Be Prepared for the Cost of Racing

Training equipment, racing equipment, spare all adds up.

A week after the race season, and I'm looking at the frickin' reeking mess of an eight-month neglected apartment. Delusions of what could and should have been make me restless.

I'm not only socially starved, but also mentally and financially exhausted from trying to support a season of sport-class mountain bike racing (with eight to 13 hours in the saddle per week) while working 40 hours a week.

My room stinks from old sweaty clothes that I can't afford to wash. I wonder if there's a colony of bugs festering in the stack of newspapers. I wonder what delinquent bills I'll find.

Throughout my apartment there is scattered bike paraphernalia: a CamelBak cleaner, water bottles half-full of week-old water, a tire iron, a road bike squeezed upward in the corner, a tangle of tires, Gu, tubes, broken Sliders, magazines, a seat I need to get rid of. My space is too small for this sport. I need a garage where I can easily clean and maintain my rig. Ka-ching — $130 for a bike stand.

The fall of '98 was when I decided to make the leap from recreational riding to competition. By December, I'd saved enough to upgrade to a Santa Cruz-made Bontrager Race Lite. I'm stoked! I begin training four days a week across the Golden Gate Bridge, up into the Marin Headlands with my $100-plus light. And often find myself poaching illegal trails on Mt. Tam. Busted twice totaling $150.

As my evolution takes place, I discover that those dorky looking tight-ass jerseys and Lycra shorts serve a purpose. So do nice, moisture-wicking bike socks. So two jerseys, a pair of Lycra shorts and a pair of baggies later, I'm shelling out $230. (Only two sets of clothes? Hey, I'll be sweating in 30 minutes anyway, so why start each ride with fresh duds?)

At the end of March, I'm feeling good, been riding 10 to 13.5 hours each week. I enter the Sea Otter Classic and have a blast. I have so much fun that I decide to compete in a minimum of 10 races this year — all with $29?to $40 entry fees — which adds up to something like $350.

It's our last big off-road race in Northern California, and everyone I've been competing against all year is there. Everyone has tapered, is rested, and should feel good. (Unfortunately, 10 days before the race my bike needs a new chain and cogset. Mr. Mechanic can you please...?)

I'm at work when the phone rings: Alex, your front sprocket is bent, the front derailleur is bent, the hub is shot, the bottom bracket... blah, blah, blah. Dont look back — its only $494.

Race day. Almost done with the first lap of a 22-mile course; just passed six people, feeling strong, putting distance on those I passed and moving into where I can be my strongest on a three-mile section of the course. I run up the steep singletrack to where it spits you out on a dirt road and kink... kink... slop. My chain doesn't engage. A quick look and I can see the bottom sprocket on my derailleur is missing, and I'm out of the race. It's only sport class, I tell myself, but it's my race. (And yes, the bike shop made good.)

So here I am now, most competitive races over. Oh sure, there are a few more small races that I'll do, but the crew I competed against all year won't be there. So from here on out I'm riding for pleasure. No more intervals. What the hell, I think today I'll go for no vegetables and lots of beer with a friend I haven't seen in two months. I mean, I did meet my primary goal of beating four guys I've been trying to best all year and I placed in the top 10.

Next year's goals: better mechanical skills, more training with my biking buddies, an attempt at a gnarly organized amateur competition and overall more hours on the bike.

This last thing, of course, is what keeps holding me up. In my fantasies, I quit that corporate job next year and move from the city to someplace where the singletrack is legal and the mountain biking's free.

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