Blue Collar Bike Riding

I often feel like a blue collar dude working in a white collar world. Salary or not, I’ve always felt that an hour worked is an hour paid and I’ll never really get away from feeling like that. In virtually everything I’ve ever done that 1:1 ratio holds true. There are no freebies, or, if there are, I’m not smart enough to see them. In essence, in all things, you only ever get out what you put in. And I think the sooner an individual realizes this the sooner they get their life together. It doesn’t just come to you. Same thing with bike racing. I was reminded of this through a conversation I had recently with a fellow Synergist, Joe, and an old quote came up.

“Bike racing is a blue collar sport. You’ve got to put in the time.”

I don’t know who said that. It was awhile ago, the 80’s I’m sure, as its been around at least that long.  A Dog in a Hat: An American Bike Racer’s Story of Mud, Drugs, Blood, Betrayal, and Beauty in Belgium, Joe Parkin’s awesome book of a few years ago, delved into the lifestyle behind that sentiment. The book is set in the 80’s when he went over to Belgium, one of the early Americans to do that kind of thing.

Compare this with the fact that, to the outsider, road cycling in North America has an elitist look to it. Its filtered through our culture, for sure, but a lot of the teams nowadays are sponsored by banks and white collar institutions which really contributes to this. Certainly a lot of the people that have picked up the sport post Lance Armstrong also perpetuate this. I’ve heard it said that ‘cycling is the new golf’ for the so called ‘MAMIL – Middle Aged Men in Lycra’, the demographic that essentially funds innovation (thank you!) in bike technology by throwing disposable income at carbon fiber wheels and heart-rate monitors. These things take the perception of the sport in North America away from the roots and guts that Parkin writes about.

The crux of the quote above is clear – no matter who you are you need to ride to get faster. That’s the deal. But the day to day reality of the sport is like what’s talked about in Parkin’s book. A day to day, hour to hour grind. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. A job. So its true in that sense as well. Coincidentally the act of writing is much like this. Another piece of culture that looks all fancy and white collar to the uninitiated, but is really a thing improved only ever by commitment and practice, an hour at a time.

Here’s an exercise. The next time you’re in Home Depot, or Revy, or some other place like that, keep your eyes peeled to see how many pro team sponsors you’ll see. And they’ll be European. Look for Quick Step and for Mapei, two of the more mythical teams of the last 20 years. Find others. These sponsors mirror the core of Parkin’s book and experience, as well as the heart of what’s beneath that quote and the sport itself.

I’ve appreciated that connection since I first noticed it. Mapei, the team of Paris Roubaix and the place The Lion of Flanders finished his hard-man career with is….brick laying cement. Yep. It’s perfect. All the color and flash and spectacle you see on TV is supported by brick and mortar. And that’s the point I’m trying to make here.

On that note, here’s a blue collar icon singing the song that most resembles my feeling every time I try to do an interval workout, you know, the kind where your fingertips turn white ’cause the blood won’t go there anymore?

I’m always holding on to what I got (watts), halfway there (minutes), and living on a prayer until I can finally, for f$#’s sake, stop pedaling.

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