Is there room for another great Iowa bike ride?

The annual RAGABRAI ride, pictured here last year, is the oldest and largest recreational bicycle tour of its kind. But now there’s a rival on the path. Submitted photo

“Thank you for trusting us with the GREAT RIDE!” said Former RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz in his resignation statement to RAGBRAI’s parent companies Des Moines Register & Gannett/USA Today.  The entire RAGBRAI staff resigned along with Juskiewicz last week.

According to the Des Moines Register, RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) about 10,000 registered riders, with participants hailing from all 50 states and a host of international locations, descend on Iowa every year. RAGBRAI is believed to be the oldest, largest and longest recreational bicycle touring event in the world.  It was officially founded in 1973 by two Des Moines Register columnists and bicycle enthusiasts, Donald Kaul and John Karras.

Greg Harper, of Harper’s Cycling & Fitness, has ridden a part of every RAGBRAI since its inception. In addition to riding, Harper’s company has been an official RAGBRAI Bike Shop since 1994.

“It’s a big deal to be a part of the oldest, longest ride of its kind,” said Harper. “Now, there’s a rival ride and we’re going to keep our options open.”

He refers to the plans the former RAGBRAI staff has already announced about the forming of IOWA’S RIDE, to be held July 19-25, 2020 which is the same week as RAGBRAI.  IOWA’S RIDE has indicated a northern Iowa route will be followed and is already accepting registrations online at iowasride.com.

He says they’ve had a long relationship with RAGBRAI and the Des Moines Register, but the new ride offers additional options to consider. His biggest question has to do with public safety for both rides.  Highway patrols, county and municipal police departments, and emergency medical services are all needed.  He wonders if there will be enough resources for two rides, especially if the RAGBRAI route announced in November will be a northern route.

“Where will all the officers and EMTs come from?” asks Harper. “With either ride, it’s an unknown.”

Each year Harper’s Cycling & Fitness assembles a team of four to ride along and set up a mobile bike shop during each day of the seven-day RAGBRAI.  Two mechanics, a service tech and a VIP tent host staff Harper’s three-tent bike shop.  Harper says he can’t staff both, so he’ll likely need to select one ride or the other this year. He said he has no real information yet about what will be the best decision for his company.

The Melon City Bike Club in Muscatine provides an annual RAGBRAI charter service for members. The charter helps to eliminate individual hassles of the event like bike shipping, gear transport, campsite location, and getting riders and their bike to the starting point and home again.  Organizers of the Club’s charter also wonder what will be the best action to take this summer with two rides during the same week this summer.

The shakeup in the cross-state bike ride come on the heels of a story published by the Des Moines Register that mentioned racist tweets made by Carson King when he was 16-years old. King gained notoriety when he posted a ‘need beer money’ sign during ESPN’s College Game Day broadcast before the Iowa / Iowa State football game last month. The Des Moines Register received backlash from the story and RAGBRAI ended up donating $50,000 to King’s fundraiser which eventually raised $3million for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

“I can no longer be an effective leader when my principles are compromised by the leadership of Gannett/Des Moines Register,” said Juskiewicz in his statement.

“RAGBRAI’s parent companies (Des Moines Register & Gannett/USA Today) claim “we will uphold First Amendment principles”, but they refused to offer me that same opportunity to openly speak to the RAGBRAI Nation and answer the hundreds of passionate questions asked about the future of RAGBRAI following the Des Moines Register’s handling of the Carson King story.

“I have always been totally transparent with the RAGBRAI Nation and have earned their trust since my first day in 2003. In these past few weeks, my efforts to communicate with our loyal riders has been consistently blocked as it did not mesh with the company’s PR narrative to spin the Carson King embarrassment.”

The Des Moines Register said on the ragbrai.com “the good news is that The Register is still committed to hosting RAGBRAI in 2020. The ride will go on. There’s no group of people more committed to RAGBRAI than those of us here at the Register.”

“We’ll continue RAGBRAI’s longstanding tradition in 2020 with another great bicycle ride and strong partnerships with Iowa communities to raise money for good causes. Our commitment remains to donate $50,000 to the University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital,” said Andy Yost, chief marketing officer of Gannett. “We’re proud of the good RAGBRAI has done for the state since 1973.”

Information for both rides can be found online at ragbrai.com and iowasride.com.  Riders from across the state and across the world now have a choice for their late-July great bicycle ride across Iowa.