RAGBRAI - Guide for Virgins (Version 2.8)

by Wade H. Nelson wade727@wadenelson.com

may be freely distributed/republished/plagiarized/posted on your website, whatEVER!

Setting the Scene

You ride from one small town to the next in a line of bicycles two or three abreast. The line of bikes stretches as far as you can see in front of you and behind you. You meet and talk to hundreds of other cyclists along the way. Someone laid some carpet down over the cattle grates. It’s obvious the Department of Transportation repaved the rough spots and filled in the potholes before long before the cyclists arrived. Smiling Iowa Highway Patrolmen stop cars for cyclists at major intersections. Every mile or two there's a stand selling food or cold drinks. In the distance you spot a water tower--the next town!

As you roll into town folks are sitting on their porches smiling and waving. Some have put their lawn sprinklers out next to the street for you to ride through and cool off - aaahhhh! The kids stand by the curb to trade hi-fives and to spray you with their Super-Soakers. There's a block party with a live band down at the courthouse. Some local firm is offering free phone calls and email.Towns build archways of old bicycles for you to cycle under, and everywhere you look there are signs and banners graciously welcoming you to their small town

In the overnight towns, Iowa folks invite you to camp in their yards, even to stay in their houses. There's a beer garden waiting for you and your thirsty comrades,. There are bands on the squares of the towns you pass through. Several cyclists report having seen Elvis.. Church ladies set up buffets and serve you heaping platefuls of spaghetti, lasagna, barbecue, and the best home made desserts you ever ate. Everywhere you go people are cheering and waving.

Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa, and you're riding in RAGBRAI©, the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride across Iowa.

Here are a few pieces of advice I can offer you if this is going to be your first time riding in RAGBRAI. At the very bottom are a few "rules of the road" those of you who have never before cycled in a big group event will benefit from knowing, possibly preventing you from causing or getting snarled in a road-rashing accident. If you've never ridden four abreast, 3,000 deep, take a minute and read 'em.

First off, you'll probably want to get on a team to ride in RAGBRAI. Not just because it's easier to get tickets that way but because it's how you can have the most fun. A team either brings along a dedicated driver, or else the riders take turns driving a Winnebago, school bus, or team van from town to town. The vehicle hauls everyone's camping gear and sags anyone who gets pooped. Please note: The RAGBRAI organizers put together special maps for team drivers showing them the easiest way to get to the next town along alternate routes, since the route itself is closed to auto traffic. Otherwise, if you're registered, the Des Moines registers semi will haul your bags. Good luck finding them.

RAGBRAI is mainly a camping experience. Forget about getting a motel room. You won't unless RAGBRAI passes through a town the size of Des Moines. Perhaps your team gets assigned to camp in a school yard, on a football field, or some other large piece of grass, like in a city park.

I don't know if there is an "official" way to put in for housing or not. What I do know is an unofficial way that works for well-behaved teams. As soon as the route is posted (sometime in March?) send a letter to the Chamber of Commerce of the overnight towns. In it you include a description of the facilities you are ideally looking for (i.e. a backyard, a living room, access to a shower, # of people on your team, a plug-in for your Winnebago, etc). Include letters of reference from people you've stayed with before.

This year ('99) several of the overnight towns have websites with forms you can use to put in for housing. They are linked off the main RAGBRAI page www.ragbrai.com In all honesty, most of 'em don’t look like they’re up and running.

Camping - for everyone else.

In years past, large areas, like city parks, high school sports fields, and so on were "open" camping. Your sag driver would pick a spot, set up camp, and then let everyone else know where your team was camping. In recent years, it appears the RAGBRAI organizers have begun ASSIGNING spots for camping. Being too near the KYBO's is worse than being too far, because you'll hear the doors slamming all night. A pair of earplugs is a great thing to take on RAGBRAI.....

