Every few blocks in Beijing, there are curbside mechanics that fix bikes as cyclists ride up. The mechanics have tubes, pumps, wrenches and more. At some of the stops, cyclists socialize and hang out. I stopped and filled up my rear tire on the folding bike and said hello. The mechanic and his buddies didn’t speak english, but nodded and smiled just the same and gave us happy thumbs up.
Bikes as transportation in a city of millions. We rode from the hotel to the Forbidden City and just got into the “flow” of bike traffic and followed it through perilous intersections, traffic circles, and more. I was the only one in all of China wearing a helmet. The safety zone between bikes and other vehicles of all types doesn’t exist, everyone is close to everyone and everything else and it’s best to just roll with it, finding your way.
For the jumpers, BMX, and anyone else that wants to measure the big air they get, there’s the HangTimer that features a built-in tri-axis accelerometer (like sharks with freakin’ lazer beams) and records your air time. Doubtful I’ll get any big air on Bettie, my road bike, or folding bike, but junior hugger likes to jump and he thinks that’s cool.
After a hiatus during the rainy season, Bettie is back running errands, commutes, and all around town. Speaking of Bettie, Todd updated his photostream with an experimental townie mount. Nice, as he said, “that’s a kinder, gentler, monkey.”
Sensing my road snobbery and realizing my concern about looking like a total dork on a little folding bike, Bill Davidson first said, “like who’s going to know who you are in China! And then, just wear all black, all militant style … you’ll blend right in.” Ha! Black is right with a Nutcase helmet to top it off. Kidding aside, I folded and unfolded the Breezer Zag8 multiple times last night and have to say it’s a very functional design. I’m hoping to check it through on the plane like Todd did with his Brompton.
Later, upon hearing that I was taking a folding bike to Beijing nicknamed the B5, Jason sent me a link to the urban and mobile UM by Puma. First reaction, was “whoa, Slingshot Bikes is back,” or they never left (unsure about that) and hey cool Puma is marketing commuting as cool with a Biomega bike. Click through to find the form and function of the Copenhagen.
As this video from CrankMyChain.com shows, in Copenhagen the coexistence between pedestrians, bikes, and automobiles is a thing of beauty.
It is, however, easy to romanticize Copenhagen. As the video notes, Copenhagen’s bicycle bliss is achieved in part through massive taxation on automobiles and gasoline–a fact noted unhappily by many of the Copenhageners we met there last summer. But where Danish government has forced its citizens onto bikes with taxes, in the United States, we’ve lured citizens away from trains and bicycles with subsidies to the petroleum and automobile industries. One wonders what kind of transportation mix would grow in a free market.
It’s also taken Copenhagen close to 100 years to develop its cycling infrastructure, so one wonders if American Master Plans might not need to take a similarly long-view. In Boulder, an American city notable for being bicycle-centric, we are slowly and relatively quietly developing an excellent system of bike paths which, like Copenhagen, separate bicycles from traffic and help make it safe for lots of people to ride. What we need now, though, are some ubiquitous commuter bikes like the ones they use all over Europe: cheap, light, and comfortable….
Concerned about the quality of coffee in Beijing, I’m traveling with a french press. While the Bodum works great, I’ve gone through two since my last post. They crack in my suitcase. I’m guessing it’s the pressure and depressurization cycles on the plane and eventually the crack spreads, fills with coffee, and that’s the end of that Bodum. So, I found a stainless steel travel press/mug, removed the handle (takes up too much space), grinded down the handle mounts, adorned it with bike shop stickers from Elliot Bay and here I come Beijing with hot, strong coffee in Senor Muggy.
The Team Bike Hugger blog prompted questions from readers as to what it takes to start road racing. I hope this inspires at least a few of you to get out there and experience the thrill of racing first-hand. Here is my take on the fundamentals of racing:
Anyone can race. You can be a successful racer.
Racing isn’t rocket science. The rules are simple, many are common-sense.
You do not need to train like a pro or be a talented athlete (aka a freak of nature) to begin racing.
You must be passionate about riding your bike.
Racing is addictive. After you race once, the habit is usually formed and very difficult to break.
These are true for men and women racers, though there are significant differences in the men’s and women’s fields.
