Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cyclocross, the Greatest Commute Ever

Bike commuters tend to use the phrase "You're not stuck in traffic, you are traffic. Ride a bike." Unfortunately for bicycle commuters, this post isn't going to be about commuting by bike. This is a blog about 'cross after all. It's no secret that I don't particularly enjoy road racing. I do it, but I do it for 'cross, or to be more specific to stay in shape for 'cross.

I've tried to enjoy road racing, but for the most part I can't do it. When it comes to 'cross I've always assumed that I preferred it for the obvious reasons. Some of the more obvious being the technique required, the camaraderie, the fact that I'm half decent at it, the "race within the race," and of course the mud the blood and the beer. Those are all indeed reasons that I love 'cross, but they still don't entirely explain why I love 'cross so much more than road racing.

I'm a first born. I would probably categorize myself as fairly Type A. I don't like being stuck behind people. In addition to inheriting my fathers rather sizable nose, I almost certainly inherited these traits from him. Well, I definitely inherited the nose, perhaps I learned the rest. In any event, I don't have time to explore the theories of nature vs. nurture, but this much I do know, my childhood was spent trying to "keep up"as my father weaved through people at the mall or darted through crowds looking for the quickest path when exiting a sporting event. As an adult I find myself looking for those same sweet lines.

I spend a fair amount of time in my car. Beyond the obvious commute to work, I spend time working around Boston, Long Island, and more glamorous places such as Buffalo and Albany. Given the time I spend in a car, I'm also no stranger to being stuck in traffic. 1st gear, 2nd gear, back to 1st gear, sweet I'm in 3rd gear, "come on man!" I'm back in 1st gear. There are also times I'm on the thruway and a driver feels compelled to hang out in the fast lane blocking traffic because  "I'm already going 68mph, and the speed limit is 65. It's my civic duty to slow everyone else down . . . and I need to check my makeup and text, so they can just wait." At some point one of two things happens. I get to my destination with angry looking creases on my forehead, or the road finally opens up and I ease into my comfort zone.

What I finally realized the other day is that for me, road racing is like a bad commute. My metaphorical VW TDI of an engine doesn't have the horsepower to break away, and I'm stuck with the rest of the commuters. "Slowing." "Yellow Line!!" "Bottle!" "Close that gap!" For me, road racing is the worst of both worlds. It's like being stuck in traffic during a commute, AND the drivers can actually communicate to each other verbally. At least in a car drivers are limited to using sign language from within the safety of a vehicle so you seldom have to actually listen to the other Cat 4 drivers yelling at you.

In a 'cross race there may be some argybargy in the first couple of laps, you might get taken to the tape, or you might even get yelled at, but at some point . . . at some sweet point, it becomes the best commute ever. The course opens in front of you and by and large you can travel as fast as your potential will carry you. Will people get in your way? Sure. Will you need to figure out how to pass people? Sure, but you'll almost never be stuck in traffic. The weekdays may leave you stuck in traffic but during 'cross season it's full gas. The perfect commute.

Will I stop road racing? Unlikely, it's still the best way for me to stay sharp for 'cross. Will I buy a Kawasaki Ninja for my commute? Highly unlikely, I survived doing that through my 20's and 30's and I'm not too keen on getting killed on my way to work or walking with a limp in perpetuity. I also don't need a ticket for going 168 mph. I know this for certain though, I will continue to love 'cross racing, the greatest commute ever.

Monday, February 4, 2013

When Sponsorship Leads to Entitlement

This post is going to be part rant and a little bit preachy. Maybe a lot preachy. I apologize in advance but these thoughts have been bouncing around in my head and an e-mail exchange with Drummroll today solidified them in my mind.

I've been very lucky to have some great team sponsors over the last six years. Six years ago Drummroll picked up the pieces of a team that had reached the brink of extinction. There were no sponsors and barely any racers. We were the Bad News Bears of cycling. His hard work, and more importantly our team's ability to provide actual value to the sponsors that he was able to secure, paved the way for the two great teams that I work with today.

