Rahsaan’s Long Ride
Words: Brad Roe | Images: Brian Hodes & Annemarie Hennes
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This story originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Peloton, number 105. Since then, a documentary following Rahsaan Bahati and his team’s Race Across America journey has premiered on Outside TV. You can watch it below.
Rahsaan Bahati and three teammates—James Cowan, Alex Isaly and Rudy Napolitano—rode their custom Giant Trinity bikes across the country in June. The decades-old Race Across America or RAAM is sort of a gritty outlier event that tends to get lost in the normal news flow of classics, grand tours and a burgeoning gravel event calendar. RAAM is a crazy concept. Teams and solo riders navigate roads from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland, in an attempt to either just finish or take the victory. It features some 60,000 feet of climbing in the 3,000 miles route.
This year was different. Rahsaan and team and crew were riding to raise $50,000 to help Los Angeles families recover from tragic events and to teach the kids left behind about financial literacy and transform their tragedy into a lifelong source of income and learning. The team partnered with the Los Angeles Police Department’s South Bureau Homicide Division to identify families in need. The Bahati Foundation has worked with 20,000 students in 30 schools in and around Los Angeles and helped more than 5,000 young cyclists through their programs. This RAAM adventure was their latest to utilize cycling to facilitate change.
First, they created their four-man team, Thin Energy, and set out from Oceanside with a mission: to get to Annapolis safely and raise money along the way. Here’s how American cycling legend Bahati described what happened—starting on June 14, 2021.
THE HISTORY… “RAAM knocked on my door in 2017 through Alex Isaly. I’ve known Alex for 13 years and hadn’t seen him in a long time; he needed a rider for his team. He asked me if I was interested and I said sure. I didn’t really know what RAAM was. I think for that first year  it was about getting across the country safely. It wasn’t about winning or being in the top three or any of that. Great staff; great group of guys; and we did it. It sucked, it was fun. It hurt. It was a roller coaster. Alex hit me up the following year and asked me to join him on a two-man team. I hung up the phone. This time I didn’t pick up the phone again. He ended up doing it and they had a really tough time that year.”
THE HOOK… “He approached me again for this year and I avoided him again. After a few phone calls we finally connected and instead of ignoring him I asked him what are we doing this for? He said I think we can do it for a great cause. I told him I’d be interested if we did if for my foundation. If we came up with a plan to raise some real money for my foundation to create our biggest fundraiser ever. That was the hook for me. As we got into that period of fundraising and planning we talked about what the money would do or be put towards. I reached out to detective Cedric Washington in L.A. He works homicide and he sees some of the things we never see; we ride bikes oftentimes and he tells me stories like about a father of four was gunned down in a park. It wasn’t gang-affiliated, he was just out there with his family. He tells me these stories because he feels so bad for the kids that are left behind. He’s always doing things to get these kids out to the velodrome and takes them through the youth program. He always has a direct connection to kids that could use some help. That’s where it all started.”
THE PLAN… “One thing led to the next and we came up with the idea of setting up investment accounts for the kids. We all know money is a tool and when that tool is used right it can do some beautiful things. For me, I grew up not knowing a lot about financial literacy. I wish I knew a lot of things when I was in my younger teens and early 20s that I do now. I would have made better decisions with money. The lesson is, you can teach others so they don’t go through the same thing you had to. We raised $57,000 and we aren’t done fundraising. We are going to auction off two of the custom Giant Trinity bikes and we are going to sell the custom RAAM kit; and so that will be additional funds to go towards the program.”
THE WORST MOMENTS OF THE RIDE… “Definitely the first hot, hot city is Brawley, California. It’s early on, the race has been going on for maybe four hours at this point. I did the first two hours; so I left Oceanside, got into Temecula and [the temperature] went from 75 to triple digits. It was horrible for the next 24 hours. We rode into Borego Springs and it was so hot I thought the tires were going to melt. The parts of our bikes not covered by handlebar tape you couldn’t touch! The next tough moment was sleep deprivation. It really hit me when we were in Ohio, so four or five days in, and there were times when I was pedaling up a hill and my eyes just fell and my legs were still moving but my eyes were closed. They’d get on the radio and yell at me and I’d wake up and realize I had just fallen asleep on my bike. That went on for about 24 hours. There were times when we were doing 20-minute pulls, so that means I’m on the bike for 20 and then off the bike for 20. Within five minutes of me getting off the bike, I’d fall asleep instantly in the car.”
BEST MOMENTS OF THE RIDE… “Definitely the sunrises. Specifically, the one coming out of Kansas, because it’s dead flat. You see the sun coming up; it’s almost like you are chasing it. The sun starts coming up around 4:30 a.m. and it was really cool. Towards the end, when we found out we had a chance to catch an eight-person team, that was a huge highlight, and it was cool because all four riders were together for the first time. Then, of course, the finish and being able to celebrate and know that we had accomplished something most people would never accomplish and then knowing we were the third fastest team and winning our category. It’s just an awesome group of guys. I’ve known Alex for 13 years. I’ve known Rudy for 10 years and I had just met James—and he fit in seamlessly. Teams fall apart in the middle of nowhere and we got across safely and without any fighting and put it all together for the win.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE BAHATI FOUNDATION… “There’s so much going on, but if I had to pick one thing, through my travels to Bentonville [Arkansas], I was inspired by the bike park they have in Springdale [that’s 20 miles south of Bentonville]. I went there and it just blew me away seeing the community at a bike park. It was like a mini-Disneyland for everyone. You see kids on Strider bikes, kids doing tricks on BMX bikes, you see adults. When I came home it got me thinking we need a bike park in our hood. Where I’m sitting now, I can look outside and I see kids riding their bikes on the sidewalk, which is not safe. They’re bikes we’ve given to them over the last three years… Giant and Liv have donated bikes to these kids. It would be perfect if we could create a bike park; they would have a safe space to learn how to ride and exercise. We are giving out these bikes every holiday and they really don’t have a safe place to ride them. They are riding on sidewalks against traffic which isn’t safe. We are working to raise funds; it’s kind of a long burn right now unless we get a corporate sponsor to pull this off. That’s one of our biggest goals going forward.”
Peloton is working with Zwift and Giant on a documentary with Rahsaan Bahati and his team that will be featured on OutsideTV this fall. To help him and his foundation, visit bahatifoundation.org