Everything you should know about RAGBRAI 2022 route, dates, and more
After riders dip their tires in the Missouri River and set off to the Mississippi on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, they will be embarking on the first ride since 2019 that has a near pre-pandemic level of registration.
Next year may mark the ride’s 50th anniversary, but that doesn’t mean this year’s edition doesn’t have plenty to offer. The return for the first time in nearly 40 years of Century Day — a 100-plus-mile route for all riders — is just one highlight on a route dedicated to RAGBRAI co-founder John Karras, who died last year.
Here’s what to know about RAGBRAI.
Q: What is RAGBRAI?
A: It may be hyperbole, but Iowans like to boast that RAGBRAI is the world’s largest annual mobile party. Each summer, cyclists set out from a point on or near the Missouri River in western Iowa and ride seven day-long routes to their destination on the Mississippi River. The route changes from year to year, so almost all of Iowa has participated at one point or another.
Q: What does RAGBRAI stand for?
A: RAGBRAI stands for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
Q: How did RAGBRAI begin?
A: John Karras, a copy editor and features writer for the Register, and Donald Kaul, a columnist, hatched the plan for a cross-state bicycle ride and invited their readers along. When they set out from Sioux City on Aug. 26, 1973, for the first day’s ride to Storm Lake, a few hundred people joined them. They rode again in 1974 with a growing entourage, and in January 1975, Kaul announced in a short item in the Sunday edition of the Register that the ride had gained an official name for its planned third edition: the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
Today, RAGBRAI is its own organization within Gannett Co., the Register’s owner. A dedicated year-round staff organizes the event, which typically draws some 16,000 riders from across the nation and around the world. RAGBRAI is preparing to mark its 50th year in 2023 after the sad asterisk of a 2020 ride canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: What route will RAGBRAI follow this year?
A: The ride begins July 24 in Sergeant Bluff in northwest Iowa near the Missouri River and proceeds in daylong increments to Ida Grove, Pocahontas, Emmetsburg, Mason City, Charles City and West Union. It concludes on the seventh day, July 30, in the Mississippi River town of Lansing, with riders having traveled 462 miles.
Q: How are the towns chosen?
A: The organizers choose towns from among eager applicants. Representatives of the chosen towns celebrate at a January route announcement party. During the ride, they vie to outdo each other with their nightly parties, replete with bands, food vendors and, of course, beer.
Riders can bed down for the night at campgrounds and parks. Many rent space in residents’ home or yards, with indoor bathroom privileges. Some stay in motor homes driven by supportive friends or relatives. And, of course, any hotel rooms are sold out months in advance.
Q: What are meeting towns?
A: Selected towns about midway on each day’s route where those separated from companions while riding can regroup; those who are too tired to continue can catch a ride on a support-and-gear SAG wagon; and members of teams or others with support drivers can meet them. All can enjoy the offerings of vendors and local restaurants, as well as entertainment.
Q: What are pass-through towns?
A: Towns, some with just a handful of inhabitants, that the ride passes through. The residents often gather to cheer on the riders, and the enterprising among them sell snacks and beverages — or just offer a drink from a garden hose.
Q: What is the longest day’s ride this year?
A: 105 miles on day four, July 27.
Q: What about the people who can’t get through the entire Century Ride?
A: There will be extra SAG wagons to pick up anyone who runs out of steam.
Q: What is the shortest day’s ride this year?
A: 47.9 miles on Day 5, July 28 (the day after the Century Ride).
Q: Which day will have the most elevation gain?
A: The final day, through the hills of northeast Iowa, will have the greatest gain at 2,966 feet — but also will feature a steep drop into the Mississippi valley.
Q: What are some major highlights on the route?
A: Day 1: A ride through western Iowa’s deceptively steep Loess Hills to castle-themed Ida Grove. Day 2: Schaller, Iowa’s self-proclaimed popcorn capital, is a pass-through town — and will feature popcorn, of course. Day 3: The optional gravel route; the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption, claimed to be the world’s largest, in meet-up town West Bend,; and Five Island Lake in overnight town Emmetsburg. Day 4: The National Hobo Museum in meeting town Britt; entertainment at overnight town Mason City by Sugar Ray and former Eagles guitarist Don Felder. Day 5: The Fossil & Prairie Park Preserve just outside pass-through town Rockford, the Devonian City, and charming Charles City, the overnight town, with its whitewater course on the Cedar River. Day 6: Meet-up town Lawler’s Looney Tunes theme and Starlite Ballroom; Day 7: Pass-through town Postville, one of Iowa’s most diverse small cities, and the Mississippi River at Lansing.
Q: Is there anything new on the ride this year?
A: Aside from the return of the Century Day, it will be the first RAGBRAI under new director Matt Phippen, who assumed the job in January after a management career at the Scheel’s sporting goods chain and years as a RAGBRAI volunteer.
Q: How many people will be riding this year?
A: Officially, about 15,500 are signed up for the entire ride, RAGBRAI says. RAGBRAI also will sell day passes during ride week for those who want to ride, but not the entire route.
Q: What does a pass get riders?
A: Among other things, a seat on the aforementioned SAG wagons, discounts from vendors, baggage transport and commemorative patches. The fee for the pass also supports necessities like the Iowa State Patrol controlling traffic along the route, mobile bike repair services and, perhaps most important of all, a spot in one of the ambulances that trail the riders, should that become necessary.
Q: How much does RAGBRAI cost?
A: Prices differ based on registration type. Weeklong rider registration (already sold out) costs $175 (stepped up to $190 after Feb. 28). Weeklong non-rider registration costs $35. Day passes started at $30, stepped up to $40 on May 1. They will cost $45 during the ride. Vehicle permits are an added cost, starting at $40.
Q: Is RAGBRAI a race?
A: Call it one and you’ll get the side-eye from many Iowans. Though some of the best riders may engage in some friendly competition, and Lance Armstrong has been known to make an appearance, RAGBRAI is all about riding at whatever pace makes sense to you through the cities, towns and countryside of Iowa, meeting people along the way and, above all, having fun.