By Jessica McWhirt
Most everything we do involves a trade–trade for money, for time, for experiences, for knowledge and on and on. Everything we do has a cost, or in some cases depending how you like the word “cost”, we either invest in something or buy and dispose of something or trade money for an experience which hopefully is an investment in ourselves. Bike racing (riding) can be a healthy return on the investment many times over, I find it priceless.
Bike racing, and really any sort of half serious riding cost money. But what is the true cost of racing? What are we willing to give up to race our bikes? And why do we do it?
Regardless if I say bike racing is free or costs thousands of dollars, the true cost of racing, and whether we think it’s worth it or not, goes deeper than our pockets.
When I began racing, I understood it’d be a pretty penny. There was no doubt about that. I didn’t fully realize how expensive it was until I had to pay for a license to race legitimately, and then another one, for seemingly no reason. Then I paid for one, two, three races and on and on.
As the costs to race increased, my experiences, self-worth, determination, and empowerment grew. I had more confidence not just on the bike, but in my normal life as well. Nothing outside of racing would ever be as hard as racing up Mount Evans. If I could race my bike up a fourteener and descend on the same sketchy roads without flying off the edge, I could handle the other barriers in life.
I didn’t know about volunteer opportunities at races when I first started. Most race directors offer a free race entry for a few hours worth of volunteering at their race. While you end up at the event for half a day, you get to race for free and you get to hang out with other cyclists. If you want to race but also want to save money, I can’t recommend this enough.
I saved hundreds of dollars last year because I volunteered. I also made new friends through volunteering. I volunteered at the Karen Hornbostel Memorial Time Trial Series which saved me $170. I volunteered for the Superior Morgul Time Trial and saved $65. I volunteered at the Parker Crit, saving $45 and then volunteered for the Littleton Twilight Crit, saving me $35. And this was me waiting until the last minute to sign-up. At times, I even emailed the race director who graciously accepted additional help.
Racing is a financial commitment but we financially commit to a lot of things. Just think about everything we pay for. To be able to afford to race, I volunteer, I eat at home, I’m selective on paid activities I do outside of racing, and I enjoy it all. I don’t think of it as spending money but more investing in my health, fitness, and mental toughness. Hitting certain power numbers, being able to chase down a racer, sprinting across the finish line, and commiserating with other racers is something that’s more than dollar bills.
Racing costs some friends if we allow it
Confidence and empowerment comes at a cost though. The more I immersed myself in racing, the less time I had for other ventures. My entire weekends from April to September were full of races. After the tenth, “Sorry, I can’t. I’m racing tomorrow,” my friends stopped inviting me to places. It was clear my priority. And they weren’t it.
Bike racing became my social life. Weeknights meant getting to sleep by 9:00 PM to wake up the next morning at 4:30 AM for my training session. I no longer “worked out,” and instead, “trained.” My non-cycling friends didn’t understand why I had this level of commitment.
As they slowly faded out of my life, the people I rode and raced bikes with became more of a fixture. It was easy to be friends with cyclists. We shared the same values and bedtimes. We could talk about bikes, races, and gear without boring each other.
We’ll lose friends taking up racing if we allow it but we also gain new friends who get us and our obsession with cycling. Just like how tire pressure increases and decreases depending on the terrain, so do our relationships. We’ll lose friends and gain others. That’ll happen if you’re racing bikes or not. If we want to keep our currents friendships, we need to work at it just like any endeavor worth keeping.
Racing costs time if we allow it
So much of our time revolves around bikes: training, sleep, races, and socials. Racing costs us our otherwise, free time. Time spent doing chores, other activities, hanging out with friends and family, all of that. We also gain time, ironically.
Having races scheduled on the calendar gives us the gift of time – to spend on the bike six days a week, training to achieve goals, and putting ourselves first for a change. I think some of us feel this obligation to our families and to prioritize their needs before our own. We think we’re selfish when we have audacious goals and take time away from our family in an effort in striving towards them.
But then we remind ourselves that our kids and families are always watching. They’re watching Mom create goals and training her ass off to achieve them. When we bring our families to our races and they watch us line up with all the other badass racers, when watch us give it everything we have, and then cross the finish line, salt stains on our helmet straps, a nice aroma of BO, and somehow, we still have the energy to embrace their bodies, they know why we do it.
We know why we do it.
Racing gives us back time for ourselves, for our mental health and our identity. It’s the vital break we rarely allow ourselves.
Racing costs money and friends and time. If we allow it. But we continue to race. We take up part-time gigs, volunteer, and give up other things to pin on a crumpled piece of paper with a printed set of numbers. This number that cost us our time, our friends, and our money. This number, that when they mark it as first, means more than words can describe.
We fork over hundreds of dollars every season for that ineffable feeling we get as we cross the finish line, knowing we’ve given up a lot to be there; to show our families, but more importantly, ourselves, what all those sacrifices were made for.