11 Personal Finance and Life Lessons I Learned from Bicycle Racing

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Have you ever wondered to yourself, “What do athletes think about while they are exercising?”

For me personally and several other people I have talked to, the answer to this question is surprisingly, “Not much at all.” Generally, what I think about when I am running or cycling is either 1) my breathing, 2) my stride or pedaling, or primarily, 3) what comes next in the trail or road ahead. However, now that I think about it, this of course may be the whole reason for the attraction of exercising – to turn our brains off for a few minutes and/or hours each day!

Regardless, while on a trail run several weeks ago, my thoughts actually began to focus on a rather profound and potentially cheesy (but, since I am kind of cheesy, I figure why not, right!?) topic to write about on my blog – the life and personal finance lessons that can be gleamed from my time doing a lot of category 2/3 road bicycle racing several years ago (see picture of me in action to the right!)

Let’s get started with the list of 11 total things that I brainstormed! This should be fun!  

1. The Importance of a Good Team Around You

One of the most important things that newcomers to the sport of cycle racing don’t understand is how much of a team sport it really is. A good team can really make or break your chances of winning a race, regardless of how fit you are. In cycling, teams provide financial support, coaching, race strategy tips, massages to keep the riders’ muscles flushed of lactic acid, equipment, mechanical support, team workers to transport and distribute food and liquid to the riders (both in cars and within the peleton of riders), and much needed drafting to shield their leading riders from expending too much energy in the wind.

In a person’s finances, I’ve learned that recruiting and maintaining a high quality financial team around you is equally important. For me personally, I employ the help of a CPA for assistance with my taxes and blogging business structure planning, and a real estate agent, lawyer, and insurance agent to advise me on issues related to home ownership. Another good addition to your ‘financial team’ would be a a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). However, I opt to manage my finances myself (since I am interested in that sort of thing), so don’t have a CFP.

2. Working Harder Does Not Guarantee Success

In cycling, one of the things that took me the longest to learn was that knowing how to ride very easy on certain set days is almost as important as doing very hard, long workouts. The reasoning behind this is that you need the easy days in order to recover and be able to have better performance out of your body in the harder workouts. In other words, working harder does not always guarantee that you’re working the smartest you can. By being strategic with your cycling training (especially with the help of a coach), you can maximize the benefit you get out of your training hours/minutes.

Similarly, in your personal finances and career, working harder does not always guarantee success. The common theme here in both financial and career matters is that we must focus our efforts on what ADDS THE MOST VALUE. For example, I once read a story about a family who spent MANY hours a week balancing their checkbook to know where their money was going. However, since they spent so much time doing this one step, they did not have any time left to do important financial planning sessions to try to achieve their goals. In addition, they didn’t have time to analyze their spending to see where they could save money. Similarly, at the workplace, we are often asked to do tasks for others in order to merely be helpful or support the workplace community. However, these tasks, while also important to a certain degree, are often not the ones that actually add value to the company/organization. Hence, we must always focus on committing a good amount of time to what is the most value adding.

3. Staying with the Pack is a Wise Choice to Avoid Big Losses

In cycling, if you are drafting/riding behind a group of other riders, you are expending about 30-40% less energy than the person at the front battling the wind resistance. By conserving your energy and staying in the ‘pack,’ you greatly increase your chances of making it to the finish and avoiding being pulled from the race. In fact, simply finishing with a group of very good riders is often enough to get you points to advance to higher categories of racing!

In personal finance, when I first started investing, it was very tempting for me to try my hand at investing in individual stocks for the chance at getting that one BIG winner that stands apart from all the others and beats out the market (the ‘pack’). However, by investing in individual stocks, while I had a couple good performing ones, I definitely lost a lot of money overall.

Now, I simply invest WITH the market using passively managed index mutual funds. By doing this, I am able to preserve more of my capital for long term growth.

4. The Importance of Short and Long Term Goal Setting and Periodic Review/Progress Assessment

During my cycling days, my coach and I would meet once per year to set specific goals for races/events that I wanted to target for doing especially well, both that specific year and in the long term. In other words, these events were the ones in which I wanted to have my peak performance. After setting these goals, we would then meet once or twice during the year as a follow up to check in on our progress.

