After experiencing Ragbrai from 2009-2014, and then 2 days of 2016, it was inevitable that I would compare Biking Across Kansas (BAK, pronounced “Bee-Aye-Kay” rather than “back”) to Rabrai during my experience. However, I promised myself to enjoy BAK for what it was, and not hold it to any preconceived standards I may have developed from Ragbrai.
My BAK Experience
BAK was a fantastic ride, and a wonderful experience.
Although I have lived in Kansas for over two years before BAK, I had yet to be introduced to Kansas. During the first five days of BAK, Kansas finally introduced itself to me. The wind did not cease for that amount of time. It just kept blowing.
And for five straight days, I saw infinite prairies like the one pictured below.
The infinite prairie of Kansas
There was useful information in these prairies. Those tall blades informed us of how strong a cross wind we were dealing with. And we were most definitely dealing with lots of wind.
BAK involves 9 days of riding. On day 1 (which some call day 0, but who are they kidding), you get yourself to the starting point and bike to the border of Colorado and back. A few hitch rides to the border so that they can simply bike to camp from the border. A few more simply skip this ride and don’t worry about it; they probably think 8 days of riding is good enough.
After riding the first two days by myself, I rode the rest of the week with Wichita friends Neil McDaniel and Lauren Hirsh. Erin and I rode with them during the Cottonwood 200.
Neil and Lauren using a downhill to their advantage
Me with Lauren and Neil at a MOST welcomed oasis: Tallgrass Tap House in Manhattan
My ride ended on Thursday in Rossville, less than 20 miles from Topeka. Erin brought a meal for four from Globe Indian Cafe. We had a small picnic on the high school parking lot while a tornado warning was issued. I felt somewhat bad about leaving Lauren and Neil to their tents while I drove home to an air conditioned night in my own bed for the first time in 7 days.
That wouldn’t last long, however, as the next three days were spent camping with Erin on our PAC it Northwest trip. More on that later.
The Inevitable Comparison
Since I am a Ragbrai rider, I’ll give my comparison of the two rides, by listing pros and cons from the perspective of BAK.
BAK is more intimate.
There are four SAGs each day in which you don’t have to spend a dime.
There are four sponsored meals during the week on which you save money.
If you do something barely interesting from a Ragbrai perspective (like carrying a speaker on my bike for music), it is extremely interesting to a BAK rider and will generate several comments and conversations.
The only logistics you have to work out are how to get there and how to get home. Sites for tents and showers at the end of the day are taken care of for you. Your gear is hauled from town to town.
Not as hilly as Ragbrai can be.
There are never any lines.
There are fewer inexperienced bicyclists around you to cause an accident.
Although these are neutral comparisons for me, they may fall in pros or cons for someone else.
Sleeping in until 7am guarantees you will be at the back of the pack.
Longer average daily ride.
It is one day longer than Ragbrai.
There are no vendors (you rely on SAGs and pass through towns only).
Getting a beer can be VERY difficult at times. Getting a GOOD beer can be EXTREMELY difficult at times.
BAK does not close roads, so you sometimes ride on very busy ones.
To be fair, it is difficult for me to compare the two objectively. Both experiences were fantastic and I look forward to experiencing them both again.
The Numbers of BAK
The total mileage over the 9 days is 522 miles, which averages out to 58 miles per day. This does not seem accurate to anyone who experiences BAK. A closer look at daily mileage shows that the first day of 16 miles and the last day of 21 miles are extreme outliers. Throwing those out provides us with an average of about 69.3 miles per day over seven days, which is much more like it!
The 2017 entrant list posted on the BAK website had 761 participants listed. Several of these don’t make it the whole way across Kansas (including myself for having missed the last two days of riding) and some ride only a select few days.
From this data, I was able to find that 30 states were represented along with the country of Denmark. Kansas had the most participants at 566. The breakdown of the other states and country can be seen in this bar chart that I created using Excel.
State by State participation rate in the BAK 2017
From this chart and the data, the top states participating in the BAK were
The breakdown of participants of top 12 highest populated cities in Kansas:
Overland Park: 20
Kansas City: 16
It was interesting to see more participants from Manhattan than Lawrence, as well as see that the 11th most populated town of Hutchinson had the 2nd most participants in the state after Wichita. Way to go, Hutchinson!
My hobbies include cycling, running, playing guitar, coffee roasting, reading, traveling, and problem solving. I have also earned a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I obviously like to write, too, and want to share some of my experiences and knowledge with the world.
View all posts by Jason Shaw
2 thoughts on “Bee Aye Kay”
This is a great comparison! For someone who's done multiple RAGBRAIs and would like to branch out to other states (like, say, me), your honest assessment of BAK is super helpful.
I especially liked how something barely interesting from a RAGBRAI perspective is fascinating on BAK. Makes it easier to strike up conversations, I imagine.
Another Con I talked about in my experience, but forgot to list was THE WIND. Not sure why western Kansas is not mentioned along with Chicago and Wyoming.