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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

Sandaltan ., November 14, 2019 at 4:24 pm

Mark: Go to YouTube and search GOBA Bike Ride…plenty there to view. I have never heard any significant grumbles about the ride.



Jboz, November 14, 2019 at 8:34 pm

GOBA is one of the larger state rides, though still much smaller than RAGBRAI. It has a loyal following like RAGBRAI. A big draw is that it’s a loop type ride, so logistics are greatly minimized. Actually it’s more of a series of loops, with a couple of layover days, optional loops, mileage options, sanctioned shortcuts, etc.. Interesting format with some creativity from what I can tell. This might have been a good approach for Iowa’s Ride just to differentiate it from the RAGBRAI format so riders had a completely different choice. But it looks like TJ has locked into a cross-state, one-way ride. Hard to go loop after he kind of announced they would be going cross-state to the north.


Dizzy, November 15, 2019 at 8:49 am

Greetings Mark,

A similar question was asked a few years ago so here is the link to that thread:

FYI: GOBA always starts on Father’s Day.

All the best, D


Dizzy, November 15, 2019 at 9:17 am

Hello Jboz,

Re: “smaller rides” and “competitive forces”.

A couple of alternative rides that occur the same week as RAGBRAI are Pedal Across Wisconsin’s (PAW) “Northwoods” ride and Auburn/Cortland County YMCA’s “Bon Ton Roulet” in the Finger Lakes of New York.
I’ve not done the “Northwoods” ride myself but have done two of PAW’s other rides (Florida Keys and Wisconsin Door County) and they put together a great time. We’re talking < 150 riders and as relaxed as you could ask for.
I’ve ridden the Bon Ton Roulet twice and it’s another great ride. Again a much smaller ride (< 600 riders). This one’s a hill-climber but the geography is breathtaking. Unique here is a long and short route everyday; rider’s choice.

These are also both “loop” rides, starting and stopping in the same location.

I’m sure there are many other rides around the country and there are many options in other weeks.

All the best, D


Sandaltan ., November 15, 2019 at 10:44 am

Jboz, I have done Northwoods a couple times, good ride, nearly …. well 100 feet …t-boned a black bear one day. The Little Stoker liked the Bon Ton Roulet, scenery is gorgeous but hills are huff-and-puff. The best part of Bon Ton is the wine, you can taste and buy and the sag will haul it for you until the end of the ride.



Jboz, November 16, 2019 at 7:28 pm

Thanks Dizzy and ST. I’ve also been wanting to try Shoreline West. As a still working stiff, I get to do one week-long ride a year, and it’s mostly been RAGBRAI. When I retire in a couple of years, I will be doing at least 3 to 5 big rides every year, and I can’t wait!


Sandaltan ., November 16, 2019 at 9:39 pm

Jboz: Shoreline West is probably our all time favorite ride, RAGBRAI excepted of course, the Little Stoker refers to the Lake Michigan shore as a “best kept secret”. The start town has changed over the years but I am sure Watermelon Hill and the Leggs Inn at Cross Village are still on the tour. Roads are low traffic and scenery great.



Blackfingers, November 17, 2019 at 10:58 pm

On 18 July, the RAIN (Ride Across Indiana) occurs. 160 miles, One Way, One Day (as advertised). Did it last year and here is my take on it.

First, highly organized and the people along the route are enthusiastic and helpful. Easy logistics with bus ride across state prior/after etc.

Second, plan on 3 days – day travel to and fro and event day. IMO, more competitive riders (to get it done), but not billed as such, still your normal riders.

Third, don’t be intimidated by the length. Mostly flat with some hills the last 30 or so miles, but nothing like the Iowa hills (N, S, or middle) that I’ve experienced.

Different flavor/atmosphere, but still great “bike people”. There is also a “tie-in” RAIN Week Ride (or some other name) that butts up to the RAIN ride where you ride 100 miles every day for 5 or so days and finish with the 160 ride the last day. You’ll have to look it up.

