Editorial: Why RAGBRAI?


Photo: Jonathan Krueger/Iowa State Daily

Bikers ride into the campgrounds at the Des Moines location of RAGBRAI at Water Works Park on July 23, 2013.

Editorial Board

Thousands of people of all ages, backgrounds and socio-economic classes poured out of Council Bluffs, Iowa on July 21 for the start of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride across Iowa, better known as RAGBRAI.

There is no first place, there are no prizes, there is no fundraiser. So, what draws so many people from all states and multiple countries to the otherwise ignored state of Iowa? What is it about this seemingly pointless bicycle ride that entices people to return year after year?

The first and foremost fact about this enormous event is it is not a race, but rather an all-inclusive ride. People of all athletic skill and ability join RAGBRAI each year. For one week, the thousands of cyclists who participate either for the whole route or a day-trip become a tightly-knit, mobile community.

Someone clad in brightly colored spandex biking gear on a high-dollar road bike may seem to clash with the person in jean shorts on a mountain bike or hybrid scant yards away. However, in a ride in which there is no winner, the two seemingly diverse individuals have more in common than they might have in another context.

The Des Moines Register, which established the first RAGBRAI ride in 1973 and has been behind it ever since, writes about the extreme diversity found in the event. The age of participants ranges from four years old all the way to 87, with a relatively even spread in between. The Register even keeps tabs on the occupations of registered riders, showing that there is a large spread of people from all sorts of lifestyles.

As mentioned, RAGBRAI has no fundraising purpose. Unlike some bike rides, 5K runs or marathons, RAGBRAI doesn’t aim to raise money. However, that doesn’t stop others from utilizing the event as a fundraiser.

The people of Dallas Center held “color wars” at the same time that riders passed through the city in order to raise money from a new pool. Similarly, people in Perry asked riders for donations for Alzheimer’s research in return for shade, water and sandwiches. The event itself may not do any “good,” but the miniature events that branch off of the eight-city route definitely aim to make a difference.

The most obvious reason for RAGBRAI is simple exercise. Each annual ride averages somewhere between 400 and 500 miles. Even during a seven-day period, that’s more cycling than the average person is used to. Luckily, the laid-back atmosphere of RAGBRAI allows individuals to go at his or her own pace. Some may gun it directly to the next destination, but many take a leisurely ride, stopping at occasional bars along the way. No matter what style in which a person rides, they will end the week a tired, sweaty mess.

It may be too late to undertake the full week long ride this year, but it isn’t too late to start planning for next year. Being involved in RAGBRAI doesn’t necessarily mean riding in it, either. If fundraising is your thing, be the person to set up the next donation station on the 2014 route. No matter your athleticism or endurance, RAGBRAI will absorb you into its ever-growing, inclusive community.