March 2, 2023–Change is not always easy and often comes with challenges and opportunities. When Bicycle Colorado acquired Colorado Cycling (a.k.a BRAC) it was with clear knowledge they would be inheriting many challenges along with the complexities of organizing a race schedule and managing a membership that is probably a bit confused with all the changes. They also took on a long history of bike racing and the ups and downs of the local overseeing racing association and some challenging times over the years with USA Cycling and its multitude of leadership changes and focuses.
But there is equally as much optimism. With a rising tide mentality, they are hopeful that with a larger audience, a renewed focus, and a strengthening relationship with USA Cycling that more riders might be attracted to not only race but to participate in all cycling events.
They knew they needed to hire someone to oversee all of this and meld it into the bigger mission of Bicycle Colorado. And so they hired Chris McGee, a long-time race organizer and one-time Executive Director of BRAC to take on this important stewardship.
When asked about his vision, he said, “ I look at the big picture and my role is events and finding ways to work together to help overcome common challenges. The kindred spirit of what we have as a cycling community is so important to foster. It makes the experience better for everyone riding bikes in Colorado.”
When asked about road bike racing in particular, Chris said “There is definitely a decline in road racing and those events, but at the same time if you look at what’s going on in Colorado and look at Bicycle Colorado’s calendar and see all the events in Colorado, and knowing how big some of those events are and how they attract cyclists from all over the country, I’m really excited! If you look at events like the Triple Bypass, Ride the Rockies, Ironhorse Classic, the High School Cycling League, Collegiate Nationals, and big mountain bike events, there is a lot of reason for optimism for overall cycling—we are pretty lucky here! But the number one thing to know, BRAC as an entity for building the race calendar, assigning officials, and helping race directors is still intact and we dropped it into Bicycle Colorado. Yvonne van Gent, who has been a pillar at BRAC for many many years is still doing what she has always done.”
But changes in racing are happening. In a nutshell, one of the biggest changes already is the paired membership model with USA Cycling. Says Chris, “one thing I am really proud of is our deepening partnership with USA Cycling. Racers need to only buy a USAC license to race in Colorado this year. No longer do they need a BRAC license. When they sign up for a USAC license they will automatically be registered as Bicycle Colorado race members. Registration will be much quicker and easier for racers and for event managers. Soon we will have a new website dedicated to racing with many of the features of the old BRAC site but also with many upgrades and of course all the history.”
Lance Panigutti, the owner of Without Limits who put on road races, cyclocross races, and triathlons, said this about the changes so far, “It mirrors other endurance sports like triathlon that have seen a grassroots resurgence these past several years. What I’m hopeful for and would like to see is for Bicycle Colorado to focus on marketing the cycling race community as welcoming and inviting, not as an intimidating elite sport. Race scenes like cyclocross are the perfect environment for races to fall in love with competitive racing, and then moving to the road scene is a natural migration.
But let’s take a look at why Bicycle Colorado took this on and how in the long run it hopes to help not only races but all cycling events.
Bike racing, at its heart, is a grassroots sport. Bicycle Colorado took on organizing the sport as part of its mission to improve the cycling experience for all. Including racers. Take a look at the bike calendar. It’s packed. It’s an elusive creature to have one, up-to-date calendar presenting all the possible events and races available to cyclists.
Said Chris McGee, “it starts with a comprehensive event calendar so people can find events, and plan for events but also so we can help manage the impact these events will have on the community. Our goal with acquiring BRAC (Colorado Cycling) is to bring bike racing more into the mainstream of cycling and help improve the experience not only for racers but also for clubs and for the communities hosting these races. We also want to help attract more people to race and to be a stronger partner with USA Cycling to encourage the growth nationally and provide a stronger conduit of youth racers to grow the sport.”
Bike racing is a very niche sport. Riding a bike however is one of the most popular activities in the world. Some studies show riding a bike is the most popular activity in the United States. But based on a few google searches, and depending on how you define “activity”, it may not be the top activity, but it’s at least in the top five. Running, fishing, and hiking all seem to be higher in ranking.
So how many people actually are considered cyclists? Does it matter? Well, it certainly does to Bicycle Colorado which advocates for all cyclists, including bike racers and those that just want a safe route to ride for fun or commute. Their website states, “Bicycle Colorado is a nonprofit advocacy organization championing the interests of all bicycle riders statewide. We envision a Colorado where riding a bicycle is always safe and convenient for everyone, where bicycling is the top choice for recreation and everyday trips, and where the benefits of bicycling are experienced and valued by all people in our state.”
Obviously, this would include racing. But for years, bike racing was a kind of satellite revolving around “biking” left mostly alone to advocate for itself and fend off trends and market forces that in the case of road cycling, have left that discipline battered and isolated, some might say unapproachable, complex and even elitist in nature.
For decades racing a bike, as an adult in Colorado has been sanctioned by different governing bodies and most recently was overseen by the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado (BRAC) which changed its name in 2020 to Colorado Cycling but was essentially the same organization. But thanks to an aging, expensive website, COVID, and some would argue a wavering philosophy on their role in the sport, BRAC was at crossroads about its future or even if it had a future.
Something needed to change for the good of cyclists and the sport—it fit Bicycle Colorado’s mission to step in.
Bike racing, in particular, road racing has been on the decline for years. There are too many reasons and speculations to take a deep dive here as to why, but one thing is for sure, bike racing is complex. It involves getting a license, closing roads, finding, coordinating, and paying referees. Most people who race are on a team. People are categorized and race against others of similar ability. There are points and team competitions and on and on. It’s simply not the most approachable sport for someone not familiar with how to do it. Sure you can just show up and race (after getting the licenses) and not care about the rest, but to fully engage takes effort. But as participants age, or drop out of the sport, refilling the road peloton so to speak isn’t keeping pace with those leaving.
Unlike triathlon, where for the most part, people are sort of racing themselves and do it for the challenge of finishing. Obviously, people race to win in triathlon as well, but in general it’s a participation sport and all one needs is USAT license (can be a one day license) and show up and race. Triathlon comes with its own barriers of entry such as the cost and the intimidation of maybe doing a sport, like swimming, that is not comfortable but is very approachable for the most part.
Those in the bike racing governing bodies have been talking for years about how to make it more inviting, to attract new people, and to make it more accepted in the community. To make it more sustainable and with a brighter future. To grow the sport. To make it simpler and broaden the appeal to the biggest audience possible.
Let’s hope and help Bicycle Colorado navigate the future and achieve those goals.