Smaller rides and competitive forces.

Something occurred to me as I have been debating which ride across Iowa I will do in 2020. IF I do Iowa’s Ride, it won’t be because of any loyalty to TJ or animus toward the DMR, but because I’ve done RAGBRAI several times and I might want to try a smaller, more intimate ride (which let’s face it, IR will probably be).

Then I started thinking…if I want to try a smaller ride, there are plenty of other options. The times I’ve missed RAGBRAI have been because I had work or family commitments which kept me away. But there are plenty of other smaller rides in surrounding states (NE, MO, IL, WI, MN, OH to name a few) that fall on other dates, so that’s a good fallback plan. Then I thought, hmmmm, if I want to try something smaller/different, I’m not really limited to Iowa’s Ride. Sure, the people from Iowa are nice, but people from small towns are nice everywhere. There are cornfields and ice cream all over the fruited plain.

Then it hit me, and if this has also hit TJ he should be panicking. From a purely marketing perspective, RAGBRAI is in a category of one. There is no other ride with a 45 year+ history and all the pageantry & traditions. There is no other ride with brand cache that comes close. There is no other US ride with an international following. There is no other ride with anywhere near this many riders. So if you want a big, well known, fun ride, then there really is only one choice. Iowa’s Ride however will be slugging it out in a crowded marketplace. Being a smaller, Midwestern cross-state ride, they will be competing with GOBA, Big Bam, BAK, BRAN and GRABAAWR, and others. Their ONLY real shot at survival is if RAGBRAI folds, which it’s unlikely to do…or they put on something so special it will attract the throngs.

So, it comes down to this for me. I’m an out-of-state rider, so that’s a factor, but if I decide to do another big, celebrated ride…of course it will be RAGBRAI because there are no other choices. If however I decide to do a smaller, more intimate ride, it will be a decision between 6 or 7 other rides. Unless Iowa’s Ride has something really special in mind, it’s going to be major headwinds for the upstart.

31 Replies

Ken Koprowski, November 13, 2019 at 9:13 am

I have called IR and emailed to ask some questions but no luck- I am like you- I would like something a bit smaller but not sure what to do.

#1312995

Logan Foltz, November 13, 2019 at 9:35 am

I do enjoy a smaller ride but not going to travel from a different time zone to do it when I can just do Ride the Rockies. The market for IR figures to be riders who have done multiple RAGBRAIs already, but at the same time if they choose towns that have hosted RAGBRAI several times in recent decades the appeal as you mentioned becomes even less unique when there are viable competitors. Couple that with the concerns with doing an inaugural event with the possibility of logistical foul-ups along with the uncertain availability of ISP and emergency personnel… if you’re not local, what’s the draw, exactly?

Oh, I forgot. Like TJ said, we’ve all blocked that specific week in 2020 off on our schedules and asked our bosses for that time off. So we can’t ride any other week. LMAO!

#1312997

Ken Koprowski, November 13, 2019 at 9:45 am

Ride the Rockies is a lung/leg burner- I have done parts of that route ( i lived in Denver the last 5 years before LA)
I get it- I am riding with my 16 year old and this will be her first big ride- i think tried and true is the best for us. For all the reasons you listed.
trying to now figure out if we go the cheap route or join a team/charter
kk

#1312998

Joseph Schlau, November 13, 2019 at 1:34 pm

Then it hit me, and if this has also hit TJ he should be panicking. From a purely marketing perspective, RAGBRAI is in a category of one. There is no other ride with a 45 year+ history and all the pageantry & traditions. There is no other ride with brand cache that comes close. There is no other US ride with an international following. There is no other ride with anywhere near this many riders. So if you want a big, well known, fun ride, then there really is only one choice. Iowa’s Ride

Their ONLY real shot at survival is if RAGBRAI folds, which it’s unlikely to do…or they put on something so special it will attract the throngs.

Jose, I think you have summed this up quite well.

I too live outside Iowa and until TJ’s resignation letter arrived, I had not heard of the The Great Iowa Drama or Cancel Culture.

A Washington Examiner story from November 4th put it in perspective “Again, that’s cancel culture in a nutshell: A bloodthirsty mob chooses a victim, public perception defeats that person’s actual intentions or sincere apologies, and the poor scapegoat is driven away”.

As we opened his email we were treated to the drama of the cancel culture. The DMR reporter Calvin cancelling Carson King, Calvin himself being cancelled.

Out of the fallout emerged TJ, that bold leader who is more than prepared to gather a bloodthirsty mob to cancel the evil cabal DMR/Gannet and seize their 48 year old ride as righteous retribution of their sins.

And as luck would have it, TJ just happens to have a foundation (he created 14 months before) ready to go. A turnkey operation complete with website, logo, registration, shirts, maybe a route and lots of promises.

All he needs is your money. Lots of it. In case you would not recognize TJ from his hundreds of photos on the internet, his inspiring picture can be viewed for free on his website. Only one of a few features that do work on his site.

