Teams are a funny thing. They’re like tribes; you can’t entirely explain why you belong to the one you do, you just know it’s right. Portland is lucky to have a mash-up of every bike tribe around, not to mention innumerable subsets within the tribe know as racers. Rapha Racing NW is one of those tribes. Interestingly, I’ve been a part of it for nearly 20 years. That’s not bad math. Rapha has been in Portland for five years, but the team that bears its name has been riding together (in an only slightly-varied version) for much longer. We’ve had some roster evolution, but of the 15 riders on our team, 10 of us represent the core of a group that has, over the last 20 years, put riders on the US National team, into the pro peloton, and onto the podium at some of the biggest races in the US. What we think of most, though, are the coffees before the Sunday ride, the beers after, and the buzz that combines from long days in the saddle with old friends. We selectively forget how often we spent out time scraping for gas money, sleeping on someone’s couch and borrowing wheels from the bike shop—a trifecta undoubtedly familiar to many reading this.
It’s hard to define what makes a good team. Fast riders alone don’t do it. Guys who get along off the bike aren’t enough. You need something more, some kind of chemistry born from endless miles together. A mix of shit-talking, inside-joke-telling, nickname creating camaraderie that transcends the often-brutal nature of logging thousands of training miles, countless office park crits and innumerable road trips to towns you can’t recall to do races you wish you could forget. Rapha Racing NW travels less now than we did. We work more, drink a little more coffee (and lot more beer) and juggle the various roles of “grown ups” (fathers, husbands, business owners, winemakers). But we remain connected to the core of bike racing, to a collection of friendships that now outstrip many of our childhood and school-day ones, and to the passion that kicks up every time we wheel the bike up the stairs or out the back. We ride and race, together, because we don’t know how not to.
Photography by Motofish from the 2009 NW Rapha Gentlemen’s Race
Words: Otis Rubottom