Saturday, July 5, 2014

So- You Want To Ride RAGBRAI?

The "perfect" RAGBRAI bike looks like this
RAGBRAI is happening this month, and if you are going, you'd better have all your ducks in a row already, so this post won't be for you. This post will be for those who are about to decide whether to tackle this ride someday.

This is also a good post for anyone looking for a "road" bike, and wants the best bike for the recreational, versatile type of riding.

First off- let's get something out of the way here. Taking a skinny tire equipped, racing bike design and converting it to RAGBRAI duty is NOT the best thing to do, despite the urgings of your "RAGBRAI veteran" rider. could do what they say.'s worked for years for lots of folks. That said, there is a better way to do the job, and here is why......

  • Bicycles with drop bars and capable of only running 25mm or less wide tires are generally designed from a racing perspective. This does NOT mean it is a "fast bike". It only means it was designed from a racing perspective and will work best if you want to race a bike in a criterium or on a road race. I've noticed something about racing bikes at races- They don't use racks, kickstands, or aerobars in criteriums. Get the picture? In other words- You probably wouldn't put a trailer hitch, running boards, and a touring rack on a C-7 Vette,'s a race car for the street. Same deal with a "racing bike" folks. Same deal.
  • If you want comfort, versatility, and accessories then a racing design is the last bike you want to look at despite all the promises of "speed". Look folks- speed comes not from the bike, but from the rider. Okay, now that this dirty little secret is out in the open, let's drop the testosterone and look at what folks really should have for a ride like RAGBRAI......
Trek's Crossrip bikes are also perfect RAGBRAI rigs.
Accessories: When we sell a bicycle for a RAGBRAI rider, they typically want to put a rack on there to carry "stuff", and many even want to be able to pull a trailer or haul a "trail behind" bike to take a kid along. A racing bike has a lightweight rear wheel meant to handle a single rider that weighs about 180lbs. So......yeah, that wouldn't be smart to throw a rack on to carry a load. (Unless you like broken spokes, wheel issues, or wearing out hubs fast.) Many folks like kickstands. Racing bikes cannot handle kickstands because their tubing is optimized for riding at the lightest possible weight for the frame and handle in a stiff, efficient manner. Kickstand clamps require high strength, thick walled chain stays or a chain stay mounted kickstand plate. Not gonna find that on a Trek 1.2 folks.

These accessories call out for a different kind of bike. A more versatile, "all-road" bike like a Crossrip from Trek, a Tamland from Raleigh, or Salsa Cycles excellent Vaya. All of these models can take a rack, and they all are comfortable bikes which racing bikes are not meant to be. Racing bikes are meant for racing, not comfort. These bikes I am mentioning are designed with comfort in mind. But please skip over them if you don't want to be comfortable. (Remember- going fast doesn't come from the bike folks, it comes from a rider that is comfortable on the bike, and fitness.

Finally, a word on tires. There is a huge misunderstanding when it comes to tires for riders attempting RAGBRAI. Many think that the skinniest tires they can buy will make them "faster". Nothing could be further from the truth. Skinny tires will definitely make your bike less comfortable, and it will make your bike more prone to flats and spoke breakage. Many will poo-poo this idea, and we as bike shop retailers will be more than happy to fix your flats and broken spokes, plus we'll gladly sell you wider, cushier saddles. But you could avoid all of that by riding proper tires at lower pressures and guess what? You'll have lower rolling resistance and less mechanicals. This isn't something I'm making up either. Studies are being done across many different entities which show the same outcome. Tires are suspension. Suspension damps vibrations which otherwise would reach you, (sore butts), or vibrate your machinery to death (broken spokes and more), and with high pressure, unforgiving skinny tires, you don't get any of that, and you won't be faster.  (Remember- People are either fast or slow, bicycles are a minimal factor in the speed equation)

So, there are some hard, cold truths about bicycles for RAGBRAI. Hopefully you folks with open minds will find it useful......

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