The Giro d’I­talia and the Tour de France are often ped­dled as the tough­est races in the world, but oth­ers will argue that noth­ing com­pares to the Race Across Amer­i­ca (RAAM), a bru­tal dis­tance ride that’s 1,000 miles longer than the Tour de France, and done in half the time by the lead­ing rid­ers. But these races are also the prove­nance of com­peti­tors with deep resources and con­nec­tions (and also, in many cas­es, their own sup­port crew). Here are eight of the most badass bike races in the Unit­ed States.

Bike race in the United States

With that in mind, here’s a list of bike rides and races designed to chal­lenge the hard­core and deter­mined among the rest of us:

1. Texas Hell Week
This ride isn’t a one-shot deal, but a dai­ly grind for more than a week. It’s notable as much for the cama­raderie it offers as well as the ear­ly sea­son phys­i­cal and men­tal con­di­tion­ing it pro­vides. Rid­ing a cen­tu­ry every day for 8 days might seem like hell to some cyclists. But not the legion of fans that return over and over to THW. Oh, and did we men­tion it’s unsup­port­ed? Based out of Fred­er­icks­burg Texas, which lays claim to some of the best rur­al rid­ing in Amer­i­ca, the rides take place in March (and has for going on 26 years).

Hell Week attracts casu­al rid­ers, rac­ers, ran­don­neurs, hill mon­gers and mileage col­lec­tors. Bikes you might see in this route include road, tan­dem, tour, time tri­al and recum­bent. Routes most­ly fol­low smooth, sun­baked, low-traf­fic ranch roads with state high­ways used as brief con­nec­tors. But Texas Hill Coun­try also means numer­ous short, steep hills—with cat­tle guard grates at the bottom—that when tak­en cumu­la­tive­ly are pre­dictably just as demand­ing as rid­ing in the mountains.

On aver­age, the dai­ly cen­tu­ry routes include 4,000 to 5,000 feet of ver­ti­cal climb­ing. The Leakey Death cen­tu­ry route includes over 6,000 feet of climb­ing and fea­tures a cou­ple of rock-cut roads.  So why would any­one want to do this? Well, part of the appeal is the rugged­ness of the ter­rain and the remote­ness nature of the routes.

Texas Hell Week Brevets coin­cide with Texas Hell Week. These rides are equal­ly unsup­port­ed and include a 200K (124 miles) on Mon­day, a 200K/300K (186.4) on Wednes­day and a 200K/300K on Fri­day. Rid­ers are advised to bring ade­quate sup­plies and take advan­tage when water and food are avail­able. The entry fee includes a ban­quet meal tick­et, maps and cue sheets, and a good­ie bag.

2. Tour Divide
This race has the longest and like­ly the most chal­leng­ing moun­tain bike time tri­al on the plan­et. It’s easy to see why this ride ranks on the most epic bike races in the Unit­ed States. This expe­di­tion style race is a chal­lenge not only for the ultra-fit but also for the ultra-pre­pared. The self-sup­port­ed, ver­ti­cal­ly cross-coun­try race takes you from the Cana­di­an Rock­ies to the Mex­i­can Plateau. You’ll start in Banff, Alber­ta, and end in Ante­lope Wells, New Mex­i­co. This totals at 2,745 miles of the Adven­ture Cycling Asso­ci­a­tion’s Great Divide Moun­tain Bike Route. The route climbs near­ly 200,000 ver­ti­cal feet through Mon­tana, Wyoming, Col­orado, and New Mex­i­co. You can go either north or south.

It takes an aver­age of three weeks in the sad­dle to com­plete with no lim­its on rest peri­ods, no race offi­cials on the course, no check-in points—the clock runs non-stop. Who­ev­er rides the fastest and makes the fewest stops wins the course record each sea­son. Par­tic­i­pants can tack­le this any­time dur­ing the sum­mer, in either direc­tion. How­ev­er, there’s an infor­mal com­mon start date known as the “grand depart” that tra­di­tion­al­ly kicks off the sea­son sec­ond week of June from both north and south termini.

A raft of rules lays out the logis­tics: No out­side assis­tance with nav­i­ga­tion, lodg­ing, or resup­ply (includ­ing receipt of sup­plies from a non-com­mer­cial ship­per). No friends or fam­i­ly may assist or vis­it you on the route. Per­haps, best of all, the race has no entry fee, but fin­ish­ers get their name in the offi­cial record books.

