Posted on Lonely Planet by Kyle Munson - Aug 11 2022
I pedaled my way across Iowa this summer but didn’t spend all my time on a bicycle seat.
At one point I found myself wedged behind seven bikes in the dusty bed of a pickup truck, rattling down a gravel road toward the start of that morning’s bicycle route in Charles City.
The night before I had slept at an Iowa farm south of town where a cattle feedlot had been transformed into a replica of Centre Court, Wimbledon—the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club. My friends and I chose to veer out of town for the chance to visit such a quirky spectacle.
Let me pause and put this in plain terms before you stop reading: I spent seven days bicycling 468 miles across Iowa, visiting rural tourism curiosities along the way such as the finely manicured grass tennis “Court of Dreams.”
I’m not alone in my devotion to this annual affliction—I mean, tradition. I was among more than 18,000 bicyclists who joined yet another epic RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Founded in 1973 by a pair of Des Moines Register journalists, RAGBRAI in nearly 50 years has evolved into a cultural phenomenon in which thousands of people from around the globe swarm into Iowa to discover it isn’t as flat as advertised. But at least restrooms are as ample and convenient as the nearest cornfield.
What is RAGBRAI?
RAGBRAI is the world’s oldest, largest, and longest bicycle touring ride.
Each year’s route follows a different path from west to east, between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, although of course many towns and roads have been repeated since ’73. The overnight towns–the basic outline of that year’s route–are announced in January, followed a couple of months later by the more detailed path. Riders pay $175 for a weeklong registration (or $35 for a day pass) and receive an official wristband and another band for their bike. RAGBRAI caps the number of registrants (about 10,000 weeklong riders, for instance), so if you like the look of the route, go ahead and sign up early in the year. The ride is always held during the last full week in July.