October 19, 2015 § 16 Comments
It pays to have friends in high places, and barring that, to have friends who are really, really, smart.
I got an email from Heidi Christensen the other day offering to analyze our bike racer survey. The survey had been put together by Joe Camacho at Velo Club La Grange, and although we had the canned Survey Monkey results it was gibberish, which is mostly what you’d expect from a bunch of monkeys.
Heidi, however, is a pro, and she took the raw data (I’m still not even sure what raw data is … uncooked? Does it go with a Paleo Diet?) and put together this eye-popping analysis.
Thank you, Heidi, and CHECK IT OUT HERE!!
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October 16, 2015 § 35 Comments
People wonder why masters racers have hijacked SoCal amateur bike racing, as shown by the incredible explosion of anger over the burning question of the day:
- Should masters categories be 35/45/55? OR
- Should masters categories be 40/50/60?
Wrinkly trinket-hungry cyclists went ballistic over this life-or-death issue and forced the opaque, shifty-eyed, self-serving SCNCA board to hold an emergency late night telephone conference, reverse their earlier vote, and then come up with a new vote that satisfied the angriest of the old people who, by the way, were angry indeed.
So now bike racing has been saved. Horrible declines in participation, non-attendance by anyone other than angry S/O’s and resentful children, fewer races, and a smaller pie to squabble over are all going to be remedied because the needs of several hundred greedy trinket hunters have been shifted down five years. Riiiiiiight.
Showing how inane the whole thing is, one upset fellow posted that since he’s going to soon be thirty, “WHAT ABOUT ME?” This perspective perfectly defines the modern masters racer: The unfairness of it all! 30-year-olds having to race with 20-somethings! Pretty soon the 12-year-olds will be outraged that they’re racing with the thirteen-ers, and so on down to swaddling diaper pre-racers.
None of this is surprising because the only thing on offer in bicycle racing nowadays is the faux glory of a few seconds on an ugly podium, hands raised in a stupid salute, a quick posting of the photo on ‘Bag and ‘Gram, and a 5,000-lb. bag of entitlement.
No one’s fighting for money because there is none. The best racer in America, Daniel Holloway, goes from year to year without any long term security even though he wins more big races in a season than any other elite US pro will win their entire career. What would Rahsaan Bahati’s pro career have looked like if he’d made six figures as a bike racer? Why is Hilton Clarke looking for work?
If there were money on offer for actual bike racers, cycling would be a different game. People who could make a living at bike racing would throw the dice and try it as a career, the pool of athletes would grow, and the ripple effect of more races, more spectators, more sponsors, more fans, and more junior racers would grow the sport. It would take several years, but a million dollars on offer in prize money each year in SoCal would turn the region into a global center of cycling.
“A million dollars????” I can hear the screeching laughter now. What a ridiculous idea! What an absurd amount of money? For prizes that go to actual BIKE RACERS? ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY?
Yes, but that will never happen of course. The people who have a million dollars to invest aren’t about to put it into the checking accounts of cardboard box-dwelling bike racers because it’s not an investment, at least in the sense that they’ll ever get their money back. It’s more of a Bernie Madoff type investment, and they’d rather have a new beautiful second home, a new airplane, a new boat, or a new investment vehicle that will turn the million into multiples of a million. And no group of ten affluent cyclists would dream of kicking in $100k each to revolutionize the sport. It’s not for a shortage of dollars, though, you can be sure of that. We ride with stock brokers, real estate moguls, millionaire lawyers, independently wealthy businessmen, super rich doctors, and a variety of people for whom a hundred thousand bucks would mean absolutely nothing at all to their big picture or even their small one.
As a case in point, the suckers who dumped $19 million into the USA Pro Challenge wound up with the same raw assholes of everyone else who tries to fund the sport through the well oiled USAC graft machine. The money goes everywhere except to the one place that matters most: The hands of the men and women who turn the pedals. As soon as you pump money into an event or a team, it gets hoovered up immediately by everyone except the riders, who are expected to ride for free or close to it, and be damned glad of it.
The sad thing is that the donor/investor always has good intentions; he wants the sport to prosper. But as long as the employees who make the show happen are starved, insecure, broke, living at home, and paying for health insurance through Medi-Cal, it never ever will. There may be a sucker born every minute, but they play the lottery or go to Vegas. Hardly anyone is a big enough gambler to stake a career on bikes.
And why should donors pour money into the sport they profess to love? What has cycling as an organized activity ever done for anybody? Because of USA Cycling’s pervasive and long-term support of doping, cheating, and shunting rider funds to programs run from Colorado Springs, the governing body is toothless, stupid, greedy, lazy, and mean. It hates grass roots wankers with big bellies (the guys who fill the lower ranks and pay the salaries in ‘Springs), and it thumbs its nose at any pretend racer who doesn’t hit “the right numbers.”
And that’s why Strava is so devastating. It provides competition and it provides value; USAC provides limited competition, and does so at ridiculous cost with zero financial reward. Our recent survey showed that, surprise, people are afraid of crashing. No fucking shit? You mean people are afraid of falling off their bike at 30 and getting their balls run over by ten other riders? Who’d be afraid of that? Worst that can happen is that you die, dude. Man up.
