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RAGBRAI Training: How to Enjoy Your RAGBRAI Experience

  • 18 July, 2011
  • TJ Juskiewicz

Okay, your preparation is just about done and all that is left for you to do is to travel to western Iowa and begin your great bicycle ride across Iowa.  Here are some final thoughts for you to allow you to have the most enjoyable ride possible.  If you want technical information, you will be disappointed.  Instead, I am going to wax philosophical a little.   After all, RAGBRAI should be enjoyed and the way to do that is to go into it with the right frame of mind, not just body.

1. RAGBRAI is a bicycle RIDE; it is not a bicycle RACE

That means you don’t have to ride fast.  As a matter of principle, it should not be ridden fast or you will miss important things, like a turkey leg  or piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie, or a friendly Iowa farmer waving at you or a child wanting to high-five you as you ride into a town.  The objective isn’t to see how quickly you can ride through Iowa, it’s to see how much of Iowa you can experience.  Even if you ride 12 mph, you will have plenty of time to spend in the overnight town, so don’t shortchange the pass-through towns.   And while you are riding between towns, take your time and enjoy the scenery.  While Iowa doesn’t have a lot of (or any) mountains or seashores, we do have miles and miles of beautiful green rolling countryside.  Enjoy it. 

2. Be friendly

One of the reasons I believe RAGBRAI has become such a hit over the years is because of the wonderful hospitality of the people of Iowa.  Many of the towns you will be riding through have populations much less than the number of cyclists that will ride through them (which is about 10,000 cyclists per day).  These country folk are extremely friendly and enjoy guests.  Take the time to visit with your hosts and hostesses on your ride across the state.  You and they will come away enriched by the experience.  Also, another reason for riding at a leisurely pace across Iowa is so that you can hold a conversation you’re your fellow cyclists.   You will meet some very interesting people from interesting places if you just take the time to get to know them.  I have found that the slower I go and the more I talk to people, the better the ride becomes.

3.  Eat well but don’t gain weight 

One thing we are famous for in Iowa is lots of great food. Every town you pass through and every roadside vendor will be providing you with a plethora of delights from the heartland.  You should certainly sample these.  Food is a big part of the RAGBRAI experience.  From the breakfast burrito to the mid morning pork chop, to the piece of (daily) pie, to the best sweet corn in the world, to the wonderful Midwest church dinners, you will be surrounded by tempting and delicious food and drink all the way across the state.  I don’t think you can go more than three miles without having the option to stop and eat something.  But one word of warning – people can gain weight on RAGBRAI!  It may seem very odd that one can pedal their bike four hundred and some miles in one week and gain weight but it can happen, especially if you try to sample what every single town has to offer.  That amounts to about 10 meals a day if you are not careful, so choose wisely, try new things but don’t feel you need to try everything every day!  Take home wonderful memories, but not extra pounds.

4. Have fun

This should go without saying but I’m saying it anyway.  Riding your bike across Iowa in one week is hard work. It will be hot and humid, it will be windy, it will probably rain once or twice.  If you think this is going to be a luxury cruise you will be disappointed.  Not every mile may be totally enjoyable (just trying to prepare you for the worst).  And please be safe.  One sure way to ruin your RAGBRAI experience is to have an accident and bust your bike or your body.  But keep in mind, for every uphill there is a downhill.  For every hot, hilly final five miles, there will be a cold drink and hearty meal waiting for you.  For every rain shower there will be a bright sunny sky.   There is so much to enjoy on RAGBRAI that if you don’t have fun, it’s no one’s fault but your own.   So come to the ride with your eyes, mouths and hearts open and you could very possibly be experiencing the best week of the year, or maybe of your life!

Don’t forget, I look forward to seeing all of you at the Farmers Feed Us stop in Churdan on Tuesday.

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach and NSCA Certified Personal Trainer. He is a coach with the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team, the Iowa JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes Team, and he coaches individual cyclists.   He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website:  http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at coach@cyclesportcoaching.com


  1. mufafa

    “So come to the ride with your eyes, mouths and hearts open and you could very possibly be experiencing the best week of the year, or maybe of your life!”
    Good idea for everyday of our lives, not just RAGBRAI! Thanks for the balanced info. I am very excited about the ride and looking forward to meeting Iowa.

  2. Cathy

    Don’t forget to call out – some riders think by pointing their finger to the lane they are seen – but most riders want to (need to) hear the call out especially when moving over.

  3. David Julian

    I am 67 years young & this will be my 5th consecutive RAGBRAI.I always say to people when questioned about RAGBRAI.. , “RAGBRAI is what you make it”. Have fun,ride safe and enjoy! RAGBRAI RULES!!!!

  4. Susie Morice

    I love Iowa, and RAGBRAI is an amazing experience…one big rolling party. I love that your # 1 tip is a reminder that this is a RIDE and not a race. So much good spirit out there in the corn…and the beans. Beans on the right, corn on the left…corn on the right, beans on the left….Great people everywhere!

  5. steve lummer

    Awesome post – very informative as a read . Thanxz coach.
    See everyone in a few days.
    Prescott Az

  6. Bob Bettinger

    Thank goodness the route is finally out. I’m chompin’at the bit. For a ‘young’ 76 year old from Colorado, I am really excited to be making my second RAGBRAI. 2008 was my first and I couldn’t believe the amazing friendliness of riders and Iowans alike. Thanks, Bob

  7. GetAClue Blue

    Good posts. I’ve enjoyeed the friendliness of the Iowa folks for years now. My wife of 38 years is from Iowa so we’ve made the drive or flight often from Texas to visit her folks. I’ve seen the RAGBRAI trail of riders on a couple of our visits. I could tell even before I started riding that it was something I would enjoy. Can’t believe I’m fixing to partake in it.

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