Professional Promoters Have Killed the Journeyman Bike Racer

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Let’s face it, our sport has really be taken over by professional promoters.  Not all promoters and all races have this issue, but many races that I consider doing has this issue.  And by this issue I mean that they are charging pretty unbelievable entry fees for really shitty prize lists.   And by shitty I mean sometimes nothing.

I know, I’m going to hear all the complaints that it takes a ton of money to put on a bike race. But I’ve promoted a few races and was alright charging $15 to race.

Let’s use the Intellegentsiacup as an example.  This is kind of a replacement of the old Superweek, but not really.  For the PRO 1/2 races, it is $53 to race for a $1750 prize list.  So, if there are 35 guys at the race, it pays for the prize list.  Some bingo huh?   The hook to the riders is that  there is one NCC race during the 7 day race that has a $13500 prize list.

Let’s compare this to Tulsa Tough that is $50 to race for $10000 a day, or $42500 total for the weekend.   At the Intellegentsiacup, you pay two and half times the entry for 1/2 the prize list.

When I started racing, entry fees were really nothing.  Nearly always under $5.  And you’d win pretty great prizes and trophies.  Then it slowly turned to cash.  And this was great.

Cash prize lists allowed many guys like me, who were trying to make cycling a lifestyle, to go from race to race and live.  There were lots of guys that were living off the prize money they were winning each weekend.  It was a minimal existence, but it was enough to get by.  Enough to pay for gas, motels, food and entries.  There is no way that is the case nowadays.

There is no journeyman bike racer anymore.  There is no way that you can come close to living off prize money now.  Everything is way more expensive, but the entry fees have really gotten out of control.

What kind of irks me even more is that many of these “professional promoters” are ex-racers that wouldn’t have considered going to the races that they are currently promoting now.  These are guys that made their livings by hitting big money races and wouldn’t even thought of racing for “peanuts”.

Let’s use Dennis’ Seeley Hill Ski Race as an example.  He charges $40 for entry and has a $3000 prize list, which is nearly unheard of in cross country skiing.  Plus when you enter you get a $25 Swix Ski hat,  a bowl of hot soup and unlimited cookies.

I know it isn’t fair comparing a ski race to a bike race.  The average ski racer doesn’t do anywhere near as many races as a bike racer.  Bike racers compete in way, way more events than nearly any other sport.

Let’s use another example.  How about the US National Mountainbike Championships in Mammouth in a couple weeks.  Here’s a link to the entry.   If I wanted to enter the x-country, the short track and the enduro there, it would cost me a total of $340 now.  And that is for $0 prize list.

When I went to the first Nationals I did, which happen to be in Milwaukee, when I got there, I was paid, yes they handed me a check for travel money to come to the event.  I was the Kansas State Champion and the USCF (USAC) wanted to help me come to the race.  Here is the organization that we fund to promote our National Championships and they are making a pretty big pay day promoting an event that is part of the reason they are in existence.

I know some races have a reduced entry for juniors.  I think that all junior’s entries should be almost nothing.  Maybe $5 to cover the insurance.  The race is already happening.  We don’t need to be making money off a bunch of teenagers.  We need to be encouraging them to race as often as possible.

I’m not sure how to fix this problem.  It used to be a rule that each cycling team had to promote one event a year to stay in good standings.  That isn’t the case anymore.  Maybe if they went back to this rule, then there would be more races with less expense for the riders.  Because if we don’t get this under control, we are going to price ourselves out of existence.

Affordable transportation between races?

Affordable transportation between races?


96 thoughts on “Professional Promoters Have Killed the Journeyman Bike Racer

  1. Carl SUndquist

    I miss the cornfield circuit too, where three or four guys in an old station wagon or minivan could travel around the Midwest, staying in host housing, hitting smaller races, and earning enough between them to be sustainable for the summer. The current situation does not help the sport grow from the U-23 riders as it should.

    It’s a changed world. People make a living at coaching now too (too bad more coaches don’t coach riders how to ride a bike as opposed to coaching fitness, but I digress), which necessarily a bad thing.

    But police have figured out how to get a cut of the action too. Whereas before a race may have had one cop on site without a cost to the organizer, now the police have to be compensated and in greater quantities. That has driven many crits to industrial parks.

    Also, masters do not need prize money.