By choking development, ignoring obvious problems, and by creating a culture that makes any potential investor loathe them, USAC is now having the rotten, digested fruits of its corrupt labor shoved down its throat in the form of lower numbers, lower license revenue, lower salaries for the staff who grew up living on Lance and who are now finding out that in addition to being petty and greedy, the masters racers now calling the shot are all that’s left and they happen to be the cheapest most cantankerous bastards alive. I know I am.
And now the new godfather of USAC has declared that the organization will never hire another doper, but he’s silent about what really matters: How is he going to put money into the hands of the people who race bikes? How is he going to make any rational person want to take a chance on the sport? No answers there, sorry.
So it’s left to a handful of leathernecked race promoters to develop a profitable system with no support, no investment, no safety net, and no incentive to hang onto the few races we do have. The reward from USAC? Paying more fees, of course. Bet you didn’t know that the bigger your prize list, the more the promoter pays USAC, did you?
The other reward is having their paying customers, the cranky and greedy and perennially dissatisfied old farts, clamor and complain when races are set up that don’t revolve around them. Young racers are filled with loathing at the actions of us, their elders, and they either smarten up and go back to school (always the best choice, by the way), or they wait to age-grade up and become the overlords.
Sane parents on the sidelines shake their heads in disbelief and encourage their children to chase his dreams anywhere but in cycling. All of the junior summits and SCNCA board deliberations and age category machinations won’t mean shit until there’s enough money in the sport for athletes to make a living at it. Until then the economic engine will be retail sales of high-end bikes to mid-40-ish people who can afford them, and as long as that demographic powers the engine, USAC and race promoters will do as they’re told.
This bankrupt policy is why so few new riders are coming up. The day’s not far off when the fight over how to split the tiny little masters pie will be a fight over who’s going to promote the three races left on the calendar.
Half of any given masters race has people who make their living through “the industry.” We know where they stand on age categories. What about the same level of activism, backed with money, when it comes to putting dollars into the hands of the young men and women who actually have something called a future?
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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June 23, 2015 § 28 Comments
The most telling part of the SCNCA web site is its section on financials.
You go to the “About” navigation on the home page, select “Financials” from the drop-down menu, click on the link and get nothing at all. It’s succinct, and brevity is the soul of wit!
The financial opacity is fitting because SCNCA taxes the race promoters and racers fifty cents every race (if you do two crits in one day, you pay twice) and then does something with the money. Something that helps us all, doubtless.
SCNCA gets the rest of its budget (How big is the budget? How is it spent? Who spends it?) as a kickback from USA Cycling for each in-district license registration. SCNCA isn’t funded according to results, meeting stated goals, customer satisfcation, or even for wearing nicely coordinated belts and socks. Talk about incentives to improve!
So when we asked the Internet for some data about why racers race, and why licensed racers don’t, no one held their breath for help from SCNCA. Instead, Cameron Scott, Joe Camacho, and Robert Efthimos immediately stepped in and designed a survey.
Here it is: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3R5KGQZ
Please take a minute to fill it out; the survey will stay open for four weeks. We’ll tabulate the results and share it with the Internet, race promoters and, of course with SCNCA. I’m sure they will put the data to excellent use in their round file or in their ongoing quest to increase race turnout while they also practice learning to walk and chew gum, but not at the same time. Baby steps.
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June 22, 2015 § 23 Comments
I attended Saturday’s Avenue of the Flags Criterium in Buellton. It was the best crit of the year by far. We can leave aside the prize money for now, which was substantial — $32,000 in cash prizes for three days of racing.
The course is the most challenging crit course in SoCal. It isn’t super technical, but it’s technical enough that you must be able to corner well or the accelerations out of the turns will devour you. The wind is a huge factor; it’s mostly a strong crosswind that ensures you will get no respite on the two long straightaways. There is also a significant finishing gradient, which guarantees that your legs will be toast when it’s time to sprint.
Buellton has resurfaced the entire course since last year so the paving is smooth, grippy, and very fast. The infield between the two straightaways is lined with booths, food vendors, and spectators. The races go off on time, and if you’ve traveled with an S/O, as soon as the race finishes you can jaunt off to any of the numerous wineries — or the legendary Firestone Brewery — that are minutes away. And if jaunting away isn’t your style, you can belly up in the beer garden right across from the announcer’s stand.
And did I mention prize money?
I got more finishing sixth place in the masters 50+ category than is on offer to win many crits. Top finishers got lots more, and those who won their category for the 3-day omnium received $1,000+ paydays. Oh, and he weather was beautiful.
You would think that with a great, safe course, huge payday, professional execution, and lots of other activities for fellow travelers, fantastic vibe, and classy central coast scenery, the fields would be full to busting. You’d think that a race like this would fill up online and waitlisted riders would be standing around on race day, trying to buy slots off racers who had pre-registered, or wheedling the promoter for a special favor.
But, well, nope.