I have found that organizing my personal finances with this same structure increases my chances for success. Once a year (usually around Christmas), I sit down and define my short, mid, and long term goals for the coming year. Then, once per month, I check in on my financial/net worth progress and also how I’m doing to meet the specific goals I set for myself.

5. You Don’t Have to Be Good at Everything

On a cycling team, it is common for the various team members to have specific specialties. For example, there is generally a team leader, several smaller riders that specialize in climbing mountains, several riders that are very strong on flat roads and time trials, and then several weaker riders whose job is to help the team carry water bottles and food to the other riders. In other words, no one person is expected or should be good at doing everything.

This same line of reasoning applies to personal finance (and business) and also relates to the importance of building a good team around you. For example, if your strength as a blogger is being able to write really high quality articles, then you can hire other team members to help you with promotions, commenting, bookkeeping, etc. In personal finance, if you are really good at implementing an investing strategy, but aren’t as good at knowing all of the tax codes, then you’d want to hire the help of a good accountant to handle that facet for you.

6. Learning from Your Losses/Mistakes and Improving for the Future

Back in 2005 when I was just starting to race as a Category 2 cyclist, one of the races that I was targeting for a good performance was the Joe Martin Stage Race in May of that year. I had trained pretty well in preparation for the event, had eaten and properly hydrated the day before, but when it came race time, my stomach got tied in a knot because I was a little nervous about performing well in the race. Ultimately, I got dropped off the back of the pack after about 60 of the 100 miles in the race the first day and had to hop a ride with a race vehicle to get back to town.

It was rather disappointing to train for something and then have it not work out, but such is life. Even though I was a little down about the experience, I got back on my bike the next day and went out for a training ride to get ready for a big race I was targeting for the next weekend. In that event, I did very well and was able to ride to the peak of my ability.

In personal finances, it is also very important to not let losses, failures, and poor performance stop you from sticking to the goals and strategy you have set for yourself. In the 2008-2009 recession, I did not actually sell one bit of my equity index mutual fund holdings out of fear that the market would NEVER return. Instead, I held firm to my asset allocation, rebalanced accordingly, kept buying shares using dollar cost averaging each month, and have experienced a significant increase in net worth in the years that have followed as a result.

7. A Little Caffeine Can be Helpful, but Too Much Can Damage Performance

Ok, so this lesson doesn’t really relate to personal finances, but since I am a big fan of coffee, I wanted to include it in this post!

Back when I used to race bikes, I would take a Red Bull caffeine/energy drink about 30-45 minutes before the start of very intense, short races. The reason for this was that while the caffeine would dehydrate you for longer races, it actually increases your muscles’ efficiency over the short term.

Similarly, in life, I’ve found that drinking a little bit of coffee each day is fine, but that if you drink too much of it or drink it too late in the day, it can keep you up at night or make it so that you don’t have as much natural energy.

8. A Consistent Moderate Pace Outperforms Short Term Sprints

One very beneficial way to train with cycling is to do interval training. What this involves is short, very intense efforts (30 seconds to 20 minutes) mixed in to a longer endurance pace ride. One day, I was out on my bike doing a series of these short, 5 minute, hard intervals. At one point, I passed a middle-aged rider during one of the interval sets. After completing the interval, I slowed down to rest for several minutes, and the middle-aged rider caught up with me. I then accelerated for another interval, passed the rider, and then proceeded to slow down again. Guess what happened next after I stopped? He caught up with me and kept pedaling on his merry way.

The personal finance lesson here is that while some very risky investments and ventures can be appealing because they can offer short-term growth, one must always remember that unless that growth is sustained, another investment (such as the S&P 500 index) growing at a more moderate pace will eventually catch up.

