COUNCIL BLUFFS — For the first time in six years, RAGBRAI returned to Council Bluffs, with the ride’s annual expo kicking things off Saturday on the Mid-America Center grounds.
Bruce Manchon’s first RAGBRAI was in 2009, and it coincidentally began in Council Bluffs. The Boulder, Colorado, resident said he fondly remembers the ride.
“The biggest thing is just the camaraderie, the fun, the people,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing I came away with.”
Manchon returned to Council Bluffs a decade later for his second RAGBRAI on Saturday, this time with his partner of 10 years, Ranelle Randles. He’s talked up the tour to both Randles and his friends since attending in ’09. An avid cyclist — Manchon has done rides as far south as Texas and far north as Vancouver — he said he’s participated in larger tours and races that “just didn’t have that spark” of RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
“It’s the energy,” he said. “Just the people, the town’s people. If you stop, it’s not a race. You’ve gotta stop, eat corn, eat pie, talk to the kids that have got their lemonade stands on the corner. That’s what it’s all about.”
The tour began in 1973 after John Karras and Don Kaul, writers for the Des Moines Register, agreed to ride their bikes across Iowa, from the Mississippi to Missouri Rivers, and document their travels for the paper. The writers invited the public to join (about 300 showed up at the start in Sioux City, and numbers peaked at 500), and the annual event has since swelled. Total participant numbers are now capped at 10,000 cyclists, and the tour’s tagline is that it’s the “oldest, longest, largest” bike tour ever.
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While the tour will bring at least 10,000 cyclists for the cross-state tour, Saturday’s expo was expecting at least 20,000 attendees.
The expo is a chance for cyclists, plus friends and family, to peruse the latest in biking apparel and equipment, as well as enjoy food from 80 vendors and hear live music before the 427-mile, eight-stop journey across Iowa.
Council Bluffs, which has kicked off the tour three times in the past decade, has some re-freshened sites for riders to see since it last hosted, including the 100 Block of West Broadway, where riders take off early Sunday and head for Atlantic, Iowa.
“We love showing off the town,” said Barry Cleaveland, a Council Bluffs native.
Cleaveland, also a volunteer for the expo, has been helping organize volunteers since late January. This year’s expo and Council Bluffs tour events have about 350 volunteers from the area, he said, spanning 21 committees, as well as 35 police officers and on-site medical personnel.
He also said volunteers had an evacuation plan in place if weather was to become an imminent threat to the event’s campers, who pitched tents around the expo grounds. According to the National Weather Service, rain remained likely into Sunday and could be heavy as the bicyclists pedal toward Atlantic.
Manchon, who said the ride is one of the longest he’s ever done, called it a “bucket list” item despite the time commitment.
“This is a goal for a lot of people, it’s like Burning Man,” Manchon said. “This is their Burning Man. People designate this one week as the week to do what they want to do and people have been doing it for years, and they’re doing it because of the people.”