Only 18 riders showed for the final day in the 50+, 23 riders in the 40+, and 36 riders in the P/1/2 field with thousands and thosands of dollars on offer. The promoter, Mike Hecker, was rewarded for putting on an incredible event, huge prizes, and great courses with a collective yawn from the amateur “racers” here in SoCal. Entire teams that sport about town in wrapped team vehicles and the trickest equipment were absent; other clubs that have hundreds of members showed up with one or two racers, max.
Whether Hecker will put on the event next year is open to question, and if he doesn’t all the people who didn’t bother to show up will bitch and whine about how “there aren’t any good races anymore.”
That’s right, dumbshits, BECAUSE PEOPLE LIKE YOU DON’T SHOW UP.
However, it’s easy to blame all the lazy, hypocritical, whiny, spoiled, frosted-cupcake race poodles who parade at the coffee shop but are always “otherwise engaged” on race day. And it’s easy to be sympathetic to Mike, who is a promoter’s promoter — puts his heart and soul into it, does a superlative job, and at the end of the day loses money.
What’s harder is to figure out the problem, and harder still to solve it.
The reason licensed racers don’t show up to races is because we don’t know why licensed racers don’t show up races. That’s right … we have no data. We know how many people hold licenses, we know how many events are held annually, and we know attendance numbers. But we don’t have the data that matters, i.e. the customer feedback about why they don’t race, and more specifically, why they didn’t show up for this race.
In other words, race promoters for the most part are running a business that depends on customer satisfaction without knowing what satisfies their customers. And when we do know what satisfies customers, because occasionally they tell us, we still don’t know if their answers are representative of others, and crucially, we have no idea whether they’re representative of the customers who have licenses and who never show up.
I don’t think that Toyota works that way. I think that before they roll out a new product, they find out what their potential customers think about it. Everyone with a racing license is a potential customer, but with a few exceptions we don’t know what makes them decide to race or stay home except on an anecdotal basis.
And here’s where everyone has an opinion: Some say it’s cost, or training time, equipment, the fact that it’s a dirty sport, danger, distance, time away from family, the list is endless. But until we can rank the reasons that people stay home, and as importantly, rank the reasons that they show up, superb events like the 805 Crit Series will struggle.
SCNCA of course has the resources to do this type of outreach, and of the 18 “services” they claim to provide, only two bullet points address member growth and retention, and they’re buried in the list. Can you imagine Toyota putting “customer growth and retention” in between “maintaining the web site” and “maintaining a presence on Facebook”?
I’d argue that nothing SCNCA does is even remotely as important as customer growth and retention, with the possible exception of “increasing race participation” which, of course, they don’t even bother to list as a goal. And why should they? SCNCA is primarily funded by licenses, not race participation. As long as you have a license, SCNCA gets funded.
Individual clubs could really help out here, but they won’t. All it would take is an email survey of members to find out answers to these questions:
- Do you race?
- Why or why not?
- Do you want to race?
- Why or why not?
- How many races do you do each year?
- How many have you done in the last five years?
- How many would you like to do next year if you could?
- How many years have you held a racing license?
- How important are these things to you in deciding whether or not to race:
- Distance from home
- Cost of equipment
- Hours of training required per week
- Entry fee
- Risk of crashing
- Prize money
- Course difficulty
- Course distance
- Technical nature of course
- Race reimbursements by your club
- Field size
- Type of race–crit, road, TT, SR, omnium
- Category upgrade points
- How often does your club send out race information?
- How easy is it to find another racer with whom to carpool?
- Do others on your team encourage you to race?
If ten clubs did this and aggregated the results, it would certainly be a start, and we wouldn’t be guessing quite as blindly. If the top 50 clubs did it we would be on our way to a real database. Ultimately, we desperately need promoters like Mike Hecker and events like the 805 Series. But if we can’t even be bothered to find out why our peers are staying home and why the’re making the effort to race, well, this is another great event that people will look back on fondly and say, “Remember when … ”
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June 8, 2015 § 143 Comments
The failure of licensed racers to race is the biggest barrier to a thriving sport, but there are other factors. After non-participation, the biggest obstacle in California is the local racing association. The SNCNA and NCNCA seem locked in a deadly competition to see who can strangle the sport the quickest.
I’ve always thought that the northern district was better than the southern one, a misperception that definitely falls into the category of wishful thinking. This past weekend I signed up for the Pescadero Road Race.
I’ve never raced in NorCal because it is too far away, even though their road races are legendary. “NorCal,” people whisper, “is where you find real road racing in California. Not this punk crit SoCal crap.” I wondered what road race could be harder than Punchbowl, or Boulevard, or Castaic, or Vlees Huis, or Tuttle Creek, and decided to find out.
Of course in order to make the trek I’d need company, and Wily, ever eager to do hard road races, agreed to split the $96.00 we’d have to pay at Ye Old Millipede Motel in Redwood City. Two days before liftoff Wily shot me an email. “Dude,” he said, “they won’t let me register.”
“It’s their state elite championship race and they only allow district residents to race it.”
“That can’t be right. Every state lets non-residents race, they just can’t compete for the jersey. Anyway, you’re a resident of the state.”
