Workin’ the mouth

April 7, 2017 § 14 Comments

I’ve always maintained that industrial park crit racing is really boring for spectators. A huge mass of people go round and round, they’re harder to distinguish than fall warblers, then someone shoots out at the end, throws her hands up, and the race is over.

Who’d want to watch that for fifty minutes, or even fifteen?

But then I thought about America’s most popular sport, throwball. The players are indistinguishable if you’re a neophyte. What they are doing is incomprehensible. Some umpire dude is constantly blowing a whistle and throwing a flag. Everyone suddenly decides to give the throwball to the other team. Someone runs across the finish line. Another dude kicks the throwball through the fork tines. Weird point combinations of six, three, one, sometimes two, appear at random. WTF?

And for all that, people go ape-fuggin-shit and hundreds of millions of dollars change hands online.

What do they got that we don’t got?

Then it hit me. Announcers. They got announcers. Some of them are great. Some of them are awful. All of them have mountains of crap to say. One dude talks about how four seasons ago one throwball dude dragged down another throwball dude. Another talks about somebody’s fifth knee operation. Some other dude compares one throwball team to the Pittsburgh Flintstones’ Stone Curtain from the 70s. It may be drivel, but it’s informative drivel.

But bike races? Crits have four types of announcers:

  1. This is my playlist. Hope you like the 70s.
  2. Nathan Newbie. “Hey everbody!! (Is this mic live)?”
  3. Jaded Fuddy Duddy. (“Looks like you all missed the break. Hahahaha.”)
  4. Awesome Announcer (“You’re not paying me? See ya.”)

Numbers one and two are self-explanatory and common. And guess what? Spectators don’t have to come to your industrial park crit to listen to K.C. and the Sunshine Band.

Number three is some dude who’s been around forever, is sarcastic and cynical, and when he pays attention, if at all, it’s for the pro race. Men’s.

This year the CBR Crit took a different approach. It got Rahsaan Bahati, David Worthington, and David Wells to create an actual commentating crew.

AND IT PAID THEM.

These three guys are all smart, glib, and experienced announcers, but most importantly they know the racers and they know how to race. Whether it’s the Cat 5 Crit or the Masters 55+, they call out names, real names. None of that “Here comes number 69 leading the pack!”

It makes all the difference to a mom, dad, brother, girlfriend, sister, or boyfriend to hear a name called out. And it makes all the difference to all the spectators to hear experienced racers break down what’s going on, lap by lap. Analyzing riders’ strengths, speculating about weaknesses, commenting on strategy, filling the time with anecdotes and explanations makes these races become for the spectator what they are for the racer: Fun.

It’s easy to get great bike race announcers, but after a day or two spent in the hot sun shouting yourself hoarse for eight hours it transitions from “fun” and “helping the community” to “work.” Professionalizing it by paying the announcers for what they bring to the event is one of the best investments a promoter can make.

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Wanky Race Predictor!

March 31, 2017 § 20 Comments

cbr_20170402

Wanky Race Predictor for CBR Crit #4

Last 20 laps of the MP12 race will be fast.

Last 20 laps of the WP123 race will be fast.

Last 15 laps of the Cat 3 race will be fast.

Last 15 laps of the Cat 4 race will be fast.

Last 15 laps of the Old Fart 35+ race will be fast.

Last 15 laps of the Oldest Fart 45+ race will be fast.

Last 15 laps of the Sandbagger 35+ 3/4 race will be fast.

cbr_20170402

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B(u)RP

February 21, 2017 § 12 Comments

It is pretty easy to complain about the state of road racing, which is why I enjoy doing it so much. Complaining doesn’t require any research (my forte) and can be done based exclusively on personal experience.

Although I often want to say good things about the state of road racing, the effort it requires is so monumental that I just go over to Cyclingnews.com and scan the latest podcast of Lance & Co. explaining how “he wouldn’t go back and change things,” which is really nice of him not to do that.

