You’ve no doubt heard of the Tour de France, the famous cycling event that traverses the French countryside. Sure, that’s nice, but is it the longest, largest, and oldest bicycle touring event in the world? No, it most certainly isn’t; RAGBRAI is. What’s RAGBRAI, you ask? Well, since it’s Throwback Thursday, I’ll go ahead and tell you.
As many interesting things start out, RAGBRAI evolved from a challenge between two friends. John Karras was a feature writer for the Des Moines Register and his buddy, Don Kaul, wrote a column for the same newspaper. Although he wrote for an Iowa newspaper, Kaul actually lived in Washington D.C. Karras suggested that Kaul, who was an avid bicycle rider, travel across Iowa on his bike and write about what he saw. Not wanting to embark on this journey alone, Kaul agreed to do it, but only if Karras came with him. He agreed, they got permission from their managers, and started planning.
Karras and Kaul didn’t want to get lonely while on the road, so they invited the public (the readers of the Des Moines Register) to come along with them. They published the dates of this first RAGBRAI, as well as the beginning (Sioux City) and ending (Davenport) locations. Readers of the newspaper didn’t have much time to prepare for the race, so only 300 people showed up in Sioux City, with only 114 making it the entire distance. Many people were interested in participating in the next race, though, but requested that the date of the event be changed to a time that didn’t conflict with the start of the school year and the Iowa State Fair.
You may be wondering what RAGBRAI stands for, if anything. Now with a nod towards the newspaper that started it all, the race used to be known as SAGBRAI. This stands for the Second Annual Great Bicycle Race Across Iowa. Not sure how much forethought was put into that name or if they had an incorrect hunch that this second event would be the final event, as this acronym would have had to change year after year. Thankfully, someone decided to change the acronym to RAGBRAI, which stands for The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Since 1975, the race has had this name, followed by a Roman numeral to designate what year the event is in.
RAGBRAI XLIV is currently going on now and is scheduled to finish on Saturday the 30th. The event is more legitimate now, bringing with it a different logo every year, as well as a new course. What makes this race so special is the genuine excitement that takes over a town when the riders pass through. In the towns that serve as overnight stops along the course, celebrations are held which allow the participants to rest and relax before the next leg on the following day.
While the prestige of an event like the Tour de France isn’t found in RAGBRAI, the way in which the locals embrace it give it a special quality that the more famous races will never have.