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Why You Should Try Bike Racing

I used to think I wasn't cut out for bike racing. But now I think any rider can do it, and every rider can benefit from it. Here's why I love racing my bike, even when I'm not very good at it.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Fun

Racing bike makes me happy. Maybe it will make you happy too!

Are you interested in bike racing, but hesitant to toe the start line? Maybe you don’t think you’re fast enough. Maybe you're not a competitive person. Maybe your nerves are holding you back. I used to feel all of those things. But when I finally pinned on a number for the first time a few years ago, I discovered how amazing bike racing really is. 

Racing has had a hugely positive impact on my health and happiness. You don’t even have to “compete.” Just entering and participating is incredibly fun and rewarding. Races are the best way to motivate yourself to improve, discover what you’re capable of, and connect with the world of cycling. Here’s why any curious rider should try racing at least once.

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Motivation, goals, and self-improvement

Enduro MTB racing

I wasn't always this confident on a mountain bike. Training for races helped me change that. Photo: Eddie Clark Media.

I’m going to start this off by saying you don’t need to be fast, fit, or talented to enter a race. 99% of us aren’t entering races to win. For the majority of participants, the main rival is and always should be yourself. Over the years, I’ve become a somewhat decent cyclist, and signing up for races has been my secret weapon for improving my fitness and skills. 

I spent years working at a desk, gaining weight, losing flexibility, and just generally feeling unhealthy and unhappy. Like many riders, I picked up cycling as a fun way to try and improve my health. It worked… sort of. But my biggest problem has always been consistency. As a result, my fitness and skills were never where I wished they’d be. 

Entering my first race changed everything by giving me the kick in the pants I needed to improve. Because the race would happen at a specific time and place, it gave me a concrete goal to work toward. Because I paid the entry fee and told my friends and family about it, it introduced accountability that helped me stay consistent with my training. Sure, you can get strong and lose weight without entering a race. But I have a tendency to let the rest of my life get in the way without something important to aim for. Races are a powerful conduit for focusing and channeling my motivation.

I finished dead last at my first bike race. But I was super proud just to finish. Just being there inspired me to sign up for more races and continue improving. I discovered that I actually enjoyed the process. Having a reason to work on myself was more rewarding than any race result. 


Pushing limits

Feeling completely destroyed, but extremely satisfied. 

Do you know if you can ride 200 miles in one go? I certainly didn’t when I entered Unbound Gravel 200 last year. But by the end, I knew I could, because I finished. It was the hardest ride I’ve ever done and I thought about quitting many, many times during it. But the power of the race kept me going. This is related to the first point, but races always have a magic power to elevate my performance to new and unexpected levels. I’ve never really considered myself an athlete. I grew up playing video games instead of sports. But racing has shown me that I’m physically and mentally capable of way more than I ever would have guessed. 

It’s hard to truly know your limits until you test them in a race. With pride on the line and the extra push from being surrounded by other riders, the animal part of my brain emerges and lets me go much deeper than I can on a regular weekend ride. Even if I fail (I’ve DNF’d plenty of times), I find it valuable because I get new goalposts to work with. When I know what I’m truly capable of and what I need to change in the future, it leads to a new cycle of growth. With every race, my confidence grows, and every year I can become better than the last. 

A sense of place

Try bike racingGreat memories, and a great place to "find your people." Photos: Dane Cronin.

I can barely remember most of my weekend bike adventures. They all blend together over time, but races are somehow different. Bike races make up the majority of my core cycling memories. By entering races, I’ve visited towns I would never visit otherwise. I’ve ridden roads and trails that I would never ride otherwise. I break out from my boring everyday life.

I love the people I meet at races too. Bike races tend to be brimming with energy and enthusiasm. For me, it’s a transformative experience. I spend most of my days riding alone. While that’s fine, I often find myself yearning for something more. If you’ve never competed in a race with a random group of riders, you’ve likely never experienced the intense bonds you form with temporary “race friends.” 

Everyone entering a race is a cyclist, just like you. They’re feeling the same things you feel — pain, anxiety, fear, and joy. They all understand. They’re all putting their bodies and pride on the line. They all want to get to the finish line. You often end up feeding off each other. I often think back to many of the random people I’ve raced with. Most, I don’t see again. But I still remember them fondly because we shared something so physically and emotionally intense. 

For me, entering races is how I go out and connect with the wide world of cycling. It’s the best way to remind myself why riding bikes is so romantic, beautiful, and fun. 

So how do you get started? Well, all you need to do is find a race that you can afford, that you can travel to (if it’s not local), and that suits your preferred cycling discipline. Then sign up. The hardest part is taking the first step. It doesn’t have to be a big destination event (unless that’s what inspires you). Small and local races are often just as fun and inviting as the races that make headlines. If you can, finding a partner or group to attend a race with can make it easier to take the plunge. Make a plan. Get your gear dialed. Ride your bike a lot. And remember, it’s all for fun. Races can be fun in the moment. But more often they're type 2 fun — the kind that you enjoy only when you look back on it. If it’s not fun, then racing might not be for you. 

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