The King of Instagram's Crazy $1.2M Bet: "It's Going to Be Hell"
With millions in side bets on the line, Lance Armstrong chipping in as an adviser and a massive social media audience watching, Instagram playboy Dan Bilzerian is about to risk his health and a ton of cash to race a bike between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
It's a pretty safe bet that Dan Bilzerian is about to be in a world of pain. With a $1.2 million wager as an incentive, the man described in some quarters as the King of Instagram will soon embark on a grueling, 300-mile bike race against the clock between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. His branding is all about outsized bets and full-tilt masculinity, but in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Bilzerian admits he's a little nervous about this one. "I don't know how I'm going to feel. I think it's physically doable, but obviously it's going to be hell."
This saga began in mid-February at a Vegas poker table, where Bill Perkins, an energy hedge fund manager and high-stakes gambler, dared Bilzerian, 35, to ride from his home in West Hollywood to Vegas in 48 hours. "Before that moment I had ridden a bike a total of maybe two hours in the past 18 years," says Bilzerian, who nonetheless took the challenge and put up $600,000.
A man who largely is famous for being a social media playboy, Bilzerian has worked on numerous films as an actor and stuntman — including Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer, Cat Run 2 and the recently released Bruce Willis action-thriller Extraction — and has also made a name for himself as a high-stakes poker player and high-octane thrill seeker. But the Navy veteran and son of corporate takeover specialist Paul Bilzerian's true claim to fame is his Instagram feed, which churns out a parade of F-bombs, G-strings and AR rifles to his following of 16.4 million people. It portrays a kind of American dream to a certain demographic.
Bilzerian has a reputation for blowout parties and blowing stuff up in the desert, for customized supercars and surgically enhanced companions, but he appears to be approaching preparations for this marathon ride like a business venture. "I've spent $125,000 on prep shit so far," he says, detailing how he's purchased a half-dozen new bikes ("I bought two extras in case I wreck") and hired two chefs, a masseuse, stunt drivers, a doctor and a bike mechanic to accompany him on the ride. "I think our motorcade will have 16 or 17 people in it — I'm trying to set up a police escort, too."
Last week, retired bike racer Lance Armstrong flew to Vegas to help Bilzerian get his attempt dialed, helping him perfect his position on the bike, plan a route and learn how to motorpace behind a vehicle (the rules of the bet allow Bilzerian to draft off cars or trucks, but if he gets injured and can't continue he loses his money). When asked to assess the difficulty of the ride between Vegas and L.A., Armstrong offers a balanced view. "Forty-eight hours is a long time. But 300 miles is a long way," he says. "That ain't easy."
In a video that Bilzerian posted to his Instagram feed, he and Armstrong are seen riding around Vegas (to a soundtrack of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell"), sharing lunch and examining Bilzerian's expansive gun collection. At one point, Armstrong, still wearing his spandex cycling kit and a bike helmet, is shown discharging an automatic rifle. When asked about the video, Armstrong laughed cautiously. "The truth is I f—ing hate guns," he says. "They freak me out." But he was there with his 16-year-old son and a friend of his, both of whom thought hanging out with Bilzerian and his guns was a thrill. "At some point when the kids were shooting I just said 'OK, let me try that.' Let's just say I don't have to do that again."
The terms of the bet state that Bilzerian must start his ride before the end of March and complete the ride within 48 hours, but he can choose his route and the direction he rides. He has been emailing potential routes to Armstrong for analysis, trying to factor in prevailing wind patterns, topography, even surface-street traffic in L.A. "If it were me, I'd start in L.A. and get going at 4:30 in the morning to put all that chaos in my rear-view mirror," says Armstrong. "But that doesn't work with Dan's lifestyle." Bilzerian agrees: "I normally don't wake up until 1 p.m. and I'm not about to screw with my biorhythm."
After a few weeks of serious training, he rode 100 miles in one day last weekend. "I actually thought I was going to hate these bikes, and I probably will afterward, but it's actually a cool sport and it's taught me a lot about conditioning," says Bilzerian. "But I also am learning that after four or five hours in the saddle that shit begins to hurt."
Bilzerian plans to switch bikes in different conditions – he has a lightweight road racing bike for climbing and a time-trial bike for flat stretches. Armstrong says that Bilzerian has a couple of recumbent bicycles, on which a rider sits reclining in laid-back position. "I told him 'if you do it on those you'll lose a lot of style points and I might never talk to you again,'" Armstrong jokes. But Bilzerian seems pretty focused on whatever will help him win the bet.
In keeping with the traditions of serious cycling, Bilzerian has shaved his legs. When asked how high he shaved his legs, Bilzerian laughs. "All the way. I already laser from my ass up. I actually bought a laser hair removal machine so I can do it in my house."
With the start fast approaching, Bilzerian reports that there are millions of dollars of side bets riding on his ride. He says that Perkins and poker pro Rick Salomon (probably best known for his Paris Hilton sex tape) collectively have more than $2 million at stake on his success or failure. Bilzerian says he offered $10,000 to a bunch of guys at his gym if anyone would do the ride, but no one took him up on that offer. "I've noted that the people who are betting on me to finish it are people who don't know shit about cycling," he says, "and people who ride are betting that I have no shot."
Bilzerian's plan is to ride two or three hours at a time and take breaks. To more clearly understand his cardiovascular limits, he underwent a lactic threshold test at a bike shop in Los Angeles and plans to keep his heart rate under 125 for most of the ride. But he's aware that he'll be entering a dark unknown. "I went to this fancy bike shop and met all these pro-seeming riders and the most anyone there had ever done was 140 miles," he says. "I have to do more than that on back-to-back days. It's hard to be confident because I know the second hundred miles is going to be so much harder than the first, and the third is just going to be so brutal."
Still, he expresses no fear. Armstrong, who gave Bilzerian a primer in how to draft closely to an SUV in windy conditions, says Bilzerian "showed no distress. It's not as easy as it might look. Sometimes the wind shifts and you need to move from the back of the bumper to the side of the car."
"I understand I could die out there," says Bilzerian. "I've got to be on point."
In the end, Bilzerian thinks he'll succeed. He's worried about getting injured or killed but not about giving in. "I've got a million bucks on the line and there's a lot of pride," he says. "I did 510 days of Navy Seal training and there's no version in which I quit in a fucking bike race."