To charter or not to charter, that is the question

I’m a first timer for RAGBRAI and will be travelling solo. Should I go with a charter service for the week? If so, please give me your reasons why. If you’ve used a company in the past and would like to recommend them, it would be nice to know why. Thanks in advance for your help.

16 Replies

Michrider !!!, April 2, 2016 at 9:27 pm

My suggestion is easy. There are many good charters. However, in my opinion, Pork Belly Ventures is the best charter on RAGBRAI. My reasoning is simple, it’s all about service. PBV is the only charter that I will use!!!
https://pkbelly.com/

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Cameron Cranston, April 3, 2016 at 12:02 am

I used Brancel in 2014 and was very pleased. They provided good campgrounds, snacks and a couple of meals, and a charging station for your electronics. Smaller group than PBV. As I recall they capped it at 350. I was told that PBV was over 1000. Going charterless this year. We’ll see how that works out.

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Nico ZZZ, April 3, 2016 at 7:15 am

First Ragbrai for our “team” of three was 2014. Two of us were coming in from Miami. We decided to all go with Pork Belly, as they had shipping of bikes, tent service, mechanics, phone charging stations, and the rest, which allowed us to focus on just being ready to ride! PBV communication is incredible – they respond quickly to all those first timer questions via e-mail, and they made the experience so enjoyable, and took away so much of that Ragbrai rookie anxiety.
The team rode last year (with a new teammate coming in all the way from Panama), but minus me (photo explains my absence), and they used PBV again. Our team Captain also appreciated the on-site massage at PBV every evening after a couple of tough rides. This year two of us will again be coming up from Miami, and we will again leave all the details to the great folks of PBV.
I have a dear friend from MN who rides with a small team, but without a charter. His team travels down to Iowa months before July to scout for possible tent locations, showers, etc. He enjoys his Ragbrai certainly as much as I do.
If I lived closer, as I did previously in Iowa, Omaha and MN, maybe I would hook up with a few friends and “rough it.” But the logistics of getting bike and self from FL and back (and not ship a tent!) makes me lean toward PBV, where I hope to be for many years to come.
There are many ways to make Ragbrai yours – charter, team, solo. But whatever you choose, enjoy the journey everyday out in the corn, every pass through town – don’t just “pass through” – enjoy a rest, a pulled pork sandwich, a beer, and conversation with the people next to you under the shade of a tree or at the picnic table. You will find that the cycling part of Ragbrai is indeed only a part of Ragbrai.
Ride On!

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Katie, April 3, 2016 at 7:29 am

If you Charter I would stay away from Ron Omans Charter. You pay for what you get. And you got very little. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Pork Bellies. Granted they have taken a lot out of the full experience of Ragbrai. All the other Charters I believe you are good with. No Charter have the Ragbrai trailers carry your belongings to each town. Find your bags, get a spot, and you shall be good. You are pretty safe everyone will sure help you get your belongings and set up with a spot.

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Nico ZZZ, April 3, 2016 at 7:47 am

Aw Katie,

You sound like some of the Ragbrai “purists” I met on the road back in 2014, complaining about the big charters destroying Ragbrai. (Yawn) Can’t we all just get along?
I went with PBV and had a “full experience,” so no need for your casual flip statement about PBV: “Granted they have taken a lot out of the full experience of Ragbrai.” You haven’t gone with them, so you don’t know the PBV/Ragbrai experience. Charters don’t work for everybody, obviously, but neither does going the Ragbrai Only path work for everybody.
Again, Ragbrai is whatever you make of it, with or without charter support.
Ride On!

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Stanford, April 3, 2016 at 9:08 am

The first time we did RAGBRAI we really wanted to do the Register’s trailer but were stressing about all the logistics and so checked out the charters as an option. But after reading all the info from the RAGBRAI website and all the forum posts we were completely comfortable doing the trailer. It all depends on your personal preference. Doing the trailer is just as easy as using a charter, in my opinion. It never took us more than three or four minutes to find our bags and the reserved area is always next to the trailers. We have always used the trailers ever since and plan to in the future.
So for any newbies, just do all your information gathering and pick the choice that fits you the best. We love being with a different neighborhood of people every night which you have with the trailer option. Just don’t be afraid to try the trailer if you were thinking it is a more difficult option. It is not.
But the charter people really, really do love their choices. But not all charters are the same. So choose wisely.
RIDE RIGHT and see you in July.

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Brian Wallenburg, April 3, 2016 at 10:40 am

Never have used a charter, always part of a small team or group that either pulls a small trailer or rents a Ryder truck. It’s a blast every year. It all depends on your comfort level of having things provided and readily available versus going on the scavenger hunt in the overnight towns. How much you are willing to spend also plays into the equation, the more someone takes care of you, the more you’ll spend. However you decide to do it, you’ll have a great time!

