The Death Ride

129-Mile Ride Through the California Alps

JULY 11, 2009

We often say that climbing hills is what the ElliptiGO does best. The Death Ride provided a great opportunity to prove it. On July 11th, two ElliptiGOs successfully completed all five passes in the 2009 Death Ride -- a 129-mile event that includes more than 15,000 feet of climbing in the Sierras. The lowest point on the route is at an elevation of 5,500 feet and to complete the event a rider must ascend and descend five mountain passes: the east and west slopes of 8,314-foot Monitor Pass on Highway 89, both slopes of 8,730-foot Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4 and finally the west slope of 8,573-foot Carson Pass on Highway 88. The three passes surround the town of Markleeville, California which is located just west of the Nevada border about 30 miles south of Lake Tahoe.

We checked in for the ride on Friday afternoon and then came back to the race around 4:45am on Saturday after spending the night in South Lake Tahoe. We unloaded our ElliptiGOs in the dark along with the other 2,800 ride participants. We began the ride at 5:30am at Turtle Rock Park along highway 89. As you can imagine, most of the people there had never seen the ElliptiGO before, so we started getting tons of comments from the riders and spectators almost immediately. We were surprised about how enthusiastic and positive people were, although no one believed that the ElliptiGO could complete the entire course within the 14 hour and 30 minute time limit. In fact, we got the feeling that most of the cyclists weren't sure they could do it either.

We headed out to our first pass with a group of cyclists who couldn't believe what they were seeing. They kept peppering us with questions about how many gears the ElliptiGO has and whether it can climb hills. It was evident that none of them believed we would survive all 5 passes without having a bike seat. After reminding them that people are designed to comfortably walk upright for very long periods of time, they usually got it. What we didn't say was that we couldn't comprehend how someone could sit on a bike seat for 12 to 14 hours. We figured we probably shouldn't bring that up during the conversation - the people who do the Death Ride are serious cyclists and seem to embrace the pain of the cycling position with pride.

As we made our way up the west side of the first 3,000-foot climb, we stopped getting questions about how well the ElliptiGO climbs. These were replaced by questions about how well it descends and how stable it is. Because the course includes a turn-around at the bottom of the first descent, and because the upright riding position makes the ElliptiGO rider much more visible than a conventional cyclist, by the time we got to the bottom of the first descent, a majority of the riders in the event had seen us descend Monitor and any questions about descending and stability had been answered. Just for kicks, both Brent and Bryan broke 40 mph during the second descent, that way they could have a good answer for the newest line of questioning - "How fast does it go?"

After the climbs up both sides of Monitor pass, Brent was up in the middle of the cyclists and Bryan was about an hour behind, staying on the well-publicized "Just Made It" schedule that maps out the pace up and down each climb a rider must maintain to complete the ride within the time limit. Although now in completely different groups of riders, Bryan and Brent were having similar conversations, centered around one question: "Are you really going to do all 5 passes?" Once we reached the top of the first climb up Ebbett's, we were both pretty confident that we would be able to do it. Brent was feeling great and starting to pass a lot of cyclists on both the climbs and descents. Bryan was also feeling good and was right on schedule. By this point, the comfort advantage of the ElliptiGO was really started to come into play. It was apparent that many of the cyclists were starting to suffer from seat and lower back pain. Altough Brent and Bryan's legs were getting tired from the climbing, their bodies were really comfortable and still felt rested, even this far into the ride.

The fourth climb up the west side of Ebbett's Pass was no problem, and now both Brent and Bryan were consistently passing cyclists. All that was left was the climb up Carson. As every Death Rider knows, that's no small feat. Earlier in the ride, a cyclist put it this way: "The Death Ride is really two rides: the first four passes, and then Carson. It's sort of like how a marathon is really two races: the first twenty miles, and then the last 10K." This is because while Ebbetts and Monitor originate from almost the same spot in the same valley, Carson lies more than 20 miles away. So even though when you climb the west slope of Ebbet's you've completed 4 of the 5 passes, you're no where near 80% done.

The other challenging thing about completing the Death Ride is that the route to Carson goes right past the race start. So basically, when you're ready to quit, you ride right past your car. This is likely one of the reasons why only about 60% of Death Ride entrants complete all 5 passes.

The ride up to Carson pass is the least steep of the passes, but it is mentally the most challenging. By this time, there were no more questions, just congratulations. It was pretty evident that both Brent and Bryan were going to complete all 5 passes and spectators and cyclists alike really embraced that accomplishment. We accepted their congratulations as gracefully as we could, knowing full well that it was easier for us to do the event on ElliptiGOs than it would have been to do it on conventional bikes. Moreover, while they would be feeling the after effects of all the road shock that went through their spine and the numbness from the seat, we would be recovering comfortably the next day, exhausted but feeling good, with no lingering joint or body discomfort.

Brent crested Carson, received his 5th sticker and pin, and headed back to Turtle Rock Park where he arrived just before 5:00 PM to become the first person ever to complete the Death Ride on an ElliptiGO. His total time of just under 11:30 put him in the top half of all cyclists who finished the event. Bryan made the cutoff at Pickett's Junction right on schedule, climbed Carson Pass, and then headed back down, crossing the finish line at 7:50 PM. His total time of 13:50 left him with 40 minutes to spare.

It was an exhilarating day and it felt especially great to hear the “Go ElliptiGO!” cheers from other participants and spectators throughout the ride. The support crew of Anamaria, Bill, Caroline, Chris, and Gidget were instrumental throughout the ride, the ElliptiGOs performed flawlessly, and we couldn't have been happier with how the day unfolded.

When we signed up for the Death Ride back in January, we couldn’t think of a better way to demonstrate the climbing ability of the ElliptiGO. Six months later, we are thrilled we were able to deliver on our promise! We are already looking forward to our next epic ride, and if you have suggestions of what ride we should tackle next, please let us know by emailing us at: info@elliptigo.com .