In just six short days, over 20,000 “cyclists” will converge on the western Iowa city of Sioux Center to begin a 7-day, 470-mile bicycle trek to eastern Iowa’s Clinton.
The ride is called RAGBRAI – the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa – and it’s a bicycling event like no other.
I purposely put the word cyclists in quotation marks. This particular assortment of bike riders is anything but the stereotypical, Spandex-clad, Saturday morning superhero we associate with long distance cycling. While there will be a strong contingent wearing padded cycling shorts, you’ll still see some intrepid individuals sporting cut-offs, short-shorts, and bikini bottoms. One guy does the entire ride dressed in a giant banana costume.
Curious onlookers lining the streets of the small towns that dot the route will see riders on road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids, comfort bikes, beach cruisers, tandems, and recumbents. They’ll also see a few brave souls on unicycles, skateboards, penny farthings (high wheel bikes pre-1890s), and a bike or two made from a rowing machine or elliptical trainer.
RAGBRAI riders represent as diverse an assortment as the bikes they ride.
The street-side spectators are just as likely to observe the occasional, recreational rider as they are the hard-core cycling enthusiast. Moms. Dads. Teens. Kids. Grandmas and Grandpas. Even disabled riders on specially-built bikes, quads, and trikes. The allure of RAGBRAI sparks something in each of them.
It is difficult to find the words to describe the vibe created when thousands of individuals take to two wheels and ride side-by-side, town-to-town, on a quest that’s more about the journey than the ultimate destination. While the ride has commonly been referred to as a rolling party or Woodstock on Wheels (I think I’m guilty of using that one myself), no phrase I’ve found appropriately captures the aura or magnitude of this event.
Maybe it’s because there are more than 20,000 different perspectives on it…
One thing that is pretty much indisputable is the fact that RAGBRAI is a physical endurance challenge. With an average ride of 67 miles per day, it’s no easy task to mount up each morning and pedal for four to eight hours under the hot July sun. Staying in the saddle, climbing hills, battling crosswinds, and steering clear of road obstacles and other riders moving at different speeds takes a high level of determination.
I like to call it true grit.
A person with true grit doesn’t mind sleeping on the hard ground inside a stuffy tent. Making and breaking camp in a new town each day. Living out of a duffel bag.
A person with true grit showers in school gymnasiums. Uses port-o-potties (or KYBOs, as some veterans refer to them). Isn’t the slightest bit embarrassed to be seen emerging from a cornfield adjusting his or her cycling shorts. The intrepid RAGBRAI rider checks his or her humility at the banks of the Missouri River and reclaims it on the Mississippi shore seven days later.
RAGBRAI is a camping trip with a different long bike ride each day, shared with 20,000 (or more) friendly strangers.
Sharing is indeed the operative word. RAGBRAI riders share the road riding shoulder to shoulder from shoulder to shoulder. They share food. They share drink. They share city parks, showers, and restrooms.
RAGBRAI riders also share the experience.
Regardless of individual motivation to accept the challenge, no rider is ever alone in his or her quest. Everyone is in it together. Hills or headwinds. Rain or shine. Heat and humidity. What faces one, faces all. 20,000 individuals become one community. At least for a single week…
So as this unlikely peloton snakes its way across the Hawkeye State next week, I will be there to enjoy the fellowship and the food (I like to think of RAGBRAI as a continuous church potluck/bake sale interrupted by the occasional cornfield). I probably won’t be able to blog, so feel free to read through the archives…
I will also be providing free demo rides of the Bianchi Impulso 105 to ten interested riders each day (Via Nirone Dama 105 for women). If you happen to be riding RAGBRAI and would like to spend the day on an all-new bike, shoot me an email at email@example.com and we can reserve an Impulso in your size.
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Keep riding and be safe!