“Nope,” he said, and forwarded me the emails.
Of course the only possible reason to ban non-district elite racers from the race is so that the tiny penis NorCal riders can not only win the jersey but also be first across the line. In our own elite championship race, the SoCal champion got fourth place, being beaten by out-of-state/out-of-district riders. No one cared, of course, least of all the promoter, because the more riders the more competitive the field the better the race’s reputation and the more money.
Wily first inquired as to whether or not he could race. The promoter responded:
Nope. Norcal only. Why not try one of the other 1/2/3 races?
Sounds good, Wily thought, What other race is it he’s referring to? Answer: There isn’t one. This was the promoter’s very clever way of saying Kcuf Ouy.
Wily next took a more analytical approach.
Pursuant to USA Cycling Rule 7J3(b), “State Championships are open to US Citizens and permanent residents (green card).” This plainly entitles me to register and race, as I’m a US citizen and licensed USA Cycling rider. Subsection (d) only gives the Administrator discretion with regard to ineligible riders, which does not apply to me as I am clearly eligible. Subsection (e) only applies to members of the local association, i.e. NorCal, which again, I am not. Can you cite me to any rule or authority that would allow you to prevent me from entering? If not, please confirm that I will be allowed to register and race.
He quickly learned, however, that analysis is useless with idiots. The promoter responded with this gem:
This is an Elite district championship, not state. You must be in the NCNCA district.
It’s a gem because this is not a rule except in the very loose sense of “I’m saying it therefore it is a rule.” Events held under USAC permits must conform to the USAC rule book with regard to all aspects of the race. What’s funnier is that the promoter calls it an “Elite district championship, not state.” There is, of course, no such event.
Other SoCal riders began inquiring and the promoter gave them the same runaround — you can’t race in THIS P/1/2 race but you can race in one of the OTHER 1/2/3 races, unless you don’t qualify because those are all masters races, which means you can’t race ANY of the races.
It’s not up to me to bypass the registration restriction. The flyer publicly states NCNCA only and the officials
expect me to enforce that for the two championship fields. You’re always welcome to come and race another field. If you reg’ed online there is a no refund policy in effect.
My favorite is the last line: If you already paid, Kcuf Ouy.
So now the asshole promoter claimed that it was up to the officials whose rules he was merely enforcing. So Wily pinged the chief poobah. As soon as I saw her 281 area code at the bottom of her email, I knew she was going to be an idiot because that’s the area code for Houston, my hometown.
Wily then tried this tack:
Is there any other rule than the ones you’ve cited that allows you to ban me from entering this race? If there is, please point me to it, as the rule you’ve cited to mentions state championships, an event you now claim that you are not hosting. If there is no other rule and you still won’t allow me to register, please confirm that you won’t allow me to register since it is a 7-hour drive and doesn’t make any sense for me to come up the night before, stay in a hotel, and show up only to be refused entry due to some rule that you claim USAC forgot to put in its rulebook because they somehow forgot that California has two districts, even though there are specific provisions that talk about states with multiple districts.
The promoters should be aware that their flyer constitutes false advertising and, according to an attorney who has reviewed the rule book and the flyer, it is a possible violation of the Consumers Legal Remedies Act as well.
I and the other SoCal racers who have contacted the promoter are very upset about this arbitrary exclusion from the race. It’s a violation of the USAC rules and it’s also illegal.
Instead, Wily received a response that will go down in history as one of the best pieces of Kcuf Ouy that anyone affiliated with NCNCA has ever sent out. And of course the maroon who sent it has the excellent email handle of email@example.com, which is, you know, so cool.
These championships were once called “district” championships. USACycling, for reasons of its own, decided that they should be called “state” championships and that is how they are addressed in the rule book. It is likely that USAC forgot that California is divided in half along with Nevada, so Northern California and Nevada are administered by NCNCA as one state and Southern California and Nevada are administered by SCNCA as another. Most other Local Associations in the country coincide with state borders.
The dividing line between the two “states” is the line running east-west across California with San Luis Obispo, Kern, and San Bernardino Counties to the south, and Monterey, Kings, Tulare, and Inyo Counties to the north. Clark County Nevada is southern and the rest of Nevada is northern.
Your license states your residence as Palos Verdes which, of course, lies well south of that line, deep in southern Los Angeles County. That puts you in the “state” administered by SCNCA.
NCNCA has determined that only riders living in its “state” of Northern California and Nevada are allowed to race in its “state” championships, much like other state’s championships are restricted to in-state residents. NCNCA has held NCNCA-only elite championships for many years and this very question has arisen before. USAC has long stood by NCNCA’s determination.
Rule 7J1. “State Championships are allocated by the Local Associations to race directors based on the criteria that the LA or its administrator shall determine.”
Rule 7J1 puts the race director in the position of having to enforce NCNCA’s ruling even though he would love to have you pay your entry fee and race on the spectacular Pescadero course.
I’m sorry that you will miss out on this great race.
