I get to race a nice bike at cool places thanks to these guys:

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bike Racing is Cool: an Essay

Some of you who read this blog are bike racers yourselves, and have your own reasons for liking (or maybe being addicted to) the sport of cycling. Others who have found their way here are friends and family, who I so often hear say that they think my biking hobby is cool, but I'm not so sure I've ever given really tried to pitch the sport to them. HOPEFULLY, some of you who are skimming these sentences found my site by clicking on some links from the Nature Valley Bike Festival/Pro Chase/Grand Prix's sites. Of all you guys, I'm not sure of how many will be already familiar with the site, and how many are just reading up on the event before they go watch a bike race in their hometown for the first time.

 If you have the chance to come and watch the Nature Valley races in June, I suggest you do it. Spectating a high-caliber bike race, no matter if it is pro-level or strictly amateurs, is fun! On a pleasant summer day, picnicking alongside a bike race course is a great way to burn a couple of hours: chowing down feet (or less) from a huge mass of people hurtling down a street at high speeds is as mesmerizing as auto racing, but with more sunscreen and less eardrum-bursting.

 In bike races, you will see a lot of in-shape people. Sure, all of them obviously spend a lot of their free time riding bikes, but every single rider is bound to have a life that is more interesting than you think. Despite the seemingly large chunk of cash that is up for grabs at major bike races, I can promise you that no one in a peleton is pedaling solely because there is cash to be won at the finish line. This post is about my own reasons for riding my bike (and racing it).

 For starters, riding bikes is a great activity to stay fit without hauling yourself into a gym, mounting a treadmill, and attempting to stay motivated while you watch Wolf Blitzer on CNN (or whatever your local sweat-house likes to put on the TV around the cardio equipment). I can think of no more enjoyable and seemingly non-exercise-like activity to keep your body running smoothly than driving down to your local bike trail with a friend, saddling up and pedaling a ways to get to an ice cream shop, 7-Eleven, or BBQ joint for a quick refuel/chow-down stop before turning around to head home? Getting a little deeper into 'why bikes are fun' leads me to describe the multiple levels of awesome that are experienced in a bike race. The obvious route to find enjoyment in bike racing would obviously be 'winning a race', but that isn't what I'm going to tell you. ALL OF THE OTHER THINGS are what makes racing a USA Cycling event fun - winning is a thrill, but is still just the icing on the cake.

 -Racing a bike on closed streets.

Gettin' my lean on along Pennsylvania Ave.  Yes, THAT Pennsylvania Ave.

So awesome. Cut apexes, bomb descents, challenge yourself to increase your entry and exit speeds on corners! Because you are on a bicycle, the feeling of speed and momentum is enhanced, like how a roller coaster drop looks like a fairly steep angle when you are not on the ride, but from the front car, it seems STRAIGHT DOWN. I kid you not, the speeds at which you ride through corners in a bike race prompt very serious thoughts of just how far your 23 millimeter tires can hold grip through a lean. 20 mph on a bike feels like 50 in a car, and 30 mph feels like 80.

 -Race tactics.

Driving a breakaway is a tradeoff between increasing your chances to win and using your energy before the race ends
Once you have the fitness to compete in a race and are sufficiently bored with learning the art of bike handling, you have a whole new world of improvements to make by learning all of the small tactical options you have in a bike race. I'm not going to begin to explore this area, but I have a great analogy that non-bike racers might be able to appreciate. The Daytona Speedway was recently resurfaced to allow NASCAR drivers to drive 3-wide through the massive banked curves, where they had previously been maxed out at racing 2-wide in years past. The difference this made in racing was immense. As I watched the Daytona 500 begin, the auto race looked like it developed EXACTLY like a bike race. Because there was more space to move up through the curve, groups of cars would initiate breakaway groups in the exact same way riders do in a bike race. They hang out a few spaces back from the leaders, sitting safely in the draft, and just when the leaders are about to have the hardest time pushing their way through the wind, the racers sitting in the back use their momentum and the lack of air resistance to burst out of the field and off the front. In order to bring them back, other cars will have to launch off the front, and the more drivers who get away, the further their cars 'chain' back to the main pack. The same gambit is played so often in bike racing and, in essence, is the exact same thing as what you see in NASCAR, just human powered, and a few (okay more than a few) MPH slower.


The bicycle of teammate Peter Warner
Gear heads unite! If you think a bike racer spends a lot of time training and obsessing about what flavor of gatorade to select for their bike rides, wait until you get into the equipment side of cycling! There is so much here for a tinkerer to get lost with building/improving/enhancing their bicycle machine it is crazy. You can change your bike fit, you can get lighter components, you can get aerodynamic wheels, you can get a custom plush riding bike...and don't get me started on cyclocrossers and their FANATICAL obsession with tires and air pressure :) Bicycling could sell itself to people who would LOVE to spend $20k on a weekend having their car supercharged, but maybe can't put up that kind of money. Don't believe me? Got to slowtwitch.com and browse the forums: most of that is gear optimization strategies...thousands upon thousands of pages of discussion! And what is better than this ease of access for tinkerers? Most tinkering can be done with a small little multi-tool. No car lifts required!


These guys welcomed me along their rides on a chilly winter morning in the Mountains!  Smiles everywhere!
If you race a bike most weekends during the summer, chances are you will see the same people week after week. You make friends. You grow rivalries. You get over rivalries. You have your own epic competitions with each other. When the season ends and it is time to put your race number away until the spring, you wish your friends well and can't wait to see who comes into next spring in shape, who gets a cool new bike, and who went and had a crazy awesome vacation!

That's all for now, I've got some loose ends to wrap up at the office before the weekend; Happy Memorial Day everyone!


  1. great photo on PA ave!! ;)

  2. That's because I've got some great friends who double as photographers :) (I'll pay you royalties in Chimay and Catham St. Leadouts!)

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