8

I've been toying with the idea of joining competitive amateur (road) cycling for a while, but am unsure as to if the sport is right for me: I'm in very good shape and enjoy "basic" road cycling as well as weekend trips, but I have not joined any sort of cycling clubs because I don't feel like a Cyclist™.

I don't want to quit my day job-- I just want to have some competitive fun with other cyclists, and I don't know if "fun" in itself is a realistic expectation for official competitive events-- is this achievable, or is competitive cycling only for the most gung-ho?

Cycling community

What is the atmosphere like in most cycling clubs and at larger competitive events?-- are people in pelotons generally friendly, supportive, etc. or does everyone basically hope the others get hit by a bus so they end up winning? Do people e.g. go for a drink together afterwards? I don't know anyone who cycles as arduously as me, so I'd have to "find" some "cycling buddies", and am not sure how much of the "buddy" part I can expect.

Technological competitiveness

As stated above, I have no intention of making a career of cycling, and I see little reason to spend e.g. $10,000 on a hobby. Some people enjoy spending that much on something they will ride at 10kph on Sundays, but I have neither the capacity nor the willingness to do so. However, at local (amateur) competitive rides, I have pretty much only seen ridiculously expensive carbon-fiber/aluminium bikes and lots of flashy Lycra. There is nothing stopping me from riding e.g. a 40-year-old bike at such a race, but it's also no fun to be struggling at the back of the pack when others are whisking along effortlessly. In the end, fitness trumps technology, but, basically, I'd have to be ridiculously fit to keep up in a pack of 5kg bikes with brifters on my 15kg down-tube 10-speed. How "good" should my setup be in order to enjoy such an event and easily stay with the pack?

12

Treating "competitive cyclists" as this single unified group (with three subgrouping) belies some prejudices. Like all walks of life there are a diversity of people, all with different motivations, morals and life experiences. As such there is no single correct answer your various questions.

For example:

are people in pelotons generally friendly, supportive, etc. or does everyone basically hope the others get hit by a bus so they end up winning?

Yes to both.

Do people e.g. go for a drink together afterwards, or do they put their $10,000 bike in its own personal transport before being chauffeured back to their hotels?

Yes to both.

Anecdote for the good in people

I have met many great people in competitive cycling who were very friendly and helpful. For example, during one long, hot road race a professional rider (who I trained with) waited for me after I got caught in a crash (one of our juniors collided with another member took out our whole team!). He helped first made sure everyone was ok, then we worked together to get back into the peloton. He didn't need to, and it was a lot of extra work for him to do so as it took us nearly a lap to catch back in. He still went on to podium that race, but maybe he would have won.

Anecdote for the bad in people

Once a number of years back when I moved to a new location my first club ride encounter was rather nasty, with a rider threatening to brake check me into the ditch if I drafted him again before the sprint. It turned out it was the club that was toxic. They even maligned and mistreated an amazingly friendly and fast former pro from Europe who had recently retired and moved to the area. Racing pro in Europe is damn hard, the fact he was willing to give his time and energy to the local community was cool, that club had no idea what they were passing up. The ex-pro ended up starting his own club and superseding the toxic club.

Take Home

There is no single unifying experience that makes up competitive cycling. There are definitely "gun-ho" types. (It is a competitive sport after all). Some are abrasive, some are are outgoing and nice, some are reclusive... you get the idea. Like any competitive sport you will get encounter more Type-A types than you would in regular life. But that is sort of the point, isn't it? You are looking for other people to be competitive with.

My best advice would be to shop around. If your area has a lot of clubs, do a trial ride with each club to see which one jives with you best. Some are competitive, some are recreational, some do both. Some people in the clubs are amazingly friendly and kind, some others are less so. Also make sure to try and shelve some of your prejudices about "competitive cyclists". Sure some spend too much money on bikes (the bike industry really pushed that hard), but there are many who are quite sensible and still very fast.

Like all of life, you gotta pick and choose.

