RAGBRAI (Register’s Great Annual Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) is a seven-day bike ride across Iowa that started in 1973, sponsored by the newspaper the Des Moines Register. Sound fun? It is! Sound flat? It isn’t.
RAGBRAI is the premier “ride across a state” that averages 468 miles from west to east, and traditionally happens every July. It’s become so popular that riders must enter a lottery and be chosen to participate.
A “SAG Wagon” will take up to 50 lbs of your gear, but what gear should you even bring? We’ve created our own list of ten critical pieces of gear, based on having completed RAGBRAI, that you might not have considered.
1. Waterproofing system
When you are outside all day, you might begin to notice something strange, compelling, and ever-present. It’s called weather. As Mark Twain famously noted, “Everyone’s always talking about the weather….but nobody ever does anything about it.”
You can do something about it. Make sure you have a way to cover all your gear with waterproof layers. Any pannier or handlebar bag you buy should either be waterproof or come with a cover. As any experienced racer knows, wet gear sucks. It’s as simple as that.
2. Rain poncho / Rain jacket
See above. Bring a lightweight, cheap poncho or a high-end biker shell. Even if you never use it, you’ll be glad you brought it. You don’t have to spend a lot on a “nor’easter jacket” or heavy motorcycle rain gear, or any of that (unless you want to); just bring a couple (or three) cheap rain ponchos. Of course, you CAN spend a bunch on a full body suit to guarantee full protection.
3. Bike Rack
Obviously you don’t want to ship your bike, or buy one in Iowa. Bring yours, and get a good rack so you and the bike will get there hassle-free. If you have a motorhome or SUV, a rack that attaches to the trailer hitch is highly recommended for security, ease of use and stability. Inno’s Aero Light 2 is the ultimate hitch rack, offering space for two bikes and a super easy setup.
4. Cambelbak or other Hydration system
Water bottles are quaint and convenient most of the time, but for a 468 mile race, they don’t hold much water. In your Camelback, you can stuff a few snacks (don’t overdo it; Iowa has plenty of food) but most importantly you can store a lot of ice cold water. Bring it, wear it, drink from it. Learn how to tell if you’re dehydrated, and, most importantly, drink as often as possible, particularly if you’re mid-race.
5. Warm cap
RAGBRAI entails weather extremes. Even though it’s in July, the changes in the temperature can be extreme. Five o’clock am: rainy, and temps in the 60s (that feel like the 50s with if windy) versus midday: full sun, max humidity that feels like 100 degrees. It’s hard to imagine you might feel cold when you combine “Iowa” and “summer” but you will: take a stocking cap for the late nights and early mornings. You won’t regret it.
6. Extra socks
Did we mention the rain? Iowa can have some serious thunderstorms. The only thing worse than riding wet is wearing wet socks. After the storm passes, after you’ve folded up your $1.50 poncho and had a snack, why not change into some comfy, warm, dry socks? Hint: always keep a pair of socks in your sleeping bag, so that you’ll always be able to slip into something dry (and warm) just before bed. Trust us, you’ll thank us.
7. Arm warmers
RAGBRAI happens in July but when you combine rain and cold mornings, arm warmers are worth their weight in gold. We’ve said this before, but are willing to repeat ourselves. If you’ve never worn an arm warmer, they are a wonderful piece of gear and barely weigh a thing.
8. A camp chair
Invest in a small, foldable camp chair. The RAGBRAI wagon will bring up to 50 lbs of gear and your chair should be on it. Camping is fine, but sitting on the ground after a long day of riding? No thank you. Technology for camp chairs is amazing these days, so take a trip down to your local sporting goods store and try out some of the portable, lightweight, comfy options.
The problem with sunscreen is it wears off, and for some people causes skin outbreaks. Find a brand you like and bring an extra tube. Apply at least three times a day. Sunburn is uncomfortable and long-term exposure is carcinogenic. If you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly, non-greasy option, try Stream2Sea’s sunscreens, which are mineral based and oxybenzone free, meaning they won’t harm you or the wildlife you’re biking through.
Kelty, Wenzel, and other companies make quick set-up shade structures. At the end of a long day, a few hours of hot sun will make your shady paradise feel like the Taj Mahal. Shade tents aren’t too heavy and you can load one up on the RAGBRAI truck; they set up quickly and pack up in a jiffy, too.
Runners-Up: camp slippers or flip flops, clear sport glasses (to protect from rain), your phone (with camera), a baseball cap (for after the ride).