When is a race not a race?

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Here’s one answer: When it’s the bike ride home on the multi use bike path.

Let’s start there.

But let me begin with a confession. While I don’t actually race other cyclists on the path, I have treated it as a personal time trial and I do know my best time on that route, 13 min and change, door of my house to door of my building on campus. Note though that was at six am and there was no traffic at the one stop sign and the one light was green.

And it’s easy for me not to race since on my road bike I’m top of the food chain in terms of bike speed. Yes there are road cyclists who go faster but mostly they, like me, are going slowly on purpose. I’m aware of consciously going slow around children, roller bladers, and joggers with ear buds in.

Occasionally though I seem to attract the attention of young men who want to race. Usually they’re on mountain bikes or hybrids and they’re convinced they can pass the middle aged lady in lyrca.
(There aren’t as many of us as there are middle aged men in lycra, or mamils for short. Read The Rise of the Mamilson BBC or in the Guardian In Praise of Mamils.) I can hear the mountain bikers behind me breathing heavily with effort. I want to tell them, yes, it is all about the bike, and on pavement, where it’s flat, mine is an awful lot faster. Sometimes they get by and think they’ve won but they don’t realize that I was never racing.

It seems to me, based on my bike path experience, that there is tremendous untapped interest in bicycle racing.

In Australia and New Zealand where I’ve spent sabbaticals in recent years it seems to me that local bike clubs do a much better job recruiting young riders and getting people into the sport. They have learn to ride and learn to race programs, geared at novice cyclists, much the same way that running stores offer learn to run clinics.

Bike racing is lots of fun, just not on the bike path with kids, geese, dogs, and seniors on scooters.

So officially I disapprove of racing on the bike path, in the city at least. There are long stretches, in other places, between towns where the distance means you lose the children, the roller bladers, and the everyday commuters. But my usual piece of bike path doesn’t have these bits.

Cyclists joke about this kind of racing all the time. Here’s Bike Radar’s guide to silly commuting racing..

And if you just want the the rules and point scoring scheme, here’s It’s Not a Race.

And I’d love to hear your story of racing, or not, on your ride to work.

Enjoy! But remember, on the bike path at least, I’m not racing.

About Sam B

Philosopher, feminist, parent, and cyclist!

5 thoughts on “When is a race not a race?

  1. wolfshowl says:

    Speaking as a mountain biker who passes city bikes on the MUP, I’m not racing them. I’m just seeing how fast I can go, and that requires passing. OR I’m doing intervals, which also requires passing.

  2. Jean says:

    In all fairness to all other MUP users, ie. pedestrians….a MUP is no place to do much pretend time trials. I realize very early in the morning where hardly anyone is around, it might be tempting. But one might be surprised around a blind corner…

    I use MUPs a lot and do support local MUPs if they are well designed for everyone. So as cyclists we do have to adjust our speed. And especially if we want to encourage more cyclists cycling for transportation locally.

    • Sam B says:

      I don’t do that now. I was merely confessing that I had done it years ago. I’m a very moderate path user! Really.

      • Jean says:

        Hope you experience cycling in Netherlands or Copenhagen, Denmark, where it’s a real experience cycling at a steady clip with many other cyclists all around you in many separated bike lanes.

  3. […] like people passing me, thinking I’m racing, when I’m just out for a ride. (Read my bike path post on that same topic.)  It also made me want to vacation in the region again with my bike. […]

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