Problem is, when good news appears it always requires work to verify facts, get names spelled correctly, and make sure that I didn’t give Willy Walleye a shout-out for getting 27th in the 55+ men’s race when it should have been for Timmy Tosser instead. So when a buddy pointed out that the Beginning Racer Program that started this year at our local CBR crit series was overflowing with riders, I shrugged because, well, work, and also because there were some things I wanted to complain about, such as how Lance ruined my childhood dreams.

Then this afternoon I was talking with Jeff Prinz, the CBR race promoter, about the racing this past weekend, and he spewed forth an incredible number of facts about the B(u)RP program and how it has really taken off. Sensing an opportunity for someone else to do the work, I hurriedly took notes, okay, I didn’t take any notes, but am pretty sure he said this:

  1. B(u)RP participation sessions both maxed out at 50 riders each, and the first one began at 6:00 AM. Riders were queuing up at 5:30 to register.
  2. After B(u)RP-ing, every single B(u)RPee raced, except for those who couldn’t because the Cat 5 races sold out. Sold out. Does that mean anything to you race promoters out there? Did I mention the races sold out?
  3. Feedback was incredibly positive. Good coaching, an explanation of the fundamentals, and a welcoming atmosphere made the program a success.
  4. The program will be continued for the remaining four CBR races on the calendar, and will be greatly expanded for the April race.

Participants said mainly that they wanted to race but were intimidated by the “throw ’em to the dogs” approach for which cycling is famous. I still remember asking Fields if there were anything I should know before my first race. “Don’t fall down,” he advised.

Of course that’s still good advice, but the execution can be tricky, and trickier still when it’s your first race and it’s everyone else’s first race too, and there just happens to be that one person in the race who upsets the apple cart, a/k/a Mr. Physics. It turns out that the B(u)RP has been around in SoCal since 2015, and in NorCal for THE LAST THIRTY YEARS, but it is a long way from here to Fresno and you have to get past all those hog farms and etcetera so that’s why it’s taken so long. I mean the Donner Party died that time coming down Hog Farm Pass from Fresno to SoCal.

What’s more interesting is the fact that every single crit in SoCal doesn’t put one of these clinics on. It’s weird because you’ll see a scraggly field of masters racers–sorry, make that four different master’s category races in a single event–and not one single B(u)RP for new racers to learn about and get enthused about the sport. It’s weird because it seems like if you were a promoter you’d be really stoked to have new young racers filling up their fields and advancing through the lower categories and paying entry fees much more than you’d be stoked about having to spend half an hour arguing with some 57-year-old stockbroker who harangued your wife about why she overcharged him five dollars at the registration table.

But I progress.

The things you’ll learn as a B(u)RP participant are:

  • Basic Pack Skills – Protecting Your Front Wheel. This is the single most important aspect of racing, and BRP coaches will teach you how to headbutt, hook bars, and discuss the anatomy of someone’s mother as you viciously fight to the death for the best starting place ten rows back in the field of 100.
  • Cornering – Choosing and Holding Your Line. Cornering is misunderstood by almost everyone except the spectators who pile up in the corners in bloodthirsty anticipation of watching a whole bunch of sausage get shoved into the casing on a fast, downhill, off-camber, slightly wet hairpin that narrows into a cattle chute.
  • Pack Awareness & Skills — This also known as “effective cursing” and “screaming at max heart rate.”
  • Sprinting Basics — Where you learn the cardinal rule of sprinting: Don’t.
  • Bringing it All Together — This part of the session is most important for the longevity of your career, as it involves techniques for explaining to your family that you really did “win” even though you got 89th place because you were on the front a bunch and I know I spent $400 to go race for fifty minutes but it’s cheaper than a crack habit (actually, it isn’t).

Anyway, hats off to CBR and the the Beginning Racer Program. We need more of it. And next time I promise I’ll include some facts.

END

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A little leg-opener

January 22, 2017 § 29 Comments

I learned a great phrase in Book IV of my textbook, “Practical Chinese Reader,” which so far hasn’t been practical or even much of a reader. In addition to chapters called “I Want to Open a Law Office” and “The Foreign Son-in-law Spends the Spring Festival in the Countryside,” this series hasn’t been in touch with my daily experiences.

Until yesterday, when something happened in my life that finally fit with a new Chinese vocabulary phrase, 宁静致远, which means “Quietly achieving over a long time.”

