So, sometimes I think about selling all my bikes and finding a different hobby; perhaps one in which my self worth doesn’t hinge on so great a volume of variables as bike racing. Maybe something less competitive and more inwardly rewarding, like woodworking or playing the guitar. But hold up, before you click away convinced that I’m about to go on some stereotypical lament of how frustratingly rare success in cycling can be. Bear with me, because while I do think it’s ok to cry about bike racing, and I do engage in existential debate about the meaning of my life while I lie in bed at night, I also find it pretty hard, nay, impossible to stay too depressed about success and failure in cycling.
See the thing is, in the same weekend that I lost any chance of winning the most important series of my career, I also ate dinner in a converted and weirdly cool warehouse with friends; rode bikes for a few hours a day…with friends; had another pretty awesome meal with, you guessed it, more friends; and then got served a shot of espresso from a machine in the back of a trailer, powered by a generator in the middle of a parking lot while still in my kit—by friends. I also saw New England cycling show once again that it’s a proving ground for being the best in the country, and even if I wasn’t the best on those days, I was proud to be a part of something greater than myself. That might appear like a meaningless list of random things, but the point of it all is that my life, our lives—those of us who engage in this traveling circus each weekend—revolve around a set of shared experiences that can be, it seems to me, really hard to find in the world at large. From a personal standpoint, I can say definitively that if it wasn’t for bike racing I most certainly wouldn’t be spending the weekend socializing with a couple hundred other people all doing something intrinsically fun together. I doubt many of us would.
Now, if this all sounds a little cliché in that sort of, “can’t we all just get along and have fun” sort of way, then I have misrepresented myself. I am the first person to admit that when the gun, or whistle, or what-have-you goes off, I am seriously emotionally invested in the outcome. I want to win as much as the next person. I wouldn’t spend the amount of time, money and energy that I do devoted to this sport if I wasn’t. And, contrary to many of the societal norms being preached today that decry the harms of over-competitiveness, I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to win. I don’t think there is anything wrong with competition that brings people onto higher planes of experience and allows us to aspire to a greatness that gets lost in the mediocrity of everyday life. Anyone who’s raced knows that feeling, and the telling of our own amazing feats after every race proves that without that arbitrary goal of winning, few of us might get to push ourselves far enough to have something worth telling our friends about. I think most of us can agree that we don’t need a world full of little-league-dad syndrome to make us all better people; but the kind of communal competition I see every weekend is something different altogether. There is a community in it, and a knowledge, like an inside joke or a knowing nod between two friends, that riding a bike is a pretty damn fun way to spend a weekend, whether you win or not. So fun in fact that even those of us who are trying to consider it a “job” can still admit that we’d probably be out doing this anyway.
Winning is, obviously, more fun then losing. That elusive high of realizing you just did everything right is hard to beat—so much so that some might call it an addiction. But even the best cyclists, those we all aspire to be, only win a fraction of the times they race. There has to be more to your enjoyment of the sport in order to justify the hours, and the pain and the training in the rain and cold when every sane person you know is inside asleep. Maybe that’s why, after professional football players or college basketball stars have long since walked away from their sports, those of us who had our beginnings as kids on bikes, and were then teenagers racing bikes, and maybe if we’re lucky became pro’s on bikes—and then inevitably, one day, ex-pro’s on bikes—are still out there killing it every weekend: maybe winning, maybe not.
Maybe in the aftermath of defeat we say outrageously profound things like, “I might sell everything that even reminds me of a bicycle.” Wasn’t me, I swear. But then the very next day find ourselves almost incapable of staying off the bike for a prescribed rest day (Note to coach: I said almost incapable). So next weekend there’s another race, on the other side of the country or right down the street; another chance to go out there and prove something to everyone, to get that chip off your shoulder, to take chances that some might call “unnecessary”; to put it all on the edge, to say you actually did something and gave it everything you had. I’ll see you there.
*Images by David Chiu
**Editor’s Note: Justin is far too modest to supply all of these great pictures of himself, so we arranged earlier this season to have him followed by our staff of freelance photographers. We think you, his readers, will agree it was the thing to do.