Coffee Talk - Getting more newbies into bike racing

Today's coffee talk is about newbies. So a few weeks ago we said that it's not heros that got you into the sport, so what is it? Coffee talk discussion gives me the chance to rant and you a chance to fire back with your 2 or 4 cents.

The question is, how do we lure these race virgins into our sport? Every racer has them, friends who'd like to try racing but just haven't. What does it take to convert them? What is holding them back, is it nerves, lack of equipment, not enough training? Remember your first race, what got you to take the plunge?

This coming Sunday, Oct. 5th, the Primal Racing team will be offering a first timers only race at their PrimalPalooza event. At 10:55 newbie racers can experience cyclocross through a 30 minute race. Even better, the first timers race is offered at half price ($15 rather than $30 race entry fee) and it all benefits a great cause Trips for Kids. So a nearby race, at a discount, competing against only fellow race virgins for only 30 minutes. What could possibly be holding your wannabe friends back? Cyclocross really has the lowest barriers to entry of any of the cycling disciplines, but is the Colorado racing scene too intimidating for many to attempt?

Take our Poll, are we too serious?

With over 1 million spectators showing up for the US Pro Cycling challenge can't we get .01% of them to try out a bike race?

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30 Comments

Your Distorted Big Picture

Last time I checked, there is only 1 winner in any race, Tri, running, NASCAR, etc so your logic is flawed from the start.

Most people come to CX b/c it's not about the winning, it's that anyone/everyone can do their own race wherever they may be in the pack b/c the guy at the back has the same course/conditions, etc as the guy at the front. Fortunately, CX is different than a RR where technique and bike handling skills, picking lines and being smooth dont make a difference. Sure there are a few tactics in a RR but it's it's really tough to be an active participant without top form. Otherwise you are off the back and soon to get lapped or followed by the sag wagon.

There is hardly any other discipline in cycling, maybe Mtb is a possible exception, where there is more guys congratulating each other for their out of the top 10 placing than in CX. Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug, that's racing. Performing well at anything, despite conditions, is about opportunity and preparedness.

Everyone in CX races their own race and that is why there are so many who like it and who have all but dropped their RR efforts and save themselves for CX only. It's about improving your own A-game week after week, season after season. I would suspect many Tri people are the same way, they just have 3 disciplines to work within. To quote you and your lofty view of how awesome the Tri scene is vs CX, for the vast majority of CX'rs it isn't about about a "real sense of win/lose, it is much more about participation and doing your best." Why do you think the sport has grown so much and is the highest growth area in cycling? Don't confuse hard with fun.

How do you honestly think everyone would have a better experience by having a 1/2/3 category system with close to 500 racers at a big CX event? According to your gripe/issue with CX, that would only make things worse b/c it would be harder for the beginner to 'feel welcome', place well and therefore have a good experience.

What you propose only perpetuates a potential problem of having a beginner only category. How do you define AND quantify a beginner? There is a place for a beginner to try it for themselves and that is at the back of the 4 or 4/35+. If they like it, there is plenty of opportunity to learn how to ride your bike there and then move up. CX'rs typically come from a Mtb or RR background and just fresh off the streets. They quickly know if they like it or not.

"Low-end Bike Race?" I'm sorry to say that if you cant hear yourself, you come across as being bitter and a victim. You seem to define anything without an Expo as low-end? FYI, the Expo people aren't there to hug you and make you feel loved, they are there for sales and marketing purposes only. Sure, they may make you feel like a hero for participating but dont kid yourself that is why they are there and they could really care less about your PR.

Sounds like CX just isn't your thing and that is okay b/c it is for many of us. I sucked for 3 years before I finally decided I wanted to put a focus on CX, put in some hard interval training, registered as early as I possibly could to enhance my starting position and finally was able to start having better results and upgrade. That was 10+ years ago and despite the fact that I train as much as I can today with work/family, I still get my ass handed to me in the 45+ category. I will likely never win unless they cat up to 55+. If I crack the top 10, I am elated..happened one time last year. Maybe someday I will crack the top 5. I look forward to pinning a bib every weekend and testing myself. Your race is where you are, attitude=altitude.

Offer a solution instead of be so defensive about cross.........

It is odd how someone like you reads what I wrote and tries to find all the negative in it. I am sorry for you. You spent a lot of time attacking me personally and what I said, but yet you did not offer a single solution to grow the spot. It is fine to disagree with me, but at least I am offering some ideas/observations/suggesting. I am also sorry you took what I said about cross as a native on the sport, it was not intended that way. It is a great sport and the # of riders should be a model to the other disciplines. A lot of what I was saying was about road, so please take off your cross blinder, stop pushing up your cross chest muscles, and don't be so defensive. Yes, a 1/2/3 cross race would be a stupid idea!

I guess I needed to state this for you, of course there is literally only one winner. The point is that other sports are often more about participation that winning per say (tri and running). What is so odd about your response is that you agree with what I said and you do cross to participate, more than win. That is cool and that is the attitude/experience I think we need to create to grow the sport.

As for a low end race I am referring to an office park crit. Again no need to attack me to be defensive. There is a big difference in experience between low end races and events that make it a better experience, for example the state crit in Ft. Collins this year, nice expo and a farmers market, or the cross race yesterday, which provided a great experience for anyone who raced or watched.

Solutions were offered

A lot more solutions were offered than you did, simply by checking one's outlook and attitude. You did not differentiate in your original post about Road, you came across as laming on CX. Why then did you even bring up a cat 1/2/3 in CX to grow things?

