We’re all racers.
When we commute, when we tour, it seems like every time we ride, there is some element of competitiveness, although we seldom admit it- but not very many of us actually pin on a number and enter a bike race. It takes a lot of confidence in our abilities to think we could be quantifiably faster than others, and humbling when we find out that we aren’t.
Even though I’ve never had hardly a speck of success in the years when I was deluding myself by thinking I might be a racer, I think it’s the best thing a person who wants to be a long-time rider can do. Learning how to race and train, then doing it for a year or three will change you as a cyclist. You’ll learn what you are capable of, how to maximize what you have, how to ride with others, and a lot more.
Cycling, like about everything else, is a lot in our heads. If we think we can do it, we probably can. Learning how to race up hills will cause you to lose your fear of hills and teach you efficiency. Those two things alone are huge in determining how and where you ride. Learning how to ride with others in a group is also a huge benefit. There is a level of attention to safety that is critical for this to work. It’s usually pretty obvious to others when someone is not comfortable in that situation, and that makes everyone nervous.
There are negative aspects to racing as well. The ego in most of us has a difficult time keeping things in perspective. I always had much stronger days on training rides than races. Whenever I lined up at the start of even a really casual race, my heart rate would rise up close to maximum before I even turned a pedal. At the same time, I’ve known plenty of racers who never trained, but could rise to the occasion on race day and do well.
While some people like it, structured training is not all that fun. There is a lot of pain involved, pushing yourself to go beyond what you think you’re capable of. While technically you are riding on your bike, it is not how many of us would choose to ride our bikes.
But again, I think it’s the best thing most of us can do to reach our cycling potential.