Superb racing in the 805

I attended Saturday’s Avenue of the Flags Criterium in Buellton. It was the best crit of the year by far. We can leave aside the prize money for now, which was substantial — $32,000 in cash prizes for three days of racing.

The course is the most challenging crit course in SoCal. It isn’t super technical, but it’s technical enough that you must be able to corner well or the accelerations out of the turns will devour you. The wind is a huge factor; it’s mostly a strong crosswind that ensures you will get no respite on the two long straightaways. There is also a significant finishing gradient, which guarantees that your legs will be toast when it’s time to sprint.

Buellton has resurfaced the entire course since last year so the paving is smooth, grippy, and very fast. The infield between the two straightaways is lined with booths, food vendors, and spectators. The races go off on time, and if you’ve traveled with an S/O, as soon as the race finishes you can jaunt off to any of the numerous wineries — or the legendary Firestone Brewery — that are minutes away. And if jaunting away isn’t your style, you can belly up in the beer garden right across from the announcer’s stand.

And did I mention prize money?

I got more finishing sixth place in the masters 50+ category than is on offer to win many crits. Top finishers got lots more, and those who won their category for the 3-day omnium received $1,000+ paydays. Oh, and he weather was beautiful.

You would think that with a great, safe course, huge payday, professional execution, and lots of other activities for fellow travelers, fantastic vibe, and classy central coast scenery, the fields would be full to busting. You’d think that a race like this would fill up online and waitlisted riders would be standing around on race day, trying to buy slots off racers who had pre-registered, or wheedling the promoter for a special favor.

But, well, nope.

Only 18 riders showed for the final day in the 50+, 23 riders in the 40+, and 36 riders in the P/1/2 field with thousands and thosands of dollars on offer. The promoter, Mike Hecker, was rewarded for putting on an incredible event, huge prizes, and great courses with a collective yawn from the amateur “racers” here in SoCal. Entire teams that sport about town in wrapped team vehicles and the trickest equipment were absent; other clubs that have hundreds of members showed up with one or two racers, max.

Whether Hecker will put on the event next year is open to question, and if he doesn’t all the people who didn’t bother to show up will bitch and whine about how “there aren’t any good races anymore.”

That’s right, dumbshits, BECAUSE PEOPLE LIKE YOU DON’T SHOW UP.

However, it’s easy to blame all the lazy, hypocritical, whiny, spoiled, frosted-cupcake race poodles who parade at the coffee shop but are always “otherwise engaged” on race day. And it’s easy to be sympathetic to Mike, who is a promoter’s promoter — puts his heart and soul into it, does a superlative job, and at the end of the day loses money.

What’s harder is to figure out the problem, and harder still to solve it.

The reason licensed racers don’t show up to races is because we don’t know why licensed racers don’t show up races. That’s right … we have no data. We know how many people hold licenses, we know how many events are held annually, and we know attendance numbers. But we don’t have the data that matters, i.e. the customer feedback about why they don’t race, and more specifically, why they didn’t show up for this race.

In other words, race promoters for the most part are running a business that depends on customer satisfaction without knowing what satisfies their customers. And when we do know what satisfies customers, because occasionally they tell us, we still don’t know if their answers are representative of others, and crucially, we have no idea whether they’re representative of the customers who have licenses and who never show up.

I don’t think that Toyota works that way. I think that before they roll out a new product, they find out what their potential customers think about it. Everyone with a racing license is a potential customer, but with a few exceptions we don’t know what makes them decide to race or stay home except on an anecdotal basis.

And here’s where everyone has an opinion: Some say it’s cost, or training time, equipment, the fact that it’s a dirty sport, danger, distance, time away from family, the list is endless. But until we can rank the reasons that people stay home, and as importantly, rank the reasons that they show up, superb events like the 805 Crit Series will struggle.

SCNCA of course has the resources to do this type of outreach, and of the 18 “services” they claim to provide, only two bullet points address member growth and retention, and they’re buried in the list. Can you imagine Toyota putting “customer growth and retention” in between “maintaining the web site” and “maintaining a presence on Facebook”?

I’d argue that nothing SCNCA does is even remotely as important as customer growth and retention, with the possible exception of “increasing race participation” which, of course, they don’t even bother to list as a goal. And why should they? SCNCA is primarily funded by licenses, not race participation. As long as you have a license, SCNCA gets funded.

Individual clubs could really help out here, but they won’t. All it would take is an email survey of members to find out answers to these questions:

  • Do you race?
  • Why or why not?
  • Do you want to race?
  • Why or why not?
  • How many races do you do each year?
  • How many have you done in the last five years?
  • How many would you like to do next year if you could?
  • How many years have you held a racing license?
  • How important are these things to you in deciding whether or not to race:
    • Distance from home
    • Cost of equipment
    • Hours of training required per week
    • Entry fee
    • Risk of crashing
    • Prize money
    • Course difficulty
    • Course distance
    • Technical nature of course
    • Race reimbursements by your club
    • Field size
    • Type of race–crit, road, TT, SR, omnium
    • Category upgrade points
  • How often does your club send out race information?
  • How easy is it to find another racer with whom to carpool?
  • Do others on your team encourage you to race?