Because that’s exactly what Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride is. It’s been going on so long that no one even remembers when it started. The earliest photos are from 2003, and it predates that by years. Of course Dave often can’t remember what he had for breakfast, so it’s no surprise that he can’t remember into the dim past of the late 1900’s.

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However long it’s been going on, it shows no sign of letting up, as each year a new crew of idiots combines with an old crew of sadists to set forth on a death march through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. What’s most meaningful, though, is that each year Jim and Nancy Jaeger open their home to a random assortment of strangers, and then the combined forces of Steve and Gina Jaeger, Cindi and Heather Rogers, Lynn and Carly and Macy Jaeger arise long before dawn to make mountains of French toast, bacon, and scalding hot coffee. The love and effort and work that they put in to create the best day on a bike every single year is amazing, and their compassion at that time Stern-O clogged the toilet with four pounds of toilet paper so that he’d have a rear end clean enough to eat off of qualifies them for sainthood.

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Of course DJ’s idea isn’t to provide you with a hearty meal that will get you through the upcoming 117-mile beatdown, it’s to stuff you with bread, sugar, and plenty of grease so that when the sugar crash hits at Mile 20 you will climb into a tiny little hurt locker that gets put into a trash compactor and squeezed, harder and harder, for another five hours until you cry, quit, or take a break with Bull at the Santa Paula all-you-can-eat Mexican-and-Chinese buffet. Or you take Uber.

The key to a successful FTR is having enough new suckers riders, and this year we had a bumper crop. Of course there was the usual assortment of wankers who canceled the night before due to a sniffle or a diaper rash and the grim realization that all their bold talk was going to be tossed into the incinerator at Mile 100 a/k/a Balcom Canyon (Fireman, Johnny Boy, Dogg, Big Tex), and there were the stalwarts who couldn’t toe the line because they had broken legs (G3), infirm bladders, gout (Gussy), consumption (Iron Mike), extreme old age and vast wealth (Stern-O), congenital lethargy (Elron), degenerative tenacititis, a terrible illness that gradually reduces once-tenacious bike racers into soft and easily crushed buttercups, unable to withstand the slightest hint of adversity (Martin, Turtle, Hair, Manslaughter, too many to name), those who would absolutely love to have made it gosh they were so looking forward to it but kiddie soccer (MMX, G$), and those who did it once out of grim obligation and take me off the list now please (Phil, Randall).

FTR was the cornerstone of my 2017 race season, a building block upon which all others would rest. As my coach told me back in 1984, “You suck and you’ll never improve,” and I’ve been building on that for years.

After having tried to get beyond the “you suck level” of competition via the kimchi diet, the coffee diet, the beer diet, unemployment, 100% carbon made of full carbon that is pure carbon, Rugged MAXX II virility supplements, huge intensity + huge volume training, power meters, Garmins, training by sensation, nose breathing, and finally super low volume of everything except sleep, I decided to try the “leg opening” method of race prep.

Leg opening requires you to do one brief, 15-20 minute semi-hard effort the day before the race, and then spinning for an hour two, max. The idea is that with some moderate intensity and loosening of the spiracles, your pump will be primed for excellent performance on race day.

So naturally a 117-mile smashfest finishing up Balcom Canyon would be perfect. What could go wrong?

What went wrong

The first thing that went wrong was Skippy’s bike. By the second stop light out of town his chain refused to stay on the cogs, throwing the chain every time he put any torque on the pedals. By the time we had ascended the first obstacle, a tiny bump on Stockton Rd. that was won for the first time in decades by someone other than Roadchamp, Skippy was in tears.

I, on the other hand, was behind him and watched him dismount and howl in frustration. “That’s it!” he yelled. “I’m calling Uber!”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“My chain! It won’t stay on!”

“Is it new?”

“Brand new! I put it on last night!”

“And the cassette?”

“What do you mean?”

“Is it new, too?”

“No. Why?”

“Oh, no reason,” I said, as I sprinted away to catch the group.

