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Bike advocacy group says now it supports RAGBRAI

Coalition says ride officials reveal 'proposed changes'

Iowa Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Mark Wyatt (The Gazette)
Iowa Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Mark Wyatt (The Gazette)

An Iowa bicycle advocacy organization now is endorsing RAGBRAI after just two months ago lending its support to a rival called Iowa’s Ride.

In an email to Iowa Bicycle Coalition members, which was also posted on Facebook, Coalition Director Mark Wyatt said the board voted to make the new endorsement after meetings held with RAGBRAI officials revealed “proposed changes” that signaled a positive direction.

“Moving forward, we believe RAGBRAI is committed to enhance Iowa bicycle advocacy, promote bicycling culture overall, and contribute toward the state of Iowa’s reputation and economic vibrancy,” he wrote.

The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa has become a summertime tradition — a weeklong bike ride joined by thousands from around the state, country and world — since beginning in 1973.

But in October, it was dealt a blow when its longtime director, T.J. Juskiewicz, and staff resigned unexpectedly over what he described as concerns about independence.

The coalition had been a longtime partner of RAGBRAI, but was among the first groups to side with the new Iowa’s Ride, citing the organizer’s “unmatched experience and success” as the “best hope for continuing this proud tradition.”

The coalition, without ever naming RAGBRAI in its initial endorsement of Iowa’s Ride, had called for a “stand-alone and independent entity” as the best option for operating a successful ride for “many years to come.”

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Initially, Iowa’s Ride was scheduled for the same dates as RAGBRAI — July 19-25. But last month, Juskiewicz moved his ride a week earlier — July 12-18 — to mitigate concerns.

Conversations between coalition leaders and RAGBRAI relieved concerns about safety and the future of the ride, Wyatt said.

The organization felt new RAGBRAI Director Dieter Drake and consultant Wes Hall, who previously worked for RAGBRAI, would bring a blend of fresh perspective and institutional knowledge to continue the ride for “many years to come,” he said.

“It was important to maintain our long-standing partnership with them based on our shared mission to promote safe and enjoyable bicycling across Iowa,” according to a statement from RAGBRAI.

The coalition long has produced RAGBRAI’s annual route announcement party in January, when the anchor communities for the upcoming ride are announced. The coalition’s role in the next event — which also serves as a fundraiser and membership drive — had been in limbo, but now is scheduled for Jan. 25 in Des Moines.

In a phone interview Monday, Wyatt said he would leave it up to RAGBRAI leaders to reveal what the “proposed changes” entail, but said they touched on questions about RAGBRAI profits, particularly as the related to supporting Iowa communities.

He said he also expected some closure over his concerns about the ride’s independence. RAGBRAI is under the umbrella of Des Moines Register and the Gannett Co.

RAGBRAI officials have said some changes are forthcoming, but have not said what those are. They did not return messages Monday.

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The organization has faced criticism in recent weeks for not being transparent about what happens to profits, and some tourism officials and others from around the state have raised concerns about RAGBRAI’s level of financial support for communities that host riders.

In the coalition’s latest endorsement, Iowa’s Ride is never mentioned by name — only by inference in that the coalition “also” now endorses RAGBRAI. Wyatt said in an interview the coalition would also support Iowa’s Ride as long as it’s going to be safe.

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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