If ten clubs did this and aggregated the results, it would certainly be a start, and we wouldn’t be guessing quite as blindly. If the top 50 clubs did it we would be on our way to a real database. Ultimately, we desperately need promoters like Mike Hecker and events like the 805 Series. But if we can’t even be bothered to find out why our peers are staying home and why the’re making the effort to race, well, this is another great event that people will look back on fondly and say, “Remember when … ”



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23 thoughts on “Superb racing in the 805”

  1. Racing a bicycle is some serious shit. For all of the reasons in your survey, it is a big step to go from group ride, croissants, and lattes to licensed racing. Not too long ago, my club put on a members only race series with A and B races where there was a lot of barking/coaching and newbies and former racers tasted the excitement. It is a smaller step from there to “really” racing with the mean cyclists from the other clubs.

    1. It’s a huge step, which is why it makes a lot more sense to focus 1) on attracting the maximum number of riders who already race, and then focusing on 2) licensed racers who don’t race, and finally 3) converting club riders into racers.

      Go for the easiest sale first, etc., but you have to do it with data.

  2. Wanky, I am sure that CentralCoastian Buelltonionites bristle at being placed in SoCal. Perhaps that is one of the reasons for the poor turnout.


  3. Serge Issakov

    Post your questions on surveymonkey and spread it around SoCal clubs?

  4. Three reasons why people don’t race:
    1. Speed
    2. Range
    3. Acceleration
    In engineering you can only optimize two at a time, so that leaves me with range, and, well, uh…range.

  5. You make a big assumption: calling a license holder a “customer”. I believe we are only as much a customer as the licensor considers us such. Not once have I felt like a customer. First step is to change the mindset of SCNCA. And, you know, that’s like totally easy.

    1. Yes, rather than “customer” I propose calling us “suckers” or perhaps “contemptible cockroaches.”

      1. Better. But then it’s also a touchy subject not getting confused between SCNCA and the “mom n pop” promoters that do such a great job. Maybe they are the real customers to SCNCA and the ones that need better support. Maybe that’s the real breakdown? Or did you sort of already say that?

        1. The promoters are sources of money for SCNCA to suck dry. They charge, for example 50 cents for every entry so they can provide even better “services.”

  6. If the do not want to race you cannot hardly ever keep them away. Regardless the only sure fire way to increase racing population is too offer Cat IV Women’s Races at the Tour of California and offer equal to superior prize money. Simple solutions to vexing questions and of course, do not allow Caitlin Jenner to race with the ladies.

  7. Graduation Friday
    Fathers Day Sunday

    Not a great weekend for me.

    See yall at San Luis Rey.

    Adrenaline two weeks ago was an awesome circuit race

    I’d race more but Sundays are reserved, not a ton of Saturday races

    As a recent returned to the road racing scene I can tell you the friendliness and inclusive nature of off road is so much more engaging… I wish we could bottle that and bring it to the road. It’s curious right?… Road riding is more social than off road.

    Hope this helps your research Dr Wankmeister

      1. Awesome.

        Two questions I would like to see:

        Is Strava replacing your need to “race”?

        Do you prefer an experience like BWR or Nosco Ride or a Gran Fondo?

        IMO Strava is doing to cycling what Uber is doing to taxis and airbnb to hotels and FB to TV. We probably need to except and leverage that fact.

        1. Yes, Strava is the preferred form of racing.

          Yes, Grand Fondues are the preferred form of group racing.

          So actual races need to compete. But they need the data first.

  8. David Huntsman

    Had the 805 weekend penciled in the calendar, but for the kid. That was going to be a lot of racing! Too bad they pulled the plug. But not a lot of kids go to wineries, I guess.

  9. We have the opposite problem in our local club. Our local cycling club harvests members from a total area population of approximately 120,000 citizens.
    The club grades cyclists into 7 Grades A-G and even mid winter when the temperatures are in the low 40s it’s wet and windy, we’ve got so many racers turning up that the bunch sprints are too dangerous and they’re having to split the grades further into A and A elite and E, E1 etc.
    Our races don’t have any prize money. You do get a hot drink and cookie at the finish and a lot of ribbing about how little you pulled etc.
    There is no traffic management. We race on quiet local country roads. Most people ride to the race and home. The venue for the race brief etc is normally one of several area schools which allow the club to use the facilities free of charge.
    Club membership is around $60/yr and races are $5 per rider and the club funds are overflowing.

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