Fortunately, Skippy was able to put it in his 34 x 32, the only combo that kept the chain on the chain ring. I say “fortunately” because nothing makes for a better FTR than watching a hapless newbie about to ride the rest of the day in mini-gears, with a high likelihood that even if he made it most of the ride, he’d have to dismount on Balcom Canyon and walk the half-mile, 18% grade in his cleats.

In addition to Skippy, the old boys’ network, which was now a droopy old men’s network, had invited a woman rider after the only other female participant in 2003 promptly gave up cycling forever. I had suggested Iron Maiden as a newbie invitee because it seemed like having a ride where the only people who got ridden to pieces and kicked to the curb were men wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t we also get a woman out there who would implode, beg for a sip from our water bottle at Mile 110 while both legs cramped, and then get left for lost in Camarillo at ride’s end because she didn’t know the Jaegers’ address? I’m all for equality, yo.

However, Iron Maiden, who’d only been biking for a year, was suspicious. This is because to date everything I’d told her had either been completely wrong or an outrageous lie, frequently both. “Is this something I can do? The farthest I’ve ever ridden is 50 miles.”

“No problem. You can race twice the distance you train.”

“But I only train 25 miles a couple of times a week.”

“It’s not a race. It’s a fun ride.”

“It is?”

“Sure. Just friends going out for a pedal. Plus it’s a no-drop ride.”

Her antenna went up, because in her short tenure she had learned that “no-drop” was bikerspeak for “kill the weak.”

“No, thanks. It sounds too hard. Maybe next year.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I didn’t figure you’d do it, being a woman and everything.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s too hard for a woman now that I think about it. Only one woman has ever done it.”

“Fuck you,” she said. “I’m doing it.”

“Good call. Plus there’s no way you’ll be last. Junkyard is going to be there.”

She brightened. Having Junkyard on the ride was the ultimate form of pace protection. “I’ll just stay close to him,” she said. I forgot to mention that Junkyard had been doing 500-mile weeks preparing for FTR and was in top form.

Giants of the road

Perhaps the next worst decision of the ride was when DJ asked me who else to invite. “Someone who can do it, but who will fit in. A good dude.”

“Oh, that’s easy. Garrot. He’s great.”

“Garrot? WTF kind of name is that?”

“He was a Marine in the Special Forces. Or maybe it was the Ordinary Forces.  Or maybe the Special Ed Forces. I’m not sure. Anyway, he’s totally mellow and chill. Good dude.”

“I’m trusting you here, Wanky,” said DJ, which isn’t the first time that people have been led astray by climbing that particular decision tree.

I had forgotten to mention that Garrot only had two speeds, “on” and “off,” and I’d never seen the “off.” A short ride for Garrot was 150 miles. Plus, he was a monster climber. Plus, he had a fierce sprunt. Plus, he was always pleasant and kind, especially when slitting your throat.

And then there was the revelation of the Tour, a/k/a Taco Wagon. Taco Wagon had impressed all in 2015 when, in a driving hailstorm, he had spied a taco wagon and took down half the peloton as he skidded out in his haste to get a burrito, or to shelter himself under the taco wagon’s awning, or both.

This year he had come with a mission, and it was a mission that would clash with Garrot’s and eventually become a battle of the titans. After taking the Stockton KOM, Garrot fell victim to superior road knowledge, and Taco Wagon took the Fillmore sprunt. We had an interlude where Bull took fifteen minutes to change a tire and spiced it up by also yanking out a rear brake pad. In exasperation, DJ flatted too in order to show Bull how to properly change a flat. But no one, including Junkyard, knew how to use Junkyard’s new CO2 inflator, and twelve cartridges later we’d used up all of our air and DJ had used up every epithet he knew and had to start back over with the various combinations beginning with “f.”

The race to Ojai

Bull, Iron Maiden, King Harold, Junkyard, Pilot (who had already lost an engine and was scanning for the Hudson), and I were all immediately dropped on the climb heading towards Ojai. Radio reports confirmed that Taco Wagon took the Ojai sprunt, as Garrot didn’t know that the key to Ojai wasn’t a city limit sign but simply raising your hands when you got in front of everyone else. Now it was a blood feud.