3. The Alas­ka Ultra­sport Idi­tar­od Trail Invitational
The snow-based ride tracks clos­est to the now-defunct Iditabike, the orig­i­nal self-sup­port­ed, human-pow­ered race across Alas­ka. It’s the world’s longest win­ter ultra moun­tain bike rides (it can also be entered on foot or skis) and is basi­cal­ly two epic races in one. The largest and most com­pet­i­tive race is the 350-mile race that starts in Knik and ends in the vil­lage of McGrath, on the north side of the Alas­ka Range.

A hand­ful of com­peti­tors who com­plete the 350 will con­tin­ue on from McGrath to Nome, com­plet­ing the full length of the Idi­tar­od Trail, for a total of about 1,000 miles (give or take 100 miles depend­ing on the year). Rac­ers have to fin­ish the 350-mile race in a pre­vi­ous year before they can enter the 1,100-mile race. For the first time, in 2016 a 130-mile option is also being offered.

Orga­niz­ers say this race dif­fers from oth­ers because they “allow rac­ers to make these deci­sions for them­selves about what to car­ry, when to rest and when it is safe to trav­el.” There is no des­ig­nat­ed or marked route. But there are manda­to­ry check­points for rac­ers. Sup­port is lim­it­ed to the amount need­ed to pre­vent the race from impos­ing on lodges and res­i­dents along the trail when things don’t go as planned. At times the only res­cue may be a self-res­cue. So this race is as much an all-out expe­di­tion as it is a race.

4. The Arrow­head 135
This point-to-point ultra­bike race (you can also run or ski it) takes place in deep win­ter in the cold­est area in the low­er 48 states; aver­age start temps are ‑30 to ‑40C/F. It fol­lows a 135-mile course along the Arrow­head State Snow­mo­bile Trail, par­al­lel­ing High­way 53 in Min­neso­ta from Frost­bite-Inter­na­tion­al Falls to Tow­er. On aver­age, few­er than 50 per­cent of starters fin­ish (the fin­ish rate for new rac­ers is even low­er). The top fin­ish­ing times are around 15 hours, while many com­peti­tors take up to 55 hours to com­plete it.

No sup­port crews of any kind are allowed. There’s no pac­ing or rides/tows allowed except in emer­gen­cies. If you take a ride, you are dis­qual­i­fied, but, as the orga­niz­ers say, hope­ful­ly still alive. Bud­dy sup­port is encour­aged among rac­ers, but no assis­tance may be ren­dered at any time from out­side vis­i­tors. No one can greet you when you rest, and no snow­mo­biles may fol­low you, meet you, or break trail for you. Rac­ers are required to carry/tow all required gear on the course. Water is pro­vid­ed at all the check­points, but food at only one.

You must fin­ish with one extra day or food and fuel. Yeah, it’s a bru­tal self-sup­port­ed bike race through the snow. Now head­ing into its 12th year, the race has grown from 10 starters in 2005 to 150 in 2014 (84 cyclists this past year), fea­tur­ing some of the top win­ter ultra-ath­letes in the world.

5. The Sil­ver State 508 (also known as the Fur­nace Creek 508, or the 508 for short)
This race was found­ed by cycling leg­end John Mari­no in 1983 but is now owned and run by ultra impre­sario Chris Kost­man. The 508 is with­out a doubt the most intense and chal­leng­ing 48-hour ultra cycling race in the world. Which is also why it’s a qual­i­fi­er for RAAM. While many hard­core dis­tance road rac­ers would agree that it’s extreme­ly hard, they also say it’s the most grat­i­fy­ing of the ultra­bike races. What do com­peti­tors who tack­le this gru­el­ing ride love?

The epic moun­tain climbs, the stark desert scenery, the des­o­late roads, the sun­ris­es, and the sun­sets. The race com­mences from Reno and cross­es north­ern Neva­da High­way 50, con­sid­ered by many “the loneli­est high­way in America.”

