NPR is taking part in the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa The Tour de France concludes just as another storied cycling event begins: the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. This is RAGBRAI's 50th year.

NPR is taking part in the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa

NPR is taking part in the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa

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The Tour de France concludes just as another storied cycling event begins: the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. This is RAGBRAI's 50th year.


Let's take a look at a legendary summer cycling event. And no, we're not talking about that tour in France. No, we're talking Iowa. The Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, also known as RAGBRAI, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Started by two newspaper staffers, it's grown and grown over the years as a celebration of cycling in Iowa and some journalism, too. NPR has long fielded a team of riders, including chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley and White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who'll be riding again this year. And Scott and Tam, you've made time for us just before the start. I got to ask you, are y'all ready?


SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: We've been nervously checking the weather.

RASCOE: And why is that? Why are y'all checking the weather?

HORSLEY: It's going to be hot.

KEITH: We are expecting the weather to be in the 90s, almost 100, could reach 100 degrees on certain days. And the distances that we're riding from day to day are anywhere between in the 50-ish mile range up to almost 90 miles in a single day. And before you say Iowa is flat, there are days with 3,000, 4,500 feet of elevation, feet of climb. So you know, it's not as flat on a bike as it is from an airplane.

RASCOE: So, Scott, for those not in the know, what makes RAGBRAI so special?

HORSLEY: This started as a lark back in 1973, when John Karras and Donald Kaul at The Register decided to go on a bike ride, and they foolishly invited their readers to come along. And they did. And this has now morphed into what the newspaper calls the oldest, largest, longest bike ride in the country. It runs the width of the state from the Missouri River to the Mississippi. But what is really special is when you get off the bike, and you spend some time with the people in Iowa, whether it's the 4-H kids showing off their goats or, you know, the marching band serenading the riders coming up a hill or the church ladies who open up their fellowship hall to serve a beef and noodles dinner.

KEITH: We are all about the church ladies because often, they also have pie.

HORSLEY: (Laughter).

RASCOE: Not only do you guys ride the bikes, but there's also a pie-eating contest, right?

HORSLEY: My whole entree to this ride was a Wall Street Journal story which described it as the only 500-mile bike ride where you gain weight. And I said, that sounds like my kind of event.

RASCOE: (Laughter) It does.

HORSLEY: So we called our team No Pie Refused, or NPR for short, and we won once. We won one time. It's the annual rhubarb rumble pitting the No Pie Refused team against The Des Moines Register's team. And one year, we won thanks to a really strong anchor performance by Camila Domonoske. We lost every other year, beginning with the infamous Joe Palca choking incident.

RASCOE: Oh, no.

HORSLEY: I'm happy to say Joe did make a full recovery.


HORSLEY: But ever since then, we've had a prohibition on custard-based pies.

RASCOE: OK. And I think we have some tape.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Let's go, Scott. Let's go, Scott. Let's go, Scott.

RASCOE: And so, Scott, was that you, or was that Scott Detrow?

HORSLEY: What happens on RAGBRAI stays on RAGBRAI. It was one of us.

KEITH: It was one of the Scotts.

HORSLEY: But I think that was the lone year that we won. Fortunately, the rhubarb rumble has gone by the wayside. We still eat a lot of pie, but now at a much more leisurely pace.

RASCOE: You go through Iowa, which is important in politics because they have those caucuses. Does it help with your reporting at all?

KEITH: So I did this ride in 2015, which was similarly the year before the caucuses. And I was out there like, I am going to do some reporting. What I learned is that although you meet a lot of nice Iowans along the way, doing RAGBRAI is not really the best way to come to understand Iowa voters because it's actually a great way to understand all of America because people come from all over to do this ride. And in 2015, there was just one presidential candidate whose team set up a tent. It was Martin O'Malley, who was running in the Democratic primary.


KEITH: And Scott and I were together. I pull over all excited. Look. It's a presidential campaign thing. I'm going to do work here. And while I was chatting with them, my bike fell over. The brake got jostled out of place. I didn't realize it. We hopped on the bike, straight into a hill. And I was like, Scott, I'm not going to make it. We pulled over, and then we realized that my brake was on. I had ridden my bike up a mountain or whatever, you know, an Iowa mountain...

RASCOE: (Laughter). With your brake on.

KEITH: ...With my brake on.

HORSLEY: But the lesson, I think, of RAGBRAI really is that there is a lot more to Iowa than caucuses and corn.

RASCOE: NPR's Scott Horsley and Tamara Keith, good luck and have fun.

HORSLEY: Thank you.

RASCOE: Stay safe out there. (Laughter).

KEITH: I'm a little worried. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.


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