Registration encouraged by invitation. Write to invitations at this website name.
RoadSkater.Net skating & cycling photos!

Donate to keep RoadSkater.Net free!

Search & shop eBay to support RoadSkater.Net...
Search RoadSkater.Net via Google...
Search the web...

Ragbrai 2009, skate across Iowa

johnnyChen's picture

Biking across Iowa was added to the to-do list during my limping year, and I’ve been lazy to deal with logistics.  A team spot came up for Ragbrai 2009 (http://ragbrai.com) through a co-worker.  All I had to do was showing up with bike and sleeping bag; I jumped at the chance. 


Minimum research suggested the event could be 100-mm-wheel-friendly; I decided to skate instead.  I would SAG the unskateable sections and drink beers when needing a recovery day.  I wasn’t sure how my body would handle multi-day efforts.


2009 route

   Mileage: 52.6 miles Climb: 3,684 feet

   Mileage: 72.6 miles Climb: 5,096 feet

   Mileage: 77.1 miles Climb: 4,470 feet

   Mileage: 44.4 miles Climb: 2,182 feet

   Mileage: 76.9 miles Climb: 3,388 feet + 27 optional miles to make a century day

   Mileage: 75.5 miles Climb: 2,841 feet

   Mileage: 43.2 miles Climb: 1,145 feet


_Alternative vehicles

Most of the 10000 participants were on upright road bike.

There was large number of recumbents.

The youngest solo cyclists I saw was a 4-year–old who had no problem climbing.

Saw 2 unicycles.  Watching these guys going down the hills was humbling.

I saw 1 guy running on day 3 at 8:30 pace at mile 50.  Watching him made me want to run on next wet day.

Rumor had it a girl was running the entire route.  Her sighting was not reported after day 4.


_Closet skaters and other encounters

I was disappointed that I didn’t see other skaters.

Many cyclists came up to me and shared their skate stories.  Some were former roller speed skaters that quit the sport before 100 mm wheels.


One of the RV mates was Jack Sutton, who owned 3 skating rinks and had stories.


Talked Star Trek with a dancer on scholarship who found dancing career too rocky and decided to go to med school instead.  


An Olympic training center resident came to me and requested double push.  I hope to see him in Vancouver 2010.


Drafted behind the founder of Tour de Donut.  He had to eat only 15 to win his age group.


_”Iowa is flat as pancake”

Not this year.



Speed was non-critical.  I tested how random diets affect my performance.  Sure enough, legs didn’t respond well after port chops. 


Daily intake included Clif bar, Clif Shot, Accelerade, Craisins, dehydrated fruits, vitamin pills.


Fast food was hard to come by on the routes.  Wendy’s at end of the 104-mile was a rare treat—big calorie count for $10 + unlimited usage of flushing toilets.


Ate fried food when available.  I tried to ingest 3000 calories/day for 9 days.  Lost about 1 lb over all.



Plan: take first 2 days easy to gauge how the body reacts; keep HR under 80% max.


The weather and surface were gorgeous on day 1, I went nuts chasing pace lines before a bike racer from Netherlands volunteered to tow me.  We passed everybody.  It was glorious.

My legs were fried after chasing Dutch; I was unable to bring HR over 85% for next 6 days.


_FAQ from cyclists

How many sets of wheels do you go through a day?  (same wheels for all 7 days)

How do you go down the hills?  (stay in bike’s draft)

How do you go up the hills?  (I’ll race you up next one; you’ll see)

How do you stop?  (grind the wheels if I can’t find a bike to help me)

Are you doing the whole thing?  (so far so good)

Are you crazy?  (isn’t it great?)

How much are your skates?  (a lot cheaper than bikes, I paid $200 for the rec skates)

Where’s your bike?  (Lance borrowed it for the tour.  where are your skates?)

Isn’t that really hard?  (easier than bike: no gear, no flat, no sore butt)


_Camping life of a skater

Each morning:

down a Clif bar

apply sunblock

roll the sleeping bag and thermo pad

get in queue for washroom

pack things into the big bag to put in RV

take down the wet tent. 

The process always takes longer than it should.


When cell tower in sight, we often stopped to make phone calls.


Most days I made a point to spend time visiting the towns.  I rarely checked the clock but tried to finish the skate at decent hour to dry the tent.  On wet days, I needed to prepare bearings for next day.


Nightly ritual:

Look for team vehicles based on bulletin board direction.

Pitch tent.

Find shower.

Try to dry stuff.

Find food.

BS with some of my 10000 best friends over drinks.

Learn next day’s road and weather.

Make mostly futile attempt to talk on cell phone.

Charge electronics as opportunities arise: phone, GPS, iPod, camera

Organize nutrition and equipment for next day.

Place a Clif bar next to the pillow.




I got wet 3 of the days and lost some bearings.  Climbing up some of wet surfaces was a little challenging.  I experienced doubt when having to stop at bottom of a hill in rain and considered butt stop; fortunately T stop was sufficient.


Road surface:

Decent by north Texas standard.  I was rolling at 10+ mph even on the rougher sections. 

Day 7 was particularly nice: a lot of black ice.  With tail wind, I averaged 20+ mph with very low HR.



