Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cycling Tribes and Event Conflicts

Mike Magnuson has published a new book: Bike Tribes: A Field Guide to North American Cyclists. So far I've only skimmed it, but I liked what I saw.

He defines and satirizes several different types of riders: the Masters Sandbagger, the Cat 3 Douchebag, The Century Rider, The Triathlete, the Fast MTB Racer, etc.

Last week, I sat down to do some work at a local coffee shop and happened to eavesdrop on a bunch of 60-somethings talking about their own bike rides. They complained about how the "gear heads" and "spandex jerks" ride too fast on the Keystone trail. They told stories about being  startled when roadies whiz by "like it's the Tour de France!" (That's always the critique of racers, isn't it? In media comments sections, irate motorists always complain about having to wait behind a group of "Yahoos acting like they own the road and having their own private Tour de France")

Why the hostility toward racers? Could it be that some of us DO act like jerks when we get stuck behind a trio of old farts slowly easing three-wide down the trail? Damn Strava-killers, that's what they are!

I've always tried to live and preach the notion that all cyclists need to stick together. We collectively suffer from the derision, negligence  and outright aggression of irate drivers, oblivious roller-bladers, and suicidally unleashed basset hounds -- so shouldn't we look after each other? Can't we all just get along?!?!

But there's even conflict between wearers of the spandex. This weekend in Nebraska, two pretty important events are being held on the same day: the Papillion Twilight Criterium, hosted by Midwest Cycling and the Trek Bicycle Stores of Omaha, and the Gravel World Championships, hosted by the Pirate Cycling League. And yeah, it's a conflict. There are several folks who might have done both events if they were held on different weekends.

Cross-scheduling local cycling events pisses me off. Surely we (Nebraska cyclists) could make sure a gravel race doesn't happen the same day as one of our only local criteriums. 

And don't tell me about different demographics--I think that's part of the problem. If I hadn't broken my hand (trying to bust out of my roadie rut) by racing a mountain bike for the first time, I would've liked to participate in both the crit and the gravel race. I like meeting guys who shred dirt and guys who wax hair. I even like bullshitting with alley-cat delivery guys.

But despite my genial efforts at a grassroots campaign, mountain bikers often hate roadie scum. Roadies shun sketchy Freds. Charity-event riders always proclaim "this isn't a race" when a racer gets angry that they've been wheel-sucking for 17 miles. Racers dismiss charity rides. Taco-riders drink so much they love (or hate) everybody. 

Next year, let's reach out to all the tribes. Let's try to find a way to build the sport in Nebraska by making our events accessible to all types of riders. Let's share a calendar, drink some PBR (or single-malt, or Pinot), and prevent these kinds of conflicts. 

Saddle time is too brief to have to choose between events. Or tribes.


  1. I find myself wondering if there had been no scheduling conflict how many people would actually step outside of their boxes and actually show up at the other events anyway. I would be pretty surprised if the charity riders would show up for Gravel Worlds and almost more so if they'd show up for the crit, I'm not even talking about participating just spectating. And let's be realistic, most road riders are terrified of gravel, I see the looks on their faces every time I tell them that I ride road bikes on gravel.

    My time in the bike industry has told me that if you tag something cycling related "serious" or even worse "race", it chases a lot of people away pretty quickly. How many times have you had someone come into the shop and say "I'm not a serious cyclist"? As if you couldn't tell from the moment you saw them crawl out of their car.

    All of that said, I fully agree that it comes down to nothing more then poor planning on the part of the promoters. Poor planning based almost entirely on elitism would be my guess based on someone's comment that one race was sanctioned and the other wasn't(so seemingly unworthy of paying attention to). I guess you can look on the bright side and know that you don't live out here where there is some event overlapping some other event every day of every weekend during the summer, so there's that.

  2. It's not poor planning in this case, with the exception of the advocacy event at Midtown.

    Gravel Worlds riders aren't crit racers and (generally) vice-versa. I counted 11 riders who did (or might have done) both last year. Eleven. That's not a conflict. One event won't be compromised because of the other.

    1. Is there an event next weekend? Why not have one of them then?

      I would call 11 riders a conflict in an event as small as either Gravel Worlds or the crit. Not like there's hundreds of people at either event.

    2. Okay, I counted 16 riders who rode Gravel Worlds in 2011 who also race crits (and have raced the Papio Crit), but I hardly know everybody, so it could be more. The schedule for Gravel Worlds 2012 was announced Nov.9th, 2011, well before the Papio Crit was scheduled. Race promoter Mark Stursma asked about possible interference with Gravel Worlds and was told "it's not the same crowd, don't worry about it". While that's mostly accurate, a schedule conflict could definitely have been avoided here. Not the end of the world, but it woulda been nice to do both.

  3. 11 riders can make a big difference in a smallish crit, even if only 4 of them (for example) happen to be in the 1/2/3 field. But what about spectators and volunteers at the crit? Some of them might be at Gravel Worlds. Some might be split between two different 'cross races in October.

    Your major premise is exactly the problem: limiting definitions fragment the culture, one which already faces enough pressure form the outside. Obviously, you don't think that's a problem. I, on the other hand, would like to see a more unified group of cyclists.

    It's a small group, the bike people in Nebraska. I think finding ways to reach across diverse disciplines is one way to help it grow.

  4. I drove up and watched the Papillion Crit last year even though I didn't race (did race in 2010, but still wasn't so sure road is the thing for me). I won't be in the crowd or in the field this year, as I'll be on some gravel or dirt road somewhere. I already added some comments to this topic via Facebook, but to reiterate, this subcultural fragmentation is even more devastating for women who want to race. Eleven riders would, in some cases, be more than twice the field.

  5. Okay, let's try to move past the immediate and look at the general: the sport / hobby / obsession of cycling in Nebraska continues to grow, and that's a great thing. Having the option to try road racing, organized road rides, mountain biking, 'cross racing, and gravel grinders is a great asset, as is the generally cool and welcoming vibe this state's people are famous for.

    However, few people seem willing to try pedaling outside their comfort zones. That's fine; follow your bliss! But if these different disciplines were better correlated--by promoters and participants--cycling as a political and cultural force would continue to grow at what I think might be an accelerated rate. Road racers could mentor recreational riders and volunteer for dirt trail maintenance; mountain bikers could marshal corners at crits or heckle at 'cross races. But let's start with the major premise that we can grow the sport by utilizing cross-discipline cooperation.