by Mark Wyatt, Executive Director – Iowa Bicycle Coalition

People who ride RAGBRAI do so at their own pace.  No matter who you are, you are going to pass another rider or you will be passed by another rider.  Communication is essential, especially when starting, stopping or passing.  Most crashes on RAGBRAI involve two or more bicycles and most are the result of riders not letting others know of their intentions.

“Bike On” is commonly heard on RAGBRAI.  It means a riders is entering the roadway.  The rider has checked for oncoming traffic, but people can change lane positions in an instant.  Verbally calling out “Bike On” is the best way to let people know you are entering the roadway.

“Bike Off” is called out when leaving the roadway.  People know you will be slowing and pulling off to the right of the road or onto the shoulder.

“Stopping”  Law enforcement will often stop riders in order to let traffic through an intersection.  If you need to stop, let others around you know by saying “Stopping”.

“Slowing”  Once in a while, the route will become so congested that riders will slow their pace.  If you are going to slow to less than the speed of traffic around you, call out “Slowing”.

“Right Turn”, “Left Turn”, “Turning Right”, “Turning Left” is said when making turns at intersections.  The verbal cue is often accompanied by an arm pointing in the direction of turning.  On the open road, everybody is turning at the same intersection.  In towns, it is a much different story.  You may be looking for a kybo on the left side of the road and others are going straight.  Verbalize your direction of travel.

Do not be afraid to use hand signals in addition to calling out your turn.  The more predictable you can be to other riders, the safer it is for everyone.  Extend your left arm for a left turn.  Bend your elbow 90 degrees with your hand pointed downward for stopping.  Bend your elbow 90 degrees with your hand pointed upward for a right turn.  Legally, turns are signaled with the left arm in Iowa, but most people understand the right arm extended means turning right.  Just be careful because your right arm controls your rear brake.

“On Your Left”.  You will hear “On Your Left” a few thousand times during the week.  This means you are passing or being passed.  The overtaking rider is on the left of the rider being overtaken.  More often the not, slower traffic will be on the right of the road and passing will occur on the left.

Occasionally, you will pass on the right.  Imagine a rider is starting to turn left to Mr. Pork Chop on the left side of the road.  The hungry rider has moved towards the centerline to turn left.  You are going straight.  Call out “On Your Right” as you pass the rider on the right side.

Maybe there are two riders traveling at the same speed, but far enough apart that you can go through the middle of the two riders.  This doesn’t happen very often and can be startling.  Avoid surprising the riders by announcing “Passing Through The Middle”

In conclusion, remember that  you are not alone on RAGBRAI.  You need to communicate with others for safety.  If you have the opportunity, practice by riding with a bicycle club.  It really is the best way to learn how to ride with other people.  Most clubs will spend time teaching new riders about the rules of the road.

If you are going to ride RAGBRAI safely, you are going to keep in mind the following safety tips:

  1. The RIGHT stuff.
  2. The RIGHT gear.
  3. The RIGHT communications.
  4. The RIGHT riding.
  5. The legal RIGHT.
  6. The RIGHT frame of mind.
  7. The RIGHT abilities
  8. The RIGHT attitude
  9. The RIGHT attention.
  10. The RIGHT condition

Mark Wyatt is the statewide RIDE RIGHT chair and executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, a statewide advocacy organization for bicycling.  Mark is also a League Cycling Instructor (LCI), board member for the Alliance for Bicycling and Walking, and board member on the Bike Tour Network.  More information about the Iowa Bicycle Coalition can be found at