I am not some puffed up CX'r but my friend, I dont think people not moving up from Cat 4/35+ is a growth issue. People don't choose Cycling b/c there are many other sporting options in CO besides paying $30 to get your butt handed to you, not b/c there are too many sandbaggers in the 4/35+ who never upgrade. If they are content where they are, and they obviously are, then it makes it weekly charity ride for them and so be it. If anything, that should attract people who want a low barrier to entry.

Flat out, bike racing is expensive and time consuming in order to be competitive as compared to many sporting opportunities that we have here in CO

Newbie numbers not growing?

Newbie numbers not growing?

Have you been out to the cross races lately? Largest field is usually the 35+ 4s, ie the CBL type field.
More cross races with over 500 racers this year than ever before. A few with over 600...
Issue is how you accommodate that many racers in a day. Only way to add a Cat. 5 would be lump some of the "smaller" Open fields together.

Will be interesting to see if numbers go down now after Boulder Cup and winter coming...

Make it easy

1) Schedule a free clinic at the race. This could be done during the races but in a separate area.
2) Allow time during the day for them to take a practice lap on the course.
3) Do a free 30' "race" following.

My wife keeps putting off entering a race, even though she thinks it would be so much fun because she is worried about dismounting/mounting and then getting in the way of the racers warming up on the course. She would love to get out there on her mountain bike and do a lap or two.

I think if you just allowed people to ride the course without any pressure, they might find out "I can do this!" They might be less intimidated to either enter that day or come back to the next race

Opportunity for Easy

Why does your wife not line up last in the Women's 4 category and try CX? Is she just waiting for someone to invite her? There is no other better place for her to experience a CX for beginner women and she will find many others back there in her same shoes. She can also practice mounts/dismounts with you at the park, or at clinics held by the local bike shops. What about the very first CX race of this season put on by Tough Girls cycling.

“QUEENS OF CROSS”
CALLING ALL LADIES!! (and gentlemen). Every wanted to try out a cyclocross race??? Here is your chance! Our focus is providing an atmosphere where women and beginners can come and try the sport of Cyclocross without feeling pressured! But don’t worry guys... we aren’t leaving you out... there are pleanty of categories for you too... we really just expect you to come out dressed in drag for a day to cheer the women in your life on!
-Presented by the Tough Girl Cycling Team in conjunction with The Happy Coffee Cyclocross Team

There is an opportunity again this coming Sunday at the Primalpalooza CX race at the same location for Newbies to try it.

I think it's time people mature and start looking for solutions.

For the masses, racing has a poor average return on investment

First off, I'm a little skeptical about the "grow our sport" calls I've heard in the dozen or so years I've been involved with racing. The reasons to enjoy cycling and race should be self evident. If they're not to someone, then I'm not so inclined to pull teeth to get that person interested. That said, please pardon me paraphrasing a post I made over on the ACA forum re: concerns over low turnout at road races. IMO the barrier to racing boils down to a simple equation:

High resource demand + risk+ race quantity over quality = a poor average return on investment.

High resource demand = the amount of effort, time, cash it takes to compete on a regular basis. Kudos to the 10-15% of all racers who can muster these resources and compete weekly throughout the season. For most others, if even one of these resources run dry (motivation, fitness, time or $$) for any length of time, that's pretty much it for the season unless you feel like shelling out $30 to get your nuts kicked in.

Risk = many weekend warriors will sell their skin, bones, carbon fiber rigs and egos dearly before entering yet another sketchy crit with so little actually at stake.

Race quantity over quality = there are some good races, but maybe not enough events that exactly inspire the imagination. Maximum respect to the promoters as putting on a great race is a serious PITA, what with its associated cost, risk, logistics, politics & permitting and (it would seem) limited return on investment at least as far as amateur road racing goes. Thus you get what appear to be a lot of "lowest common denominator" events, which likely have less of the above associated organizational challenges and likely a higher return on investment for the promotor. The nasty side effect of this is that the events are mundane (e.g.--the office park crit). People get fired up for the epic, not the mundane.

Poor average return on investment (for your average racer) = the steep fun per effort/$ ratio. A small percentage of riders do well in any given race and again, kudos to them. Another percentage put in the time/effort & cash to try and make a dent in any given race they enter. The pack fodder (AKA the majority of racers in any given category) can choose this sport...or company softball, pick up basketball down at the rec center, fishing, kite flying...you get the idea.

I love racing and as much as it pains me to say it, as a participant sport, it's fringe at best. As I said above, the reasons to race have to be self evident to the individual. They are to me, but then huge majority of my friends and family think 10 hours a week is way too much time for training and that at 5' 10" 160lb (=offseason pudge) I'm too skinny and need to eat.

racing is fine. there are

racing is fine. there are always people complaining about something. this ride is too fast, that ride is too slow, there's not enough people in my category, there's too many people in my category...

racing should be hard. that's what makes it fun. if you don't want it to be hard, then go ride a charity event or other non-competitive event. i did my first crit on a 25 lb. road bike, with hairy legs, mtn bike shorts, and zero training. I proceeded to get dropped in the first 2 laps and lapped within 10 minutes and got pulled. that day I was pretty irritated. BUT it also inspired me to go train and have another crack at it. for the first time I realized what it meant to be an athlete. it was the fact that it was a challenge that made me want to come back. if it was easy, I would have just quit then.

people are always looking for excuses as to why something can't be done. this summer I went to work after having a pretty bad crash mountain biking. more than one person said to me "yeah, that's why i don't mountain bike. i don't want to get hurt"

probably the only item I could see justification for is not pulling people in the cat 4 categories of a cx race. other category riders should get pulled. you should also pull lapped riders in a crit in all categories. sadly, even with instructions, the lapped 4s riders never pulled to the side and somehow thought they were still a part of the action.

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