What is RAGBRAI?

RAGBRAI, Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, is more than just a bike ride, it is an epic eight-day rolling festival of bicycles, music, food, camaraderie, and community. It is the oldest, largest, and longest multi-day bicycle touring event in the world.

RAGBRAI started this morning at Sioux City, Iowa and if you’re so inclined just read all the details online. This is the 50th year for RAGBRAI and I heard one news feature that said the ride from Ames to Des Moines could easily have 100,000 riders! Incredible!

I’ve never ridden on RAGBRAI but have witnessed it several times. It’s going to get so very hot this week in Iowa – typical of the ride. Can you just imagine 50,000 bicycles coming into your town? How about if they all spent the night? People sleeping outside, in tents, in volunteer homes, in RV’s, busses, trailers – they’re everywhere! And they all need to eat, use a bathroom, sleep – yikes!

People from all over the world travel to Iowa to ride their bikes from the Missouri River on the west side of the state to the Mississippi River on the east side of the state. They dip their back tire in the Missouri and the front tire in the Mississippi. It’s a tradition!

This is Day 1

A picture is worth a thousand words!

46 thoughts on “What is RAGBRAI?

  1. Judy

    I’m not an experienced rider. I think I would bring up the rear. Better yet, sit along the sideline and enjoy the parade.

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Judy – Me, too! I sold my bike at our last sale for $10, I think. My hands went to sleep the minute I’d get on it.

  2. Diane in Colorado

    A part of me thinks it might be fun to take part in RAGBRAI, but the other part says No Way!!!! Too many people and too many bikes!!! What a boon to Iowa businesses along the route, and also a management nightmare. Hope all remain safe and enjoy their experience!!

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Diane – the towns along the route prepare from the minute the route is announced and with all those people riding into town they need to. Garner would go from 3500 to 50-75,000! The logistics of it all make my head swim.

  3. Shirley Andersen Smith

    In 2014 I believe, my husband and I camped in a campground just outside Garner in our motor home just so I could get up the next morning and go to your quilt shop. Unbeknownst to us, RAGBRAI was all over town the next morning. We managed to maneuver around all the bicycle riders and make it out to your farm/ quilt shop. We closed the gate and visited with a few animals as I maneuvered my way to Shop, shop shop. My first, only, and last time at Country Threads but I had a ball.
    Thanks for telling me what is RAGBRAI and for a great memory. Yes, We visited the barn too.
    Shirley from Oregon

  4. Nikki in Tx

    Wow… & I thought the Texas Hotter than Hell ride was a grueling bike ride. Is every July( always over 100 degrees) 100 mile ride ending in Witchta Falls . Years ago was volunteered (what happens when don’t show up for meetings) by hospital to be one of medical staff at one of medical stations…was in shaded tent with fans & plenty of water & still hotter than hell & miserable.. took days to recover..so cannot even imagine being rider in race… long time before missed meeting again.. lol.
    I applaud those that participate in Iowa race.
    Need to send you long email & catch you up on going’s on. Finally getting strength back & able to do more. Even started sewing again. Great activity since I am in hibernation from the heat.
    Glad book sales going so good.

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Nikki in TX – I would love to hear from you! Please catch me up!

  5. Teresa from Port Coquitlam, BC

    All I can say is wow. It would be amazing to witness this ride.

  6. brendalynne1

    are any of the bke rides interconnected or each state has its own independently ???

  7. Rita in Iowa

    Mary a few years back we had RAGBRI ride on the paved road only 1.5 miles from our home. Needless to say we stayed home. I think Anamosa was a host city that time which is less than ten miles from us. We did have a lot of bikers go down our road as we have a county park a mile to our north. It is definitely a boom to the host cities and towns along the route.

  8. Janet S

    The dedication to everyone involved is amazing. It’s unimaginable how the cities prepare for such an event. Just wondering if they have to cross highway 35 which goes north and south. The whole route must be a traffic jam.

