Ride your bike: maybe it can cure what ails us?

As the entire Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference girds itself for the last epic weekend of road racing for the 2014 season, and looks to the start of the first full track racing season, there will be plenty of emotions abound— as there should be. Let’s set aside the nostalgia of those with college in the rearview mirror as they drive into adulthood and the real world. ECCC ‘14 has been incredible in the sense that the conference made strides towards improving itself, from an open women’s forum to improve the state of bike racing to official steps to include riders all across the board to race bikes on the weekend. Let’s not forget the ECCC declaration of  “2015: go big or go home-” the long term mission to solve some of the problems that plague the state of bike racing.

The state of bike racing. For the week after the Eastern Championships, getting on your bike for more pain and pleasure might be the furthest thing on your mind. Giving your body a rest after eight straight weekends of travel and competing notwithstanding, a lot of people will not think about racing bikes until next season. Then, starting at the November 2014 meeting, it will start all over again; the excitement at the upcoming season, the endless plans and preparation, the head scratching on how to improve the bike racing experience in the Northeast.

It is an incredibly hard thing to streamline and troubleshoot hosting major events for twenty schools with twenty different schedules in the Northeast during one of the most troublesome weather periods of the year- I can count the number of times I did not have to lather on layers or Embrocation for a race and weekends my team did not have some racing-related incident for this season on one hand. Despite all of the discomfort or frustration, I would not trade those experiences for anything. Invaluable bonding aside, those experiences are important lessons we all learn from to better ourselves for the future. Heck, call it ‘stretching things’  a bit, but arguably the skills you learned on and off the bike will be useful down the road. Probably the most valuable lesson I have ever on a bike is struggling during a race and telling myself, “Suck it up- everyone here is dealing with the exact same problems you are.” Talk about epiphanies of a shared humanity while deep in the pain cave.

We can learn a lot from bikes, in and out of the race. Eight weekends is only so much time to take it all in and absorb as much as you can. Shame there’s no other period of the year that has organized bike racing to participate in.

So, sarcasm aside.  As a daring and relatively unfounded statement, here’s a suggestion to everyone that wants to improve the biking experience in the saddle or behind the racing scene: get involved this summer. Go to Bikereg.com and sign up for some summer racing. Get involved with some biking community and see how they do things. Volunteer at a biking event, and appreciate just how much work race organizers do and more for us. Organize group rides, bring along someone new to biking and show them how great the sport can be. Have some amazing bike epiphany and write about it on the ECCC blogosphere. You put in this much time invested into collegiate bike racing, you certainly can afford a bit more to go hang out with other people on bikes.

If there is a ‘cure-all’ solution to improving the state of bike racing, it would be a pretty impressive one to tackle all of the usual problems; race organizers not going broke, creating a better pipeline to teach riders racing skills, addressing how latent sexism in a male-dominated culture hurts the state of bike racing.  Yes, whether you like it or want to argue the semantics, these are problems that hinder the process of bike racing that we as a conference are trying to solve. Eight weekends is not enough time to observe and test new solutions. Strong racing ability and a better spring racing experience is something everyone can work on and realize during the summer. You can learn something new to use in your next ECCC or USAC bike race. Who knows, maybe from your summer experience you will realize the ‘cure-all’ solution to ECCC’s “2015: go big or go home” challenge.

America! Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
America! Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

At the very least, enjoy camaraderie of  being on the bike with others while not freezing in the March rain.