Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bike Shop Tales: A RAGBRAI Story

Once again, the time of the season dictates another Bike Shop Tales story. Here's one about "that ride in Iowa"....

I did the complete RAGBRAI route once. Once.

It was, as they say, enough. Sometimes things capture your imagination, and sometimes, well...........the experience falls flat.

At any rate, in 1996, I did the entire RAGBRAI route while tagging along with the Advantage Cycles crew. The Advantage Cycles Crew was officially the "Team Dead Skunks", but they only used that name to get RAGBRAI passes every year. Not one of the riders actually used the moniker "Team Dead Skunks" by '96. It was basically our boss, Tom, and a bunch of like minded hooligans with a bicycle problem. Not that I minded. In fact, at one time, I was them, only I never got to ride RAGBRAI while I was one of them. I know, it's complicated!

I was sort of at a point in my life where those sort of alcohol fueled shenanigans were old and tiresome. Actually doing outlandish stuff while completely straight and in my right mind were what I was into at that time. I had two willing partners in Ears and Matt too, and they showed up a couple of days into it to help me make some noise.

Ironically, the '96 route is very similar to the 2010 route. All across the northern tier of counties. Well, let's just say it is pretty flat, and almost too easy. Still, some riders were taking to each days route with the gusto and authority generally reserved for those partaking in competition. Actually, I am convinced some RAGBRAI riders think the event is a competition.

For instance, take the folks that I passed that were riding the high dollar road and time trial bikes of the day. (Yes- people actually ride full on TT bikes all the way across Iowa. ) When I went tooling by them on my 26" wheeled converted mountain bike-to-touring bike contraption, they would bury their chin on the stem, show their teeth in a menacing way, and click down a gear to re-pass me, as if the indignity of being passed by a friendly touring bicyclist was beneath them. A chrome ex-mountain bike at that! Oh my! 

There were more similar examples of that sort of snobbery on two wheels that occurred all week long that year. Not that I didn't try to be friendly, at least the first few days. But by the end of the week, I had given up on that, and was actually goading some of them on, just for sport. Probably not a wise course of action, in as far as cycling advocacy goes, but I had been jaded by the coolness of most riders responses to me, and I was out of patience. Besides that, it was just too easy.

So, in Fort Atkinson, we were cruising down a back alley when I came across some old gas station sign numbers for advertising the price of gas. I grabbed two and zip tied them to either side of my front low rider racks, like racing numbers. Then, as I rode alongside the fancy pants riders, I would look at them and instead of saying a chirpy "Good afternoon!", I said, "Nice day for a race, eh?", and sped on by them. This was usually met by some red faced, furious pedal stomping, and if they did manage to pass me again, I would laugh out loud at them. Why hide it?

I know. I was being a smarty pants. I was just not getting into, well.......whatever it is people get into regarding RAGBRAI. To me it was just like the chaos that is created when too many cars get on the road, and people get ornery, and there are attitudes, and stupid maneuvers, and all of this on bicycles, which for me, didn't make it better. Chaos is chaos, be it on bicycles, or in cars, or in big crowds of people. Maybe you think RAGBRAI is the "greatest show on the road", and if you do, you are probably on it right now. That's great. Knock yerself out.

It wasn't all that great for me, and even though I've done bits and peices of it since, I still just do not care for it. I came home in 1996 from RAGBRAI not very impressed. My boss couldn't figure it out.

Oh well!

Stay tuned for more "Bike Shop Tales" next week..............


Wally Kilburg said...

I coalesce better with the MTB community but I like to road ride, I just don't get along well the "roadies". They are snobby, more so than in any other activity I have been a part of. Even now, I sort of converted my Scott CX bike to a more road oriented machine and I'm sneered at - one person asked me what sort of brakes they were; must have never seen cantilevers. I hate to stereotype but most of the roadies I have met are dorks.

Guitar Ted said...

@Wally Kilburg: While there certainly is that sort of roadie dynamic on RAGBRAI, calling the vast majority of these folks on that ride "cyclists" is stretching the term very thinly. In reality, most of these folks are "car culture" people who happen to be on a bicycle for one week in search of a party.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, I just don't click with that and all the attendant chaos and attitude that comes with it.

Bruce Brown said...

Frustration understood. I've ridden it 3 times - most days on either a fat tire mountain bike, a fat tire mountain bike tandem - or a LWB recumbent. Pretty much had comments all day long throughout the entire week from riders that I was always on the "wrong bike" or had the "wrong kind of tires" - yet I made it across the state just fine with no problems from my standpoint. Eventually, I relaxed and got to a point that I didn't let any of the negativity get to me and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

This year would have been my first time riding it on a road bike, but Friday night altered our trip.

I'd be up for a gravel ride across the state if we could shower every night...

Cale said...

the thing that drives me up a wall about Ragbrai is the fact that you cannot mention riding a bicycle in iowa without someone regaling you with stories of how their brother in law who is a "serious cyclist" won ragbrai one year.

D said...

Great post! Despite my gravel grinding ways, the opportunity to ride through my hometown of Kingsley on this year's first day route was too much to pass up. I contemplated doing your suggested GBRAI, but my wife had never been a part of this rolling spectacle, so I stuck to the asphalt and rode with her.

I let my gravel freak flag fly by riding my Fargo with Race King 29er tires. Most of the riders reacted like you would expect, i.e. either like I wasn't wearing pants or like I was from another planet. It was easy to sort out the riders from the tourists based on their reactions. Unfortunately, the former were greatly outnumbered by the latter. For every fixie rider or fully-loaded Surly LHT, there were 20 narrow-tired, narrow-minded, time trial-ing, red-faced roadies. One dude asked about my bike and then suggested I try a road bike. The fact that I sold my road bike long ago was met with a blank stare, and it stopped the conversation.

I had a lot of fun on the Fargo (which actually got a lot of love - great bike!), and riding into my small hometown with thousands of bike riders was something I will probably never get to do again. However, spending a week just waiting to get taken out by some jack*ss mashing his way downhill like he is in pursuit of a yellow jersey is not something I need to do again anytime soon.


Carson said...

This has been a great rendition of RAGBRAI. I have never done it, but I don't have much desire for that fact that most people who are "racing" it don't know how and are dangerous to everyone around. I don't wanna jeopardize my racing season so that someone can pace line with me. They are just as you said, looking for a party and don't know what a true cyclist is.

Good writing Ted!

Guitar Ted said...

@Bruce Brown: Hey, I was sorry to hear of the calamity you guys suffered through last Friday. As a tornado survivor myself, I can totally understand the experience.

@Cale: Yeah, there is THAT! :) Definitely something that rings in the ears of bike shop employees at this time of year like a clanging bell.

@D: I know the feeling of cruising into your hometown on RAGBRAI myself, having had that opportunity twice already. In fact, they are going through there again this time, but I've had my fill!

@Carson: Thanks for the kind words. I will say that RAGBRAI is like Las Vegas: Every cyclist should do it at least once. ;) But yeah, the riding is borderline insane a lot of times on that ride.