Take an exciting journey across the great state of Iowa, past majestic grain silos and wide-open fields of golden corn. Why not bicycle across Iowa this summer? We’ll show you how to enter one of the most famous bike rallies in the world, or if you want something a little faster-paced, we’ll tell you about the many sanctioned bike races in Iowa.
Prefer mountain biking? No problem, we got the “skinny” on that as well!
RAGBRAI®: A Great Bike Ride Across Iowa With a Funny Name
Ok, we can’t write an article about biking in Iowa without talking about the famous bike festival known as Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI®).
RAGBRAI® is a non-competitive bicycle rally that crisscrosses the great state of Iowa during the summer. In 2023, it goes from July 22 to July 29, starting in Sioux City and ending in Davenport.
According to experts, with eight days of riding between 50 and 83 miles per day, you’ll need a baseline of about 1,000 miles of endurance fitness. So, those riders prone to bonking—getting dizzy and passing out from exhaustion—should think twice.
The good news is that you can access plenty of nutrition along the route. Several food vendors, restaurants, and volunteers are at each pass-through town, ensuring your energy levels stay elevated.
Also, for riders who just can’t make it to the next stopover, the thoughtful organizers of this fantastic ride will provide a free SAG service. If you’re not familiar with the term, it means “Support and Gear,” but at RAGBRAI®, it is so much more than that. You get all your camping equipment—yes, this is a camping event—transported from one stopover town to the next, so there’s no need to drag people along with you with little enthusiasm for cycling.
If you’re looking for some epic tales of adventure from those who have taken on the challenge of this legendary bike event, check out a few of these subreddits and listen to the stories of past participants.
An Unforgettable Experience
What makes RAGBRAI® so unique is the sense of community among the riders. You’ll meet people from all over the world and from all walks of life. And when you ask past participants about their experiences at the event, the prevailing thought is that you will never be the same once you try it. Some people even tear up a little when talking about RAGBRAI®.
The hallmark of the event is the teams of riders from all over the globe participating.
You’ll be entertained by the colorful busses that show up crammed with excited cyclists wearing wildly imaginative customized T-shirts.
But watch out. You may find yourself recruited into a peloton club of 80-year-old grandmas wearing pink shirts and red hats!
Oh, and…sometimes people ride their bikes naked…but that was definitely more of a thing back in the day when TikTok and Instagram weren’t a snap away from a worldwide audience.
How To Register For RAGBRAI®
Anyone can register for the event, but you better hurry. The deadline this year is May 15, and availability is limited. If you plan on bringing the kids, there are some restrictions based on age and health conditions. So, it’s best to get all the details on the RAGBRAI® website.
Stuff to Bring
If you plan to participate in all eight days of the event, you will need the following gear:
- Sturdy bike
- Helmet (mandatory)
- Spare tubes
- Energy bars
- Camping gear
- About $35 cash for food per day, per person
Hosting communities at each stopover location provide:
- Camping areas
- Shuttle services
- Shower facilities
- Food vendors
If camping isn’t your thing, or you just want to ride for one leg of the journey, you can buy a daily pass that is only valid for the day you schedule. With it, you can take advantage of all the other riders’ perks, including SAG service and baggage delivery to the following stopover location.
The main difference with the daily pass is that you will not get a shuttle service back to the starting point. For that, you will have to find someone to take you.
Sanctioned Bike Races In Iowa
For those riders craving a little more competition, Iowa has some of the best-sanctioned cycling races in the U.S. They vary in length, difficulty, and competition level.
Here are a few of the top examples:
CRANDIC Time Trial Series
The CRANDIC Racing Club in Solon, Iowa, invites you to their time trial series. Test your bike and see how fast you can go through Eastern Iowa’s beautiful landscape. This 10-mile out-and-back winds along the scenic Sutliff Road and is open to several categories, including:
- Open Women’s & Men’s
- Fat Bike
Races start in late May and continue through August. After that, spots fill up fast, so you should register early at the CRANDIC website.
Grand Prix Des Moines
One of the great road races in Iowa, Grand Prix Des Moines, has something for every rider. It starts on July 9, 2023, at Waterworks Park in Des Moines, with events beginning at 8:00 AM and lasting through the evening until 7:00 PM.
Choose from several race categories, including:
Register in advance or on race day by visiting the organizer’s website.
Tour of Central Iowa
Iowa is known for its hybrid races combining gravel and paved surfaces. The Tour of Iowa is no different, offering riders the choice between paved hill-climbing, 100K paved, and 200K gravel events. There’s even a 380-mile endurance race dubbed the Mann Power 380.
The Tour of Central Iowa is held in Cumming, Iowa, the week of August 12th and 13th, starting at 8:00 AM. For more information and how to register, visit the event’s Facebook page or tourofcentraliowa.com.
Mountain Biking In Iowa?
You may be surprised to discover that Iowa is home to some of the most scenic mountain bike trails in the U.S. From the carved-out prehistoric cliffs of the Iowa River to the golden, sun-kissed rolling hills of the western plains, your senses will be captivated as you ride along these well-kept routes.
Here are a few examples of fantastic mountain bike trails you can find in Iowa:
Blue Heron Lake Loop Trail, Raccoon River Park
Although Blue Heron caters to hikers and joggers, mountain bikers are welcome if they follow the rules and are courteous to others.
Nestled deep within Racoon Park’s lush wooded forest, this scenic off-road bicycle route is perfect for beginners and seasoned riders. It boasts several amenities, such as:
- Picnic tables
- Garbage cans
- Emergency call boxes
- Dog waste disposal bags
Many visors to Blue Heron Lake rave about how well-kept the entire park is year-round. You may like it here, too.
More about Blue Heron Lake Loop Trail:
Governing Authority: Iowa DNR
City: West Des Moines
Skill level: Easy
Distance: 3.3 miles
Climb: 26 ft.
Surface: Well-manicured gravel, some dirt
Configuration: Singletrack loop
Ashworth Park, Des Moines
This moderately challenging bike trail has just enough twists and turns to keep even the most avid rider interested. The route takes about one hour to complete and offers a natural wonderland for all to enjoy.
Like most parks in Central Iowa, officials do an excellent job keeping the trails pristine. Although Ashworth Park is open year-round, there is nothing like the quiet solitude of an early morning ride during the spring and summer months!
More about Ashworth Park:
Main Metro Area: Des Moines, Iowa
City: Windsor Heights
Skill level: Moderate
Distance: 2.7 miles
Climb: 206 ft.
Configuration: Singletrack loop
The wind in your hair, the sun on your face, and the bugs in your teeth! Enjoy the ride, and don’t forget to wear a helmet (and brush your teeth afterward).
Ride on, Iowa bikers!
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