  9. Diane, Squeak, and Buddy in Central Ohio

    WOW! Soooo many bikers. That is awesome to see! I keep going back and looking at your quilts hanging at the fair. That was a great idea and enjoyable for those of us who can’t see them in person. Thank you😻.
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Kathy in Western New York🎂. I am off to walk, eat, go to my quilt group, The Virtuosews. 😀. It will be hot here, too, 89*.

    1. Kathy in western NY

      Thanks Diane! Enjoy quilt group today! We had homemade pizza party here last nite for 14 family members and it was so much fun. Lunch with a grandson today who was in Toronto for the weekend so the celebration continues. Then it’s sewing this afternoon. I made an extra special wish blowing out candles. I have an oncologist appt coming up.

      1. Diane, Squeak, and Buddy

        I am adding to your extra special
        Wish, Kathy! Only good news, I hope. How old is your grandson? Grands are fun😀😀. Buddy is now in the basement—severe thunderstorm warning with THUNDER! Poor Buddy😿.

        1. Kathy

          Oh those thunderstorms and our poor pets. So sad they don’t like loud noises. This particular grandson is 22, an accountant. Other grandson is 21 and a teacher now in our local district, now working on his masters. Two GD- One 20 in college for speech pathologist, one 27- research scientist. All ambitious and hardworking like their parents and all live close by with good jobs. I am blessed.

  10. Diana in Des Moines

    We live about 8 blocks east of the route from Ankeny to DM. A couple hundred bikers will be staying in our neighborhood – Band, food trucks, campers, tents, WOW.

    Planning on indoor activities and letting the parage go by, The grandkids will love watching so may sit in the garage and watch. I’ll send pics if I remember.

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Diana – yes, send me a couple pics if you think of it. It’s unbelievable.

  11. Pat Smith

    My whole life I have wanted to ride in RAGBRAI, but now I’m old and know the truth—it’s not happening! I also know the truth about Iowa—if you think it’s flat, you’d be wrong. I think the spirit of RAGBRAI is what keeps everyone going through the heat and hills. I would love to experience it even it I can’t ride in it. Do people ever come out just to be bystanders camped in RV’s etc? I’d even love to help I some capacity like passing out food and drinks. It sounds like such a party full of good humor and fun. Thanks for the map of the route. I’ll try to follow it all on line.l

  12. Kathy in western NY

    These types of rides amaze me cause people my age participate in one in NY that stretches the whole state along the Erie Canal. I use to read about it on a blog of a fabric designer duo from Texas and Fl so started learning more about it when it came through here. All the little villages like ours welcome them, hand out water bottles and feed them and provide places for shelter depending if it’s our towns turn. It’s funny to see the sidewalks full of bicycles parked near a brewery that opened in our village. But it’s one day and no one minds the hub bub. This weekend is a huge motorcycle ride raising money for cancer and they will camp out at our American Legion grounds for one night so people are encouraged to come and talk to the participants to hear their stories how cancer has impacted them. Like I say, these folks who give their time amaze me just like there.

  13. Jo in Wyoming

    Wowzers. It appears the front of the pack rides, the rest walk.
    There must be a ton of volunteers helping move this crowd and all the equipment along….in every town.
    50,000 riders, that’s a lot of carbs! And toilet paper, plus in the heat. I can’t even imagine.
    🎶Happy Birthday to Kathy🎶🎶

    1. Kathy in western NY

      Why thank you Miss Line Dancer! Just had lunch out with my 22 yr old grandson as he wanted to treat me since he had the day off from his accountant job. I almost hate to say it but the weather was beautiful for sitting outside dining and no obnoxious heat or smoke so very special.

  14. Jeanine in Iowa

    I remember a few years ago when RAGBRAI came through Oskaloosa, and they traveled to their next destination on the highway just 1/2 mile from our farm. It was fun to see all the bikes on the highway. They would come in spurts. I cannot even imagine doing that, but there are a lot of die hard people that do it every year. It seems it is always during the hottest part of our summer. I pray there are not any accidents this year. It has happened in the past.

