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RAGBRAI trivia: Longest route, most popular towns and more

  • 29 January, 2011
  • Michael Morain

No matter what route organizers reveal tonight at the Hy-Vee Hall announcement party for the Register’s 39th Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, it probably won’t surprise Rich Ketcham.

The software consultant from Ames developed a database of RAGBRAI statistics in the mid-’90s and has been crunching the numbers ever since. He can tell you, for example, where the ride has started most often (Sioux City), which year’s route was the toughest (1981) and which single day in the ride’s history covered the most ground (114 miles from Webster City to Waverly, back in 1980).

He can also venture a guess about the ride’s hottest day ever, in 1999.

“We were going from Decorah to Independence, and it was so hot the road was melting,” he said. “Bikes were getting covered with molten tar.”

And then, the ultimate indicator: “You didn’t even feel like having a beer.”

Ketcham rode his first RAGBRAI in 1991 and still remembers the “death march” into Atlantic on that first day.

“Every time I asked how far, they’d say it’s just over the next hill,” he said. “I thought, there’s got to be a better way.”

Sure enough, there was. He returned the following year equipped not only with a map but elevation profiles so he’d know where to expect the hills. He started printing out copies to distribute to other riders and eventually organized the growing pile of data into a website, called, which RAGBRAI organizers now routinely consult for information. Last year, he developed a GPS tool that allows the staff to track road conditions, such as potholes and crumbling shoulders, and report them to county and state officials for repairs.

But even with all his records, Ketcham still can’t predict the route for this year’s ride, scheduled for the last full week of July. He pointed out, however, that different RAGBRAI leaders have left their own particular stamp on the ride. Founders and former Register writers John Karras and Donald Kaul charted more than a few 100-mile rides in the early years, while the current director, T.J. Juskiewicz, “has a lot of unique starting and ending towns,” Ketcham said. “He’s trying to pick off a lot of towns that haven’t been visited before.”

For the record, RAGBRAI has never visited about 350 of the state’s 947 incorporated towns.

But there’s still one number Ketcham can’t pin down: the times he’s ridden RAGBRAI himself.

He laughed a little. “I’ve lost count.”


• Longest RAGBRAI route: 550 miles from Hawarden to Clinton in 1985 Shortest route: 370 miles from Onawa to Lansing in 1977

• Average length of RAGBRAI route: 472 miles

• Longest single day: 114 miles from Webster to Waverly in 1980

• Shortest single day: 25 miles from Elkader to Guttenberg, also in 1980

• Average day ride: 68 miles

• 18,013 miles: Total distance of all 38 RAGBRAI rides. That means the small group of riders who have ridden every yearhave pedaled the same distance as a Pan-American Highway trip from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to the city of Ushuaia, at the southerntip of Argentina. (An Idaho couple and their 10-year-old twin boys actually pedaled that trip two years ago. It took them 26 months.)


• Most climb: 26,374 feet of incline going up hills between Missouri Valley and Keokuk in 1981

• Least climb: 10,675 feet of incline going up hills between Onawa and Lansing in 1977

• Most climb in a single day: 5,942 feet of incline between Des Moines and Williamsburg in 1973. That’s almost 10 trips up the state’s tallest skyscraper, the 630-foot tower at 801 Grand.

• Least climb in a single day: 760 feet of incline from Onawa to Ida Grove in 1977

Total climb in all 38 rides: 732,299 feet of incline, or about 25 hikes up the 29,000-foot slope of Mount Everest


Explore an interactive map over overnight towns at

• Frequency of start towns:

6: Sioux City

5: Council Bluffs, Glenwood, Onawa

4: Missouri Valley

3: Hawarden, Rock Rapids, Sioux Center

1: Akron, Le Mars, Sergeant Bluff, Sidney

• Frequency of finish towns:

5: Bellevue, Burlington, Muscatine

4: Clinton, Dubuque, Fort Madison, Guttenberg2: Davenport (but never Bettendorf), Keokuk

1: Lansing, Le Claire, Sabula

• Most frequent: Algona, Atlantic, Harlan, Mount Pleasant and Storm Lake, with 5 visits each


• Most frequent: Crystal Lake, Earlville, Kimballton, Slater, Steamboat Rock, Underwood and West Bend with six visits each


• 635 burned per hour, according to the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s estimates for a 175-pound cyclist averaging 12 to 13 mph. That adds up to 3,810 calories over a six-hour day of riding and a total of 24,765 calories over the course of an average route. Multiply that by 10,000 registered riders for a grand week-long total of almost 250 million calories — or about 350,000 pork tenderloin sandwiches.


• 500: Number of entries in this year’s Guess the Route contest, about 100 more than last year. Two years ago, someone correctly predicted all eight of the overnight towns. Last year, the best anyone could do was six.

Will the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa roll through northern, southern or central Iowa this summer? The RAGBRAI XXXIX overnight towns will be revealed tonight, and there are six ways to see if the ride will visit your community:

Follow tonight’s announcement

LIVE VIDEO: Watch the announcement at Live video starts at 8:30 p.m., with Register hosts Kyle Munson and Erin Crawford.

TEXT ALERTS: Text the word “RAGBRAI” to 44636 to sign up for RAGBRAI text alerts.

TWITTER: Follow @RAGBRAI_IOWA for updates.

FACEBOOK: Become a fan of RAGBRAI on Facebook at

COMPLETE COVERAGE: We’ll have complete coverage of tonight’s event in the Des Moines Sunday Register, as well as maps and more information at after the overnight towns are announced.

TICKETS: A limited number of tickets remain, at $30, for the event, which runs from 8 to 11 p.m. at Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines. All proceeds benefit the Iowa Bicycle Coalition. For more information, visit


  1. Sandaltan

    Thanks and a tip of the hat to Rich for all his hard work. RAGBRAI Nation is populated by some great people!!!

  2. Jake D

    There may not be much about RAGBRAI that surprises Rich, but I was surprised to learn that on the hotest day in “99” we were supposed to wind up in Independence instead of Manchester. I guess I’ll have to start watching the route signs a little closer.

  3. jay hoss

    thats so awesome. now im pumped for this year. xli is going to b intense. im more ready than ever :)

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