It’s only a thousand meters

October 29, 2017 § 30 Comments

The fruits of thievery are success.

Velo Club La Grange has for years put on an intra-club race series. It consists of a 500-meter race on the track; you can use a road bike. Later in the year there is a 20-km TT on PCH; you can use your full TT geek rig. This is the only time you will use it all year, btw. The series finishes with the legendary Piuma Hillclimb. It’s about three miles long, it’s steep, and hard.

A small handful of people (think Trump hands) worry that bike racing is dying or perhaps dead. In the “old way,” it certainly is, by which I mean that there is no new crop of young people getting USAC licenses. Why would they? When you race bikes you will get hurt. Better to raise your kids in a safety cocoon than have them learn about risk, injury, danger, and reward.

At the same time, a number of race organizers keep chugging along, here to survive another day on the fumes of past participation, and on the super-charged fuel of the modern fondue ride, which is actually a great concept. You can charge people $160 to ride the roads they can ride for free, everyone wins, and if riders are ambitious and do the long course you can make sure there’s no water left at the last four rest stops.

But I digress.

Velo Club La Grange’s intra-club race series is a template for encouraging people to race, for developing and discovering nascent racers in the club, and for ensuring that the DNA of their organization as a racing club does not degenerate into a social media contest about whose bike is newest or whose selfies are awesomest. Being a free template, I stole it under cover of darkness and transported it, kicking and screaming while tied up in a burlap bag, over to Team Lizard Collectors HQ.

Of course some of the lizard collectors weren’t impressed. “Who needs a club race?” and “This will steal attention from my #socmed posts!” and “How in the eff will this promote my sock brand?” and of course “But I don’t raaaaaace!” were all valid and legitimate objections to the scurrilous suggestion that a bike racing club should have a bike race.

However, the Team Lizard Collectors board is composed, unfortunately, of bike racers, and with the exception of online porn nothing gets them salivating like the prospect of a bike race with trinkets. So they signed off on the cheap imitation of Velo Club La Grange’s Excellent Adventure, and a misbirth was born. Here was the plan for the Big Orange Galactic Championship series:

  1. 1,000-meter TT at Telo. No TT bikes allowed.
  2. Latigo hillclimb. Bring your secret motor, you’ll need it.
  3. 10-lap TT at Telo. No TT bikes allowed.

Several lizard collectors wondered about the 1k event. “It’s too short!” and “It’s too long!” and “It’s too easy!” and “How come I can’t bring my wind tunnel-tested TT rig?” and “But I don’t raaaaaaace!” were all valid and legitimate objections to the scurrilous suggestion that a bike race didn’t have to be so complicated that its inherent complications would create its demise and allow club members to go back to their normal business of lizard collecting and selfies.

However, here were the answers:

  1. Give people a short race and it will encourage them to try it out.
  2. If you think the kilometer is easy, please come show us on race day.
  3. TT rigs have ruined time trialing. They allow you to literally buy speed, they require redundant equipment, and they take one of cycling’s best and safest events out of the purview of the casual rider. TT bikes also make the safest, easiest, and least stressful discipline horribly dangerous for newbies by putting them on twitchy, deadly, unsteerable dorkbikes. Plus, TT rigs look stupid AF and are crazy expensive clothes hangers.
  4. Don’t raaaaaace? No problem. Come ride one thousand lousy meters with a number pinned on, and with your time being compared to everyone else on the same course on the same day under the same conditions, and forevermore you will be called a bike racer. It’s that simple.

Saturday came and went, and 36 members from Team Lizard Collectors’ 300-member roster showed up to compete, several of whom were doing their first race and first time trial ever. Most impressively, four out of the club’s five board members raced; talk about putting your board where your organization’s goals are. Instead of organizing it so that everyone got a trinket by dividing the event into categories of age/weight/gender/astrological sign/religion, there was a women’s category and a men’s. That was it.

The event was a huge success. Riders came out who otherwise would not have. New riders raced their first race. Non-favorites whipped ass on the favorites. Certain people discovered an affinity for short, fast efforts, and with it they garnered real respect, not virtual kudos on Strava.

Best of all, the event shored up our club’s DNA. We’re a bike racing club, open to everyone, racer or not, but with a mission to increase bike racing and to give everyone the opportunity to learn about and participate in this awesome sport. If you run a club and haven’t yet put together one of these series, now might be the time. It’s a blast. And I’ll even loan you the burlap bag.

