Riding with a backpack on RAGBRAI?

First RAGBRAI. While there is plenty of information on everything, I couldn’t find suggestions of carrying a backpack. My thought was to put sneakers inside (in case need to stop by to explore towns, but do have cleat covers as well) and also to carry any bought food or souvenirs between cities. Of course, the downside is getting hot and having a sweaty back. Curious what are people’s thoughts on backpacks. I do have a saddle sac, but it’s not big enough to carry more than my tubes and tire levels. Jersey pockets can also work, up to a limit.

Any other advice for beginners are welcome. I have read a lot of it already, but probably have information overload at this point. I am going with Brancel Charter, so that should help.

This topic was modified 2 months, 2 weeks ago by Sibelius.

26 Replies

McKS, July 4, 2021 at 10:52 am

Hi Sibelius:
I would recommend no back pack – it’s not necessary. Forget your sneakers – cleat covers are sufficient. Your jersey pockets will work for most small things. Bring a bungey cord and wrap it around your handlebar. If you find some thing along the way, you can strap it on with the cord.


czysk, July 4, 2021 at 11:25 am

I agree no back pack. I use a handle bar bag for sun screen and other small items. Some people bungee a pair of flip-flops to their bike to wear in the pass thru towns You made a good choice with Brancel This will be my tenth trip with them


roadtriker2, July 4, 2021 at 12:05 pm

No backpack is needed. Plenty of places to get food & drink on the route.
Great choice on Brancel Charters. First class operation and the staff is the best.


Sibelius, July 4, 2021 at 1:45 pm

Thanks for the tips. No backpack then.

Yeah I did a lot of research into charters and tried to actually talk to them. Bob (Brancel) was the best and was very helpful even before I signed up with him. Some of the charters weren’t really responsive. Plus I like the fact that his group isn’t as huge as some of the more popular ones, like PBK.

On a separate note, I’m assuming the GPX routes have not been released yet. Was hoping to see some of the grades and lengths of the climbs.


klkoopman, July 4, 2021 at 5:34 pm

Brancel is terrific-good people. I’ve debated the pass-through town-shoe dilemna and just tolerated the cleats. I do think some cheap dime store flip-flops would work. They’d tuck into the jersey pockets and you wouldn’t be all that upset to lose them.


Chris, July 4, 2021 at 8:56 pm

Welcome to the Zoo! :)
I have a few odds and ends that you might find useful, though by your own admission you’ve read yourself to the point of information overload already.

Bob, Debbie, and Emma Brancel set the bar so far as I’m concerned. I wish I was half as nice as they are. We’ve used them for years to get us across the state before the ride; see ya on the bus!

Backpack: To echo the others: you don’t really need it on the bike (with a caveat….) We carry a small folding/roll-up backpack in our camping gear for taking with us into town. Makes carrying around a bottle of wine or whatever we might pick up at the expo that much easier. The Caveat: just like you suggested, we have taken it with us on the bike a handful of times when we saw that there was something on the route that was likely to have us buying something that would be hard to carry (a winery on the 2017 route and a big apiary in….eeeh….2019?).

Cleats/Shoes: 0.99c flip flops, if anything. As for your cleats: yup, cleat covers work. Two specific suggestions with cleats – if you’re running Look style cleats, have a little Swiss Army knife (or bicycle multi-tool) on the bike. If you step in mud without the cover on, it’ll tend to pack into the locking groove in the back of the cleat. A wipe or two with a small tool takes care of that.
If you’re running Speedplay…..get a small can of 3-in-one Dry Graphite Lock Lubricant or the like. The can is all of 3″ tall and will save you a ton of headache if you pack up the cleat with dirt/mud, as you can angle the straw in behind the spring and blast the junk out of the cleat. SPD/SPD-R/Frogs/Time/whatever else…. can’t comment as I haven’t personally run those systems. They’re not as prone to packing up with junk, though.

Last suggestion: The Expo and the bike shops that come along with us are, flatly, amazing. They can fix just about anything that goes wrong. If you’re running “standard” equipment, don’t use up the space and weight in your bags carrying a ton of spares, tools, things like that. The shops will have you covered, and they all take credit cards if you really break something badly. That being said: if you are running anything odd (24″ wheels, Campagnolo EPS, Spinergy PBO-Spoked wheels, etc….), throw a spare tire, battery pack, or PBO spoke in your gear bag.

Otherwise, the only other advice I can give you: get yourself ready to have a hell of a lot of fun :)

See you in July,


Sibelius, July 5, 2021 at 10:17 am

Good idea on thin flip flops. Regarding the suggestions to bungee bags to the bike, I’m not entirely sure how that would work and I didn’t really find any photos online. Mine is a regular road bike with no fenders. One time I did try to do a short 3 mile ride to a bike shop with a small bag hanging from the drops and it was the most unstable ride, almost causing me to crash. Since then, I’m weary about hanging anything from the handlebars.

Chris, I do have the SPD cleats. Although this will be the first time using cleat covers for me, I noticed they completely cover the bottom of the cleat which should make it harder for dirt to get it. Still, I’ve never had issues with dirt before since I avoid walking on soft ground in cleats, especially muddy areas.

