RAGBRAI is an acronym for Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. It is a non-competitive bicycle ride across Iowa that draws recreational riders from across the United States and overseas.
Riders begin at a community on Iowa's western border and ride to a community on Iowa's eastern border, stopping in towns across the state. RAGBRAI is limited to 8,500 week-long riders and 1,500 day riders. Despite the official limits, unregistered riders swell the actual number of riders each day to well over these numbers.
The length of the route averages 472 miles (760 km). Eight "host communities" are selected each year; one each for the beginning and end points, while the other six are overnight stops. The distance between host communities is on average 68 miles (109 km). At the beginning of the ride, participants traditionally dip the rear wheels of their bikes in either the Missouri River or the Big Sioux River (depending on the starting point of the ride). At the end, the riders dip the front wheels in the Mississippi River.
The 40th event, called RAGBRAI XL, was held July 21–28, 2012. The host communities were the Iowa cities of Sioux Center, Cherokee, Lake View, Webster City, Marshalltown, Cedar Rapids, Anamosa and Clinton.
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RAGBRAI began in 1973 when Des Moines Register feature writers John Karras and Donald Kaul decided to go on a bicycle ride across Iowa. Both men were avid cyclists. Kaul would write articles about what he experienced during this ride.
The newspaper's management approved of the plan. Don Benson, a public relations director at the Register, was assigned to coordinate the event. The writers invited the public to accompany them.
The ride was planned to start on August 26 in Sioux City and end in Davenport on August 31. The overnight stops were Storm Lake, Fort Dodge, Ames, Des Moines and Williamsburg. The Register informed readers of the event, and the planned route. The ride was informally referred to as "The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride".
Some 300 cyclists began the ride in Sioux City; 114 of them rode the entire route. A number of other people rode part of the route. Attendance was light the first year. The ride was announced with only six weeks' notice and it conflicted with the first week of school and the final weekend of the Iowa State Fair.
After the ride was over, Kaul and Karras wrote numerous articles that captured the imaginations of many readers. Among those who completed the 1973 ride was 83-year-old Clarence Pickard of Indianola. He rode a used ladies Schwinn and wore a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, woolen long underwear and a silver pith helmet. The newspaper received many calls and letters from people who wanted to go on the ride but were unable to for various reasons. Because of this public response/demand a second ride was scheduled for August 4–10 (1974), before the Iowa State Fair.
The 1974 ride, known as the Second Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (or SAGBRAI), was more carefully planned. The Iowa State Patrol was involved in the planning, and arrangements were made to have medical services available for riders. For the first time, the route was driven in advance. The overnight communities involved were Atlantic, Guthrie Center, Camp Dodge (near Des Moines), Marshalltown, Waterloo and Monticello, with the ride finishing in the riverfront city of Dubuque.
After the second year, the ride continued to grow in popularity. The RAGBRAI name, with Roman numerals following it, was adopted for RAGBRAI III in 1975; thus, the 2012 ride was RAGBRAI XL. The ride eventually moved to the last full week in July, starting on Sunday and ending on Saturday.
Over the years, 26 people have died during the ride itself or from injuries suffered on the ride. Most of the deaths were due to heart attacks that riders suffered while resting. However, on the first night of the 2005 ride, Michael Thomas Burke (a native of Donnellson, Iowa who was living in New York City) died when a storm blew a tree limb down on the tent in which he was sleeping. Only five deaths resulted from injuries sustained while actually riding on bicycles. The fourth fatality occurred on July 25, 2009, when Donald D. Myers from Rolla, Missouri, died of injuries sustained in a crash at the bottom of the hill near Geode Lake dam at Geode State Park. On July 30, 2010, Stephen Briggs of Waverly, Iowa became the fifth fatality due to injuries sustained in an accident in which his bike had clipped the tire of another bike and he was thrown from his bike.
A plane carrying a pilot and a young Canadian woman who was making a documentary about the ride crashed during the course of the 2005 RAGBRAI. In this case, the pair suffered minor injuries. Pilot Jim Hill of Manchester, Iowa and Amy Throop of Ottawa, Canada were following the route on a plane near Riceville, Iowa when the plane went down. Both Hill and Throop walked away from the accident. Throughout the ride ultralights fly over riders a few feet above the trees to get a good shot of the astonishing number of riders.
RAGBRAI has had nationwide media exposure, and other rides based on RAGBRAI have been started in other areas of the country. Lance Armstrong rode the Wednesday and Thursday stages of the 2006 event and most of the 2007 route, leaving a couple days early to support Team Discovery's Alberto Contador and his Tour de France victory. In 2008, Armstrong also made an appearance on the Ames, Iowa leg of the trip.
Crawford County lawsuit and ban
During the 2004 RAGBRAI Kirk Ullrich was thrown from his bicycle after contacting a crack in the center of the road and died. He was the first RAGBRAI rider to die from injuries sustained while riding his bicycle during RAGBRAI. Kurt's widow Betty Jo Ullrich sued Crawford County and settled for $350,000. The board of supervisors for Crawford County banned RAGBRAI (and other, similar events) to avoid future liability. As of December 2008, however, Crawford County supervisors voted to rescind this ban after the RAGBRAI organizers took steps to indemnify third parties in the case of such events in the future.
2013 sinkhole along XLI route
On May 31, 2013, a large sinkhole, at least 20 feet wide by 5 feet deep, occurred along Iowa Highway 384 (160th Road in Guthrie County ) under the asphalt at the entrance of Springbrook State Park, which is near the boat ramp at the base of Mockingbird Hill. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) contacted the Iowa Department of Transportation who deemed the sinkhole to be unsafe. The Iowa DNR immediately evacuated the campers at Springbrook. In spring (March, April, and May) and May of 2013, according to Harry Hillaker who is the state of Iowa climatologist, Iowa had the wettest on record. The record precipitation, both rainfall and snowfall, contributed to the formation of the sinkhole. On June 3, 2013, the RAGBRAI XLI route inspection pre-ride assessed the sinkhole for changes to the route through Springbrook and up Mockingbird Hill, which is the steepest hill to be on a RAGBRAI route; however, no changes to the RAGBRAI XLI route were made.
Overnight stops by year
Eight "host communities" are selected each year; one each for the beginning and end points, while the other six serve as overnight stops for the bicyclists. The distance between each host community is usually between 50 and 70 miles.
Teams and charters
Riders come from all over the world, and many ride as clubs or teams. There are dozens of organized teams on the ride. In 2007 and 2008 Lance Armstrong organized a LIVESTRONG team of about 200 riders and participated in RAGBRAI, each rider raised $1000 or more towards fighting cancer.
Teams create a social and support system that adds a non-cycling dimension to RAGBRAI. While some of the teams have a well-earned reputation for hard partying and heavy drinking, most are serious bicyclists. Teams often customize old school buses and vans. The team buses serve as transportation to and from the ride, and a combination clubhouse and sleeping quarters during the ride. These buses typically sport enormous custom stereos, roof mounted, rail-equipped platforms which serve as bicycle racks and a place to relax, and interior bathrooms. Several carry large 50-gallon plastic barrels full of water, which become warm during the day. Attached to a gravity-fed hose, these barrels provide teams with a spartan shower at the end of the day's ride.
Charters are bicycle clubs and for-profit companies that provide weeklong support for riders. For a fee, charters typically transport riders to and from the ride, secure preferred camping areas, rent and sometimes pitch tents, provide some bicycle repair services, and offer additional evening social activities. Charters are a common option for riders coming from outside Iowa.
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- retrieved October 12, 2007.[dead link]
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