Ragbrai started in 1973 as the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa and has become one of the oldest and longest bicycle tours in the world. The following are tips to help those who are new to the race which this year will be July 21st-27th and to bicycling long distances in general.
- Stay hydrated- Dehydration is the top health ailment for those riding this event so be sure to drink plenty of water both before you start each day and while you’re out riding. Take breaks to get your liquid needs met and be sure to get plenty of water after the race as well. Try to limit the number of drinks that contain electrolytes/sports drinks/energy drinks since a lot of them contain a lot of sugar which can cause your blood sugar to spike.
- Start training at least six months in advance- Six months is the absolute minimum and is more appropriate for someone who is already doing a lot of long distance riding. Otherwise try to give your body up to a year of regular training so you can physically be strong enough to ride up to 67 miles per day for seven days in a row. Ragbrai should be treated the same as training for a marathon and should be broken down in easy to do steps to build your strength.
- Buy the right gear- You don’t need the best bike in the stores to compete but you will get what you pay for when it comes to speed and weight of the bike. Buy the bike that you can both afford and feels comfortable to you. Do research on if you want to buy clipless or clip bike shoes. Consider buying gloves to protect your hands. There’s a whole wardrobe to consider for long distance bicycle riding so do research on what is best for your fitness level and budget.
- Bring lots of cash and a debit card- Most of the places selling food along the daily route will only accept cash. They do offer free water but it’s usually warm and can be hard to get to especially as you’re riding. Bring small bills and expect to pay roughly $20-$50 a day depending on your appetite and bottled water needs. You may get stuck having to pay for showers too so be forewarned.
- You might get bike butt rash- Combine tight fitting bicycling shorts that didn’t have the luxury of fully drying the previous night from a day of riding with the heat of Iowa summers with the average 60+ miles ridden per day and you have yourself the perfect recipe for what is basically diaper rash. Put baby powder or Gold’s Bond powder in your shorts to prevent any itchiness or rash and put some in your shoes too to prevent athlete’s foot.
- Prepare for rain- Bring extra clothes to change into if you get particularly soaked. If you forgot to pack a raincoat, you can turn a regular garbage bag into a makeshift rain coat but you might want to consider packing a real coat with water repellent technology to wick the moisture off your skin and keep you warm. Iowa weather is temperamental in the summer so always bring a rain coat just to be safe.
- Be mindful of your property- Ragbrai isn’t exactly a criminal mecca but it’s easy to lose your things especially when you aren’t paying close attention. Lock your bike or at least keep it in a spot where you can see it. Put your money in a safe place and not out in the open. Don’t bring anything overly valuable to both avoid it being lost and to avoid the hassle of having to worry about it being stolen.
- Learn the lingo- Bikers have their own way to communicate while riding. “On your left” means the person behind you is in the process of passing you. ” Car up” means a car is approaching. “Slowing” means either you or the group ahead of you is slowing down and you’re warning the people behind you to prevent any accidents. “Pulling in/out” is used to tell others you’re either trying to break back into the pack after taking a break or you’re going to break off from the pack.
- Be mindful of others around you- Stay focused on riding and always remember you are one of over an average of 20,000 riders. By staying focused you can prevent accidents and needless injuries. Don’t be aggressive and follow the rules of the road. If you are a slower rider, tend to go more towards the back of the pack to let the faster people avoid you. If you ride faster, be polite about passing.
- Bring clothes you’ll be ok with trashing at the end of the day- Otherwise you’re going to be forced to try to find a place to do laundry and who wants to do laundry after riding for that many miles in the Iowa heat? Pack lots of clothes you won’t mind getting rid of and you’ll be prepared for any messes/rainy days that may come up.
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