When most people think of epic bicycle races, the Tour de France or Olympics come to mind. However, those examples are far from the only athletic competition that excites bike enthusiasts.
Known as the World’s Toughest Bike Race, the RAAM (Race Across America) is one of the longest, most challenging bicycle races in the world.
It’s also on my bucket list. As I get older I find that I’m not as fast as I want to be, but I have a diesel engine for endurance. I can’t go fast but I can go long.
This route should suit me.
We’re exploring the need to know and cool facts all about Race Across America.
What Is the Race Across America (RAAM)
RAAM is the acronym for Race Across America, which unsurprisingly means the route location is US-based. The annual race takes place in early June where state temperatures range from 60-80°F.
Where Does the RAAM take Place?
The American race starts in Oceanside, California, and ends in Annapolis, Maryland.
The Oceanside Pier is the longest wooden pier on the American west coastline of the United States. It’s also the kickoff spot for RAW route (Race Across the West), a qualifying event for RAAM, which follows the same route but ends earlier at San Juan Mountain Range, northwest of Durango, Colorado.
Riders can start checking off the travel highlights early, whether you’re testing your endurance for RAW or already onto the RAAM. If you’re keeping the checklist going, there’s plenty of iconic American highlights.
From California to Maryland, riders will pass three mountain ranges (Sierra, Rocky, and Appalachian), cross America’s longest rivers (Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio), and experience the vastness of the Great Plains. Other significant landmarks include deserts (Mojave and Sonoran), Monument Valley, and Gettysburg.
RAAM ends like it started, surrounded by water. This time it’s the sailing mecca of the east. The City Dock in Annapolis is the final destination of the race.
If you’re familiar with the race, you might have heard the question: Do you have to ride it from west to east?
Yes, the route has continued the directional tradition from its initial inception. While the distance and milestones along the journey have changed over the years, all riders travel west to east.
How Many Miles Is It?
RAAM spans 3,000 miles, crosses 12 states, and climbs 175,000 vertical feet. So don’t skip leg day when you’re preparing for this beast.
Here’s a cool fact: Abstract distances are tricky to picture, so how long is it? Here’s what 3,000 miles:
- Double the length of the Colorado River
- 439 miles shy of a trip from New York to London
- Sweden laid end-to-end three times.
- Distance covered daily will vary, but typically solo cyclists travel 250-350 while team riders race 350-500 miles daily.
When does the RAAm Usually Start?
The official race starts in early July each year. The exact date varies due to how the days line up on the calendar.
What Does It Cost to Enter?
While the RAAM does have an entry fee of $2,000, that isn’t the only mandatory financial contribution. The cost of entering the RAAM depends on multiple factors, like how many team members, support crew, vehicles, gear, and whatever else riders need along the way.
A solo entry, for example, will pay an entry fee, crew (including vehicle support), food, lodging, memorabilia, and miscellaneous supplies. The minimum spend will cost solo racers $20,000 while a four-person team might cost $8,000 per person.
When Did It Start and Who Started It?
The first incarnation of the RAAM was called the Great American Bike Race and was held in 1982. The race spanned from Santa Monica, California to the Empire State Building, New York City. The four competitors included John Marino, the race’s organizer, and four others (John Howard, Michael Shermer, and Lon Haldeman). Haldeman won.
The name changed to Race Across America the following year. Each year after expanded the distance and participants, eventually resembling the race seen today.
What Makes RAAM Special?
The tagline for RAAM is the World’s Toughest Bike Race. To earn the title of RAAM Finisher, cyclists need to complete 3,000 miles in 12 days. While other racers are part of the competition, it’s also a test for individual endurance and against the nature of expansive America.
Solo riders challenge every aspect of athletic achievement. Some riders sleep a few hours a day, less when the finish is in sight. RAAM crew will stop a race if they feel they cross a safety threshold, but for most committing to 20 hours per day of riding is the greatest physical trial they’ll ever face.
It’s a commitment that plays with your physical and mental health. While most of the symptoms are caused by physical intensity, it can take a toll when riders experience hallucinations, photophobia, numbness in extremities, and a variety of aches and pains. The intensity is why riders need to meet qualifications before entry.
While there’s no rule you need to finish, cyclists won’t get a refund for an unfinished race. Riders can complete section by section, and take as much time as they need in between.
Can You Do It As A Team?
While RAAM began as a challenge for solo riders, it has evolved to include teams. Every category follows the same route but runs with different start times.
The current categories are solo, 2-person, 4-person, and 8-person. However, there are categories within categories, such as age, gender, and bike types.
Typically, team racers using a relay method, but that isn’t a rule. How shifts are arranged depends on how many members are a part of the time and racing strategy. For example, team riders might race for 20 minutes at a time or members might switch out after a few hours or at every Time Station.
What Is A Time Station?
How do they keep score/time? A Time Station is a marker where a racer calls in their location and time to Race Headquarters. RAAM sets up approximately 53 Time Stations every 40-90 miles apart.
Not all locations are staffed or utilized as pit stops. Riders can expect to meet a RAAM crew at half the stations.
The locations are dual-purposed. The first purpose is to help RAAM and spectators keep score. RAAM uses the call-ins to update race reports. The second purpose is to provide racers a checkpoint to address needs. Whether that’s finding RAAM crew, bike service, hotel rooms, or food and water.
