Trans Iowa FAQ

Trans Iowa Frequently Asked Questions Page

Here you will find what I have found to be the most frequently asked questions about Trans Iowa over the years. Now that Trans Iowa doesn't lean on Mountain Bike Review's Endurance Forum anymore, I figured it was about time to do this. So, here we go.......

Note: These questions are divided up into sections that cover specific topics. If you can not find a question answered here, there is e-mail: Just shoot me your question here. However; please look through this page first!

General Questions:

  • What is Trans Iowa?  
Answer: There is a certain element of society that "gets" it, while the vast majority have no conceptual foundation for understanding Trans Iowa. So, I've accepted the fact that most folks cannot grasp the idea. Just like a trillion dollar budget is inconceivable, so is Trans Iowa. That said, it is a big loop that approximates what it would take to cross the State of Iowa at any given point West to East. The course changes every year. There are time limits to checkpoints, which, if not met, mean you are out of the event. The ride is self-supported, guided by cue sheets, and the route is secret until the day of the event. It is approximately 95% gravel road, 5% pavement. 
  • How long is Trans Iowa? 
Answer: Typically I try to make the course length equal what it is to cross the entire state of Iowa from west to east. That figures out to be about 320-340 miles, depending on where you measure it. So, Trans Iowa courses are typically this length, and must be completed in 34 hours or less.

  • What's the course like?
Answer: Trans Iowa was conceived as a gravel road event. To that end, I try to configure the course in a giant loop that uses as much gravel road as possible. I will also throw in some "B Maintenance Road", which is essentially just dirt road which can become unrideable when wet. Routes are different every year, and are run out from and back into a host city, which has changed from time to time. 

There are towns, cities, and villages along the way, and therefore; some paved road, as well. This is kept to an absolute minimum. Typically 90% or more of courses are dirt and gravel road. 

Terrain can vary from table top flat to insane gradients of more than 15% for up to a half mile or more. Most of the time, you'll either be going up or down, and doing that over and over, ad infinitum

  • What's the deal with time limits? How does that work?
Answer: Trans Iowa operates under time limitations and a limited amount of volunteers. We can't afford to, nor do we ever intend to, offer aid stations, course sweepers, or the like. Because of that, and the fact that I like to get home at a decent time on the Sunday of Trans Iowa weekend, I instigated time limitations for the entire event, and for reaching each check point.

Essentially you haven't got a lot of time for lolly-gagging around during this challenge. Riders must maintain a distance covered per hour that is 10 miles or greater to reach the checkpoints and the finish line on time. (Note: I didn't say "average speed", because it isn't about that. You must include all time spent- Riding time, mechanicals time, eating time, resting time, nature break time, and whatever. It  has to be 10 miles covered on course per hour or greater. The more you stop, the less miles per hour you cover. Simple.)

Riders will start the event with a partial set of cues leading them to a checkpoint. Each event has at least one checkpoint and usually more than one. Each checkpoint will have a published cut off time, which riders will be informed of well in advance. If riders navigate to a checkpoint on time, they receive another set of cue sheets to navigate to the next checkpoint, or the finish line. If you are late, even by one minute, you are finished. We won't hand out more cues to late comers.

  • What are the cue sheets like? How does navigation work?
Answer: Cue sheets will have a mileage to a turn, the direction to turn, the name of the road you are to turn on, and then go to the next cue. An example is below...

122.7  R on Impala Rd. 
129.5  L on 265th Ave. 

Mileages reset at checkpoints. Cue sheets typically will be sized to fit into small zip-loc type sandwich bags or most any commercially available bicycle cue sheet holder. By the way, they don't fare too well if they get wet. Just a tip for ya..... 

Riders must use a well calibrated computer, have a lighting system to read cues by, lighting to see down the road, and lighting to see road signs with.  (Plus a red tail light!)

Most every Iowa gravel road has a "street sign" on the corner of intersections. When this isn't the case, (Rare), we will mark a corner with flags. (Technique for this will be explained at the pre-race meeting.)
  •  Are most of the finishers accomplished bike racers?
Answer:  I guess I would answer this by saying that first of all, many of the finishers could be said to have been poor bike racers! It seems that if you are good at short events, like really good, you aren't very good at really long events. Secondly, many of these guys and gals are what I would say are good cyclists. Avid cyclists. Nutcases! Racers? Not necessarily.

  • What causes most of the non-finishers to abandon?
 Answer: This is easy to answer. In a word? Mentality. If you don't possess that intangible mental capacity to ride beyond what your mind and body says is reasonable, then you won't finish. If you have a mindset that gets easily upended when tired, frustrated, or angry, then you won't finish. If problem solving isn't a strength, that could upend your ride easily.

I know several finishers have told me a similar version of the following: Once you get halfway through, the rest is totally mental strengthSo, being a great racer, a good physical, strong person, having the lowest heart rate, or the best recovery time doesn't mean squat if you can't mentally push through the obstacles you will face at 2am Saturday evening on a Trans Iowa.

And then again, you could snap your derailleur off at Mile 60 and be done as well! Or have it pour down rain, and have the course and Nature shut you down. Trans Iowa is soooo unpredictable, that even if you come in with 100% physical and mental capacities, you still might not finish. And that in itself is one of the toughest things to swallow for many that look at this event. All those months of training, shot down in a short moment that you had no control over. I know many riders that are haunted, (Yes-literally haunted in their dreams), by episodes like T.I.V2, T.I.V6, or T.I.v11 that had such poor conditions weather-wise and subsequently, on course, that they could not finish, no matter what.

So, you've been warned!

  • What is the schedule of events typically like?
Answer:   Trans Iowa is started at 4:00am in the morning on a Saturday, (usually the last weekend in April), and is run straight though Saturday, all night, into Sunday, and usually ends at 2pm Sunday afternoon.

There is a Pre-Race Meeting which is mandatory, and is held the night before the event.

Training Questions: 
  1. How much training do you think is necessary to complete the course inside the time limit?
Answer: Training: Essentially it is just a battle with keeping some kind of consistency throughout the winter. I know guys that cross train by running, skiing, or swimming. That said, spending lots of time on a trainer, or even riding outdoors is more common. Again- I can't stress enough that the consistency is the key. Once the weather breaks, guys will start doing longer rides, refining gear choices, and working on nutrition that they can handle on longer rides. Things like lights, cue sheet holders, and coats, gloves, etc, are all figured out here.Many are now even employing coaches to set training programs specific to Trans Iowa.

As far as distances go, I would say that if you start out riding 3hrs and work your way up from there to 5-10 hours at a crack, you'll be in good shape. I'm talking straight through time riding with no breaks. Try to keep your speeds up above 10mph average, and try to ride gravel, and lots of hills!!