Greetings! Bicycling has a new columnist: I’m James Reid, and I used to be a professional cyclist.
Framing myself that way is something I’m still getting used to. While taking a break from the sport this year, I’ve decided to add my voice to the headwind of current discussion around industry developments, events and athletes, who often give us a reason to be cheerful (or upset!).
Writing about cycling has always been a love-hate relationship for me. For a number of years I wrote for a few other publications, in order to take stock of my journey as a professional athlete. Detailing personal defeats was not a favourite task of mine, but it taught me to appreciate the other aspects of cycling, such as the experience of being outdoors and connecting with others through sport. The most valuable part of the process of writing was the gentle internal reminder to remain process-orientated as opposed to outcome-focused – a valuable metaphor for life in general.
Why write about cycling? I consider it valuable to pause, consider and highlight particular questions or people who are shaping the industry. I also think it is important to have frank and honest opinion about difficult topics – such as children who want to become professional sportsmen, or the ethics and pressures of professional sport. In today’s day and age, we are constantly bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information, and it is increasingly difficult to discern between analysis and spin. I hope to bring you genuine analysis, in short, bite-sized pieces.
A bit about me: I am 25 years old, and I raced semi-professionally for a number of years on the local and international UCI World Cup circuit. I was fortunate enough to represent South Africa abroad on a number of occasions, finishing 11th at Junior World Champs in Canada in 2010, and 10th at U23 Worlds in Hajfell, Norway in 2014. Interspersed with training and travelling, I managed to complete a UNISA degree via correspondence (and hold a few odd jobs, to fund my passion!). In recent years I was lucky enough to be a part of two fantastic set-ups that gave me licence to race full-time: in 2015 at Team RECM, and in 2016 at Team Spur, from which I only have positive memories of the people behind the outfit.
At the start of this year, I shifted roles from competitor to spectator. It wasn’t an easy decision, but this year has been a fascinating experience – I am currently completing a one-year masters course at UCT’s Graduate School of Business. Fully aware of the cliché that professional sport opens doors, I noted with interest an article by the Financial Times in 2016 which concluded that more corporate deals are now done huffing and puffing up a climb as opposed to the golf course – and this year is about exploring that aphorism, and deciding personally whether or not to return to professional sport at some time in the future.
When comparing cycling in South Africa holistically with cycling in other countries, it’s important to remind ourselves of the relative position that the sport occupies in our society. I know a number of top-level athletes overseas who dream about the level of coverage and events that we have here at home. As fans, there is also a lot to be positive about: we have a plethora of world-class events we can participate in, we have a diversity of terrain and bike parks that will continue to attract beginners to take up the sport and foreigners to grace our shores for years to come. We have superstars like Louis Meintjes and Greg Minnaar representing us abroad, and we have a vibrant industry with a number of spin-off opportunities, such as bike transportation and specialist service centres.
To conclude: for many who enjoy riding a bicycle, getting outdoors represents an escape – an escape from work, from the routine monotony of a job – and a chance to let off steam, while using the outdoors to recharge. We’ve all had that feeling, that amazing moment midway through an outdoor escape when you find yourself thinking, ‘This is exactly what I need’. Contrary to many of the daily headlines, there is so much to be positive about here in South Africa, particularly when it comes to cycling. I hope to bring you a synthesized collection of that positivity.
Till next month,