Vast majority of cyclists were eager to provide draft.  I went down lots of hills at 30+ mph in slipstreams.  Only 1 cyclist randomly braked and left a tire mark on my right shin.

I was in the draft usually behind 1 steady bike.  During a particular harsh head wind section on day 6, I hid inside of a peloton.


Rumble strips:

These things are the width of almost the entire lane.  I didn’t think they’re skateable but survived rolling over them twice at 13 and 18 mph.  Short legs have their advantages.



The first crash happened 10’ in front of the RV during a failed spin stop carrying too many things.  My team was very understanding ‘til they realized I spilled the beer.


The other crash happened while racing a bike up Snake Alley (think San Francisco’s Lombard Street but with gaps between bricks).  I lost that race.


Both crashes happened at < 5 mph.



A participant sacrifices a riding day to drive each team truck/bus/van to the next town with everyone’s tents and bags.  Each team is allowed up to 3 motor vehicles.  Many teams had buses.


_Moving cash cow

Assuming each participant spends $25 / day on food + liquid, that’s $250000 daily.  The event travels through many towns with residents less than the participants.  I felt like a locust moving with the swarm.


Vendors were set up at each town and between stops.  Many traveled with the event through out the week.  A bottle of water went between $0.50 and $2.50, based on weather and location.

There were always lines for pork chops and smoked turkey legs. 

Strategically placed ice cream trucks on a hot days were popular.

Mechanics at portable bike shops never seemed to stop working.  Many cyclists bought smaller chain rings after day 1 no longer believing Iowa was flat.

The official vendors included a group of masseuse and a chiropractor.


_Missed photo ops

The tradition is to dip the rear wheel in Missouri River and front wheel in Mississippi.

To simplify the departing process, the organizer pumped Missouri water to the road on day 1.

6 days later, I handed my camera to a blonde volunteer who happened to be the worst photographer for a picture of my dipping skate wheels in Mississippi.



Blisers: 3; 1 from rec skates, 2 from custom Simmons

Injury inducing crashes: 0

$ for food and drink: $200

Daily shower cost: $5 + $1 towel rental

Wet tents mornings: 6

Wet bearing days: 3

Bearings killed by rain: 13

Amount of time in draft: > 60%

Max speed: 42 mph

Distance skated: 470 miles


*a version of this blog with photos is posted on 




eebee's picture


Outstanding achievement Johnny! Thanks for posting the report. I didn't want it to end.

Those are some interesting numbers! Funny how such a small, simple thing can mean so much in certain situations - Flushable toilets! :-D

I wonder if the running guy finished?

How much of a rest are you affording yourself after this, or are you just continuing to skate this week as normal?

Just, WOW!



johnnyChen's picture


Based on the way he looked at mile 50, the runner probably finished that day with no problem.

My body will take as long to recover as it needs.  I won't push it but hope to have an okay showing for A2A 38-mile.

Based on past data:

All out running marathon took 2.5 months.

12-hour skate took 3 wks.

24-hour skate took 2 months.

I was worthless on Tuesday skate after returning from Ragbrai.

I quit the 10-mile Saturday run at mile 8. 

I'd guess 3 wk recovery time for Ragbrai.

dreeves's picture

So envious! I love doing

So envious! I love doing bike tours on skates. Somewhere in the archives here should be me report from doing the Hilly Hundred in Indiana a few years ago.

Stupendous !!!

It sounds like a marvelous time, except… for the tent in the half a foot of water… did you bring more then one pair of skates, or did they dry out over night. I remember 24 Montreal 2008 hating to slip back into dose damp skates even with dry socks.  Wow 10’000 Riders! How come you where the only skater? I have never heard of Ragbrai before your post. I am sure they don’t have a problem with filling in the open spots.
johnnyChen's picture


For some reason Iowa mornings tend to be damp, even on bright sunny days.

I brought Simmons custom racing boots + Rollerblade Lightning 10.  They don't dry completely but could be worse/grosser.

The 10000 official slots run out every year.  Individual participants enter a lottery system.  Supposed there were spots on ebay.

Lots of participants from Chicago, Texas, and various Iowa cities.



wayne_imhoff's picture

RAGBRAI is a week long beer

RAGBRAI is a week long beer party with a bike ride interupting the fun. I wished I'd met you, I heard there was a guy on skates! My week was spent on a bike, having FUN and DRINKING BEER. My feet and legs would never have survived on skates.
johnnyChen's picture

Bring your skates next

Bring your skates next time.

Day 4 was an easy skate day, especially if you stop for the karaoke, the bars, turkey leg, mechanical bull, rock climb, swim and free beer.

Day 7 was easier than some marathons I've skated.

The hockey players from my team plan to skate a couple days next year.

Nice job! I skated RAGBRAI

Nice job!

I skated RAGBRAI in 2006 and 2008, and might do it again in 2010. I could barely walk by day 6 but recovered a little on day 7. A friend of mine Andy, skated it a couple times also but I don't recall which years off the top of my head. Perhaps I'll see you at A2A -Carl San Diego Street Elite

johnnyChen's picture

thanks for talking me into it

Dude, I was looking for you in Iowa.

Your interview video convinced me not to bring a bike.

a2a: I'll race 38. If body still functions in Dacula, I'll skate to Atlanta.

Thanks for the inspiration.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Syndicate content Syndicate content