Bicycles more than just convenient transportation

Davis has one of the largest bicycle populations in the world. We ride bicycles for transportation, for convenience, even for fun. But UC Davis is also home to a lesser-known sport in which bicycles are not solely a means for transport.

The UC Davis cycling team has 150 members. The team is first broken into two categories: the official racing team, with about 50 riders, and the club team, comprised of casual riders.

Chris Ng, a senior chemistry major, was first enticed by the “fancy” bikes that he saw congregating for their daily rides and joined the team his sophomore year.

“It’s fun and you meet a lot of people and get to travel a lot; it’s one of the more unique sports there is in America,” Ng said. “You have football, basketball and baseball, but when it comes to cycling, nobody really knows about it. People ride their bikes every day but they don’t realize that some people actually race.”

Cycling can be divided into four disciplines. The most popular at UC Davis is road biking, which 90 percent of the team’s members participate in. The second most popular is mountain biking, and the two other types of cycling are called track and cyclocross, with only one or two riders each.

“There are different bikes for different disciplines,” Ng said. “You can’t interchange the bikes [since] they are specific for the disciplines.”

Ng said he owns four bicycles, each designated for a different type of riding, but some people on the team own as many as nine. While Ng mainly trains for road races, he has competed in every category.

Many riders said that they like to try other disciplines, but they focus mainly on one, like senior exercise biology and philosophy double major Danielle Haulman, who said she has done it all but still has her preferences.

“Riding on the road is definitely my preference,” she said. “I love riding in hills or mountainous areas, but Davis is nice and flat, too.”

Haulman has been riding for 12 years and was originally influenced to ride competitively by her family. After being so dedicated to this sport, she said she eventually found her niche in road cycling and has focused on that aspect for the past three years.

This past weekend, she competed in a national competition in Ogden, Utah, and the UC Davis team took fourth place.

The competitive cycling season lasts from February to April, with a national competition to end the season. An average of 10 teams from the California/Nevada region compete in various locations each weekend.

Ng said that there are three events for road cyclists: road races, time trials and criteriums. Criteriums are his favorite because they are shorter, but the time trials, a race against the clock, are the UC Davis team’s most successful race.

“Four people ride as fast as possible and they rotate around so that everyone saves their energy enough to go faster,” Ng said. “That’s the bread and butter of our team. We usually win that.”

In cycling, specifically in the road biking aspect, there is more to it than just pedaling. The cycling team coach of 12 years, Judd Van Sickle, has been racing for over 15 years and said that a common misconception is that you have to pedal hardest to win.

“The strongest rider is often bested by a smarter racer,” Van Sickle said. “Tactics, energy conservation, teamwork and a dose of luck factor in as much as raw ability.”

These things all contribute to the team effort in the sport. There are certain roles that every team member is given to succeed in a given race.

“We’re not just trying to stand out individually to go out and get the win and the glory. What we do is we try to get as many people finishing in the top 15 for the most points,” Ng said.

“It’s not really that different from other sports. Everyone plays a different role in the race. Everyone has a job and you’re working together,” Haulman said. “Your teammates need you, in a tactical aspect. You might be sacrificing yourself in terms of having to do a lot of work in the race so another teammate can relax and sprint to the finish.”

After running cross-country, playing soccer and swimming, Haulman has turned her attention to cycling because of what she called a combination of an individual’s sport and a team sport.

“It’s not just an individual sport like a triathlon or running where you have to be fit and be able to push yourself, but it’s also a team sport in the sense that you have teammates in the race but the goal might be for your teammate to win and you’re just there to sacrifice yourself to help them reach that goal,” Haulman said.

Cycling is also like other sports in that it requires a lot of time to be considered a good cyclist, with some of the cyclists putting in up to 20 hours a week riding, translating to 250 or more miles.

“A good cyclist can either win a lot of races or is a good team player,” Ng said. “If you want to be good, it takes a lot of time, a lot of commitment, but if you are just trying to have fun with it, it doesn’t take too much time.”

Haulman also likes to also ride for enjoyment, aside from the competition.

“It’s not common for people to stay with one sport for as long as I have, but there’s something about going out and riding even if you’re not training,” Haulman said. “You can just go out there, outdoors. There’s nothing else that compares to it.”

DEVON BOHART can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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