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Training/Life Advice for Newbies?

Hello! I registered for my first RAGBRAI the other day (solo – no team!). I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve rode recreationally all my life, but no challenges of this magnitude.

I ride a Giant OCR C3 full carbon fiber bike that’s still completely stock. Admittedly, I know very little about bike specs. I received this bike as a gift and am grateful for it. It seems to hold up well on the road. Here’s a picture of someone else’s OCR that looks like mine:

So, as a newbie rider, I just put in my first two training rides of the season this weekend. 10 miles on friday night (just to get a feel for the bike again) and 40 miles on saturday. Saturday’s route was quite hilly, which made me realize I really struggle with hills. I find myself shifting down in anticipation of the hill, but then as I climb I run out of gears to shift down to and end up walking the last 1/2 or 1/4 of most hills. Do you think I just need a lot more endurance building and hill training? I’d love to hear some advice … think back to when you were first beginning!

I’m following the training schedule here:

Also, in terms of my bike, (forgive me in advance for knowing no technical info or lingo) I have 9 gears on my rear axel and 3 on the crank. Will this be adequate for RAGBRAI or should I consider any upgrades?

How can I calculate the amount of climb I’ve done on my rides? Do I need to get a GPS computer for that, or can I map them online somewhere?

Also what are some of you guys’ and gals’ preferred training foods? I’ve been eating a lot of CLIF bars lately before and during rides.

I’m anxiously waiting for the lottery results to be posted … I haven’t been this excited in a long time. I have to admit that I would be a bit heart-broken to know that I can’t do the ride.

I love challenges. I also love all of the culture I’ve been reading about with the RAGBRAI. So I have already been approved to take a week and a half off from work to bike across the amazing roads in Iowa.

I look forward to your advice and to meeting many of you on the roads and in the towns we’ll be experiencing this summer.

20 Replies

AnnG, April 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Mike, good for you on deciding to do RAGBRAI.  You’ll have a lot of fun.  There is a lot of useful training advice here:

A general rule of thumb that I heard a long time ago is that you should ride at least 500 miles before doing RAGBRAI.  Otherwise, you’ll be sorry.  1,000 is better.  It will be good if some of those miles are hills, and it sounds like you have some near you to use for training. 

I think that hills will get easier as you do them.  I think that very few people customize their bikes for RAGBRAI.  You will see all manner of bikes here.  Keep in mind that RAGBRAI is a ride, not a race.  Nobody will care how long it takes you to get from the first town to the last town.  Plan to stop in each one and soak up a little local atmosphere.  Iowans enjoy welcoming you to this state.  People will sit on lawn chairs and shout out their welcomes and “where are you from?”  Kids will stand on the curb, and high five you as you ride by. 

If you’re curious about how much climbing you are doing as you train, I believe that you can customize a route at veloroutes that will tell you about elevation.

For my own rides, I use Propel with calcium for one bottle and water for the other.  I also take along a granola bar or two, as a cheap alternative to energy bars. 

I hope to see you this summer too!


Zinger, April 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Welcome Mike! Never fear – even if you don’t get picked in the lottery, there are always wristbands to be had. Typically there’s a buy/sell segment to the forum a little closer to July.

You don’t really need any special upgrades to your bike at all. However, there are things that make the ride easier and safer. Shoes and pedals, lights, etc. It’s up to your budget.

Many people on this forum ride thousands of miles each year. Some ride just a few prior to RAGBRAI. I’ve done anywhere from 500-1200 in preparation. I do more training miles if the route is more difficult.

Relax and have fun – while training and while riding RAGBRAI! If you’re a numbers person and like to keep train of climbs and that kind of thing, go for it, but don’t feel like it’s necessary.

Happy riding!!


