• Posted Jul 6, 2005

Thoughts of RAGBRAI after 3 beers and a deep fat fried taco...

RAGBRAI can mean so many things to so many people. I often hear RAGBRAI being touted as a 'forbidden' word amongst the hard code cycling crowds.... usually the racing community. That's cool, everyone has their opinion. I'm here to tell you that RAGBRAI is a Great event for Iowa and it DOES have something to offer for EVERYONE! Not only do cyclists from all 50 states and 10+ countries attend the ride, it also adds a cycling awareness throughout Iowa in July and most of the summer. PLUS It's a great economic boost for small Iowa communities and the state. RAGBRAI does have a full spectrum of cyclists on the ride from your 7 year old who recently lost his/her training wheels to the goal-setting dieter who lost 40 pounds and is looking to sport that new body to the 20-something party animal. Every hour each day captures a little different genre.
  • Don't like the party scene? You're too far back!
  • Don't like all the families and inexperienced riders? you're too far up!
Ahhh... now for some genre stereo-typing with some hints and ideas along the way! Enjoy the read...
Mountain Bikers You think the Trans-Iowa was too extreme? Pick one or more days and GO gravel....! Take the knobby 'mo-chine' and pound it out. It may be some of the best endurance training you get all year. Get a good atlas like the Iowa Atlas and Gazetteer that shows gravel roads Gravel is challenging and usually pretty hilly with some rollers. Still ride into the towns for good replenishing food! and catch an evening beer garden.
Roadies (note to self: Man, I've got to work this group... bone up on roadie slang and talk the talk. You can win them over!) What a great week - You've got a 7 day mini-stage tour right in front of you! And all those slow cyclists in the way.... Treat 'em as lap traffic! Whether you're sucking diesel or tail gunning, you can maneuver around other riders. I know the RAGBRAI is not conducive to a large peleton-like group of racers taking up a whole lane. Here's two words for you 'Single File'... (just kiddin' !) Small groups work well during the day and with enough "vocal support" other cyclists WILL get out of the way. Take a breather and chat with someone new while riding.
    Other ideas
  • Go 5-10 miles north or south and find another untraveled county road to race on.
  • Ride one day ahead of the route (food is abundant and everyone is very happy to see you!)
  • Capture Breedlove's magic moments and ride 1-3 days at a time or go all the way and get it done in a day
  • Ride the route backwards. It's all right until you cross the route, then food is scarce and the "friendly communities" aren't so friendly anymore.
  • Flip a coin to see who gets to be Lance for the day and who is Hincapie...Go all out and bring a yellow jersey that you can trade each day (just wash it first!)
  • Still Don't want to get near the RAGBRAI route??? Plan your own mini-tour on the other side of the state! Traffic will be much more aware of cyclists that week no matter where you are! Use this awareness to your advantage! You are on vacation too!