As we droppees pedaled into Ojai, cold, tired, thirsty, hungry, and already beat to snot a mere forty-seven miles in, we were incredibly excited at the prospect of some more Barbie food, a toilet, and ten minutes of rest. Unfortunately DJ was on a schedule that had been delayed by his and Bull’s tire changing lessons, and we got zero rest and only seven or eight thousand calories of Hostess donuts to get us into Ventura, which was a billion miles away.

Mt. Casitas

Although I had been sandbagging like crazy helping the slower riders all the way to Ojai, my true goal for the day was to have a convincing climb over Casitas Pass. The problem with my goal was that in order to achieve it, I’d have to drop DJ, who I’d never dropped before, Garrot, who I’d never dropped before, and Young David, a 22-year-old who I’d suckered into coming but who was mostly flaying everyone alive. Plus, I’d have to keep Roadchamp in view, a virtual impossibility on the uphill but not out of the question on the descent, as he was famed for the descending skills of a one-legged turtle.

Garrot attacked early and dropped everyone, but had to contend with a bitter headwind, and more importantly with Aston-Martin, a quiet and friendly hairy-legged freddie whose palmares included several national titles as a collegiate rower. Roadchamp jumped and dropped everyone but me, as I had cagily held onto his jersey. Reaching Garrot, Roadchamp kicked again and I wished that I too had put on a brand new chain the night before.

Garrot saw me struggling and attacked, leaving me for dead. I paused and soon enough up came Taco Wagon, pounding like a madman with Aston-Martin in tow. We sat on his wheel, used him up like an old snotrag, and then Aston-Martin jumped. I easily went with Aston-Martin for three or two whole seconds before blowing disastrously. Taco Wagon scooped me up with Garrot in tow, Aston-Martin up the road, and Roadchamp a glimmering dot up in the Crab Nebulae.

Taco Wagon faltered and I engaged my bottom bracket motor, chasing up to Aston-Martin and, incredibly, dispensing with Garrot. A bunch of lies and extravagantly false memories ensued, and we comprised the final threesome over the last part of the climb.

However, we were soon overhauled on the descent, spanked for our temerity, and crushed in the sprunt for the Santa Barbara County Line.

Junkyard runs out of spare parts

After that, a bunch of stuff happened, most of it fast, or probably really slow, but we’d passed the halfway mark and I was done. Iron Maiden looked like Tin Maiden, or maybe Aluminum Foil Maiden. “How are you doing?” I asked, solicitously.

“Screw you,” she said.

Aston-Martin, DJ, and Garrot found the front all the way into Ventura and pounded our entrails, where we stopped at the Circle K, America’s nastiest convenience store. Fortunately, it had none of the things we wanted, like a toilet, but one of the things you learn quickly on FTR is that tradition reigns, and just because something is a terrible idea means nothing. Surfer Dan sidled up to me. “Dude,” he said. “We’ve passed a hundred cool coffee shops with real food in Ventura. Why are we stopping at this dumpster?”

“Urgle,” I said. “I mean, tradition.”

“Tradition? What’s tradition about NO PUBLIC BATHROOMS?”

“Tradition is forgetting the reason for something you’re afraid to change.”

Surfer rolled his eyes, swung off at the Sckubrats, had the only square meal of the day, and continued the ride without ever having broken a sweat.

The climb out of Ventura is gradual but murderous, like eating opened safety pins. Somewhere along the way Junkyard began running out of spare parts. First it was a lung, then a ventricle, then a kidney, then a right leg, but it wasn’t until a big puff of smoke came out of his butt that I realized things were serious. With a couple of perfectly timed pushes from friends he dug all the way to China, hung on, and made it through to Santa Paula, setting us all up perfectly for Balcom Canyon.

There’s not much to say about Balcom Canyon except this:

  1. Roadchamp annihilated it.
  2. Taco Wagon fell over and into a barbed wire fence.
  3. Skippy walked it.
  4. Junkyard, defending his hard-won last place, hitched a ride in a passing car and arrived without mussing a hair.
  5. Everyone else wanted to puke and die rode gallantly, and put in a pathetic masterful performance.