NCNCA Officials’ Committee Chair
The first bit of analysis is priceless. NorCal is excluding SoCal because the USAC rules committee “forgot” about California being divided into two districts. They forgot about it so totally that there is an entire subsection devoted to states with multiple districts, of which there are two: Nevada and California. I will remember this argument the next time I’m in court. “Hey judge, the legislature forgot to put this in the law so I added it for them.”
Then the Hon. Hardaway launches off into crazyland, explaining that since districts are the same as states according to the forgotten rule, you have to determine a rider’s “state of residence” by a fictitious line that divides NorCal and SoCal, kind of like Mason-Dixon. It’s in the forgotten rulebook, look it up.
Then, carried away by his Civil War remembrances, he reminds Wily that Wily is “deep in southern Los Angeles County,” who voted to secede and join the confederacy and is therefore not entitled to the protections of the Union army. Finally, we are directed to Supreme Court precedent, as we are told that USAC has “long stood by NCNCA’s determination.” You can find the text of the decision here: 60 U.S. 393 (1857).
Best of all, Hardaway quotes a rule, 7J1, and then simply invents what it says even though the actual rule, which he goes to the trouble to type out, says nothing of the kind.
In case Wily hadn’t gotten the message, it’s this: KCUF OUY!
The idiot with the Houston area code then piles on with this beaut:
I believe your question about racing Peacadero has been answered based on the rule book, our district boundaries and the race flyer which indicates the Elite 1/2 race is for NCNCA racers as well as the email from Mike Hardaway, the chair of our officials committee where he clarifies how the Nor Cal and So Cal districts are viewed.
Then, with everyone singing from the same page, the promoter decides to dispense with all of the indirect rigamarole and cut to the chase scene:
I have reviewed your communications with the officials and myself as well as several other SCNCA individuals. My decision is SCNCA members are *NOT* welcome to race in any of the elite championship races in 2015 that I promote.
Everyone understand what *NOT* welcome means? It’s the new stealth marketing ploy to get people to drive seven hours and pay nonrefundable entry fees in order to *NOT* race.
So to hell with the rules, to hell with promoting races, to hell with getting more riders to race, and to hell, especially to hell, with everyone who holds a racing license from The State of Southern California as Defined by the Invisible Mason-Dixon Line, in other words, in case you have trouble with all this backwards spelling and convoluted reasoning: FUCK YOU.
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May 29, 2015 § 47 Comments
Is bad behavior killing the sport?
There was a big Facebag dustup a few weeks ago involving a Southern California rider who allegedly got into a pushing and shoving match during a race in Northern California, followed by much cursing, hollering, and screaming in the parking lot after the race. (Think kindergarten, only not that mature).
If you are a normal person, or even a raving lunatic, you will shake your head in disbelief. Do grown men do this? Is this how you race a bicycle? Are these the only skills you’ve developed for conflict resolution after four decades of existence amidst other homo sapiens? Didn’t your mother ever slap the shit out of you, and if she did, why is there still so much of it left?
You may also be wondering whether the rider was immediately canned by his team for, um, failing to properly “represent the brand” as we say in the delusional world of old fellow bike racing, where we imagine that getting a free tub of nut lube is like repping Nike in the NBA finals. You may also be wondering whether the rider who was allegedly misused has consulted with a lawyer, or whether the offending rider’s team forced him to apologize.
Or, like me, you may simply have moved on because there are more important things to contemplate, like whether or not you got it all on the second wipe.
Still, bad acts have a ripple effect, and as the remnants of amateur cycling swish around the edge of the toilet bowl prior to that final gurgling sound, a lively debate has sprung up over the future of cycling. The gist of the argument goes like this:
The real problem with our sport in SoCal lies with bad behavior, and everyone is afraid to confront it. This failure is just one example in a long line of bad behavior, and it’s this bad behavior that suppresses rider turnout at local races and enhances rider turnoff. Stuff like this hurts cycling worse than handlebar doping, and it furthers the SoCal reputation as a douchebag repository where guys break rules with impunity and the USAC refs, team owners/sponsors, and promoters look the other way, thereby encouraging it.
The problem, so the argument goes, is that bullying bike behavior fits right into the behavior of dominant teams that do little to support junior racing or women’s racing, two areas that everyone agrees are crucial to develop if the sport is going to become something more than a playground for whiny, bratty old men with too much time, too many trinkets, and too much stagflation in the penis length department.
This results in no grass roots event sponsorship, and focuses only on the silliest of all categories—masters men’s racing, a niche within a microfissure whose only growth prospects are at the mortuary. Worse, dominant teams stack the races they do show up for, and those races are almost never hard road races. Who wants to race against ten guys, five of whom are arguably the fastest ones in the state, and who can go with every move, counter every attack, pull back every dangerous break, and deliver their guy with a ribbon on top via a bullet train leadout to win every sprunt?
It’s fun if you’re on the team, but if you’re not, “I’m busy that day” is the way that racers vote with their feet.
If the powerhouse won with class and humility its domination would still be a problem, but what about scenarios where it combines victory with threats and physical bullying? Do you want to come home from a race with your front teeth missing because some psychopath didn’t like what you said? No, you don’t.
