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.
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.
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?”
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.
Jeff Prinz has put something in place now that focuses on what has to happen if bike racing is going to survive:
- A safe, convenient, reasonably-priced race.
- A fun environment where people are happy to show up.
- 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.
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.
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January 21, 2016 § 23 Comments
Last year I put up some cash primes in a couple of local races. It wasn’t a huge amount, but $4,000 in cash primes is a lot more than what people here usually race for. The result was that entries doubled compared to the year before and the races that had the cash primes were fast, furious, and strung out from corner-to-corner, start to finish.
But what was interesting is that the big turnout in the men’s fields wasn’t matched by the women, whose fields were small. Where the guys were champing at the bit to haul in some extra dough at season’s end to pay for a slightly nicer cardboard box, the women weren’t, even though the primes were identical for men and women, something that’s a unicorn in bike racing.
Prior to plunking down the cash I had several people tell me that it was wasted money. “The women won’t show up to race because they don’t care about the money.” I was advised to give the women a token amount and put the rest of the cash back into the men’s fields, which would result in more attendance and harder racing.
I refused out of principle. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
In the second race there were 20 women who started in the P/1/2/3 field as compared to four the previous week. Given that it was the end of the season, that was pretty solid turnout–and the women raced hard for the primes, and most of them showed up specifically because there were $100 bills on offer, ten of them in a 40-minute race.
This year I’ve started out with another $2,500 in cash primes for this weekend’s CBR in Compton, and again I’ve matched the men’s P/1/2 field and the women’s P/1/2/3 field with identical prime amounts. So far six women have pre-registered; I’m betting that at least thirty will show up to race. That’s a solid women’s field in SoCal for a local crit.
The people who say that women aren’t motivated by money are wrong. The reason that women turnout is depressed isn’t because women don’t like to make money racing, it’s because the sport has refused for years to give women equal earnings. Year in and year out women are told that because they don’t race in sufficient numbers they don’t deserve equal prize lists.
This is exactly what opponents of Title IX said back when the federal government required equal funding for college athletic programs. Once the money kicked in and women’s programs had funds to travel, hire coaches, and pay for equipment, participation soared. Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than a few hundred bucks at a local crit to energize thousands of women to take up bike racing, but it’s worth trying to equalize payouts and primes for a lot of reasons.
First, it’s fair. The women who show up, even though they are smaller in number, should be treated equally.
Second, it sends the message that women’s racing isn’t an afterthought, it’s a key part of the day’s events.
Third, over time it will increase women’s participation.
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August 6, 2015 § 31 Comments
I hope you’ll put these two races on your calendar:
Why? Because it’s your last chance in 2015 to win some good money in a SoCal crit. I’m donating $2,000 in cash primes for the 8/23 race, and an additional $2,000 in cash primes for the 8/30 race.
For the 8/23 race’s P/1/2/3 event I’m donating eight $100 primes and one $200 prime on the next to last lap. Same for the 40+ masters men’s race. Good luck prying those dollars out of Surf City’s mouth!
For the 8/30 race, $1,000 in primes will be up for grabs in the P/1/2/3 event, and ditto for the women’s P/1/2/3 race, with the elite women getting exactly the same prime payout as the elite men.
The cash primes, which will be cash, will all be paid out in cash.
I support Chris and Vera’s efforts because year in, year out, they put on quality races that are easy to get to, that are run on safe courses, and that respect the efforts of the participants. Everyone doesn’t get a medal but everyone gets treated with respect, at least if you consider getting called a “cupcake” respect.
As just one example of the way Chris listens to his customers, this year he gave the 50+ racers one hour races for virtually the entire year. As far as I know, that’s the best in the country for our age category.
There is so much that is messed up about amateur bike racing that it’s incredibly important to support the quality events that we do have. I wish I knew how to make bike racing more popular and more inclusive, but I don’t.
What I do know is that beefy primes thrown in every few laps can up the ante, change the riders’ calculations at varying points in the race, encourage attacking, and give a lot more riders the chance to win even though they may not win the race.
See you there!
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June 15, 2015 § 14 Comments
When people sniffing around the edges of competitive cycling ask me about bike racing, I always tell them this: Preparation is key.
