Iowa’s largest bicycle advocacy organization appears to be first major organization splitting from the suddenly vulnerable yet iconic statewide bike ride known as RAGBRAI, instead backing a new rival ride announced just this week.
The Iowa Bicycle Coalition, and its spinoff Iowa Bicycling Action Fund, has endorsed a competing ride planned next summer for the same week as RAGBRAI called Iowa’s Ride, according to a statement from coalition director Mark Wyatt.
The new rival ride was announced this week by T.J. Juskiewicz, the now-former director of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. The viability of RAGBRAI was dealt a blow as he and the three other members of the ride’s marketing staff at the Register walked out in protest of a prohibition against them speak freely about the newspaper’s controversial news profile of Carson King.
The Register faced scorn from readers for reporting that turned up a pair of years-old racist tweets by the Busch Light fan turned unlikely fundraiser for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Juskiewicz said he wanted to respond freely as backlash spilled over to the bike ride staff.
The Register has vowed the 38-year-old ride will continue in July 2020, but some have raised questions about its ability now to pull it off and whether either ride will survive if both are scheduled for the same time — July 19-25.
Juskiewicz was director of RAGBRAI at the Register for 16 years.
Without mentioning RAGBRAI by name, Wyatt said “the weeklong bicycle tour has for the past 16 years been integral to advancing our mission of promoting safe and enjoyable bicycling through education, events, better policy, and a growing community of supporters.
“We believe that Iowa’s Ride will be the most successful way to continue the iconic annual bicycle ride across Iowa, not only in 2020 but for many years to come,” Wyatt said. “The team that has formed Iowa’s Ride and that will be organizing and managing it have unmatched experience and success in doing so. They are the best hope for continuing this proud tradition.”
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Wyatt, who has partnered with Juskiewicz on a podcast called Let’s Go Bike, also advocated a “stand-alone and independent entity” as the best option to operate a successful ride, which he called “integral to Iowa.”
Juskiewicz and Register officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Iowa Bicycle Coalition, which has a staff of three, has for years been a key partner promoting and supporting RAGBRAI. The coalition has produced RAGBRAI’s annual route announcement party in January when the anchor communities for the upcoming ride are announced.
Wyatt said his board has not formally decided what its relationship with RAGBRAI would be going forward and said he has not communicated with the Register.
Numerous bike clubs, bike shops and others say they are waiting before deciding which ride they will support.
RAGBRAI has grown from an impromptu ride with a few hundred people led by two Register columnists in 1973 into a cultural phenomenon and tourism juggernaut attracting upward of 10,000 riders a day from around the state, nation and world during the seven-day ride the last full week of each July.
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