To keep people from looking too close at the man behind the curtain, he repeatedly proclaims bolstered statements about his honesty, transparency, and charity. The distraction in place in order to silence the skeptics, he hoped to sustain the outrage until you, the riders destroyed Ragbrai, not him.

Paraphrasing the Examiner “It’s impressive, albeit in a depressing way, that TJ can somehow manage to create his ride, yet not comprehend his own role in harming Ragbrai with “bad-faith attacks” and “disingenuous arguments.”

Dorothy looked beyond the noise and flames, she took on the loud man behind the curtain and questioned his real motives, and then awoke to see the mighty wizard was just a snake oil salesman. The the riders are not going to see their beloved 48 year old tradition become the latest victim of the cancel culture.

TJ has some serious hurdles, any one of which will end his ride faster than a road tire in a pavement joint.

If the numbers he needs don’t register or worse, ask for a refund his financial resources will not pay the expenses for him, his wife, his staff and all the rest. His salary is going to be the same he once made. He said so. The charity donations are still at the end of the line.

If the Iowa DOT and State Patrol refuses to provide duplicate services for the same number of riders in the same week, he is then faced with folding up or going to another week.

When the next director of Ragbrai is announced, and it is not him, the myth of being irreplaceable vanishes. As time goes on and Ragbrai moves ahead under the interim leadership of Anne Lawrie and her staff it becomes less likely that the great reconciliation is at hand.

TJ’s website is still silent. According to a recent post his web pages have not been updated since October 16th, almost a month. Remembering his early and constant reminders of his honesty and transparency, I would start to feel a bit anxious if I already signed up. Like calling your financial advisor to check on your investments only to have the three tones and a recorded message.

At some point, sooner I hope rather than later, Ragbrai will post their registration numbers projecting their estimated ridership for individuals and teams. If these numbers are on par with previous years, this is going to prompt the fence sitters to commit in earnest. The IR folks will then have to consider getting their money back but in any case you don’t want to be the last one at the bank doors looking for your withdrawal. IR is not FDIC insured.

#1313001

Sandaltan ., November 13, 2019 at 2:01 pm

“At some point, sooner I hope rather than later, Ragbrai will post their registration numbers projecting their estimated ridership for individuals and teams.” Will not happen Joseph. A trade secret, just like their profits on their ride. Gannett profits from RAGBRAI and profit is a scarce commodity in the newspaper business.

RIDE RIGHT

#1313002

hnschipper, November 13, 2019 at 2:10 pm

Yeah, RAGBRAI has never shared registration numbers. I don’t see that changing.

#1313003

Joseph Schlau, November 13, 2019 at 2:56 pm

This is from the Ragbrai Blog section, November 8th from Anne Lawrie

How will RAGBRAI be different in 2020?

This transition has allowed us to connect with RAGBRAI Nation in the most lovely way. We’ve been able to hear your concerns and we are listening. We are putting together a list of the top concerns and prioritizing them so the ride director and the new team can tackle them. To offer a few; we will be looking at transparency around our giving and the commitments to the towns. Both offer us an opportunity to support and lift up the communities that contribute to our great state and this great event in new ways. We are committed to being good partners and stewards to them and you will be hearing more about our plans soon. There have been countless other concerns and we will continue to evaluate all of it.

https://ragbrai.com/ragbrai-xlviii-registration-to-open-monday-november-11/

Ragbrai, DMR, and Gannett are private concerns. It is not a nonprofit or government agency required to open their books. That said, they appear to be addressing the issue.

Let’s not forget, TJ was director for 16 years and had the position and status to make this happen. If he tried and was refused, presumably he would have the email paper trail to prove it.

Ragbrai also experiences fatal crashes from time to time. The most serious in 2004 in Crawford County near Schweislig In which a 49 year old rider died and a number injured.

If Ragbrai has passed out all of the profits there wouldn’t be anything left to cover law suits or shortfalls from lean years.

#1313004

Joseph Schlau, November 13, 2019 at 3:10 pm

They do not have to release specific numbers. Just saying their numbers are comparable to past years is enough.

Ragbrai never had this kind of challenge either. The new team could disclose any information it wants to release if it becomes necessary to convince riders, teams, and vendors that all is well.

#1313006

Sandaltan ., November 13, 2019 at 3:52 pm

“The new team could disclose any information it wants to release if it becomes necessary to convince riders, teams, and vendors that all is well.” That would be “lovely” but won’t happen Joseph. I would expect the communication reigns would be tighter. There will be changes, maybe those wishing for an east to west route, a couple hundred mile days, more hills, more gravel and two dollar beer will sway the new director whoever she is.

RIDE RIGHT

#1313008

Joseph Schlau, November 13, 2019 at 4:52 pm

Opening registration four days early could also have been viewed as lovely but won’t happen. It apparently was viewed by them as an advantage and they went with it.