With only fourteen miles to go to the barn, I turned to Iron Maiden. “How are your legs?”

“Tired but I’m okay. You?”

“I’m cramping.”

“Where?”

“Both legs. Same time. Oh, shit.” I did the little wheezy-sheezy crampy moan.

“Where’s your water bottle?” she asked.

“I forgot it back atop Balcom.”

“I’ve still got some energy drink left. Will that help?”

“Yes.” I looked at her with pleading, big-doe eyes. “Can I have a sip?”

“No,” she said, and pedaled away. Then at the very end everyone dropped me on the golf course climb.

Tall tales

Back at the Jaegers’ home we ate, but not before Skippy complained about his chain some more. “Dude,” I said. “You killed it.”

“What do you mean?”

“You did the whole fucking FTR with a broken chain.”

“Yeah, but I wanted to …”

“Beat Roadchamp? Take a fucking number, buddy. You just did the most epic thing ever.”

“Yeah, but I …”

“Think about it. If you hadn’t had the wrong chain you would have just been another knucklehead out getting his dick stomped on a long bike ride. Instead you created an entire legend for an entire chapter of the FTR.”

“Really?”

“Really. Chapeau.” And for the first time all day I said something I actually meant.

A proper leg-opener

The next morning I awoke at 5:00 AM wondering who turned on the fire hydrant and who had beaten my thighs with a meat tenderizer while I slept. The hydrant, it turned out, was the deluge hitting SoCal, continuing the heaviest rainfall here in decades.

The stabbing thigh pains were apparently from my FTR leg-opener.

I put my bike in the car to go race. The closer to the race I got, the more my phone started to smoke with “I ain’t racing today, bro” messages. Our leaky prostate race captain, who had spent the last two weeks urging everyone to sign up and go race, rain or shine, had cleverly bailed at the last minute, leaving only the truly stupid to stand around beneath a freezing downpour in their underwear.

I could see why he abandoned us in our hour of need. There was zero feet visibility. The road was a river. It was raining meatballs. The risk of death and carbon destruction was high. The rewards were nil.

But–bike race!

And of course, Mrs. WM had said as I left, “It’s onna crazy rainin’ so you the only dummy and maybe win because other dummy all in bed.” Mrs. WM knew a thing or two about bike racing.

At the line there were only five other dummies, each clearly foiled in his race plan of “I’m doing this race because there can’t possibly be anyone stupid enough to do this besides me so I’ll automatically win and get $20.”

The race started and was miserable in a very fun kind of way and we went round and round until all the fun got washed off and we were left coated in hell and drinking each others’ rear-wheel spew and then we were numb and then with eighteen minutes to go I hit it and felt very tired and wheezy and suddenly it was sprunt time and everyone knows Wanky don’t sprunt and I didn’t today either, just pedaled a little harder and the other handful of numbskulls either gave up (unlikely) or weren’t strong enough (highly doubtful) or were unable to see the finish line due to the pounding sideways sheet rain (certainty) and somehow I notched a win and got a check for $50 which almost offset my $3,000 sponsorship of the race, and a sippy cup that says “Race Winner” and you know what?

I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. But I might shave a mile or two off the leg-opener.

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$15,000.00 for the pack fill

January 17, 2017 § 18 Comments

A lot of people have a lot of explanations about why road racing is declining. They are probably right in varying degrees.

My explanation is that there is no money in it for the racers. By “racers” I don’t mean the winners, although there’s precious little money for them, either. I’m talking about the pack fill, the cannon fodder. You know, us racers who pay the entry fees that make the event possible. For the pack fill, if you race you don’t have much of a chance to win money.

Pack fill like me doesn’t care. But other pack fillers do. Instead of judging them, it seemed like it was worth giving it a try by giving the customers what they want. This is a revolutionary concept in bike racing.

This year I’ve committed $15,000.00 in cash primes to Jeff Prinz’s 2017 CBR crit series. That means there are $2,500 in cash primes on offer every race, split up between categories so that there are plenty of chances to win. If turnout justifies it, I’m willing to consider more.