Anyone Can Race
Just a quick word on how I started: Four years ago, I bought my first road bike. Prior to getting the bike, all I did was walk my dog after work. Once I got the bike, I commuted to and from work for 2 months, did a few group rides and, on a whim, signed up for my first race. I dabbled with racing that season in Seattle. The season after that, I had a blast racing cat 4 (beginner) in Colorado. Last year I got serious about racing (I got a coach and read every article and book that I could about racing) so as to continue to enjoy it as a cat 3. The more I race, the more I want to race and the faster I want to go. At this point, my lifestyle is very bike/racing-centric and I can’t imagine going back to the “normal” life I used to lead since this one is so fun and fulfilling. And I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go. The stamp shown here was on the envelope that contained prize money for winning a race two weeks ago. What I’m saying here is anyone can do it, you just need to start.
I saw a quote recently that went something like:
“A year from now you’re going to wish you started today.”
That being said, bike racing is for people of all ages so don’t despair if you wish you had started years ago. It’s not too late. One of my racing heros, Tina Pic was born in 1966. And don’t forget Ned Overend who is over 50 and still racing, coming second to Scott Moninger (BMC) in the Mt. Evans hill climb by 5 seconds last year.
There are different categories of racers, where the beginners are cat 4 (for women) or cat 4 or 5 depending on state (for men), intermediate racers are cat 3 and the most experienced and faster racers are cat 1/pro or 2. Sometimes there are “open” fields where all categories of racers race together. This means a pro/cat 1 racer could be racing against a brand new cat 4 racer. This often happens with women’s fields in the early season races. I really don’t think it’s a good idea, if you’re just starting, to race against competition that is so much stronger. It won’t be a race, it’ll be a mental beating down. I made that mistake once. It caused me to stop racing for a couple of months. Luckily, the guys on the team I was racing for were really supportive and they helped build my confidence back.
That reminds me to mention–it is far easier to start racing as a woman. Women racers are generally supportive of each other and I’ve found the men to be very enouraging and supportive of the women, too. Usually, though, women are scared to ride with the guys or have some excuse that I can’t understand.
Mike Magnuson, author of “Heft on Wheels” said it well: “Nobody wants to hear you whine.” My experience has shown that guys respect the women who ride hard, even if they are riding slower than the men.
Hopefully, you now see that you can race. It’s all a matter of whether or not you want to.
Racing Isn’t Rocket Science
Check out the rulebook of USA Cycling. Sorry, it’s 138 pages long, but actually doesn’t take too long. Check it out, you’ll learn a lot. There are a few major rules to follow, and usually they’ll be explained to the racers prior to the race start. The biggie is the yellow-line rule. There are so many things to learn about racing, for example, how to corner properly, sprint, work in an eschelon, etc. It certainly helps to talk to people about these things prior to racing so you know the basics, but most of this stuff will be learned while racing. Every race I enter, I learn something new. So don’t worry about not being prepared at first. Experience is the best teacher. A few things, though, that are good to be proficient at going into the first race:
Know how to “hold your line”
Be able to drink and ride with one hand
Be comfortable riding in the drops through corners and while descending
Be comfortable getting out of the saddle on climbs
Know how to draft and be comfortable riding close with people on all sides of you
Stay relaxed, elbows bent at all times.
It’s helpful to pre-ride the course just for peace of mind. The less nervous you are, the safer you will be and you’re more likely to enjoy the ride.
You Don’t Have to Be a Freak of Nature
There will be people out there who are insanely strong, but the majority of cat 4 racers are fairly new to racing, and competing. You will meet others who are similar to you. Bike racing is a unique sport in that there is no stereotypical body type that defines the successful racer.
Love Thy Bike
Many people get into bike racing because they like competing. This is a good reason, but think about it, only a tiny fraction of time will you actually be racing the bike. Many hours a week, even as a recreational racer, will be spent on training and group rides. You gotta love being out there on the road, sometimes doing intervals alone, to have fun and be successful racing…and to guard against burn-out. Years from now, I know that I won’t be racing, but I also know my quality of life won’t be the same if I’m not going on long bike rides. So my top priority is to love every minute on the bike and not do anything to jeopardize that.
Racing is Addictive
Ah, c’mon, try it, you’ll like it. One thing, though, if you really don’t feel like racing, don’t let anyone talk you into it. Get to know your body and your gut instinct. Racing can be dangerous and it’s important to listen to your subconscious. But do try that first race and meet other addicts, you just might be surprised at how difficult it is to stay away from future races.
Obviously, these are just the basics. There’s so, so much more to racing. I think that’s one of the things that really attracts me to the sport. It’s something I was able to do when I was really new to bike riding, but I’m always learning and growing as a racer and as a person.
Tune into the audio archives of today’s Conversation on KUOW, covering the Bike Master Plan and what it means for Seattle. As my two-year-old toddled around the house this afternoon, bike helmet atop his head, I couldn’t help but hope that he will see a better, more bike-friendly, Seattle.