Roll on

Cycling

Military personel from all over Europe compete in the 2006 United States Forces Europe Mountain Bike riders prepare to race at Aviano Air Base, Italy.  Military personel travel from all over Europe to compete in these series of races.  ( U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Nathan Doza ) ( Released )
Military personel from all over Europe compete in the 2006 United States Forces Europe Mountain Bike riders prepare to race at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Military personel travel from all over Europe to compete in these series of races. ( U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Nathan Doza ) ( Released )

In 1871, during a time when physical exertion was considered crass, ‘ungentlemanly’, and best left to the hoi polloi, a German baron named Carl von Drais invented an equipment that would be used to transport a person from place to place. Initially named the ‘velocipede’, it was basically two wagon wheels connected by a wooden plank, with a simple device attached to steer the front wheel. Since there were no pedals, the velocipede enabled people to only ‘run’ from one point to another.

The velocipede evolved as time went by, but no one was able to create a design that enabled a person to move faster than his ‘running’ speed. It therefore came as a breakthrough in the 1860s, when the Michaux Company in Paris added pedals and lever arms to the evolved velocipede. Thus, the ‘modern’ bicycle was born.

From then on, bicycles went through so many changes – from the high-wheeled ‘penny farthings’ to the ones with equally-sized wheels that you see today.

The first recorded bicycle race was held on June 1868, in England. Since then, cycling races became so popular that in 1893, a world championship race was organized, and the sport was added to the Olympic Games three years later. However, it was not until four years later that the competition synonymous with cycling began.

extreme cyclingThe Tour de France was, strangely, created not to promote the sport of cycling, but to increase the sales of L’Auto newspaper. To the dismay of its rival, Le Velo, it worked. The very first Tour de France had about 60 cyclists riding approximately 1,553 miles over 19 days. Unfortunately, the race was rife with poor sportsmanship and cheating. As time passed, the route of the Tour changed. In 2010, the Tour had cyclists ride a total of 2,263 miles, passing 20 different stages and a time trial.

Lance Armstrong is certainly not an unfamiliar name when it comes to road bike races. From 1997 to 2005, he emerged as the winner of the Tour de France yearly without fail. However, he was accused of doping on more than one occasion. It was not until January 2013 that he finally came clean about his drug usage. He was immediately stripped of his championship titles.

Despite the Tour’s known controversies, it still remains the most recognized cycling competition. In 1951, there was a Tour of Britain, and it was not long until other Tours followed.

Of course, the Tour is just the tip of the iceberg. While the Tour falls under road bike racing, there are several other types of bicycle races, such as cyclo-cross, mountain bike racing, track cycling, BMX, and cycle speedway.

Cyclo-cross involves cyclists racing multiple laps in a closed circuit, such as an open land or a park. All the riders start together, and they have to traverse paved and off-road terrain. Sometimes, competitors even have to get off their bikes to overcome obstacles and barriers such as hills or stairs.  These races are typically held during September to February, which means the cyclists have to ride through unfavorable weather conditions; however, this is one of the ways that makes cyclo-cross unique.

The current men’s world champion for cyclo-cross is Dutch cyclist Mathieu van der Poel. At 20 years of age, he did not just win the 2015 Cyclo-Cross World Championships, but also the Junior Road Race World Championships, and the Junior Cyclo-Cross World Championships twice. He is the first person to have scored that many championships.

Also known as MTB or ATB racing, mountain bike racing involves cyclists to ride an off-road terrain. It is further categorized into cross-country, short track cross-country, ultra-endurance racing, downhill, dual slalom, four-cross, super D, enduro, and observed trials. Notable MTB racing events include the cross-country event at the Summer Olympics, the World Championships and the World Cup organized by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale).

While the other cycling competitions need the riders to travel through the outdoors, track cycling requires its participants to ride around a velodrome. Since it is held indoors, spectators are able to watch the entire race from start to finish. Track cycling is divided into two main events: the Main Sprint Events and the Main Endurance Events. The Main Sprint Events consist of sprint, team sprint, keirin, and track time trial, while the Main Endurance Events include individual pursuit, team pursuit, scratch race, points race, Madison, omnium, handicap, and miss and out.

