We started this company pretty intentionally not as a business that sells wheels and bikes, but as a brand for competitive cyclists. Our first products were frames and wheels but we were always looking for ways to expand our offerings into this clearly identified customer base of racers. We looked at coaching, broadening from product into media (before GoPro and Red Bull made it cool), as well as a range of other products. (I still have some demo / prototype carbon bars on the Wheelhouse that's my permanent Zwift setup.) Dave and I were both steeped in the racer's lifestyle then, and it was our frustration as racers shopping for equipment that spawned the business. Long time readers of this blog will already know that even the name November nods to our racing roots: November is the month that road racers get serious about preparing for the upcoming season, and we wanted a brand that captured that mindset.
Anyway years passed and Dave and I got older and slower (I have always been and continue to be more of both) and eventually we both stopped racing. Dave lingered longer than I did, really getting into cyclocross for a couple of seasons under the guise of pioneering tubeless setups in a tubular-dominant environment. But being a bike racer is not like being someone who played soccer in college, or who used to be part of a regular golf foursome. For a lot of people I've talked to, being a cyclist - and a competitive one - is part of their identity. Long after I stopped racing I still thought of myself as a racing cyclist, as an athlete. The competition would inevitably pull me back in, and it did last year. I bought a mountain bike for the first time in a few decades, started riding, found myself riding a lot and liking it, realized I had shifted my rides to workouts and began surreptitiously training, so signed up for a race. Or rather, a race series spanning most of the spring and summer.
This year I'm doubling down. Or rather quadrupling down. I set the goal of competing in four separate off road disciplines this year - what I call in my head "hitting the cycle." These could be any of XC, endurance, enduro, downhill, dual slalom, gravel or cyclocross. If there's dirt involved, I want to ride fast on it. And in the previous three weekends I've made good progress against my goal, racing the Rocktown Rambler gravel race down at Bryce (my first gravel race and 3rd time actually on a gravel bike), competing in my second XC race of the Mid Atlantic Super Series this season, and then last weekend racing my first gravity event - a "down-duro" event also at Bryce.
II still get butterflies - on the drive up, wandering around registration and the pits trying to play it cool, during my warm-up, and especially waiting on the line to start. I used to think I liked racing despite the butterflies, but I realized recently that I love racing BECAUSE of the butterflies. It's the only time in my life when I experience that cocktail of fear, anxiety, excitement and anticipation. So the uniqueness of the sensation alone is appealing. It's like a meal you can only get at a certain restaurant in a particular city.
But it's more than just the physical sensation that insists that you realize how alive you are at that moment. The reason I get butterflies is because I'm about to learn something about myself. Every time I compete I'm face to face with an unblinking truth. In the next 4 hours, or 90 minutes, or 270 seconds I'm going to learn something about myself that I can't shrug off, rationalize away or deny. Every race tells me how well I've been training, sure. But also how much drive do I really have? How deep can I really dig? How mentally strong am I? How many inner demons will I take on, and how many will I vanquish? Ultimately, am I the person the narratives in my head tell me I am? Am I less? Am I more?
Finding the answer to these questions is the appeal of endurance sports. On the surface they're about testing and stretching our limits, but ultimately they're about self discovery. And competing is a crucible. I get now why Gran Fondos got so popular, and now gravel events - where maybe 10% are competing for the win, and the rest are winning by just competing. As a highly uncompetitive gravel racer with very modest goals of finishing, finishing sub 4 hours, and finishing my 2 laps with negative splits, I felt the same butterflies at the start as if I were aiming to get in the lead group at the start, be a factor in the race, and place in my age group. And in achieving only 1 of my 3 goals, I learned plenty about myself.
"You've learned something - that always feels at first as if you've lost something," George Bernard Shaw wrote. Well yeah, I lost that race - by about an hour and a half to Jeremiah Bishop. But I learned something about my mental fortitude, my ability to pace myself, and especially that I was looking forward to trying gravity racing in 2 weeks. And any kind of learning is growth. Isn't that what we're here for after all?