    1. jpete

      I agree with the notion that Masters don’t need prize money. I would rather have a trophy or a medal, and have the race be less expensive to enter. Any more, you have to win the race to cover the expense of getting there, supplies for the race, entry fees etc. I say, leave the prize money to the 1,2,3s.

      1. orphan

        I agree. No prize $ for master but lets add anyone not racing in the pro race to that list. Hell we have cat 4’s doing training rides on carbon rims now. It’s all gone bonkers!

    2. Franz

      We tried to start a crit last year and the police said we needed a police car at every intersection of the course. They said it was a state law and I am extremely skeptical. Anyway, I think that cost alone would have cost us $6-8k in police fees.

    3. Harold

      No bike racer “needs” prize money. There has never been enough to truly live on. Maybe you could survive for a while, but you can’t live on prize money and never could. That’s true for a majority of pro 1-2 riders and is almost 100% true for mtb riders.

      That said, racing for prize money and/or a good prize list makes the racing more fun. Prizes are the carrots that we go for and it doesn’t matter if you are amateur or pro. Bigger prize lists and more cash means more and better riders and better competition. If you are a promoter and you offer a great prize list, the racers will flock to your event. To pretend this isn’t true is ridiculous.

      As for the masters, why should they be excluded from cash prizes ? Often times, these are the people who have put in the most time of anyone. They have been in the sport long enough to get to masters age.

      To deny masters racers cash prizes or good prizes is absolutely ridiculous. Do you suggest we give our entry fees directly to some junior riding a $10,000 bike equipped with $3,000 wheels that their mom bought them?

      Get real, Carl.

      1. Carl Sundquist

        I teach underprivileged kids at a nearby middle school how to ride the velodrome, I work with a local juniors cycling team, and I help organize races for the local velodrome. The Florida Velodrome Association has a handful of track bikes donated by Jamis and a local hospital for riders who are just starting out or cannot afford a track bike.

        The local crit series offers Juniors races. Sometimes they might get five riders, sometimes 15. It’s hard for kids because they are dependent on parents to get them to the race or practice because parents are too afraid to let them ride on the streets alone. Sure, there are a couple of kids on really nice bikes, but otherwise there is a bit of a network where bikes get re-used by a younger sibling or resold to another family after the kid outgrows it. The local race this Sunday has typical entries for adults, but $5 entry for all Juniors.

        Because for the sport to be healthy, that’s where it needs to grow. As I said in a reply downthread, the prize money needs to be directed toward riders who are moving upward toward the professional ranks. The next generation of pros are not coming from masters.

        “That said, racing for prize money and/or a good prize list makes the racing more fun.” is completely disparate to what happens at “Tuesday Night Worlds” everywhere.

        Masters have been in the sport long enough to reach masters age? Some sure, but I’m not confident that it is many or most. According to this there are 54806 active USAC members. Of those, 34575 are are masters. In my opinion, less than 40% of those active masters started racing before masters age.

        Can you suggest a formula to grow the sport for future pros? We’re already trying to harvest triathlete kids. The sport needs all the help it can get.

    4. David Ware

      Good points. Perhaps USAC could institute a minimum prize list formula based on entry fees for any sanctioned events. A concrete set of proposed guidelines ( that people can argue about 😀) is easier to formulate and promote than generalities.

  2. Jeff D.

    Did my first Mtn bike race in the early 90’s , paid something like $15.00 entry fee and got a free water bottle and cool T-shirt, placed 3rd in my age group beginners class, won cycling short, and tool bag, was hooked for life! One of the races I did recently paid $40.00 entry fee, no T-shirt (could have bought one for $10.00) placed 3rd in age group, won a small tube of poison Ivy cream??? still hooked for life but due to love of sport, certainly not for free swag or prizes. And people wonder why mtn bike racing isn’t as popular as it use to be!

  3. Bill Laudien

    I blame the riders. For years I’ve put on races with decent prize lists and low entry fees, and figured out a way to do that by raising sponsorship and developing partnerships. But it becomes difficult to continue to make those same efforts when you see week in and week out riders paying other promoters $50 entry fees for $300 prize lists at poorly run events ( yellow line rule, one port o john, no marshals). After a while, I just assume the riders don’t care, and I’m being foolish.

    Ultimately its the long term health of sport that suffers. 100 rider fields used to be the norm in the Mid-Atlantic region…for all categories. That means more people riding and racing, bigger events that exposed the sport and drew in sponsors, and great community involvement. Lately, its 35 guys riding around in a field, and the only growth we’re experiencing is in the 50+ category.

