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August 26, 2010

RAGBRAI — too big to manage?

Outsiders have known the state of Iowa for many things: hogs, education, corn, Shawn Johnson, the caucuses and the Hawkeyes, to name a few. But our state has also become synonymous with bicycling, due in large part to the success of the Register’s Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). With more than 10,000 participants, the bicycle ride has become a big event — maybe too big. The Des Moines Register claims RAGBRAI to be the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world. But with 28 people losing their lives in the ride’s 38 years, it may also be the deadliest.

We appreciate RAGBRAI and what it has done for our state and the cities that serve as host communities. There’s no denying that the ride has made phenomenal contributions by both economic and recreational measures, but has it become too large to be properly managed?

The Iowa State Patrol and the Iowa Department of Transportation have expressed concern and request that RAGBRAI organizers keep the number of participants to 8,500 week-long riders and 1,500 day riders. In fairness, RAGBRAI officials make ongoing efforts to accomplish this, but identifying those who sneak into the ride is a daunting task. To cover their asses, management at the Register is quick to point out that the newspaper plans and coordinates RAGBRAI, but riders who participate do so at their own risk. Meanwhile, after requiring signed waivers of liability, the Register readily accepts a few million dollars in entry fees.

With an average of 68 miles a day in July heat on Iowa’s blacktop roads, RAGBRAI creates its share of health challenges. Throw in thousands of amateur riders who don’t understand the terrain, combined with often reckless consumption of alcohol, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Twenty-eight deaths are serious. Imagine 28 deaths occurring at the Iowa State Fair. Or at VEISHEA? Or at the Des Moines Marathon? Yes, the causes of some of these deaths have been determined to be natural. But any way you spin this, the number is still alarming. And, worse yet, the trend will likely continue.

It is time for the Register to take these deaths seriously and get a better handle on RAGBRAI before even more deaths occur. If they can’t manage it, they should sell it to a company that can or the future of RAGBRAI will be at risk. CV

 


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