When I last spoke to David Bailey three years ago, he was working on a total redesign of his hand-powered cycle and laying low. Fast forward to 2017, and the news that Bailey, along with multi-time AMA National Motocross Champions Micky Dymond, Doug Henry, and Jeff Ward, would combine efforts to compete in the grueling Race Across America (RAAM) bicycle race.
RAAM is one of the most physically punishing long distance bicycle races on the planet. As the name suggests, it runs across America, from California to Maryland, traversing deserts, the Rocky Mountains, the farmland of the Great Plains, and the rolling hills of the East Coast.
The RAAM is nothing to take lightly, and the fact that two of the riders will be attacking the event on handcycles adds additional complications to the overall challenge. We talked to David about the event, which begins in June.
[Update: Bailey and friends hope to raise $100,000. You can help by donating to their cause right here.]
Racer X: David, I saw the news that you guys are racing this thing. Back in 2014, I spoke to Micky [Dymond] and he had just completed the race with Ben Bostrom and Dave Mirra, so I know a little about how gnarly the race is. How did this come about with you and Doug?
David Bailey: I actually remember reading that interview! The one thing Micky said he cared about was just getting the finishers medal. That is what really stood out to me. I actually knew about this race when it started in 1982 or so, and I followed it a little bit back then. I guess it’s something that I never thought I could really do, but then I really love riding my handcycle—it’ the one thing that has stuck with me. So I was thinking about it, and my wife Gina was like, “Do it!” I called Doug Henry first, and asked him. I thought maybe we would go with an all handcycle team. I envisioned us having four custom built bikes, but honestly, Gina pointed out that the logistics would be a nightmare. So then I thought maybe we would do two handcycles and two bicycles, so I spoke to Todd Jacobs and Travis Pastrana about doing it since it ends in Annapolis, and that’s a cool connection with Travis. But then Travis just had too many obligations. It was actually Doug’s idea to reach out to Micky Dymond and ask him.
Micky certainly has the experience and knowledge to do it.
Exactly. But I wasn’t sure if Micky wanted to do it again. But he was into it, and it was his idea to ask Wardy. And then my friend Todd had other obligations, and it worked out to be me, Henry, and Dymond.
But then Wardy said yes and accepted the offer?
He did. I was like, man, we got a team, and I am a total fan of these guys. Just the other day, I was riding behind Wardy, and I am still in awe of him! His legs are ripped and he is still in serious shape. So Jeff and Micky are super solid. And Doug has never even really seen a handcycle, but the thing about him is that he could just show up at the starting line and jump into it. That’s the kind of athlete Doug is. As Micky said, Doug is the kind of guy who would honestly rather die than fail. Doug, I know him the least, but I know that he has the biggest heart.
Back to Wardy, though. When we raced, we respected each other. We actually got a little more friendly at the [Motocross] des Nations, but that was years ago. When I see him now, I get star struck. It’s just like being around [Roger] DeCoster or Marty Smith or Bob Hannah!
I remember Doug showing up that one year and winning a GNCC race and then promptly passing out from exhaustion and skipping the podium as he was completely spent.
Doug is a rare person who has that quality to step it up. People ask if Doug has even ridden a handcycle, but I think it doesn’t matter. I admire and respect what drives him. He’s able to just get more out of himself than most people could ever do.
Talk to me about the mental aspect of this event.
Being part of this is making me want to be a better athlete. I’m trying harder and eating better than I have in years. I have to be lean and mean for this one. I am really motivated and I hope Doug is as well. I’ve certainly been through some years where I didn’t have the drive. I know how hard it is to get out of that rut.
I’ve had four or five years to relax and catch up since doing my last Ironman, and the one piece of equipment that has kept me excited and resilient and fit is my bike. I’m not going surfing or mountain biking, so handcycling has kept me going. I can’t imagine not riding. I’m 55 now, I see older guys in their 70s on a bike, and that’s what I want to be like. I recovered from the pressure sores that I had in 2006 and 2007, and I don’t feel I need to do another Ironman; now it’s time to try something more radical. Also, I’m lucky that my shoulders have held up, so I can go out and push for six hours. After all, it’s only one week out of my life.
When does the race start?
RAAM starts in Oceanside, California, on June 17. It then goes non-stop to Annapolis, Maryland. Of everyone on the team, I am probably the least accomplished guy. In addition to motocross, Wardy almost won the Indy 500 and Micky’s mind is just so strong. As for Doug, I was commentating during some of his best years, so I got to watch some of his best rides. It really sucks he got hurt, but I’ve watched him climb down stairs on a rope, and watched him pull himself up the stairs of a bulldozer, so I know just how strong he is.
Tell me about the mental side of this race? You have already done the Ironman and competed in marathons, so you know about pain, but this is maybe harder?
For me, I really have to step up and get out of my comfort zone and learn to keep it together with a crew for days. That is going to be harder. Being confined in a motorhome for days on end with little sleep, the storms, whatever is thrown at you, you push through it and keep going. But I’m excited just to hang with those guys and create a friendship through this amazing event. That’s what motivates me. It will be a real learning experience and will also shape and mold me as a person. Being able to stay calm and stay positive, that’s what it takes for the long haul, and I tend to run a little lean on that aspect in my life.