  15. Barbara Borglum

    I’ve ridden RAGBRAI 15 times over the years. I have also ridden from SE MINN to the beginning, then back across to the ending. So much fun and positive energy. I am old now, but have many fond memories of the wonderful people I have met while riding, sitting , eating, sleeping, cooling off, and doing it all over again.

    Looks very hazy and that worries me that the breathing in of the fire air is going to have an effect on some of these riders. Wish them well and that they love Iowa as much as I do.

    Thanks, Mary, for acknowledging RAGBRAI.

  16. Beamer's Mom

    Years ago I had riding in RAGBRAI on my someday bucket list. Now, granted I loved riding my bike as a kid, but as I got older that desire left. Figured eventually I’d get in shape and do the ride. Well, as the years passed and the arthritis increases, that idea is not going to happen, and I’m OK with it all. Can’t imagine doing it now and actually it’s one of the last things I want to do. Add in 95-105′ temps with all those people? I’ll take a hard pass. But, love what it does for these small communities and for the bicycle enthusiasts.

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Beamer’s Mom – I, too, dreamed of riding in RAGBRAI but not anymore. I cannot imagine riding in the heat and all those people!!! I’m glad I’m too old. Haha!

  17. Sally

    Never have I ever heard of RAGBRAI. I’m so so happy that I read your blog, Mary! You are a wealth of information, even if you consider you’re writing a Blog About Nothing! I love it. I look forward to it. I hope you never stop sharing your photos, your thoughts, your ideas, opinions, and ambitions!

    A fan from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Sally – thank you! I do think I’m observant to lots of things but I also must keep reminding everybody that these are my opinions only – and I will NEVER discuss politics or any other social issues. It really is a blog about nothing – haha!!

    2. Linda

      Sally, we dropped our job as those who care for their crazy young friends. My family decided we needed to do Mackinaw and your lovely UP. What happened. We could not find a campground between Greshem and the upper point of the highway north of Duluth!

  18. Beryl BC

    I had a great time riding half of RAGBRAI in 1978. It was not so crowded then, but still a large number of bikers. There was the opportunity to eat continuously in and between every town, including homemade pie, watermelon, cookies, beer tents,, etc. It was a good opportunity for all the local organizations to make some money. We are now happy to ride on the trails in our area, especially on the hot days, as they are mostly shaded. As someone else said, Iowa is not flat.

  19. Rhoda Ebersole

    The DesMoines Register newspaper started this tradition 50 years ago. Hard to believe it has happened that many years. Churches provide wonderful dinners for a price. People came down very near our street in Mason City years ago and riders had showers in our home. A very fun tradition.
    Today in NE Wisconsin we had much smoke again and I wondered if the riders would be affected by smoke from the Canadian fires???

  20. BrendaInSC

    Wowzers- that ride looks spectacular! I can’t wrap my mind around that many people all at once coming in on a city. But, it has to be good for the economy!!
    I have missed so much on your blog Mary; I am going to have to go back and catch up on the reading. My husband got sick in June…..Just a stiff neck….started running a fever. I could not get him to go to the doctor. Some men are just so stubborn. He is really stubborn. I kid you not. Then he got a nosebleed I could not stop. Occasionally he would get these and they would stop, not this day. Along with the nosebleed came chest pain. This time, i got him to go to the ER. He had been having a heart attack and also has some bacterial infection in his neck between the discs.
    Fast forward a couple a couple weeks. He is still not well and just not getting better. they started him on blood thinners because of the heart attack and also put in a picc line so I can give him antibiotics by IV then flush that picc line with sodium chloride and heparin (anoter blood thinner). Well, he got another nosebleed. I could not stop it. Had to call an ambulance for him. He was so pale. He had another heart attack on the way to the hospital. Once at the hospital, they transferred him to another, bigger hospital where he was previously, MUSC, He was there one day and had another cardiac event and they ended up crushing his sternum as he had had so much CPR done. I Ilost my husband and friend July 5th. I am still in shock and disbelief.

