Is racing your bike relevant to commuting by bike?
I just raced my first crit in a few years. I’m not particularly fit right now, nor am I in a particularly high grade, and nor will I ever be, but it is a bit of fun (as long as I stay upright). On the way home, I was thinking if any of this was relevant to The Sticky Bidon.
Yes. Yes it is.
There are the obvious things, like fitness. Of course, lots of commuting miles gets one into reasonable shape. Not necessarily race-fit, but it keeps things ticking over. Likewise, racing can and will have a positive impact on your commute. Bike handling skills will certainly come in handy when it comes to avoiding debris, errant pedestrians or other cyclists. Being comfortable in close proximity to other traffic is made easier by becoming comfortable in a fast-moving peloton. The relationship between all of these things can be reversed to a certain degree, of course, as being comfortable in traffic can all have a positive impact on your racing as well.
While riding home, though, the first thing that popped into my head was awareness. You need to have eyes in the back of your head. There are 20 or 30 or 50 other riders all fighting for the best line, the fastest wheel, or the spot most sheltered from the wind, and having different tactics and goals and skill levels, all while taking place at speed, into and out of corners. With experience, you learn to sense what is around you. You listen to gears change. Freewheels spinning. Brakes being applied. Seeing the line that will be taken by the rider in front of you based on his current position and his speed, which is too high. Recognizing a near touch of wheels three riders up and one over, and reacting to the coming commotion before you get caught up in it.
In traffic on your commute, these same skills can be the difference between getting to your destination on time and unflustered, and not getting there at all. The eyes in the back of your head will sense how close the car that is approaching behind you will pass, and knowing where the gap in the traffic is so you can adjust your speed and safely slip past the car parked in the bike lane. The eyes in front will spot the driver’s head shuffling around in the parked car ahead and prepare you to avoid the potentially opening door, and be ready for the inevitable left hook from the car that just passed you but is now slowing down. With experience, you will sharpen the senses you need to keep you out of danger. With time, you will foster the boldness required to maneuver into the space you require with confidence and skill, and therefore, safety.
Of course, this can happen without racing, but at least while racing you can practice these skills in the presence of a multitude of 70 kilos of skin and bone rather than 2 tons of metal and glass.