Many many years ago I read an article written by Mike Burrows which said, to summarise, that if you'd done most things on a bike, and liked to go fast, but never tried racing, then it was worth giving it a go at least once as it's a very amusing thing to do and you'd probably meet some very decent people too. It prompted me to give it a try in 1999 and I found this to be absolutely right. I raced recumbent bikes from then until 2005 with the BHPC in the UK. I'd like to repeat Mike's advice. Try racing. It's fun.
In the UK I raced a Speed Ross bike which was nice and light, but competitive for racing only because of the existence of the "Sports Class" for bikes which were usable on roads as well as on a track.
I sold the Ross before emigrating so I only have one recumbent now, a rather well worn Pashley PDQ. It's a fine touring bike, but it isn't very fast. Mine is fitted with panniers, baskets and multiple sets of lights as I use it for touring.
A couple of weeks ago I was told of an upcoming race in Groningen organised by the NVHPV and the old interest was re-ignited so today I rode the bike the 30 km to Groningen this morning to take part. As expected, there were a bunch of very friendly people at the event and it was a whole lot of fun.
And the results ?
My average speed in the 50 minute race was just over 34 km/h, a result which actually surprised me as it is certainly quicker than I used to ride that bike and not far off the speed I used to ride the Ross. However, over here it's different.
Most of the entrants rode either velomobiles or low racers. There is no "sports class", and nor is one needed, as it's perfectly safe to ride these bikes over here on the cycle paths. They're also very practical machines and many of the owners use them for long commutes, or even for transporting their dog as on the right...
The winner of the race rode his velomobile at an average of 49.6 km/h. It wasn't a delicate machine unpacked from the back of a van, but was ridden to the event. On Monday it'll be used for his commute.
However, in the main race today I was second from last. It got worse in the results from the standing start lap nor the flying start as in both of these events I simply got slower and slower as I'd already used my energy on the first race !
As well as the superior bikes, I think it comes down to something that Eddy Merckx once said to an aspiring cycle racer: "ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike". The Dutch do ride their bikes. They do it an awful lot, and they're very quick on them.
Today's competitors were fast. The average speed was over 41 km/h instead of a bit over 33 km/h at the last race on a similar circuit that I took part on in the UK. In that event I finished 19th out of all 55 competitors and was first in sports class. Even at today's speed I'd only have slipped a few places. That's quite a difference. I'm seriously outclassed.
By the time I got back home I'd covered 112 km. All of it was enjoyable, including the ride home with other competitors from Assen at a speed I could keep up with on a newly constructed super smooth cycle path.
The winner of the race, H@rry Lieben, averaged nearly 50 km/h. He had video cameras on the front and back of his velomobile, and put these two excellent videos on youtube. I'm the guy going slowly with the baskets...
I've found another video, by Jolanda Dekkinga, who is pictured above riding with her dog:
I raced on the same track again the next year, with a much faster bike.
Death as a result of design.
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