Race Across America: Everything You Need To Know About An Ultra-Endurance Icon

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Have you ever heard about Race Across America?

The Race Across America (RAAM) is a grueling ultra-endurance bicycle race that takes participants on an epic expedition across the United States.

The race traverses approximately 4800 km (3000 miles) from the west coast of America to the east as fast as your legs will carry you!

The route encompasses a diverse range of terrains, from the sprawling plains of Illinois to the towering Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Riders should expect to endure extreme weather conditions, fatigue, and intense sleep deprivation.

RAAM is a true test of human endurance, determination, and resilience and will see riders pushing their physical and mental limits.

In this article, we will cover:

  • Race Across America: History
  • Race Across America: Overview & Format
  • Race Across America: Honorable Mentions
  • Race Across America 2024
  • Trans Am Bike Race

Let’s jump into it!

Race Across America: Title Image

Race Across America: History

The Race Across America was born in in 1982, then known as The Great American Bike Race.

John Marino organized the first edition and featured in a field with three other friends: John Howard, Lon Haldeman, and Michael Shermer.

They set off from Santa Monica, California, tackling the challenge head-on and eventually finishing at the iconic Empire State Building in New York City.

Lon Haldeman eventually emerged triumphant as the maiden victor of this now historic race; he finished in a blistering time of 9 days, 20 hours, and 2 minutes, boasting exceptional cycling prowess and endurance.

Although Lon Haldeman was the first cyclist to ride across America in under ten days, the first successful attempt was completed in 1884 by Thomas Stevens, with a time of 103 days.

Stevens was also known as the first person to circle the globe on a bicycle. More specifically, a penny-farthing.

The name of the race changed to Race Across America in its second year, with the participation requirements also changing to qualification rather than an invitation.

The race grew year after year, attracting the likes of Tour De France riders such as Jonathan Boyer, who won the RAAM in 1985. The race was even televised on ABC’s Wide World of Sports in 1986.

RAAM was bringing eyes to the sport of ultra-endurance cycling. Each year the race catches the attention and dedication of riders from around the globe.

In 1989 the race format changed to allow teams to participate. Riders racing in a relay format have more breaks and consequent increases in average speeds.

Since then, more categories have continued to grow, with solo, duo, and four-person groups allowed to enter. Riders can now race in groups of 8, with the current 8-person record belonging to Team Bermer at 5 days, 3 hours, and 43 minutes.

Race Across America: Overview & Format

Race Format

The Race Across America is one of the longest ultra-endurance cycling events in the world.

It is a monumental physical, logistical, and financial challenge that demands remarkable resilience and unwavering spirit.  

Sleep deprivation is merely expected, with the fastest riders sleeping for little more than an hour a day for 8 days.

Unlike popular stage races such as the Giro d’Italia or the Tour De France, there are no specified stages or distances that a rider has to complete on any given day. In fact, there are no stages at all.

Drafting is not allowed, and attacks look very different from classic tours. RAAM riders will instead attack across an entire state by slightly upping their tempo for a day or two.

They’ll also play a cat-and-mouse game when it comes to sleeping, trying to get the mental edge on a competitor. It is a war of attrition.

The race is measured as a point-to-point time trial. The clock begins as you cross the start line and ends at the finish if you get there. Even with the level of experience of the riders tackling this challenge, there is a 50% success rate.

The overall time includes every minute, including any rest or sleep. There is an official 12-day cut-off time.

The winners of each division are those who have found the grueling sweet spot between output and fuelling, underpinned by a significant dose of mental fortitude.

RAAM Route: Oceanside to Annapolis

  • Length: 4890 km (3038.5 miles)
  • Elevation: 42005 m (137813 feet)

Cyclists set off on their daunting journey from Oceanside, California, navigating themselves away from the scenic coastal roads until they reach the desert town of Blythe, some 380 km in on the California-Arizona border.

Leaving Blythe, riders will be welcomed into the vast expanse of the Arizona desert. Arizona contains a mix of desert plains and mountain terrains.

Riding through the Arizona desert in summer is serious business. Temperatures soar, and headwinds rattle even the hardiest of riders.

After battling through Arizona, the race enters the magnificent state of Utah. This section includes the iconic Monument Valley, around 1270 km in, which is known for its towering sandstone formations.

View of the road leading towards Utah's Monument Valley.

Onwards and eastwards towards Colorado!

Soon after Monument Valley, riders will be greeted by the rugged and mountainous terrain of Colorado. They face punishing climbs and fierce descents as they pass through the towns of Pagosa Springs and Alamosa.

