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Closing the generation gap: Cows, change and not change in cycling culture

  • By Colby Pearce
  • Published Apr. 21, 2011
  • Updated Apr. 21, 2011 at 4:47 PM EDT

Editor’s note: Longtime pros Colby Pearce and Scott Moninger are heading up the new Horizon Organics-Panache Development Team. Pearce will be filing reports throughout the year on the trials and tribulations — and hopefully, successes — of this regional squad of younger riders. This is his second entry.

Our team kits will have cows on them, because Horizon Organic Dairy is one of our title sponsors. For me, this will be somewhat cathartic. I have raced for many teams over many seasons, and raced with many labels plastered across my torso; I am a mobile billboard. The paradox is that one reason I ride my bike is to escape commercialism and the business of “western” capitalism.

I love how it’s called “western” … because globes are circular.

Some of the companies who have sponsored me in the past include a multilevel marketing vitamin/soap/cleaner company, a mail order bicycle retailer, a bicycle chain manufacturer, a plastics manufacturer, a photography website, a Denver-based lifestyle magazine, a collegiate professor’s insurance and retirement fund, a major beer brand, and a GPS manufacturer. Some of these companies paid me salaries to race for them, and some of them did not. This is what is means to be an American “pro.” Fortunately I had the means to make ends meet, which unfortunately sometimes worked against me during contract negotiation season.

It is disappointing to me that in 2011 there are still riders on “pro” teams who do not earn a salary. I was hoping the path our generation cut — as the first generation of U.S. pro teams big enough to field national championships made up of only U.S. riders came to fruition — would pave the way for every rider on a “pro” team to get paid, but this is unfortunately not the case.

Today there are still riders on American team pro rosters who are paid nothing. Many times they have their travel expenses and race entries covered by the team, support staff feeds and massages them at events, and picks them up from the airport, etc. This is certainly a lot of support, and it would not be possible to race at a high level without it. However these riders live off a credit card in between races, or from prize split to prize split, or they work at Starbucks. It’s a rough way to cut your teeth in the sport. I believe that if you are on a team that calls itself “pro,” you should make some money. On the other hand, cycling is not for athletes who need pampering.

In spite of some teams that paid me and some that did not, I have appreciated all of the support from various sponsors I have had over the years. Their products and dollars have enabled me to travel to far away lands and win many events (Or, alternately, to get my teeth kicked in). I have raced on five continents and eight world championships. You don’t get those opportunities without some significant money being invested in the sport. So to all my sponsors thus far over 22 years, thank you. I have done my best, and I am sorry I did not win more races for you, for my teammates, my family and for myself.

I have been thinking a lot about leading by example lately, not just within the context of the Horizon Organic/ Panache Development Team, but within cycling as a whole. The jerseys have gotten more aerodynamic and the fabrics have improved significantly, but to a redneck we are still dorks in stretchy pants.

I am more in love with the sport than ever, and yet I still watch a pack of cyclists negotiating traffic or click-clacking through a coffee shop in their cleats, and I cringe. We are truly our own worst enemies. As the planet becomes more crowded and cycling moves from a fringe sport to a mainstream trend, we need to get it together. It is time to stop being entitled and running stop signs because you are lazy, while flipping off SUV’s and mumbling about gas mileage and air pollution, and secretly harboring a silent justification that stop signs don’t apply because you have carbon pedals and you don’t want to wear them out by unclipping.

Most racers I know drive SUV’s to the grocery store eight blocks away to buy organic milk because their legs are too trashed from the 88 miles of riding they just did. It is time to stop riding three abreast while telling stories about the latest doper or taking up the whole lane on a group ride. It is time to be vocal when passing someone on a bike path or trail, because no matter how many times you buzz someone on your bike, it won’t make up for the times you were buzzed by a car at 90mph, but it scares the shit out of the buzzee in either case.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and anger begets anger — unless you are big enough to stop the cycle. Stop signs are opportunities to improve your explosive power. Single-file riding is a chance to stop talking, which most people need anyway. Bike paths are not places to go 25 mph. If you were in that much of a hurry, you would be in your SUV. These are the examples we need to produce for the next generation of cyclists. There will always be lycra haters, but the way we behave now, we are not helping the situation. At least take away the most basic ammunition.

This season all of our out-of-industry sponsors are local to Colorado and are members of the health food industry. I am a big believer in healthy, quality food and it is satisfying to represent something I practice. My family eats local and organic whenever possible; it is a movement we support. Some of my peers like to give me a hard time about my hippie diet habits. I had a college roommate who was astounded that I paid $10 for a jug of 100 percent pure maple syrup; the idea of paying that much money for sugar was inconceivable to him. To me, Aunt Jemima does not cut it.

You can eat well your whole life, or you can eat crap food and start a regimen of prescription drugs at age 36, which escalates into a spiraling cacophony of symptoms, drugs, side effects, more drugs, more side effects …not to mention the environmental costs of conventionally processed foods and prescription meds in our drinking water, which we all pay for in one form or another. Many Americans don’t understand some of the foundations of health; iif our team can represent a change in this momentum, then it is something I can really get behind.

When you are traveling the globe racing bikes for a living, you put on the jersey and whatever name is on it is what you represent. However, I don’t actually drink beer that often. In particular, I don’t drink cheap light beer. In this instance I will be able to ride with a bit of conviction in my kit as I can actually back up what it professes.

Having a cow on our jerseys will give us perspective. It will remind us that while cycling is something that is to be taken seriously, as it is a sport of passion and sacrifice, it cannot be pursued to the point of the loss of competitive spirit or fun. And next year it will inspire us to search for an espresso sponsor … organic whole milk macchiatos … the right kind of performance enhancing substance.

Thanks for reading,
— Colby

Pearce set the U.S. hour record in 1995 and set the 10km, 20km and 50km records along the way. A year later he turned professional with Shaklee and rode to over 125 victories in his career in road, cyclocross, track and MTB events. He finished 14th in the Olympic points race in 2004 and won the track world cup overall in 2003 (points race). Pearce stopped racing in 2005 to take a job as USA Cycling Track Endurance Coach. In 2007 he returned to racing full time. Colby is the team captain for Horizon/Panache Cycling

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