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Junior gearing

October 12, 2015 § 17 Comments

The sad, dysfunctional fact about USA Cycling in general, and SCNCA in particular, is that they have failed at their mission to build racing participation for so many years that today no one expects anything less than complete failure. Excuses, finger pointing, and the status quo have become hallmarks of our local racing association, and we have fewer races, declining numbers, and the terrible race turnout to prove it.

On the one hand that’s a great thing. Dedicating your youth to bike racing is like dedicating it to meth without the thrill of a prison sentence and the reward of several coat hanger tattoos on your butt. On the other hand it’s terrible, because in some remote galactic parallax of red-shifted wormholes, bike racing is a good thing. Don’t ask me to locate it on a map or in any known episode of Star Trek.

The latest full blown collapse of representation, transparency, honesty, and democracy came (fortunately) in the one arena of bike racing that is the most meaningless of all: Masters racing. To make a long and boring story into a short and boring one, I would explain it thusly:

Old people got angry about trinket distribution. They are still angry.

The more interesting question for me is not how/when/and at what age the wrinklebags can compete for trinkets, but rather this: How can we lure more unsuspecting kids into bike racing? Everyone can identify the problems and no one knows the answer, except by the process of exclusion, to wit:

WHATEVER THE SOLUTION IS, IT WILL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH USA CYCLING OR THE SCNCA.

So, to help get the junior gears rolling–and it’s a small start–I’m going to donate a monthly Best SoCal Junior Girl Racer award in the amount of $200.00 cash, and a matching award for the best SoCal Junior Boy Racer, courtesy of the $2.99/month subscriptions that come in via this blog. It feels better using the money that way than on the beer I’ve quit drinking.

You can nominate your racer (so far there are a whopping total of two, proving that it’s harder to give away money than you think) by going to my law firm’s Facebook page and adding your nomination as a comment to the post announcing the awards, which is pinned to the top of the page. Include as much detail as you want; the more you include the easier it will make the decision. And yes, self nominations are fine!

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Unscientific bike racing survey results posted here!

October 7, 2015 § 19 Comments

A few months ago we did a SurveyMonkey questionnaire and got a whopping 634 responses.

The point behind the survey was to get some information that we could use to focus efforts in 2016, or at least to argue about. The methodology we used accorded with the Half-Assed Sampling Method developed by Reader’s Digest the year they predicted an overwhelming victory for Dewey over Truman.

The results are here; peruse them at your peril.

If anyone out there in Internet Land is a number cruncher, hit me up and I’ll provide you with the raw data so that you can tell us what it all really means, aside from GIGO.

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She told two friends, and she told two friends, and …

December 10, 2014 § 14 Comments

There are three kinds of people with racing licenses.

  1. Racers. They race pretty much every weekend.
  2. Sorta racers. They race a few races each year.
  3. Fakesters. They have all the stuff, but none of the “stuff.”

If you promote bicycle races, aside from your obviously miserable financial judgment, your need for public abuse, and the strange satisfaction you get out of dealing with angry/stupid/selfish people, you have one really big need on race day, and it’s that people show up and race. For the most part, we expect you, the promoter, to promote your race. We’ll come if we feel like it, maybe.

This is a stupid model. Sure, the promoter should do his best to get people to race. He’s a fuggin’ promoter, for fugg’s sake.

But full fields have as huge a benefit to bike racers as they do to promoters. Full fields increase prize money. They increase sponsorship. They increase spectatorship. And most importantly, they help the promoter turn a profit, which encourages him to keep living in a tent and to promote more races next year. It’s my belief that fuller fields rather than emptier ones can be accomplished by the bike racers themselves, and in 2015 I’ll be giving my theory a shot. Here it is:

People who fit into category #1 above are the backbone, the meat and potatoes of racing. Guys like Brauch, Tinstman, Wimberley, and Charon are just some of the riders who show up week in, week out, with no prodding or encouragement. They live to race. More about them later.

People who fit into category #3 we can forget. They will never race. It doesn’t matter why; the fact that they’re on a race team, that they have team race gear, that they love to talk and read about bike racing is irrelevant. They would rather do a hundred group rides, team training camps, and century rides, than sign up for a single 45-minute USA Cycling crit. Forget them.

People who fit into category #2 are the rest of us, and we hold the key to successful turnout on race day. Sorta racers make annual race calendars, target certain races, and do lots of actual training. Sorta racers are sorta fit in January and sorta wrecked by late April. Sorta racers have no trouble putting in 15-20 hours a week on the bike, but lots of trouble doing more than a handful of races. Sorta racers have detailed excuses for not racing on race day, even when they’ve planned to race. Sorta racers think a lot about racing early in the season, and focus on kiddie soccer games, “work,” honey-do’s, “the high cost of racing,” safety, and butt pimples as reasons to stop thinking about racing later in the season.

