Lessons from RAGBRAI

Davenport IA  Saturday July 25, 2015.

The swarm of locust fell down today on its destination, Davenport , along the Mississipi River, after a last 75 miles ride and 470 miles in a week of riding , music, eating, partying and camping. The 43 rd Ragbrai is over, the 44 th is certainly in preparation. Indeed, RAGBRAI is a stunning event in many ways. 

  theI am going in this post to share as usual this piece of Americana seen from the saddle of a bike and stress what had struck me in this unique experience.


First of all, moving 15 to 20 thousands bikers, with their supporting vehicles  day after day across the country from town to city is a huge logistical challenge. No doubt the organizers , a dedicated team of the newspaper Des Moines Register, have improved along the years their learning curve and they master now every single detail of this massive daily deportation. 

 However, crowds of people doing the same things at the same time ( eating, showering drinking, going to the bathroom, you name it…) entails a direct consequence: lines. Lines  are everywhere to be seen on RAGBRAI. Lines are a part of American culture which always strike me as an individualistic Frenchman. But on RAGBRAI they are increased by a factor 10 and provide  an amazing illustration of the deeply ingrained respect of others that Americans display. No one would cut a line. No one would disregard the other person’s right to do the same thing as you . The equality of all that Tocqueville observed 150 years ago finds here in everyday life a vivid illustration. On RAGBRAI lines are also a way to talk and chat and laugh in a friendly way.


Ragbrai is a huge entertainment, and Iowa is Midwest farmland. Two reasons to explain  the stunning friendliness displayed by almost everyone on the ride . The typically American friendliness is here increased by the circumstances. For example everybody thanks the State Patrol Officers and County Sheriffs that regulate the traffic to let the RAGBRAI crowds circulate at the crossroads. in the US 

a policeman is a protecting friend close to the public, and not a punisher like in France and many countries. Volunteers of the organization are thanked, cops are thanked, inhabitants of the towns are thanked and everybody thanks everybody all the time. How  humbling for a rude and stressed Parisian!

Bad roads

Many times in this blog I have commented about the  poor quality of the roads in the northern part of the US. Of course this is due to the harsh winters, but it is also the result of public choices: much less taxpayer’s money goes to public investment: , not only roads but  also trains. Only a cyclist realizes what cracks, expansion joints and bad surfaces impliy , because his only amortiser is his sore butt !  



Anthropologists oppose implicit and explicit cultures. The American culture is the most explicit one. It means that communication between people is clear and permanent. Implicit cultures are silent ones: everybody knows the rules, shares and respect them. RAGBRAI  gives a  loud illustration of the explicit: everyone shouts what he sees or does: ” car up!”  ” car back!” ” biker on!”  ” biker off!””slowing!” ” stopping!” Etc… In France cyclists do not say anything, or rarely. It is implicit that one is supposed to look around and ride accordingly. 


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