The Message Board

The heart of RAGBRAI is the message board. When you arrive in an overnight town the first thing you do is locate the message board. Someone from your team, i.e. the sag driver, has stapled up a piece of paper with your team name on it, and posted directions to where your team is camping. Smart teams pre-print uniquely colored or shaped pieces of cardboard so their signs are easy to spot - i.e. a red heart, or a neon-orange moon, or whatever. The really smart teams, well, on the way INTO town, they staple these onto trees, tape them onto utility poles..... directing riders on their team directly to the camping spot. Often, you bike over to the message board and then have to backtrack a mile or two to your camping spot! ugh!

Registering for RAGBRAI

You don't need tickets to ride in RAGBRAI, even though that's not what the Des Moines Register would have you believe. It's basically a lottery, although (I’m told) teams get preference. Roughly three quarters of the 14,000 riders register and pay the $90 fee. It's a good cause and pays for all the support so if you can afford it, please try to buy a ticket. Daily tickets are also available. A ticket affords you some emergency health insurance, as well as the ability to sag your luggage and camping gear on the official RAGBRAI tractor-trailer. (if you're NOT on a team)

There are also some charter tour companies which will haul you and your bike from the Des Moines airport to the start, and back from the end of the route. Names? Numbers can be found on the RAGBRAI website. Where else: www.ragbrai.com It appears they'll only haul you if you're a registered rider...

Training for RAGBRAI

You need to train for RAGBRAI. 500 miles beforehand is ideal, with a couple of 50 mile days under your belt. With 300 accumulated miles, you'll at least not die en-route. You can do it with less accumulated mileage, a lot less. People do. But you'll have a lot more fun if you'll spend six weeks getting in shape and gradually upping your distance. You'll arrive in the next town ready to party instead of wiped out. Or giving up because you blew a knee out, which is common among people who don't train.

Contrary to everyone's mental image, Iowa ain't flat. Parts of it are full of rolling hills, and by the end of the day you can find you've purchased 3000 vertical feet or more with blood, sweat and gears as your only currency. The heat and the humidity are the real challenges. You need to pace yourself each day, and all week long. Take a rest day if you need to instead of getting sick and missing the rest of the week. Bankroll some extra hours of sleep before you arrive at the start, since nobody sleeps the night before - at least not for long!


You've never enjoyed a ice cold shower as much as you will at the end of a day cycling across Iowa. Showers are where you find them, usually at the high schools but also at car washes? Think I'm kidding? I'm not. They install shower heads at the local car washes, put up a few curtains, and change the chemicals, slightly. On the selecter knob de-greaser is still there but they've added deodorant soap and for your final rinse, insect repellant! Look for showers also at neighborhood pools. In the old days a towel sticking out of a mailbox indicated a local willing to let riders use their shower.

I see a lot of cyclists simply wearing their black cycling pants & lycra jerseys right into the showers and doing the "wash AND wear" routine. Easier than finding a sink.

My one beef with the RAGBRAI organizers is they don't get those semi-tractor trailer showers in EVERY town, probably because the towns couldn't charge you $2 for showers at the local high school then. These amazing vehicles have 16 separate showers and all the hot water you could ever want. Word up--whenever you talk to a RAGBRAI official, tell them "Bring back the shower trucks!"


Complaining on RAGBRAI is allowed only by first time riders. The correct response(s) to complaints are:

If anyone complains about hills, say "Hills just make you stronger."

If anyone complains about headwinds, say "Headwinds just make you tougher"

If anyone complains about the heat or humidity, say "It makes you thirsty, doesn't it? Next beer's on you!"


You can do RAGBRAI on amazingly little money. $25 or $30 a day will do fine, mostly for food and gallons of ice tea, bottled water and lemonade. Yeah, there's free water, but it's usually tap warm. You'll want to stuff your bike-bag with lots of one dollar bills, since almost everything's a buck or two and change. I recommend a small fanny pack to carry your money and valuables in.

Bike Seats

There are no magic bike seats, although purists swear by Brooks all-leather saddles. Gel pads seem like a great idea, but in reality will only make your butt blisters worse. The only solution is prevention: Riding enough beforehand to get your butt hardened up. The reality is a bike seat isn't something you park your ass on, rather, it's something your sit bones pivot back and forth on as you pedal. Consequently you want things slippery - hence the nylon bike shorts.