Why do businesses sponsor amateur racers? I have news for you, it isn't for your results. They DO NOT care that you won the Cat 4 Binghamton Circuit race. They may be happy for you as an individual, but your victory will not sell a single piece of merchandise, widgets, hardware, software or other goods bought sold processed. They do not care that you dominated the local Wednesday Night Worlds, club ride, group ride, Strava segment, or time trial. They don't care if you are racing locally or in a land far far away. They don't care that you have the strongest group of regional Cat 3 racers, and they don't even care if you suck at racing for that matter. This isn't your day job, it's a hobby and a weird one at that.

It amazes me when a Cat 3/4 road racer thinks that they should get free equipment because they "race a lot." Until recently Jonathan Page was racing on frames with tape over the logos. If he doesn't have a bike sponsor, you don't get one either!

I'm currently racing for what would appear to be a fairly elite team. Are we elite? I guess it depends on your perspective. If you were to peruse the race results, I think you'd be hard pressed to convince anyone that we are particularly elite. My results certainly aren't "elite." Unless there's an elite category of mediocrity anyway. However, if you were to look at what we give back to our sponsors, I think an argument could be made that we are in fact bordering on elite.

I love to race my bike. Racing my bike is expensive. Buying clothing, bikes, and equipment is expensive. Race entries are expensive. Do I have the money to pay for these things? Yes. Do I want to part with all of that money? Not really. Would Mrs. Skinny be happy to see more money flying out the window? Definitely not. We have three mouths to feed, and although they are all dogs, they're still mouths. How can I offset at least some of these expenses? Sponsorship. How does one get a sponsor? You could race REALLY fast, but that's impractical for most of us. If you're a jerk, also take into account that you will need to race REALLY REALLY fast. So what is one to do if they have middling genetics but still want to find support for their hobby? Pay it back . . . or even better, pay it forward. Pay it forward meaning do good work and sponsors will ultimately find you.

I've told you what sponsors don't care about. Here's what I think they do care about. Note: some of these may seem obvious, but after witnessing all manner of bad behavior, I figure they are worth mentioning. Heck, there is a reason signs need to be posted in restaurant bathrooms telling employees to wash their hands.

Be friendly on group rides. Don't get into a fight at a race or on the road. Wave to other cyclists. If you can, even wave to triathletes. I know that's a hard one, but maybe they'll even wave back and in the process of removing an arm from their aero bars develop a little speed wobble, and that's always entertaining. Attend charity rides and be "normal." Normal meaning don't drop the hammer on the first climb. Be friendly and talk to the non-racers. If your sponsor gives you clothing, hats, etc. wear them out of the house. I realize that might mean that you need to be nice to people in the grocery store, but there's a price to pay for sponsorship! Volunteer at their events or at least attend them. Hold your own events. A clinic, race series, or bike rodeo perhaps. Be a customer of their products! Again, this sounds obvious, but if the kid at Taco Bell needs to be reminded to wash his hands after touching a toilet handle that has been touched by 1,000 other dudes who all touched their junk before flushing . . . well you get my point.

Special section:
If you are fortunate enough to be sponsored by a bike shop . . .

I recently spent some time with the owner of an out of town bike shop and he shared some thoughts regarding his sponsored racers. Your discount is a privilege. If the kid that rung up your $20 of gel packs forgets to give you your discount, let it go. Definitely don't ask the owner to give you a $2 credit at a later date! If your shop gives you discounted or accelerated service, don't abuse it. Give them plenty of lead time whenever possible. At the end of the day they are in business to service paying customers. Fixing your bike at a discounted rate one day before your event while you wait for it is pretty much two slaps in the face. Be a customer! Don't buy a bike off of the internet and then ask your shop to make tuning it up a priority. Also, just because you can save $5 on a pair of pedals on the internet, doesn't mean you should. Stand by your shop. You'll win some, you'll lose some, but you'll win more than you lose. Be a good partner.

I think that's pretty much the point of my ramblings. Be a good partner. If you're a good partner, you'll deserve some level of sponsorship and you'll get some level of sponsorship. Once you have it, don't take it for granted.