RAGBRAI LI July 20 -27, 2024

What I would love to see publicized

I attributed the number of new riders last year to the tag lines about it being the 3rd flattest, etc and I expect more of the same this year. I know we are all supposed to Ride Right but let’s be real, we are not going to bike 8 mph behind a line of riders in single file close to the shoulder for 7 days.
I’m not certain is mathematically possible to get 20K riders through a day’s route doing that. I think some practical advice on how to occupy the entire right lane (the one that is always closed to traffic) in the book and/or newsletters and given to charters for inclusion in their guides would be valuable.
During my first RAGBRAI, someone told me that the right lane (eastbound driving lane, for example) theoretically has three biking lanes. Would it be possible for the information in this year’s tips to include what the average mph usually is moving in each of those three invisible lanes? Like far right is <13mph, middle is 13-15mph and close to the center line is 16mph+ with the available open furthest left lane reserved for passing if empty. I saw so many near crashes because two riders were doing 10mph taking up the entire cycling area and someone tried to pass on the other side of the dividing line with riders coming up fast behind.
Next, I would like hill riding explained. If you plan to ride your brakes downhill or not pedal at max momentum on the incline, move far right. If you think you might need to apply a little brake if things get crazy or you are still learning how to handle the gears and you aren’t a good climber, be in the center. Everyone else, wheeeeeeee!!! There also needs to be an explanation to new riders about recumbent bikes on hills and that they can’t jump in front of them, squeeze the brakes and expect a good outcome. Nor can they yell and scream at them when they aren’t blazing up hill. I don’t ride a recumbent (yet) but even on a road bike, the hills last year with the uninformed were exasperating at times. Nothing was worse that losing all momentum on a downhill or getting stuck behind someone going 6mph uphill near the center line. The closest I came to falling was on uphill when I couldn’t unclip and got stuck behind someone going 4mph. I can’t keep the bike upright at that speed.
This is not about telling someone how to RAGBRAI. Race it, plod it, eat what you want, sleep how you want, pack what you feel makes you happy, charter, no charter, I honestly think that is the essence of bringing diversification to a state in the middle of the country where I can leave my bike and gear leaned up against a barn and not worry that it will be there upon my return. I am not saying you should ride faster or slower. I’ve just watched this multiple years and think the newer riders could benefit from a little more education and understanding.

43 Replies

Anonymous, March 19, 2018 at 10:13 am

Most of what you say is common sense, but common sense seems to be in short supply sometimes, so a primer might help. As a newbie last year I did read the Guide from cover to cover.

I ride a recumbent trike which means that I am slow (mostly) and keeping to the right (mostly). There are exceptions. Since I cannot fall over no matter how slow, and I have 81 gears, I never stopped once going up a hill on RAGBRAI 2017. However, I had to continually adjust my line (not easy when it is crowded and slow), as uprights zoomed past me, then lost momentum and finally got off (or tumbled off) as the hill proved too much for them.

The other exception is downhill, where my stability allows me to go pretty fast compared to many uprights (although not as fast as most recumbent bikes). Again, adjusting my line (with my 32” wheelbase) from my position on the right as I am picking up speed in a crowd is … problematic, especially as so many riders seem to assume that trikes are slow in all situations.

I had no serious problems because I was alert and willing to sacrifice speed for safety. Good advice for all riders, I think.


John Richardson, March 19, 2018 at 10:39 am

Great information, but I think the vast majority of riders already know this, and I also think that there is a large number of RAGBRAI riders that are free spirits and won’t ride by the rules regardless. With 10,000+ riders I’ve just accepted it as a part of the RAGBRAI experience and ride very defensively and use a mirror.


montestaples, March 19, 2018 at 10:35 pm

I agree that your advice is very common sense but that common sense is not common. I hope every new rider reads your advice.
In 2011 riding up Twister Hill, between Pilot mound and Boone, I pulled up behind 4 people walking side by side, from the right shoulder to near the center line. It was too slow to ride so I passed as close as I could on the left, right on the center line, since cars were coming in the left lane. At least they were all going pretty slow. One driver had plenty of time to assess the situation and give me a little room but he preferred to pull even closer and lay on the horn when he was within about 2 inches. By the way, don’t you just hate it when hills have a name.


Anonymous, March 19, 2018 at 10:42 pm

I would also prefer if RAGBRAI took a less simplistic view of rumble strips. The Guide last year said that they are no big deal and just get used to riding over them.

In my experience the vast majority of riders try to avoid them and to alert others. This means there are lots of sudden line changes as folks wheel around them (to the left and to the right). It is compounded by the fact that some are signed but many are not.

However simple they may be for those with fat tires, they are a real problem for me on my recumbent trike. Having 3 wheels bouncing slightly out of sync is enough to throw off lights, bottles and other things I thought were securely attached.

RAGBRAI should just be honest, acknowledge that lots of cyclists will beer around them and urge us to slow down and avoid with care.


Anonymous, March 19, 2018 at 10:45 pm

[quote quote=1283442]… By the way, don’t you just hate it when hills have a name.[/quote]
Yes. I rode a GranFondo last September near Toronto and the worst hill was named Gorilla Hill. Some wags had installed a giant inflatable gorilla at the bottom! Luckily, on a trike, you can’t fall over, so I just gear down and pedal up (slowly).


