I got an email from the guys at Bicycling asking if I’d consider submitting some words for a guest blog. As Bicycling Magazine puts it, “editor Bill Strickland is taking a short break from his blog The Selection to do a little extra work on the print magazine for Bicycling” and they’ve got some other people to offer contributions.
Mindful of a slightly different audience, perhaps a bit wider that’s more interested in riding for fun and doesn’t care for the inside detail on race radios or the small print of the UCI rulebook, I typed a few words on the difference between riding your bike for pleasure and making a business of it all, a personal take but informed by all-too-common musings from guys that earn a living from racing. You can read it over at bicycling.com but for the record, here’s what I wrote…
Riding a bike for a living sounds like a dream job. Imagine it: Your whole day revolves around a ride. Get home from training and a relaxing massage awaits. Perhaps you’re getting a sports star paycheck too. Whilst we’re dreaming, think of the adoring fans who hog muddy fields or cling to mountain passes just to glimpse you in action. You always get top-of-the-range equipment, and mechanics are employed to clean your bike. What’s not to like?
The pay is bad, working conditions are tough, and if you don’t like it, there’s no shortage of hopefuls ready to take your place. The trouble with being a pro is, well, it’s your job. It’s no longer about a Sunday ride with friends or chatting after a race with your rivals. If you don’t close that gap, it can cost you. Mortgage payments can be jeopardised by a crash. Even a puncture at the wrong time could impact your career path. Only a handful of guys at the top get big money. It’s a winner-takes-all world.
It’s hard off the bike, too. Whoever said “travel broadens the mind” didn’t stay in 2-star motels, eat pasta or rice every single day, and take short-haul economy flights around Europe. You could visit some beautiful corners of Europe, but forget visiting a museum or tasting some local wine. The season is increasingly long, and you spend a lot of time away from home.
Given all this, it’s not surprising many pros treat it like any ordinary job. Talk isn’t about the next race or fancy prototype wheels but the next vacation or the car they’ve got their eye on. Whilst you might work in an office or factory and daydream of their next ride, many a pro wonders how easy life might be sitting in an air-conditioned building instead of riding in all weathers.
Remember, if you don’t get on with your colleagues, at least you can go home and forget about them every day. The pro cyclist has no escape. They have to share a room with their co-workers.
This isn’t to say it’s all bad. The good news is, most riders do realise how lucky they are, and it’s very rare to find a rider who chooses to quit the sport. Retirement is imposed by age or injury.
After the 1985 Paris-Roubaix race, CBS reporter John Tesh approached Holland’s Theo De Rooy, who said: “It’s bollocks this race! You’re working like an animal—you don’t have time to piss! You wet your pants. “You’re riding in mud like this, you’re slipping—it’s a piece of s**t,” Screamed De Rooy in the fluent English that so many Dutchmen have at their command. Tesh looked at De Rooy and asked, “Will you ever ride it again?”
Without hesitation the rider replied: “Sure! It’s the most beautiful race in the world!”
So the next time you ride your bike, be sure to savour the pleasure. For its own sake.