Bring extra money for RAGBRAI t-shirts. Buy a new one every day instead of hauling excess clothing with you. Mail your dirty laundry home. Who wants to do laundry on a week long party like this? There aren't NEARLY enough laundromats in Iowa's small towns for 14,000 sweaty cyclists. So wash your clothes with you in the shower and then put on fresh ones while your "laundered" ones hang out to dry. RABRAI is really one gigantic clothes line. Really. If you MUST do laundry, I suggest you knock on the door of some kind Iowinian and ask to use their machines. Teams, don’t forget to bring clothesline rope and clothespins!


You need a decent bike, preferably a road bike. If what you've got happens to be a mountain bike, invest in a set of slick road tires instead of those knobbies and you'll have a much easier go of things. No point working any harder than you have to, eh? Want the ultimate tour? Ride a recumbent on RAGBRAI. Last year I saw a guy with a 'bent with a little Surrey top! Man was I jealous, seeing him riding along in the shade!

The question isn't "Why should I ride a recumbent?" The question is "Why AREN'T you riding a comfortable recumbent?"

2001 was my first year riding RAGBRAI on an upright, road bike. I'd always done RAGBRAI on a recumbent before. By Wednesday my ass was so sore I could hardly bear it, and my hands and wrists were shot. I had to take a day off just to let my ass recover. Next year, I'll take both bikes and trade off. Uprights certainly climb better, but 'bents force you to pace yourself better, and after 100 miles, NOTHINGHURTS!

Get your bike tuned up at your local shop at least two weeks before RAGBRAI. There's a mad rush for tune-ups immediately before RAGBRAI. Shops sometimes screw up and you want to get a few miles in AFTER your tune-up to make sure everything's right, while you still have time to get it fixed if it isn't. You can get a minor tune-up for $30. Most bikes I see need a major tune-up for around $80 for an event like RAGBRAI. A set of fresh tires are a must!

If you happen to be a non-cyclist who's doing RAGBRAI the Nike way (Just do it!) be sure and buy yourself a couple pairs of REAL biking shorts, with the chamois pad inside. These are worn without underwear, and the seams are strategically located not to chafe holes in your, well, privates. Always spin those pedals! Don't bear down and grind your way up hills or you'll destroy your knees before the second day's over. (I’ve seen amateurs with knees swollen to the size of cantaloupes!) The best biking rule of thumb I can offer anyone, novices or experts, is to find the right gear, and then shift down to one gear LOWER than what feels right. Trust me!


Every year some asshole tacks the road. Bring extra inner tubes so if you're one of the unlucky ones you can fix your tires and go on. You can't patch a tube with a dozen holes in it, which is why you need to carry a couple of spare tubes and not just a patch kit.

First Aid

Your four most likely injuries on RAGBRAI are:

  • Dehydration/Sunstroke
  • Destroyed knees (lack of training, grinding up hills)
  • Saddle sores (lack of training)
  • Sunburn

Anyone with an IQ over 70 ought to be able to figure out how to avoid all of these. Aspirin and ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) are excellent anti-inflammatories and can be taken in combination for sore knees. Pain is your body's way of telling you to stop doing something. Keep riding on swollen, painful knees and you may find yourself not only unable to ride, but facing arthroscopic surgery to try and undo some of the damage you've done. They'll never be the same again. So get off your bike and walk those hills if you need to. Here's the rule: If you're in your very lowest gear and grinding your way up a hill at less than 80 rpm's, get off the bike and walk.

Safety Sessions

I've heard a rumor to the effect that safety sessions are conducted at cemeteries along the route.


How do you get on a team? Well, you meet people the first time you do RAGBRAI and either get invited or invite yourself to join them. (Don't worry, you'll do it again and again after you do it the first time.) Or you can get on Internet and look for a team to join up with. Or you can form your own team. All you really need is a really rude suggestive team name. And some rude and suggestive friends.

