A few months ago I was asked a simple question by a non-cyclist, "Is racing fun?" This question has troubled me ever since, I think that because the underlying question is, "If it isn't fun, why would you do it?"
Assuredly being bothered by this question is a sign of someone who ponders too much or has too little to ponder, but I can't answer this question and it bothers me.
Here are a few questions that I can answer about road racing (mountain bike racing is different):
Is riding a bike fun? Yes.
Is riding with a group fun? Almost always.
Is winning a bike race fun? Yes and deeply satisfying.
Is racing fun? Oh crap, there is that question again.
When you go out for a bike ride by yourself there are times that it hurts, if you want it to or you let it. There are hills or climbs that get your heart pumping and it is up to you to decide how much it is going to hurt. There are times the wind is blowing, or you just have to get home, or whatever, and you get to decide to push the pace at the expense of your comfort.
If you go out with a group, there are almost always people fitter and less fit than you. How hard you ride or how fast or how much at the front or how you keep up on the hills will all dictate how much a ride hurts, which weighs against the camaraderie of riding along with the other riders.
But when you race, you presumably are doing it because you would like to win. That being the idea behind a competition and all. And if you want to win, or even if you just want to be "there" at the finish, or even if you only desire is to not be dropped by the group, you don't have the opportunity to take it easy up a hill and have the group wait. Unless you go the front to dictate the pace, you will be riding at someone else's pace and the one thing you can be absolutely sure about is that the pace will go up and down and up and down and up. The pace doing down may or may not be to a place that is comfortable. Sometimes in a "negative" race, no one wants to be out front and the group pokes along at a slower pace than your last group ride. Other times the pace settling is still at a pace that has your heart in your throat and woah nelly when the pace hots up. And every time the pace picks up, you have to decide what your personal response is going to be, but if you want to be there at the end, you don't have a choice except to keep up in some respect.
So, let's put this into an allegorical analogy thing. Let's say you were in a room with a group of people all in chairs with electric buzzers. You have a control on the chair that allows you to buzz other people, but it also increases the buzz you are experiencing. You can get up at any time you want and the buzzing will stop. There is no penalty except that you aren't part of the group that is getting shocked. If you buzz others for long enough, or sharp enough at just the right time, then you win the contest and everyone's buzzing stops, but there is no way before the contest starts to know how much buzzing it will take to win. And, if you win, you get the satisfaction of winning the contest, but that is all.
So, do you want to sign up for my contest? No, of course not. It would be insane, right? So there is your answer. Road racing is not fun. Except that it is. Or at least part of it is, or at least it is fun to be there or to be done or something. Well, it's complicated, but . . .
I think I am going to need to ponder this a bit more.