In sum, when people are trying to decide how to spend their weekend they get to choose between an informal group hammerfest with friends or trench warfare with bullies who shout, scream, hit, bodyslam, and threaten. Oh, and for that privilege you get to drop $150 and spend five hours in a car in weekend LA traffic.
This toxic environment allegedly deters riders who are skilled and experienced, so imagine how it affects riders just starting out, or riders whose dream day is a top ten finish. They will endure this hazing ritual once and then never return because the rider you call a dork and who you head-butt and threaten with your fists is often a man who signs paychecks, litigates in court, runs a corporation, or lives in the real world with real responsibilities — he isn’t a glorified bike bum who thinks that what happens in a bike race matters in the big picture, and he’s not willing to waste his time being humiliated by a functionally illiterate, too-cool-for-school, marginally subsisting middle-aged man with profound emotional problems.
This brings a negativity to the sport that is a roadblock to progress, and it will only get worse because the one thing we know about bullies is that left unchecked they only get meaner.
Along these lines, the argument continues, we need junior rider development, we need more women in races, we need a more varied race schedule, we need categories and a points system that make sense, we need to be safety minded, and we need to nurture a sport in which events leave participants glad they showed up (can anyone say “triathlon”?), not bitter that they wasted a day engaging in the ritual humiliation of threatened violence and a 45th-place finish. We need more grass roots events and we need to tell the bullies that their bullshit won’t be tolerated. Then, and only then, will the sport be something other than a shit-filled sandbox filled with spoiled and violent old men.
Anyway, this is how the argument goes, and I disagree with it.
With regard to the dustup mentioned above, it is a tiny problem and there are plenty of mechanisms to deal with this and similar scenarios. First of all, where were the officials when all this was happening?
I’ve said before that SoCal officials do not take safety seriously, and that their tolerance for bullying and aggro racing has made both acceptable. Apparently the officials have similar attitudes, because this all happened up yonder, not down here. Second, where was the promoter in all this? Promoters put on races by selling sponsorships. Is this how you want your marquee event remembered, as the place where spectators with their little kids got to see grown men throw public tantrums?
Promoters sometimes say they hesitate to take action because they want to avoid controversy, but imagine this happening in a grocery store. Can you see a Safeway manager letting someone push and berate a little old lady who has too many cans for the express lane because they’re afraid of the “controversy”? Of course not. They’d call security and throw the bum out.
Race promoters like Chris Lotts do exactly that. If you pee in the bushes, cheat, give his volunteers a hard time, disobey race director orders, or act like an idiot he will toss you out of the race and enjoy it.
And where was the Big Sponsor? Presumably there was a sponsoring bike brand. Do they think this is how you sell bikes? If they don’t, getting back the bike and jersey is a phone call away, you would think.
Where were the teammates? Allegedly a couple of them had their hands full while restraining the rider in the parking lot, but why did their intervention stop there? Why didn’t they vote him off the team if he behaved this way? Why was there no show of solidarity, emphasizing that the good guys on the team will not be associated with violence, threats, and awful behavior, if that’s what happened?
Where were the other riders in the race, and indeed, where are they ever? Why didn’t all twenty or thirty people who supposedly witnessed the incident make their voices heard to Kayle, to the officials, to the promoter, and to anyone else who would listen? Why didn’t the rest of the peloton behave as if this reflected on them, which, if it happened, it did? Why was everyone lathered up on Facebag but not in the flesh? And who’s the big chicken who took down the thread?
In other words, there were a lot of people who could have immediately punished this behavior if it really happened, and who could have made enough of a stink to warrant a suspension or a fine or a spanking with a soup spoon or a timeout in the corner with a dunce cap.
But regardless of how this incident played out, the rider in question is just one guy and his team is just one team. Cycling always has a bad boy team and that’s part of the fun, apparently. These antics may scare some people out of one race, but it’s not the reason that rider participation is anemic in all categories. I raced a handful of 35+ masters races last year and they were safe and drama free. The “bad boy” was even in a couple of those races, and he was fine in every respect. And even if it’s the 35+ (now 40+) category that is suspect, what about the other categories?
The 45+ category (it’s been changed to 50+ this year to make sure everyone stays angry and confused) is safe, fun, and a blast, yet turnout in those events is hardly thriving. Most importantly, the areas where turnout really matters, i.e. junior racing, women’s racing, Cat 4 and Cat 5 racing, aren’t affected by what goes on in masters racing whatsoever. Those people couldn’t pick Kayle out of a fresh vegetable aisle, and their numbers are not good.
Nor is NorCal some mecca for racing participation. One of their most storied and challenging road races, the Mt. Hamilton Classic, had twelve guys race the 45+ 1/2/3, and the race didn’t even bother with categories for juniors or Cat 5’s. Are the SoCal crit bullies scaring all the NorCal roadies away from that race, too? And the NoCal crit fields are so tiny that events like the Lodi Criterium combine the 35+ and 45+ fields. Last year’s Lodi Cycle Fest had twenty-six riders in the 35+, and a pathetic nineteen in the 45+. Is that SoCal’s fault as well?
