Transcontinental speed runs mean glory for some, but I think they’re terrible ideas. They’re dangerous and expensive, and that’s before factoring in possible trouble with the law. That’s when they’re done with four wheels—to do one on two is ludicrous. But Carl Reese, no stranger to transcontinental records in his Tesla, just did that on a bike. Here’s how.
Reese is the guy whose team drove coast-to-coast in a Model S last year in a record 58 hours and 55 minutes. Then he, his fiancee and Alex Roy set a record in a Model S driving itself with Autopilot most of the time across the same distance in 57 hours and 48 minutes.
He’s done a record run again, this time on a bike. Reese claims he did Los Angeles to New York City, 2,829 miles, in 38 hours and 49 minutes. He did it on a 2015 BMW K 1600 GT, which had GPS telemetry equipment from GPS Insight to verify the trip. The previous record was set in 1983, by a man named George Egloff who did it in 42 hours.
As for me, I think Reese is nuts.
Last month, I told you about the 24 hour race I did against a bunch of Honda Groms. That was, by far, one of the most miserable experiences I’ve had sitting on a motorcycle seat. But, that was also done on a race track, with very limited safety risks, zero possibility of being arrested, and I was only on the bike for six hours.
Maybe I’m not cut out to be an endurance racer, at least I have the good sense not to go tempting sleep deprivation, exhaustion, riding with diminished mental capacities, or attempting to break every speed law in the country in a day and a half.
I called Reese to try and wrap my brain around why anyone would feel the need to do something so egregiously bananas and, while I gained some respect for his level of preparation, I can’t say I feel the same for his reasons for doing it.
To prepare himself for this feat, Reese told me gave up all stimulants before the run.
“There is a reason this record has gone unchallenged for over 30 years. Unless you have completed Army boot camp, it is difficult to relate the mental and physical exhaustion,” Reese said, adding “This was far more difficult than any other transcontinental record I’ve set to date.”
When I asked him how he stayed awake and alert, Reese told me he stopped in Kansas around the 18 hour mark for a nap. His GPS data shows they were stopped for about two and a half hours, but he said a good chunk of that was lost pulling equipment off the bike so it wouldn’t be stolen, showering, or syncing the equipment when it was time to leave again.
His fiancee, who was part of the support team, says he slept for about 75 minutes and made it through two REM cycles.
At hour 28, Reese had a bit of coffee, which he says felt like the equivalent of five espressos after going stimulant free for the six weeks leading up to the run. His fiancee is also a nutritionist and packed him snacks to eat along the way that would give him energy like various nuts and dried fruits., which he ate while riding thanks to the flip-up visor on his Schuberth C3 Pro helmet.
The thing that makes a run like this on a bike so much crazier than in a car is the severe mental and physical fatigue experienced when riding a motorcycle for long distances.
So, even while his time of just under 39 hours doesn’t even come close to Ed Bolian’s current car record of just under 29 hours, it’s a much more insane thing to pull off—especially when you consider that you can’t add fuel capacity as easy as in a car. There’s a reason why an Ironbutt is 1,000 miles in a 24 hour period.
When I asked Reese about why he did it, he told me that he’s trying to set as many records, with as many different kinds of vehicles, as he can in his lifetime. Last year, he set six records in seven months, and he told me his next attempt involved an RV.
I pushed him further, asking why he wanted to push for such records, and he told me that the first Cannonball runs in the 1970s were monumental in highlighting problems with both the public road system and the vehicles used. He said Charles Glidden and the AAA organized the first rallies as an attempt to provide gain information on car reliability, the first being a trip between New York and St. Louis. They invited the press along, whose coverage included a great deal about how terrible the road conditions were outside some of the cities, which shamed local governments into fixing.
I pointed out that in modern times, those issues are all much better sorted and he brought up Ewan McGregor’s trip around the world on a BMW motorcycle and how that highlighted issues with the frame.
I then asked if he thought riding a touring bike across the country was going to help BMW sort issues on the K 1600 GTL, and he said no, but it would somehow highlight that our speed limits were arbitrarily low.
If all of that seems confusing and like a rabbit trail of thought, I’d say I’d have to agree with you. Rather than try and push the point further, I thanked him for his time and hung up.
There are tons of things that can go wrong when completing something like this on a bike. First and foremost, there’s the obvious danger of crashing. While that’s sort of always a risk when you’re on a motorcycle, it’s greatly heightened as limbs fall asleep, fatigue sets in, your reaction times slow, and your mental processing suffers from exhaustion.
Riding a motorcycle is far more physically and mentally demanding than driving a car, especially at excessive speeds, and those sorts of effects tend to rear their ugly heads far faster on two wheels. Add in that motorcycles are easier to speed on because you can split traffic, and harder to see from outside traffic, and the danger multiplies. Not to mention the obvious: less crash protection.
To be honest, I still have no idea what pushes a person to do this. I don’t really understand why people run marathons or do Iron Man competitions, but those feats involve endurance and conquering an obstacle physically and without the aide of machine, not just doing something dumb as a motorcycle.
As a rider, the idea of doing timed runs has some appeal despite the fact that it would turn illegal quickly, but thats more about racing than just a test of endurance and lunacy.
The Tesla records Reese set, at least, dealt with testing the country’s charging network and later with the new car’s autonomous Autopilot system. I’m not sure what this proves, if anything, except what a tough ass Carl Reese must have.
I’m covering this story because it’s news, and because I think the level of preparation that went into it is frighteningly obsessive. But I can’t say I agree with doing it in the first place, or why it was done.
And for fuck’s sake, don’t go out and try to beat this guy. Let’s tell Mr. Reese he’s the champion of the world or some shit and leave the Cannonball runs to people who at least make it entertaining or interesting.
Like Roy and Bowman, who were dumb enough to do it in a Morgan 3 Wheeler. Now that’s a thing you should read.