The Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa

Self-supporting adventure, any guidance?

After riding in 2012, 2014 with outfitter I’m thinking this year I’ll ride and self-support. Already registered, looking forward to the adventure. Planning relatively ultra-light and minimal equipment/clothing. Any thoughts, guidance or insight would be greatly appreciated.

11 Replies

Joel Werling, January 4, 2019 at 9:31 pm

Subscribed to this thread. I’ve done a charter the last couple years as well, and now I’m geared for being self supported. Completed a couple overnight adventures (~160 miles roundtrip) for gear check.


Chris, January 5, 2019 at 9:48 am

I can’t offer too much that you don’t likely already know. We self-supported most of one year (2014). I say “most” because toward the end of the week we went back to using the luggage truck. Long story.

The two things that I distinctly remember under the “oh, crap, didn’t think of that” category:

– Crosswinds. We’re from Northern NJ, so even if there is a strong crosswind, the terrain tends to limit how long you’re exposed to it. When we did our gear checks here, we felt the tug when we hit a crosswind, but didn’t think much of it. Out in Iowa, a 20+ mile long dead-straight road with a stiff crosswind is a reality. It beat the hell out of us, as the front panniers were larger than we should have used in that circumstance had we thought of it. It made keeping directional control in a crowd a very real problem.

-Racks. This may be a moot point depending on your gear, but…. We had a problem with the rear rack on my bike cracking a weld by the end of the week. At home, I just about never drop a bike. At RAGBRAI, I can’t count how many times I’ve a bike knocked over, bumped over, etc. Our stuff just gets used/abused differently out there. We were using an ultraight rear rack which was loaded heavy, and one fine time when it went over while loaded, I guess it was too much for the rack and it cracked the weld. The extra quarter-pound for a sturdier rack would have been a damn good idea.

Otherwise….do it! It’s a whole ‘nuther side of RAGBRAI.

See you in July,


BurleyJetCreek, January 6, 2019 at 9:32 am

Thanks for tips.
Any challenges finding camping locations? Is RAGBRAI campsights suitable or should I reach out to homeowners asking to pitch tent? How about KYBO or shower access at RAGBRAI campsights?

Thanks again


John Richardson, January 6, 2019 at 10:02 am

Welcome Joel and good to hear that you are planning to do your RAGBRAI adventurer self supported. I have done the ride for many years self supported and I love it! I live in north Missouri so depending on how far north the route is it can sometimes add another week to my ride and more than double the mileage. The true beauty of going self supported is that it makes the logistics of RAGBRAI so easy. The ride to and from RAGBRAI is almost as much fun as RAGBRAI itself. That time of year everyone knows where you’re going and always enjoy telling you a few of their RAGBRAI stories. I can’t recall ever riding to the start without encountering other riders doing the same thing either on route or at a campground. Iowa has an excellent bicycling map that the DOT provides which can be quite helpful for planning your route once you get to Iowa. I like the fact that you are going to minimize the amount of gear your taking. If you do your research you can find very light and durable gear and you’ll soon discover you really don’t need all that much. After many years of this I think I have the bicycle self supported travel method all figured out. If I can help in any way just ask.


Barry Schnoor, January 9, 2019 at 10:04 am

I didn’t go self-supported last year, for my first RAGBRAI. (I let RAGBRAI carry my luggage.) If you’re truly self-supported, I would suggest hammock camping. I did that last year and it was a great experience. You’ll just have to be flexible in where you sling your hammie. Trees, or light poles, or parking meters or traffic bollards. One night I slung beneath the bleachers of a high-school football stadium. Easy and Lightweight. You’ll want a rain fly. I traveled with a Bear Butt Hammock, but Eno and others have good products.

Just my $.02


KenH, January 9, 2019 at 10:50 am

Self supported can mean several things. Those who use the RAGBRAI baggage trucks are self supported in that they have no team or charter helping them during the week. Then there are those who register for the ride, pay the fees in other words, but choose to carry their baggage on their bikes. Why? Because that is what they do, that is what they are training themselves to do, … you’d have to ask them to be sure and I would assume the answers vary. People who have paid the fee like these first two groups and have wristbands have no trouble getting service from anyone and they are welcome at all RAGBRAI venues, campgrounds included. Then there are RAGBRAI bandits who have paid nothing, have no wristbands, and are tagging along by carrying their baggage on their bikes. They may have trouble getting service at some venues and in theory they are not allowed to use the RAGBRAI campground. In practice, I do not know how they fare, you would have to ask one of them. I recommend getting a wristband.


John Richardson, January 13, 2019 at 8:32 am

KenH Self supported means only one thing you carry all your gear, no baggage truck, and no team or charter and I really don’t know of anyone that goes self supported just to try and avoid the very reasonable registration fee. We do it because we enjoy cycling in this fashion. The rider that started this post has already registered but I’m sure there could be a few out there that do the ride self supported as bandits, I’ve just never encountered any, and I must admit I don’t make it a point to check for wrist bands either.

