Hold on to your handlebars: RAGBRAI participants bust odd world record

Participants attempt to break the record for a group wearing fake mustaches. Guinness has the final call, however more than 2,000 people helped to try to break the record of 1,534.

Alex Gookin

In many ways, Fairfield, Iowa, was no different than most overnight stops for RAGBRAI riders: Decorations galore, vendors lining the downtown area and tents in every other yard. But something hairy was going on in this small town of less than 10,000 people on the evening of July 26.

With a “Cirque de Fairfield” theme, everything from volunteers to local statues to building fronts were decked out in handlebar mustaches. But it was the RAGBRAI participants who made the facial hair more than just a memory and part of history.

By early afternoon, the south side of the Jefferson County courthouse lawn was cordoned off with orange snow fencing for an event that brought a whole new meaning to “Hold on to Your Handlebars”. For the first time in RAGBRAI history, participants were attempting a world record: The most people wearing fake mustaches.

“Another community had done this mustache world record and because we had the mustache as part of our logo we thought that would be kind of a fun idea,” said organizer Terry Baker.

Baker was on the committee that brainstormed ideas for Fairfield’s hosting of RAGBRAI before forming a smaller committee to focus on the world record attempt in April. It was there that the seemingly simple task of assembling 4,000 of the 25,000 bikers to wear fake mustaches became a big undertaking.

“It turned out to be a lengthy process,” Baker said. “There is a lot involved in working with Guinness, obviously it’s a world record so they have high standards.”

Soon, it was apparent the event was going to be an all-or-nothing attempt with the committee making sure to jump through all the hoops to make it happen. Photographers, videographers, timers and official witnesses were assembled per Guinness protocol.

The rules stated every person was to wear the false mustaches handed out at the event for five consecutive minutes without removing the mustache or leaving the area. Young children were discouraged to participate, as each person who violated the rules was to be disqualified. 

As RAGBRAI approached, Guinness sent their approval to go ahead with the attempt. Fairfield was now in the driver’s seat to break the record of 1,532 people donning faux facial hair at Gilda’s LaughFest in Grand Rapids, Mich., earlier in 2013.

As bikers rolled into Fairfield on July 26, the volunteers were hard at work organizing wristbands, fake mustaches, and section numbers for a smooth event. Volunteer June Lowenberg estimated more than 70 volunteers worked the event, helping direct people to where they needed to go.

As 5:30 p.m. approached, word had got around about the record-breaking attempt, and a line stretching back for blocks had formed. When the gates opened, the line flowed constantly onto the front lawn of the courthouse for 20 minutes.

“There were times where it was like, ‘OK, are we going to pull this off?'” Lowenberg said. “It’s one of those events that is so scientific and you can get disqualified for something very simple.”

Mustaches were handed out and volunteer Michael Halley started shouting instructions through a megaphone. After all mustaches were applied, the event was about to start.

“I will blow the horn to start the 6 minutes… and the second horn will signify us making history,” Halley announced through the megaphone.

The horn blew, and time ticked away. “The wave” was started multiple times as a street corner band played a song to help pass the time. Even the scaled-down Statue of Liberty on the courthouse lawn was given a mustache.

Finally, it was announced that only 10 seconds remained, and the whole crowd joined in counting down. As the participants yelled “One!”, a loud cheer, followed by many congratulations and mustache-aided smiles filled the area. For the first time in RAGBRAI history, a world record had been set. 

“We [had] well over 2,000 people,” Baker said of the crowd. “It will be in Guinness’ hands soon to be given the official determination.”

The record will have to be reviewed through official witness accounts, photographs and videos. The process could take months to become official, but for now, organizers and participants alike are happy with the event.

“The feedback has been really positive,” Baker said. “The RAGBRAI staff said we did everything they ever asked for, so we are really happy with everything.”