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Which Ride Will "Win"?

It should be an interesting Winter, with both rides attempting to attract riders. I believe that tradition will carry more weight than disatisfaction over editorial decisions, and RAGBRAI will continue to be successful.

107 Replies

Sunflower, October 17, 2019 at 1:20 am

Clearly Tony knows more about this than any riders posting but he’s hit on calculation that each Team’s decision-maker(s) is going to have to face and its similar to a bureacrat’s dilemma: There is no personal upside to optimization and all the personal downside to screwing the pooch. In this situation rational actors choose the lowest risk personal option.

So, are you going to risk your friends’ summer vacations on the noob crew or the A Team?

I love it when a plan comes together.


“Bicycle Bill”, October 17, 2019 at 1:55 am

To answer Sandaltan re: the Wisconsin newspaper ride.

It was the Milwaukee Sentinel (back in the day when Milwaukee had TWO daily papers; the morning Milwaukee Sentinel and the afternoon Milwaukee Journal).  At the time — 1975, if I remember correctly — they had a section of the paper called “Active Americans” which highlighted recreational activities, fitness, exercise, and sport, so they incorporated it into the official name of the ride which was “SAAGBRAW” — for the Sentinel’s Active Americans Great Bicycle Ride Across Wisconsin”.  Overnights were all indoors (gym floors, National Guard armories, that sort of thing) and ridership was limited to 300.  Route was from La Crosse along what had been designated as the Wisconsin Bikeway — a network of back roads and the Elroy-Sparta and Sugar River rail-to-trail paths — to the State Fair Park in West Allis (a suburb of Milwaukee) where we took a “victory lap” on the racetrack during the grandstand show as part of the weekend “Active American” festivities.

It might be interesting to note that the original ride called for riders to assemble in Milwaukee, not La Crosse; arrangements had been made with Amtrak to transport riders and their bicycles to La Crosse, where they unboxed and assembled their bicycles in the depot parking lot with the help of a couple local bike shops and bike clubs, and then rode about two miles to the UW-La Crosse fieldhouse where they overnighted on the floor before starting east the next morning.

I rode it a couple of the early years since I lived in La Crosse (and had to make my own way back home at the end of the week — thank goodness for Amtrak!).  It was an OK ride but very little had been done to involve the overnight communities or the towns along the way; nothing at all like what RAGBRAI had become in the first few years.  They eventually tried to expand it by adding a couple of additional routes — one that started in Tomahawk, and another one that started in Door County — that met the final day in Milwaukee for the celebratory end-of-ride picnic.

As Sandaltan mentioned, within five years the Sentinel shut down the “Active Americans” section of the paper and interest in maintaining the ride dried up; the two papers eventually merged — and it might be interesting to note that they are also a part of the Gannett media conglomerate.  By that time the ride itself has passed out of their hands through several organizations (at one time the guys at Wheel and Sprocket Bike Shop were the de facto operators!) since then; it’s been a while since I checked on it but I believe it’s still out there as a multi-day ride, but it is nothing like the cross-state Wisconsin ride it was meant to be or hoped to become.


KenH, October 17, 2019 at 8:13 am

The more I think about this the less impressed I am with how TJ handled this. Originally I was mildly in his camp, now I am leaning the other way. This is not the right way to go about things. There are also significant legal questions surrounding how he has put this together while still a Register employee. The Register can choose to pursue those questions in court, or not. They will take some time to assess what is in their best interests and then act accordingly. Ultimately the court will decide who is right and who is wrong if they do pursue this there. Until then there is a big black cloud hanging over Iowa’s Ride. And it is entirely in the Register’s hands as to when to start throwing lightning bolts in Iowa’s Ride’s direction. This makes it hard for vendors to commit to the new ride.

I think the best course of action would be for the Register to retain the rights to RAGBRAI and to let an outside firm run it for them with nearly complete autonomy. TJ’s precipitous action makes it harder for his team to be selected, assuming the Register would agree to such an arrangement. But there is always a chance. I would encourage everyone who cares to write a polite email to both parties encouraging them to come back together and work out an arrangement that allows RAGBRAI to go forward in a manner that is best for all of us.


David, October 17, 2019 at 8:22 am

There is a fairly comprehensive interview with TJ here https://kxno.iheart.com/content/2019-10-16-former-ragbrai-director-discusses-resignation-and-new-ride/

So much is unknown at this point. DMR is spinning hard, but I am not 100% sure of the wisdom of TJ’s decisions.


RDaryl Daryl, October 17, 2019 at 8:47 am

Although RAGBRAI has changed significantly over the last 46 years, the concept of “Iowa Kind” and true heart-felt hospitality are still the core values. Unfortunately, it seems that the expensive consultants and profit focused investors have never participated in RAGBRAI and have no appreciation for these values. Clearly, RAGBRAI will only continue as long as it generates BIG profits for the DMR and its holding company/investors.


Daniel K Kramer, October 17, 2019 at 8:51 am

Law enforcement and EMTs just can not support two rides. This looks like a ” TAKE OUR BALL AND GO SOMEWHERE ELSE DEAL”. I will be riding RAGBRAI next year just like I have for the last eleven years.


skb-mpls, October 17, 2019 at 10:57 am


Over the years I have enjoyed you well thought out posts. I concur with your analysis regarding TJ attempting to start up a new ride while an employee of DMR. It seems to me less than ethical given the remarkable success of this great ride. If he was that upset with management he should have simply resigned….

I’m surprised that the DMR did not have a non compete clause in his employment contract.

