Road Racing: Are You Up For It?
….and when we talk about ‘road racing’ we’re not talking about illegal road racing or anything affiliated with law-breaking; we’re talking about the modern sport of cycle road racing. Think narrow road tyres, think about bright cycling jerseys and think Tour de France. While the contest is coming into it’s closing stages this week, we’re going to quickly review some history and hopefully inspire you to give it a go for yourself. If you’re a regular cyclist then you’ve no doubt imagined what it would be like to take your favourite mode of transport to the next level and with this little guide, you should be racing with the best of them in no time at all.
A Bit Of History
Historically, if a vehicle could move forward then mankind would find a way to race it: cars, horses, motorcycles, boats, airplanes – they’re all doing it but cycling has a very interesting and rich history and the racing side of things first began to take off in the early 1800s, when rudimentary velocipedes battle for position in racing environments. In less than a century, the velocipede had been replaced by bicycles and both bicycle and rider took part in long distance races around France, covering epic distances from Bordeaux to Paris and many other routes.
Cycling had become so popular that a few different forms of bicycle road racing were featured at the modern Olympics in 1876. Despite the popularity, racing didn’t appear in any of the following Olympic Games until 1912 but something happened between 1876 and 1912 that would change the future of cycling and road racing forever. The event happened in 1903 and attracted such a following that cycling would return to the Olympics and stay on the event list permanently. The event was called the Tour de France.
Tour de France
The first Tour de France was held in 1903 as a publicity stunt for the magazine L’Auto, in a hope to increase their circulation. In truth, the origins of the tour are more complex and riddled with political intrigue surrounding the Dreyfus Affair; one popular sports paper (Le Velo) argued that Dreyfus was innocent of his supposed crimes – passing military secrets to the Germans – displeasing many, causing the creation of a new magazine (L’Auto) who reported on the affair from the opposite perspective.
There was many a poaching of staff between the two papers causing a bitter rivalry. In the end, Le Velo remained the dominant paper whilst L’Auto was left floundering. In a last ditch effort to save the paper, the top brass at L’Auto decided to boost their sales by sponsoring and organizing a cycling event on a scale that the world had never seen. And as they say: ‘the rest is history’.
Interestingly, Le Velo went out of business in 1904 but as it turned out, Dreyfus was found innocent. Le Velo may have lost the paper war but they still held the morale high ground!
Since then, road racing has only increased in popularity and remains one of the most watched and most enjoyed on the planet, attracting over 44 million viewers and spectators ever year.
Why Get Into It?
There are many benefits associated with cycling in general but if you take up road racing, you’ll expose yourself to an incredibly fast-paced and exciting sport – which should be reason enough – but you’ll also get seriously fit while you’re doing it. In fact, road racing burns around 844 calories per hour and the physical demand of keeping the bike moving over vast distances improves your cardiovascular health, increasing your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure and improving your overall endurance. If that isn’t enough, imagine keeping your thighs, hips and calves in motion all the time: you’re going to build some serious lower-body strength.
Cycling itself is great, as well all know and studies have shown that those who regularly commute to work by bicycle can lose up to six kilograms within their first year of doing so. Cycling is full if advantages but by taking up road racing and joining a club, you’ll also improve your communication skills, work better with others and widen your social scene.
Join A Club
Of the approximate two million regular cyclists in Great Britain, more than 80,000 of them are affiliated with a professional cycling club. Cycling clubs are great places to learn the craft of road racing in comfort and safety with like-minded individuals. The benefits don’t end there though; cycling clubs can offer you exclusive access to cycling events, social events and provide you with discounted cycling accessories. In fact, if you join a club you may be able to rent a racing bike and the safety gear before you’re fully committed to the sport. It’s always a good idea to try before you buy and this is the best way to go about it.
Get The Gear
If you’re ready to make the jump to road riding and you want to buy the kit, what do you need?
Firstly, you’re going to need your essential safety equipment including a decent helmet, good quality cycling gloves and protections for your exposed joints, such as your elbows and knees. When you first begin, it’s a wise idea to invest in some high-visibility cycling wear; when you buy your shorts and jersey, try and find the loudest that you can – riding on the roads can be a dangerous pursuit.
When it comes to buying a bike, we recommend joining a club and hiring one first, otherwise you might spend a lot of money on the wrong sort of bike. A basic, starter road bike can cost as little as £200 but it’s important to test ride as many others as you can, otherwise the wrong bike may put you off of the sport entirely.
On Your Way
So what are you waiting for? While the sun is still shining, why not take the plunge and enter the world of road racing? Here are a few links to help you on your way.
www.britishcycling.org.uk/go-rideracing – this club is aimed at younger riders who are looking to get started in road racing. They offer family friendly events and are really worth checking out.
www.goskyride.com – Go Skyride offer hundreds of cycling options, all designed to get you out on the road in whichever way suits you best.
http://www.britishcycling.org.uk/clubs – if you’re looking for a specific type of club, check out this link and find the right club for you in your area!
And here’s what you can expect from some of these clubs – teenagers leading the first stage of the Tour de France. Imagine how amazing that must feel!