Riding RAGBRAI isn't just about the route. It's about the food, the music and enjoying Iowa towns and communities along the way. Well, Pork Belly Ventures LLC let's bikers do all of that - in style.
The charter service has been available for its members since 1994, provided by brother/sister team Pete Phillips and Tammy Pavich. Phillips said he had partnered up with his sister on the business to make a bit of money for his upcoming wedding.
"Slowly it grew," he said. "It started out small to now, taking a big chunk of the year."
-Photo courtesy of Bob Frank
Pork Belly’s tent city at an Iowa town in 2011.
Phillips estimates that Pork Belly Ventures takes care of 960 weeklong riders during the excursion.
"But altogether, with bus rides, it is more like 1,200 total," he said.
For the crew at the charter service, RAGBRAI doesn't take just a couple months of planning; it is a year-round event.
"When it is over, there is some cleaning and fixing up," Phillips continued. "We have a crew debriefing section - what we did well and what we can do better next year."
Starting in January, he said it is a full-time job.
"We're lucky to have a great crew of people every year," he said. "Riding RAGBRAI is fun and we have a great group of people we take care of."
So what does this charter service do?
A lot of things. From busing people in from airports to shipping in bicycles, Pork Belly Ventures pulls out all the stops for its members.
"To start out with, many people need weeklong support," he said "We take all of their stuff from town to town."
Services are provided - cell phone charging areas, massage tables, mechanics to fix bikes, meals and camping.
"Everyone gets that in their basic package," he said. "In addition, there are many people who want to stay in a rental."
Crew members will set up and tear down tents for members from town to town. Tents are set up in a tent grid, called Tent City. Each tent has its own address.
"We have also found that there is a group of people who want to experience RAGBRAI, but who don't want to stay in tents," he said.
That is where the PHAT Trailers come in. Air-conditioned guest rooms are available on trailers that travel with the group. Each room has queen-sized bunk beds, carpeting, sound-muffling insulation, electrical outlets, as well as a flat-screen television and DVD player.
Another amenity that travels with the group is an Anytime Showers trailer. A vendor provides showers for Pork Belly Venture members at each town.
"Logistically, RAGBRAI can be a daunting thing for riders," Phillips said. "We try as a charter, like all charters, to help overcome that for our members, so they can enjoy the flavor of the towns they stay in."
Like every town on the route, Pork Belly Ventures has down its homework with Webster City.
They will be setting up camp at Nokomis Park, and many of their members will be staying at the Riverview Early Childhood Center.
Leon's and Second St. Emporium will be working together to provide meals for the group, which includes pizza and a pork loin dinner.
Phillips said that they try to create a situation where people have a good time and experience the community.
"We feel like we have a good recipe where we can help our people have a good time, and for the towns to do well from our group."
"Without exception, after RAGBRAI, our people tell us about their favorite stops," he continued. "They always have good things to say about host towns."
He said that this year has been a wonderful year working with communities.
"Kent (Harfst) and everyone else we have worked with in Webster City have been fantastic helping us find a spot for our group," he said. "Towns, like Webster City, that go all out to host the thing is what makes RAGBRAI great."