We tried this in the last three upgrade races of 2016 to the tune of about $5k, and the results were amazing. It turns out that racers like showing up, sprinting their guts out for prime cash, then doing it all over again. Who knew? The races were full gas as well; every time a prime was offered, which happened over and over each race, it went super hard, and the “easy” parts were still hard as nails and broken glass.

Jeff had turnout in December that was better than CBR’s spring races in 2016.

It’s weird to me that people will spend five grand to sponsor a team but not to put cash in the hands of racers. Racers remember it when you give them cash. They don’t always remember the fine print on their kit, or the water bottle they won.

The first CBR of 2017 is this Sunday, on January 22. Here’s the flyer.

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Racing for primes means that other people have a shot at the glory, and it means they’re more than willing to pay entry fees and do multiple races. As one racer told me, “I calculated that I had eighteen chances to win fifty bucks. How can I turn that down?” He didn’t, and went home with $350, which paid for lunch and a spare tube.

Let’s race.

 

Revitalization project

November 14, 2016 § 18 Comments

November 13 would be deep into the off season, if there were an off season in SoCal, which there isn’t.

Thanks to marginal gains, old people with tons of time, global warming, Thorfinn Sassquatch, and lots of complete all-carbon that is 100% pure carbon, there are so many bikers rolling around this time of year who are race-fit that it’s scary.

Of course everyone, almost, pays lip service to the off season, but for the most part those are people who are smart enough not to have racing licenses. The only racer who told me on a particularly brutal off season seal clubbing, a 17-year-old kid, that there was no need to do a hard effort because it was the “off season,” got a serious talking to. More about Bader Aqil later.

Anyway, hats off to Jeff Prinz and his wife, who recently bought the CBR race series and got things going with three kick-butt, off-season upgrade races.

Yesterday was the second race, and over 250 racers showed up, paid entry fees, and battled for points and … cash. Yes, cash. There was $2,500.00 in cash primes on offer for off-fucking-season upgrade races, and the racers swarmed like bees to honey or pigs to, uh, mud.

Priscilla Calderon drove home with $300 in cash. Kristie Fox claimed another $200 and her first ever win. Look for her to smash the fields next year, her second year as a bike racer. Shaun Bagley and his assassin-in-crime from Ventura hauled home another $500 or so. And in what I think was a historic first in the HISTORY OF BIKE RACING, a Cat 4 got $100 in cash primes in a Cat 4 race.

I don’t know  what it was like when you were a Cat 4, but these racers, who are by definition the future of the sport, typically get the worst treatment of any category. So it was amazing to watch beginning racers get rewarded with gas money, lunch money, and most importantly, this line that they could take home to their boyfriends/girlfriends/wives/husbands when asked “How’d the race go?”

I won.

Which brings me to my Monday point.

I can’t fix the problems with bike racing. They are complex and they go deep. I can’t fix the problems with misogyny and discrimination in bike racing. They are complex and they go deep.

But I can tell you this, after a few hundred bike races since 1984: Bike racers like money and will race for it. And I can tell you something else: If you put money into the hands of the racers–not just the same five guys and gals who win every week–you will get more people to show up. In tune with a great vibe at this past weekend’s race, there were numerous vendors including Richard Hiraga’s GQ6, Augie Ortega and JL Velo, Bike Shift mobile bike repair, and several others.

So far in 2016 I’ve donated $20,000.00 in cash to CBR, Vlees Huis, Adrenaline Promotions, and Carlsbad GP. The only condition has been that the money be given out as primes and that it be given directly to bike racers. It’s not a lot of money … but it is for me, and when doled out in $50 or $100 increments, it is significant for the racers who take the time to show up and race. Imagine what  bike racing in SoCal will be like when there is $200,000 on offer every season in cash primes.

Yeah.

Jeff Prinz has put something in place now that focuses on what has to happen if bike racing is going to survive:

  1. A safe, convenient, reasonably-priced race.
  2. A fun environment where people are happy to show up.
  3. The possibility that everyone can go home with cash.