Michrider !!!, April 3, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Mike, ride more miles (1,000 is good) and you’ll be more comfortable and have more fun on RAGBRAI.  On your training rides, I’d suggest you find one of your hilly routes, and work hard on getting up the hills.  It doesn’t have to be a long route.  Do it at least once a week.  You’ll find yourself getting stronger as the ride gets near.  Good luck and see you on the curbs of Iowa!!!


Pirate Brewer, April 3, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Mike – Don’t make the training too complicated.  Just get in the miles, the hills, and load your bike the same it will be loaded on RAGBRAI.  More miles = better.  More hills = better.  Carry the stuff you’ll use on RAGBRAI and get used to the gear.  A lot of people travel light; I travel on the heavy side.  My tool kit is relatively heavy and I take a lot of kidding for that.  I also generally ride with bags because I enjoy a 38 mile round-trip commute to work (when my work schedule allows) means a change of clothes, work papers, and lunch.  With the extra weight on many of my rides the RAGBRAI ride is a breeze.  Doing the work up-front will make your ride more enjoyable.  Remember the chap stick and keep drinking the water (beer in moderation).


rjjensenia, April 3, 2011 at 7:23 pm


Just curious to make sure you are using your gears correctly. When you say you had to get off the bike and walk up the last part of the hill had you shifted to your easiest gear (the smallest cog in front with the largest cog in the rear)?
Good luck and keep working at it. With more miles under your belt it will soon be a piece of cake (no make that pie)


rockman68, April 3, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Enjoy the best part of riding – EATING! On rides less than 40’ish miles, your food intake before the ride is much more important than the food during the ride. Anything you eat during a 40’ish mile ride is essentially unavailable for instant energy.

My system – may or may not work for everybody – is something like this.

A longish ride for me is 60 to 100 miles. These usually start early in the day. For one of these, I crush carbohydrates for dinner on the day before. I usually stuff myself with spaghetti.
First thing in the morning. Half liter of water. 16 oz. Mtn. Dew. 1 Banana. If I’m starving, I’ll eat 2 PopTarts. (I keep all of this in my tent. If I happen to wake up at 4:30ish in the morning, I’ll eat then. Sometimes I’ll even set an alarm to wake me up at 4:30 for breakfast in bed.) Sleep in as late as possible.

Start the ride with 1 bottle of water and 1 bottle Gatorade – diluted slightly.
Drink 1 bottle every 15 miles. The ratio of water/Gatorade will vary depending on temperature. My longer rides are usually organized events, and bananas are easy to find at rest stops. I eat a half banana every ~15 miles. Refill the bottles at every available opportunity.

For my usual after-work 30’ish miles – I eat whatever I want for lunch – but nothing heavy after 2:00 pm.
Water and Gatorade in the bottles and 1 banana in the jersey pocket. That stuff will keep me alive for 30 miles. If it’s crazy hot, I’ll have to refill the water bottle before I’m done (or carry a third bottle).

The most important thing for me is to NOT eat heavily within a couple of hours before riding. Digestion of food requires a large amount of blood flow to the stomach/intestines (it’s over half of your basal metabolism). If your body is trying to digest a big meal, the blood supply for the legs is limited.

I’m going to miss out on much of the best of RAGBRAI food by eating light until the end of the day. BUT – When I’m done with riding for the day, I’ll do my share of damage to a buffet.


Sandaltan ., April 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Three things will prepare you; ride, ride, ride.  If you can join a group or even find one or two riders at your skill level it will make riding much more fun.



giantron, April 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Your bike is fine. That’s a decent setup and can easily handle RAGBRAI. Someone mentioned shoes and pedals, and YES if you’re not clipping in with bike shoes you really need to look into that. It’ll improve your efficiency and ability to ride with less effort since you also will “pull” up on the pedals. This really helps on the hills as well since you use different muscles and don’t burn out as fast.

