I'm often surprised by the misconceptions people have about biking. I hope to clear up a few right here, by answering some frequently asked questions.
Actually, I'm into road biking, not the more familiar sport of mountain biking. Like stock car racing versus Formula 1, the racers, equipment, and rules are all different between these two sports. Other distinct sports within the "cycling" umbrella include track racing, cyclocross, and BMX. Here's a quick comparison between them all:
Although the seat on a typical racing bike is very
narrow, with little or no padding, I've never had serious problems
with discomfort while riding. The narrow shape avoids chafing
on your inner thigh, and cycling tends to build pretty strong
butt muscles, so padding isn't necessary.
The rider's position on a racing bike -- arms forward, knees in, back flat -- strikes a balance between comfort, performance, and aerodynamics. If the seat were lower, leverage against the pedals would be reduced. If the handlebars were higher, drag on the riders's upper body would be increased. Therefore, riders pay a lot of attention to the adjustment of these components.
That being said, I can ride for 6-8 hours in a racing
position without any aches; after that point, I think my muscles
and joints would be tired no matter what position I were in. A
good position on a road bike might seem awkward at first, but
is not inherently uncomfortable. And, although you might not realize
it, an energetic ride involves quite a lot of moving around, changing
positions, and standing up on the pedals; it's not like sitting
in a chair all day where your body just gets stiff and tired.
Again, modern cycling clothing strikes a balance between comfort and aerodynamics. Shorts and jerseys are cut to fit well in the riding position, their tight fit avoids chafing or, worse yet, dangerous tangles with moving parts, and the fabrics are designed to wick sweat away and keep the rider cool. At the same time, the clothing offers an aerodynamic profile. Wind resistance is a cyclist's worst enemy, so the last thing one needs is a baggy shirt flapping in the breeze.
If I ride with cycling clothes, I forget I'm wearing
them, but if I ride with regular clothes, they always cause some
kind of problem.
Professional bike racing is organized by so-called "trade teams," not by countries, so the nationality of a rider is largely irrelevant. In the trade team system, teams are named after and get a budget from their sponsors, and offer jobs (usually one- to three-year contracts) to the riders they like best. Riders are free agents, and join the teams that offer the best combination of salary, performance bonuses, and shared goals.
Although a few teams like to identify strongly with their country of origin by hiring a large proportion of local riders (for example, ONCE in Spain and Deutsche Telekom in Germany), most teams are a potpourri of riders from around the world. Lance Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team in 2002 included riders from the United States, Canada, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Czechoslovakia, and Australia. The 2002 Tour de France jersey winners included an American riding for an American team, an Australian riding for a Belgian team, and a Lithuanian riding for an Italian team.
The only exceptions to the trade team system are the
annual World Championship races and the Olympic Games, in which
riders change into national team jerseys and work for their country
for a day. However, these races are sometimes tainted by divided
loyalties when long-term trade team alliances overshadow short-term
Sure, who isn't? Lance combines modern training methods
with an old-fashioned passion for winning and is one of the top-ranked
riders in the world. However, my favorite rider over the last
few years has been Laurent
Jalabert. This Frenchman lives in Switzerland, has ridden
for Spanish and Danish teams, and has won races all across Europe.
Unfortunately, he retired at the end of 2002, leaving a big gap
in the pro scene. I'll probably pay particular attention to the
promising Columbian, Santiago
Botero, this year, as well as Lance's Spanish teammate, Roberto
The short answer is no! The road to becoming a Tour rider is long and difficult. Here are the major milestones:
To put this into perspective, I raced for four years as a citizen, then tried USCF racing for a few months and was blown away. I didn't even make it to the second step! So the guys who ride in Europe, and participate in the Tour, are mind-bogglingly good at riding bikes, and I will never be in their company.
I would, however, like to see the Tour de
France some day! But that will have to wait until I'm brave enough
to polish up my French language skills, trek to the south of France,
rent a car, and drive it up into the mountains with a half-million
other crazed fans from around the world. Mon dieu!
Well, yes, and the same path of advancement exists
for female racers. Men and women ride in separate races, and most
teams hire either male or female riders, but not both. However,
the majority of teams are men's teams, the biggest events are
men's events, and the publications I read cover men's racing almost
exclusively. It's a sad fact about the sport. (Note: the male/female
balance is much better in mountain biking, track racing, and any
kind of U.S. racing.)
© 2002 Arlo Leach, all rights reserved.