Paris-Roubaix is coming up in early April. It's a race I used to follow devotedly, back when I cared more about pro bike racing. And there is a lot to love about this race if your idea of epic athleticism includes suffering in the cold of a European spring and riding hundreds of miles over cobblestones with 25mm-wide tires.
But with the evidence of an almost entirely drug-riddled peloton and a whole continent of cycling fans who don't really care if their favorite cycling stars are doping to win ("everyone's doing it, so in effect it's still a fairly level playing field. What's the problem?"), I've lost a lot of my interest in professional bicycle racing.
As for amateur racing, I still enjoy it greatly, but I simply don't have time, energy or money to devote to training for it anymore. I still ride a bike almost every day and enjoy it; but these days I am into Pleasant Riding.
Pleasant Riding consists of riding for transportation -- to work, to synagogue services, to friends' homes, to the store and to my local bike shop/watering hole. Rides like that average between five and ten miles most days. Sometimes I still like riding for the scenery and for a chance to stretch my legs over a longer distance. Anymore, a "longer" distance for me is right around 30 miles. Pushing myself too much beyond that no longer holds any allure for me. I feel I have little left to prove -- certainly to myself, anyway -- and so I prove nothing anymore, and enjoy everything about riding more completely.
I have a small stash of lycra cycling clothing -- shorts, a few jerseys -- and a couple pairs of cycling-specific shoes that I seldom wear anymore. So I've been selling these items off one by one, on eBay; and putting the proceeds towards the cycling togs I've come to favor these days. That's mostly things like urban cycling pants by Swrve; Chrome Kursk sneakers (in any discontinued color I can find them in cheaply); button-down shirts and sweater vests, almost entirely from Goodwill; and long-sleeved sweaters and a rain jacket over the lot. I still use cycling-specific rainwear, though this winter I've favored a jacket that looks as good off the bike as on. I sometimes use a messenger shoulder bag or backpack, though more often these days I'm inclined to use a pannier on my rear rack if the load exceeds the capacity of my transverse saddlebag. I like not carrying the load on my shoulder more often than not.
In short, I'm wearing clothing on the bike that I can wear off the bike, and I've managed to evolve my personal style to a point that almost none of what I wear LOOKS like "cycling" clothing at first blush anymore.
I am growing to like this development quite a lot.
While I still enjoy watching my friends race, the truth is that I am probably done with actually racing myself. I gave up cyclocross when I returned to teaching religious school on Sundays (I could've raced on Saturdays, but I didn't want to race on Shabbat and the cold wet weather was getting hard on my knees anyway). My short-track season has been truncated by the out-of-town gig I've accepted in June; and when I get back there will be just four races left in the local short-track series. More and more I expect I won't be spending money on a new team jersey this spring, or on the race fees (at twenty bucks a race, I really need to save that money for other projects that matter far more to me these days -- like recording my album). I'll keep the old jersey, at least for now; it's a nice memory of what I did accomplish and what racing taught me about myself.
I'm not at all sorry I took up bicycle racing. But I'm also not terribly sorry that it will come to an end. I think it's done what it needed to do for me, mentally and physically. So this summer, look for me in the crowd, cheering for the racers and riding home afterwards. Life is good as long as I can ride a bike anywhere.