A well-known track cyclist is Victoria Pendleton. She has nine world titles under her belt, and once represented England and Great Britain in international competition. She used to be an Olympic, European, and Commonwealth champion. At the 2012 Summer Olympics, she attained a gold medal in keirin, and a silver medal in the sprint.

Another known form of competitive cycling is BMX, or bicycle motocross. Like most other cycling races, cyclists must ride through an off-road, single-lap race track purposely built for the event. Up to 8 cyclists can participate, and the route they have to take are made up of a number of jumps and rollers before they reach the finish line.bmx stunts

BMX became part of the Summer Olympics in 2008. Maris Strombergs from Latvia scored a gold medal in the men’s event, while Anne-Caroline Chausson made France proud in her winning the gold in the women’s event.

Cycle speedway entails cyclists to ride around a short, oval dirt track, which range from 70 to 90 meters long. There are ordinarily four riders on brake-less bikes, going head-to-head with one another.

In order to participate in competitive cycling, you, of course, need to own a bicycle. However, different types of cycling events call for different types of bicycles.

For road cycling competitions such as the Tour, road bikes are typically used. The quality of a road bike is judged based on its weight and stiffness. These two factors determine how efficient the transfer of energy is from the cyclist’s pedal strokes to the wheels of the bike. The handlebars are mostly placed lower than the saddle, forcing cyclists to bend over into a more aerodynamic position, thus enabling them to move faster against the wind.

Cyclo-cross bikes are quite similar to road bikes. The main distinctions lie in the shape of the bike’s frame, and the size of the tires. The tires are bigger to accommodate for the change of terrain during cyclo-cross racing.

When it comes to MTB racing, special bikes known as mountain bikes are utilized. These bikes are designed specifically for rough terrains. Unlike a regular bike, the mountain bike has suspensions on its frame and fork, bigger knobby tires, sturdier wheels, stronger brakes, and lower gear ratios to enable the cyclist to ride through slippery slopes.

Track bicycles are built to race in a velodrome. Therefore, they have only one gear and do not possess freewheels or brakes. The tires are slim and are filled with high air pressure in order to minimize the friction on the surface of the velodrome.

BMX bikes are pretty similar to mountain bikes. A BMX bike can be easily identified by its typical 20-inch knobby tires, durable yet lightweight frame, and having a single gear. Due to its one and only gear, BMX cyclists can pedal in several directions. Hence, cyclists are able to perform stunts, tricks, and jumps with ease.

Like BMX bikes and track bikes, cycle speedway bikes are generally lightweight with a single gear. As I’ve mentioned before, a cycle speedway bike also has no brakes, but it does come with a free wheel.

You don’t really require special attire in order to enjoy cycling as a sport, but if you plan to spend hours on the bike for an extended period of time, you do need to don some cycling apparel.

Commonly, cyclists use skintight spandex shorts with padding in them. They may look strange, but they do offer comfort and function for the cyclist. The padding helps to minimize injury in the crotch area from sitting on a hard saddle for a prolonged period. The tight spandex allow cyclists to pedal with a full range of motion and helps reduce wind resistance.

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Bike jerseys are not without their disadvantages too. They are usually created with form-fitting, sweat-wicking fabrics that enables cyclists to ride with comfort.

Of course, you cannot call yourself a cyclist unless you have a pair of cycling shoes. These shoes have cleats on them that fit onto the pedals, so you won’t have to worry about your feet sliding off the pedal while you’re cycling. They also have stiff soles to help the cyclists generate more power over the pedal.

Whether you cycle for fun or for sport, it is quite clear that riding a bike is something that anyone can do anywhere, at any time. As a fan of cycling myself, I can tell you that there is nothing quite as good as feeling the freedom of the wind on your face, and the adrenaline rush as you go handlebar to handlebar with your rival. The sore legs you experience the next day is all worth it.