By David Kennedy
Photos: Jake Orness
We run into a lot of two-wheel aficionados around Southern California, and over the years there are a select few who seem to turn up at just about every event we attend. Phil Tinstman is one of them. Tinstman has made two wheels his life. Back in the day we first rubbed shoulders with Phil when both he and his sister were pro downhill mountain bike racers in the mid to late ’90s. And then there was the time a few years ago on the Campagnolo Christmas charity ride when he was staying at the front of the very fast group pedaling down the Pacific Coast Highway on a tandem, with his young son as the stoker and towing a trailer bike with his young daughter aboard. Yeah, that’s Phil Tinstman!
Currently, Phil is a partner in Monuments of Cycling (the organization that puts on the Belgian Waffle Ride series), and in between planning races for the ever-growing gravel series, he also found the time to be a part of the eight-rider team that set the record for the fastest time in the arduous Race Across America (RAAM). And, as if that wasn’t enough pedaling, shortly after his RAAM effort, Phil flew to New Mexico and won big at the 45+ Master’s Criterium National Championships.
THE LIFE OF PHIL
You’ve raced a wide range of two-wheel events—from X Games downhill MTB to downtown criteriums to the Belgian Waffle Ride—and now you’ve set the record for the fastest eight-person Race Across America. How did you get started riding bikes, and what keeps you coming back
I absolutely love racing bicycles—all of them. I grew up riding and racing BMX and motocross, and then as I was older, I transitioned into mountain bikes, which led to road racing, eventually gravel and track also. Basically, anything with two wheels and a handlebar.
“With many road events becoming more and more difficult to put on, it seems like only criterium racing and fondo-type events are going to have the chance to succeed.”
There are many different aspects to all of it, and the challenge of figuring it all out is very exciting to me. The training involved is somewhat different for each, how all of the equipment works and strategies of each is all different as well. I guess I am also very competitive and love the excitement of racing a bicycle, no matter the arena in which it is located.
How would you describe RAAM to someone that’s never heard of it?
Race Across America is a cross-country race with solo or relay of two-, four- or eight-person teams that begins in Oceanside, California, and traverses 3000 miles across the U.S. and finishes in Annapolis, Maryland. The event has been around for decades and has a deep history of ultra-cyclists from around the world who have completed and won the event. Most people you talk to about it are amazed after hearing how quickly the riders complete
What’s your history with RAAM? How long did it take the team this year?
A teammate I race road races with first asked me to join his four-person team when a rider dropped out. I didn’t quite know what to expect but did some research and tried to prepare by purely guessing. I have competed in four RAAM events—two four-person teams and two in eight-person teams—and each time we ended up winning the overall best time of that year.
“Being on an eight-man Race Across America team isn’t that hard, but the four-man team effort will take years off your life!”
This year with Team Bemer our goal was to break the existing eight-person record for both the average speed and fastest time, and we accomplished both with only a one-hour buffer. It is crazy how close the times are even after 3000-plus miles. We completed 3028.2 miles in five days, one hour and 52 minutes for an average speed of 24.85 mph; the average speed still stuns me.
“I also very much love the strategic side of road racing and criteriums. I like to compare it to playing chess with fitness, and it is an amazingly fun game to play, especially when you are fit.”
Anything you learned from your first attempts that made a difference for this one?
I learn many things every time I go out on this crazy event. I may have been over ambitious the first time with my early efforts, thinking I would be able to do the same by day three or four; trust me, it is not possible! Like any ultra-event, pacing is absolutely key. That most definitely does not mean slow, but instead of 350 watts for my 15- or 20-minute pull, 330 is much more sustainable.
“Even if you’re doing a local ride, bicycles give you the chance to escape and explore, and after each ride you feel like the bike has taken you somewhere.”
We broke our eight-man team into two groups where we’d have four guys in the camper resting, three guys in the follow van and one on the bike. We’d do 15-minute blocks on the bike for 12-hour stints and then take 12 hours off while the other guys rode. You feel like a revolving machine making all the intervals! The eight-man team isn’t that hard, but the four-man team effort will take years off your life!
How big is your support team? What do they do for you off the bike?
My personal support team consists of my girlfriend Shelby (who is a racer herself and completely understands all of it), my two kids Brody (age 12) and Brooklyn (age 7), my mother, and really the majority of my friends and family as they are just as competitive with these things as I am.