What I’m hoping happens? Well, the big thing is that I have been in a chair for 30 years now. Doing normal stuff for me is different—and harder. Actually, I’m not in a chair, I just use one. [Long pause] You know, I’m going to get choked up here if I’m not careful, but, well, it’s just so easy to let days go by, doing nothing, just going about your daily routine. When I talked to Doug, he said he didn’t want to waste time being unhappy, and for Doug and I especially, life is more challenging for us. We have our ups and downs. So I want to inspire and move people that are in our condition, and maybe make them do something a little better. Sometimes you need that visual to light a little fire for others.
I didn’t mean to make you go that deep, man, but I appreciate the honest answer.
You know, I hate asking people for things. But I spoke to Jimmy Button a while back and when we put something together for Jessy Nelson. I was a little nervous about getting involved with R2R [Road 2 Recovery], because I have been involved with some not so great charities. But Jimmy wants to do a yearly thing, and this fits right in. So I wasn’t afraid to keep going, even if it is to just raise a few bucks for us and the crew. But for me, I think it could be something really neat, and an overflow of donations doesn’t hurt.
Talk about Road 2 Recovery’s involvement with this program.
The Road 2 Recovery helped me, and I never asked for that. Jimmy [Button] has a tattoo that says 2475, which stands for 2,475 miles, which is the number he pedaled in his quest to ride across the country a few years back. People don’t really know, but his body is not all systems go, he still has some issues from his crash. When you cut or tear a big power cable like your spinal cord, something is bound to short out even when you get it working again. He rode across the country, and had his own challenges, several times over.
What is the cost to pull together this program? Running a fully staffed RV, plus all the support staff and travel expenses are not cheap.
Honestly, I don’t like talking about the money, that’s not what I’m about. But this is certainly not a free deal, either. Behind the scenes, the logistics are really complicated, and expensive. The entry fee alone is $10,000. On top of that we have the motorhome rental costs, the costs of sending three other vehicles across the country [and then back], plus the fuel, as well as food for up to 15 people [in total]. Then we have the spare bike parts, and a bunch of other random costs. Remember, we don’t stop, so we need relief drivers, relief cooks, everything. Honestly, the riding is the easy part! The logistics of all the support crews and everything that goes into getting us to the finish is the hard thing. The raw costs, maybe they’re around $50,000 or so, and that’s on the really cheap side. Other teams have spent well over $100,000 or more doing it.
But for me, it’s not about the cost. I’m hoping it turns into an annual thing, and if all goes well, can you imagine who might want to do it next year? And if we document it well? Imagine if Hannah or someone else comes out? For me, I hope it’s the beginning of something special. But the costs keep fluctuating, between vehicles, which types, sponsors, we now have a seasoned crew chief, a lot of things. Between the four of us, we all have some good connections, but the number is still up there, and it’s not cheap.
So how does it work? Are all four of you out at the same time, or is it like a Baja race where one person is going at a time?
Well, each of us are responsible for 750 miles of the trip, which takes about six hours of riding. So when you slice it and look at it, it’s doable. We’ll all take turns, so that’s 24-hours straight. The multiple days are what wear you down. Most likely we will split up with one handcycle and one bike and two of us on a shift. We will leap frog and overlap the main guy. You do that for four to five hours, and then you change shifts. At the end of the shift, fatigue creeps in, so you get into the RV, and get some rest, then the other two guys are at it. As soon as a shift is over, we will get only four to five hours of rest.
How do you train for this?
Well, I went out and climbed up Palomar [mountain, a local SoCal ride], and I have done several 100 milers, including doing some at 3 a.m. and some at 3 p.m. rides. I am trying to get a feel for if it’s even doable—I don’t know! It will go by fast though, that’s for sure. We have a strong trainer that is helping us out. But the coolest thing is that Dan Gurney’s son, Justin, has stepped up to build Doug and I two super trick handcycles. For us, it will be like getting back on factory bikes again. The name of his company is company is All American Racers, and they are based out of Santa Ana. There is probably nobody better on the planet who can build these bikes for us, as they have built F1 cars, airplane parts, and all sorts of trick stuff.
If people want to follow the team on social media, how can they do it?
I just recently started an Instagram account, you can find me at @davidbaileymx. Also, Road 2 Recovery started an account called @legendsoftheroad. That’s our team. That was actually the name that Dave Mirra gave to the 2014 team with Micky and Ben. I have to give a lot of credit to Micky, this was his thing. He has so much experience. After what happened with Dave, I think we are stoked about keeping the name. It was Dave’s idea, and we are happy to keep that spirit alive. Maybe we even gave Micky some motivation to do it again.
I forgot the Dave Mirra connection. With his passing, that is some pretty strong stuff.
It’s more important to Micky than I can imagine. Before Dave passed away, I had emailed back and forth with him, I know how much of an athlete he was, he was a real badass on the bike. Mirra really helped out in that 2014 race. He was the radical force that drove it hard for that team. So, for Micky, it goes really deep.
Is there anyone else who has played a part and that you want to thank?
Well, Steve Weidler, our dentist, he has been a huge help. He was an old racer and tuner himself and knows the ropes. Weidler helped Micky get to the starting line with a root canal just the day before the 2014 race started. And now he is helping me with the bike. He knew I needed a good bike and introduced us to Justin Gurney. Also, Joe Lawell, he helped Micky back in 2014 as well, and he knows this event. I have to also thank 100%, they’re stepping up and supporting all of us. I have been a 100% athlete since 1982, and incidentally, that is also the year that RAAM started. Just a lot of interesting and exciting things that tie into this event, so we’re going to go for it.