Middleton, MA, native and longtime elite cyclocross champion Tim Johnson had an interesting quote today on cyclingnews.com:
"I think as a whole, New England puts out more bike racers that continue in the sport, at whatever level they land in, because there's almost no burn out. I look at the people I grew up racing with they still race now, whereas there are a lot of guys who burned out for whatever reasons across the country. In New England it's easy to keep racing even through a job and having a family. It's because cycling is a part of our lifestyle not just an elite activity to compete in. I think that I'm really lucky to have grown up in that and to be a part of that."
I must admit that I have never considered this precise view. Of course bike racers across the country are all uniquely proud of their geographic roots. Usually one's argument is that the adverse conditions of one's geography makes one 'as tough as nails' - the mountains and altitude of the western states, the poor roads and even worse weather of the midwest, the generally redneck and anti-cycling sentiments of the southeast, etc.
Now I do have some loose roots in the Colorado cycling culture - I grew up as an off-and-on mountain-biker for basically my entire life, but until college my competitive sports included a few forays into soccer, baseball, but always with my largest emphasis on cross-country and track running. I became a real cyclist - a competitive cyclist - just about a year ago, and I became a through-and-through New England bike racer. A Rhode Island wheelman. A Providence roadie. An East Side cyclist. I see the faults and weaknesses of the Colorado cycling culture and constantly exhalt the virtues and values of the New England and northeast-urban cycling culture - admittedly in an effort of self-promotion.
And from my observations and experiences of the last year, Tim Johnson's assertion is quite correct. In Rhode Island, I love that there are so many nearly lifelong bike racers out there on the roads all throughout the year - many of them master's well in their 50s who are not afraid to turn on the hammer and obliterate a fast group ride, and who race nearly every weekend. Most of all, though, they are accepting of newbie riders (like me), and are always willing to pass on words of wisdom, invaluable advice, and even material aid (like equipment and rides to races) to youngsters. Granted, it is a smaller community relative to places like Colorado or California, but it's a close-knit and positive community that does value tradition (and above all, toughness). There's also a very well-developed variety of local clubs, amateur teams, junior teams, college teams, semi-pro teams, and pro teams throughout New England. This is important because there are many team-oriented opportunities for riders of all ages and abilities, and clear routes to progress through the ranks of the sport. And, there's racing of all sorts literally year-round. As opposed to nearly every region in the country, one can pretty much always find at least one race every weekend year-round in either RI, CT, MA, or the hinterlands up north. That speaks to the greater cultural acceptance in New England of cycling as a sport, a recreational opportunity, and healthy activity - and, on the whole, a benefit to society.
So, yes, as I'm building legs and lungs of steel on (seemingly) solo wicked training rides in Colorado right now, I'm still missing riding in Rhode Island. But not the Henderson Bridge.