Have you found that you need an electric fan in the tent, by the way? I’ve seen comments both ways, some stating that the tent has enough ventilation. I’d rather not carry anything extra if not needed and a fan + extra batteries is pretty bulky.

And thanks for the suggestions. I will probably see you in camp then rather than on the bus–the bus I’m taking is with Bike World since I’m coming from WDM and Brancel didn’t have one coming from around here.


Chris, July 6, 2021 at 6:36 am

Hey Sibelius:
…..must be getting close to RAGBRAI. One day later and this is already on page 3!

SPD’s: Excellent! You’ll have little/no trouble with them, especially with cleat covers. We run Speedplay, so the mud/dirt thing is a particularly sticky (ha!) issue for us. It’s probably the worst pedal system for RAGBRAI, but…..well, it’s what we run.

Tent Fan: Yes, we bring one every year. And every year we debate bringing it, too. It’s heavy, it’s big, it doesn’t pack well, keeping it fed with batteries can be a trick. And it’s worth the trouble if there’s a stinking hot, humid, windless night. We’ve gone though 4 or 5 fans now trying to find the “Right one”. FWIW: Coleman makes a little 3″ fan with a light that’s useless, O2COOL (I think that’s the name) has a 8 or 10″ portable fan that folds fat, so packing it is reasonable, but the plastic isn’t all that strong, so we destroyed it in a single year. We’ve had the best luck with Ryobi fans (they have a 4″ and a 8″) from Home Depot. The 8″ moves a lot of air, but it’s a real PITA to pack as it’s just bulky. Sturdy, though. The 4″ has become our favorite, as it’s not as bulky and does ok moving air. We’ll usually run it in the early evening to get the heat out of the tent as we’re falling asleep, then shut it off overnight at some point to save battery power.

Most years we don’t really *need* it. It’s a nice to have, but I can only think of a few nights where it really made a big difference. Two nights in 2012, one odd night in…..errr….2017…..fuzzy memories, there. The tents do breathe well enough, and the air usually isn’t so still that it’s stifling. I’d say skip it if you’d rather not carry anything extra; it’s not a make-or-break the ride kind of thing for most people. What you’re sleeping on, IMHO, matters far more.

We won’t see you in camp, sadly. We’re going cross-state with Brancel, but not camping with them. You can’t miss us if you see us on the road, though: Look for the Tandem with a little New Hampshire license plate on it under the Rear Admiral’s seat. We’re probably the only one like that :)

See ya in July,


Rob Fuller, July 6, 2021 at 8:25 am

Definitely not a backpack. Consider a rack mounted “trunk” . Pack light.


mootsman, July 6, 2021 at 10:47 am


Using a backpack pretty much shouts out “friend to geeks whoever you are”.


Phil Stearney, July 6, 2021 at 3:21 pm

Agree with all on no back pack. One other suggestion: I use a relatively small trunk bag that attaches to my rear deck. In it I keep a spare tube, lube, granola bars, and most importantly my flip flops and a baseball hat. At every town I stop in, I take off my bike shoes and helmet, and put on my flip flops and hat. It gives my feet and my head a good breather and let’s everything dry out while I’m walking around…again, just a suggestion.


HelenP, July 6, 2021 at 3:39 pm

Just a thought: how about a (reflective or day glo) lightweight vest with utility pockets, like those used for camping, fishing, photography, hiking, traveling, etc.? It’d increase your safety, too.


ppayne1959, July 6, 2021 at 4:10 pm

Just buy shoes with recessed cleats. Many MTB shoes as well as others are designed to walk around all day. I have a pair of Sidi shoes that I LOVE, light, stiff, comfy walking.


Sibelius, July 7, 2021 at 8:39 am

mootsman, not that being a friend to geeks is an incorrect statement, but point taken, haha. No backpack = less spending too since if I can’t eat it there or if an item is too large, won’t be buying it. But I’m sure there will be plenty in the rest towns anyway, where carrying it to the tent will be much more manageable.

Any thoughts on bike locks? Also, how do you decide if you’re going to stop in a pass through town? I’m assuming there isn’t much we can read in advance, so perhaps the decision is made when you see an interesting sign on the road itself.


Chris, July 7, 2021 at 10:18 am

Hey Sibelius:

Bike locks are a discussion that often brings a lot of comments, so…..forewarned is forearmed, and whatever I’m about to say might be contradicted by someone who had a very different experience. That being said: if you feel you need one, bring a very, very lightweight cable lock. There is no place to really lock a bike on the campground, and it’s unnecessary in town. The most common “stolen” bike we see is if you have a very common model of bicycle, someone accidently gets on yours thinking it was theirs, or it gets moved down a rack a few feet and gets lost in the sea of bicycles. Actually stolen? Rare. Really rare. You’ll see a DeRosa leaning against a wall next to a Schwinn Varsity next to a Colnago next to a Trek, none locked. We brought a lock our first year, used it exactly one time, then left it in the gear bag never to be touched again. Again, it’s your comfort level that should dictate if you bring it.

Pass-Though towns: Yup, kinda decide as you roll up. You’ll end up walking though them most of the time due to bike traffic unless you’re on the road *really* early, so there’s plenty of time to look around and see if there’s something that catches your eye. If you spend 4 minutes walking though or 25 minutes trying 3 different kinds of pie that the 4H has….. :)

See you in Late July….


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