Thursday, April 27, 2006

Paddle this, muhfugger


When my brother sent me this pic, my first thought was that it would make the perfect Missouri River outfitter. But then I noticed there is neither a Stag Beer sign nor a Copenhagen sign. That being the case, the biggest river rat I know, and probably the only one who has ever won a bike race, Erik Feather, wouldn't be caught dead anywhere near this dump, no matter how clever the marketing scheme. But how about the Shit Creek Bike Shop? Now there's an idea. Later.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Whose butt is it, anyway?

So I'm perusing the flyer for a local race and I notice that first place for my class pays $5 less than what the entry fee is. I don't know. There's probably a good reason for this, but it sure seems like a good old-fashioned dissin' to me. Yeah, I'm happy that they are listening to physiologists and giving us geezers a class we can be competitive in. But more than likely they're also listening to pollsters and they know that enough guys my age still want to mix it up at something besides bass fishing. But here's the thing: USCF entry fees are spiraling out of control anyway, especially when they are exploitative by their very nature. My thesis here is that entry fees are a user tax that is being levied upon racers for stuff they have already paid for: bicycles & gear, roads, and a race governing body and we're not getting our money's worth.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. If you want to race for money, be realistic, asshole.

But come on. The industry passes along all their costs: manufacturing, research & development, advertising, promotion and retail profit margin. We pay all of that. Then the governing body, the USCF, passes along all their costs, which we pay in the form of dues and per-rider fees at races. And after paying out all this money, we allow ouselves to be mini billboards riding around with logos pasted all over the place. Then we go to races and pay entry fees to race all this stuff we've already paid for on roads we've already paid for through taxes.

All I'm saying is how come the folks who are making a living off of this industry (bikes) and this pursuit (USCF) aren't sharing the wealth a bit more? I don't want money from them. I want them to do a better job of promoting this sport so that local folks will see it as what it is, which is a public service. And maybe then local businesses will be more likely to pony up some cash for really cool races with all the trimmings.

Basically, bike racers have a bad image. Bike shop people even hate us. What's up with that? When's the last time you saw a USCF-sponsored ad or a bike industry-sponsored ad in your local newspaper that extolled the virtues of bike racing?

Here's one they could do: A picture of a couple of our juniors (Luke and Jan would be good) and they're leaning on their bikes and looking directly into the camera and they're looking tough like you always see guys on promos for rock bands looking. You know, like they're trying to scare the old folks or get some chick to think they're deep and brooding rebels. And the headline will be something to the effect of, "These guys have to spend 20 hours a week riding their bikes so they can race. Do you want them to stop?" Then down below, it would say, "Support local bike racing--it keeps kids on the streets."

You know, if the USCF and the bike industry did stuff like that, I wouldn't mind paying those damned entry fees and rolling around with logos plastered all over both my bike and my butt. Later.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mom's Day

Last week was Hillsboro and Tillis Park. People won and people lost, and those stats are as ancient as the names of yesterday's pop stars. What always stays with you, however, are the little stories and images. Here's one of mine:

There's a young man from Columbia named Zach Hockett who crashed out in the threes race at Hillsboro. Apparently it was a pretty spectacular crash--as most road race crashes are (why do people think they are safer than crits?). His was an over-the-bars, equipment-thrashing, ride-in-the-meatwagon affair. Might as well do it up right, right? Anyways, needless to say, his parents were horrified. And well justified. Not many positive post-race scenerios include trips to the ER. The real bottom line here is that Zach walked out of the entire deal with no more than some cuts and bruises and a couple of trashed wheels, but as always there's more to the story.

What a lot of people outside of Zach's immediate race circle don't know is that the kid was just picked to race in Europe with the U.S. National Junior team. He's scheduled to leave in a few weeks. So naturally everyone's first thoughts, understandably including Zach, were, damn, ain't that just the luck, to crash out just before you get a big break. And so it was that the next day Zach awoke telling his mom and dad that he just felt too beat up to do the crit that day. He had planned to do the juniors, then double up in the pro 1-3. Now if you're a bettin' man, how do you think his mom is gonna handle the news that he doesn't feel like doing the crit after crashing out hard the day before? Well, you'd probably lose that bet.

Zach's mom, Sherry, recounted the story to me after Zach had won the junior event, including a preme of a new wheelset. "You know, the mom in me wanted to tell him, that's okay," she said, "but I remember my dad always made me get back up on that horse when I'd been bucked off, and it always made things better in the long run. So I told him, No, Zach, you're a little shook up, but you're okay and I just think you need to go ahead and do what you had planned to do."

She told me she thought that as much as feeling beaten up, that Zach was really bumming about ruining his new race wheels. "I know," she said, "that all that worry about wasting money can make you feel conservative and you just want to pull back and not take any more chances, but if Zach really wants to be a bike racer, he's gonna have to race."

Zach finished the pro 1-3 race, and finished the haunting thoughts of his crash right along with it. All I could think was, damn, girl, I can think of a lot of cat ones who could use some of that kind of mothering. Later.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Credit

The Hillsboro-Roubaix race is tomorrow. This is a hard race. This race encourages more excuse-making and embellishment of personal experience than just about any of the year. Most of the finishers will not win anything of material worth. Some of the also-rans will gain confidence and self-fullfillment, but others will be consumed by bitterness and self-doubt. This race in particular would be a good one for all competitors to work on their dignity game. So if you get a self-indulgent urge to whine, you need to just say "No." This is an acquired skill that you have to work at. Mastering this aspect of your game will make bike racing infinitely more enjoyable.

If you don't believe me, you should go to this race and afterwards just stand around the parking lot and listen in on a few conversations. Some of them will be the weirdest you've ever heard. Racer A will walk up to racer B and start talking about why racer A got dropped. Racer B will seem to be listening, but then B's response will be about B's race. By then you'll notice that neither of them is really listening to the other, but is instead gazing around presumably for someone else to tell their story to.

And here is the point: no one really cares about your race except you. The only exception might be found in the junior ranks, but the rare moms and dads whose first concern is their little angel's win-loss column are truly weird individuals, indeed.

This is a very difficult concept for bike racers to grasp--that no one beyond them really cares how their race went as long, that is, as they can walk away from it. This phenomenon is best illustrated by the experience of one of my old touring buddies.

One July day a few years back, my friend was riding his bike across southern Missouri. He had full paniers loaded down and was in the midst of a 100-mile day in 90-degree heat and humidity when he pulled off the road and leaned his bike against the railing of an old country store. Sitting on the porch of that store were three old-timers who had not much more to do than spit, whittle, tell stories and ask people what they were up to on such a hot-as-hell day. My lycra-clad buddy must have been quite a sight, and the story of what he was up to was no doubt equally incredulous. As my friend tells the story, however, one of the old boys didn't miss a beat in astutely summing up the venture: "I guess," the old sage drawled, "a feller just don't get much credit for that sort of thing."

So true. Later.