Not, of course, that there are any such people, but if there were that is what I would tell them.
And of all the critical preparations, none is more important than nutrition. Since Mrs. WM abandoned me for a 3-month orgy of Japanese food and home cooking courtesy of her mom, the world’s best cook in a nation of great cooks, I have been making do admirably because nutritional preparation is key to major races like the CBR crit #6.
This is a major race even though, despite diligently promoting the hell out of it and shaking the crust off my teammates to get them to show up, CHRIS LOTTS STILL HASN’T COMPED A SINGLE FUGGIN’ RACE ENTRY.
Anyway, I wanted to do well at this race and so I prepared nutritionally for it. However, the day before the race we were running low on food, well, actually we’ve been running low on food for a long time now since I’ve decided to boycott the supermarket until we eat through the stores that MRS. WM HAD LAID UP IN ANTICIPATION OF THREE NUCLEAR WINTERS.
This isn’t a contradiction; we are running low on fresh foods but not on flour, for example. You can’t have enough flour, and we don’t not have enough.
So sure, it’s going to be hard to eat all that flour, but not as hard as it will be to eat the twelve large cans of salt. So getting ready for the race meant preparing some flour and salt. Fortunately, the one thing Mrs. WM had left an ample supply of was Nestle chocolate chips. She bakes cookies once every three years, so we had twelve bags of chocolate chips in case someone needed to get diabetes over the weekend.
“Honey,” I said before she left, “please don’t go to the store and buy anything. Whatever it is, we have enough.”
“Okay,” she said.
Later that afternoon she came in, loaded down with grocery bags. “Did you just go grocery shopping?” I asked.
“I thought I asked you not to.”
“I didn’t buy any ‘food’ food.”
“What did you buy?”
“Toilet paper and chocolate chips.”
“But we already have twelve bags and I’m on a diet.”
She smiled and unloaded the bags.
The night before the race I took out the flour and butter and sugar and salt and baking soda and vanilla extract and chocolate chips and pecans, and I made a giant bowl of cookie dough for dinner. It was getting late and I didn’t feel like cooking because I wasn’t sure how the oven worked so I took out the peanut butter and Nutella jars and the remainder of the ice cream and put it all on top of the cookie dough and ate a couple of big bowls and drank some milk and a lot of coffee and then I went to bed.
The next morning I didn’t feel very good but I felt worse after breakfast, which was more cookie dough. For vegetables I sauteed an onion and some garlic and mixed it with Cheerios because I’d drunk all the milk the night before.
At the bike race I saw Prez, the most well prepared bike racer in history. He always gets to the race early to warm up, and this time was no exception. He’d arrived eight whole minutes before the race started, which is a long time for him. He was in a great mood. “Hey, Wanky,” he said. “Guess what?”
“I forgot my bike bag and don’t have any shoes. And my bike.”
Pretty soon twelve people were scurrying around to find him a pair of shoes. No one would loan him any because his foot fungus is pretty infamous, but a Cat 5 who didn’t know any better offered up a pair of New Bongasnoop Xtra Race Shoes. They were four sizes too big but Prez didn’t care.
“Hey,” he shouted to no one in particular, “does anyone have a helmet I can borrow?”
Someone did, but they knew that no helmet on Prez’s head is safe, so we ended up going up and down the line of parked cars trying to find one that was unlocked. We did and borrowed a really nice $400 POC aero helmet. “I’ll put it back as soon as I’m finished,” Prez said as we checked to make sure the sheriff patrol wasn’t around.
Back at the starting line with one minute to go Prez yelled to the onlookers. “Does anyone have a bike? I forgot my bike.”
He was in fact the only fully kitted out, aero-helmeted guy on the line without a bike. The same Cat 5 guy who just wanted to be nice gave Prez his $10,000 carbon bike with full carbon wheels and 100% carbon. “Be careful!” he said.
“That’s my middle name!” Prez said, pleased that he’d be able to wreck someone else’s machine this weekend.
With two laps to go Prez, who is the key lead-out man for Surf City’s train, roared up through the pack to take control of the lead-out and give his boss, Charon Smith, another lightning bolt pull to victory. “Dammit, Prez!” Charon shouted, “you’re doing it again!”
