Tom Bridgeman, far left, and other members of the BRAI (Bike Ride Around Iowa) riders relax in La Porte City.

The thing about RAGBRAI is that the very nature of its creation — the whim of a pair of journalists to set off across the Iowa prairie on their beloved bicycles — has encouraged successive generations of RAGBRAI faithful to dream up their own exotic variations on the original.

So it was a couple decades ago when two teams — Team Diehard and Team Mystery Machine — founded the concept of just “BRAI,” their Bike Ride Around Iowa.

I met Joe Bridgeman of Des Moines on Thursday in La Porte City. He’s among 10 team members this year.

The BRAI agenda is to weave along on roads around the official route. (I’m not sanctioning this, just reporting the facts.) BRAI visits tiny towns where they find no lines for toilets. The local barrooms are sparsely populated and eager for their patronage. 

“We give them the business that they’re not expecting,” Bridgeman said.

They’re a bunch of self-described “dirty baggers” who camp out in smaller towns along the official route and let the mainstream throng catch up to them. The team spent Wednesday night, for instance, in La Porte City.

The roots of Team Diehard are among fraternity brothers (including Bridgeman, 47) from Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo. Mystery Machine began as women who became friends at the University of Northern Iowa. Gradually, the two teams have mingled into a single BRAI crew.

No fewer than three marriages have been forged between members of the original two teams, which might set some kind of record for RAGBRAI cross-pollination.

BRAI: Yet one more wacky idea unleashed because RAGBRAI opened the Pandora’s Box of the two-wheeled world. 

“We take up the community before RAGBRAI comes through and eats it up,” Bridgeman said.

Is it only a matter of time before somebody comes up with an insurgent ride with “RAG” as its acronym — if they haven’t already?