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sdickes, April 3, 2016 at 3:36 pm

The first two RAGBRAIs we rode we used a charter service and last year was our first time where we just used the Register’s truck. Honestly, we did not find ourselves missing the charter that much at all. We had used them previously because we liked that they allowed you to bring more than one bag but with a little planning and smart packing, fitting everything in one bag was fine. Using the truck was very simple and finding our bags in the sea of everyone else’s was surprisingly not that hard.

If you want to use a charter, we really enjoyed Brancel. They do not provide all of the services and amenities that PBV does (so they are a little cheaper than them) but they did carry our bags, had charging stations, had some drinks and snacks for purchase, and they provided entertainment in camp one night. Using a charter your first year might be nice because it will allow you to focus a little less on the logistics of the ride and to really enjoy it.

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Bill Barry, April 3, 2016 at 6:39 pm

I did my first RAGBRAI Last year, also solo and used RIVERBEND charter. I did it mainly for piece of mind on my 1st ride. Very basic service, bags, campsite, snacks, charge station, and a shuttle at camp to get you to the showers. The people were great, the price is very reasonable and it was great knowing you had a campsite each night and didn’t have to hunt for your bags. I’m going back again this year.

Bill

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BillSpriggs, April 3, 2016 at 8:27 pm

I’ve done PBV twice an will ride with them again this year. Bottom line is it’s my vacation and PBV does a great job. I don’t have to shlep my gear, the tent is set up when I get into camp and the shower is close. I ship my bike with them so it’s not a hassle dealing with getting the bike there and then back to California. I’m old and lazy.

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jeffreydennis, April 4, 2016 at 10:16 am

Why charter? I come to ride a bike. Not set up and tear down a tent. Not to find my bag with hundreds of others. As for services, I use Padre’s (under new ownership). They are convenient to where I live and have never failed me. Charters can also be living hell (I’m talking to you Touring Cyclist) so do your research.

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pmac, April 4, 2016 at 1:06 pm

A charter provides a level of service that can really help a first time rider going alone. Ragbrai can seem pretty chaotic. Having a charter take some of the organizational load off of you, for your first trip, is a good choice imo. I rode with PBV a couple of years ago. Their level of service is excellent as many have noted. I thought the bike shipping, shower trucks and mid-week laundry were great. They are very organized and do a great job at taking care of their clients.

However, it is also important to understand that PBV has over 1,000 riders with their charter. The PBV “tent city” looks like an army camp. With their in-camp meals, entertainment, etc, it almost seems like a separate event, at least in camp. That level of service appeals to some people and other folks feel its a bit too organized. Really just different strokes for different folks.

I have not ridden with any other charter, however, I’m sure other charters also provide good service, based on the recommendations you read in this forum.

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mrizzer, April 5, 2016 at 8:31 am

first time rider, and i’m using Bubba’s.

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Jason Stoller, April 5, 2016 at 6:41 pm

The first time I did Ragbrai it was suggested then I go with PBV. That was 2014 and they did have a lot of people. Even so they were friendly, have a good level of service, and handeled things well. I did not have the extra money to spend so I opted bring and set up and tear down my own tent each day to save a little money. It worked out OK. If I could afford it, I am sure I would appreciate including the tent service they offer sometime in the future. There was breakfast you could purchase in the morning as well some meals included with your charter fees during the week. You could also opt to buy extra meals for the other days. Honestly I think it was a fair value for what they charged when you add everything up and compare what is actually provided compared to other services and what it would cost you to buy and bring your own gear with you, chase down showers, meals, pay for entertainment, and so on.

Last year I did things different because my wife met me part way through the week. I am doing it totally differently this year than last and my wife is meeting me later in the week. My wife is not riding but we were able to get some hotel rooms last year and this year so I will be camping part of the time and then hotels. We really enjoyed the concerts last year. My wife is from Iowa and also got to visit one of her high school friends while I rode.

In the future I may go with PBV again. I do not think you will regret choosing to go with PBV if this is your first time. Tell Pete, Tammy, and Mick, that Jason said Hi!

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Luv 2 Ski, April 6, 2016 at 11:04 am

As many have said there are many ways to do RAGBRAI that works. My first time I went I was living in NJ and went with a team of 50 organized by a local bike shop. They had a cook that prepared meals for us everynight. Pretty sweet. It worked well and it gave me more time to enjoy RAGBRAI by not having to figure out where to eat each night. It was a great way to figure out what RAGBRAI is all about.

Since then I have gone with Brancel Charters once and a smaller team of about 15 riders. For a full service charter I highly recommend Brancel. They usually have about 350 riders or so, and they are great. I especially liked the campsites that they had set up for us. For a first timer they would be a great choice. They provide a far amount of ala cart services that you can add if you would like. About the only thing they do not do is set up your tent for you. For me that is never an issue. I prefer to choose my sleeping location.

I do like the small team as well. This is what I will be doing in the future. It is more intimate, and I like the feel of being part of a more personal group.

As for the RAGBRAI trucks I have never used them so I can not comment on that. It obviously works for many people and it does keep the cost of attending RAGBRAI down.

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