Great American Bike Race
July 23, 2010 2:04 PM   Subscribe

In 1982 John Marino first organized The Great American Bike Race (now known as Race Across America, or RAAM.) The rules were simple: start at the Santa Monica Pier and end at the Empire State Building 2,968 miles with a small support team. Along with Marino were three other riders: Lon Haldeman, John Howard, and Michael Shermer (a decade later being a founding member of Skeptic Magazine.) Haldeman won with a time of 9d 20h 02m with second place, Howard coming in 14 hours later. ABC covered the race that first year as part of their Wide World of Sports [part 1 of 10]. posted by wcfields (13 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Wow - I still vividly remember being really into WWoS's coverage of this event (although I thought it was the mid to late 70's). Other than this first race, I've never followed professional bike racing, but Lon Haldeman's name is still etched in my head all of these years later.

Seeing this footage again makes me long for WWoS, because I was far from a sports fan and yet I watched it just about every week because they told such good stories with their coverage.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 2:16 PM on July 23, 2010

The RAAM rolled through a Texas town where I worked as a newspaper reporter so I got to cover it, talk with riders who stopped for breaks. Riders were on different rest schedules so some of 'em looked and acted fine, like they'd been riding for a couple miles. Some people were out of it, zombie-like to a startling, disturbing extent.
posted by ambient2 at 2:24 PM on July 23, 2010

Here's a playlist of the videos on Youtube.
posted by Picklegnome at 2:29 PM on July 23, 2010

Nice. I once rode a few miles (like about 20) with Danny Chew, two-time RAAM champion, before we started going up a hill so steep that I inadvertently popped a wheelie and fell off my bike. Here's a short profile of him.
posted by chinston at 2:44 PM on July 23, 2010

Great post. Impressive accomplishments for all these cats.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:03 PM on July 23, 2010

I met a few of these guys at an aid station the local bike club had set up for them in Montgomery AL. They were zombies, sleep-deprived, exhausted, disoriented - and I'm talking about the guys driving the cars and campers to escort the riders.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:10 PM on July 23, 2010

I was fascinated with this race as a kid and remember being appalled/impressed at the story I read about one of the racer's neck/back muscles completely failing so he couldn't hold his head up.

His crew rigged up something with bungie cords and a water jug (as a cantilever) to hold his head up so he could see the road ahead.

Hard core.
posted by dolface at 3:25 PM on July 23, 2010

John Howard is an interesting character. He was also one of the first participants in the original Ironman triathlon, and back in the mid-80s set a motorpaced bicycle speed record of 152 mph.

And Michael Shermer, though he's a skeptic now, was a charismatic Christian back then.

Lon Haldeman and his ultramarathoning wife Suzie Notorangelo now have a company called Pactour that organizes transcontinental bike tours.
posted by adamrice at 3:37 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

9 days and 20 hours for 2968 miles is an average of over 12 mph. And they had to sleep. That's really damn impressive.
posted by resiny at 4:08 PM on July 23, 2010

If you haven't heard the RadioLab episode that includes a segment about RAAM, you should. It's really good.
posted by ensign_ricky at 4:21 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding the RadioLab episode. Craziness.
posted by localhuman at 6:12 PM on July 23, 2010

Pete Penseyres was always the hero of those events for me. There's a picture from the 1984 race showing him looking half-dead on the bike - but still cranking out a pace I couldn't touch even momentarily.
posted by scruss at 7:11 PM on July 23, 2010

And Michael Shermer, though he's a skeptic now, was a charismatic Christian back then.

I once got to hear Michael Shermer give a presentation related to his book, Why People Believe Weird Things. During the speech, he described how he hallucinated from exhaustion during this bicycle race, and how the hallucination was inspired by the 60s TV show, The Invaders. I wonder if the experience played any role in convincing him to become a skeptic.
posted by jonp72 at 8:40 AM on July 24, 2010

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