Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Plot to Ruin it for Everyone

Imagine: two hundred people are gathered behind a line. Above the line, there is a big banner that says "Start." Each of these two hundred people is straddling a bicycle. Everyone is mushed up as close as they can get to the line, so that when the gun goes off, the cluster of riders all race away at once, tangled up in the straps of one another's hydration packs or clipped into one another's pedals. 

If you've never raced a bicycle, you should know that this happens because, while most races begin on roads or in fields, they quickly narrow down onto what we call doubletrack (two bikes wide) or singletrack (I bet you can guess), so if you're not in the front of the pack, you're going to get stuck in a long line. Getting stuck like this can be irritating, because if you're stuck behind someone who's slower than you, you will feel inhibited and like you are losing the whole race here in the first mile because of this joker who has probably never ridden a bicycle in his life. Conversely, if you're stuck in front of someone who's faster than you, you're quickly going to tire of their perspiration running down your back. What this means is that, since everybody secretly believes they might win the whole enchilada (and thus the $30 winner's prize), everybody tries to be the first person onto the singletrack. Everybody will absolutely blow themselves up in the first mile or two of a 50-mile race to be first onto the singletrack. This would be funny to someone like me, a casual racer who rides a bike that's five pounds heavier than everyone else's and who doesn't even know what a glycogen index level is, if I weren't caught in the same harrowing traffic and just as frustrated as everybody else, which is nearly always threatening to become this:

There really is no help for this. Race starts are imperfect, but they really aren't that bad, and riders in a 50-mile race quickly spread out. We are all grownups and can deal with it. Right?


One kind of individual has almost ruined racing for me, and that kind of individual is the kind who, when we all first come to the singletrack and get caught in the ant line, will start saying something incredibly annoying like, "Hup, hup, hup, hup, hup," or "Trail, trail, trail, trail, trail," whilst either pushing his bike around--or worse, just riding through--everybody and forcing them aside. "Rider back, rider back, rider back!" 

Several times this year a rider behind me has demanded that he be allowed to pass, or has simply ridden me off the trail, in areas where we were no more than 50 yards from a place where the trail became a fire road, meaning that the rider behind me couldn't wait twenty seconds to pass.

In a cyclocross race last year, I hit a root with my front tire and was still in a position much like this one:

when the racer behind me started shouting, "LOOKOUTLOOKOUTLOOKOUTLOOKOUT!" I did my best to use my nose as a rudder in the dirt and thus steer myself aside, but I doubtlessly was still somewhere in the vicinity of being in his way when I came to rest in a big pile of faceplant. 

You can find a better article than mine about this kind of character here, written by the person who pioneered race ruining. I think there are a lot of us out there who feel this way--that bike racing is generally enjoyable unless you take it too seriously, or when someone who takes it too seriously thinks you should take them seriously. It's time we did something about it. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of attitude.

I'd considered hanging up my race number, but I came up with better options. I think these plans expose me as a jerkface, but I'm going to pursue them anyway.

The turtle shell. If you're a jerkface to me, I will knock your butt off that Rainbow Road.

Aft-facing confetti cannon. An overly-serious racer will suddenly have to contend with a face-full of Shiny Fun-Blizzard.

I'll wear the product that rules the last 15 seconds of this video:

And as the overly-serious racer finally does pass me (a sure thing considering my increased wind resistance), I'll repeatedly quote the following:

I imagine a more level-headed person would ask, aren't those serious people entitled to have their serious fun? Sure. However, they aren't entitled to be in front. That's something they have to earn. Also, they aren't entitled to be rude. If they decide to be rude, then they open to door to hearing how I feel about their rudeness. If they need to get serious about something, they can go home and put together a plan to stop genocide or starvation. They can get serious about getting free education for all, or about getting children out of abusive homes. If they need to win an amateur bike race in order to feel good about themselves, to feel they've really accomplished something, then they've asked for every bit of frustration they experience in that amateur race.

Here's all you will ever need to know about amateur bicycle racing. First, put this on.

Now, drink this:

  Or, if your priorities are really in order, this:

Now, race your amateur bike. Grit your teeth and race it hard. When you stop having fun, either drink more beer or get off your bike. See what I've left out here? Being a jerk. That's not part of it at all.

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