RAGBRAI 2023 Winners

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Each year my team, the Buff Riders, and I joke that we are “winning” the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. It’s a joke because it is a “bicycle ride”, not a “race”. The ride’s a rolling event that bounces from town to town from the “West Coast” of Iowa to the “East Coast”. Nobody’s technically a winner in the literal sense of the word as it’s not a competition. But those who reach the end while having fun, they are really the winners of the event.

However, the communities are winners too. And, at least in my eyes, there are select communities that rose to the challenge and put their best foot forward. Communities that rolled out the red carpet for bikers and the ensemble of support staff, vendors, and throngs of people who want to party each night. These communities make out as winners for the week-long event.

No Awards This Year

Typically, I “award” one “meeting town” and one “overnight town” that appeared to excel above the rest. However, this year’s event didn’t work out too well for me to hand out legit awards. Due to the oppressive heat and humidity, I spent the majority of my free time hiding from the sun and trying to rehydrate. Also, unfortunately, our team had to abruptly leave the event early, which would’ve excluded the last few towns from consideration. Hence, no awards will be handed out.

Yet, I did see quite a bit of interesting tidbits in each community that were worth pointing out. So this year, I’ll give a brief rundown of some of the great work from these small towns that I DID get to see.

Meeting Towns

Let’s start with the meeting town. As bikers traverse the route each day, there is one community along the way that is designated as a “meeting town”. Typically this community is roughly half-way through the day’s route. It serves as a point where support drivers can meet up with riders to provide supplies and tools for repairs. The support drivers can also partake in the activities available at the meeting town, often downing some lunch with the riders of his/her team.

Usually, the meeting town isn’t big enough to be an overnight town. But these communities still need to be big enough to handle the masses of bikers craving a mid-day meal. They also have to support a sizeable chunk of the support vehicle traffic as well. There can’t be just a few food trucks, roadside stands, and rows of porta-potties.

Lake View

I’ve been a little entranced by Lake View since the first time I visited. Enough that I made them a Star Community last year. They put together a pretty good setup this year with live music, a hay bale toss, and a farm animal petting zoo. Lake View also put guides at the SAG entrance into town to direct traffic to the best spots available. We were able to locate in a parking lot next to Black Hawk Lake. The breezes off the lake were a welcome amenity for our riders.

Sauk Rail Trail Entrance - Lake View, Iowa

Sauk Rail Trail Entrance – Lake View

One unfortunate aspect of RAGBRAI is that the vendors that come in block out many of the businesses downtown. Often, the Buff Riders go looking for that diamond in the rough behind the vendors. We found it in a little sandwich shop at the corner of 5th and Main, tucked in behind the bend in the vendors. I wish I remembered the name of the joint, they had good food, and a good amount of it, at a great price!


The community of Newton had the benefit of recently being an overnight town to lean upon. The arrangement of activities around the square wasn’t all that different from others, but there was plenty of space. Especially with the live music/beer garden area to the northeast of the square. They had the retractable shade canopies that I pointed out in Pocahontas last year. The setup, along with the separation from the downtown food vendor area set Newton apart.

Newton Bike Art

Newton Bike Art

Downtown Newton RAGBRAI 23

Downtown Newton RAGBRAI ’23

Newton Beer Garden

Newton Beer Garden

But what set Newton apart for the Buff Riders though was the SAG (Support and Gear) parking around the school. Our spot just happened to be right next to the blowers coming out of the school’s greenhouse. It was a welcome amenity for a few of us:

Greenhouse Blowers in Newton

Greenhouse Blowers in Newton

Greenhouse Blowers in Newton

Greenhouse Blowers in Newton


I didn’t see much outside the norm with what Morengo did, but this little town just did things right. For the SAG drivers, they had clear and very legible signage directing them to the designated parking areas. The parking area located on the northeast end of town had a great open area adjoining the parking lot with massive cottonwood trees that provided a respite from the exhaustive heat.

Marengo SAG Parking - RAGBRAI 2023

Marengo SAG Parking – RAGBRAI 2023

Much like Newton, the layout of the main activity area in downtown Morengo was pretty typical. But they had a regular presence on the mic providing valuable information to the riders as they came into downtown Morengo.


Overnight Towns

Often, the overnight towns are larger communities. It’s usually a county seat with ample road infrastructure, parks, and open space to accommodate the massive influx of visitors. These cities are often more critiqued due to the demands put upon them for the time that they host the event. It is essentially a two-day event for these communities. The more intensive riders arrive in the morning of the first day. While the stragglers many times stumble out of town the next afternoon.


Of course, as an ISU alumni, I am a little biased…

Buff Riders at Jack Trice Stadium

Buff Riders at Jack Trice Stadium

But the downtown celebration that they had in Ames was quite the setup. There wasn’t just one stage, but two. But not many people paid attention to the second stage once Hairball started their party. Behind the swarms of vendor booths was quite a bit of local shops that were certainly worth checking out, like this open-air dining space turned into a beer garden by Sweet Caroline’s.

Sweet Carolines in Ames

Beer Garden outside of Sweet Carolines in Ames

Ames also did a good job with wayfinding signage. It was clearly marked where the port-a-potties (no, I still won’t call them that “K” word) were available. The beer tent was also quite visible with wayfinding signage drawing your eyes in.

Event Wayfinding in Ames, IA

Event Wayfinding in Ames, IA


Standing Out Above the Rest

All the communities that participated in RAGBRAI 2023 did a great job this year. Whether it was a “Ride Through Town”, a “Meeting Town”, or an “Overnight Town”, they all did a great job. As always, I’m already looking forward to next year!