What’s better than a rider challenging themselves to break records? Cycling for charity. Participants in Race Across America, whether individual riders or teams, sponsor charitable causes and organizations of their choosing. While many cyclists commit to some fundraising for racings funds, they also commit to raising awareness for a charity.
The sporting community lives for breaking RAAM records.
What Is the Record for the Race and Who Holds the Record?
The record for the fastest solo time elapsed for the RAAM belongs to Austrian cyclist Christoph Strausser with 7 days 15 hours and 56 minutes. His race took place between June 10 to 18, 2014, allowing him to claim a world record for crossing the US coast to coast. His average speed was 16.42 miles per hour.
Before Strausser broke the record, Michael Secrest had held the record since 1990. Secrest’s record was 7 days 23 hours 16 minutes. However, Strausser initially broke the record in 2013 with 7 days 22 hours 11 minutes.
Another notable record was broken when Team Bemer broke the record for an 8-person team on June 21, 2018. With an average speed of 24.91 miles per hour, Team Bemer finished in 5 days 3 hours 43 minutes.
The previous 8-person team winners finished in 5 days 3 hours and 45 minutes–which is a two-minute difference. However, in 2013, when Team Allied Forces won, the route was 2,962 miles while Team Bemer won a 3,081-mile course. That’s two minutes faster with an extra 119 miles.
Team Bemer consisted of cyclists Kurt Broadhag, Chris DeMarchi, Tony Restuccia, Phil Tintsman, Karl Bordine, Michael Olheiser, Craig Streit, and Joshua Stockinger. They rode for the Pablove Foundation, a US pediatric cancer nonprofit organization.
In 2021, Canadian Leah Goldstein earned her win in 11 days 3 hours 3 minutes. She was the first woman to win the Race Across America.
Preparing for RAAM
If reading competition records and warning about racer fatigue has inspired you to ride, here’s what you need to know and what you need to bring.
How to Train for the Ride
One of the best ways to train for the RAAM is to train for other significant races, such as RAAM qualifying races. Qualifying for the RAAM is only required for solo entries, but the experience can benefit individual team members.
Interested cyclists can check out their official list, which includes 24-hour RAAM qualifiers and necessary times. Generally, riders must have an average speed of 10 miles per hour, but the expectations of individual qualifiers vary.
While stamina and endurance are crucial aspects of training, cyclists don’t need to practice riding for seven days straight. For example, if you’re part of a team, you might focus on peak cycling for 30 minutes at a time or simulate expected switch times.
Remember that the Great American Bike Race takes place in summer, which means riders are exposed to heat, both dry and humid. The high temperatures and exercise can cause some nausea, but you’ll be starving for your 8,000 daily calories.
Most cyclists stick with a liquid diet. Granola bars might be quick fixes, but your racer’s stomach might not approve.
Either test out your cycling in the heat as practice or during another race event.
With so much to do before you qualify, riders might wonder how long does it take? There’s no easy answer. Many of the RAAM winners have decades of athletic experience, even if they started with another sport. Riders will be ready when they’re ready, which might mean testing your medal in shorter races or team races before you face the journey from west to east.
What Type of Gear to Take
While some gear might seem obvious, like a high-quality bike and a water bottle, other gear is less straightforward.
Food and water, for the rider and crew, need to be planned beforehand. Crews shouldn’t wing it and hope they drive by a decent takeout place. Meal planning isn’t exciting, but riders and their support need fuel.
Speaking of fuel, crews should map pit stops. Pit stops include gas, sleeping arrangements, and the occasional bathroom break. Speaking of a map, navigation, such as GPS, is a handy tool that will help riders and their crew stay on course.
Sleeping arrangements will vary. If you’re sticking to a budget, your crew might bring along bedding to sleep in the crew van. Other options are using an RV, taking a chance on hotel availability, or booking ahead just in case.
Whether you’re a rookie or an expert, keep in mind that the shortest finish time is a week. You need extra clothes, both because you’ll sweat and to prepare for changing weather conditions. Bike equipment for repair, replacement, and maintenance is a must because your ride is enduring the same week plus.
Don’t forget about vehicle maintenance. Crew should bring along spare tires, basic tool kits, and other maintenance supplies. While a reliable vehicle should be part of the preparation, accidents happen.
Communication is necessary for cyclists and crews to keep in contact. You might be tempted to rely on the tried and true cellphone, which can work for some. Although, phones need charging and cell service areas. A walkie-talkie might be the better choice. Other options might be CB radio or short-range communication devices.
Storage is another forgotten gem of preparation. The rider needs to minimize their weight while still bringing the essentials. Crew needs storage to organize tools, food, equipment, first aid, and everything the cyclists need along the way.
Crews should consist of people with know-how. While riders should choose people they trust, the crew is more than a cheering section. If possible, consider people who don’t mind more than a week-long road trip and contribute relevant expertise, such as a mechanic or navigator.
Now you know all about the Race Across America (RAAM) and how to get started. If you’re considering joining the race, planning ahead, rigorous training and a reliable crew are essential. If you’re a fan, watch past races online or visit a Time Station near you to cheer on the riders.
Did any of the RAAM facts surprise you? We hope you’ll join the fandom either on wheels or from the sidelines.