I know that there are other problems with the sport, but I also know I can’t fix them. What is certain is that without some financial incentive to race, cycling will continue to dwindle–last year there was a 30% drop in race entries, a cratering that no normal business could withstand. Without riders showing up, promoters won’t promote. And without sanctioned racing, the sport will be a shell of grand fondues, Strava fantasy competitions, and group rides where everyone’s a winner except they’re not.

There’s one more race on the calendar for 2016, on December 11. There will be the standard $2,500.00 in cash primes on offer for those who show up. Hope you can make it, and if you can’t, feel free to bitch and complain, just make sure you show up when the “real” race season gets started in January!

Oh, and remember Bader Aqil, the kid who told me it was time to “rest his legs” and “not go hard”?

Well, he won two primes, won the field sprint, and did three entire races, including his first Cat2/3.

So maybe it’s not quite the off-season … yet.

Changing of the guard

October 17, 2016 § 12 Comments

If you haven’t noticed, you will soon: The iconic grass roots race series affectionately known as “CBR” or “California Bicycle Racing” or “Pain in USA Cycling’s Ass” is being run by Jeff Prinz.

That’s right, and you heard it here second if you already noticed Jeff’s name on the latest CBR race flyers. Chris Lotts is no longer the promoter for CBR.

When you look up the word “controversial” in the dictionary, there’s a long entry, about twenty lines long, and at the end it says, “for a complete and thorough definition of the word in all its permutations, see ‘Christopher Lotts.'”

Some of Chris’s dust-ups were epic beyond epic, like the time he took on the entirety of women’s racing, or the time he got into a years-long battle with the Schroeder Iron/BBI riders, or the civil war that erupted when he lost control of the Tuesday racing in Eldorado Park. If you wanted to get into hand-to-hand combat, all you had to do was send him an email or, better yet, a Facebook message giving him advice about how to run his races. Add in a dash of complaining about prize money or the start time for your event and you would quickly upgrade from civil war to nuclear.

But Chris’s most epic act was the slow, drawn-out, 20-year consistent promotion of local bike races right here in our backyard. Like him or hate him, and I always liked him, Chris could be counted on to deliver what he promised, when he promised it, at the agreed-upon price. And to do that he had to fight USA Cycling, the local SCNCA organization supposedly dedicated to helping promoters, the disarray of local bike clubs, the petty bullshit of butt-hurt racers, the risk of bad weather wiping out an entire day’s event, and That Which Defines Every Bike Racer Who Has Ever Lived, i.e. “Gimme Something For Nothing.”

Chris could have made things easier, and he could have made his races more successful, but then he would have had to have been a different person, and a different person wouldn’t have persevered through thick and thin for the better part of twenty years to put on hundreds of fast, fun, local races. As people quickly found when dealing with Chris, save your advice for when you’re the one whose ass is on the line.

Whatever else Chris was, he wasn’t a philanthropist. His races had to turn a buck, and this past year not only revealed the writing on the wall, it was revealed in ten-foot, blood-red letters: Road racing in Southern California is on life support and the ICU nurses are out doing shots and meth in the alley behind the hospital.

SCNCA had a 30 percent drop in race entries for 2016. For any legitimate business, you’d fire the CEO and everyone else, you’d board up the storefront, sell the inventory, and get into a new line of work. It’s easy to point the finger, but it proves what Chris has said for decades. Our organizing body is killing the sport, and the people in charge of developing new racers and helping promoters have failed, because in tandem with the death-spiral of race entries we are also losing races on the calendar.

And what promoter would want to continue in this environment?

Answer: An experienced optimist with a new plan. Folks, I give you Jeff Prinz. He has his work cut out for him, but if yesterday’s CBR Upgrade Races are any indication, there’s life in the ol’ gal yet. He drew 200 entrants and has plans for two more races before year’s end. Not having any of Chris’s baggage, and being open to new approaches, being a proven relationship builder and an experienced bike racer who understands what cyclists want out of an event, Jeff is taking on a huge task but he’s taking it on with the tools to succeed.

I for one plan to support him 100% in his efforts with time, resources, and cash on the barrelhead. I hope you will make the “effort” to make sure he succeeds, if only because, you know, if you’re going to call yourself a bike racer, you really do have to actually race your bike.

END

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