Ready, Set, Pedal: Celebrating 50 years of RAGBRAI


Get your shorts on, pedal enthusiasts! The annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, fondly known as RAGBRAI, is back with a bang as it celebrates its 50th year! With excitement already bubbling over, this golden jubilee is all set to hit record numbers of registration and to doff its hat to half a century of history and memories.

What is RAGBRAI?

So, what is RAGBRAI all about, you ask? Well, it’s Iowa’s hottest summer bash on wheels, with Iowans often jesting that it’s the world’s biggest traveling fiesta. This sizzling seven-day cycle spree kickstarts near the Missouri River in western Iowa, with every day unveiling a new route that culminates on the shores of the mighty Mississippi. Year after year, the course twists and turns, making sure virtually every corner of Iowa gets a taste of the action!

Tracing the Journey of RAGBRAI

It all began back in 1973 when John Karras and Donald Kaul from the Des Moines Register, decided to create a cross-state bicycle ride. Inviting their readers to join in the fun, they pedaled off from Sioux City with a few hundred enthusiastic fellow cyclists. Today, RAGBRAI stands as a separate organization within Gannett Co. and pulls in tens of thousands of riders from across the globe, with this year’s numbers tipped to be off the charts.

RAGBRAI 2023: The Route

So, ready to join the party? Get set to embark on a scenic route that echoes the original 1973 ride. Here’s a sneak peek at the start and finish lines for each day’s route:

  • Sunday, July 23: Sioux City to Storm Lake.
  • Monday, July 24: Storm Lake to Carroll.
  • Tuesday, July 25: Carroll to Ames.
  • Wednesday, July 26: Ames to Des Moines.
  • Thursday, July 27: Des Moines to Tama-Toledo.
  • Friday, July 28: Tama-Toledo to Coralville.
  • Saturday, July 29: Coralville to Davenport.

More than Just Cycling

Now, don’t think it’s all work and no play. Each chosen town competes to outdo the others with evening festivities that are bursting with bands, tantalizing food vendors, and of course, flowing beer. Cyclists can rest their weary legs in campgrounds, parks, rented home spaces, or even comfy motor homes.

In the daytime, they pedal through “pass-through towns”, small communities that gather to cheer the riders and offer refreshments, from home-baked goodies to a simple, refreshing gulp of water from a garden hose.

RAGBRAI also designates “meet-up towns” around halfway on each day’s route, serving as a convenient rendezvous spot to regroup with friends, grab a bite from local vendors, or even catch a ride on a support-and-gear “SAG wagon” if the going gets too tough.

The Rides

While you shouldn’t expect any mandatory 100-plus mile rides this year, prepare yourself for some serious cycling, with the longest route stretching 83 miles from Carroll to Ames. And for the ambitious cyclists, there’s an optional century loop on Day 3 for an impressive 100-mile achievement.

The shortest ride? That’ll be a breezy 50-mile journey from Ames to Des Moines on July 26. Don’t let the distance fool you, though – there’s still a hefty 3,652 feet of elevation gain to conquer on July 27, along with other challenging climbs throughout the week.

Highlights of the Journey

And what would a ride be without a few surprises? Expect the 50th-anniversary route to be dotted with delights, from delicious church lady pies and craft beers to big-name bands, spontaneous dancing, and even goat yoga. But the highlight? That might just be the sheer joy and camaraderie that defines RAGBRAI.

Join the Action

Keen to be a part of the action? Simply head over to the RAGBRAI website to register. All the costs associated with organizing the event are covered, and you’ll get access to ambulance and paramedic services, SAG wagon rides, and special discounts.

Remember, RAGBRAI isn’t a race. While some of the more competitive cyclists may be inclined to have some friendly sprints, it’s ultimately about the journey: cruising through Iowa’s picturesque landscapes, making connections, and simply enjoying the ride of a lifetime. See you there!

Credit: Gibson
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