Until the past few months, I was never much of an outdoor cyclist. On a nice day, I might go for a leisurely bike ride, or ride in town to run an errand. (Oh, how things have changed!) My Dad, however, has loved cycling for years. Occasionally I would join him on a ride along the trails in our hometown, but more often he would ride alongside me as I ran. When we did bike together, I learned a lot of lessons!
Today, my Dad is here as a guest poster to share his experiences completing a bike ride across the state of Iowa (with special details on all the delicious food available on the course!), along with his training schedule and tips for gear!
RAGBRAI: What’s That?!
First, a bit of Iowa bicycle trivia; RAGBRAI (pronounced rag-bry) is an abbreviation for Register’s (Des Moines, Iowa newspaper) Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Many years ago, about 40 to be exact, employees from the Des Moines Register envisioned a 7 day trek across the state with reports written on each town along the way. Iowa is exactly positioned between the Missouri River on the western border and the Mississippi on the eastern border. The ride is just that, a ride and not a race, and traverses the entire state; about 450 miles. Tradition is that you start by dipping your rear tire in the Missouri River and your front tire, a week later, in the Mississippi at the finish.
Training is important before one tackles this bucket list activity. But before I delve into recommendations, I will share with you a typical RAGBRAI day. You wake up, typically in a camp ground, with 8,500 of your soon-to-be best friends; yes, there are normally over 8,500 riders! Some wake up downtown on the street…I will leave this to your own imagination as to why! I would start at about 5:30 in the morning due to others clanking things around – it’s not easy to be quiet in the dark! After packing up the tent and placing my gear on an official RAGBRAI semi-trailer, off on the bike I go. The roads are blocked by the Iowa State Highway Patrol; eliminating traffic distractions and improving safety.
I like to ride about 10-15 miles and then stop for breakfast at Farm Boys Breakfast. They make an awesome breakfast burrito! There is no shortage of food vendors along the way – they are everywhere! Every social club, fire house, church etc…has fundraisers put on by members offering unlimited variations. One town is designated for lunch with, again, anything you can imagine available. Even a beer garden with a band for entertainment!
Between two and four you can’t skip homemade ice cream and pie; some of the best that you will ever taste. Most riders arrive at the overnight town by three or four PM, set up their tents and head downtown for, you guessed it, more food. At about eight PM a concert will end the day. Imagine doing this seven times over a period of one week. (If you want more information, visit ragbrai.org.)
Now, for training prior to the week-long escapade, here’s what I did. Starting in April (I don’t like to ride in cold weather) I logged about 600 miles in the seat before the end-of-July event. Some of this prepares your legs but a big part is ensuring that your bottom and skin are prepared, plus that your shoes fit well, ensuring that blisters don’t end your trip abruptly. Very important in any sport! Most of my rides were 20 miles; a few 40 mile rides were completed close to the event date. Mixing up flat and hilly routes is good.
Equipment is important; starting with the bike. Most will do but when you purchase it ask the shop to fit you to the bike. They can make adjustments to maximize your performance and comfort. Gloves are critical to dampen the vibrations from the road. Many have leather or gel pads that also help. If you don’t wear them your nerves may tingle in your wrist and arms. Water is obviously essential; carry two water bottles on your bike.
I didn’t imagine that tires would make a difference but they do! After my first set wore out the shop recommended Gatorskin tires, indicating that they would be a softer ride. I accepted their recommendation but was skeptical; at 140 lbs of pressure how could anything be soft? I instantly noticed a difference in softness and road vibration. Tires will lose pressure overnight so keep them inflated to maximize performance.
Obviously, you have to wear a helmet; they can also fit it for you. Clip-on shoes are also key; they allow you to pedal on the up stroke and down stroke. Desitin, the wonder drug, is great for skin rashes, works quickly and can take a ride from misery to enjoyment. Take it with you on the bike and use it to prevent anything from developing; you cannot apply it too early. A mini-computer that calculates total and individual trip miles, average speed, and many other numbers is helpful. They sound expensive but are typically less than $50.
RAGBRAI is a slice of Americana that is one of those things you have to do once (or many times!) in your lifetime. If you are looking to take a break from the office, reduce stress, see some great communities and take in some country scenes….RAGBRAI might be for you.