At some point, sooner I hope rather than later, Ragbrai will post their registration numbers projecting their estimated ridership for individuals and teams. If these numbers are on par with previous years, this is going to prompt the fence sitters to commit in earnest.

If certain members of the governing board of my team see a clear trend one way or the other in favor of either ride, then this is where the will vote to go. I made that suggestion to Ragbrai in an email. I asked them to consider this but I’ll make no speculations on their decisions.

#1313010

thangamalang, November 14, 2019 at 5:15 am

About smaller rides. For the last 3 years I have not ridden much of RAGBRAI. 2014 was the last year I rode all week mostly because the route overnighted where I live and relatives’/ friends in most the overnight towns where I had housing. I did tent a couple nights. We love camping with friends and family but not so much after riding all day and into the evening as we often went off route and rode extra miles. Since then I only jump on RAGBRAI, with day passes, if the route is within 25 miles or so of where I live so my wife or someone else can pick me up and take me home to my own bed.

In 2018 I rode from Jefferson to Newton as a favor for a newbies Mother, and now the newbie and her husband are hooked. That year again I stayed indoors at my son and daughter -in -laws in Nevada IA that was on the route. We had a support vehicle and were never more than a few minutes from indoor housing.

For me personally the ride is just too big. This was not the case in my younger years, everything was amazing. My thing since 2018 is wanting to bag RAGBRAI but first start small on trips around NW IA. Then to my sons in central IA and so on. I have slowly procured a bike and equipment worthy of a beginner bagger with good bike repair / maintenance knowledge.

RAGBRAI is truly wonderful. Being behind bars is refreshing with thousands of others. I don’t care for the long lines, hence the bagging. RAGBRAI will go on and I will jump on in the future , easy to get day passes and that is the only way I’ll go simply because I believe you should pay your way.

There are many smaller rides in the region I would like to experience, and experience on my own terms. I have no problem with the IR or any of the organizers of the ride.

Life is just too short for that BS and the BS hurt feelings and actions of people that get upset over the Carson King /DMR issue. It’s OK and good to form an opinion in our free country but JC people get a life, take a walk, ride a bike, help an older neighbor, volunteer etc. I’ve spent my two cents. I love mankind it’s people I hate. (kidding)

#1313014

John Richardson, November 14, 2019 at 9:00 am

Having rode 15 RAGBRAI’s I find this a very sad state of affairs. I don’t really believe anyone except those directly involved know the full story behind the split. I am not planning to do an Iowa ride this year. Doing so would give the appearance that I was choosing sides. Hopefully in time things will be resolved and I’ll be back riding in Iowa. Since I’m retired I try to do three state rides a year and if you don’t require the big crowds their are many other great rides out there and I’ll be getting my cycling fix from them or even from solo touring.

#1313020

T. Gap Woo, November 14, 2019 at 9:10 am

I am truly torn over “Ragbrai vs Iowa’s Ride”. Can Ragbrai pull everything together with a relatively new and inexperienced staff in such a short time? Can Iowa’s Ride overcome the typical start-up problems that a new venture encounters?

My gut reaction says “Stay away a few years until all the bugs are worked out.” Then, rely on that old legal maxim of “coinus fliptus” to make a final decision.

What to do in the interim? Last year, I was unable to ride Ragbrai 47. However, I rode the GAP/C&O Canal Trail from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. It was a great ride! There are other rides, organized or not, in my neck of the woods — Finger Lakes NY, Erie Canal, Gettysburg/Amish Country PA, GOBA, etc. I can also customize a route near the homes of my little Woo’s in NC and SC. Of course, Mrs Woo wants to visit Yellowstone/Grand Tetons in WY and Anchorage/Fairbanks/Denali AK. I won’t be wanting for choices!

In the meantime, Mrs Woo and I wish everyone a happy thanksgiving. See you along the Road-Way next year. Which Road-Way remains to be seen.

#1313022

Sandaltan ., November 14, 2019 at 12:24 pm

“I am truly torn over “Ragbrai vs Iowa’s Ride”. Can Ragbrai pull everything together with a relatively new and inexperienced staff in such a short time? Can Iowa’s Ride overcome the typical start-up problems that a new venture encounters?” Mr. Woo, I think the hand-wringers are overwrought, there are people who can be hired that can run a bicycle ride-event and that have been doing so with success for years, as examples look at the Georgia and North Carolina rides. Maybe not even a bicycler but an event planner…does an airline CEO need a pilot’s license? No, of course not. RAGBRAI will be just fine, the newspaper’s reputation in on the line, they will throw as many dollars at this year’s ride as necessary. As to IR, that will be just fine also, different and much smaller and with a local focus but just fine. Either would be a good choice. I don’t see the animosity between the two rides that others see and even promote, neither TJ nor the newspaper burned any bridges that I am aware of.

RIDE RIGHT

#1313025

Mark Bundick, November 14, 2019 at 4:03 pm

Has anyone here ridden the “Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure” (GOBA)? Care to share any stories, observations from that ride?

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