The idea that SoCal is a dungeon of cheaters and terrible racers that kills the sport is also wrong. One SoCal racer who went to Mt. Hamilton this year and raced with the elite P/1/2 racers got to witness this: After the initial ascent of Mt. Hamilton the road becomes a hair-raising downhill. One of the Mike’s Bikes riders missed a turn and went off the mountain. Mike’s Bikes, by the way, had seven riders, or 20% of the entire field.
Later on Mines Road this same rider came flying by the SoCal racer’s chase group a good 15 mph faster, tucked in behind his team van. The racer made it back up to the leaders where he finished far ahead from where he otherwise would have, and worse, where he added firepower to his teammate who won the race. When the SoCal rider complained to the officials, they shrugged.
I’d argue that this kind of local favoritism and refusal to enforce the rules turns off just as many people as parking lot name calling, maybe more, because name calling doesn’t affect the outcome of the race and name calling doesn’t require the collusion of race officials, organizers, team bosses, and follow cars. As a fun note, the race flier said that follow cars weren’t allowed and that anyone receiving help from one would be DQ’ed.
I also disagree that one team is the cause of low racer turnout in SoCal. In many ways, the current dominant masters team, Surf City Cyclery, exemplifies the very best things about amateur racing. First and foremost, they actually show up and race their bikes. Second, when you look at their race day setup with a motor home, gigantic tent, trainers, bike racks, and directors’ chairs, it’s impossible not to notice how cool they look and how much fun they’re having. These guys love to race their bikes and it shows. Isn’t that why people are supposed to go to bike races and hang out? Because it’s fun?
Third, they’re led by Charon Smith, a rider who is non-confrontational, who never curses, who praises you when you beat him, who encourages everyone, and who, despite his impressive accomplishments is accessible and friendly and willing to share. He also invests huge amounts of his personal time helping junior racers. In the heat of battle I’ve seen him reach out and push struggling riders to keep them from getting shelled, riders like, um, me.
Fourth, one bad apple doesn’t ruin the bunch. The other riders on SCC are fair, fun, dedicated, and friendly. I don’t believe that one aggro racer negates the positive actions of everyone else, and if you think the contretemps mentioned earlier is the first time this has ever happened in cycling, you probably also believe that the earth is 4,500 years old and Jesus rode on a dinosaur. There have been numerous parking lot screaming matches in the last few years, not to mention the post-racing screaming matches on the cool down lap.
SCC boss Mike Faello has his hands full with one masters team, and he has apparently made the decision that he’d rather have one team that’s run great than three teams that are run mediocre. Who’s to say he’s wrong? Not I. And who’s to say that he should spend his marketing money in one way rather than another? If his business is focused on selling bike stuff to delusional old men, then shouldn’t he be allowed to do that without being criticized for not also spending his money on kids, women, young people, recumbents, unicyclists, gravel grinders, ‘cross racers, BMX, trackies, or adaptive vehicle riders?
It’s his money, it’s his marketing budget, and by all accounts he throws his heart and soul into running his team. Isn’t that the kind of investment and partnership we want at all levels of cycling? Yes, it is.
Moreover, people forget that it wasn’t always like this at SCC. The first time I ever saw Charon he was sitting on his ass in the middle of the panicking peloton at Eldo, where he’d rolled a tire and taken a fall in the middle of the field. Charon worked his way up from Cat Fred to Cat Stud over a period of years that have involved hard work, hard work, hard work, and a lot of hard work.
The team that he now captains wasn’t always flush with money and stacked with great riders; it’s been a building process that has overcome lots of obstacles. Now that they have a hierarchy, a strategy, and the discipline to implement it, people are suddenly complaining about Surf City’s dominance — don’t worry — a few years ago it was Monster, then Amgen, then before that it was someone else, all the way back to the days of Labor Power. When you kick everyone’s ass they don’t like it, ever, period.
So if we can’t pin the tail on one rider or one team, whose fault is it that the sport has stagnated and that it can’t seem to grow?
Well, I’d suggest that the fault is yours. Yes, yours. If everyone who had a license did five races a year, which is hardly a challenging schedule in virtually any state but an especially low hurdle here in SoCal, our races would be bursting at the seams. Instead of complaining about SCC’s dominance, if teams that had big rosters actually showed up and raced like a team, Surf’s patented lead-out train and chase-down-all-breakaways would not own the 35+/40+ category. They’re not only beatable in theory, they get beaten in fact every year at nationals. Ask Matt Caninio if Surf can be beaten.
However, it’s easier to complain about Surf’s race tactics than it is to organize your team, train together, and implement strategy.
I was slackjawed a week ago when I showed up at the Torrance Crit and saw embarrassingly tiny fields in all categories. This is a challenging but safe course. It’s well run. It offers lunch money and trinkets. It’s smack in the middle of the South Bay of Los Angeles, home to the world’s greatest concentration of preeners and fakers, and a 30-minute drive or 50-minute pedal from West LA, where weekend rides easily garner 100+ faux racers with genuine $10k rigs.
