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Bikers raise concerns RAGBRAI 2018 could have fewer vendors on rural roads

Monona County, which is where RAGBRAI begins, put a ban on vendors outside city limits. Riders said they could be losing an important part of their RAGBRAI experience with this ban.

With nearly two months until the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, RAGBRAI, a controversy involving counties considering banning road side vendors is raising some concerns for bikers.

During RAGBRAI, bike riders do not just take advantage of what is offered in the towns they pass through. They also stop at beer tents and food vendors in between cities on the route.

However, this summer Monona County, which is where RAGBRAI begins, put a ban on vendors outside city limits. Riders said they could be losing an important part of their RAGBRAI experience with this ban.

"I stop very frequently, you know every few miles," said RAGBRAI rider Will Sharpe.

"My earliest memories were not necessarily the details of the ride itself, but of stopping at vendors," said Jacob Simmons, Brewmaster at Backpocket Brewing.

For the past five RAGBRAIs, Simmons said Backpocket Brewing put up at least two tents several miles outside of pass-through and overnight towns.

"The response from the riders is, 'We really like it when you set up in the countryside'," he said.

Backpocket and other vendors are now road blocked from doing so, at least in Monona County.

"We as a vendor have seen this in years past and have pushed back against this with success to a degree," said Simmons.

Curtis Sturgill, who is the on the RAGBRAI Executive Committee in Onawa, said the county's decision was based on concerns that the vendors would pose a threat to safety on the rural roads this year.

"In years past, they've allowed vendors, but it was on a route that was considerably flatter," he said. "The route that they're taking this year is [a lot of] up and down, lots of curves."

Yet, some riders are worried about having access to food and drink on the road if counties start to tighten restrictions out rural road vendors.

"As a cyclist, I appreciate those types of stops," said Sharpe.

Another reason for a possible ban in counties is that cities said they benefit from vendors in their towns, who pay hundreds of dollars for a fee to set up. Meanwhile, they worry rural vendors could take away some of their business while not paying the same vendor fee.

Yet, Simmons said only about 5 percent of riders stop each day at his store's locations on the roads, so the competition is not as big as it may seem.

"If the concern is that the in town vendors are being charged 300 dollars, 400 dollars to help offset the costs of RAGBRAI, the mechanism is in place," said Simmons. "Charge the rural vendors an equivalent vendor fee."

Many riders said they like the party the way it is on the road, and they hope this is not the start of more bans throughout other counties in the state.

"Ultimately, let's have some calm, civil discourse," said Sturgill. "We're just trying to do the best for our local towns and communities."

The Crawford cCunty Board of Supervisors met Tuesday to consider their own ban on rural vendors. After hearing from concerned RAGBRAI riders at the meeting, they decided on implementing a fee for those vendors instead.

There is no word if these types of changes for rural road vendors will be considered in other counties yet, including Johnson County.

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