Hit the Road on RAGBRAI w/ These Fun Facts

Kimberly Ritter

RAGBRAI is hitting the road in Iowa this week and cyclists from across the state, around the country and even from around the world will be pedaling across Iowa. Since 1973, riders of the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (also known as RAGBRAI) have made the annual adventure from river to river.

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After a cancellation in 2020 due to the pandemic, RAGBRAI resumes this week in Le Mars and ends in Clinton, Iowa. To celebrate RAGBRAI hitting the road once again, here are some fun RAGBRAI facts about this Iowa tradition.

  • It all started from a challenge
    This famous Iowa tradition started because a Des Moines Register columnist was challenged by another columnist from the paper to ride his bike across the state of Iowa. Both writers took on the challenge and invited others to join in the ride. Overall, 114 riders made the entire journey from Sioux City to Davenport, and 300 total started the ride.

    One of the more colorful riders from the original journey was Clarence Pickard from Indianola, Iowa. At 83 years of age, Clarence made the journey on a used women’s Schwinn bicycle and wore trousers, a long-sleeved shirt, woolen underwear and a pith helmet for the ride. He claimed the long underwear helped keep him cool.

    Since this initial challenge, RAGBRAI has evolved into the longest and largest multiple day bicycle touring event in the world done solely for recreation. The event has been held annual since 1973 with the exception of the 2020 cancellation due to COVID-19.

  • RAGBRAI has made stops in all 99 Iowa counties
    Riders from RAGBRAI have stopped in hundreds of Iowa towns and peddled through all 99 of Iowa’s counties, as well as a majority of Iowa’s incorporated towns.

  • Not everyone who enters is chosen
    A longtime Iowa tradition, participation is limited for both week-long and daily riders. The number of entries for RAGBRAI can be more than the number of riders permitted, so a computer lottery takes place to choose from the entries. The limited attendance helps keep the ride manageable.

  • Not all riders are from Iowa
    While this popular annual bike ride is Iowa based, not all participants are from the Hawkeye state. Riders regularly participate from all 50 states as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico as well as many different countries.

  • The route varies every year
    The route for RAGBRAI is different annually, but always begins on Iowa’s western border, travels across the state and ends on the Eastern part of the state near the Mississippi River.

    While the annual path of RAGBRAI varies, the total miles of the journey averages 468 miles, with an average of 67 miles per day. Every year there is an optional loop which is known as the Karras loop for RAGBRAI cyclists wanting to have the challenge of riding 100 miles. To consider RAGBRAI a full ride, riders dip their tire in the Missouri river at the start and finish the ride at the Mississippi.

  • RAGBRAI has inspired other annual rides
    The success of RAGBRAI has helped inspire the planning and execution of more that 200 other rides across the United States.

  • Many celebrities have participated
    Many different professional athletes, politicians and celebrities have participated in RAGBRAI over the years. Cyclist Lance Armstrong has formed a team multiple years to raise funds for cancer, and Iowa native Tom Arnold has also ridden in the annual event.

For more information on RAGBRAI and how to participate, visit ragbrai.com.

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