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Video cover of 25th annual RAGBRAI, 1997
Cover of video documenting the 25th annual RAGBRAI (1997)


The seed for the Register Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), sponsored by The Des Moines Register, began as an inspiration of touring cyclists John Karras and his childhood friend Donald Kaul who wanted to recapture the spirit of adventure by riding their 10-speed bikes across the state. Their one-day ride from Des Moines to Iowa City in 1971 -- a distance 125 miles -- convinced them such a ride might be possible.

Sponsored by the Iowa Register and accompanied by 250 riders, in August 1973 they began in Des Moines and finished in Davenport with 115 riders six days later. The star of that first ride was Clarence Pickard of Indianola, a retired farmer, county agent, assistant Dean of Iowa State College, and Peace Corps recruit, who happened to be 83 years old! His success encouraged hordes of other riders, so that over 2,000 signed up to ride the next year. The number of cyclists has grown ever since -- from 2,000 in 1974 to around 6,000 in 1978, topping out at 10,000 a year after 1985.

Karras notes: "On the whole, the ride continues to go well, thanks to the organizing skills of Jim Green [RAGBRAI Coordinator], the cooperation of every level of government (especially the Iowa State Patrol), the incredibly generous hospitality of Iowans and the state's splendid secondary road system that allows us to put upward of 10,000 bikes on the road from one border to the other every year in the last full week of July."

An Iowa Public Television video of the 25th RAGBRAI (1997), from Missouri Valley to Fort Madison, documents the project.

Originally submitted by: Tom Harkin, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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