If you are interested in doing other “bucket list” type rides, a great lead into Iowa, although you may have to miss the first ride day for travel purposes.


Bentongoing, November 18, 2019 at 8:10 am

I’ve done GOBA about 7 times – Great training ride as it is (or at least has been) much less demanding than RAGBRAI.
Much smaller (limited to 1,500 and last couple of years has been in the 1,300 rider range) and shorter. Even with the 100 mile loop I think it was only 430 miles last year, but it does change every year.
Very well organized, but not as well supported for food and entertainment. Don’t worry tho, you won’t starve!
The logistics work out much better – it starts and ends in the same location (usually a fair grounds so lots of free parking) and only 4 overnight towns, so on three of the days there are totally optional loops.
I would say it’s an older crowd (maybe an average age around 55 but they don’t publish much demographic information) and not such a party atmosphere – typically no alcohol allowed in camp.
the last 3 years have been pretty flat, with last year’s ride VERY flat. Even the 100 mile loop was only about 1,100 ft of climbing, but that can change each year. I would expect this year to be a little more in the elevation change but we’ll find that out on Nov 25 when the route is announced.
Oh! And the shower trucks are included in the registration price! It’s a really good deal!

Feel free to message me if you’d like more info.


jelly0317, November 18, 2019 at 9:17 am

RAINSTORM (Ride Across Indiana Same Thing Only Ride More).


Michael Strief, November 18, 2019 at 10:26 am

Jboz – Well said and I totally agree!


Joseph Schlau, November 19, 2019 at 2:01 pm

A Gazette article from yesterday’s November 18th edition gives a glimpse of what the revised Iowa’s (now smaller) Ride might look like. The revised dates, new route, and downsized rider figures of 5000-6000 is a concession that the attempted hijack of Ragbrai failed.


Juskiewicz, the 16-year RAGBRAI director who resigned with a scathing public letter, backed off direct competition with RAGBRAI from his Iowa’s Ride.

He apologized on Facebook, granting riders a reprieve in not having to choose between events.

Iowa’s Ride has been rescheduled for a week earlier — July 12 to 18. And the route will go from east to west, so those interested in doing both could finish Iowa’s Ride and then join RAGBRAI, which is July 19-25. Traditionally, it goes from Iowa’s west to east.

Juskiewicz declined to discuss financial questions surrounding RAGBRAI under his tenure.

He said it was public input — not a legal threat — that prompted him to shift Iowa’s Ride plans.

“There’s still a lot of people who want to do the ride,” Juskiewicz said. “I am not looking to do a 20,000-person ride. This is a smaller ride, getting back to the roots. A 5,000 person ride is what looking for. It will allow us to go back into smaller towns we couldn’t do before. I think 5,000-6,000 would be a good sized ride.”

Registration for RAGBRAI opened Monday.

Iowa’s Ride registration is also open. The fee is $150 through Feb. 1 and then raises to $175. Those who registered early under the old dates are eligible for a refund.


Ken Reed, November 19, 2019 at 2:03 pm

[quote quote=1313228]A Gazette article from yesterday’s November 18th edition gives a glimpse of what the revised Iowa’s (now smaller) Ride might look like. The revised dates, new route, and downsized rider figures of 5000-6000 is a concession that the attempted hijack of Ragbrai failed.[/quote]

There’s no way he’ll come close to 5,000.


Joseph Schlau, November 19, 2019 at 2:52 pm

[quote quote=1313229]There’s no way he’ll come close to 5,000.[/quote]

Probably not. When he said “I am not looking to do a 20,000-person ride” a month ago, with no lottery and reduced fees that’s just what he was expecting a month ago.

His narrative seems to change every week now. Vendors choosing which ride to support will be looking at the diminished numbers with less optimism of making any profit.


trknight, November 30, 2019 at 1:42 pm

I have done some smaller rides and, though fun and enjoyable, none are what RAGBRAI is. Since my first RAGBRAI over 10 years ago, I make the trip every summer to do it (and it’s over 1,000 miles away for me).


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