Are You Ready to Race Your Bike?

StampThe 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:

  1. Anyone can race. You can be a successful racer.
  2. Racing isn’t rocket science. The rules are simple, many are common-sense.
  3. You do not need to train like a pro or be a talented athlete (aka a freak of nature) to begin racing.
  4. You must be passionate about riding your bike.
  5. 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.

Good luck!

The Conversation: Bike Master Plan

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.

Blogging Beijing by Bike

beijing.jpg Later this week, I’ll blog Beijing by bike. I’m visiting China for the Intel Developer Forum and Elliot Bay Bicycles is providing me a folding bike to ride around, check the city out, and experience the totally different world of China. And in that world, at least for now, bicycles still outnumber cars. For more on China, check

Fun with Nutcase Helmets

nutcase.jpg Those nuts at Nutcase Helmets sent us a freakin’ case of helmets to review! So, it was like a helmet holiday at our house and the kids dug right into the package and put on a helmet fashion show.

What’s really nice about multi-purpose sport helmets, is you can pop them right on, go for a ride, and they don’t require perfect-fit adjustments. What’s less nice, is that they don’t look “euro” for the road snob. Riding Bettie for coffee with a multi-purpose helmet is great, but showing up to ride a century with the team would result in some serious fashion shame. Just ask Bicycling’s Style Man who recommends the most pro-looking helmet possible, including diamond crusted.

Nutcase Helmets are fun. You can see that in their brand and marketing, and Michael Morrow found a niche with the cool designs. What better way to get a kid or adult to wear a helmet then to make them fun?

Nutcase Helmets are also from Portland, the Northwest land of the bike, and are one of the most enthusiastic bike companies out there.

The Track Bike with 3 Down Tubes

sycip%20braze%2001.jpgI really have a thing for steel track frames. Steel is a fantastic medium of expression for the artistry of framebuilding. And I have very specific tastes. You can search the net and find whole sites dedicated to œold skool track bikes preferably lugged steel. Even more, there is definitely a cult surrounding keirin frames from Japan. However, I grew up in the Eighties when framebuilders were making crazy machines out of fillet-brazed steel for the track sprinters of that era. I especially liked those match-sprint 3Renshos and the bikes of East Germans.

Back then steel tubing was generally round and as double-butted tubing came in a limited number of diameters. These days one can get all kinds of steel tubing with shaped cross-sections and various butting profiles. I handpicked every tube for my bike, going for maximum stiffness with little regard for weight.

You could call the tubing super-oversize, but the wall thickness is still quite beefy compared to ultra-light tubesets like Dedacciai EOM or Columbus Spirit. In fact, each of the three main triangle tubes is usually used as a down tubes on mountain bike or stout road bike. This is more complicated than it sounds, because you have to pick tubes that will have some of the butted end left over when trimmed to size, especially difficult on my ultra-compact style frame.

It took me a long time to settle on the exact tubes to use, and I actually started collecting tubes almost 2 years ago. Some of the tubes haven’t been made in a number of years; I’ve hoarded them away like rare bottles of wine. The tubes are as follows:

Dedacciai COM LTP-shaped 38mm down tube, 0.8/.5/.8mm wall

Dedacciai SAT 35mm down tube, 0.8/.5mm wall (cut down for use as seat tube)

Columbus MAX 34.9mm down tube, bi-ovalized .8/.5/.8mm wall (use as top tube)

Columbus MAX chainstays, 36/18mm, .9/.6 wall

Columbus ZONA 19mm single-taper, s-bend seat stays, .6mm wall

Columbus CYBER 36.1mm head tube, 1.1mm wall

The stiffness of round steel tubes is simple to understand. The only things that matter are diameter and wall thickness, and both of these are on my side.

A track frame won’t have many extraneous pieces, but what bits there are I have carefully chosen. I’ve always like the look of the Surly track tip (originally marketed as Sub 11.0, a reference to a bench mark time for a match sprint qualification). I think they look especially clean on a fillet-brazed bike, and they offer a mechanically sound connection for the stays. The bottom bracket shell is machined and internally-relieved by Silva of Italy. Also from Silva is a braze-on head tube reinforcement ring and chainstay bridge. Finally, I machined a seat tube cap out of regular aircraft steel to bring the seat tube ID down to fit a 31.6mm seat post.

All that steel still needs to be mitered and joined together. That’s where Sycip Design comes in. As I said before, this frame is the latest in a series of track frames Jeremy has built for me over the years. I have progressively become more involved in each design. I think that there is definitely a point beyond which the customer may be impinging on the builder’s territory, but Jeremy has been pretty easy going about. I was pretty clear about what I wanted but stayed open to Jeremy’s suggestions for better solutions.

One thing I’ve liked about Jeremy’s work is the precision with which he builds. A lot of people think that all the skill in bike is invested in fancy lugs, clever details, and complicated paintjobs. It’s much harder to see how straight a frame is, how the angles exactly match the design spec, how all the points line up. The simplicity of a track frame sets these in sharper relief than a road frame, and you are more likely to feel it from the saddle on a track bike too. I said that I designed the bike down to the millimeter, and Jeremy has always hit my design spec. About the only aesthetic construction detail I asked about was the fillet-brazing. I think the best fillet-braze is the one you almost can’t see, one so smooth in the transition that the eye cannot discern where the brass ends. Sycip is pretty good at that too. sycip%20jig%2001.jpg


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