RAGBRAI: The Team Bus
I’m going to go out on a limb, if a very short one, and suggest that there’s not a cycling event on the planet whose participants exhibit more humor in the approach to the ride than at RAGBRAI. Certainly not everyone at RAGBRAI has a sense of humor, but funny is a fundamental part of the RAGBRAI DNA. RAGBRAI is funny the way poker is serious, which is to say, maybe a little too much.
Think of all the different kinds of humor you can: a quick survey of the inside of my skull comes up with juvenile, black, bathroom, dry, sophomoric, obvious and sex. At RAGBRAI there’s someone or several someones somewhere working that angle. And nowhere is humor in better evidence than with the team buses. When I was here in ’97 all the teams were made up of old friends, folks who had been doing the event for some years and the bus just seemed to be a good way to simplify things and keep the party together.
These days, members of many teams I talked to told me that they had met at RAGBRAI and decided to purchase a bus together—their friendships didn’t extend pre-RAGBRAI, but were instead based in it.
Not only did I see buses of all manner of persuasion, kinda like insects in the Amazon rain forest, but the investment in said buses varied just as wildly. I saw a couple with their hoods up belching smoke with the insistence of an angry father. I also saw some that must have been owned by a bunch of single/divorced guys because there’s no way anyone with a wife/family could have ferreted away enough money to make them so nice.
To be sure, these are no million-dollar motor coaches with A/C and showers. I didn’t see a single one that lost the basic plot of keeping the party rolling. The closest any of them came to creature comforts was a bit of ingenuity to just how the beer was kept cold. Ahem.
Some did make an effort to take good care of the bikes, though.
I never found any of the members of Team Blonde, so I can’t report if they were actual blondes, people who just have blonde moments, or other folks, maybe even gentlemen, who prefer blondes. This much is known for sure, though:
What remains unclear is whether they live or love to party.
Maybe blonde is just a destination.
There were any number of teams that were sponsored by microbreweries, Miller Light (some riders had a real hoot each time they saw Miller Light riders drinking Budweiser), Papa John’s pizza and more. Attitudes on the commercial sponsorship of teams ranged from completely digging an underwritten vacation to disliking the mercenary and commercial nature of the venture. Riders I talked to seemed to like the idea of a microbrew-sponsored team while disliking a team sponsored by a pizza chain. Each to their own, I guess.
There were a lot of buses that didn’t strike much of a visual presence beyond whatever signage they featured. This bus was one of my faves.
This one, because it reminded me of my old checkerboard Vans’ slip-ons, was close to my heart.
When I did RAGBRAI in ’97, easily one of my favorite characters I met was this guy, Randy, a real-live rocket scientist who was wearing a road kill necklace. The road kill in question was a turtle of some indeterminate, but former, variety. He and his teammates adorned themselves with only what they found; these weren’t sanitized or taxidermied. Alas, it can be easier to find a team’s bus than the team’s members.
There’s a huge swath of the cycling public, most of the roughly 10 million people who call themselves cyclists, who will never enter a race. They will never enter a century or gran fondo. They aren’t doing group rides. They don’t own bikes that are worth even $2000. RAGBRAI is the pied piper that pulls them from the woodwork and somehow makes seven straight days of riding seem like something fun. The odds against this are as high as no one watching the Olympics.
It’s a place where cycling doesn’t take itself too seriously, where fun comes first, maybe even at the expense of sobriety, but because bikes are involved almost no one gets too drunk and if there are fights, we haven’t heard about them, which makes RAGBRAI a good deal safer and friendlier an event to take your family to. Which is to say, next time I’m there, I’ll have my family in tow.
I’m still wondering: Why hasn’t anyone else been able to bottle this?