8 cyclists, 1 Epic Ride, 1 new world record set in Michigan

Eight West Michigan riders teamed up for a record-setting Epic Ride on Sept. 20, setting a new World Ultra Cycling record for crossing Michigan — from the southern border to the northern border in the U.P.

The Epic Ride 2020 Team covered the 369-mile course in 15 hours, 56 minutes, breaking the previous mark by just under four hours while averaging 23.2 mph. The team utilized a team time trial-style approach, sharing pulls at the front to try to maximize efficiency and cover the course as fast as possible. The previous record was 19 hours, 48 minutes (18.99 mph average). 

“Other than a cold, dark start to the day, the ride was pretty drama-free,” says Jon Ornée. “The team did suffer a few mechanical issues, including one flat tire, one broken spoke, and two dropped chains, but for eight riders over a 369-mile course, that was fairly insignificant.”

Along with Ornée, the team includes Ben Blake, Nick DeHaan, Sean Murphy, Ralph Buckingham, Joseph Lampen, Jeremy Sall, and Justin Van Beek.

Ornée and Sall, both Holland residents, were part of the Epic Swim team that crossed Lake Michigan in August. Blake and DeHaan, both of Grand Rapids, and Murphy, of Hudsonville, partnered with Ornée in a record-setting west-east ride nearly a year earlier on Sept. 24, 2019. That team of five set the World Ultra Cycling Association (WUCA) speed record for cross-state cycling, riding 205 miles from Muskegon to Port Sanilac in eight hours, 17 minutes — beating the previous record by 54 minutes (24.7mph average). 

Dark to dark

This year’s ride started in the dark from the Indiana border in Sturgis at 4:22 a.m. and finished in the dark in Sault Ste. Marie at 8:18 p.m. 

Temperatures were below 40 degrees for the first five hours, and as low as 32 degrees in some sections. Once it warmed up, the team got comfortable and settled into a great pace for a beautiful ride. All eight riders were on the road for a majority of the ride.

An eight-man team recently rode 369 miles in under 16 hours, crossing Michigan from south to north. In completing the course, the team set a new World Ultra Cycling cross state record. 

Riders had fast, efficient nutrition breaks every 3½ hours. Half of the riders continued to ride while the other four hopped in an RV to eat and refill water bottles before rejoining the group. All “shift changes” followed WUCA guidelines and were allowed per WUCA rules. 

Nearly everyone rode around 310 miles, but at least a portion of the team rode throughout the entire 369-mile journey. All riders started and finished together.

One thing the ride didn’t include was cycling over the Mighty Mac. Mackinac Bridge doesn’t allow cyclists to cross unless the bridge is closed to vehicular traffic.

The cyclists obeyed all traffic laws, stopping at stop signs and traffic lights, even though the clock didn’t stop. So, although they average 23.2 mph, they were riding at 24 mph most of the day. The idea was to stop as little as possible since stops eat up lots of time.  

“The ride and record were a total team effort, with MVP honors going to Ralph Buckingham, who was a total workhorse on the front for much of the day,” says Ornée. “Epic Ride 2020 was the first time these eight riders rode together, and it will be a ride we’ll remember forever.”

Epic Swim

This Epic Ride came less than a month after the Epic Swim, which brought together six friends to set a record in a relay swim across Lake Michigan. Ornée was the organizer behind the Epic Swim, overseeing the planning, strategy, and the marketing campaign.

Ornée had been thinking about the south-north bike ride, but the Lake Michigan swim was a priority over the summer and took more time to prepare for. Timing was weather-contingent, and the team trained for close to six months, much of it together. 

“Honestly, as far as these things go, we kind of whipped this one together. A week after the swim, I sent a text to Nick DeHaan from last year’s record team and said, ‘Hey, I'm getting bored,’” Ornée says with a laugh.  

“Basically, in one month’s time, we recruited a team and recruited a crew. We really did the swim relay-style so we did 30 minutes on and then 2½ hours off. With the bike ride, we rode virtually the whole way. Technically it's classified as a relay but, the way we did it, most of the riders ended up riding about 310 of the 369 miles. It was definitely physically quite a challenge because we're really going all day with not a lot of breaks.”

‘A long way to try to bike’

The eight cyclists wanted to ride together as much as possible without stopping. So they rode about 3½ hours with a 30-minute mini-break. During that time, riders hopped on the RV to use the bathroom, refill their water bottles, and eat before they rejoined the other cyclists.

“The biggest thing with the bike ride was just the sheer distance; 369 miles is a long way to ride a bike,” Ornée says. “Last year, we went 205 miles with five of us, and we averaged 24.7 mph, which was really cruising.”

Ornée, who turned 39 in August, has set four world records in the past two years. Along with the three team efforts, he was the first to swim from Pyramid Point near Glen Arbor to North Manitou Island. The Sept. 22, 2019, feat — a 7.4-mile swim — took him two hours, 50 minutes to complete.

Future challenges

Next up is setting a solo cycling record on the Michigan International Speedway. After training for the Epic Ride, Ornée is physically ready to set a world record for cycling 100 miles while drafting on Oct. 5. 

“I'll be riding behind a minivan, which is a distinct advantage because being behind a vehicle cuts out the wind and allows that vehicle to really set the pace. I'm hoping to average over 37 mph for 100 miles,” Ornée says. “It will be super unique riding on a racetrack, so I’m excited about that one.”

After that, Ornée will be running an Everest Challenge. It involves reaching the cumulative elevation of Mount Everest anywhere in the world. Mount Everest is 29,029 feet, so the concept of Everest-ing is climbing that elevation in one place. So, for example, it would require going up a 100-foot hill 291 times in a row. 

“It's both a cycling and a running challenge. I did the cycling version in June just kind of for fun. It was very hard,” Ornée says. “It took almost a full day. After this next cycling challenge, I'm going to turn my attention to training for the running version and hoping to take a crack at that world record sometime this winter.”
Read more about John Ornée:

How 6 friends made ‘Epic Swim’ across Lake Michigan

6 friends prepare for 60-mile 'Epic Swim' across Lake Michigan
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