Scott Kies, March 21, 2018 at 6:56 am

New to RAGBRAI and the sounds of this concerns my enjoyment level. I don’t want to bike 8 mph anywhere for the most part. I don’t go crazy but 13-15 mph seems reasonable. Can you avoid some congestion by leaving early in the day?


Mitchell Kreps, March 21, 2018 at 7:46 am

[quote quote=1283510]New to RAGBRAI and the sounds of this concerns my enjoyment level. I don’t want to bike 8 mph anywhere for the most part. I don’t go crazy but 13-15 mph seems reasonable. Can you avoid some congestion by leaving early in the day?[/quote]
Same, I can definitely be up and on the road by 6am if that’s what it takes for me not to ride at 8mph. I wouldn’t say I’m a top tier rider but I definitely enjoy going faster.


Geoff Butland, March 21, 2018 at 7:58 am

I am a “veteran” of exactly one RAGBRAI, so here’s my (un)informed opinion. You will NOT get stuck at 8mph for long


mclousing, March 21, 2018 at 8:00 am

throughout the day you will see people riding anywhere from 5 mph to 25 mph. You will be able to ride how you want. I never had an issue riding 15 to 18 mph thoughout the day.


tjdale57, March 21, 2018 at 9:03 am

The problem is folks that feel they are fast but going 14-15 mph are riding left of the yellow line making it difficult and dangerous for those riding faster to get by. Sometimes this is inevitable due to the shear number of cyclists in a particular area but I frequently see folks riding slowly left of the yellow even when traffic is sparse. Many of these same cyclist complain when faster cyclists pass on the left (not to mention on the right or up the middle because there is no place else to go)and while I dont condone pace lines, I believe these folks have no right to complain if they simply follow the Ride Right suggestion. It would help all if when you pass someone and have a clear path to move to the right side of the road, to take that option. Ride Right is the saying for a reason. As for the right side of the road being closed to vehicular traffic, it is not.
For the past few years my group has had the option of leaving later (830-9) and we have seen less bike traffic.


Anonymous, March 21, 2018 at 9:28 am

Don’t worry about congestion or time. I ride slow (Trike) so I get up early and finish late.

I mostly keep to the extreme right, being passed constantly on my left, except when I pass someone even slower. Faster riders will be more to the left but in our lane, but will move across the centre line to pass. Very fast riders (pace lines) will be mostly in the oncoming lane the whole day. This may be officially discouraged by RAGBRAI but it is a reality.

There will be occasional congestion at intersections where law enforcement stops RAGBRAI for a few minutes to allow an accumulation of vehicles to go through. Between emergency vehicles and the occasional other vehicle going either way, the ride must sometimes slow and move tighter to to the right. Pass through towns will be congested, but you will likely want to stop anyway (food, drink, portapotty, music, etc).

If you treat it like a ride, not a race, and you are careful and considerate, you will mostly be able to ride your RAGBRAI the way you want, at the speed you want.


Surlyman!, March 21, 2018 at 10:32 am

Last year was my first. Here is what I saw. Bikes 4-6 wide covering the entire right lane going 8-10 mph. A trike + 2 uprights wide going 5-8 mph. A single bike running the center of the lane ~10 mph. I found as much or more passing opportunities on the far right as the left.. Even got yelled at for passing on the right from a group of 3 wide with the far left riding on the yellow center line. This is my thought. Keep to the right. If your in a group of 4, 2 in the front, 2 in the rear but keep right. If nothing else, that’s where I will be. It was a great place to pass last year. And yes, I did get tired of saying “on your right” but kept it up for the entire ride.

What everyone should keep in their mind also is… the roads from all directions are not shut down to traffic. These are public roads and vehicles have the rights to use them as much as us bikes do. Being 9 wide and in both lanes going up the hills as I have seen is NEVER a good idea.


Geoff Butland, March 21, 2018 at 10:37 am

I am a “veteran” of exactly one RAGBRAI, so here’s my (un)informed opinion. You don’t need to worry about getting stuck behind slower riders for 400+ miles – it’s a huge crowd, but it’s a long ride each day…the crowds spread out and you can maintain a comfortable pace most of the time. Leaving early will help cut down on the crowd factor. I’m in no position to tell anybody how to ride the RAGBRAI, but in my vast experience there is a lot to be said for taking it easy….spend some time in each town, try the pie, ride the revolving couch, play on the human foosball table, shake hands with a Sasquatch, sample a craft brew….slow it down and relish the utter lack of deadlines.


Niles, March 21, 2018 at 11:45 am

Common sense is common sense is common sense. My take is you can do what ever you like to do. But expect to be called when you do something out of common senses. And then you are expected a short pause of your out-of-common-sense behavior to let the impacted other party move forward before you resume your way.


W0ODS, March 21, 2018 at 12:17 pm

It’s simple: If there’s empty asphalt to your right, move there. The principle is the same as it is for motor vehicles. Your cruising speed is irrelevant – simply keep right except to pass. Don’t over-think this. Get mirrors. Practice using them until it’s second-nature. Change lanes to get around slower traffic. Let faster traffic pass on your left.

If you want to avoid the crowds, you’re better off starting later rather than earlier. There’s a big roll-off after 8 a.m.


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