Teams get "preference" for tickets because (I’m told) they tend to be self-policing of their own rowdy members. If the entire team gets too rowdy, they don’t get tickets the next year. RAGBRAI is mostly an adult event. The demographics show more 40-50 year olds than 20-30 year olds, so RAGBRAI tends to be a bit less wild than most events of this size. Think "Woodstock of Yuppies with an average income of $60K+"

RAGBRAI has dozens of famous (and infamous) teams, including team ROAD KILL (infamous), which plasters fresh road kill with their team stickers. There’s TEAM GOURMET (famous), which brings along a chef to cook for them. TEAM BAD BOY (infamous) brings along a full bar and kitchen sink - on the back of their bikes! They’re an self-contained, rolling party complete with groupies. There are hundreds of teams from all over the country. I ride with RAWHIDE RIDERS (quasi-famous) Be sure and get beaded if you see one of our teamsters!


Hey, it's RAGBRAI. What can I say? Just don't expect me to ride with you in the morning, OK?

Diaper Rash

Nothing ever gets completely dry in Iowa, not your clothes, not your sleeping bag, not your bike shorts. It's too humid. Diaper rash can quickly become a problem. A little baby powder will help, or you can use Gold Bond or Dr Scholl's foot powder for soothing prevention. The latter two contain ingredients that kill the fungus that causes both athlete's foot and jock itch, so you use them both in your bike shorts and on your feet. Aaaahhhhh! (The one or two people each year who actually take my advice on this inevitably become powder addicts like myself!)


No one knows for sure if the original porta-potties were designed by the KYBO Manufacturing company or whether that's just RAGBRAI folklore. Whatever. On RAGBRAI, kybo simply means "Keep Your Bowels Open." Cornfields are fair game, and hey, one of those tiny packets of Kleenex can come in darned handy.... watching cyclists coming out of the cornfield is kind of like seeing "Field of Dreams" except it's "Field of, well, nevermind....

The Party Town

Invariably? Inevitably?, the last town BEFORE the overnight town is where the biggest party is. If you're planning to get hammered or go home to somebody else's tent be sure and let someone on your team know so they don’t end up looking for you. And don’t ride in the dark. Intoxicated cyclists, riding after dark, are a huge liability not only to themselves but to other riders, motorists, and RAGBRAI itself. Have your team drive it's bus to the party town to sag everyone who can't make it in by dark.


There are several mobile bicycle repair shops out on the course. Of course, they aren't going to be anywhere near the place where YOU break down, and the lines for repairs are ALWAYS long. So get your bike tuned up BEFORE you arrive and carry at least a couple of tools with you, i.e. a multi-tool, a patch kit or spare tube, and some tire spoons. At least a little self-sufficiency will let the repair wagons focus on helping the people with major bike problems instead of fixing flats. If you need help fixing a flat or anything else, just ask, there are plenty of people willing to help you!

Lock your bike?

Only a few bikes get stolen every year at RABRAI, usually in the overnight towns. Considering the thousands of unlocked bikes, and the amazing value of them all, what's surprising is that more don't get stolen. Personally, I never lock my bike during RAGBRAI. But I do suggest this; Watch not only your own bike but others. Trust your instincts. If you see someone surveying bikes and then walking away with one immediately enlist 2-3 friends to go with you and challenge them. If they're registered, their ID wristband will match the one on the bike. If they're not registered, then ask them to look away and tell you what type derailler, wheels, and tyres are on the bike they're walking away with. Almost all cyclists who own a bike worth stealing knows exactly how their bike is equipped.


A friend once told me "New York may have its theater, and California its beaches, but Iowa's got good people." It's true. The people of Iowa are the kindest, most honest, caring, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth types in America. If you need help of any sort, don't hesitate to ask an Iowan. RAGBRAI is a big event for people in these small towns and most if not all of them enjoy helping cyclists out whenever and however possible, as well as coming out in the overnight towns to help us celebrate. Get to know as many Iowans as you can during RAGBRAI and you'll make friends for life.


