There are two very different kinds of riders: those who ride for fun and those who ride for a living. There’s a huge chasm between recreational cycling
and professional racing. The recreational cyclist sees riding as a ticket to fun and fitness, while the professional is
actually paid to suffer on the bike. Whether you’re talking
the physical pain of training, the headaches of negotiating
contracts or dealing with the tremendous stress of going to
the starting line, there’s not a lot of fun in it for racers who
make their living riding a bike. That’s not to say that most
professional riders wouldn’t enjoy a backcountry trail-ride
romp as much as anyone else, but when the clock is running,
it’s all business and everything that leads up to that podium
finish is serious.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones who straddle the
fence between the two groups, because while I ride for my
own enjoyment and fitness, I am literally paid to be uncomfortable on the bike. I have the opportunity to test some of the
best bikes and products in the world, but that doesn’t mean
I don’t have to ride a few stinkers in there once in a while.
Moreover, I change bikes so often it’s nearly impossible to find
that nirvana you feel with a bike that’s perfectly dialed, the feeling you get when you’re 100 percent in tune with your equipment on the trail. That said, though, I ride because I revel in the
feeling I get from being out on the trails, even if I do it at a pace
that’s slower than racers.
I’ll hazard a guess that this is where many—if not most—
Mountain Bike Action readers find themselves, and that’s a good
thing. The way I see it, it is much more fun to ride when your
results don’t determine the size of your paycheck. Let me rattle
off a few of the upsides:
1.) There’s no shame in taking the fun way down. Racers are
concerned with monitoring all of their rides so they have data
to work with. They’re constantly focused on making the most of
their ride time to maximize fitness. When it’s not your business,
and not tied to your bank account, you’re free to take the fun or
(gasp) slow way down. Taking the long way home and stopping
along the way to enjoy the ride is one of my favorite things about
mountain bike rides, and racers don’t have that luxury.
2.) You never have to weigh your food. Sure, there are plenty of
fast riders out there who take nutrition very seriously. But, there’s
almost nothing better than going for a long ride and coming back
to a big chicken burrito, knowing that you’ve “pre-burned” the
calories. Racers can’t do that. I’ve heard stories of race-team
dinners where the athletes are drooling over a steak ordered by
their mechanics while they count the number of lettuce leaves
and ounces of boiled chicken on their plates.
3.) You never rely on your equipment for your paycheck.
Racers use the best technology out there, and we mortals rarely,
if ever, can afford to use the awesome gear the
fastest guys in the world ride. Trust me, though, these elite racers
think of their bikes and gear as tools to get them to the finish line
and a paycheck—nothing more. As recreational riders we never
have to select equipment based on who will sign a deal with us.
We can choose any gear that fits our riding style. Sure, you might
not have a fresh set of tires every time you hit the trails, nor will
you have a full-time mechanic dialing in your ride, but you have
the freedom to ride any bike you want, which is not something pro
racers can say.
4.) Amateur racing is way more fun. Being able to compete
with your friends but not having to take it so seriously is a great
thing. Even faux-pro racers who ride for club teams or shops have
much more fun than the factory teams. Don’t believe me? Head to
an event like the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo in Tucson, Arizona, and
walk past a few of the support tents. The factory pro teams fixated
on winning are constantly on the rivet and stressed out, trying
to figure out how to make the podium. Ten feet over, a group of
“casual” racers will be grilling burgers, telling jokes and having the
time of their lives.
I’m not anti-racing. I have tremendous respect for anyone who
has the discipline to take on the racing lifestyle with all of its high-stress “perks.” However, I don’t envy that lifestyle. I’ll take a long
backcountry ride with friends and a big burrito at the end any day
of the week. ❏
Ways to Spin