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RAGBRAI Training: Getting Equipped for RAGBRAI

  • 3 May, 2024
  • Peter Indovino

In this article I am going to review the various equipment you should consider having on you and your bike for RAGBRAI.

  1. Bicycle – Yes, you will want a bicycle for RAGBRAI. It’s far enough on a bike, you wouldn’t want to walk it or even run it. The type of bike you bring to RAGBRAI is very individual to you. You can ride a standard road bike, a hybrid bike, gravel bike, mountain bike, fat bike, etc. You need to first and foremost have a bike that fits you and is comfortable to ride. More than anything, it needs to be comfortable.  After riding 400+ miles, even the best fitting bike will feel somewhat uncomfortable.  Besides comfort, the other things you should keep in mind are the weight and rolling resistance.  The heavier the bike, the harder it is to pedal, especially uphill, and we have a few of those this year.  The rolling resistance is related primarily to the type of tires.   Thinner, more slick road bike tires have less rolling resistance that the large, studded mountain or fat bike tires.  Make sure that you are training on whatever bike you plan to ride on RAGBRAI so your body can get used to it.


  1. Shoes/Pedals/Cleats – The shoes you wear are very important for cycling. Your foot is where all your bodily force travels through to power the bike. I’d highly recommend cycling specific shoes as they have a hard, non-flexing sole. You don’t want to wear tennis shoes or sneakers as your foot will be constantly bending as you pedal. The other consideration is whether and how your foot will be attached to the pedals. In the olden days, we wore toe clips and cleats on the bottom of our cycling shoes to hold our feet in place while pedaling. This helps keep your feet where they need to be and improves the power delivery to the pedals.  Toe clips still work although now most people have gravitated over to ‘clipless’ pedals. The clipless term means no toe clips, but they still clip into the pedals, so kind of a misleading name.  Clipless pedals come in a variety of styles, each with their own cleat that attaches to the bottom of the shoe.   I’d recommend the SPD type for RAGBRAI as those cleats are recessed and the shoes are easy to walk around in, something you will be doing often during RAGBRAI.  Again, if using this type of pedal/cleat/shoe system, make sure you get plenty of practice with them before heading out on RAGBRAI as they are a little trickly to get in to and out of until you get some practice. Note – you will fall at least once while learning to use them.  Usually in the most embarrassing place.


  1. Clothing – The most important articles of clothing are the shorts you wear on RAGBRAI. Again, I highly recommend shorts designed for cycling – called cycling shorts, for some reason. There are two styles, those that go up to the waist and bibs, which go up and over the shoulders like suspenders. I prefer bib shorts, but they are a little less convenient when needing to use a restroom. But regardless of the type, make sure you have a well-fitted chamois inside of them. This provides padding and helps remove moisture where your seat contacts your bike’s seat.  This will help prevent chafing and saddle sores.  Cycling shorts are meant to be worn without underwear.  Whatever you do, avoid wearing regular shorts which may have seams in just the wrong spots, I’m thinking of the cutoff jean shorts I used to wear riding as a teenager– ouch. I’d recommend having at least 2-3 pairs of shorts so you can always have some washed and drying for the next day. You will want to wash them (by hand, in a sink is fine) every day you wear them. Riders typically wear cycling specific jerseys as well, although not required. What’s nice about jerseys is not only are they lightweight and wick sweat away, but they have back pockets in which to stow your wallet, money, phones, food, etc. I’d suggest avoiding cotton shirts as they will cling to you when you sweat, and you will sweat. Cycling gloves are optional but I like to wear them, especially on long rides and especially when it is hot and humid, in other words, conditions you will find on RAGRAI. These help with sweating hands and protect your hands should you fall.


  1. Helmet – A helmet is very important. You can reach fairly high speeds on a bicycle, and with lots of people around you on RAGBRAI, the chance of falling is there. But even at low speeds, the risk of a head injury is still there. Again, fit and comfort are important. They should fit tightly enough that it will stay on even without the chinstrap connected, but do connect it while riding. But it shouldn’t feel so snug it hurts. Most helmets come in various sized and now are adjustable.


  1. Glasses – You will probably want to wear sunglasses on RAGBRAI. Once again there are cycling specific ones (surprise!). They tend to wrap around the face providing protection from the sun, wind and bugs, and they are made so they don’t slip off easily. There are many styles, so try some out to see which you prefer. Just make sure they look cool.


  1. Water Bottles and Cages – you will definitely want to have one, preferably two water bottles on your bike for RAGBRAI. This will require that you also have water bottle cages attached to your bike frame so you can carry these bottles. I’d recommend getting the 24 ounce sized bottles. You will likely go through one of these at least every hour out on the bike. If you have two, you can put plain water in one and a drink of your choice in the other.


  1. Lights – While it’s unlikely you will need to ride in the dark on RAGBRAI, although some people do like to get up and get riding before dawn, and some people manage to find their way in to the overnight town after dark. But it’s also becoming more common to see cyclists using lights in the daytime, especially taillights so they can be seen by cars. But on RAGBRAI there aren’t going to be too many cars out there, but it can be useful for other cyclists to see you better. Headlights are sometimes used in the daytime as well, but again on RAGBRAI it’s not a necessity as you won’t be dealing with many oncoming cars. And any cars out there won’t have a problem seeing you with all those bikes out there. However you may want to consider it during your training rides.


  1. Bag/Spares/Tools – You will also want to carry at least one spare tube with you at all times. I typically carry two. It is also useful to have tire levers to help getting your tire off if you have a flat, and some way to fill it up – either with a bike pump that fits on your bike frame, or a CO2 cartridge. Even if you don’t know how to change it yourself, if you have the tube and pump or cartridge, there will be plenty of people on RAGBRAI who can help you. You will find they are much more willing to help if you have your own supplies with you. But you should learn how to do it yourself. Then you can assist others, or change your own tube when out training.  Some people carry tools with them as well to make adjustments to your bike if needed. You can, of course, get a cycling tool that has a bunch of Allen wrenches and screwdrivers all on one tool.  Tubes and tools are usually carried in a saddle bag, attached under your saddle, and some people use a bag on a rack behind the seat or a handlebar bag.

So those are the essentials.  Sounds like a lot but your local bike shop has it all so make sure you are equipped and know how to use it all properly before July rolls around.

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team and individual cyclists through the Peaks Coaching Group. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: . He can be contacted


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