The decomposing dinosaur

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?

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.”
  10. 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.

35 thoughts on “The decomposing dinosaur”

  1. Damn. And I was hoping to lead you out at 50-54 crit Nats for the Depends prime, which requires you cross exactly mid-pack during an unidentified mid-race lap. Imagine the highjinks cause diapers are, like, expensive and cut deeply into to the anything-carbon slush fund.

    1. Well, I never said I was abandoning the corpse. I love masters racing, sort of but not really.

      Just advising all interested parties that it’s not a matter of finding a place to put a Band-Aid, and more like bringing back an extinct species with stem-cell cloning.

      And the Depends prime is mine, bitch.

  2. In-N-Out has pretty much had the exact same business model since at least 1984 and look at them go.

    Oh, wait, they provide a quality product that people actually like.

    Never mind.

    1. exactly. This is a sports federation that promises 30+ minute cyclocross races then pulls lapped riders. The last mountain bike race I saw was a dirt road race.

      Meanwhile, practically every single cycling event outside the UCI/USAC is doing great. Yes, the independent racing needs anti-doping, but we’re just not there yet.

      Special shout out to Dot Wong who runs events outside USAC. Spend money at her events if it’s burning a hole in your pocket.

      1. Unfortunately, SPY had a great opportunity to run their series outside of USAC and those wonderful “SoCal Cup” points. I’ll show up to one or two because I love the company that is Spy, the people involved and their lovely sunnies, but it was a very very very very very very big missed opportunity to have another awesome cx series in SoCal that avoids a USAC license.

    2. Ha, ha, ha!

      Funny how when you give the customer a service they want at a price they like they keep coming back!

  3. It will be interesting to see what happens at USACDF if membership collapses at USAC.

    How many USAC board members will USACDF replace at USAC? USACDF revenue implications? Remember USAC can run with no one participating because it’s partially funded by the USOC.

    I’d also like to point out the current “Pro” national road racing champion has a regular (semi-regular?) job. Mountain biking is similarly impoverished.

  4. I have always ridden road, raced road and largely thought of myself as a “roadie”… funny thing happened a few years ago: I found endurance mtb racing. Low key (yet very competitive), fun & no 30 min races or getting pulled. I haven’t had a USAC Licence in years – thought I might this year, but why?

    1. You should get a USAC license because of all they’ve done for you! Like pull you after 30 minutes, etc.

  5. ” 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”
    My plan is to keep racing until I’m 90 or 95, and wait for all my competitors to die or become invalids.
    The I can starting kicking-A on the super-duper-masters 95+ crits & road races.
    There was a Frenchman recently who set the World 1 Hr record for 100+ category …

  6. Quit your whining and take up Triathlons. The Female talent is way better at those events.

  7. What’s and old fart with delusions of grandeur to do? I second the endurance MTB racing, but the most fun I had all year was coming in mid pack at BWR…

  8. what are the suggested solutions to bringing in new lifeblood and making the sport a more vibrant scene with a growing culture of, dare i say, fun?

    oh yeah, let others put effort and money into trying to create new dynamics and then sit back and criticize them for having the audacity to try to better the sport and bring new people to it… when it’s doomed.

    1. 1. Quit paying USAC officials.
      2. Spend money on young people, not old people.
      3. Standardize equipment like they do in sailing. Make it simple and cheap. Steel bikes, aluminum wheels, etc.
      4. Enforce rules for safe riding like they do in Milwaukee. Pull the aggro riders.
      5. Drug test.
      6. Require riders to race their category. If you’re a Cat 1, guess what? You ride with the Cat 1’s. Otherwise, downgrade.
      7. Limit the number of racers that a team can put in a race.
      8. Mentor young racers.
      9. Reduce entry fees.
      10. Develop venues that are fun.
      11. Eliminate the terrible SoCal Cup, or revamp it so that it actually means something.

      Why does the customer have to tell the service provider how to fix his service? Isn’t that the service provider’s responsibility?

    2. cannibal,

      Every attempt at delivering an innovative product is shut down by USAC because they operate a government granted monopoly. The last federation to die was Colorado’s. They were explicitely told to switch to USAC or they would be put out of business.

      USAC has no interest in creating new dynamics. Their purpose is to transfer funds to USACDF and comply with IOC/USOC rules so USACDF is free to do what it wants in the name of cycling development.

      As long as USAC is permitted to operate as a monopoly and gets USOC funding, you must support other federations, or ride independent events. USAC members cannot vote for change so there’s no other choice.

  9. This Strava thing may actually catch on. Traded publicly? It’s a great tool (read: “my results”), it’s also a lot of fun…I just flagged the switchbacks as hazardous -sorry 5,362 serious cyclists. YES!

  10. Excellent writing. So true. One thing us old guys realize is that we don’t heal up like a 25 year old. A broken collar bone was once a badge of courage. Today, its a badge of stupidity. Bumping and banging in an old man crit just ain’t worth it anymore. And this is coming from a guy that threw his fair share of Michael Zanoli back fists. Well, not really but you get my drift.

      1. Last weekend, over 2,000 US Triathlon Masters between the ages of 35 and 64, qualified for and traveled to Milwaukee with their $10K TT bike, watt meters and carbon wheels, and gladly paid $160 to compete in US Triathlon age group olympic distance nationals. This is one of 13 national championships USA triathlon puts on. No ER visits, lots of PR’s were set, nobody was pulled, and most will be back next year. With better coaching and faster wheels and bikes.

  11. I think I heard the same argument in 1970, or was it ’79, or ’84? I wrote a beautiful letter once-got 5 minutes in front of the USCF board, and gave it a shot….had a bunch of smart folks on my side, too…didn’t get much purchase, though. Bottom line is that we still love bikes a lot, but the hate USAC,.. same attitudes and way worse in the organizational/support drawer.Now I quietly go to races and events, sit in a lawn chair with my dog (on a leash), and drink some wine…guess what? the officials don’t like my dog being there and the open container thing is just universally frowned upon! F em’! The vines never make rules and never talk back.

  12. I’m technically still a young guy compared to most of the Master’s racers in SoCal, but I had a similar realization at the beginning of this year. In the span of two weekends I “raced” the BWR and saw hot chicks in bikinis who gave me a Budweiser. I met lots of cool people and still punished my legs like it was a race. Then I had beer and red meat. Then, the following weekend, I drove north to Lake County and raced the Boggs 8 Hour, put on by Bike Monkey. I raced my mountain bike on amazing single track, covered by gorgeous pine trees all day long. I punished myself (again) and had an amazing battle for 10th (or 50th, who fucking cares) place around the 6 hour mark. Afterwards, I had beer and enchiladas with the dude I battled with, and we laughed about how silly bike racing is.

    The money I save on USAC cycling licenses and events will be put towards those events in 2015.

    1. There are many promoters out there who realize that people want to ride and compete, but they want value, they want fun venues, they want a whole “experience.” Traditional promoters ignore these things at their peril.

  13. Triathletes do not compete against each other. They challenge their Personal Best. Cyclocrossers and mountain bikers compete against the course. Road and Track racers compete against each other which means three guys are on a podium and everybody else loses. The self esteem generation is not comfortable with this.

    1. Triathletes don’t compete,they preen. There’s a difference. Well, actually, maybe not.

  14. Race the track. Safer, somewhat cheaper, races are hard but short, they are somewhat more interesting, you don’t get pulled, just lapped. Unfortunately not an option for most people.

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