So many questions!

I’m a RAGBRAI virgin this year from Atlanta, GA, riding solo. I’m slightly neurotic when it comes to planning details and I have a few questions that I haven’t been able to find an answer to.

I plan to use a charter service since I’m riding solo. What is the typical process in the afternoon? Find my bags, set up my tent, get a shower and some food? What do I do with my expensive bike while I’m getting my bag or getting to a shower? (I’ve had bikes stolen and have since garnered what may be described as an irrational fear of bike thieves.)

I enjoy riding fast. If I leave early in the morning, should I have an easy time navigating the course and circumventing the herd?

My family is from Osage, IA and I plan on having someone drop me off in Orange City and pick me up in Lansing. How is the cell service (specifically t-mobile) in Lansing?

Can I have friends meet up with me in the charter campgrounds?

I’ve read some threads discussing the possibility of renting bikes for the gravel loop (my skinny wheel road bike won’t cut it). How much for the bike rental? What do I do with my bike while using said gravel bike?

Thank you in advance for any information!

13 Replies

Luv 2 Ski, May 2, 2017 at 10:43 am

Chris,

Since you are going with a charter most have their camping area contained and your bike will be safe while you set up your tent. I typically find the spot I want and lay my bike there. Then I go get my stuff and set up. Your bike will be fine.

As for the afternoon you just have to play that by ear. For instance if I am hungry when I get to the end town I usually look for something to eat right away then set up camp after. On these day I usually have food again later. If I had just eaten at the last town I may just go set up and relax, then eat later. Each day is a new adventure and you can have a basic plan but be ready to just roll with the punches. I am a planner as well and I have learned to let it flow a lot more than I did the first time I attended RAGBRAI.

As for being fast you will encounter people the whole day but it will ebb and flow as to how crowded it is. I tend to ride on the faster side as well and when the road is less congested I say let it rip. When it is real crowded slow down and be safe. When you slow down you also open up the possibility of meeting someone and having a conversation.

Cell service is always iffy. Texting works better.

I do not see an issue with your friends meeting you. Ragbrai is a huge rolling party and anyone is welcome to join the fun. That being said I would ask that question to the charter you are traveling with.

I do not know about renting bikes for the gravel loop.

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jwsknk, May 2, 2017 at 10:51 am

depending on the charter, you will probably be away from the main campground and it wont be far from their truck to where you can set up. I usually find the spot first and put the bike there and grab a bag to haul over. Unless I just stop by our group canopy first to grab a drink or two and leave the bike nearby.
How big of a tent are you taking? would the bike fit inside while you are off to shower and eat? Will the bike stand on it’s own ? trees and fence space are usually at a premium, sometimes a charter gets lucky and there is all kinds of chainlink fence to lean on. Most people will not lock up, but bring a light weight one if it makes you feel better. Most bike thefts are the easiest to grab and not necessary the best bike. The middle and lower might be easier for them to get rid of.
Early in the morning the road will be crowded , really crowded to at least the fist town out. as in should to shoulder crowded. After that things will start to sort out. Try different times for leaving. A little later and get behind the masses for at least awhile, probably catch up by the meeting town or sooner.
Osage? we used to have a lot of the Brumm’s ride with us, not so much since the started have their own children. But a lot of Osage, Manly, New Haven people.
Friends finding you in your charters campground shouldn’t be too hard, I assume yours will publish the locations ahead of time. away from the main campgrounds parking is usually easier.