Where were all the racers?
They certainly weren’t scared off by SCC. Surf City wasn’t even at the race, a fact you could have easily confirmed by looking at pre-registrations on USA Cycling’s web site. And this brings us to the real problem faced by amateur cycling: Bike racing has mutated from an activity where people want to grow up and be like Thurlow or Fields and has become a posing activity where people simply want to accumulate cool stuff.
Labor Power realized this years ago and wore hideous clothing, rode rusty-edged equipment, and rubbed plutonium into the wounds of its victims with the motto “Gritty, not pretty.” They won races by being cunning, vile, despicable, infighting, foul-mouthed bike racers, preening not allowed unless you knew how to climb a podium.
When you can join a team that gives you a steeply discounted pro bike, when you can wear clothing that is professionally designed and customized for Team Wank, when you can pedal from coffee shop to coffee shop advertising that YOU ARE A RACER without having to actually go to a race and fall off your bicycle, then why would any rational person actually race? Answer: You wouldn’t, and they don’t.
The toy/gadget/rag merchants are perfectly happy with this because they would rather have the streets of Brentwood and Manhattan Beach overflowing with non-racing racers decked out in their logos on Saturday morning than they would have those same people crammed into an office park in South Compton battling over a $25 prime. In other words, the sponsors and teams themselves don’t care if you race as long as you’re pimping them on social media and playing rolling billboard.
How do I know? Because week in and week out it’s the same guys and gals. There are people on my SPY-Giant-RIDE team who, after four and a half years, I have never seen at a race, and my team this year had 80 members at last count and bills itself exclusively as a “racing team.” You couldn’t beat people away with tear gas and rubber truncheons at team camp in January when the freebies were being handed out and the new outfits were being unveiled, but at the Barry Wolfe Grand Prix on Sunday I counted ten teammates across all categories. More embarrassingly, the CBR Crit the following day had one rider from my team in the 40+ Category, and two “helpers” who had already done the 50+ and whose help consisted of hanging on for dear life.
It’s true that Surf is hard to beat, but they will never, ever, ever be beaten like that.
You can say whatever you want about Surf City, but they show up and they pay entry fees and they race their bikes. What promoter would boot out a team that comprises 15% of the field when hundreds of local racers who could be there are too lazy or too chickenshit or too cheap to pay and race, even when it’s in their own backyard?
Why won’t we call bullshit when we hear it, and stop accepting all of the lame excuses about how the course is too long, or too short, or too hard, or too easy, or too far away, or too hilly, or not hilly enough, or you can’t find a ride, or your wife won’t let you, or you’re peaking for something else, or you’re in a build phase, or your Internet coach says, or blah fucking blah fucking blah?
The mentality won’t change until the teams and their peers pressure them to. Where are the pre-race emails, the phone calls, the gentle urgings that often make the difference between sitting at home and going to the race? To put a nice ending on the Torrance Crit story, this same course is utilized as the TELO training race, a Tuesday ride where “racers” show up at 6:00 PM to get in the speed work that will prepare them for race day. The Tuesday before the Torrance Crit, TELO was packed. The Tuesday after, it was packed. There’s even a Facebag page dedicated to bragging about the exploits of who “won” the training ride each week, and riders love to tout how tough they are when they “do the double,” i.e. do the morning NPR and the evening TELO beatdown.
But on race day the Torrance Crit was a ghost town, and please don’t tell me people stayed home to protest Surf City. They stayed home because no one called them up and called them out. They stayed home because they’d already gotten their participation ribbon on Facebag and that, you know, was enough to justify the fancy bike and fancy outfit and four crates of electrolytes.
The problem with race participation numbers lies at the feet of the riders themselves. We know who our teammates are, we know they’re AWOL on race day, and it’s not a complicated problem that needs more secret USAC meetings to anguish over. It’s a simple problem that requires you to get off your ass and go race your fuggin’ bike. It’s a simple problem that requires team bosses to tell their prima donnas that the gravy train comes with an obligation: You want to wear the stuff and ride the rig, you have to race, no exceptions, and if five weekends out of the year is too tough on your schedule, maybe you don’t belong on something called a “racing team.”
And while we’re at it, let’s not take our eyes off the ball by blaming USAC or SCNCA. These organizations have never figured out how to grow the sport and never will because it’s not in their DNA. They exist to skim money off license fees and soak money from race promoters so they can pay officials and promote the national team and pay their own salaries. They do not care if the sport grows because it’s currently big enough to fund their existing pork projects. If amateur cycling has ever had a constant, it’s that USAC and the local organizations cannot and will not increase membership and will not make it easier or cheaper or more profitable for promoters to put on races.
At the same time, I don’t think physical racing and violent confrontations should be tolerated, but bike racing is a sport, it is dangerous, people do get worked up, and at least in the above-mentioned case no one fell off his bicycle or had to make a detour to the dentist to get a fist removed from his gums. But these problems aren’t what ails our sport. What ails it are the thousands of SoCal cyclists with valid racing licenses who don’t show up.
We have met the enemy, and he bears a striking resemblance to the guy in the mirror.
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