I’m not that interested in riding on a “new ride” as it will not have the level of history, support by the local communities, law enforcement and public safety. It will become like any other state ride.

Another disappointing thing about this controversy is RAGBRAI has been a politically free zone in an age of hyper politics that is dividing us all. For me, it is a great week to experience the good in my fellow cyclists and residents of the state of Iowa that I moved from in 1978.

I too want to see RAGBRAI survive. Perhaps given your literary skills- you or someone else could pen an OP-ed to the DMR to save this great event. Perhaps Karras is already doing that.

Sheldon in Mpls.


Jboz, October 17, 2019 at 11:22 am

Sheldon, I don’t see any of this as political. True, the original outing of Carson King may have had some loose underlying political motivation by the writer and editor, but nobody knows King’s politics, or TJ’s for that matter. TJ’s departure was not related to what they did to King, but rather the way the DMR muzzled him and took away his autonomy by preventing him from being transparent with the RAGBRAI community. This is about TJ as an employee being forced to tow the company line in contrast to how he feels RAGBRAI should be run, and deciding to leave and start his own business. People do that ALL THE TIME. By the way, I know people from all across the political spectrum who are disgusted with the whole “cancel culture” dynamic, and who view the DMR’s handling of this as careless and inappropriate.

Furthermore, making the assumption that TJ put all this together while “on the clock” is just that…an assumption. He very well may have used vacation time to put the pieces together, or did all this in the evening or weekends. You don’t know, so questioning his ethics without any details is pretty unfair.


Larry Klaaren, October 17, 2019 at 12:22 pm

[quote quote=1311945]He very well may have used vacation time to put the pieces together, or did all this in the evening or weekends. You don’t know, so questioning his ethics without any details is pretty unfair.[/quote]

I disagree. Working for someone while preparing a competing business is always unethical. I am sure the Register will explore if he failed to “lock-in” or make a deal with a sponsor or whatever during that time or if he began discussions with sponsors and cities about the 2020 ride while working for the Register and then they show up on Iowa’s Ride. I could say more, but I am at work myself!


mootsman, October 17, 2019 at 12:27 pm

Which ever rides wins, the riders lose. Time the 2 sides to reconcile.


KenH, October 17, 2019 at 12:40 pm

I am not stating that TJ has acted unethically. There is no way that I can know that he did or did not. I am saying that the circumstances of his departure and announcement of a competing ride most probably allow the Register to file a lawsuit against him. A lawsuit which could impact his ability to host a ride next year for several reasons. Or the Register could decide to take the high road and just let him be. Or maybe they decide they do not have enough grounds for a lawsuit to make it worth their while. They have mentioned that they are looking at taking legal action. Until they make an announcement about that Iowa’s Ride is living a state of legal limbo and there is no way to know when the Register will make an announcement.

I only know TJ through his public persona and by one very brief face to face conversation during a recent RAGBRAI. I rather like him actually and I wish him well. But people in his position sometimes cross lines in their efforts to respond to what they consider to be unfair treatment. Doing what he has just done puts him into territory he may have little or no experience with (again, I would not know for sure). When you do that you are in danger of crossing lines quite innocently. Did he seek competent legal counsel before acting? Was he careful to follow their advice in every particular? I don’t know but the Register certainly has the right to ask those questions in court if they so choose.

If he had decided to take his team and organize a competing ride in another state I would have no trouble with that personally, even if it were the same week as RAGBRAI. Doing what he did amounts to stabbing the Register in the back however. I am struggling to respect that move. I think it is just wrong.


ESchiers, October 17, 2019 at 1:04 pm

In the IHeart interview mentioned above, TJ discusses the time frame of his decision to leave and how he worked on the IowasRide plan on his own time. There was no mention of a noncompete clause; however, the question was never asked.


Don Raatz, October 17, 2019 at 6:06 pm

Simple solution…the two rides share the route. RAGBRAI gets the left side of the road and Iowa’s Ride gets the right side. The center line becomes a bikers Mason/Dixon line…

Seriously, this needs to get fixed pronto. Figure out a compromise and get back to ONE ride.


Jboz, October 17, 2019 at 7:33 pm

I don’t understand the stress some folks are feeling about this. I think it’s going to be interesting to just watch it play out. Competition drives innovation and improvement. Let’s see what TJ does to build a better mousetrap. Could be awesome. I already like some of the concepts TJ has in store, like keeping the proceeds in Iowa. I bet he’s got some other cool ideas up his sleeve that he’s wanted to try, but couldn’t given the DMR corporate strings. If there are 2 rides in 2020, so be it…it’s not gloom and doom. Some real positives can come out of this.


Cory Rood, October 17, 2019 at 7:42 pm

Pork Belly sent out an email this evening stating that they will be sticking with offering services for RAGBRAI, that will be a big blow to TJ’s new ride considering PBV accounts for 20-25% of RAGBRAI participants. There will be alot of people now that stick with RAGBRAI simply because that’s where PBV is.

The more I stew about this whole situation, the more upset it makes me. Both parties seem to be ignoring the fact that they are playing fire with the largest tourism aspect for the State of Iowa. Both parties are to blame. If RAGBRAI doesn’t survive, both DMR and TJ will have to own that they ruined the greatest event in the State.

I believe TJ should have ignored his superiors and spoke his mind, as RAGBRAI director. Then left it to the DMR to decide what to do, if they wanted to let him go so be it, I can’t imagine it would have ended well for the DMR though.


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