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Nico ZZZ, May 2, 2017 at 10:52 am

Chris,

I’ve done two: 2014 & last year, both with PBV. “Yes” on your typical process list. I had a lock with me the first year for one day and then realized it was just wasted weight. I never heard of any stolen bike issues. At PBV most bikes are just laying outside the tent. Perhaps even the simplest lock would deter a thief as there are thousands of bikes around you the whole week.
As most will say: Ragbrai is about the passthrough towns, the food, the pie, the beverages, the live music, a nap in a town square – the whole stop and smell the roses -it is a big part of Ragbrai. However, if you want to blaze you mostly can do that, but realize that there are many inexperienced virgin riders that meander/don’t hold a line and don’t communicate with the other riders, especially that first mad day. Have patience or you will hate life. = )
I had Sprint one year and AT&T last year and both were awful. I would suggest you google the coverage map for your phone service. Texting is better than calling, but still not good. I sometimes would wake in the middle of the night to fire off a text or two back home when the world is asleep and the cell coverage improves.
“Yes” on friends meeting you at the charter campgrounds. I have a friend who rides w/o PBV services and he always stops by and hangs out.
Last year at the gravel loop entrance/exit there was a bike company (Jamis I think) that offered the use of some very sexy bikes for the gravel. They held your bike until you got back. I didn’t do the gravel, but that looked like a helluva deal.
Get ready to be addicted to Ragbrai!
Ride On!

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Geoff Butland, May 2, 2017 at 10:52 am

Check T-Mobile’s online coverage map – you can zero in right to individual towns. When I was contemplating switching I found coverage at my daughter’s school was nonexistent so we stayed with Verizon.

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Chris Michels, May 2, 2017 at 11:32 am

jwsknk – I know some of the Brumms; good folk.

Thanks all for the info. Looks like I’m going to have to plan something for my pick up in Lansing or hope for some free wifi…

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Ryan Flugge, May 2, 2017 at 11:58 am

Chris, feel free to drop me a message.. I am from Osage Area, heading out on the ride.. so if there is anything you need/want help with, I am on year 6 so I wouldnt say I am a virgin anymore, but the rest of my team will be.

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Mark Smith-Lossiah, May 2, 2017 at 1:01 pm

Ragbrai is a very friendly rolling party. You can ride as fast (to the far left) as you want and even join a mass pack if you feel like riding wheel to wheel with riders you don’t know.

I agree with a previous commenter that, although most of the riders follow safety and etiquette rules, there are inexperienced riders who will wander back and forth, not signal their intentions or announce they are passing. Most of the time, passes are announced (to your left) and cars on the route are called out “car up”, “car back” so you know well in advance they are coming.

I was worried about my bike the first year and quickly learned that it is safe. It’s possible, but unlikely, someone would take it accidentally, but it probably won’t be stolen. (But no worries, lock it up if you want. No one will care.)

It doesn’t matter what service you have, 10,000 people will overwhelm whatever cell service there is. We have T-Mobile and it generally has poor coverage in Iowa even without the large numbers of people.

Bikes available for rent for gravel and they would hold yours until you return the rental. There are vendors selling bikes also and they’ll usually let you ride one for the day if you are interested. They’ll have sign-ups.

Have fun on the ride. People are super friendly and you’ll find numerous people who will talk to you and even ride at your pace with you.

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francoisvanzyl, May 2, 2017 at 1:23 pm

As a rule, most cyclists appreciate the passion we all have for our steeds which means a cyclist simply won’t steal another cyclist’s bike. You really need not worry about that.

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KenH, May 2, 2017 at 3:55 pm

RAGBRAI riders will not steal your bike and I don’t think many professional thieves haunt RAGBRAI. Never heard of any. But town kids might take your bike for a ride and leave it where ever. This is also rare but the smallest, lightest, simplest bike lock you can buy will be enough to convince them to take some other bike.

Even if you hit the road at 6am when the ride officially starts each day you can ride pretty fast most of the time. Traffic will be alternately dense and sparse most of the day except through towns and other bottlenecks. If you are absolutely type A on steroids set on having everything, riding speed included, exactly your way, all of the time, then you are going to hate RAGBRAI. If you chill out, roll with the punches, and just enjoy yourself boy, oh boy will you ever enjoy yourself! It’s your call but do it right and you will ride as fast as you want a lot of the time and enjoy your time in Iowa all of the time.

