I have done both. I did RAGBRAI way back in 1980 when it was "only" about 12,000 people and I did BRAN this past summer. I have also done Oklahoma's FreeWheel several times, SAAGBRAW (Wisconsin) twice, and Ohio's GOBA once.
Of course, there is a party/zoo flavor to RAGBRAI compared to its much more sedate BRAN cousin.
While the scenery, roads, people, etc. are nice to great, we overall did not like BRAN as much as others. This was primarily due to a couple of reasons important to us. One thing was that everyone getting up at the un-holy time of 4:00am-4:30am
(I am not joking) so they can break camp, eat, etc. so they can be on the road before daylight. I prefer to sleep until dawn but the zip zip zip ziiip ziiiiip zip ziiiiip ziiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip (this guy at least tried to be quiet) of the !@#$% tent zippers all around you is absurd. One day I was literally the last guy out at 6:28am.
Additionally, this is a very fast ride. I don't know how Nebraskans train in the winter but by June, they were strong. On the vast majority of rides, I ride about average speed compared to others. I am basing this on that I get passed by about the same number I pass and the camp seems about 1/2 empty when I typically leave. It is a tad discouraging to others I ride with that we left at 5:00-5:30am (about the time everyone is departing it seems) and be passed by everyone expect we might pass 1 or 2. I personally don't care but others get bummed by this.
Like other states ride, they have some days that are high mileage. The difference is that almost every year has a mandatory (no optional loops) 100+ mile day. I understand the reason is that in the central/northern plains, towns are spread out a bit more but requiring every rider to do a century is a little much. This is probably why not very many families go as the little ones can't do a century.
Finally, while this is nothing they can actually control, the weather in early June in Nebraska can be quite varied. This year, it rained and on some days the high was in the 50s. Some years are hot and dry with headwinds and other years are just perfect. Some might like the variability but we prefer it to be at least 70 for the high in June
. I would prefer it if they moved it later just 1 week as the average temp raises 2-3 degrees and the weather is more settled according to the locals.
Now that I have ranted on them, I will give the good side. They are the least expensive of all the rides. It was something like $125 for the week which included LOTS of free refreshment stops (4-6 per day with fruit, candy, etc.), sag service if you needed it; super friendliness (but what else is expected from people in the flyover country), short lines for showers, food, etc. great town support overall, etc. Dinners and such were all church-type functions and really good and plentiful. Mostly inexpensive @ about $6 person. Additionally, this is a fundraiser as compared to a money-maker for most other rides so that is nice.
As compared to RAGBRAI? You are comparing grapes and watermelons. On RAGBRAI, you can leave 15 hours
before or after the ride and still see people on the road. I understand the logistics have gotten a little crazy now but I can't do a fair comparison since I went in 1980.
How would I compare BRAN to the other rides?BRAN
: Fast, long, great people, inexpensive, great SAG & food stops; not for slow or weak.FreeWheel
: About 400 miles, follows prevailing winds and overall gently rolling hills, inexpensive, great people, so/so SAG stops, roads need work.GOBA
: 225-275 miles (without optional days), more upscale, can sleep indoors (HS gymnasium) tad pricey, has layover days, nice roads on overall gently rolling hills, more lines; probably would go again.SAAGBRAW
: about 400 miles, scenic, great roads but can be hillier, expensive (much more commercial), can sleep indoors, nice weather, well ran but not as friendly; would do again.RAGBRAI
: Lots and lots of people, food everywhere (unless you are at the end then good luck!), garden hoses for showers; somewhat inexpensive but can get pricey if you join a "support crew" that secures private camping, showers, etc. for you, good roads but can be hilly, good weather (maybe a tad warm), great experience; will do again, maybe.
Hope this helps.