Rac­ing divi­sions include solo, 2‑person relay, and 4‑person relay, and they’re offered with a field lim­it of approx­i­mate­ly 250 rid­ers (approx­i­mate­ly 70 soloists and 70 relay teams). Begin­ning in 2015, there’s also a self-sup­port­ed solo ran­don­neur Divi­sion (no sup­port crew allowed). Cat­e­gories include men’s and wom­en’s and tan­dem, sub­di­vi­sion include relay, fixed gear, clas­sic bike, and recum­bent / HPV categories.

6. Death Ride: Tour of the Cal­i­for­nia Alps
Death ride? Well maybe not, but it prob­a­bly feels that way when you’re tack­ling 129 miles with 15,000 feet of climb­ing. Rid­ers take on five sig­nif­i­cant pass climbs, includ­ing both sides of Mon­i­tor Pass (8,314 miles), both sides of Ebbetts Pass (8,730), and a final climb up the east side of Car­son Pass (8,580).

The gru­el­ing two-sided pass climbs and the killer sup­port bot set this ride apart. It includes before and dur­ing mechan­i­cal sup­port, nine full rest stops (food and drink) plus three addi­tion­al water stops at key loca­tions on the course. There’s also local and state law enforce­ment, and ambu­lances on hand (there’s a real clue for you, right?). You also get a full lunch dur­ing the ride, a fin­ish line din­ner and a mes­sage. The ride starts and fin­ish­es at Tur­tle Rock Park, two miles north of Markleeville, CA.

7. Leadville 100 MTB
This famous “Race Across the Sky” out-and-back course, in the Col­orado Rock­ies, starts in Leadville at 10,152 feet and climbs to 12,424 feet over 40–50 miles. Most of it is on grav­el-pocked moun­tain roads, some for­est trails, and even some pave­ment. Total ele­va­tion gain is approx­i­mate­ly 11,000 feet. The views, if you can enjoy them, are a knock­out. The biggest prob­lem for any­one who lives below 5,000 feet is accli­mat­ing to the high ele­va­tion if you are on tight time squeeze. It’s also dif­fi­cult to get a slot in the race. In addi­tion to a lot­tery, you also must com­plete qual­i­fiers to gain entry.

It’s pret­ty wide­ly accept­ed by for­mer par­tic­i­pants that this is not a race you do for fun. Aid sta­tions are well spaced through­out, but there’s also rig­or­ous cut­off times. Miss the 12-hour cut-off time to be an “offi­cial fin­ish­er.” All fin­ish­ers under the 12-hour mark get a belt buck­le, (women get a pen­dant in addi­tion to the buck­le), and a sweat­shirt with the rid­er’s name and fin­ish time on the sleeve. But not to wor­ry, if you roll in some­where inside a 13-hour win­dow, you still get a fin­ish­er’s medal sig­ni­fy­ing com­ple­tion. If you’re still on the trail after the 13-hour mark, you’ll get a swift escort off the course.

On aver­age 37% of rid­ers miss the 12-hour cutoff.

8. Vapor Trail 125
Pack a lung indeed! This ride, lim­it­ed to just 80 rid­ers, tack­les some 20,000 feet of ele­va­tion gain/loss over 125 miles of sin­gle track in the moun­tains out­side Sal­i­da, Col­orado. It starts at 10 PM on a bridge over the Arkansas Riv­er at 7,000 feet ele­va­tion. The weath­er is a crap­shoot. Held in mid-Sep­tem­ber each year; it rains, it snows. It’s often windy and cold.

The course careens around numer­ous moun­tains with sum­mits of 12,000 feet and beyond. Actu­al­ly, this area encom­pass­es more 14ers than any­where in Amer­i­ca. Rid­ers tack­le six long sus­tained climbs that each can take 2 hours or more. Some ride through the night and many through the fol­low­ing day, only drop­ping back below 9,000 feet dur­ing the last 8 miles. Unlike most 24-hour races, there’s no place to re-sup­ply, take shel­ter, or bailout. Not only that, you’re always 10 or more miles from anywhere—although there is four aid sta­tions over the entire route.

Dur­ing the ini­tial 8 hours of dark­ness, there’s only one, and med­ical assis­tance is hours away. “It gets very cold in that por­tion of the course, and you’ll need to be car­ry­ing any cloth­ing changes you might need.” It’s for rea­sons like these that rid­ers have to sub­mit a “ride resume” pri­or to being allowed to reg­is­ter. Of the epic bike races in the Unit­ed States, this one is badass indeed.