Tourers You've "been there, done that" on RAGBRAI and looking for a change. You've got panniers and maybe a trailer to haul your gear. You are self-contained and can go anywhere! Same ride, different adventure. Not ready for a long hilly route? Add to the adventure and find a short-cut. You have nothing to prove by riding each and every mile. That is what you did 5 years ago! Who says you have to make it to the overnight town? you've got your own gear and you're on vacation! Enjoy! Looking for something different? Take a 3-4 extra days and ride to the start of RAGBRAI. It's like a pilgrimage. The closer you get the more people you hook up with. Plus everyone you meet is in awe of your 'extra miles' and you often get a beer and maybe a meal bought for you just for the 'discussion factor' you may be offered a shower and a comfortable place to stay too!
Families Is 60-80 miles per day a family ride? Not for most families I know. If your last name is not Armstrong or Lemond, then you may want to have the in-laws drive a support vehicle when little Johnny decides he has had too much. You don't have to ride 70 miles to 'experience' RAGBRAI! Don't get me wrong, You and your family can definitely make the ride. Just plan your day accordingly with rest stops and plenty of fluids and sunscreen.
Party Teams No explanation here! This is a genre of cyclist who were bred from 'normal' cycling culture and have adapted over the years to a "I'm on vacation this week and cycling is only part what I'm going to do this week" freak-ish stature. The party biker can be associated with the Hyena. They come in packs. They come it, "tear it up" and leave in search of another meal. Most party teams have a Team Name and an accompanying theme. The bus is the second vehicle to the party biker. Buses were hatched from past years with very hilly routes where riders decided to only do part of the route or could not complete the route in the allotted time. The bus is a safe haven from the elements and can carry a whole team with bikes and gear. Don't get me wrong, there are many RAGBRAI teams that don't fit the "party team" definition and don't deserve the bad rap that some of the party teams get. A sense of commaradarie can be attained from being a member of a team.
First Timers You're setting at work and someone says something about this ride in Iowa. They or a friend have done it or are planning to. You over hear that these "RAGBRAI-ers" ride 60+ miles per day from small town to small town and some drink during the ride. Beer slide...?? what is that ?!? You are intrigued, and want to find out more. Several internet searches later, and a few inquiries from your savvy coworkers, you are planning your first RAGBRAI trip. It seems like super-human at first. How can I ride that far in a day? It's already mid-spring and you starting a training plan. You either get out the old ratty bike or you buy a brand new lower-end bike (those with the ratty bikes will later regret that decision). You work up to 10 miles 2-3 times a week and then 20-40 miles on a Saturday. Then there is that first 60+ mile day. You are ready! As RAGBRAI approaches, you start a packing list . It is a fine line to take too much or not enough... Just remember there is most likely a Wal-mart in most overnight towns. Cash talks and Wal-marters listen. It is a week you will never forget. Note: Be prepared that RAGBRAI is a life changing event. You won't be the same afterwards. You will negotiate vacation on the last week in July for your new job. You now have a bike rack on your car. You know what padded shorts are for. You may have a pair of sandals (keep readin' for more on this...) and cornfields hold a special place in your heart. The next year, you talk some of your friends and coworkers into going after showing them your pictures and telling the stories of the cycling gypsies, the locals and the Iowa farmland.
Out of Staters You come from a land out East or maybe the West coast... where the hustle and bustle is too much to do a tour like this in your own state. You are amazed by the friendli-ness of the riders and communities. $2.25 for a beer vs.. $6.50 where you are from (this is great!). A $1.00 slice of pie... You're listening... You enjoy hearing the "local's" stories and they enjoy hearing yours. You might touch your first piglet or see a hay bale made into a giant bicycle. You cannot believe the sites from the saddle; the miles of bikes in front of you and the miles of bikes behind you. You get to know the Iowa State Patrol Officers by name from the road crossing stops and strike up a conversation with them the next day. How can they wear those brown polyester uniforms on a 90 degree day? You soon find a second family, known as "Iowans". You come back each year. You meet old and new friends. It's a week you hate to see end. You start planning for next year's RAGBRAI on the flight/drive home.
Sandal-People The "Sandal People" are a growing tribe of cyclists who derive from the Midwest and have morphed into all cycling genres. They dawn their feet with sandals. Sandals with cleats. "Sandal People" can be identified off-season by their criss-crossing tan lines on their feet. Criss-crossing tan lines have been spotted late into the winter months. "Sandal People" tend to wear their sandals year-round often enclosing their foot into a wool sock before dawning the sandal. If you've ever done a ride in another state, and own a pair of Lake or Shimano sandals you've probably heard the comments; "You're going to ride in those Tivas all day?", "Sandals with cleats?" Or maybe you were just snubbed by some dude in some faded off-color jersey/short combo walking corn-cob-like with those Look shoes. People, if you don't have the sandals, you have no idea what you are missing. Iowa is the World's TOP-SELLER of Lake and Shimano sandals. Most Iowa Bike Shops carry the sandals or they can be special ordered if you reside in a non-sandaling community. Just be prepared to defend yourself from the bewildered look of the sales clerk when inquiring about them.
Other freakish modes of human powered perspiration Each year you have some freaks who take a different mode of transportation across the state. Rollerblades, unicycles or the high-wheelers. All are definitely unique, but a little hint for the rollerbladers - check the route for gravel roads cause it "sucks to be you" when you are walking 5 miles to get to the next stretch of pavement. I know, I know, it seemed like a novel idea at first, but take it from those who have done it. You are slower than a normal cyclist, you cannot coast, and you will be riding longer hours and certainly not having the fun after the ride like all the other kids. Sure you will get your name and picture in the paper, but is that reporter popping your blister, rubbing in your sunscreen and giving a reach-around the next day? I don't think so! The unicycle guys were impressive "that one year". Up the hills with an awkward lean, but man, they did it! - Kudos to them (betcha they won't do it again!) High wheelers are cool and have that antiquity novelty to them. Keep them in town or on short jaunts. Face plants are not fun from that height! Note: I didn't include recumbents into the "Other freakish modes of human powered perspiration" category. Banned in the 1930';s from racing, these low riding wheel suckers have finally made it mainstream! You see more and more recumbents each year, and you don't have to be an old fat man with a bad knee to ride one!
No matter what you think of RAGBRAI, this event in July lands Iowa on the map as a cycling Mecca for the week! Let's keep RAGBRAI around for another 30 years!
Scott Sumpter

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