A welcome relief awaits riders as they cycle across the flat plains of Kansas. The route is now predominantly comprised of wide sprawling plains.

The next 1200 km through Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois is largely flat, although that is juxtaposed by the deteriorating physical condition of the riders at this point.

The route includes slight undulations as it continues through Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia. West Virginia includes two notably hard climbs between Fellowsville and Oakland.

The route now hugs the Maryland, Pennsylvania border. Riders continue cycling eastward, legs shot and emotions high, as they approach the grand finale at the Annapolis Dock.

Race across America: honorable mentions

Here are a few records and highlights of this race, which is steeped in rich compelling stories of human determination.

Fastest Known Times (FKT)

  1. Male Solo FKT: Christoph Strasser, 2014. Time: 7:15:56, Average Pace: 26.4 km/r (16.42 mph.) Strasser also holds the all-time record holder for solo RAAM victories, winning his 6th RAAM in 2019.
  2. Female Solo FKT: Leah Goldstein, 2021. Time: 11:03:03, Average Pace: 18.3 km/r (11.38 mph.)

Check out the full records list at Race Across America Results.

Leah Goldstein: the first woman to win the overall solo division

In 2021, at the age of 52, Leah Goldstein set the record as the first woman to win the overall solo division.

Leah”s story reads like a movie. The teenage world champion kickboxer went on to work in the Israeli secret police and eventually became a pro cyclist. After a horrific crash during a cycling race, she was told by a doctor that she would never walk without a cane again.

15 years later, she won the RAAM outright, beating everyone in the field.

Team See to see

In 2015, Team Sea to See, which was composed of visually impaired riders and their sighted teammates, participated in RAAM.

They used tandem bicycles and partnered with their sighted teammates to guide them across America.

Their journey exemplified teamwork, trust, and determination, inspiring people around the world and challenging perceptions about disabilities.

Team Inspire India

In 2017, a group of Indian cyclists under the banner of Team Inspire India, made history by becoming the first all-women team from India to compete in RAAM.

The team of determined cyclists set out to empower women in their country and challenge societal norms.

Their journey will undoubtedly inspire countless individuals in the future to pursue their dreams fearlessly.

View of a road through the mountains used in the Race Across America.

Race Across America 2024

The next edition, Race Across America 2024, will start on 11 June 2023, with a departure from the usual spot of Oceanside, California.

Nowadays, the race has become a niche, even within the cycling world. This means that foundations for large-scale coverage aren’t there. However, you can follow the race on the RAAM website, where they offer live tracking and race coverage.

If you want to qualify for RAAM, you must prove your abilities by competing in several qualifying events, such as Race Around Poland, Race Across Ireland, or Race Across Italy.

View of a dirt road with two cyclists, a possible route for the Trans Am Bike Race.

Trans Am Bike Race

Fancy something a little more extreme but along the same vein?

The Trans Am Bike Race is a self-supported, ultra-distance cycling race that spans the United States. It follows the TransAmerica Trail, which was originally established as a bicycle touring route by Adventure Cycling Association.

Although it may differ slightly, the race usually covers a distance of approximately 6800 km (4200 miles), coupled with over 54,915 m (180,171 feet) of elevation.

Unlike RAAM, the Trans Am Bikepacking Race is an unsupported endeavor. Riders must carry all their necessary gear and supplies, relying on their self-sufficiency throughout the journey.

This includes managing their water, food, and sleeping arrangements. The race typically lasts several weeks, with the fastest time of completion held by Abdullah Zeinab, who managed to complete the 2019 edition of the race in a stunning 16 days, 9 hours, and 56 minutes.

The Trans Am Bikepacking Race is known for its challenging terrain, including rocky mountain passes and long stretches of remote wilderness.

If this article has got you excited for a long bikepacking trip, take a look at our Ultimate North Coast 500 Guide!

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As a qualified sports massage therapist and personal trainer with eight years' experience in the field, Ben plays a leading role in BikeTips' injury and recovery content. Alongside his professional experience, Ben is an avid cyclist, splitting his time between his road and mountain bike. He is a particular fan of XC ultra-endurance biking, but nothing beats bikepacking with his mates. Ben has toured extensively throughout the United Kingdom, French Alps, and the Pyrenees ticking off as many iconic cycling mountains as he can find. He currently lives in the Picos de Europa of Spain's Asturias region, a stone's throw from the legendary Altu de 'Angliru - a spot that allows him to watch the Vuelta a España roll past his doorstep each summer.

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