The Riding Part- A lot of people ask us, "What do I have to do to get in shape for this thing?" There is no other way to train for a long-distance bike ride than to ride long distances. You can't really prepare for RAGBRAI by riding a stationary bike or by walking or running, although these activities will contribute to a higher level of fitness. You need to come as close as you can to simulating the ride, which means riding hills, riding against the wind, riding long miles day after day. Not many people go on a training ride in the rain, but it would help you know how you and your bike will perform. We suggest that you try riding 20-30 miles three nights a week, and 50-60 miles on weekend days. Take some time around the 4th of July to do longer miles three or four days in a row. This will let you know whether you can recover for the next day's ride. Don't over-train, though. Come to Iowa rested.
Comfort on the bike is critical. Make sure that your bike is adjusted correctly for your body. Don't change anything about your bike or your gear just before the ride. Make sure that your shoes, gloves, saddle and all other gear is broken in. Make sure your helmet rests securely on your head. Don't make any drastic adjustment to your saddle or handlebar height just before the ride. If you are thinking of changing to clipless pedals or adding attachments to your handlebars, do it now, not just before the ride.
Everybody has their own idea of what they need to carry with them on the bike. Some riders don't feel prepared unless they are carrying a few clothing items, food items, a first aid kit, etc. We suggest that you carry only what you absolutely need -- a tube and patch kit, money, i.d., sunscreen, protection for your lips, a rain jacket if the forecast calls for rain. (The rain jackets made for cycling have great advantages over a poncho or other kinds of rain gear. The cycling rain jackets are vented, and they have extra long sleeves to cover your arms as you're reaching for the bars, and usually a shirttail that covers your behind. Rain pants are optional.) Although food and drink can be found virtually every couple of miles along the route, you may want to have two bottle cages on your bike for two large water bottles on hot afternoons. If you plan to get on your bike before sunrise, or to be riding it after sunset, you will need a headlight. There are small handlebar mounted lights that can be clipped on when you need them; others mount on your helmet. Carry sunscreen and lip balm with sunscreen -- we have seen a lot of perfectly fit people become miserable because of sunburned skin or blistering lips.
Watch out for the other guy. You're going to encounter people who are not in very good shape and who are not very skilled riders. They are going to swerve erratically on steep hills. They are going to try to draft you. They are going to pedal furiously one minute, and then coast along in exhaustion. They are going to cut clumsily across the road in front of you in a desperate dive for the Dove Bar stand. Our first tip is this: 1) Don't be one of these people. Always look back over your shoulder before changing lanes or getting off the road. Don't draft anybody you don't usually ride with. Pedal smoothly, maintaining an even speed. Whether you are coasting down a long hill, or climbing a steep one, "hold your line," which means don't weave around. Ride like you drive. If you're fatigued, get off the road and rest a bit. And secondly, 2) Be considerate of these people. Use the RAGBRAI road lingo to signal your intentions to other riders. As you pass another rider, say "On your left" or "On your right." Say it pleasantly: don't shout at them as if you expect them to get out of your way. It's customary to holler "Stopping" or "Braking" when you do. Be safe. Be predictable. Be defensive. Be kind. The stronger, more capable rider should always defer to those who are struggling.
When a car is approaching in the oncoming lane or from behind you, warn other riders by shouting "Car Up" or "Car Back." If you come across an accident, shout "Rider Down." You will pick up the lingo on your first day as other riders shout "Bump!" "Gravel!" or "Rumble!" (for a rough strip announcing an upcoming stop sign). You can also help the rider behind you by simply pointing to a patch of gravel or a pothole. Remember to hold your line on a turn. Remember to cross railroad tracks at a right angle. Watch for treacherous cracks and grooves in the road. Your narrow tire can drop into a crack and send you end over end. One last thing... RIDE RIGHT! Stay right of the center line.