    1. Kathy in western NY

      Brenda, I am so sorry to read this and thank you for sharing with us what you have been going through. We are here for support and know the steps ahead will not be easy. If only men didn’t wait so long to seek medical care as so much can be addressed early onset but it’s their decisions and it’s hard for us to live with their actions. I just lost a well loved friend from church suddenly and we all never thought a heart attack would take such a strong energetic person so the heart can go haywire just like that. Be well Brenda and we do care for you. I hope you have family close by.

      1. BrendaInSC

        Thank you, Kathy. It has really been a struggle. Some days I wonder how I will ever get out of bed. it Because so much was just in his name, I am having to prove I am his wife and then try to keep the service and just transfer it over into my name, etc. It has all been so overwhelming. He never got a will. He kept saying there was time. Thank God, he was a veteran, and the VA takes care of their own.

        1. Kathy in western NY

          Brenda, we too found the VA to be of great help to us with my mom when my dad died suddenly and my in-laws with benefits and how to figure out paperwork. Just don’t think it has to be done all in one day as it will tax your health trying to do it all. It’s expected to be lax periods where you can’t get your hands on every document needed but it will all get done eventually. I hope to see you comment often so we know you are coping the best you can. As you know many others here share the loss of a loved one and support will be here as we’ve all walked in many shoes to understand.

    2. Mary Etherington Post author

      Brenda – your account of the past few weeks is startling and very sad! To live that nightmare has to affect you both physically and emotionally and I’m so sorry for your loss. Kathy is right – we are all here to support you and learn how your life works without him. Many men make life difficult for their wife when they don’t allow things to be in her name. I’ve seen it happen personally. It will never happen to me.

    3. Mary Beth in Missouri

      Prayers for you, Brenda. So very sorry for the loss of your husband.

    4. Rosie Westerhold

      Brenda, So very sorry for what you are going through. I lost my husband/partner/best friend in January 2021. He died very quickly from pancreatic cancer. It was a shock to everyone, including his doctors. He left me in a great deal of financial MESS. Still clawing my way out of that. He was still running a business, and I had to figure out how to run that, get bills paid, etc. It was he** for months. But, life does go on. You are still in shock right now, and still trying to absorb things. You will have good days and bad days.The good days will get better eventually with fewer bad days in between. As Mary said use this blog to vent or to reach out for comfort. Grieve as much as you need to, talk about him as much as you want to, and remember the best times in your life. We are all here for you.

      1. Mary Etherington Post author

        Rosie – Thanks for your message to Brenda – I hope she realizes we truly ARE here to listen.

  21. Carolyn of Ohio

    My sister from Colorado ride in the RAGBRAI ! She loved it. She is still riding her bike at 74. She amazes me!!

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Carolyn – good for her!!! I hope she’s enjoying the ride through Iowa.

  22. Sharon G.

    Brenda – I am so sorry you lost your husband. I lost my husband in January this year. He was the love of my life! It too was unexpected. I miss him every day. Like Rosie, I am still resolving issues. Just remember to breathe! It’s overwhelming at times and lonely, but we are all here for you. Please take care of yourself.

  23. BrendaInSC

    Thank you everyone for your condolences. Yes, it is all so overwhelming and I look forward to coming out on the other side a much stronger person. I really hate this gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach like I am about to loose everything, but that is probably just the stress of it all. I have our lawyer handling the probate as my husband had not even finished the probate from his second marriage, so thats a mess as far as the property goes. But it will all come out in the wash as Mama used to say.
    But for now, I will just go with the flow and take it one day at a time and stop in to say hi every once and a while. Much Love from SC

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