Riding Through History

State Historical Museum of Iowa
Des Moines, IA

Riding Through History is a 3,000 square foot exhibit on the history of recreational bicycling in Iowa. The exhibit showcases how bicycling became a popular form of recreation and lead to the creation of 2,000 miles of recreational trails and a true cycling culture in the Hawkeye state.

Critical to this story is the history of the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). Each year the ride attracts about 10,000 registered cyclists and thousands who do not receive ride credentials. This makes RAGBRAI the oldest, largest, and longest bicycle touring event in the world. This public and celebrated event provided an accessible anchor for the exhibit, which sought to capture the character (and characters) of the ride from its founding to the present.

The exhibit had a threefold purpose: to maintain or build existing family audiences, to reach out to underserved constituents, and to expand the Museum’s collections. These goals were accomplished through public outreach and community engagement focused on a shared love of cycling. The Museum planned its Spring Break 2014 activities around the exhibit and hosted “Spring Pedalpalooza,” which attracted 1,943 visitors (922 children and 1,021 adults). Museum staff worked with partners including the Iowa Department of Transportation, local bicycle shops, and the Des Moines Police Department. The Iowa DOT provided trail maps and other resources, the bicycle shops provided expertise on purchasing and maintaining a bicycle, and the Des Moines Police promoted bicycle safety.

The outcomes and effects of the project on the State Historical Museum and the communities it serves is marked in the quality of the exhibit, the variety of stories it tells, the response of museum guests, and the unique partnerships built as a result of collecting for this exhibit. Riding Through History took a beloved local hobby and used it to create a lively exhibit that drew in cyclists, families, history lovers, and others. Visitors who might never have considered the history of cycling leave with an expanded view of the many facets of the history of cycling in Iowa.