Word on the street is that USA Cycling has become very concerned about the precipitous drop-off in the number of idiots who participate in masters racing, and they are going to convene some kind of meeting to identify the problems and propose solutions.
That’s too bad. They should have just called me. But since they didn’t, I’ve written this very helpful little post to guide them on their way.
First, let’s understand the landscape of masters racing: It is dead and, like T-rex, is never coming back. Rather, it is laying in a big heap and decomposing while those who can stand the stench still saddle up and pedal around the rotting corpse.
What killed masters racing?
- De-innovation. The only difference between bike racing today and bike racing in 1984 is … nothing. Imagine a business model that is the same today, with the identical approach to the customer, service, product, and cost, as it was in 1984. There’s a way to spell the name of companies like that: “b-a-n-k-r-u-p-t.”
- Taxation. While the promoters’ and riders’ costs rose, USA Cycling continued to take larger and larger pieces of the pie. That USA Cycling officials are paid even a penny is a sorry joke. They should volunteer and do it for the love of the sport or get the hell out. Oh, wait a minute … what love of the sport? Many of them don’t even ride.
- Cost. In 1984 you could race the best equipment for the equivalent of about $4,000 in 2014 dollars — including kit, shoes, spare wheels, and a bike that was essentially unbreakable, with wheels that were likewise difficult to damage. A top race bike now retails for about $9k. Kit and shoes another $1k. Oh, and it’s all disposable and very easily broken. Dog forbid you crash, because those Zipp 808’s retail for about $3k. And let’s not forget tires, which can cost more than new tires for a car and last for a fraction of the time. What business model triples the cost and actually lowers the value to the consumer?
- Poverty. In 1984, a solid middle class income was $27,393. In 2014 dollars, that’s $63,019. Today’s middle class income in that same bracket? $64,582. Yep. In thirty years the biggest consumer for bike racing has seen his income go up less than $1,500, while the cost of bike crap has gone up (conservatively) $6,000. Let’s see. Should I pay for food, rent, healthcare, education, or … bike racing? Tough decision for a few. But only a few.
- Buzzkill. The professionalization of masters racing has made it very serious. Serious people like to yell and shout and create heaps of drama at races. Not-so-serious people, which is pretty much everyone else, don’t really like spending their weekend getting yelled at or abused. So they stay home while a few self-important pricks strut around as if what they did in a Sunday crit really mattered.
- Hopelessness. In the 1/2/3/4/5 categories, there’s always a shuffle. Someone younger is always coming up through the ranks and knocking off the older riders. It’s the cycle of life. But not in masters racing. Once you race an age category, the same people who win will always be the same people who win — from age 35 to age 75 — so you have forty years of getting beaten by the same people over and over and over and over again. Good times!
- Time. We have less of it, bike racing requires more. Why do we have less time? Because of poverty. We’re working more to pay for essentials, and masters bike racing isn’t an essential.
- Rewards. What are they, again? There’s no money. There are no trophies. No one gets a juice box. It’s just the “fun” of competition. Well, that works for two kinds of people: the perennial winners who like staving everyone else’s head in, and the perennial losers who don’t mind losing. That’s a customer base of about 12 people, by the way.
- Cheating. Masters racers cheat, and promoters, who are taxed to the teeth by USA Cycling, and struggling under huge operating costs, can’t afford drug testing. So the cheaters get away with it, and the non-cheaters blame everyone who wins on “doping.”
- Safety. USA Cycling races are horribly dangerous compared to other leisure activities available to elderly men with leaky prostates. USA Cycling encourages risky behavior when its PAID officials fail to aggressively enforce rules against chopping, dive-bombing, elbow throwing, bar banging, post-race face-punching, etc.
However much all of these factors have brought low the mighty dinosaur, none has inflicted the mortal wound. The true killer not just of masters racing, but of bike racing in general, is Strava. And folks, Strava is here to stay.
Strava offers everything to the competitive cyclist except reality. It is free. It rewards you. It lets you set up special courses and categories that YOU can win, or at least get “on the leader board.” It is safe. Unlike USA Cycling, whose officials in SoCal don’t do squat for race safety, Strava bans segments that are reported as dangerous.
Plus, with Strava you don’t have to travel, and every day is a bike race. Strava lets you brag to your friends, compete with little “I stole your KOM” tits-for-tats, and doesn’t require any bike handling skills. On Strava, everybody’s a Cat 1.
The only downside to Strava, of course, is that it’s completely fake and that it eliminates the one thing that makes a bike race a true competition: Everyone has to race at the same day on the same course at the same time. But it’s the virtual, inauthentic nature of Strava that real bike racing can’t compete with.
And the icing on the cake? When’s the last time your wife ever complained about you going out to take someone’s KOM?
RIP, masters racing. It was sort of nice known’ ya.
Additional participants in the mercy killing:
11. Cost Plus. In addition to the cost of a road bike, you now also need a time trial bike if you’re going to do 3-day races with a TT. Add $10k. Also, you will need a power meter ($1k – $4k), a computer ($500), and a set of race wheels to go with your training wheels ($2k). And a coach, because you can’t beat guys who train 30 hours a week just by riding hard. Trust me on that last one.
12. “The Competition.” In addition to Strava, whose value proposition overwhelms yours, in the last 30 years there has been an incredible proliferation of fun, challenging, “non-race” rides that are effectively unsanctioned races. In LA alone you can do the NPR on Tuesday morning (always race pace), the Major Motion ride on Tuesday evening (always race pace), the Amalfi Ride on Thursday morning (race pace, but with stops), the Rose Bowl Ride (pure race), the M500 (pure race), the Donut Ride (race), the Montrose Ride (race with stoplights) … and that doesn’t even count the Grand Fondos, century rides, and countless other road rides where you can mix it up without paying a fortune, driving across the country, and paying a fortune. Did I mention paying a fortune?
13. “The Competition” v. 2. Other types of racing have increased in popularity and they compete with USAC road events. That’s cyclocross and mountain bike racing. They have a better vibe. More interesting venues. More spectators. Better officiating. Safe courses. They’re cheaper and closer to home and at least for ‘cross the equipment is a lot cheaper and there’s less of it.
14. Pain. Road racing is too hard. People on training rides cut the ride, do a “B” ride, refuse to do new challenging additions. Why? Because they are weak and lazy and entitled and they don’t want to get their nuts pounded off with the handle of a chisel. The San Marcos crit (35 starters in the 35+, 19 finishers), was so miserably awful that I contemplated quitting every lap. And I was in the 45+. Road racing is worse and harder. It’s grueling and it goes on for hours. People don’t want that anymore. They want something that hurts a little bit, but not too much — certainly they don’t want to submit to 30-degree sleet at Devil’s Punchbowl for 2.5 hours, with 6k of elevation per lap, riding alone. The most important thing is that they look good, don’t wind up in the ICU or a wheelchair, and that for dog’s sake they don’t break their equipment. Because unlike brains and body parts, an expensive bike nowadays can’t be replaced.