KALONA — About 40 people have been touring Iowa by bike to get a preview of the 2018 version of RAGBRAI, a river-to-river bicycle ride across the state held at the end of July.
On Friday, they completed the sixth day of the seven-day event, biking from Sigourney to Iowa City with several stops along the way including Harper, Keota, Wellman, a lunch stop at the Kalona Brewery, Riverside and Hills, and a celebratory beer and tour at Big Grove Brewery in Iowa City.
“It’s a different kind of RAGBRAI experience; you get the VIP treatment,” said Rob Kirkman, who rode on a tandem bicycle with his wife, Staci, this week. “On RAGBRAI you are one of 25,000 people. This week you are one of 40.”
RAGBRAI — the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — holds a pre-ride before the main event to inspect the route from a bike seat to see what issues need to be addressed beforehand and to meet with planners from each town along the route.
For example, the riders might discover the route passes through a neighborhood on garbage collection day, or that a hog lot has heavy truck traffic at the time of day riders would be coming through, said T.J. Juskiewicz, the RAGBRAI director.
“There’s things you don’t notice in a car, but you definitely notice on a bike,” Juskiewicz said.
The 46th installment of RAGBRAI will begin July 22 in Onawa and end July 28 in Davenport. Denison, Jefferson, Ames, Newton, Sigourney and Iowa City will serve as the overnight towns along the 428-mile route with 12,576 total feet of climb. Organizers call it the fourth easiest in the ride’s 46-year history.
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RAGBRAI was started on a whim by two Des Moines Register journalists in the early 1970s. Several hundred people showed up, sparking the tradition.
Ryan Schlabaugh, city administrator in Kalona, and Kevin Meller, of Riverside, are leading their community’s planning efforts. Both communities are on the route on July 27.
“It gives us a chance to learn from people who’ve done it before,” said Meller, who is chairing the RAGBRAI committee and this months’s TrekFest. “They can give advice about where we should set things up and how many people we need.”
Riverside will have a stage set up in Hall Park with the Nadas headlining the music stage.
The pre-ride group consists of people with different types of experiences with the event. This year included police officers, emergency medical technicians, officials from towns that have hosted RAGBRAI before and members of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition.
Police Capt. Troy Kelsay is a regular participant in RAGBRAI but this year his focus will be on making sure Iowa City is prepared. On the pre-ride, he was able to provide the law enforcement perspective.
“The question is how do you police it and how do you patrol it with that many people,” Kelsay said.
His philosophy is to recognize participants are taking time out of their busy schedules to explore Iowa and understand they are letting loose. They aren’t there to “burn down the town,” he said.
Iowa City Manager Geoff Fruin rode with the group. He’s been a key part of Iowa City’s planning.
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“It’s going to be a fun ride start to finish,” Fruin said during a break in Hills. “I hope folks have something left in the tank when they get to Iowa City because we have a lot planned.”
People who’ve ridden all week point to Ledges State Park near Boone, Jack Trice Stadium in Ames and the Hausbarn Heritage Park in Manning as highlights of the week.
“It’s much hillier than I anticipated,” said Kathy Murphy, of Cedar Rapids, in recapping the day. She has helped produce a daily podcast this week available at JustGoBike.net. “I am thankful I put in the training miles. It is very scenic.”
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