A good friend sent me a post from the now famous BikeSnobNYC.
Its title was “Why so serious?”
The famous one was dissing the over-seriousness of amateur bike racers.
Talk about taking the easy trail. Making fun of amateur racers? Next thing you know, he will be calling all masters bike racers dentists. I am a Cat 2 racer and a cardiologist—an apex predator–don’t you know!
Let’s get serious.
Normally, I take well to the Bike Snob’s irreverence towards seriousness. He’s right to call attention to our over-indulgence in the self. I mean society is rife with folks taking themselves too seriously. Bike racing hath no monopoly here. Look at nearly all of youth sports, tiger math kids and many of my atrial fibrillation patients. The word ‘serious,’ seriously underrates the seriousness of these cohorts. (Wait, can I write that?)
Notwithstanding the overindulgence point, I have to say that I hated the snob’s condescending attitude towards amateur bike racing.
An admission: I adore amateur bike racing. Cyclocross in particular is a beautiful and mostly pure sport. (Cross-country running, of course, being the most pure.)
Can’t hobbies be a little serious?
The trick is finding the right balance. Ah, why does this blog always meander its way to the word balance? Sure, bike (CX) racers have been known to take things to the extreme: buying handmade Belgian tires, gluing them to featherweight rims and then attaching the 2000$-plus wheelsets to the latest carbon-fibre bike. (Oops, you are forbidden to look in my garage.)
Let me try to explain amateur bike racing:
It is a little serious. In fact, the thing that makes bike racing so compelling is that it requires just the right amount of serious. Is pure folly really that rewarding? You remember school: How good did it feel when you did the homework, paid attention to the teacher, got enough sleep and then aced the test? It made you believe in stuff—primarily yourself. It tingled a little, at least it did to me.
Some specifics of the race:
Before the start a racer has to do homework: Eating the right foods, getting enough rest, keeping the equipment in working order and completing the physical efforts are all basics that racers must do. Call these the small choices.
In the seconds before the start, a racer thinks of nothing other than clicking in the pedals and picking a good line through the morass. “Be quick but not in a hurry.” (Gosh, Coach Wooden coined a good one there.) Focus. Focus. Laser focus. You don’t get this on a cookie ride. There’s something cleansing in this kind of brain exercise.
Then there’s the race. Can you go hard enough to stay in touch with the group—but not so hard to blow up? And how hard is that exactly? That’s a tough one, and it changes each week. Are you a fast-twitch guy who can ride off the front but then empty the chamber, reduced to pedaling squares? Or, are you like me, a slow-twitch guy who can’t seem to ever empty the chamber enough? Do you ride the seventh lap in the same time as the first?
Will you have good legs? Will you feel your chain? With one to go, will you feel like the race was cut short? Pinning numbers and competing sorts these questions out. Cookie rides don’t.
Here’s another thing about racing: No matter the level, you know your competitors are giving their best. And you are giving your best. I may like you, but I’m trying to drop you. There’s no 80% in a race. For an hour a week, this seems okay.
Post race sensations: The dessert. The finish line is a great giver of pleasure. There is completion for one, confirmation for another, and in my case, the finish line brings forth the hugs–from a son and a wife. It’s hard to put into words how good it feels when my son squeezes me after the race. And he always does. If I have a good race—it’s a congratulatory hug and if I have a bad race it’s a comforting embrace. These are hugs from a teenager! I don’t get that kind of dessert after a training ride.
If I were never able to race a bike again, I’d still go ride. It’s beautiful out there on that machine. A bike ride with a group of buds on a crisp autumn morning is more than just exercise. Perhaps it’s not a stretch to call such experiences spiritual?
But as long as my mind and body allow, I plan to keep racing. I cherish the freedom to seriously and singularly focus on just one dang thing—going as fast as possible.
It’s all a little serious…
…and that’s okay.
No doubt things will change…
…but right now I’ll just stay.