|Professional Tweaks, Tips & Reviews By "AJ" Picarello
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I’ve competed in so called “extreme sports” my entire life. I can even remember my first bicycle race. It was a sprint style race against five neighborhood kids on BMX bikes. If you think that’s not a real race, I would disagree. Go ahead and set up a simple sprint race amongst friends and tell me it’s not a race. Everyone will take it seriously. Some “friends” may change gear ratios and tune their bike minutes before. The male ego will kick in once again. Some riders will have strategies they will not disclose. A race like this is the foundation of competition.
I was around 12 years old. Why did I race? I was cocky. I could do tricks on my bike that no other kid could do. While everyone was playing kill the guy with the ball, I was riding. I had only one disadvantage, I was the youngest competitor. I was up against kids as old as 16. To most, the age differences were ridiculous. How could I compete? I was not too worried. I had the lightest bike and could ride a bike better than any of them.
A start line was marked on the street in chalk. We lined up side by side. The prettiest girl held the “GO” flag high. I felt dizzy as I siked out my competition by balancing in a track stand. I focused in on the finish ahead. It was 3 houses away. The road started out level then changed to a slightly down hill grade. “Get ready set go”. I think I got the jump. I hear heavy breathing behind me. I hear a chain break and tires skid. My God, I’m almost there! Then, around 15 feet away from the finish I spin out. I had no more gear. My little Nikes were spinning at maximum velocity. I could hear the pack charging up on me. I could hear Scott Lane from down the street shift his two speed Huffy into high gear. No, I’m doomed, but I’m so close and then ZOOOM. The pack swarmed past me with the speed and power of a stampede. I remember thinking: My God, is that what I left back there.
Scott won the race, but I surprised them all. They never thought of me as competition. They had to use all the strength in there bodies to pass me. A few kids even dropped to the ground afterwards gasping for air. From that point on the older boys treated me with respect. I was hooked. This one race made a hero out of me and I didn’t even win. I lived to ride and begged my parents to take me to an official BMX race. I read in BMX Plus magazine about the races. I gave my parents the telephone number for the NBL and the rest is history. My dad finally drove me.
I remember my first impression of the track. Race bikes were everywhere. All the bikes were modified and the riders were talented. I remember watching team rider’s race for the first time in real life. My idols, right before my eyes, they were very impressionable. I though I could never ride my bike that fast. The scene at the track was so overwhelming; I can hardly remember my own race, except that I won.
Why race? Race to participate in the sport you love. Stop standing along the side lines. The best part of racing is you’re on the inside of the fence. You are no longer the spectator. You are living a dream and facing your fears. You are the “In” crowd. Go ahead, sign the release forms and pay the entry fee. Every racer feels something great when they mount a number plate to their bike. I remember the day my NBL race license came in the mail. I thought I was Radical Rick. I was living my dream. The dream of more podium finishes.
What happens when you become a professional? Can you handle the pressure? Remember those racers you looked up to many years ago? Ask yourself this question: Why become professional?
At a point in Norba history, the downhill was as popular as the uphill race. The downhill was a very small open class. That means anyone brave enough can enter. At best, 30-40 people would sign up. The courses were wide open fast and the armor was minimal, along with the prizes (some things never change). I entered the DH to test my skills against the best riders in the world. I remember finishing mid pack racing Sport cross country and the same day racing DH against the best riders in the world. I could test my skills against the big guns. Names like Harry Leary and John Tomac. I always finished top ten. The DH event was hardly recognized. A top ten finish would get you only personal satisfaction.
In the early 90’s, Norba categorized riders in the DH event. I had to choose a level to compete at. I chose Sport, same as my XC category. Could I even enter DH as a pro? I had no clue. I new nothing about an official rule book. I was afraid if I chose to race pro DH, I would have to race the Professional level in all disciplines. By entering Sport, I could no longer race head to head with the big boys, although, I still raced the identical course. I could compare my times to theirs. Then things really began to change. Norba surprised me one year by building a separate course for the Experts and Pro’s. I was appalled. I had no choice but to move up to Expert.
I’m not sure why I moved up from Expert to Semi Pro or from Semi Pro to Pro. It just seemed like the natural thing to do. I was winning races so why not move up? I’m proud to say that I’ve never been called a “sandbagger.” I enjoy pushing my limits. Moving up to pro was a huge accomplishment for me. I remember opening a bottle of champagne the day I got my pro license. I earned my way up the ladder.
I’m not sure how many people actually earned their pro license. Some of the racers I raced against 10 years ago are still racing pro today. Some how they bypassed the lower level classes and have always raced in the pro class. Could I have done the same all those years ago?
Has racing changed at all over the years? In some ways it has. Sure technology has bettered; the sport has become more recognized, but has anything really changed. I don’t think so. I think we all have deep rooted desires for competition. I think this need to do battle is something we all have deep seeded into our species.
So I ask the question again, why race? I think we have no other choice. We are naturally driven to race. We each have a need to prove something. Why else would we pack our cars full of expensive spare parts, travel across the country for weeks at a time, far from our loved ones and risk our lives? All this sacrifice for maybe 15 runs down the mountain. So what are we trying to prove?
This story may answer a question that many people ask me: Why did I stop racing? Sometimes people ask: Why did I quit? I certainly did not “quit”. Race or not, I’ll never stop riding my bike. I now have much more time to actually ride. While you were freezing for an hour at the top of the mountain waiting for the promoter to call your race number, I was bombing runs. Twenty runs in a day. If I get the medieval urge to race again I will, but for now I’m retired Norba racer #B0028089.
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