This reply was modified 5 months, 1 week ago by  John Richardson.


David Daniels, January 13, 2019 at 2:04 pm

After several years of going with a charter group, then a couple of years of small team groups, I’ve done the last few rides out to the start and partial RAGBRAI’s as a self supported rider. I use a B.O.B. and a rear rack and travel fairly well packed. On the ride to the start (The Ride Out) I usually hook up with a buddy or two and we’ve never had an issue pitching our tents in the smaller towns on the way out. We sometimes even score in house or a camp trailer digs. Everyone knows WHERE and WHY you’re heading west in Iowa the week before RAGBRAI and are most supportive of our travels.

On the ride it does take some extra effort to do the pack riding with full gear on your bike, just stay safe and go slow…

I have never been asked to check my registration before pitching my tent and all but a couple of years I’ve ridden I was registered. Yes, I’ve done some RAG Days as a bandit, it was always a last minute change of plans and just happened. I prefer to ride registered (for the bandit critics)….

When you’ve got your gear with you all the time your options on when/where to stop for the night are always up for grabs. You might not even make it to the overnight towns. Anything is possible!

ride safely.
just dave


KenH, January 13, 2019 at 9:47 pm

Yes, I know the OP is already registered, this was mentioned in the first post after all. But for every question that is asked on an electronic forum there are dozens who wanted to ask it but won’t for whatever reason. When I go beyond the OP’s parameters in an answer it is to help those who do not ask or who find a thread of interest long after it has gone dormant.

Until last year I had never paid any attention to wristbands either. It is possible that I never will pay attention again. But this exact topic came up a little before the ride last year so I did pay attention. I did not keep a tally but I would say that somewhere between half and two thirds of those with bags on their bikes last year did not have wristbands. This surprised me, I had expected there to be very few. Bandits of necessity are completely self supported. However it is not true that the self supported are all bandits. A significant fraction of them are fully paid up, registered riders. Perhaps even a majority are since while I am being completely honest about my observations they were not conducted with scientific rigor or with unfailing attention to the task. The real percentage could be different from what I observed.

If you want to be a purist about what self supported means you certainly may and in most situations it means only one thing as you say. But at RAGBRAI there are so many options for participating in the ride that those who are using the RAGBRAI luggage trucks are so close to self supported as to be worthy of the term when you consider how it is for the majority of riders. Those of us who sleep in team motorhomes or travel with full service charters live very pampered lives compared to them. Even very low cost charters provide a surprising array of services that make your week easier as I found out the year I went with the Riverbend Club Charter. That is why I asked the OP about what self supported means to him.

The bottom line is that if you registered and paid you are golden. It doesn’t matter who transports your bags or how. You are not entitled to services that charters and teams provide to their customers of course but neither are any other non-customers. You are entitled to all the non-charter rider services. And should you decide that you want to use the Register baggage trucks to off-load some of your burden mid week as long as you brought along your baggage tag or can convince the Register staff in the RAGBRAI trailer to give you a new one, you are entitled to do that too. Everyone should keep that it mind and bring their luggage tag along just in case injury or illness prevent you from carrying your full load on the bike but allow you soldier on with a reduced load, just in case the team vehicle has a major mechanical, or the team driver needs to take it home mid week to deal with an emergency back home.

It is also possible go into the week with your normal fully self supported gear on the bike and also let the Register carry a bag for you with some luxury items you’d like to have for this event which is never going to be like every other self supported tour anyway. It is good to have options.


BurleyJetCreek, January 20, 2019 at 10:56 am

To all , thanks for your input and comments. I’ll be carrying my gear, just added two more bags under my seat, should be ample room for my gear/clothing. I suspect I’ll camp at RAGBRAI sight but uncertain as to noise and atmosphere, any insight would be appreciated. To add to the adventure I thought I might reach out to locals and ask about pitching tent in yard, guess they can only say no, no hard feelings, although my past RAGBRAI experiences would indicate Iowa residents extend tremendous hospitality.

Looking forward to the adventure.


John Richardson, January 22, 2019 at 9:48 am

Hope you enjoy your self-supported RAGBRAI! The RAGBRAI campground is usually quite large and you really have no need to camp near the baggage truck so you can usually find a quiet spot to set up your tent, but carry some ear plugs anyway.
I’ve only camped in a yard once. I was riding back from the finish at Guttenberg and it was apparent that I wasn’t going to arrive at my planned campground before dark and there were no opportunities for stealth camping either. As I rode by a residence a lady was watering her flowers so I inquired if it would be possible for me to set up my tent in the far corner of her yard? Her husband who was sitting on the porch called out “No problem, put your tent where ever you’d like.” The rural residents of Iowa have always been very friendly and supportive, but I really prefer to stay in the campgrounds if possible because of the availability of a shower.


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