Find some hills and ride them. It sounds like you have a great head start on being really ready for the ride!
My biggest challenge is losing weight so the hills get easier.
As for food. A light gatorade mix in the water bottles and a granola bar (not the chewy kind cause they melt) and banana for breakfast and I’m good until lunch usually. Maybe a light breakfast on the road if I’m still hungry.


mclousing, April 3, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Hey Mike, not to sound like a parrot here but ride, ride and ride.  OK that is the most important thing you can do.  You said you got this bike as a gift, if you have not already done so make sure it is fit to you correctly, without doing that you might be making the rides harder on yourself than you need to.

Also, clipless pedals are a godsend for most people it makes riding more efficient and helps with hills by allowing you to pull up which I find is easier going up a hill. 

Your bike setup sounds like you have a tripple with probly a 53/42/34 setup (or pretty close to that).  You sound like someone who is getting into it, my suggestion is to spend more time in the 42 (middle chainring on the front)  you will find that you will rarely run out of gear on either side and allow you to have a higher cadence (speed at which you spin your pedals)  the higher the cadence you will find the easier it is to ride, also a higher cadence makes hills easier. 

You got the right idea on the hill though, downshift before you need to, if you wait you will find that the shifting does not respond the way you want.  When the bike is under strain of going up the hill there is not enough play in the chain for the rear derailer to shift properly.

Another piece of advice is learn when your body needs fuel.  You will actually need it long before you feel the need for it.  Drink early and drink often.  If the ride is more than an hour you need to drink something with electrolytes , i.e. gatorade or other sport drinks.  Food is a tougher thing to determine, some people like to eat before the ride, whereas I don’t eat anything except some fruit or gelpack/energy bars until I am done with the ride.  I know it is really bad thing to do since my body will go negative on energy stores but that is how I always have been.

One last thing HAVE FUN.  this isn’t a race this is a rolling social event.  Don’t bust yourself trying to get ready thinking how am I gonna do 70 miles in one day.  Worst case scenario you are usually no more than 10 miles from the next stop and you can take all day to do that if you want.


KittySlayer, April 4, 2011 at 6:27 am

Welcome to the warmup for Iowa.

Your bike looks good and the triple will provide all the gears you need, just be sure you know how to use them properly. Maybe the reason you were tired is that you quadrupled your training miles in one weekend. It will get better the more you ride. Lot’s of miles in your legs before RAGBRAI will allow you to enjoy the ride more. Keep in mind that even without lots of miles people of all skills, abilities and experience complete the ride every year.

Don’t bother with the GPS, it will not make the hills any flatter. If you feel the need for a computer then something with cadence and mileage would be helpful in your training. That said you do not need to have a computer to ride.

I would not recommend eating CLIF bars before and during the ride. Look for real food to eat before your ride. Oatmeal is always a staple for lots of people along with some fruit. CLIF bars can be good while on the bike as they are easy to carry and consume while riding, but a banana works well too. Finally do not forget to eat as soon as you get off the bike, that is when you fuel your body for recovery and get ready for the next day. Also consider an energy drink in one of your bottles. With regards to eating, experiment in your training to find what works for you and more importantly what does not work for you. Do not get where you only test and rely on one item as it may not be available and then your ride could psychologically (and maybe physically) be a lot harder than it needs to be.

If you are thinking about (and actually) training now you will be ready to ride and thus ready to enjoy all the other aspects of RAGBRAI.


jwsknk, April 4, 2011 at 8:06 am

First ride of the season was 10 and the second a hilly 40? To me that sounds like a little too big of a leap. Even though I ride everyday, my fist back to back rides were 25 and 30 which seemed like ehnough for me to get back into the longer day to day distances. I bet if you got in more 10’s and 20’s in a month you would make that 40 without walking them.
for RAGBRAI look at Geobike, they have this years and all the past rides.
for you own try Map My Ride.


SFC JKL 2, April 4, 2011 at 10:01 am

Mike- Riding more to start will help.  Biking uses different muscles than other sports so it will take some time to build up your legs.  Stamina is still stamina, but building muscle just takes some time.

