RAGBRAI bike tour celebrating 40th birthday this week

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You know how it goes: One day it’s just a small event with a couple of hundred people along for the ride. Then the next thing you know it’s 40 years old with thousands of bike riders joining in.

In a nutshell, that’s the history of RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

This grand-daddy of across state bicycle tours is celebrating its 40th anniversary this week as 10,000 registered riders rolled out on Sioux Center on Sunday for a 54-mile ride to Cherokee as temperatures soared to 100.

Today’s ride is a 62-mile ride to Lake View. The ride ends Saturday in Clinton, on the Mississippi River, after crossing 471 miles of Iowa blacktop.

Economic impact

Towns situated along the route prepare for the famished hordes with homemade baked goods, corn on the cob, pulled pork lunches and liquid refreshments. Towns fortunate enough to host the rolling bike city overnight can expect a colossal tourism boom.

A report earlier this year found that RAGBRAI alone pumps $16.9 million into the economy. Much of that goes directly to the churches and PTAs that serve food and drink.

The eating, drinking, biking party that RAGBRAI has become has much humbler beginnings. It started as an across-state bike tour challenge between two writers at the Des Moines Register. They invited the general public, and 300 people participated — 140 for the entire ride.


A few of those pioneers are still around. Here’s how one of them, Maggie Poulos, 81, described that first ride in a recent article in the Des Moines Register:

“We rode single speeds and three speeds. Nobody wore helmets. Nobody even had T-shirts or anything that matched. Kids were in tank tops and cutoff jeans. It was just whatever you had you wore. It took me many years to give in to bicycle shorts. And then it’s like you have tapped into a cult.”

One of those first riders was 83-year-old Clarence Pickard. He became famous for completing the tour wearing trousers, long underwear and a long-sleeved shirt.

The RAGBRAI blog named the 7 cyclists and 1 rider supporter who have participated in every RAGBRAI bike tour. They are:


  1. Rick Paulos, Cedar Rapids
    (Now rides with Hawkeye Bicycle Association)
  2. Scott Dickson, Newark, DE
    (Now rides with Team Skunk)
  3. Randy Dickson, Sturgeon Bay, WI
    (Now rides with Team Skunk)
  4. Margaret Paulos, Davenport
    (Now rides with Hawkeye Bicycle Association)
  5. Carter LeBeau, Davenport
    (Now rides with Quad Cities Bicycle Club)
  6. Dr. James Hopkins, Windsor Heights
    (Rides with their family)
  7. Nancy Jo Hopkins, Windsor Heights
    (Rides with their family)
  8. Greg Harper, Muscatine
    (Family owns Harper’s Cycling & Fitness)

Here’s hoping these 8, and the 10,000 other cyclists, stay safe and have an enjoyable ride.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bikingbis.com/2012/07/23/ragbrai-bike-tour-celebrates-40th-birthday/

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