It always rains during RAGBRAI. This ain't Southern California. Be prepared. Big trash bags work great as rain ponchos and when it quits, you just throw them away! Before you stake your tent, THINK! If it rains, will you wake up in a creek? Put a baggy or shower cap over your bike seat at night to keep it dry. Bike computers don't like rain either. So put a condom on 'em.


Iowa gets summer storms, with lotsa lightning. You're riding a METAL bike (unless you own a carbon fiber one, which conducts electricity even better). So USE YOUR HEAD, DON'T END UP DEAD! Most storms blow through in less than an hour, so take a break and get out of harm's way! The only thing that's surprising to me is that MORE riders haven't gotten hit by lightning in years past.

See also "Dying on RAGBRAI" at bottom of article….

What did I take to RAGBRAI?

  • A Bicycle. Seems basic, doesn't it?
  • Helmet, 2 pr Bike shorts, & Bike gear
  • Spare tire, extra tubes & basic bike tools
  • Camping Gear - tent, very lightweight sleeping bag (dreamsack), pad, pillow
  • lightweight cot - reduces night sweating!
  • A pair of walking shorts
  • Rain gear - x-large trash bags work great!
  • A fanny pack- very helpful!
  • Walking shoes or sandals (I carry aquasox with me on my bike since I can't walk in
  • my cleated shoes, shower shoes work well also)
  • Extra pedal cleats, since speedplays not available everywhere!
  • Sunglasses (and spare pair), hats or visors...
  • Sunscreen and lip gloss! Lots! Nose-Kote. Lots of insect repellant.
  • 2 big fluffy towels
  • Shave/shower stuff. disposable Mini-Hotel soaps work great.
  • Camera. Disposables are the best.
  • Toilet paper. Sometimes the kybos run short. Mini-Kleenex packs!
  • Aspirin, Ibuprofen and band-aids
  • Ear plugs!
  • Cell phone
  • A great attitude
  • and of course, duct tape ;)

Daily Ride Bike-Bag List:

Credit Card
Water Bottles
Pump, Spoons, tube & patch kit
Rain Jacket or Poncho or Trash Bag
Sunscreen / Lip Gloss
Walking shoes
Tool Kit
Powerbar or snack


Somewhere along the route you'll have the chance to have your photo professionally taken. The way it works is this, you stop and get a number, kind of like the numbered bib the give you at races. You attach this to your handlebars. Then when you pass the cameraman, he sees you have a # and snaps your photo. Days later you go to their booth at the exhibitors area and search for your number.

Or you can just buy a cheap disposable camera and have a friend take your photo!


You don't need to bother printing out the RAGBRAI route maps. You couldn't get lost in this ocean of bikes if you tried. Even if you leave at 4:30 am, don't worry, 500 other cyclists left before you did and you can follow their flashing lights in the distance.

BTW, you're not supposed to start before 6 a.m., and will all you people who wake up at 5 am feeling cheerful please SHUT THE HELL UP and cut out all that "WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY" crap until the rest of us get our second cup of coffee, or at least 9am? Oh, and people, how about gently SHUTTING kybo doors instead of letting them SLAM shut. Thanks. zzz.

For you way-early starters, you’re going to need a bike headlight and taillight! And don't ride after dark! Too many people staying too late in the party towns is what caused the organizers to fuck up RAGBRAI XXIX so badly, trying to cut down on the partying. The partying isn't the problem, its inebriated cyclists riding after dark that's the problem! Be part of the solution, not the problem, puhlEEZE!


Dehydration is a real problem during RAGBRAI. Dehydration will sap you of your strength - your first clue! Severe dehydration can put you face down on the asphalt with heat stroke. Here’s your second clue: If you don’t need to get off your bike and pee once in a while, you’re not drinking nearly enough water - you may need to drink as much as 3-4 gallons on a hot Iowa day! Your third clue: Leg cramps.

