Posted by: Travis | March 27, 2010

Travis’s Guide to Cycling Style and Cultural Norms Part 1: Introduction

(Road) bike racing is a hard sport. Sure road racers shave their legs and parade around in brightly colored spandex. Worse, we get to a point where we actually think it looks good. We count calories, suffer from ‘manorexia’, and have body image problems that give college sorority girls a run for their money. We complain about being ‘fat and slow’ when our body fat creeps above 10% in the winter. Roadies vainly worry about and show off their tan lines (a huge contrast proves you’ve been out training). We idolize Europeans. You think the regular old fashion police are crazy? Try the cycling fashion police. Road racers check out their competitors asses and legs as a way to gauge how fit they are a whether or not they will be a threat in the upcoming race. We play with and show off our toys in a way that is eerily similar to 5 year old boys. All that being said, the hardest, toughest, strongest guys (and girls for that matter) i’ve ever met have all been road racers.

Physically, unless you are especially gifted, becoming ‘fast’ takes years of hard work, riding anywhere from 6-8 hours a week all the way up to 20 and beyond.

Mentally you have to learn racing tactics, another thing that takes years of racing, as well as learning how to suffer. You also have to learn to deal with the solitude of spending hours out alone on your bike training.

Since a normal race will have anywhere from 50-100 racers, and by definition only one of those people can win, so statistically speaking, your chances of winning a bike race are roughly 1-2%, whereas in a normal ball sports your chances are 50%. Getting out and training hard, and continuing to race without getting a win is emotionally difficult.

It also takes years to understand the cultural norms of cycling. While I’m still relatively new to this (i’ve been riding a road bike for around 6 years and racing for 2 years), there are still a handful of things i’ve learned about cycling that i wish someone had spelled out to me earlier. While i can’t help someone with easing the difficulty of cycling physically, mentally, or emotionally through a blog, i can help with understanding the culture, so that’s what i’ll aim for here.

I have six entries planned for this series, so i’ll publish them as i write them. They are:

  • Introduction
  • Equipment
  • Clothing
  • Behavior/Other
  • Skills/Maintenance
  • Grooming/Hygiene

While there are many kinds of cycling (Road, Track, Mountain, Cyclycross), i will focus on road cycling. Even within road cycling, you’ve got several sub cultures of people. You’ve got your serious racers (and even within this group you have climbers, sprinters, time trialists, masters racers, tech geeks, ludites racing steel frames…) that dictate most of what i’ll mention here. You’ve got your old guys who have been riding bikes seemingly forever who prefer steel bikes, wool jerseys, and hate helmets. There are the more-money-than-sense folks who think they can bypass the whole cycling being difficult thing by spending $10k on cycling equipment (including a pro quality carbon race bike) without having ever done it before. You’ve got your century riders who care more about going far than how quickly they got there. You can normally spot these people by their love for camelbaks, highlighter (high-vis)yellow jackets, HUGE seat bags, and bento boxes. Similarly, you’ve got your recreational rider, who can share lots of traits with the century rider, except for the distance they cover on a bike. The reality of the situation is that most people are not a single one of these stereotypes but somewhere in the middle, as if these stereotypes where the primary colors that get mixed together to create a ‘road cyclist’.

With all of these types of cyclists being grouped together as ‘road cyclists’ obviously some of the cultural norms do not hold true for all road cyclists. Since i am more of a racer than any of the other types of road cyclists, this will have a racer bias.

Hopefully i’ll get about one of these out a week.

Enjoy.

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