In short, we sorta racers are fence sitters. We wanna, but most of the time we don’t.

The difference between a felony conviction and staying at home is often the difference between a buddy saying “Let’s do it!” and not. Same goes for racing. As any salesman knows, the customer has to be asked to buy. And as any good salesman knows, “No, thanks” is simply an opportunity to ask again with greater skill and persuasiveness.

My best race in 2014 resulted from Derek B. asking me to go race with him. I didn’t really want to go, it was the last race of the season, I’m not good at crits, at age 50 I don’t belong in the 35+ superman category, I was tired from Saturday’s Donut Ride, I didn’t have a good set of race wheels, the entry fee was too high, the race was too short, and my butt pimples were suppurating.

All of those objections were overcome by the simple act of being asked because being asked to go race your bike with a friend is flattering, and it also puts you on the spot. The super excuse of butt pimples sounds awesome when you’re talking to yourself, but not so great when you have to mouth it to someone, especially someone you respect, as a reason for not lining up and actually using your $10k in gear and your 25 hours a week of profamateur preparation.

In short, the people who are committed to going to a race can boost race attendance by sending out three, or five, or ten emails, or even more outrageously by actually telephoning, or even more extremely by asking a pal face-to-face to sack up and go race together. If you’re one of the people who’s a dependable ironhead, make sure you ask a couple of other people to go race, and for dog’s sake don’t limit it to your teammates.

Why ask non-teammates to race? Because one of the reasons that guys who aren’t on big teams don’t race is because they hate rolling alone against the big teams and they need extra motivation to go out and get crushed. Again. Asking non-teammates shows that you value their presence, and it stimulates smaller teams to get their act together. A powerful motivator for people to race is having a rider complain to his teammates that he’s the only fuggin’ one in the race, so please come out and help.

Another reason that sorta racers don’t race is they simply forget. I’m going to this weekend’s CBR race because yesterday, on a training ride, I asked EA Sports, Inc. what he was doing this weekend. “I’m racing, dude. And so are you.” It wasn’t a question. It was an order, but it was also a reminder as I’d completely forgotten about the race.

If you’re one of the sorta racers who sorta races, on the days when you’re actually committed, make sure you ask several friends to go race with you. This locks YOU in when it comes time to scratch the b.p.’s and prevents you (hopefully) from bailing at the last minute, and it will encourage one or two other riders to join you. (Hint: Asking others to race with you can also involve sharing rides, splitting gas fees, and saving money!! If it’s a CBR race in LA, it means having someone to ride over to the race with.)

Finally, if you’re the leader of a team, have you reached out to every single rider via email and encouraged them to line up? Have you made two or twelve phone calls to the sorta racers who have hogged all your swag and been conspicuously absent on race days? No? Well, get callin’!

So, does it work? I think it does. I’ve sent out about ten emails and had one buddy confirm that he’s in. His comment? “I’m not very fit, but it’s been over a year since anyone asked me to go race, so, hell yeah.”

If you tell two friends, and he tells two friends, and he tells two friends, well, who knows? The “problem” of declining race participation might simply vanish.

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The Hand of God, Part 1: What day is today?

April 22, 2012 § 1 Comment

Words can’t describe the brutality of the 2012 Vlees Huis Ronde, held in Bakersfield. Oh, wait a minute. Yes, they can.

It started off the way that bike races this time of year always start off. “Hey, honey, I’m racing in Bakersfield tomorrow. Want to come and hand me up water in the feed zone?”

“Bakersfield? Is that the really hot ugly place with no shade?”

“I don’t know if I’d call it ‘ugly.'”

“I would. It’s that sandblown, windswept, terribly hot place with bad air and oil derricks everywhere. I hate that place. Aren’t the races there really long and, like, the bikes only come by once every hour or something?”

“Oh, honey, it’s not that bad. I mean, yes, you’re right, but for Vlees Huis we actually come by once every hour and a half or so.”

“Well, I hate that place and it stinks and the dry dirty air hurts my throat and it’s bitterly hot and I hate it and there’s trash everywhere and every third person is driving a pickup or has meth mouth. If Maggie hadn’t been there with me that time I would have killed myself.”

“Okay, aside from all that, is there like a REASON you won’t go. I really need water in the feed zone. They say it’s going to be in the high 90’s.”

It’s pretty much always in April. On the 21st.

“Since you ask, yes, there is a REASON I don’t want to go.”

“What’s that?”

“Tomorrow’s my birthday.”

[Tune in tomorrow for “Wanky Dodges a Marital Dissolution”]

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