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RAGBRAI is an acronym for Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. It is a non-competitive bicycle ride across Iowa that draws recreational riders from across the United States and overseas.[1] They ride from a community on Iowa's western border to a community on Iowa's eastern border, stopping in towns across the state. RAGBRAI is limited to 8,500 week-long riders and 1,500 day riders.[1]

Ragbrai is open to all kinds of people

The length of the route averages 472 miles[1] Eight "host communities" are selected each year; one each for the beginning and end points, while the other six are overnight stops. The distance between host communities is on average sixty-eight miles.[1] At the beginning of the ride, riders traditionally dip the rear wheel of their bikes in either the Missouri River or the Big Sioux River (depending on the starting point of the ride). At the end, the riders dip the front wheels in the Mississippi River.

In 2008, RAGBRAI began on July 19 and ended on July 26. The 2008 route started in Missouri Valley and continued to Harlan, Jefferson, Ames, Tama/Toledo, North Liberty, Tipton, and ended in LeClaire near the Quad Cities.[2] Recently, within the state, the ride has gained the name "The Great Race Across Iowa." The 2009 started in Council Bluffs and passed through the towns of Red Oak, Greenfield, Indianola, Chariton, Ottumwa, Mount Pleasant, and Burlington from July 18 - 25.




First year

RAGBRAI began in 1972 when Des Moines Register feature writers John Karras and Donald Kaul decided to go on a bicycle ride across Iowa. Both men were avid cyclists. Kaul would write articles about what he experienced during this ride.

The newspaper's management approved of the plan. Don Benson, a public relations director at the Register, was assigned to coordinate the event. The newsmen invited the public to accompany them.

The ride was planned to start on August 26 in Sioux City and end in Davenport on August 31. The overnight stops were Storm Lake, Fort Dodge, Ames, Des Moines and Williamsburg. The Register informed readers of the event, and the planned route. The ride was informally referred to as "The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride".

Some 300 cyclists began the ride in Sioux City; 114 of them rode the entire route. A number of other people rode part of the route. Attendance was light the first year. The ride was announced with only six weeks' notice and it conflicted with the first week of school and the final weekend of the Iowa State Fair.

After the ride was over, Kaul and Karras wrote numerous articles that captured the imaginations of many readers. Among those who completed the 1973 ride was 83-year-old Clarence Pickard of Indianola. He rode a used ladies Schwinn and wore a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, woolen long underwear and a silver pith helmet. The newspaper received many calls and letters from people who wanted to go on the ride but were unable to for various reasons. Because of this public response/demand a second ride was scheduled for August 4-10 (1974), before the Iowa State Fair.

Second year

The 1974 ride, known as the Second Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (or SAGBRAI), was more carefully planned. The Iowa State Patrol was involved in the planning, and arrangements were made to have medical services available for riders. For the first time, the route was driven in advance. The overnight communities involved were Atlantic, Guthrie Center, Camp Dodge (which is near Des Moines), Marshalltown, Waterloo and Monticello, with the ride finishing in the riverfront city of Dubuque.

Subsequent years

After the second year, the ride continued to grow in popularity. The RAGBRAI name, with Roman numerals following it, was adopted for RAGBRAI III in 1975; thus, the 2008 ride was RAGBRAI XXXVI. The ride eventually moved to the last full week in July, starting on Sunday and ending on Saturday.

Over the years, 25 people have died during the ride itself or from injuries suffered on the ride. Only four of these deaths resulted from injuries sustained while actually riding on bicycles. On Saturday, July 25, 2009, the fourth and most recent fatality, Donald D. Myers from Rolla, Missouri, occurred because of injuries sustained in a crash at the bottom of the hill near Geode Lake dam at Geode State Park.[3] Most of the deaths were due to heart attacks that riders suffered while resting. On the first night of the 2005 ride, Michael Thomas Burke - a native of Donnellson, Iowa who was living in New York City - died when a storm blew a tree limb down on the tent in which he was sleeping.

A plane carrying a pilot and a young Canadian woman who was making a documentary about the ride also crashed during the course of the 2005 RAGBRAI. In this case, the pair suffered minor injuries. Pilot Jim Hill of Manchester, Iowa and Amy Throop of Ottawa, Canada were following the route on a plane near Riceville, Iowa when the plane went down. Both Hill and Throop walked away from the accident. Throughout the ride ultralights fly over riders a few feet above the trees to get a good shot of the astonishing amount of riders.

RAGBRAI has had nationwide media exposure, and other rides based on RAGBRAI have been started in other areas of the country. Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong rode the Wednesday and Thursday stages of the 2006 event and most of the 2007 route, leaving a couple days early to support Team Discovery's Alberto Contador and his Tour de France victory. In 2008, Lance also made an appearance on the Ames, Iowa leg of the trip.

Crawford County lawsuit and ban

During the 2004 RAGBRAI Kurt Ullrich was thrown from his bicycle after contacting a crack in the center of the road and died. Kurt's wife, Betty Jo Ullrich, sued Crawford County and settled for $350,000. [4] The board of supervisors for Crawford County banned RAGBRAI (and other, similar events) to avoid future liability.

As of December 2008, however, Crawford County supervisors voted to rescind this ban after the RAGBRAI organizers took steps to indemnify third parties in the case of such events in the future[5] (it is assumed that other, similar events held by other groups in Crawford County will have to do likewise).

Overnight stops by year

Eight "host communities" are selected each year; one each for the beginning and end points, while the other six serve as overnight stops for the bicyclists. The distance between each host community is usually between 50 and 70 miles.

RAGBRAI teams and charters

Riders come from all over the world, and many ride as clubs or teams. There are dozens of organized teams on the ride; Team DAWG is notable for barking as they arrive and leave communities along with eating, or sharing, an occasional dog-biscuit. Team Skunk is notable for their black shirts with a white stripe down the back and their greeting call Skuuuuuuunk. The Subtle Savages team rides in kilts. Team Gourmet travels with their own chef, and Team Dragbrai rides in drag. In 2007 and 2008 seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong organized a LIVESTRONG team of about 200 riders and participated in RAGBRAI, each rider raised $1000 or more towards fighting cancer.[6] As of March 3rd, 2009 LIVESTRONG was already organizing their 2009 RAGBRAI team.[7] All teams come to Iowa to celebrate summer on two wheels.

RAGBRAI teams are a unique part of the experience. While some of the teams have a well-earned reputation for hard partying and heavy drinking, most are serious bicyclists.

Teams create a social and support system that adds a non-cycling dimension to RAGBRAI. Teams customize old school buses and vans. The team buses serve as transportation to and from the ride, and a combination clubhouse and sleeping quarters during the ride. These buses typically sport enormous custom stereos, roof mounted, rail-equipped platforms which serve as bicycle racks and a place to relax, and interior bathrooms. Several carry large 50 gallon plastic barrels full of water, which become warm during the day. Attached to a gravity-fed hose, these barrels provide teams with a spartan shower at the end of the day's ride.

The DAWG Pound.PNG

Charters are bicycle clubs and for-profit companies that provide weeklong support for riders. For a fee, charters typically transport riders to and from the ride, secure preferred camping areas, rent and sometimes pitch tents, provide some bicycle repair services, and offer additional evening social activities. Charters are a common option for riders coming from outside Iowa.


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