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Iowa Shows Off World’s ‘Oldest, Largest and Longest’ Bike Ride

Bets were being taken left and right.

I traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, this past weekend to give a workshop as part of the Iowa Bike Summit. The state’s Summit¬†was capped with the¬†RAGBRAI announcement¬†party that drew 1,200 people — yes, you read that right, the¬†announcement¬†of this year‚Äôs RAGBRAI route drew a massive, enthusiastic crowd.

des-m0127ragbrai047 Photo courtesy of the Des Moines Register

RAGBRAI is touted as the “world’s oldest, largest and longest two-wheeled recreation tour,” and it begins this year on July 21 in Council Bluffs.¬†People made wagers on the starting city, finishing city and every town in between. Why the big to-do? Well, bicycling means business in Iowa ‚ÄĒ and RAGBRAI means tourism dollars for the cities along the way. Recreational bicycling is a huge economic driver for the state, generating $364.8 million in direct and indirect impacts to Iowa and saving the state $73.9 million in healthcare costs,¬†according to a recent study.

Needless to say, I was blown away and inspired by the thought of this model spreading throughout the country.

‚ÄúBelieve it or not, one of the best celebrations of bicycling in America happens in Iowa during January,” said Mark Wyatt, executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition.¬†“The Iowa Bicycle Summit trained over 150 planners, engineers, and government officials on cutting edge bikeway design. More than 5,000 people turned out to the Iowa Bike Expo for the latest gear, bikes, trails, and destinations. And we raised more than $45,000 for Iowa bicycle advocacy in one weekend!‚ÄĚ

At the Summit, I was fortunate to be joined by friends from Bicycle Friendly Business Rockwell Collins to lead a workshop on building bicycle-friendly communities and businesses.

The League's Bill Nesper with Rockwell Collins' bicycling ambassadors Nikki Northrop Davidson and Richard Bradford That’s me in the middle with Rockwell Collins’ bicycling ambassadors Nikki Northrop Davidson and Richard Bradford

We were thrilled to share success stories from communities and businesses in our Bicycle Friendly America program, which encourages and incentivizes bicycle friendliness for towns and companies alike. We discussed communities that haven’t reached the Platinum-level heights of bike-friendliness of Portland, Boulder or Davis, but whose efforts have resulted in an 80 percent growth in bike commuting since 2000. We also looked at places like Pittsburgh, Pa., which has seen a greater than 200 percent growth in that same span.

We shared the story of company QBP, whose bicycle-friendly promotions have created a savings of $170,000 in employee health care costs and saved another $300,000 per year in lost productivity. Talk about music to the ears of business owners and community leaders eager for economic sustainability and attracting talent!

Rockwell Collins, one of seven Bicycle Friendly Businesses in Iowa, provided attendees with a common-sense approach to making it easier for people to bike, like offering employees more opportunities to get together to ride, improving bike parking options and offering flexible work hours, to name a few. I was also very happy to tell participants that communities of all shapes and sizes can get something out of participating in the BFC program: Sisters, Ore., the least populous BFC with 1,925 citizens, is a great story for those who think of BFCs as a strictly urban phenomenon.

Learn more about Iowa’s RAGBRAI here, and check out our ongoing work through the Bicycle Friendly America program here.

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