Because you’re sweating like a pig, you’re going to need some electrolyte (salt) replenishment as well as just water - i.e. Gatorade or PowerAde. Don’t guzzle too much Gatorade at once; it can give you a mean stomach ache. I recommend alternating one bottle of Gatorade or other electrolyte replacement drink with every two or three bottles of water. Some people dilute these drinks to half-strength.

Sorry, but beer doesn’t count; alcohol actually dehydrates you even further. Drink a few glasses of water before you start pounding beers and you’ll recover faster in the morning - dehydration is a major contributor to a nasty hangover.

Before I went to RAGBRAI the first time I had 2 extra water bottle cages installed, thinking, hmm, 65-95 miles a day, need to carry at least 3 bottles. Didn't. Because of all the vendors one bottle will get you through all but the longest, driest spots. Two is plenty.

The trick to successful long distance cycling is this: Drink before you're thirsty, eat before you're hungry. Practice taking a sip off your water bottle every time the person in front of you changes gears or every time you hear the word "beer." Apply more sunscreen every time you refill a bottle….


A very attractive, interesting nutritionist I met on RAGBRAI XXIV told me all about nutrition, the "glycogen window," target heart rates, burning fat vs. burning glycogen, etc. It all boils down to this: Take it easy, pace yourself riding, eat like a pig, drink water/gatorade continually, and whatever you're craving - like lettuce or vegetables or ice cream? That's your body telling you something. LISTEN and OBEY! And one last thing the nutritionist told me, provided you drink lots of water too, a beer or two after riding can actually be great for you!


RAGBRAI is about chowin' down. Along the route you'll see food vendors like PorkChopMan, FreezeYourNoggin, the Lemonade people, the home-made ice cream people, the Dove Barn, and a dozen others. These beloved food vendors come back year after year. They set up their tents, chow wagons, etc. in strategic places along the route.

In the mornings, you'll see pancake breakfasts put on by Kiwanis Clubs and all sorts of other groups. At night, buffets at local churches and other locales feed the masses. In my experience the church buffets are usually the best eats. The ladies will often slide you an extra piece of that delicious homemade pie - but be sure and get there before they run out! I've personally had some bad experiences with restaurant buffets. They're frequently not prepared to handle one hundred times their usual number of customers and they either run short, or end up serving half-cooked spaghetti. I suggest you find restaurants you can order off the menu instead. Or join Team Gourmet!

 Riding in a big, big pack....

Cyclists who have never ridden in a big tour or race need to know a few "rules of the road" to avoid causing, or being in a collision with other cyclists. Believe me, you can go to the hospital just as fast getting hit by another cyclist as getting hit by a car. Here are a few basic rules and signals:

 VERBAL SIGNALS - You yell these...please!

"Car up!"


Car approaching cyclists from the front


"Car back!"


Car approaching cyclists from the rear


"Pulling in/out"


Whenever you are going to pull off the road and stop, or get back in, let folks behind you know! Some people yell "Bike On!" or "Bike Off" instead.


"On your left"


Means a cyclist is about to pass you. Hold your line, don't turn, look, and consequently swerve into their path. It's a polite way of saying "Don’t' cause me to hit YOU!"




Means either you or the entire pack is slowing down and you don't want cyclists behind you ramming you. You'll hear this whenever there's an accident up ahead or a cyclist goes down so PAY ATTENTION!




Rumble strips in the road, helps cyclists behind you avoid 'em. Hint: Rumbles are usually in sets of three and can usually be avoided by going into the LEFT (oncoming) lane




Someone's stuck in a kybo that's out of paper. Look for a hand waving out the door and help them out if you can spare a square.


Hand signals - A cyclist in front of you pointing down generally indicates either gravel, glass, potholes, rumbles or something else for YOU to try and avoid.


Riding Right….

Lack of attention causes more accidents than anything else.

The most courteous thing cyclists can do is to "Ride Right" and "Hold Your Line." Riding right means staying to the right side of the road UNLESS you are overtaking another cyclist. If you're chatting with someone try and resist the natural tendency to take up the entire lane, forcing other cyclists out into the other lane to pass. Holding your line means riding in a straight line.

