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Total Descent over the Course

Everyone is concerned about the climbing for this year but I can’t find what the total descent is for the ride. Can someone enlighten me? I’m a bit worried because I have 3 grandkids riding with us this year and I’m not worried about them going up hills but flying down them is a big concern. Thanks!

34 Replies

Nitrogrn, March 16, 2023 at 9:05 pm

Well if I wasn’t worried before I would be terrified now. Unfortunately my grandson doesn’t live close enough to train with me and his dad is confident he’ll be fine. I’m seriously going to buy him a bike with disc brakes that I can put wider tires on just for my sanity. We’ll be having discussions every night about the coming day and going over what he needs to expect and be able to do. We’ll also be discussing walking down hills if he doesn’t feel confident.

Next up is how to move their vehicle from one town to the next if the whole family wants to ride….


Joseph Schlau, March 17, 2023 at 7:34 am

I understand your concern on the hill descent, but commend you on your forethought. You at least are putting together a safety plan that can be modified as the week goes on. In spite of all the advice RAGBRAI puts out there, riders will still start out with minimal training and poorly maintained bikes, who will be looking at the issues in real time for the first time.

The only additional hill technique I use is to closely watch the bikes ahead who are just reaching the bridge at the bottom. I look for sudden shifts left or right by them which may indicate they see a pothole or bump that they need to steer clear of. Seeing that, I can adjust my crossing point at the bottom.

As to the vehicle move, for the previous 16 years I was part of a team of 25 riders. Some riders were from different parts of the country so they brought their cars with them. Since we always had private housing, extra vehicles were not an issue.

We had many older riders who mostly did not want to always ride a full day. What they would do is a small group would load their bikes on the car or truck and in the morning, drive into the meeting town where cars can come in and meet bike riders. To make finding the car easier for the second group, they parked as near to the post office as possible and lacking that, left a note secured on the post office telling the second group where to find the car. It also helped to try to select a spot ahead of time using google map. So the first group started their ride from the meeting town and the second group rode up to the meeting town on their bikes and rode into the overnight town with the car.

I did this a couple of years when I got a delayed start due to a family emergency. It was a different experience starting out in the meeting town, light crowds and empty restaurants and a more relaxed pace.

So depending on how many drivers you have to work with, someone can drive the car to the meeting town, park, and either ride on or have a leisurely breakfast and wait. Then another driver who rode their bike to the meeting town can then drive the car to the next overnight town and find the camp or housing.

It also gives you an option if you find riders are experiencing fatigue on the ride. The prospect of doing half days can help prevent sagging the entire day.

A couple of things, sometimes the post office is right in the middle of Main Street and closed to traffic parking near so always have alternative parking plans in mind.

Text messages to the group can be slow or not go through at all. Don’t depend on the phone. Direwolf and I use the Garmin Inreach messaging based on direct satellite technology, not cell towers. I have also had good experience with the Ride With GPS and Garmin. While I am out on my tour, family at home can track my position on all 3 platforms.


KenH, March 17, 2023 at 4:49 pm

OK, if I hadn’t done RAGBRAI before these stories would have me scared too! I’ve never had any trouble keeping my speed under 40 or under 30 when traffic ahead demanded it. I rolled down a hill into Gutenberg once where I was boxed in behind traffic that hit their brakes but my teammate ahead of me went into a tuck and disappeared from sight. He was well over 40 at the bottom, I topped out in the 30s once I got clear of the cautious crowd. Rim brakes, 38mm tires, no problems. I’ve less experience riding my hydraulic disc 29er touring bike but no issues so far.

If you’re not training with your grandchildren make sure the parents take descending seriously in their training. A 12 year old child is a whole lot less likely to cook their brakes than a 450 pound tandem is. Cautioning them against going into a tuck will help limit their speed. If a 12 year old can be convinced to follow that advice.

We’re not descending the Alps at high speed on hair pin switchback curves. Hundreds of people with obviously limited cycling skills descend Iowa’s hills safely every year. The children can too. The one thing that none of us can prevent or train against is someone going down right in front of us. That unlikely risk is just one we have to take to ride in groups on highways.


direwolf, March 17, 2023 at 10:07 pm

Kent H brings us back to reality. The two riders least likely to suffer catastrophe on rapid descents are Nitrogrn and his grandson, because they will be THINKING, planning, communicating. Acknowledging that this comes from a guy who kissed both sides of a bridge spanning the Des Moines River, my advice is for Nitrogrn’s grandson to ride the bike he trains on. Skip the disc-outfitted unit – he’ll grow out of it before the snow flies.

