days and even my friend I rode up with. I decided I wanted to get on a team. Most teams consist on 30 or so people and old school bus. They can be fun they can be exciting and sometimes not what you expected. Sometimes your team bus breaks down. I got on Team Good Beer the first year it started. Some of us didn’t think we’d finish or even continue the next year. We stuck it out and survived and this year will be our 15th year. There are hundreds of teams, I remember my first year thinking I could take a picture of every team bus, they are so cool. Ran out of film. There may be a team for everyone who wants to go that route. We usually stay at host houses, we pitch our tents in their yards and sometimes we’re in a campground or at a church. Sometimes we never know, the best places are when we get invited back. And of course we are limited only 1 plastic tote and one big bag and everyone pitches in and helps out. We have support people who drive the buses, we have 2 now. If you see us on the route come check us out at either the Firkin Bus or the Bierstube. We’ll give you free beer all provided by our sponsors at local and regional craft breweries. See you in July


Michael Johnson, February 6, 2020 at 5:22 pm

Welcome to RAGBRAI. I ride with Team Upright which has been together for several years and always welcomes new riders. You are welcome to join us. We have a bus which carries all of the equipment that you would need in addition to your “stuff” from town to town. We have bunks on the bus but most of the team sleep in tents. We do have a toilet and shower on the bus which makes it nice at the end of the day ad in the evenings. If you are interested, please feel free to contact me at 319-360-3347. My name is Mike Johnson and I can help you get connected with the team.


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