Finally to answer:

How "good" should my setup be in order to enjoy such an event and easily stay with the pack?

I personally ride a steel bike and have no problems keeping up on fast rides (i.e., 40+ kph). Whether or not you stay with the pack has a lot to do with your base fitness, your max power threshold, how you ride (i.e., positioning in the pack and length and frequency of pulls), how well you anticipate moves within the pack and the condition of your gear. If your equipment is not kept up well, doesn't fit, or is highly inefficient then it becomes a hinderance. Without knowing what you ride this question is too open ended to answer.


PS. Quitting your job happens when the nice hobby becomes an unhealthy obsession. That said, others would argue you have simply dropped the shackles of societal expectations and become a free spirt. All I know is that my kids still need to eat.

  • +1 I was going to write an answer, but it couldn't be better than this one :-) – andy256 Jun 18 '15 at 9:16
  • 1
    The only thing I'd add is to talk little and listen lots. – andy256 Jun 18 '15 at 9:17
  • 1
    @andy256 - That is good advice for all aspects of life, even public speaking!!! – Rider_X Nov 17 '15 at 20:31
7

Replace "cycling" in this question with any competitive sport. How should we know if it's right for you? How should we know what the community of cyclists near you is like, or whether or not you'll get along with them?

Enter a race. Did you have fun? Enter another one. Or don't. Your call.

  • Good suggestion-- I suppose the generalization of my question could be: "How can I find a sociable, supportive sports community?". Still, am I alone in noticing a few "trends" in the kind of people who join certain sports?-- e.g. those who regularly play basketball seem to have different things in common than those who regularly go skiing. – errantlinguist Jun 17 '15 at 22:19
  • The answer to that is, really, "be sociable". Meet people. Did you like them? See them again. :P No sport has a monopoly on a supportive community, nor are the communities surrounding a given sport the same between towns, states, regions, or countries. Go do things you think are or might be fun. If you meet cool people, great. – Stephen Touset Jun 17 '15 at 22:35
  • You might find this question interesting. bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/29579/… In the end your question sounds like you are afraid to try and want some reassurement. Go do it. – gaurwraith Jun 18 '15 at 0:41
1

Take the plunge and try it! Either you'll find that you don't enjoy it or you'll have discovered a wonderful new aspect to cycling. Regardless, you're only out a race fee.

Community

The cycling community is just like that of any other sport. You have some people who are pros, those who were, some who wish they were, some who think they are and some who don't care. Within every group, you have the people who are out to crush everyone and those that just want to have fun. It becomes an incredibly complex and impossible to map ecosystem, but in the end it doesn't matter; what matters is that you are getting what you want to be getting out of the sport.

Find a group of people who are interested in the same things as you and ride with them. If you enjoy it, great. If not, keep looking. I have one weekly group ride that turns into a hammerfest, while the next day I have one where we usually all hang out at the shop later. It is what you make it.

If you're looking for "cycling buddies" who are also interested in racing, one option is to look around at some of the more race-focused bike shops in your area. See if they have group rides and jump into one!

Technical competitiveness

When I started racing, I was on a bike I bought used for $200. My current bike was purchased used for less than $1000. Both bikes have modern shifters, are 9 or 10sp, weigh around 20lbs and are more than adequate to keep pace with or beat people on bikes costing 10x as much, especially at the low- to mid-levels (Cat 3/4/5 in the US).

From my experience (marketing departments to the contrary), the bike typically isn't the thing that holds a cyclist back. That being said, my advice would be to try to ensure your bike has these main advancements:

  • Clipless pedals.
  • Integrated shifters ("brifters"). You can do well with down tube shifters or with a fixie, but integrated shifters will make things much easier.

The other advancements are great - carbon frames, 11-speed, electronic shifting, carbon wheels, etc - but they're not essential for jumping into races. If you're curious whether your setup is "good enough" for racing, take note of how well you keep pace with your peers in one of the faster group/shop rides in your area.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.