Prez had boxed in his boss, forced him into the curb, and was about to take out his front wheel. “Sorry!” he said, but not before the sound of screaming, cursing, and twelve broken bikes rent the air. A loose wheel arced overhead, temporarily blotting out the sun. Prez stepped on the gas, took out four people, ran over a pylon, hit a small child on the sidewalk, bounced off a tree, and flipped into a tent. The poor Cat 5’s bike shattered into a billion pieces at the poor kid’s feet.
Prez staggered to his feet, shading his eyes to watch Charon hit the jets and win his 67th victory of the season. As the poor Cat 5 cried inconsolably, sobbing about the five years it had taken him to save up for his bike, Prez stripped off the fungal shoes and patted him on the back. “Don’t worry sonny,” he said, “next time you just need to be a a little bit better prepared.”
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March 9, 2015 § 35 Comments
Most CBR races that I do start the same way. About twenty guys push and shove and jostle and squeeze to make sure they’re in the very first row. After the race starts, I never see any of them again.
I always lollygag at the back before the race with Big Steve. He doesn’t care where he starts. He’s more concerned about where he finishes.
There is another guy who always starts at the back of the back of the back, and then two wheels behind that. He’s at every race, and he’s one very rotund fellow. You look at him and you think, “Dude, lay off the Oreo triple stuf. You are going to have a heart attack before we get to Turn One.”
Then you notice that even though his belly is testing the physical stretch limits of his jersey, so are his massive quads. Then, if you’re still paying attention and haven’t written him off because he’s obviously pushing sixty, you notice the bands on his shirt sleeve, the rainbow ones. And you’re like, “Whaaa? World champion of what? Carrot cake?”
The race starts and it always starts fast, and my goal is always the same, every single time: Follow that guy. There are a lot of good reasons to follow him, and not just because Gibby Hatton is one of the best track racers in the history of U.S. cycling. For me, following Gibby is a lesson in humiliation, and I’m never happier than when I’m under the lash.
“What could be easier than following an oxcart?” you wonder. Well, it’s harder than it looks. For one, even though he hardly ever pedals and it looks ridiculously easy, you quickly find out that he’s the most efficient rider in the peloton by a factor of ten. That would make sense, because at his professional zenith he was the No. 2 highest-earning keirin racer on the Japanese professional circuit.
For another, Gibby doesn’t use his brakes. Whereas I’m the kind of rider who replaces his pads in between events, Gibby has been using the same set since 1982. They still have the shrink-wrap on them. This means he slingshots through the turns. While the idiots are grabbing brakes and wobbling and dodging curbs and spraying up fountains of carbon brake pad powder, Gibby is coasting at 35. Out of the turn he pedals once or twice to hold his momentum, and in the process he’s passed forty people.
There’s another great reason to follow Gibby’s wheel. It will give you your adrenaline rush for the decade. Sure, he looks like a walrus on a bike. But a more delicate, graceful, perfectly coordinated rider I’ve never seen, or imagined seeing. He floats through gaps that shut with a clang once he’s through. He edges around kooks with the gentlest shift of weight on his saddle. He creates openings by lightly tapping on someone’s thigh … and it’s the tap of authority that doesn’t say, “May I come in here?” but that says, “I’m coming in now.”
The best reason of all to be on Gibby’s wheel is that if there’s no breakaway, he’s going to put you in the top five or higher if you can come around him (you can’t). At 58 years old, by the time everyone has wheezed and gasped and struggled to the final 200 meters, Gibby will finally activate the thighs, and the acceleration is vicious, fearsome, and effective.
I’ve never been able to follow his wheel for more than two laps. It’s like following a solo by Louis Armstrong, or matching the steps of Fred Astaire, and today was no different.
After the race started, some people went fast and some went slower, some people dreamed big dreams and some people dreamed small ones, some people got tired and some people quit. Leading into the final turn three riders decided to throw all of their bike parts and bodies high into the air and then splatter painfully on the ground. With 200 meters to go, the Walrus, ever perfectly positioned, mashed hard on the pedals. It was his first real effort in the whole 60-minute race.
Two riders were ahead of him, much younger and much faster. But not cagier, and not better at using all the right effort at just the right time. Gibby nipped them at the line.
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