Has racing adversely influenced cycling?

With all the latest news of widespread doping and cheating in professional bicycle racing, it really got me thinking of how much racing has influenced today’s cycling. Most of us have never even raced, or have only dabbled in competition.  Yet I find it interesting that we that call ourselves cyclists have probably at one time or another been influenced by racing, whether it be a bicycle purchase, new parts, a flashy jersey, or an uncontrollable urge to go tackle a mountain pass after watching a stage of the Tour de France.

7-Time Champion
7-Time Champion?

I don’t follow racing much, but still felt shocked as it was revealed just how widespread the cheating is in professional cycling, especially after such passionate public denial that no such thing was going on. I own and drive a car, but wouldn’t even blink if the same thing happened in NASCAR. A doping scandal in the marathon world wouldn’t change the way I think about walking and hiking.

So why do we feel such a connection to Lance Armstrong and so many other top racers, and why do we feel so let down? Why do we feel the need to constantly share our workouts, post our times and mileage, and wear race inspired clothing for simple joy rides? Has the advertising department in the cycling industry corrupted the way we think about bicycles? Have we forgotten the basic principles of riding a bike, that it’s an affordable and practical means of transportation, and that it’s also a lot fun?

Cycling doesn’t have to = Suffering

While the scandals of the racing world are unfortunate, you shouldn’t let the news discourage you from riding your bike. It’s time to lose the “Go Big, or Go Home” attitude.  It’s OK to just get out and ride. It doesn’t have to be epic.  You don’t need to set any records or justify your performance to anyone else. Casually riding your bike around town is every bit a legitimate use of a bicycle as training and entering a competition. Wear your wind cheating skin suit, or just wear jeans and a t-shirt. Suffer up the highest mountain passes, or simply ride around the block just to feel the wind in your face. Hammer your carbon race bike to the finish line, or gently pedal your beach cruiser to the office. However you decide to use your bike is OK, as long as it feels right to you and you’re having fun!

4 thoughts on “Has racing adversely influenced cycling?

  1. This is why it’s good to have multiple bikes for various purposes. If all you have is a race bike, you feel the need to put on your kit and do at least 30-50 miles. If you also have a cruiser or some other kind of city bike, you can just swing a leg over the saddle and go have a coffee, or ice cream with the kids.

  2. Hey Jeff,
    Nice post about the ideas circulating between bicyclists and perception of racer domination of cycling. Many of these ideas have been percolating through the layers of bike chat, and now it’s in the open. How do we deal with the resulting divorce of biking and racing, or how can they commiserate and rejoin stronger? One way I think is to measure some of the joy of biking that you speak to. Finding those experiences will pay off big.

  3. Thoughtful questions!

    I’m hopeful that the trend toward “average Joe/Jane” cyclists and the plethora of cruiser-type bicycles featuring street-clothing-dressed people will continue. I agree that Armstrong and racing was one facet of bringing cycling back into the public’s vernacular, but I think cycling has gotten enough of a foothold that dishonesty in the pro ranks won’t have a huge effect (or am I wearing my rose-colored glasses?). There are too many other facets that have impact: gas prices, environmental impact, costs of car ownership, infrastructure, etc.

    And as to why we feel such betrayal at finding out the depth of the cheating…those who ride a lot and/or have raced see cycling as such a beautiful melding of physical and spiritual and ethical that it’s an abomination when it’s abused. I would also guess, though, that amateur racers aren’t at all surprised at the findings. I have to admit, I was elated in ’99, but as the years went on I was skeptical of the extreme gaps between teams or the superhuman domination of a 3-week race when compared to other racers.

  4. I received this email from a friend that helps explain our connection to pro-cycling:

    I think that cycling is a bit different from sports such as baseball, basketball, football and hockey because the average rider is more in tune to know and appreciate what it takes to finish a Death Ride, or a century… Or whatever your goal may be. We appreciate the athleticism and talent that a pro cyclist has. The glory days of the above mentioned sports are pretty much over after high school and college. Cycling, however can go on until you die. It’s disappointing to see cheating to win at all costs in pretty much every sport for the sake of winning. These guys were an inspiration, probably still are, but not so much.

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