9. The Latest Technology/Fad is Not Always Required for Success

The equipment side of cycling is quite interesting. In general, cycling is considered a “working man’s” sport. After all, you don’t often hear about rich people hopping on their bikes and heading the country club to meet up for a group ride. Instead, you might hear about them playing golf, etc. However, the fact of the matter is that competitive cycling equipment, in my opinion, is far more expensive than golf. You have to purchase a good bike ($1000-$8000), helmet ($150), shoes ($200-$300), clothing ($200), and the list goes on.

Cyclists are especially concerned with having ‘the latest and greatest’ technology when it comes to the bike itself. However, one consistent truth about cycling is that if you put a REALLY in shape rider on a bad bike, that bike will still go fast. In other words, you don’t absolutely need the latest and most trendy technology or equipment to do well.

The personal finance world is ABSOLUTELY INUNDATED with new fads, investing instruments, high-tech analysis tools, and investing strategies. Examples of this would include the advent of all sorts of fancy, very specific ETFs, spread-betting, online investing widgets, and my favorite – some hedge funds using fractal algorithms to predict each little stock market move. Truthfully, it’s enough to make your head spin.

However, the use of all of these tools is absolutely not required in order to achieve success in your personal finances/investing. Simply buy a good mix of index mutual funds, and you’ll likely beat all of those new fads 9 out of 10 times.

10. The Importance of Pacing Yourself and Knowing Your Own Limits

In cycling, I used to wear a heart rate monitor and power meter in order to monitor the effort level I was putting out. The purpose for this was 1) to facilitate good training in order to tune my efforts during hard interval and easy rest days and 2) to make sure that I wasn’t going too hard so that my body would go in to oxygen and glycogen (energy storage) debt later on in the ride or race.

Similarly, in personal finance, knowing your own limits and pacing yourself is very important when it comes to spending. For example, if your budget system only calls for you to spend a limit of $200 per month on groceries, you must learn to stay within those limits. Otherwise, you might get in to debt levels that you cannot easily pay off each month.

11. The Importance of Good Community, Friends, Helping One Another, and Being a Good Citizen Steward

No matter where I have lived in the US, one thing remains constant: the cycling community in a given area is a very close-knit family. As such, whenever I was out on the road either riding by myself or in groups, I would always try to be courteous to other riders, help them as much as possible, talk to them, and interact favorably with people I would meet (in gas stations, for example, when I was refueling with water and food).

In my career and personal finances, I have learned that if I focus on building good relationships and helping others, favorable things seem to happen to me as well.

For example, let’s say that you’re in graduate school, and you have to depend on other people to let you use their equipment in order to analyze your samples. On one hand, you could simply go to the the lab of that other person and start using the equipment with little dialog. Or, on the other hand, you could take a few minutes out of your day and develop a relationship with them. In my experience, the person that I build a relationship with will be much more likely to help me going forward when I need it. And, you just might also find that you make some good friends along the way!

How about you all? What personal finance or career lessons have you learned indirectly by participating in other activities?

Share your experiences by commenting below!


  1. M@BarbaraFriedbergPF says:

    Great lessons learned! Certainly, there are a lot of lessons that we can learn from our hobbies, sports, and daily activities that are related to our personal finances. I hope more people will come to realize these lessons as soon as possible. Thanks for sharing your lessons!

  2. Shannon-ReadyForZero says:

    I love this analogy and the lessons! I usually think about my personal finances along with trying to lead a healthier lifestyle in terms of food – the lessons being there’s no quick fix to past mistakes, that fads don’t work but rather you have to focus on changing your lifestyle, and etc.

  3. This is a great post , especially for those of us who are athletes (or at least weekend warriors). I have played sports all my life and know it can teach many wonderful life lessons. Thanks for applying these lessons to finance in an easy to understand way.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post 60kproject! What lessons have you learned from your sports experiences?
      My recent post Financials of a College Football Game

      • MPFJ, I would say mainly how important discipline is to becoming better at whatever sport you are playing (or finance goal you are trying to reach). Top athletes didn't get there solely on natural talent alone. It took lots of hard work!! Malcolm Gladwell (author of Outliers) believes it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. While I don't believe you need to \”master\” personal finance, it still indicates that personal finance change won't happen overnight. So stick with it!

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