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Western Iowa City Expects Economic Boom From Annual Bicycle Ride Through The State

Thousands of cyclists will soon start to trickle in to a small Western Iowa city for an annual bike ride across the state. Onawa businesses are hopeful they’ll see an economic boom from hosting the first stage of the ride.
Officials from The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa say more than 10,000 weeklong riders and thousands of day pass riders have registered for RAGBRAI this year.

Clint Weaver, Onawa’s economic development director, says he expects more than 20,000 people will be in the city of 3,000 this weekend when the ride kicks off.

“The economic boom is huge,” Weaver said. “And the fact that those people are coming through our community and seeing what we have to provide, the potential for new business is also a possibility.”

According to a 2016 RAGBRAI survey, most participants spend between $25 to $50 a day.

The riders will start in Onawa on Sunday and finish in Davenport on Saturday, July 28. Onawa is also the host city for an expo where RAGBRAI will show off cycling equipment and retailers on Saturday.

This is the 46th year of the ride.

Weaver said the city has been preparing for RAGBRAI from the moment the route was announced in January. The city formed committees to manage camping, transportation and parking. Many vendors are coming to town to sell shirts, lemonade and sandwiches, among other things, Weaver said.

"It's like winning the lottery." - Sarah Haptonstall

Local business American Septic & Portable Services is renting 100 porta pots to homes and businesses. Sarah Haptonstall works with the family business, and says she sees the event as an opportunity to build their customer base.

“You never know if it will come back again,” Haptonstall said. “It’s like winning the lottery. You want to get out there and get your name out there, you want to partake in it and be part of the town, we’re all about being part of the town.”

Any money they make from renting out porta pots during RAGBRAI will benefit the seasonal business in the off-season, Haptonstall said.

“The best part of this is it’s going to help us put that money back so we can pay the bills in the winter, so that next year we can continue to grow the business,” she said.

For members of the Desconocido Motorcycle Club in Onawa, RAGBRAI is a chance to promote themselves in the community. They hope to make some money selling liquor and soda.

Members built an over-11-foot tall neon green bicycle out of pipes that they plan to put outside for people to take pictures with.

Club member Shane Weber said it’s called “The Joker” – named after the popular supervillain in the Batman series. The club wanted to go all out with RAGBRAI’s 2018 superhero theme.

“We hope that it’s going to be the biggest bike in RAGBRAI, but yet to be confirmed,” Weber said.

He added, “It’s definitely an eye-turner.”

The last time RAGBRAI started in Onawa was in 2004.