There might be a line of people waiting for Jamis gravel bikes, assuming they are back this year with that program. Say hi to their Eskimo dog if visit their booth! God bless them but people do ride the gravel on 23s and live to tell the tale with smiles on their faces so you could too. Find some gravel roads near you and get some practice. Generally there are car compressed tire tracks that you can follow. If your fancy bike will take 25s or 28s (and I know that a lot will not) consider bringing a pair of “fat” tires to run that day. I mean you can run them all week just fine but little chance of convincing most of you of that. I have done every mile of RAGBRAI, every year I have gone, on 38s and it doesn’t hurt a bit! They also weather the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune you run into occasionally on paved road nicely too.

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catfood, May 2, 2017 at 4:52 pm

Agreeing with all of this, especially about cell phones. Honestly, your phone won’t be very useful most of the day, and it “works” rather hard to catch a tower signal through all the noise of everyone else’s phones trying to do the same… so your battery will drain pretty quickly too. Anyone who’s trying to get in touch with you during the event will have to be patient.

Also agreeing about not locking your bike. I brought a great U-lock last year (my first time) and didn’t use it at all. There aren’t even very many good things to lock onto. It’s just very uncommon for your bike to be stolen. Go figure.

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Sam, May 3, 2017 at 11:45 am

Stolen bikes on RAGBRAI is exceedingly rare, but it did happen to a friend of mine two years ago. Now this was outside a bar in Storm Lake, so I’m sure your bike will be safe at your charter’s campground. Personally I carry a lock, but I really only use it when I’m in a larger town.

#1263037

KenH, May 3, 2017 at 3:08 pm

You don’t need to lock your bike to anything to discourage the joy riders. Just lock up one wheel and they will move on to the next bike in the unlikely event that they show up near you in the first place.

Good comment about data usage eating batteries whether you get a connection or not. One thing that helps a lot is to disable the data connection in your phone settings except when you are actually trying to make a connection. With many/most, perhaps all, phones this still allows you to make and receive phone calls and text messages. Only the bandwidth and battery hogging data functions are disabled. It’s annoying to have to turn it on and off that much but it will help a lot with battery life.

#1263087

JohnBenton, May 4, 2017 at 4:05 am

For starters, it takes RAGBRAI newbies a couple of days to slow down and appreciate the unique personality of RAGBRAI. This is a celebration of biking, a celebration of Iowa and its people, a celebration of farm-to-fork foods, and a celebration of craft beer (Bikes and Craft Beer, who knew?) It is not a competition or race, as much as you may want it to be the first couple of days. (I still go fast–it’s my natural pace–but I stop to appreciate the towns, the people and the in-route diverions (eg. farm pond water slides), that make RAGBRAI a unique experience.

Once you slow down and understand that this 45-year old event is about meeting people from all over the world and having conversations that matter, you will find the pace that suits you.

As for security, you will not need a lock, either in the towns you stop in during the ride or the final camping or charter areas. You (and your bike) are a mere foot soldier in an army of 20,000 riders that roll through very small towns throughout the day. You and your bike are not a target among thousands of bikes.

There are no restrictions regarding friends and family meeting you at the end-towns or other places. The only logistical hurdles confront cars driving into end-towns, but that is certainly manageable if the driver has a measure of patience.

Last, as to the gravel loop, if you are concerned about damaging a carbon frame, I personally believe you will not incur any damage. There is the bike loaning program that one of the bike companies runs at the gravel loop detour, but my experience is that the limited number of bikes are already taken by the time I get to the detour. I have taken my BMC Grand Fondo European carbon road bike on the gravel the last two years, and experienced no problems. Well worth the extra mileage, if you want to explore the true backroads of Iowa and commune with bovines.

Have fun, cut loose, but relax and reconnect with other pedalers who are taking a break from their normal lives. I dare you not to come back in subsequent years after experiencing your first RAGBRAI.

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