Graphic stolen from Twin Six (I am sure they will not begrudge me for this gratuitous free advertising)
There is pyramid hierarchy in cycling not unlike Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs -- the psychological pyramid for which the base is all basic human needs like food, water, safety and sex, (I find it interesting that according to Maslow we must achieve sex as a physiological need before love..... Like most things hierarchical, this hierarchy must be based on MEN's needs), and peaks at self-actualization and transcendence, the latter of which is often only achieved at the moment of death.
In cycling, the base need is to get on the bike and pedal, and stay upright without grave injury, and this could be with or without training wheels. The need is, simply, to be able to ride. Most people have this ability. It progresses to a desire to be independent and get from place to place, followed by more of the same as we age but perhaps on a more regular basis and for longer distances. One level up on this hierarchy but one level down in terms of moral standard and self respect, are those riders who race complete strangers on the street, like my man friend I met back in the spring. Next is the triathlete who is willing to race bikes in a sanctioned race, but ONLY if other riders are further away than a minivan and ONLY if bike riding is sandwiched between two other arguably less engaging but diverse sports. Triathletes, also hold the distinction of typically not being willing to ride with others outside of races unless those others are willing to continue to ride further away than a minivan. Which is why the the next level is achieved by becoming a group rider who will draft in a large pack. Group riders can be triathletes (but more often than not, are EX triathletes) hoping to level up. And the final stage of leveling up is the self actualization of the biking world -- those strange competitive souls who race bikes.
As I have alluded to in the past, I aspire to be a bike racer. But bike racing is not like running races where your first event may be the local half marathon where you compete against 2500 other runners essentially guarantying that you can comfortably race invisible to gawkers and family alike. There are also guaranteed to be many runners who are a lot slower than you. Bike racing is also not like the local triathlon where there are probably 200 other racers. Also good odds of not coming in last. In a bike race there may be as few as 7 racers in your category and the likelihood that someone will be slower than you is pretty much negligible. Especially if you are a woman bike racer.
You realize I am an overachiever eh? I could probably write an entire blog post about my overachieving tendencies but not today. I have given up overachieving in a couple of significant areas in my life such as marking student papers (because, for the most part, most students simply don't care about getting better at writing) and of course motherhood.
But have it be known that I come out of the closet today and will say: I do not like the idea of coming in last.
So an email exchange I had on Friday caused me to do something irrational. I was emailing a fellow cycling friend, Jason, about something that had nothing to do with cycling but had everything to do with me attempting to at least be an adequate mother if I couldn't be an overachieving one, and that was about putting my kid of the masculine variety in cross-country skiing this winter and the email gravitated to me facetiously asking him, since he had done such a good job coaching his own kids in this regard, when he was going to teach me how to bike race.
His response (and I paraphrase several emails): You already know how to bike race. You can keep up with some of the fastest guys on the road (a bit of an exaggeration). You're stronger than 99% of women out there. (As an aside, let me specify -- 99% of non-racing women and triathletes). And if you want to learn how to bike race for next year then you need to get out and race cyclocross this year because cyclocross forces the best bike handling skills in cycling. And something ...blah, blah, blah....(about spending money) about going out and buying eggbeater pedals, outfitting my single speed, and showing up at the local race the very next day even though I have never seen and have read very little about cyclocross.
And the voice of reason speaks.
So after spending a summer refusing to buy a race licence for road racing, the discipline I know I am good at, I go out and buy a race license to race cyclocross a biking discipline I know nothing about. I then email my friend and bike mechanic Dave and ask him about tires for the single speed. His email back says:
Yeah, Cross lets do it. I have tires that would work for you in stock. You could race tomorrow. Kick someone's A##.
Why is everyone so determined to put me in this race tomorrow?
To make a long story short the tires didn't work. They fit OK between the breaks which is what I feared would not be possible but an unanticipated problem was that they were ultimately too tall to clear the arc in the front fork. No studdly tires on the single speed. So back to plan B. Race with mountain bike.
Apparently his nether bits survived. And I do get the sense that this is the kind of racing for which it would best to NOT choose to wear white. Which is fine by me because I don't intend to wear white ever again.
So at some point while I am observing the B race, which matches up the non-elite racers with the Joe's off the street and the women and the "citizen" racers which is what I would be, Dave shows up and I fondle his bike a little while he takes off somewhere to go play with his dogs, say hello to the wife, or something. It is a sweet bike and given he works at a bike shop and he is the third man on the totem pole and these bikes are his "bonuses" so-to-speak, you know it is a top of the line cyclocross bike. So when he comes back and I comment about the bike and its frame size and he tells me it would the same size that I would use for a frame, I again, because facetious is my middle name, say: So that means you could lend it to me for the race next week.
And Dave says, Absolutely. And I just about faint on the spot. Are you serious!? And he says of course because he will have to work next Saturday and he can't take off from work to race two weekends in a row. I still wasn't quite sure he was serious until later on that evening after I wrote a Facebook status that said: "This is cool. I could do this." And Dave comments back, and you could do it on my bike if you wish. Because he knew what I was talking about.
I'm seriously in awe. As a LBS dude he is king. And it is no secret to Dave, and everyone at the store for that matter, that I have a total crush on him so he's completely won me over now.
So I get to race cyclocross for the first time on a real cyclocross bike. I'll never look this good racing cyclocross again. This could be my one and only chance, although Dave tells me if I break it I'll have to buy it. There is nothing wrong with this. N + 1, remember. Dave also knows that I am a sucker for spending money on bikes. . . . .
There's Dave in pain at the Crit Provincials -- amazing photo by Stefan Isfeld (lifted from Dave's FB page) who Dave tells me he is remotely related to in a convoluted way. But you can see why Dave and I get along so well, can't you? We have the same taste in bike colours and matching accessories.
So I am excited. And I am terrified. On that same status, (This is cool. I could do this) one of my long time friends wrote: "Is there anything you can't do?" And the answer to that is pretty much, NO, if you take economics, financial math, and my complete utter failure at relationships out of the equation.
But to a degree, that is overachieving me. Anything I want to do I have to be very good at it or what is the point. And when it comes to athletics, in particular the kind where you can't really hide in a crowd as it is in bike racing, I have always felt like I should have a certain level of achievement before I try and branch to the next level. I grew up in "nursing culture" where taking risk that is above your experience level is sadly frowned upon and considered arrogant and that thought always sits at the back of my mind too.
Besides, I perform better when naive. If I know too much I tend to overanalyze and overthink. Which is why I tend to wing things rather than prepare. This strategy has worked OK for me in life so far.
So thanks Jason and thanks Dave for giving me that vote of confidence this week. I can't seem to give it to myself so I appreciate that it has come from you. I can now go forward guilt free and start a new era of coming in last in bike racing.
Now I just hope that the moment of self-transcendence in the bike racing hierarchy is not also more likely to come at the moment of death.