The cheapest thing you could do to make an immediate change is to buy a smaller granny gear (inside chainring).  Triples generally has smaller cassettes so you could add larger gears to the rear but that would be more expensive.  Try a 28 or maybe even 26 in the front and you should be able to climb anything.  Make sure to use a chain keeper as you will drop the chain to the inside because you would be using a gear that was never intended to bew used with your setup.


Tony, April 4, 2011 at 12:35 pm

There are allot of methods attacking hills. But the best is spinning. Maintaining a high cadence. To achieve this you need to just ride your bike and put in as many training miles as possible. Try to keep your cadence above 80 on the flats. On hills you want to try and keep that cadence by down shifting. As your training progresses hills will become much easier. So don’t let walking the hills bother you to much. You will tackle those hills soon. You do not need a GPS or altimeter. Any topo program will tell you your climb. You just need to enter your route. Its just not necessary to monitor it on a ride. You know when your climbing. What you do need is a cyclometer for speed, distance, and cadence. While training cadence is very important to monitor. It is your tachometer for you, the engine. Just like a car. You want that engine running at an optimum rpm. To low the engine bogs down and stalls. To high and you burn up. Optimum rpm for everyday cycling is 90-95prm. The bike you describe is  a 9 speed triple. The rear gear (cogs) cluster is a cassette. The gears on the crank are chainrings. Triple have an inner (smallest), center, and outer (largest) chainring. One thing you must be very careful of with a triple. They will drop the chain off the chainrings if improperly down shifted while climbing. You need to learn the shift patterns for your bike to prevent this. Your bike has 27 gear combinations with the 3×9 gearing. In reality. Several of those have the same meter development (roll out). Meter development is the mechanical advantage of the gearing. Measured in the distance of the bike traveled in one revolution of the crank. Depending on the chainrings and cassette. There are about 5-6 duplicate developments. Knowing the location of these duplicates. Will allow you to shift chainrings without changing development. This can be an advantage as you approach a hill. All this comes second nature after many training miles. But I would do some research on climbing and shifting. Study gear charts for your driveline. The more you understand how your bike functions. The easier riding will become. As far as food goes. Carb up the night before a ride. It your fuel for the start on the next days ride. Eat a normal breakfast with some fruit juice. On the ride drink water at least every 10-15 minutes. After the first 2 hours riding you will need about 25 grams of carbs per hour. You do not need special sports bars. A candy bar is just fine. I prefer Snickers. On RAGBRAI leave the bars at home. You have all the eats you need on the side of the road. You don’t need no stinkin Cliff Bars when you got church lady pie! Just make sure you drink water. Your bottle should be empty by the time you get to every pass through town. About 15-20 miles.


ts, April 4, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Excellent advice so far.  I’ll just add one minor point.

Most hills require more aerobic capacity than leg strength.  You’ll get better at them as you develop your aerobic capacity just by riding.  Remember to have  patience on hills.  Look at the total length and try to pace yourself so that you run out of gas at the top, not before.  Don’t just charge into a hill and go until you fall apart.  Monitor your body and slow down if it looks like you’re running out of gas too early, or speed up if it looks like you have a little energy to burn.  Try to arrive at the top spent but not totally demolished.
As Tony advised, spin up hills if you can.  I try to maintain 80 rpm or faster, though some hills just don’t allow it.  In your lowest gear (smallest front ring, largest rear), you may feel like you’re barely staying upright,  but just keep turning and you’ll make it.


helenheart, April 4, 2011 at 2:30 pm

What a great group of comments. This forum and it’s members really does provide some fabulous answers when the need is there, and it is a wonderful source of information.
I’m sure there are many of us who are benefiting from this thread – thanks gang.
Looks like Tony’s back, good and proper these days!
See you on the road Mike – look forward to following your training – keep the thread alive
You’ll get a wristband for the ride even if not thru the lottery. So far, no-one on this forum has ever known anyone to be disappointed. 


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