PRO Tips to Ride RAGBRAI – One Town at a Time

The author posing for a photo with teammates Melissa and Kelly at the finish of the ride.
Mission Accomplished! RAGBRAI 47

Guest post by documentarian Justin Balog

Riding across IOWA, like the entire state of Iowa, from the Missouri River to the Old Miss sounds daunting. On average, you’re riding about 100k a day. In some cases, you’re riding a turn of the century Dutch commuter bike that was your mother’s and you’ve attached SPD cleats to your clogs. So how do you do it? Well, the answer is easy, you do it one town at a time.
Each day, the RAGBRAI route is broken up into short(ish) segments that connect all the small town’s across Iowa’s rolling landscape. Each town is separated by about 10 miles. Instead of thinking about doing a single 500-mile ride across a state, think of it as doing 50 10-mile rides between small towns that have coffee shops, food trucks, bouncy castles, beer gardens, live music, fire jugglers, lawn dart tournaments, etc. You get the idea, this isn’t your traditional bike ride. That being said, what do you need as a cyclist to make your day on RAGBRAI more comfortable?

A photo of light sandals, sun sleeves, cash, toothbrush, DaBrim visor.
PRO Tools for RAGBRAI success.
The author and a teammate wearing DaBrim visors.
Riding with DaBrim partner, Kelly one morning.

ONEDaBrim. In most circles, the DaBrim is frowned upon, scoffed at and generally recognized as the most FRED of all FRED totems. Even more so than sunglass mirrors or helmet stickers. At RAGBRI, the DaBrim is standard-issue uniform. Wear that DaBrim with pride, identify with a tribe of fellow riders who take sun protection seriously and rest assured your face and ears will be safe from 10 hours on the road.

TWO – Toothbrush. 10 hours on the road eating Iowa Sweet Corn and drinking beer can leave your mouth all sorts of gnarly. A toothbrush is the play to make sure all your conversations with friends along the way are on the up-and-up.

THREESun sleeves. At an average speed of 10mph, sun protection is no joke. Sunscreen just won’t last for 10 hours, you need physical barriers between you and the sun. We’re not only talking arm sleeves, we’re talking leg sleeves too. Surprisingly, they keep you pretty cool to boot. Check your ego, and protect what’s important.

FOUR – Cash. RAGBRAI is basically a rolling “DENIAL OF SERVICE ATTACK” on all cellular networks. Most small towns aren’t prepared to have their population expand by orders of magnitude. There’s no way you’re going to send a text message or post a photo to Instagram, let alone process a credit card. Cash is king on the roads of Iowa, so make sure to bring a bunch of it!

FIVE – Lightweight shoes. Personally, I’ve never seen people ride in SPD equipped Keens. The first day of RAGBRAI I saw about 5000 people doing it. Why? Well, in every town you pass through along the route, you dismount your bike and walk. Do you really want to burn through a $300 pair of shoes? Nope, you want to chill, take your time and spend money on what’s important….food. To preserve your cycling shoes, make sure to carry a lightweight pair of shoes to change into. I like crocs. I’m bringing them back on the scene. Full disclosure, I’m a CROCS ambassador.

That’s my top 5 list of RAGBRAI pro tips from a person who as done it once. There are seasoned vets out there that have done it over 40 times. I’m sure the OGs have a 100 more. When you do your first RAGBRI ask one of them, they’ll make sure you’re dialed in and ready to roll!

Photo of the author's bike
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