Cycling is a popular recreational and competitive sport that involves riding bicycles. It can be enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels and offers numerous benefits for both physical and mental health. As with all other interesting physical activities, people turned cycling into more than just a simple recreational activity, and it became a sport known as cycling races.
Where Cycling Races Began
The development of the pneumatic tire and the chain drive, as well as the invention of gears, revolutionised bicycle riding in the latter parts of the 1800s. Just over a century ago, bicycles either had a wooden or cast iron frame, but today, bicycles are made out of exotic materials that makes them ultra light, yet extremely durable! Cutting-edge composite materials such as titanium, aluminium, and carbon fibre allow for extreme sports mountain biking, high endurance cycling races, and cross-trekking.
German Inventor Karl von Drais is credited with developing the first bicycle. The Germans dubbed his machine as the “swiftwalker,” and it was first observed gracing the streets of Karlsruhe in 1817. The first bicycle design was rudimentary, and, in fact, it didn’t even have any pedals; moreover, it had a wooden frame, or, more accurately, a wooden beam.
Its tires were made of iron rims with wooden wheels surrounding them, and the wheels were covered with leather with the hopes of making the ride comfortable. The shiftwalker primitive bicycle was exactly as its name suggests it was; people merely shifted from walking to riding (by allowing the device to roll over descents) and vice versa.
Age of the Velocipedes
While we may take it for granted now, back then, engineers had trouble in getting the design for the pedal right in order for the rider’s feet to get completely off the ground when riding the bicycle. The bicycle was renamed to the “velocipede,” because the rider must push the pedal-cranks that are directly attached to the wheel hub, which had a lot of resistance, making the riding experience unpleasant, to say the least.
The information regarding who invented the velocipede was lost to time, but it was a significant step in the development of the modern bicycle. Due to the rugged design of the velocipede, it was also given another nickname – the “boneshaker.” The velocipedes of the mid-1800s were made with a wooden frame, two wooden tires with rubber linings surrounding them, a front fork, handlebars for steering, a saddle on a wooden frame, and pedals on the axle of the front wheel.
When they held cycling races during these times, they were fraught with injuries. The boneshakers would constantly break down, and people won thanks mostly to luck and not skills.
There is nothing in the velocipede’s design that indicates it could absorb vibrations, unlike modern bicycles today, so the rider would experience all the bumps that the bicycle would sustain, thus the name – boneshaker. It wasn’t until 1888 that this problem would be solved with the development of the pneumatic tire. After that, lighter materials started to be utilised for the construction of the frames, which made the improvements in the overall design of the bicycle significant.
The Modern Racing Bicycle
With bicycle design improving, people began to organise large cycling races, and it wasn’t long before it became popular during the 1890s. This time was known as the “Golden Age of Cycling”, with events happening across Europe, the United States and Japan. The world caught on with the cycling races fever!
The popularity of cycling races soared so high that nearly every major US city had a velodrome or two for track racing events. But by the mid-20th century, cycling declined and was relegated to one of the minority sports in the United States. In the majority of the European countries, though, cycling remains as a major influential sport, attracting as much as 3.5 billion viewers during the famous Tour de France alone. Cycling is most famous in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Italy and Spain.
The first world record for bicycle riding went to Charles Minthorn Murphy in 1899, for riding his bicycle a mile in under a minute. He was then given the nickname of “Mile-a-Minute Murphy” for achieving this feat.
As the bicycle evolved in its various forms, various cycling races were also developed. Open road cycling races may be done with individual or team competition, and are competed in various ways. The cycling races range from one-day racing events, criterium, and time trials to multi-stage events such as the Tour de France and similar events that are part of the Grand Tours of cycling.
When Marcel Berthet set a new hour record in cycling races riding his Velodyne streamliner back in 1934, recumbent bicycles were forever banned in bike races as a result. Still, his impressive record of covering the distance of 49.992 km on November 18, 1933, in just under an hour was newsworthy. Since this event, cycling races have been categorised, and they are the following;
- Track cycling (held in Velodromes)
- Cyclo-cross races (held on outdoor terrain, including pavement, grass, and mud)
- Recumbent bicycle races (mostly held outdoors, but these types of races do not get a lot of media attention)
Cyclo-cross races have obstacles that are man-made, where racers are obligated to either bunny hop over or dismount and walk over them. Time trial cycling races, which is another form of road racing, test the racer’s ability to ride his bicycle from point A to point B in an allotted time. Ideally, they have to reach the finish line on or before the time runs out, or they lose. Time trials can be performed as a team or as a single rider, and the bikers are replaced for this kind of race, utilising quick-release aero bars. Lately, mountain bike racing has been officially inducted into the Olympic Games, as a result of its rising popularity.
In order to make cycling races fairer, professional racing organisations decided to establish rules and limitations on the bicycles that will be accepted in their races. For example, the Union Cycliste Internationale, the governing body that sanctions international cycling races and sports (including the Tour de France), set certain rules in the late 1990s that prohibits bicycles lighter than 6.8 kilograms (14.96 lbs). All bicycles should also have a standard double triangle structure, and bicycles that have radical frames, like the recumbent bicycle, are also not allowed in their cycling races.
Benefits of Cycling
Health Benefits: Cycling is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise, helping to improve heart health, lung capacity, and overall fitness. Regular cycling can also aid in weight management, strengthen muscles, and increase flexibility.
- Low-Impact Exercise – Unlike many other forms of exercise, cycling is relatively low-impact on the joints, making it a great option for people with joint problems or those recovering from injuries.
- Eco-Friendly Transportation – Cycling is an eco-friendly mode of transportation that produces no emissions and helps reduce air pollution and traffic congestion in urban areas.
- Mental Well-being – Cycling can have positive effects on mental health by reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. Being outdoors and enjoying nature while cycling can also contribute to improved mood and mental well-being.
- Recreational Cycling – Many people enjoy cycling as a leisure activity, exploring scenic trails, parks, or countryside routes. It can be a social activity when done in groups or a peaceful solo experience.
- Commuting by Bicycle – Some individuals choose to cycle as a means of daily transportation, especially in bike-friendly cities or areas with dedicated cycling lanes.
- Competitive Cycling – Cycling is also a highly competitive sport with various disciplines, including road racing, mountain biking, track cycling, cyclocross, and BMX racing.
- Safety – When cycling, it’s essential to prioritise safety. Wearing a properly fitting helmet and following traffic rules are crucial to minimise the risk of accidents.
- Equipment – The type of bike you choose will depend on your preferences and intended use. Road bikes are built for speed and efficiency, mountain bikes for rough terrain, and hybrid bikes for a mix of road and off-road riding.
- Cycling Community – Cycling has a diverse and passionate community of enthusiasts, both offline and online. Joining cycling clubs or online forums can be a great way to connect with like-minded individuals and learn from experienced cyclists.
Whether you’re cycling for leisure, exercise, or commuting, it’s a rewarding activity that offers a range of physical and mental benefits. Always remember to ride responsibly and respect local cycling laws and regulations.
One of the Most Physically-Demanding Sport
Cycling races like the Tour de France, The Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España are not for amateurs. These races require bikers to ride for thousands of miles for up to 24 days long! If you want to participate in these kinds of races, you would have to train for months or even years to be able to cope with the physical stresses that it will levy against your body.
You would need to compensate for the heat, dehydration, muscle fatigue, mental stress, hunger, and a few other things. Falling short in any of these things while out on the road racing will cost you the race. You have to make sure that you can endure these 3-4,000-mile-long cycling races if you want the honour of being the champion of the Tour de France.