I went to a road race on Saturday with a barely-mended cracked pelvis. It was pouring when we arrived, and raining when the race started. The field had 70 riders, the roads were slick with mud, the race started with two fast downhills, and the back side of the course was on badly paved road that sported lots of potholes.
And, I was scared.
Let me repeat that: I was scared.
And lest anyone misunderstand, I am scared pretty much every time I race my bike. Why? Because bike racing is scary.
It is fun and exhilarating and challenging, but especially it is scary.
Some people aren’t scared by bike racing. They are easily categorized:
- Monumental idiots.
- Young people (often same as #1).
- People with no dependents and seasonal employment (often same as #1 and #2).
Everyone else finds the act of getting on a bike and scrumming, bar-to-bar, with highly excitable people possessing questionable skills at high speeds, frightening. In fact, most people find it so frightening that they never race. Others only toe the lie after great internal struggles and psychological battles of the worst sort. No one races, year in and year out, without repeatedly questioning whether it’s worth the risk, and upon concluding “No way,” shrugging and racing anyway.
I say all of this because after Saturday’s fright fest there was a crit on Sunday. The weather forecast was a 100% chance of rain. The TV weather maps showed an angry red colossus sweeping everything in its path. If you raced on Sunday you were going to get wet.
This caused a lot of people to stay home because they were afraid. Why were they afraid? Because when you race 100% of the time in sunny Southern California on dry roads, going really fast on wet ones that are often coated with oil takes the normal amount of anxiety and ramps it up to “unbearable” on the Scare-dee-Meter. In other words, it’s not fun.
There’s another reason people stayed home. Bicycles nowadays are rather expensive. One fall that busts your wheels is an easy $2k. Frame, $3-4k. Helmet, $250. Most racers don’t like to trash their equipment, and even if you don’t crash it, filthy wet races leave you with a nasty, dreckish bike that takes time and effort to clean. What a fun way to spend Sunday evening after sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 101 …
So I was a bit surprised to read a nasty takedown on Facegag today by a guy in the 65+ category (really), sneering at all the masters pansies and weaklings who got scared off by a little rain. Several other idiots chimed in, lamenting how weak and cowardly the profamateur SoCal masters racers are. And then of course there was the criticism about “not supporting the promoter,” because everyone who chose to stay home was somehow an enemy of amateur bike racing.
Of course this particular critic was also saying “Look at me and how tough I am.” And I kind of disagree. If you’re 65 years old and still trying to prove that you’re tough, you’re about as weak and insecure as they come. The schoolyard taunt of “chicken” loses its jab for most people by about age 15. Any time some wrinkled “master” in his underwear is calling a bunch of other wrinkled masters in their underwear “cowards,” well, we have the subject of a funny SNL skit.
The fact is that the older you get the more carefully you weigh risk and count nickels. For a lot of people, especially those who slogged through Saturday’s shit fest, a Sunday spent pretending that we’re all 20-something Belgian pros just didn’t match up against the risk of spending a Sunday afternoon in the ER getting a new roll of Tegaderm and neck x-rays from three angles.
You may not like it, but masters racers are customers. If you think that calling them names and abusing them and treating them like shit will make them want to show up and race the next go ’round when the weather is nicer, you may be in for a surprise.
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