A lot of what we do as amateur road cyclists consciously or unconsciously mimics the actions of pros. We wear matching kit, we ride in chaingangs (or pacelines), and some of us shave our legs. And that’s completely fine. But don’t be fooled into thinking you have the same needs as a pro, and be thankful that you don’t carry the same obligations.
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1. You get to choose your kit
Pros, particularly those who aren’t at the very, very top of the sport, don’t actually have a whole lot of choice about what equipment they get to use. Sure, we all know that Fabian Cancellera still gets to insist on a mechanical groupset, and that teams are prepared to bend the rules of their sponsorship contracts if a rider just can’t get on with the official saddle sponsor, but by and large riders have to work with what they’re given.
You’re used to Shimano pedals? Tough. Now you ride Looks. Your butt is Castelli shaped? Hard luck. Now you wear Pearl Izumi bibs. (Dear Look and Pearl Izumi, these are just examples, you guys are cool.) As amateurs, we have the luxury of choosing every single piece of kit we use, and we can experiment to our hearts’ content. If you need a seatpost with more setback, or you can’t get on with the curve of your drops, there’s nothing to stop you from jumping between brands.
2. You don’t have the same needs as a pro
Bike manufacturers understandably play up their role in professional sport. Racing can be brutal, and pro riders are the strongest cyclists in the world after all. If they can’t break something, then it’s hardly likely that Joe/Janet the regular club rider will, is it? Well…
The thing is, as long as a pro’s kit functions properly for the duration of a race, nothing else really matters. Where an amateur cares very much indeed if their frame’s going to crack after a couple of years, a pro rides a new bike every season, and has access to any number of spare bikes if something does break.
Pros never have to agonise about whether keeping their chain on for another few hundred miles will wreck their cassette. If they puncture in a race, a nice man in a car hands them a new wheel so they don’t have to change a tyre, and when their white bar tape gets even slightly soiled, the nice man puts a new roll on.
3. Pros don’t have the same needs as you
It cuts both ways. Do you need that sexy new carbon tubular wheelset? Or is the reality that you can’t be bothered to mess with tape or glue, and the idea of swapping a tub by the roadside intimidates you? Remember, there’s no team car to rescue you, and no grizzled mechanic to spend hours chipping tyre cement off a rim with a butter knife.
Are you prepared to replace your hub bearings every three months because the wheel manufacturer made them microscopic to hit a weight target? You’re going to have do it yourself remember, or be willing to pay for someone else’s time.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting nice kit, and as a small cog in the bike industry’s clattering Rube Goldberg of consumption, I’m obliged to encourage avarice. I still think you should be honest with yourself about what you really need though. You should buy the equipment that best matches the riding you actually do, not the kit that conforms to your Platonic ideal of the cyclist.
4. Being a pro is really hard work
There’s no doubt that most pro riders do what they do because they love cycling. Unless you’re part of some sort of sinister government-mandated athletics programme, you probably ride a bike because it’s fun. And that’s how pros get their start too – it’s just that they’re much better at cycling than you or me, so someone’s willing to pay them to do it.
Having said that, the business of professional cycling is incredibly gruelling and often quite devoid of glamour. It’s a life of constant, leg-breaking toil which, for all but a small minority of riders, is not actually all that financially rewarding. It’s also hell on people’s personal lives, and if the idea of spending several months of the year in anonymous chain hotels depresses you, it has the potential to take its toll on your mental health too.
You aren’t a pro, and that’s ok. Be thankful for what you have, be thoughtful in your equipment choices, and ride your damned bike.