For the event, the support crew is the most important part of the team for us to succeed in my opinion, as they handle absolutely everything for the riders, making it possible for us to simply just ride our bikes. The detailed list of what they do could go on for days, and for the riders it is simply which bike do they want (road or time-trial) and what is the profile for the approaching segment? All of the riders are very grateful for the support crew.
What do you remember most about RAAM when you look back at the efforts?
Whoa, there is a lot to unpack there! Some years it’s the exhaustion, the amount of food we consume, and the extreme highs and lows. I feel the coolest parts are the camaraderie with our teammates we build and the overwhelming feeling when a massive amount of people are wishing you the best and following the event. It leaves you speechless.
Tell us about your RAAM bike.
All riders on our team have two bikes we take on the journey. First, we bring a standard road bike that we use for the climbing segments and a time-trial bike equipped with a rear disc and aero front wheel for the flat segments.
My current road bike (that I just won the Masters Crit National Championship on) is a Van Dessel ARCH 65 aero road bike with Shimano Di2 Dura-Ace. My TT bike is a Specialized S-Works Shiv tri with Campagnolo Record EPS, a Black Inc. rear disc wheel, and a three-carbon-spoke front wheel. I am very old-school in the sense I run tubulars for racing, as they are still, in my opinion, the best racing tires.
As the co-director of the BWR series, how would you describe your role in the cycling industry?
Yes, I am one of the partners of MOC (Monuments of Cycling), and our main-event series is the Belgian Waffle Ride. We currently have five events for 2022 and continuing to grow, becoming an international series for 2023 with at least six events. It is all very exciting!
I’ve been involved in the bicycle industry in one way or another for my entire life. I’ve held many positions in companies, as I transitioned from professional downhill mountain bike racing (to the real world) as a manager of mountain bike, BMX and motocross teams for Spy Optic and No Fear, and I was the brand manager of Haro/Masi bikes. I absolutely love working on these events and collaborating with my partners on all aspects of the course and logistics. I specifically handle all registration, customer service leading up to the event, course logistics and many other miscellaneous tasks. We are a skeleton crew, but it comes naturally to all of us, as we are mostly bike racers ourselves and love events. We simply create the type of event we would want to compete in or have a good time at.
What’s your perspective on the current state of road racing?
This seems like a very loaded question, as it’s different for each portion. I feel international road racing is at a high. Look at how amazing the Tour de France was this year, how dynamic it was and the excitement of every stage. We are super stoked that the youth of today in the U.S. are coming out of the high school mountain bike leagues and making amazing athletes. The results and numbers of this year’s Tour de France speaks for itself. Domestic U.S. racing, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly difficult, and I am torn on which direction it is going. I would love to see it all succeed, but I just do not know.
With many road events becoming more and more difficult to put on, it seems like only criterium racing and fondo-type events are going to have the chance to succeed. I hope that America starts to embrace cycling more, which will lead to more of all of the things I love to do (with two wheels and a handlebar)!
And now you’re a 2022 National Criterium champion. What went into that effort?
I’ve been chasing that one for a while and came close many times. It was nice to pull it off, finally. I think I am just kind of born with a certain drive to push myself as hard as I do, sometimes possibly even to my own detriment. There is just something satisfying about finding out what the capabilities are of your own body. I also very much love the strategic side of road racing and criteriums. I like to compare it to playing chess with fitness, and it is an amazingly fun game to play, especially when you are fit. I am lucky to be surrounded by such great teammates and mentors to continue to learn from. Surround yourself with champions and eventually you become just that.
How would describe the difference between competing in a gravel race versus a criterium to a new cyclist?
Gravel has an exploring and social element to it, and you don’t need to go fast, but you need to get comfortable riding over uneven trail surfaces. Criterium racing is hectic, stressful and fast, and you need to be comfortable with pace lines and riding elbow-to-elbow in a tight pack.
So many miles pedaled and races won. At the end of the day, what is it about the bike that keeps you so inspired?
You know, I just find myself so comfortable on the bike. In fact, I feel more comfortable on the bike than I do sitting in a chair or walking down the street. Ever since I was a kid riding my BMX bike, I’ve realized the unique lay of the land that a bicycle provides over any other type of transportation. Even if you’re doing a local ride, bicycles give you the chance to escape and explore, and after each ride you feel like the bike has taken you somewhere.