The Packing Part- Bring layers. You'll probably start out in long sleeves in the morning and remove them by 10:00 a.m. Bring a couple of bath towels and four days worth of clothes. Pork Belly offers a midweek laundry service (small extra charge, and the proceeds go to Juvenile Diabetes), a great morale boost that gives you fresh towels and a chance to wear your clothes a second time. In the evening, it's shorts and t-shirts, but one pair of long pants and a sweatshirt will prepare you for cool evenings. Believe it or not, a surprising number of people bring old clothing and underwear that they discard after wearing. A few items you might not think of: baby powder and/or anti-chafing products like Butt Butter, a few shop rags, a pocket mirror, a flashlight or one of those miner's headlights (for use in the dark tent), a little notebook for addresses, earplugs, extra socks, high-tech wringable towels, Advil or whatever you take for aches and pains, and antibacterial handwash-the kind you can use without water. Get sample sizes of some things-toothpaste, lotion, handwash, shampoo-to save on space. Liquid shower gel is better than packing a slimy bar of soap. You'll find a dozen uses for a fistful of ziplock bags. If the forecast is hot, you may be tempted to leave that sleeping bag behind. Don't do it. Iowa weather can change in a heartbeat, and you don't want to shiver all night. On the other hand, lots of folks pack a small, battery-operated fan for warm nights in the tent. (Ice in a ziplock helps too.) In June, we typically send out an email filled with a wealth of advice from RAGBRAI veterans, including how and what to pack. Many people say to do a trial-pack and then take out half. And remember, if you can lift your bag above your head, then our drivers can, too. Keep their spines in mind as you pack.
The Camping Part- Put your tent up and take it down so you know how it's done. If your tent is new, don't assume that it's water-tight. You probably need to seal the seams yourself. You can buy sealer (like a bottle of nail polish) at any camping store. Bring a ground cloth and rain fly. With the distant sound of the street dance, the whispers and giggles from tents around you, and of course a chorus of snorers... light sleepers would be wise to bring earplugs to help them doze off. Heavy sleepers may need an alarm clock. Keeping snacks like fruit and power bars in your tent is a good idea. Eat something before bed and when you wake up to keep your blood sugar on an even keel. The restrooms are so crowded in the morning that some people just make do with their toothbrush, water bottle, a wet washcloth in a ziplock bag or alcohol wipes. Again, bring your sleeping bag. If it's hot, you can sleep on top of it.
The Eating Part- This is not the time to diet. Eat before you are hungry, drink before you are thirsty, and rest before you are tired. Many food vendors have caught on to the idea that RAGBRAIers want healthy food, but veggies and whole grain stuff may not always be readily available. Pancakes and homemade cinnamon rolls abound. Tender Toms makes a great turkey sandwich. Iowa sweet corn is a real treat. You can always get fresh fruit and fresh-squeezed lemonade. Espresso drinks are sometimes available on the route. Pasta is everywhere, usually with meat. Church dinners offer huge portions and homemade desserts. Don't worry about calories or pounds this week. Have a Dove Bar. Have an Iowa Chop. Eat for pleasure and for fuel.
The Money Part- We think $300 is the high end for meals, snacks and beverages on the road and in the towns, but remember that you'll be hungrier and thirstier when cycling for a large part of each day. Depending on your habits, you might budget for extras and luxuries like massages ($40 for 30 minutes), souvenir shirts or jerseys, our midweek laundry ($15), our midweek hotel stays (price tbd), and bike parts and accessories. The benefit of PBV's Weeklong Support is that it includes many things you'd have to buy anyway. Three hearty evening meals are included. The services of our bike mechanics-repairs or adjustments in camp, Sunday through Friday--are free to those camping with us. Weeklong Porkers take a hot, private shower each day on our air-conditioned trailers right in camp, towel included. Some of our cold beverages are free and some cost 90 cents. No charge for fresh-brewed coffee every morning; hot tea and hot chocolate are also available for free. We'll give you a souvenir polydri Pork Shirt. When we can, we'll offer inexpensive indoor sleeping at churches or other local non-profits (about $10 for air-conditioned floor space). What else? The towns charge a little something for their shuttle buses. Tipping our crew is customary at the end of the week. In short, everything on RAGBRAI is a bargain. If you're pretty frugal, you won't spend $400. And if you like some extras and luxuries, well, just budget for them. It's your vacation.
The KEY- What's the key to RAGBRAI? Not training. Not gear. Not money. The key to a successful RAGBRAI is attitude. Lower your expectations, dust off your sense of humor, and roll with it. Things will go right and things will go wrong. You're going to have a great time.