Looking at the growth of the Road Cycling in Bike Forums in recent years, it seems that road cycling is becoming more and more popular. As a long-time road cyclist, I am happy to see more and more people getting taking and interest and getting into the sport. It takes willpower to get out and ride, and more than a little nerve to get into a pair of lycra shorts, and actually go out in public while wearing them.
I have now been riding for several years, and enjoy it now as much as I did when I first started. I have thought that other people who might be interested into getting into road cycling might want to hear about how others got started, and maybe learn a little bit about the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all.
Turning back the clock several years, I was living a busy life, working hard, and trying to make money. I usually worked from 9 in the morning until midnight or so. I was paid on a commission basis, and though money was not hard to make, the more I worked, the more I could earn. I worked 6 days a week, and on my day off, I usually stayed at home and played games, watched television, or read books. It was not an uncomfortable life, but it was an unhealthy one.
After a couple of years at this routine, my body began to show the effects. My clothes began to get more tight, and many would no longer fit. I found climbing stairs difficult, and the summer heat was unbearable. But my body was not the only thing which was affected, my mind suffered a little as well. At night I had trouble getting to sleep, and would lay awake for a couple hours thinking about work, money, and the lack of romance in my life. In the mornings I had trouble getting out of bed, and would hit the snooze button until getting out of bed was unavoidable. It was a bad situation.
One day I went to visit a friend at a shop he had just bought. He happened to buy a pawn shop, and he wanted me to come and take a look at all the crazy things the previous owner had accumulated over the years. Amongst the thousands of tools, musical instruments, televisions, radios, and other assorted junk was an old 10 speed bicycle. It was carelessly spray painted, had two flat tires, but was otherwise complete. For some reason I felt an attraction to this old bike, and asked him how much he wanted for it. He said the price was $200. I offered him $50 for it, and to my surprise, he accepted my offer.
I took the bike to a local bike shop, and asked them if they could get it cleaned up and rideable. The mechanic was impressed by the bike, he told me it was a Pinarello Record, made in 1984, and was still fully equipped with Super Record parts from that year. He cleaned up the bike, replaced the chain and pedals, and put on a pair of new tubular tires. He helped me set up the seat height, stem, etc. and I took the bike for a ride around the parking lot. I liked it very much.
While I was at the shop, I bought an issue of Bicycling Magazine, which was a much different magazine than it is today. Back in those days cycling was not a fashionable pastime, and there were no models to be seen wearing lycra or posing next to bikes. The articles were mainly about racing, equipment, and stories of adventure-on-a-bike from around the world. Mountain biking was just beginning to rear it's ugly head, but hadn't yet made a splash. After reading the magazine, I decided I needed to get some clothes to wear while riding.
I ended up buying a couple of jerseys, a pair of cheap lycra shorts, gloves, a hat (which said "Campagnolo" on it, of course), and a pair of leather cycling shoes. After getting home, I suited up, and went out on my first ride.
Nothing can describe the feeling of going out the door and down the street while wearing bicycle shorts for the first time. Walking naked would have made me only slightly less self-conscious. I got onto the bike, and did a 10 mile ride. To my surprise, no one laughed or honked their horns at me. I survived my first ride intact, other than some saddle pain. The pain was a little surprising to me, but the salesperson at the bike shop said the pain would go away after a few rides, and he seemed to know what he was talking about. The ride left me physically tired, but this was not an unpleasant feeling, and I fell asleep more quickly that night.
My work schedule was still busy, but I committed myself to waking up at 6 am, three days a week so I could ride before work. This I did, and, as the shop clerk had said, the pain went away. I enjoyed the early morning rides, and being out on the each morning as the sun rose, and after a short time, I began to increase my distance, eventually riding 20 miles each morning. My Sunday rides were gradually increased as well, and within a couple of months, I began to ride 50 miles every Sunday.
As time went by, I bought more things from the local bike shop. The shop owner told me about a large group ride that took place on Sunday mornings, and invited me to join in. I was quite nervous about riding with others, but I accepted his invitation, and arrived at the appointed place for the ride. This was to be a turning experience in my cycling life.