In my 30 or so RAGsBRAI, I believe I have yet to see a 12 year-old who didn’t have his/her sh*t together. When I’ve tried to talk to them, maybe ask where they’re from, I get this look that says: I’m busy here.


Dizzy, March 19, 2023 at 8:10 pm

Agreed direwolf,
I always yak at the little ones on tandems.
For those whose size appears to put them in their early, solo years, I say, “Good job holding your line” and move on so as not to disturb their focus but leave them a nugget of encouragement. D


LawnchairMan, March 19, 2023 at 9:11 pm

Sorry. I made a stupid statement and erased it.

This reply was modified 1 year, 1 month ago by LawnchairMan.

This reply was modified 1 year, 1 month ago by LawnchairMan.


HelenP, March 29, 2023 at 1:21 am

Trucks and cars sometimes use lower gears to slow a long descent, to avoid using and burning out their brakes. It does put stress on the transmission, of course. Would that work with a bike, or would it perhaps ruin the gearing?

Oh, and despite having nice hydraulic disc brakes, I’ll either be stopping several times, or just walking down a wicked slope — no 40-50 mph for me, please!!!


Joseph Schlau, March 29, 2023 at 8:44 am

Power transfer from the pedals to rear cassette via the chain only occurs when pedaling. The internal pawls of a freehub or freewheel retract to allow the wheel to continue to spin when pedaling stops. You’re coasting at that point.

What gear you are in is irrelevant and has no effect like engine braking or shifting to a lower gear has on a motor vehicle. At least one electric vehicle, the Chevrolet Volt employs regenerative braking force through their electric motors when you shift to low and let off the accelerator pedal, thus slowing the vehicle without brakes and returning a small portion of power to the battery.

This is not available on any e-bike that I am aware of.


HelenP, March 29, 2023 at 4:26 pm

Thanks! There are so many variations out there these days, I was wondering if anyone had figured out a way to do that.

I guess a unicycle with direct pedaling (no freewheeling) could do so, sort of, but it would be tough work, and slow.


francoisvanzyl, March 30, 2023 at 3:08 pm

All this have really scared me again. I am also one of the crazies who did more than 40 mph on a bicycle just before Lansing in 2016. I will not do that again. Maybe it is age or finally getting some sense but 30 is my new upper limit.


HelenP, March 31, 2023 at 1:33 am

“I know that I am paranoid,” said the king, “but am I paranoid enough?”


HelenP, March 31, 2023 at 1:34 am


Joseph Schlau, March 31, 2023 at 12:36 pm

Helen, it’s not paranoia when they are actually after you.

But in another RAGBRAI story reported by KCRG News July 24, 2019.

Two cyclists participating in RAGBRAI are in critical condition following a crash.

Indianola police said it happened on a hill as the cyclists were coming into town around 3:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Authorities said a 22-year-old woman was taken to the hospital by ambulance for head and facial injuries. A 57-year-old man suffered head and lung injuries. He was flown to Methodist Medical Center.

“We think they got tangled up,” Indianola police Cpt. Brian Sher said. “We don’t know exactly what happened. They both went off their bicycles, hit the concrete and were both seriously injured.”

The practical take away lessons from this is, the ride isn’t over until you park the bike. Don’t relax too soon.

Try to maintain an appropriate following and side clearance space from other bikes.

The other interesting part of this story is the time of the day 3:45 pm, on a day that was short, like 35 miles and where there was an estimated 40,000 riders that day.

The thing I noticed over the years was the number of crashes after noon. Whether it was alcohol, fatigue, heat, glare off the road, loss of focus, or a combination of some or all I don’t know.

After 1:00, I intentionally take a 5 minute bike break, in the shade, drink water or drink mix, (never alcohol). It allows me to refocus my attention on riding and tasks at hand.


Joseph Schlau, March 31, 2023 at 12:54 pm

Should add a 5 minute bike break every 5 miles or so.


Surlyman!, March 31, 2023 at 3:06 pm

Joseph Schlau,
Seen that wreck… one bike rider was going up the hill to his far right. One was coming down the hill at full speed. (Guessing 30-40 MPH) Don’t even think he hit the brakes. Head on and what a mess. There were 2 big accidents that day on the same hill. both were caused by the same thing. Riders going against the flow of the Ragbrai herd.

Can tell you from past experience, I love the steep down hills. Yes, ride them at full steam… Unless I can’t for safety/ traffic reasons.


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