03 Oct 2013

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What’s the obsession with racing?

This question came to me on a mountain bike trip to NZ back in Christmas. As I sat there at the trail head and observed the constant flow of people of all shapes, sizes and ages come to ride the magnificent trials of Rotorua it struck me that Lyrca, GPS devices, and type-A personalities were absent. No one looked like a “racer”.

As I looked into it a bit more that evening I couldn’t find much detail on racing in the region apart from a handful of significant events. It seemed that fun ruled the roost in this particular town and over a beer or three with a local who works in the industry, they fessed up that it’s hard to get the people of that region to come to a race.

I have also travelled far and wide with my bike and I have had similar experiences, especially in Europe. Most people I run into hardly ever race and instead preferred an adventure with friends. Racing seemed less of a priority.

But Australia seems to be different. One quick look at the Flow calendar and other online resources shows a schedule of weekend racing that could keep you busier than a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest. Race after race, after race, after race; it’s endless. If I had enough money and time I could buy a van and race every weekend of the year and never see my friends and family again.

This race culture also manifests on the trail and social media. Australian mountain bikers seem obsessed with adding data collectors to their handlebars to monitor and share every millimetre of trail and aching heartbeat. My Facebook feed is filled with people telling me how far and fast they’re ridden and boasting of a KOM they’ve claimed on a 100 meter section of trail. I don’t get the same from my overseas Facebook friends, I just get photos of epic trails, views and beers.

The addiction to Lycra (the budgie smugglers of MTB) is also an anomaly, and that image too just says “race”.  Image is important, and in the same way a neck tattoo says, “I will punch you if you look at me again,” wearing Lyrca conveys the message that “I am here to race, perform, and my shaven legs will give me a 2.4 second advantage over the 80km race I am training for – now get out of my way.”

Australia is the only place I have ever seen such an addiction to racing. Do we all have something to prove? Were our childhoods that bad that we need pain of 100km racing to erase our memories? Is it just race promoters trying to make a buck or two? Does anyone actually think that wearing Lycra helps convey a good message?

Can’t we just ride for fun and back of the racing a little (and wear less lyrca)? I can bet you will have more fun not having to think of your calorie intake and what power watt measuring tool to get next.