If you're the slowest bike climbing a hill, you should be the furthest to the right. Simple, right? Ride Right!

While training for RAGBRAI practice turning your head to look over your shoulder without swerving. Practice grabbing your water bottle without swerving. If you swerve to your left you're endangering yourself AND any cyclists overtaking you. Don’t worry about what’s behind you. If everyone watches and avoids hitting whoever is directly ahead of them, the whole thing works. Trust me.

When someone says "On your left" what they are really saying, courteously, is "You'd better Hold your line or you’re likely to get hit!"


 Lookout, here comes a Paceline ……

Pacelines are a way to go faster by riding directly behind another cyclist, also known as drafting. When battling a headwind a paceline can be invaluable. Performed properly, a paceline is a beautiful piece of bicycle ballet. They're also a recipe for disaster, and HIGHLY frowned upon by RAGBRAI's organizers. So read up!

In general, if you've never practiced drafting other cyclists or riding in pacelines with your cycling club you ought to stay the hell out of them. They are a fast way to get hurt. Do you want to spend two days in an Iowa hospital because you wanted to go 4 mph faster? If you're going to draft or jump onto the rear of a paceline, pay absolute attention and ride with your fingertips on your brake levers. Otherwise you can expect to end up in a major, injury-producing pileup.

Paceline courtesy means riders take turn "Pulling the train," not just "Wheel sucking" a tandem or a stronger rider for miles on end. In a properly executed paceline each rider "pulls" for sixty seconds or so and then "recycles" along the left side of the paceline back to the rear where they "get on board" once again. Nicely executed, it's a beautiful thing to watch. The goal of a paceline, BTW, isn't to go as fast as you can, rather, it's to PACE yourself at a slighly higher speed than you could ride individually, while STILL expending less energy than you would riding alone.

Paceline leaders need to think about riders at the END of the paceline when oncoming vehicles approach. Get over early enough for the LAST guy to get over safely as well. Yell "SLOWING" if the paceline needs to slow down in order to move over. Everyone in the paceline should echo "SLOWING!" to paceline riders behind them.

The organizers of RAGBRAI utterly despise pacelines, because there are so many irresponsible ones going too fast and out of control, screaming at other riders to get out of their way. Don't get in those supersonic pacelines. They're an accident waiting to happen.

Final Advice

It turns out the heat and the humidity are your real challenges on RAGBRAI, not the miles or the hills. I've seen 75 year old guys complete RAGBRAI riding one speed bikes. How? By starting early each day before it gets too warm and pacing themselves, walking the steeps, and staying well hydrated. Most of ‘em seem to wear big floppy hats as well.

The RAGBRAI organizers report the majority of injuries are due to lack of conditioning. In other words severely blistered butts and grapefruit-size knees. Only training can prevent these. If you need to sag, sag. Never do anything TODAY which will prevent you from riding tomorrow! Don’t grind up hills! Gear down, then, get off and walk if you need to!

We'll see you there next July. I'll be on my Litespeed wearing a Stars&Stripes helmet. If you read this, and see me, be sure and yell "Hey Wade!" This year I'll riding a little slower and enjoying myself a little bit more than last year. Realistically, the only thing you can do wrong at RAGBRAI is ride too fast and miss meeting all the great people and stopping in all the great Iowa towns.


About the author:

Wade Nelson is a freelance writer who lives in Durango Colorado, Last of the Great Ski Towns. He snowboards in the winter and rides road bikes in the summer. 1997 was Wade's first year riding RAGBRAI. He's single, claims to be virile, good looking... and rides with Rawhide Riders. On RAGBRAI look for a Litespeed or a funky black recumbent with a little bitty California license plate of "WADE" and a "StarsNStripes" helmet.

If you enjoyed this article or can think of anything else to add to it to be sure and drop me an email at wadesub262@wadenelson.com




and if that wasn't enough….