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RAGBRAI length and format

In recent years I’ve heard riders wish for a longer route on RAGBRAI, but I think that’s unlikely due to the trend. Some quick math shows in the past 25 years, the five-year averages have been (from longest ago to now) 478 miles, 474 miles, 473 miles, 439 miles and 430. That’s a pretty significant change in that span, particularly the past 10 years.

I’ve also heard talk of RAGBRAI perhaps starting, ending or midway traveling through another state. I think that would be a risky move on RAGBRAI’s part, as there would be hell to pay for letting money leave Iowa. Just my thinking.

17 Replies

SFC JKL 2, August 16, 2018 at 12:03 am

With the Karras loop and now the gravel loop, there is a lot more riding to be done than just the base miles listed. We had a couple riders that used to make loops along the route to add mileage. One year they did five centuries.

The Des Moines register is NEVER going to leave the state of Iowa. Anyone who says otherwise is just spreading rumor.


jwsknk, August 16, 2018 at 10:36 am

I don’t know of anyone who had the official mileage this year. I had 454 without doing any of the loops. Not sure how they measure anymore, last few seem to have been farther off than in the past. Going out of state with the official route I think would cause too many more problems. Maybe not problems but now you involve other states HP, DOT, Medics? .. other stuff?


KenH, August 16, 2018 at 12:47 pm

Nothing stops you from doing either the gravel or Karras loops more than once if you really want more miles. Last year I nominated myself to drive the team car on century day so that my riding buddy could do it rather than having both of us drive for part of the day. In return I did the whole day on Sunday including the gravel loop. I did that loop twice to make Sunday a century. I had entertained the notion of doing the gravel three times this year to make a century as I volunteered to drive on century day again this year. You can read how that went in the thread “The Purgatory of the Loess”! An advantage to double or triple dipping on an official loop is that if you can stay ahead of the cutoff times you have all the safety and SAG benefits of being on the official route. I really think they should negotiate an 8:00 pm cutoff time on century day anyway as quite a few riders come in after 6 pm.

I suspect that leaving Iowa is not really possible for the reasons mentioned above and more. TJ did make a reference to the TdF starting outside of France in answer to a question a year or three ago but whether he would really like to do that or not other forces may remove that decision from his hands. Nothing would prevent towns in other states from hosting a one (or more, I suppose) day ride the day before or after RAGBRAI with the start or end town being the RAGBRAI end or start town that year. It would not require much in the way of cooperation between the two rides but of course a tag along ride would have to wait until the route announcement to start their efforts and they would have to move fast and strike hard to get it done. But it certainly could be done and a few of us would be up for it.


David, August 16, 2018 at 1:44 pm

I had 517 this year camping at one of the official campgrounds each night and not counting any afternoon/evening miles.

I agree the logistics of going out of state would be difficult. If happens I think the first time would just be a pass through town. But even that seems unlikely.

The final day has often been longer in recent years. For me, that isn’t a logistical concern but for many it is. I think it robs the towns of people visiting when most are rushing that much.


Dueywife, August 16, 2018 at 4:56 pm

I somehow ended up with 494 miles at the end of the week (with Karras loop). I always figure we’ll ride 20% more due to camping sites and pass-through towns. I will pause my computer when walking through the pass-through towns so as to not throw off my average pace. I’ve always wondered how they calculate the mileage too. I think it’s only from edge to edge and without the pass-throughs.


Gallagher, August 16, 2018 at 8:10 pm

All of the above makes sense. That’s why I think they’ll keep RAGBRAI “basic” distance at what it’s been averaging lately, with the gravel and Karras Loop the option to do more. On that note, what percentage of riders do you think did the Karras Loop this year? I rode early and most of us were doing it, but later I’m sure that figure drops!


rickpaulos, August 16, 2018 at 10:40 pm

Have a Century loop every day (except the last). My wife did just that in 1998 & 1999 when training for Paris-Brest-Paris.
The loop towns seem happy to have the business.


mootsman, August 17, 2018 at 9:28 am

As far as the route dipping into other states goes, it isn’t about DOTs or services. This goes back to the 70s when lots of newspapers were putting on cross state rides after they saw the benefit of RAGBRAI to the Register. I road the Wisconsin version at the time, SAAGBRAW with the S being for the Milwaukee Sentinel. I knew one of the cyclists who helped the Sentinal and talked to that ride’s version of TJ. There was this sort of unwritten agreement between newspapers to stay out of each other’s home states. Since few of these rides ever had the success that RAGBRAI did I don’t think any neighboring state’s newspapers put them on anymore. The closest would be the Denver Post.

