Nice Guys Finish First

Giant ambassador Rahsaan Bahati and Team Thin Energy didn't enter Race Across America just to win. They were racing to change lives.

Three thousand miles, 12 states, over 175,000 feet of climbing. That's what Team Thin Energy was facing in the 2021 Race Across America. But their challenge, going flat out as fast as they could from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland, was nothing compared to that faced by the kids they were riding for. Motivated by the cause, the team finished in 6 days, 10 hours, and 11 minutes, winning the 4-person male category. More importantly, they raised money and spirits for kids in Los Angeles who have been affected by gun violence. We caught up with Rahsaan to talk about the experience.

Team Thin Energy riders Rahsaan Bahati, James Cowan, Alex Isaly and Rudy Napolitano (left to right)

Team Thin Energy riders Rahsaan Bahati, James Cowan, Alex Isaly and Rudy Napolitano (left to right) at the start in Oceanside, California, with their Trinity Advanced Pro team bikes. Brian Hodes @veloimages photo

How was Team Thin Energy assembled for this year’s RAAM?
After racing it in 2018 for the first time, I thought I would never do RAAM again. It’s such a unique yet grueling event—why would I want to put myself through that level of pain, cold, heat and sleep deprivation against something bigger than us? Well, when my 2018 teammate Alex Isaly called me asking about racing again in 2021, without hesitation I said NO! But after a few more calls and twisting my arm, I agreed. However, there was a caveat. Given that our world has been faced with a lot of negativity over the last 16 months, I said we must find something we can do that brings change for the betterment of our society. I asked Alex about riding for a charity. He replied: “Let’s ride for your charity.” Of course I said yes!

How much RAAM experience did your team have?
Our team was a 50/50 split with RAAM experience. Alex and I were the only two who had raced it. James and Rudy were the rookies.
Were there some lessons you learned from your first RAAM in 2018 that helped you this year?
My first time racing RAAM was just an emotional rollercoaster. The good thing about not knowing is not knowing. Back then, the fact I was entering into the unknown was scary but also a blessing because it allowed me to ride very freely not knowing what was around the corner, or in the next state for that matter.

Giant Ambassador Rahsaan Bahati in his custom designed kit and Giant Pursuit helmet

Bahati in his custom designed kit and Giant Pursuit helmet. Brian Hodes @veloimages photo

How did you land on the idea to ride in support of kids who have been affected by gun violence?
After thinking about what the Bahati Foundation really stands for and what positive effects we can have on our community, it's a no brainer. Working with children in underserved and marginalized communities is what we do. I came from the same community, and it took a tool to help me become the person I am today. That tool was a bike. Hopefully for these young children who are victims of gun violence, perhaps this investment account is the tool that acts as a step in the right direction to get them into better circumstances.

The team's Trinity Advanced Pro bikes were custom painted with colors and an overall design that reflects the Bahati Foundation's mission.

The team's Trinity Advanced Pro bikes were custom painted with colors and an overall design that reflects the Bahati Foundation's mission. Brian Hodes @veloimages photo

How did you work with the Los Angeles Police Department to bring the idea to life?
I have known Detective Cedric Washington for more than 15 years. Oftentimes when we ride together, he mentions stories from some of the children he takes to the L.A. Velodrome to introduce them to cycling. But it’s not only cycling that's being introduced—being at the velodrome introduces them to so many different positive lifestyle changes. However, and unfortunately, these are young people that have endured horrendous life-changing situations due to gun violence in Los Angeles county.

Team Thin Energy racing through the mountains at the 2021 Race Across America

The team had to climb more than 175,000 feet over 6 days and endure scorching temperatures in the desert close to 120 degrees. @AdventureScoutMedia photo

Interacting with the families you are supporting has to be an emotional experience. Were those emotions a motivating factor during the race?
Meeting the families for the first time in Oceanside, California, just hours before we embarked on our RAAM journey, was extremely emotional. You are looking at little kids, they are so innocent yet they have to grow up without their mother, or father, sister or brother. One thing I noticed right away after speaking to them, is that they are strong. You can see the resilience and determination radiating out of them. If that doesn’t motivate you, perhaps we should be doing some soul searching.