The group of riders was of all ages and types. There were kids in their early teens, and older riders in their 60's. Quite a few riders were very serious, and competed in races. Strange as it was to me, I found everyone friendly, and as the ride began, more than a few people took turns riding next to me, offering encouragement and advice. The Sunday ride became a regular routine for me, and I never missed it if I could help it.
Like most group rides, the people in the group are of all different abilities, and after a short time, the group separates into two groups, a fast group which breaks away and rushes off into the distance, and a slower group which rides hard, but not so fast. For the first few months, I rode in this slower second group. I made some friends, and learned a lot about people in general. Some were working class people, others were professionals, a few were quite wealthy, more than one was unemployed, but all were easy to get along with. I learned about drafting, basic strategy, and that I could push my body much harder than I had previously thought.
In time, the guys I usually rode with asked why I wasn't riding with "the A team" (fast group). I told them I wasn't that fast, but they disagreed, and said they were sure I could keep up if I tried. The next weekend, I followed their advice, and stayed in the front half of the group, and when the group broke up, I stayed up with the faster riders. This was another big experience for me. The faster riders were very competitive, and very savvy. My first ride with them was challenging, but I kept up without being spit out. I was quite proud of myself. From them on, I rode as much as possible with the faster riders.
Riding had become an addiction to me. I changed my schedule so I could take the full weekend off, and I joined a Saturday group ride in addition to the Sunday ride. My fitness level increased greatly. My belly became flat, my resting pulse fell to 48 bpm. My legs would no longer fit into my jeans. I mixed it up with the fastest riders, and challenged myself by taking long pulls at the front of the group. I moved up in the group hierarchy, and became a member of a small group of very serious riders. We were very competitive, and always strived to be the first finishers. I learned the finer points of strategy from these riders, and we could communicate with gestures and looks, and we could size up another rider's ability with just a look.
A few of these riders were amateur racers, and they recommended that I join them in some of the local races. Competing in real races required that I change my life significantly, especially my work schedule. But I found that I could cut back on my work schedule and still make money, so I started racing.
My first race was quite an experience. I arrived too early, and found myself to be the first person there. The staff were setting things up, they found my name on the list, and gave me my numbers. I sat around and waited. The weather was bad, and it started to rain. Other riders began showing up, most in cars and vans, some riding in on their bikes, and before long the starting area was quite crowded. Eventually I found my friends, and we began ribbing each other about each other's bikes, riding ability, and girlfriends (or lack thereof). Eventually, the race started, and we were off. In the beginning everyone rode very slowly, warming up muscles, and getting a feel for the weather, course, and other riders. The pace picked up gradually over time, and became quite fast.
The race was a blast. The rain varied between light and pouring, but it kept my body cool. I was soaked by the water being thrown up by my tires, and those of the riders in front of me. I ended up taking off my glasses, because cleaning the mud and water off them took more time than simply wiping my eyes with my arm. My friends came up alongside me, one of them gave me a knowing look, and then he rode up ahead, I followed. We moved up just as an attack occurred, and we were able to join in on it. The second half of the peloton fell off the back, and was not seen again. At the large curve at the halfway point, I was pulling in front, it was a memorable experience. After completing the curve, a group of 5 riders took off. One of my friends joined them. After my pull, I didn't have the strength to follow, but those of use in the chasing group kept up a strong pace.
Our chase group thinned out as rider after rider dropped off. I was surprised to find myself feeling good. As we reached the two-thirds distance, I could see the breakaway riders in the distance, we were reeling them in. By now there were only three riders left in our chasing group. We caught up with the breakaway group, and they fell in with us. By now, only one of my friends was left, the rest had fallen off and disappeared.
At about two miles from the finish, the pace picked up slightly, this was too much for a couple of the riders, they fell off as well. With the finish in sight, there was an all-out sprint. My friend led me out (as I was the better sprinter), and pulled me as far as he could, I jumped on the pedals, and used every muscle in my body to move my bike, and just as I was about to cross the line, another rider passed me on my left, and crossed just ahead of me. I was pissed to no end. But then I realized that second place in one's first race was not a bad result, and felt a little better.
The next morning, I got out of bed early. My legs were so sore that I could barely walk. Everything hurt. But I pulled on my shorts, jersey, and shoes, hobbled out the door with my bike, and rode out to join the Sunday morning group ride. An hour later, the pain was gone, and I was taking a pull at the front of the A team, and enjoying every moment.