Co-founder of RAGBRAI, one of cycling’s earliest long-distance public rides, dies

The annual ride across Iowa helped spawn a new genre of public rides and is now among the oldest and largest touring events in the world.

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John Karras, a former newspaper man who co-founded RAGBRAI, died Wednesday in Iowa. He was 91.

RAGBRAI, founded in the early 1970s, was one of the earliest long-distance public rides that helped spawn a genre of events across the cycling community. RAGBRAI — Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa — started with just a few riders, but quickly grew into an annual event drawing 15,000 people.

According to The Des Moines Register, Karras suffered a fall and a minor stroke in recent months and died from complications of that trauma, a family friend confirmed to the newspaper. Co-founder Donald Kaul died in 2018.

Karras co-founded the event with fellow Register scribe Kaul to encourage the public to explore Iowa by bicycle. The pair first rode across Iowa in 1973 going west to east between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and chronicled the towns and people they met along the way.

The newspaper invited the public to join the two reporters for the ride, and more than 100 people showed up at the prescribed start line. The annual event is now “the oldest, largest and longest recreational bicycle touring event in the world,” according to The Register.