No one was saying the Register will go out of state. Some have just put it out there as a suggestion. A 10-20 mile dip into Minnesota would be fun like the TDF dips into other countries at times. Either on a loop or on the main route. Unlikely but a fun suggestion as something different.

From the newspaper angle it could benefit the local papers if the register lets them publish the articles about the day RABGRAI went through their town.


KenH, August 17, 2018 at 10:17 am

The Wisconsin ride that mootsman mentioned seems to still be going along with a couple others in Wisconsin. The Will to Ben ride is particularly interesting.

Across the Mississippi from Le Claire (everyone’s favorite end town, I hear) is Port Byron, Illinois. Port Byron is on a bike trail and commissioned a local fiberglass statue manufacturing company to make this statue to celebrate their position on the trail:

Will B Rolling in Port Byron, IL

We have many splendid ideas for public art and events here in Illinois and we copy most of them from Wisconsin! Will B Rolling is no exception, the folks in Port Byron knew the company already had the molds for him because Sparta, WI had recently commissioned a statue called Ben Bikin’ to celebrate their status as a terminus for the world’s first rail to trail conversion.

Ben Bikin' in Sparta, WI

For the past few years the Will to Ben ride has taken riders from Port Byron to Sparta in October. If you read the web page details you will see that it has a very different character from RAGBRAI. Even so it is still a bike ride and would it not be a hoot to do that ride tagged onto the next time RAGBRAI ends in Le Claire? You’d miss the fall colors and I don’t have a clue how I would get it past the wife and my work schedule but I’d love to do it! If the traditional RAGBRAI route rotation holds true it might be two years before the next time RAGBRAI might end in Le Claire and I may well be retired by then….


mootsman, August 18, 2018 at 2:41 pm

Ken, the Milwaukee Sentinel abandoned SAAGBRAW many years ago. Its been through multiple owners the latest being from Illinois. First a bike store chain took it over, Wheel & Sprocket. So the S stood for Sprocket’s instead of Sentinel for a while. Then a couple took it over and their last name started with S so that’s what it stood for. Going strong though, hardly. At its peak it was limited to 1,000 riders but hasn’t approaches those numbers in many years.

The main point being its not related to a newspaper anymore. SAAGBRAW stood for Sentinel’s Active Americans Great Bicycle Rode Across Wisconsin.


SFC JKL 2, August 18, 2018 at 11:28 pm

Bike Wisconsin seems to be in charge of the three big rides. SAGBRAW, GRABAAWR (GReat Annual Bicycling Adventure Along the Wisconsin River) and the Bike Northwoods tour. To be fair, nothing compares to Ragbrai. They are bigger than most day rides, but nothing over a thousand. If I wasn’t connected in the bike community, I would have never noticed the times they stayed in Oshkosh unless I had sought them out.


jeffreydennis, August 20, 2018 at 7:08 pm

A had a tick over 500 with the loop and a real wheel dip. I always say I wish the last day was shorter (a few years back it was) but I still seem to always make it in with plenty of time. People that want to ride are gonna ride.


W Fanning, August 20, 2018 at 7:28 pm

It might of said 428 miles.. everyday campsite to campsite mine was always a few miles longer… I had close to 550 miles.. I did do the gravel loop.. and the Century loop and I biked to Nebraska on Saturday… as far as the last day.. I think most of the pass through towns get short changed.. I could of stayed longer in quite a few towns.. Wilton.. The Church party.. but when you got to catch a shuttle to make another shuttle.. to get back to your car… you got to do what you got to do… Have a blessed rest of the year.. be safe on 2 wheels…


Jill Ellenbecker, August 20, 2018 at 10:07 pm

My total per Strava was 469.4 miles, stayed in the campground near the Register semis each time, no loops. The last day was 78.4 miles for me, the farthest one of all! I preferred last year’s shorter, if hillier, last day. Party had wound down in Davenport by the time I got in.

Speaking of last year, we were very close to the MN border at Cresco. A loop into MN wouldn’t have been out of the question. I remember wanting to do the Mpls. Star Tribune’s ride in the 90’s when I was a teen…finally got to fulfill that dream with RAGBRAI.


mootsman, August 21, 2018 at 8:05 am


Bike Wisconsin was sold to a guy in Illinois named Rob who also owns Bike Illinois. The couple I think owned Bike Wisconsin previously. I know they bought GRABAAWR from Wheel & Sprocket although I’m not sure if Sprocket also owned SAAGBRAW at the time or the couple bought it directly from the Sentinel.

In any case, my point was that I don’t think RAGBRAI has a conflict with other newspapers anymore if they want to dip into another state.


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