The Register’s 49th Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) kicks off in less than a month, and communities in Allamakee County are busy getting ready for over 15,000 bike riders to pass through on Saturday, July 30.
Cyclists will spend the night in West Union on Friday, July 29. From there, they’ll go through Postville to Waukon before finishing the week-long ride in Lansing.
Ready for them all
Ian Zahren is the executive director for Lansing RAGBRAI. He said Lansing is in a unique position because they are the last stop. Because of that, Zahren said they’re anticipating about 2,000 people to arrive in town July 22 and 23 prior to the start of the ride and then shuttle to Sergeant Bluff, the starting point for RAGBRAI this year.
Zahren said they’re expecting about 1,500 cars parked in town for the week, with roughly 30 charters taking participants to Sergeant Bluff to start the route. There will be camping available on the ball field, as well as deluxe camping options at Red Barn Campground. There are also private housing options.
Adding to the hype is a documentary film crew. In anticipation of the 50th ride next year, USA Today has sent a film crew to Iowa. Zahren said a crew has been to Lansing several times this spring and will spend the entire week of RAGBRAI focusing on the town’s preparations and the riders coming through town.
Getting to Lansing
Riders will stay overnight in West Union on July 29. From there, they’ll go through Elgin and Postville before heading into Waukon on Rossville Road. Waukon City Clerk Sarah Snitker said WW Homestead Dairy will be the first stop for riders, with fresh cheese curds, grilled cheese sandwiches and more, as well as the Dairy Wagon offering shakes.
Most of the activity will take place at the Waukon Events Center parking lot. Local vendors will be selling food and medical staff will be on hand. In addition, there will be bike racks available, restrooms, water stations and picnic tables. The events center will have a beer garden open, and a digital photo booth set up.
After visiting the events center, riders will continue along Rossville Road to Main Street, heading out of town on Elon Drive. Cub Scouts will be in two locations along the route handing out water bottles.
Snitker said support vehicles and other traffic are asked to take 9th Street into town to avoid bike traffic. She said they’re anticipating the bulk of the traffic to come after 10 a.m.
Volunteers are still needed to help both the day before and day of. Snitker said they’re looking for people to hand out fliers in West Union on Friday evening, July 29, and Saturday to help set up, work that day and clean. To volunteer, contact Snitker at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 563-568-3492, ext. 3.
Snitker added roads will be busier than usual on Saturday night as well as Sunday as riders head home.
Heading to Lansing
Once they head out of Waukon, cyclists will travel Elon Road to the Great River Road before going north into Lansing, where they can dip their tires in the Mississippi at Shep’s on the River. Zahren said he’s anticipating riders heading into town as early as 7 a.m. and as late as 4 p.m., depending on the weather. Parking lots will open at 5 a.m. and will close at 9 p.m. Main Street will be filled with vendors, and all non-RAGBRAI riders will be routed into town on Highway 9.
In addition to the riders, Zahren said they’re planning for 50 charter buses downtown taking participants to their vehicles, 25 Penske trucks to transport bikes, 75 support teams, nearly 20 vendors and two bluegrass bands performing.
Main Street will be closed from 6th Street to the river, with vendors set up. School buses will be used as general transportation to and from the visitors parking lot located near the Red Barn Campground. All visitors to town are asked to park in that lot and ride the bus into town.
“We want you to come. This is just as much for the cyclists as it is for our town,” said Zahren. “Our Main Street businesses are putting a lot into this. We want to welcome Lansing residents and the surrounding residents as well. We really welcome everybody.”
All the money collected through RAGBRAI in Lansing, from the sale of merchandise to food to housing, will be donated back to non-profit organizations in
the Eastern Allamakee School District. Zahren said all 501(c)3 organizations can go to lansingragbrai.com and click on the grant application option under committee forms. All applications must be received within 30 days after RABGRAI concludes. An advisory board will review the applications and select the recipients. Zahren said if an organization applies, the funding must be used for a specific project to help the applying group, community or school.
“We want to see a tangible project shortly thereafter. This is not for general operating expenses. We want to see you do something,” he said.
Ready for the riders
RAGBRAI rode through Lansing five years ago, but this is Zahren’s first experience planning the event. He said the committee has taken the work done in 2017 and is making tweaks to it rather than starting from scratch.
“We really started with a good base of what worked well and what didn’t,” he said. “I think we are a lot farther ahead than when we hosted in 2017 because it’s so fresh in people’s minds. We really are excited and hopeful it’ll be a positive experience for the riders and for the people in town.”
Zahren was on hand to watch the RAGBRAI pre-ride group come into town June 11. He said it was emotional to watch the riders dip their tires. “I found myself feeling very excited and nervous and really emotional,” he said, noting he plans to ride in next year’s 50th race.
“It’s a rare opportunity and experience to be in charge of an organization like this and to facilitate this type of an organization. It makes me really want to have that experience on the front end.”
Zahren said he’s excited to see the end results for all the hard work the entire Lansing committee has put in.
“I cannot imagine biking 450 miles and seeing that last mile with the Mississippi. I do think we’re one of the most beautiful places in Iowa. To see the giant bluffs and the river, it almost gets me emotional just talking about it. I can’t imagine what the riders will feel and how I’ll feel.
“This is a celebration of Lansing. We are here to celebrate Lansing and to celebrate the achievements of the cyclists. It really is a beautiful place to live, work and play and we want people to see that and enjoy it.”
Volunteers still needed
Lansing is also still looking for volunteers for the entire week of RAGBRAI. Zahren said it’s estimated they need 800 volunteers to put on the event. Day of volunteers can help with parking, hospitality, at the dip site, campgrounds, public housing, information center, beer tent, entertainment and more.
All volunteers will receive a free t-shirt and will be invited to the volunteer appreciation night Thursday, Sept. 1, in conjunction with the Farmers Market and Music in the Park.
To volunteer, visit lansingragbrai.com, click residents and select “be a volunteer.”