I am pro cycling, which is both to say that I am, broadly speaking, in favor of cycling, and also highly supportive of getting paid to do so. Another implication from the previous sentence is that I am, myself, a pro cyclist, which is true. I derive my living from riding my bike. You may snicker at this bit of sophistry that puts me in the same profession as Tadej Pogacar and Annemiek Van Vleuten, but it’s my variety of pro cycling I’m reviewing here today, not theirs.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching a bike race contested by genetic anomalies in leotards, but viewed in that light, how different is it really from pro wrestling? The costumes. The drama. The body slams. Ooh la la. Chef’s kiss.
But the joys of professional cycling, in the more mundane sense, are available to us all. No talent, no speed necessary. You can even, like me, show up looking like the dog’s breakfast and spend more time drinking coffee than listening to the race radio.
I have never owned a power meter.
I recall the very first time I realized I was a professional cyclist. I had recently joined the ragtag bunch at Seven Cycles, and we were signed up to attend Marin’s Biketoberfest with our friends at City Cycle in San Francisco. This was the second iteration of City Cycle, which had begun as one of, if not the first bicycle studio in the country, under the guidance of the late and legendary Clay Mankin. The shop had been purchased from Clay’s widow by Cory Farrer, who had been the owner of Paradigm Cycles. I mention all this because, a) I wanted to shout out both Clay and Cory for being top-notch bike people, and b) to note that the once unique shop is now a Trek Concept store. Sometimes the good times do not roll.
But I digress.
We flew to SFO and made our way to City Cycle, kitted up, and rode across the Golden Gate into Marin County, trending slightly eastward to take in the Paradise Loop around Tiburon, home of the rich and super rich and slightly richer even than that. This was, for an East Coaster on his first bike biz sortee, pretty revelatory, and it was about halfway into the ride that I realized I was both riding my bike AND getting paid. For someone arriving late to the cycling industry party, this fact quashed, in one go, any doubts I had about taking a 50% pay cut to sell toys for a living.
As a traveling (not all that much) sales rep, it could be argued that the time I was paid to ride bikes, i.e., more or less only on shop visits, and not even on all of those, was a blip on my work radar, like a domestique not all that good at carrying water bottles who is only selected for small and sporadic races. At the same time though, I was writing my brains out for Red Kite Prayer, and as a professional concern, my daily riding was very much instrumental to any success I had there. Padraig never told me I needed to ride, but it was implicit. To do this job we do, you have to be out there pedaling, thinking, absorbing every nuance of the experience, so you can come back and relate it (and relate to) other bike riders.
When, on a Wednesday at 2pm, I arrive at the bottom of the stairs in my biking uniform, my wife looks at me askance (when does she not you might reasonably wonder?), and I say, “I have to go ride my bike now. I’m a professional,” which elicits eye rolls (again…no shock) but also some begrudging acknowledgment that this is really what I do for a living.
And so, as a professional cyclist, let me tell you, it’s a good life. My version is probably even better than the one practiced by the close-shaven, skin-suited, prodigies of the pro peloton, as it requires a lot less suffering (but of course also isn’t burdened with high income or prestige). I am not sure how to tell you how to go about gaining the type of employment I have. Not surprisingly, my method was to blunder into it. BUT. If you see an opening, if you see a way, maybe jump on that wheel and do what you can to hold on. It’s a pretty good ride.
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