RAGBRAI 2009 in a nutshell

Ragbrai is an annual bicycle tour across Iowa, with thousands of participants.  Here is a 5-minute snapshot of what it’s like.

Freeway of bicycles

  • Bikes out ahead on the road as far as you can see.
  • Only bikes, no cars.
  • You can talk with the other “drivers” — little conversations all day long.

Big campsites, small towns

  • Every day, pitch your tent in a new small town.
  • The tour is larger than most of the towns it passes through.
  • Towns prepare for months for our arrival.
  • The entire downtown is closed off and devoted to RAGBRAI — exhibits, concerts and food stalls.
  • When you leave town, throw your gear onto a truck to pick up in the next town — you don’t need to carry all your gear on your bike.

Eating, eating, eating

  • Cycling 70+ miles a day requires eating 1 to 2 extra meals a day.
  • Iowa’s specialties are fried pork sandwiches, pie at every meal, big meals prepared by local churches, and “walking taco,” a taco salad in a Doritos bag.
  • Churches serve big meals for riders.  Try the Methodist Meatloaf.

Strangest detail

  • Small towns have no laundromats, so how do you do laundry?  Walk into the shower with your bike clothes on, wash them on your body, then strip them off, wash yourself, and hang the clothes out to dry.


  • Biked in rain, wind, heat.
  • Huge windstorm at night.
  • Mini-tornado in camp (pictures here).
  • 4am hailstorm — heard pinging on bikes outside.  Snowplows had to clear roads for early riders.
  • Gigantic lightning storm lit up whole sky.
  • Tornado warning — flee camp!  We stayed in tents with clothes on, ready to run.  Storm never came.
  • Kids played in the storm:  pillowfights in tents, little ones chasing barefoot through camp in the rain.


  • Passed through over 30 small towns and villages, each very different.
  • Farmhouses
  • Corn, corn, corn.
  • Bikers make pit stops in cornfields.
  • Residents put chairs on their front lawns, and sit out all day watching the bikes go by.  ”Where ya from?” they ask.
  • This is the biggest event ever to occur in their quiet little towns.
  • Imagine an endless line of bicycles passing your house all day — thousands of bikes.
  • Each town we sleep in puts on a show — music, food, etc.  Indianola had hot air balloons.  Mount Pleasant had a working vintage steam tractor.
  • Kids set up lemonade and drink stands, making hundreds of dollars in a single day.

Tons of bicycle crashes

  • Ambulance passed me, lights on, at least a dozen times.
  • One guy stopped his bike, put his feet down, passed out and went over like a felled tree.
  • Another simply drove off the road into a 10-foot ditch.
  • A woman passed out on her moving bike.  Husband grabbed her handlebar, and both went down.
  • Another woman caught a wheel in a crack while descending a hill at 40mph.  Ewww.
  • I would estimate the odds of an injury crash during Ragbrai at 1 in 200.  That’s very high.

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