Monday, August 1, 2011

RAGBRAI Notes 1—the SPOKEn word

Well, blog fans, I’ll have to recycle RAGBRAI for a while on this blog.

Old blackie is in the shop for a tune up, and may be gone for up to 3 weeks. Kind of wish bike shops worked a bit more like car shops—can’t imagine taking the Venture in to a Chevy dealership and having them tell me that have to store the van for a few weeks before they touch it.

Oh well. Anyway, what did I learn on RAGBRAI? The bikers who cross Iowa each summer have their own culture and language. Here is a guide to some of the words spoken by spoke folk, and well as other RAGBRAI customs:

Music is a big part of RAGBRAI. A few riders tow giant boomboxes, some solar powered. What is the favored music of RAGBRAI? In 2011, I heard lots of Blackeyed Peas, Lady Gaga, the Beatles and some God-fearing, beer-drinking country songs. One person played opera on her bike speakers, which was an interesting change of pace. There were a few Katy Perry fans, but not enough, in my opinion. Anyway, when I do RAGBRAI again, no, I don’t plan to have speakers to blast out “Bicycle” by Queen (which, by the way, I don’t think I heard along the way, although some bikers were into oldies). To me, being able to hear the birds is one reason to ride a bike. Still, the music was a change of pace, although I think some of the bikers were probably deaf after towing those over-done speakers.

Bikers, for the most part, are a courteous lot. They come in all types. You have some lean tattooed daredevil young people. I think, however, someone noted that the average age of RAGBRAI rider is around 52, just my style. I had read on the RAGBRAI site that many more men when women ride RAGBRAI, but there were a lot of females. Or maybe I just tuned into and noticed them more.

The oddest custom I observed was a team that marked roadkill with beads. Given the crowded nature of RAGBRAI, they must have “bombed” the strings of Mardi Gras type beads onto the bodies as they rode. As Jon noted, the beads probably made the roadkill more hazardous to bikes than the flattened animal bodies were to begin with. I suspect someone must have done a little cleaning of the RAGBRI route-I saw no dead deer, which seems a little weird for a 444-mile journey across Iowa.

Anyway, what was the language of RAGBRAI? What words were spoken or signals used to communicate?

Here is my glossary of RAGBRAI language:

  • “Bike on” or “biker on” is what you say when you’re leaving the side of the road to enter the stream of bike traffic. Some would say "rider on." When exiting, it was common to say "bike off," sometimes combined with pointing at the side with the right hand, sometimes the pointing was the signal.
  • “Slowing” and “stopping” are fairly self-evident, but important to state. Traffic is heavy. Nobody used the hands down stopping signal that I noted.
  • “Car up” means a car coming at us in the opposite lane.
  • “Car back” means a care coming at us in our lane, going in the same direction as bike traffic.
  • “Car up and car back” means trouble, and was heard several times in Eastern Iowa, where Johnson County residents and tourists near the Amanas seemed indifferent to RAGBRAI. “Car,” by the way, refers to any vehicle with a motor—including motorcycles, trucks, ambulances, police cruisers and cars. Some people would specific “ambulance up” or “truck up,” but most of the time, the universal vehicle warning was “car.”
  • “Rumbles” refers to rumble strips in the pavement, and is often accompanied by holding a hand, fingers down, and wiggling them as you pass the rumble strips to show where they are.
  • “On your left” means you will pass a biker on his or her left side. “On your right” is on their right side. “Up the middle” means between two bikers. There is little consistency, however, on when to use these warnings. I was passed fairly close by silent bikers, which I did not appreciate, but also sometimes hear the “on your left” when I was at the far right of a road, the passer was at the far left of the lane, there was ample room for several bikers between us. My advice, dear readers, is that it is better to warn than not warn. I also wish some flow triples and duets would not ride so much abreast, blocking the road.

Well, that’s my guide to the customs of RAGBRAI. Later this week, I’ll dive into the food. But for now, may you pass slowly over your rumbles and may you not face the “car up and car back” problem.

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