Team Thin Energy riders met up with the families and kids they were riding for at the start of the 2021 Race Across America.

The team met up with the families and kids before the start in Oceanside, California. Brian Hodes @veloimages photo

Guessing you spent lots of time on Zwift to prepare. What was a typical training week in the months leading up to RAAM?
Zwift and I have a love-hate relationship. Being that I have a very busy schedule, most days Zwift is the best thing for me. When my day starts at 4:30 am and is typically done around 10 pm, getting on Zwift makes the training effort a success—because it's not a wasted 75 to 90 minute ride as it very easily can be outdoors. So my week would only consist of about 12 hours of total riding, 15 if I'm lucky. Here is an example:
Monday: 1-hour morning ride, 1hr afternoon or evening ride. Usually Giant Monday Motivation
Tuesday: 2-hour outdoor ride. On the bike by 6 am and ride to a group ride by LAX airport.
Tuesday (second session): Zwift Race, 45 minutes to an hour
Wednesday: 75 minutes, Alpe du Zwift
Thursday: 1-hour ride at some time of the day
Friday: 2.5-hour very easy road ride through Santa Monica
Saturday: 4-hour ride in the Santa Monica Mountains
Sunday: Rest and family time
Your race strategy/format was doing 6-hour shifts with 2 riders rotating. Is that a common way to race it? Is it the same or different approach from your first RAAM?
This has been proven to be the best and fastest way to get across the country. The thing most rookies of RAAM don’t realize is that you can feel absolutely amazing for a majority of the race. You can get all the way to Ohio and feel great—and then it can all fall apart with four states to go and you lose everything. So splitting the team up into two-man teams with 6-hour shifts, and the riders taking 15-20 minute pulls, is what's needed to go fast throughout the entirety of RAAM. I would also add, it’s a good strategy for the support staff as well.

Team Thin Energy, looking fresh at the start of the 2021 Race Across America in Oceanside, California.

Team Thin Energy, looking fresh on day one in Oceanside, California. @AdventureScoutMedia photo

Any really low moments for you personally that you had to fight through?
For me it was getting into Kansas and starting my ride at 2 a.m. I was in a really dark place. I had zero energy, I was falling asleep on the bike, my morale was low. I started to second guess my existence on the team. But then around 5 a.m. you can see the sun starting to rise out of the east and my teammate James would always tell me, with his British accent: “Enjoy the ride.” It took a while for those words to really hit home for me—but when it did it changed how I approached each segment on the bike.

Team Thin Energy rider Alex Isaly is tended to by teammates and medics after suffering through extreme heat in the 2021 Race Across America.

Team rider Alex Isaly is tended to by teammates and medics after suffering through extreme desert heat. @AdventureScoutMedia photo

Gear talk… You switched between a Trinity TT bike and a TCR road bike. About what percentage of the entire RAAM on each? Any other special bike/gear setups?
I would say I spent 75 pecent on the Trinity, which was just much more conducive to what we wanted to do—go across the country as fast as humanly possible. It definitely helped having the custom paint job because when you look good, you go good. The other 25 percent was on the TCR, which is just a monster of a bike. I rode the Trinity with a CADEX aero disc wheel on the rear and a CADEX 65 up front. The TCR was set up with CADEX 65, which I never felt was too much wheel as we raced across the country. We went across the country on the best equipment cycling can offer and didn’t have one single mechanical. Not even a flat tire. Go ahead and read that again: Eight bikes, 16 wheels, four riders and not one single flat tire or mechanical. Kudos Giant and CADEX!

Rahsaan Bahati racing through the flats in the 2021 Race Across America on his Trinity Advanced Pro bike.

Rahsaan Bahati racing through the flats on his Trinity Advanced Pro bike. @AdventureScoutMedia photo

How does winning RAAM compare with all your other racing accomplishments over the years?
This is a good question. I think it has its own shelf on the mantel. Stepping outside my comfort zone and doing something most people laughed at the first time I raced in 2018—to come back and win in 2021 with a rookie staff is special. And more importantly, this was a race to change lives. And I know we did that.