Cycling Contemplations

Road Cycling's Explosion in Warsaw

I can’t figure this one out. Did this big and vibrant community of road cyclists in Warsaw just pop up and mushroom in the last three years, or was it always there, of which I had no idea until I became a part of it?

I always saw road bikes as racing machines, built for and used by a small group of professional cyclists, participating in Tour de Somethings of the world. The only time I saw one used by a non-pro was a colleague of mine from school, back in the early 90s. I had a BMX back then.

In 2015, I started preparing for my first triathlon and, because this was a race, decided to buy a road bike. That’s what they’re meant to be used for, right?

On the roads around Warsaw I met other cyclists. Whole packs of them. Not the leisurely Sunday mom-and-kids type, but properly-clothed people on quality bikes with blade-thin tires and drop handlebars. And they were fast. Passed me with ease, individuals and groups alike. Sometimes I would attach myself to a passing group, and they would welcome me as if that was the most natural thing to do.1 Some of these people were in their sixties, and those also rode faster than me.

How come I never saw any of those people before? I don’t remember seeing a single road bike between the 90s and 2015 in any other setting than a race. (Which could, of course, be the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon in action.)

My wife made jokes about how much time and money I was spending on the bike (thankfully, she’s also a triathlete and a very understanding partner), so when I stumbled upon a feature in The Economist on how men in mid-life crises nowadays turn to expensive bikes, rather than cars, I immediately shared that with her for a laugh. From that feature I learned about Strava, which I immediately joined after seeing it display cyclists I was riding with, and Rapha, with their amazingly filmed cycling trips (and overpriced garments).

These were people, for whom road cycling was an integral part of life. The strength of this community made companies, such as Rapha with their worldwide network of community clubhouses, possible. Similar companies operate now around Poland, two examples being Podia in Kraków and Festka in Prague, Czechia.

In Warsaw, the AirBike chain of bicycle shops is gradually building a community following. Their Wilanów location is an aspiring café (missing seating though) and a meeting spot for organized group rides. Last year there was only one, rather fast, group each Saturday—and I joined them, biking through the winter. This year there’s another, beginner group, plus a Wednesday ladies-only “fast” ride and a just-announced Thursday, again ladies-only, “gossip pace” ride (that’s literally the name). All that in addition to many loose groups organizing themselves on Strava or Facebook.

I’m blown away. Where just two-three years ago there was nothing, at least nothing I was aware of, there’s now all this hubbub of activity. The only element we’re missing is a proper clubhouse—a quality place for cyclists to meet and hang out, with bike stands (duh!), excellent coffee, food, biking memorabilia decor, TV screens broadcasting races, and plenty of events to get people together. Ideally located at the end of one of the popular cycling routes of Warsaw. Or maybe that place already exists, I just haven’t heard of it?

  1. A friend of mine started cycling this year and after his first ride asked me “is it normal when some random cyclist rides on my tail?” I had to laugh. ↩︎