    The ultimate solution is for riders to vote with their feet. But that’s like asking heroin addicts to lay off the smack in protest of low quality junk. The only other effective solution is for local associations to create reasonable standards for race quality. And quality extends beyond the cost and the prize list. Maybe that means less events on the calendar, but hopefully that gap will be made up for by an increase in quality of experience that the riders enjoy.

    1. channel_zero

      It is absolutely true riders do not distinguish between a well-run event and a poorly run event. This is not a promoter problem. The promoter operates the event within USA Cycling’s rules.

      The sport as operated by the UCI/USAC offers a terrible product and actively discourages any kind of widespread participation. Yet, you zombies keep showing up to be abused by them some more.

      USA Cycling don’t want or care that anyone races any more. They want you to watch Tour of California and buy Tour of California junk, and buy the USA Cycling “training camps” for your kids. That’s all.

      1. Steve J.

        Dude, why are you always hating on USA Cycling? Sure, they have their issues, but Steve is right on with calling out profiteering promoters. They are ruining competitive cycling. It’s no secret and has been going on for decades and only gets worse.

        It’s all bullshit.

      2. Brandon Cavnar


        We race because we love it. We don’t have the choice of just simply not showing up. If we want to race, anyway. It’s obvious you know how to find the negative in USAC, UCI, and any other Tilford blog topic. Why don’t you put yourself in a leadership position and offer a viable solution to all of these “problems” you find. You may very well have some valid points here, so help be part of the solution. Tilford is spot on here, entry fees are out of control. That’s fine if the payout is more/deeper. Teams could split and share the money when appropriate. Also, channel_zero, sign your name for a change.

      3. channel_zero

        Brandon and other USAC fans:

        The decades of rules changes to discourage grassroots racing is the entire point of Steve’s post.

        Continental Pros cannot possibly make a living today and the federation knows it and is unconcerned. On top of that, the federation has supported dopers and doping for decades.

        And yes, there are alternatives, but most of you for whatever reasons REFUSE to exercise them.

    2. joepa

      Bill – Turkey Hill was one of the best one-day races around. But didn’t we have to observe yellow-line rule as well? At least for most of the course?

  4. Kirk

    I started racing in the mid-80’s. I recall most Cat III races had a $800-$1500 purse paying 10-15 deep for a modest $12-$15 entry fee. The pro-ams normally had at least a $5000 purse. There are several factors at play. One was the move to free-market race entry fee’s by the USCF in the 1990’s. Prior to that change, race entry fees were tied to the size of the purse.

    As you mentioned, cycling clubs no longer have to promote a race. There also seems to be a greater reliance on entry fees to cover the cost of promoting a race. I also sense a reluctance on involving a community in the promotion of a race. When I first started racing, civic organizations such as the Lion’s Club or Kiwanis worked with local clubs to put on a race. The race was a big event for the community. Because of the ties with the business community, there seemed to be more sponsorship money available.

    Nowadays, race are held in industrial parks to minimize the impact on the community. It’s no longer an event for the whole community. Except for the large events for pro riders, who attends bike races? Friends and family. With the proliferation of weekly 5K charity runs in many cities and towns, there may be community burnout that impacts events like bike races. There needs to be a return to promoting races in coordination with local civic organization so that are must see events for the whole community.

  5. William

    Ok guys, just hold it there on the masters deal. I got married and we had a couple kids so I never did cat up to a 3. As things have slowed down recently I’ve had time to train more and more each year, but still not what is required to beat 4’s half my age. So I’ve just been waiting to get old enough to race masters and win a little money. I still have another 15-20 years of student loans and mortgage payments.

    1. RadRenner

      William, I hate to burst your bubble, but if you are getting dropped by cat. 4’s, then racing Masters will be a very rude awakening. Remember when you were having kids and being a dad? Like me, you probably took yourself out of the game for 10 years. And let me say that for me those were the best 10-15 years of my life and I wouldn’t trade them for anything, but while we were busy being dads, our unencumbered racer buddies kept right on racing, getting stronger and cat’ing up, and they are now some of the fastest dudes out there. I came back to the sport in 2005 and up until this year I raced cat. 4 and that was really about all the competition I could handle. I rarely placed and was just happy to hang on most of the time. Whenever I would enter a Masters race I would have my ass handed to me by some childless 40+ guy who’s been racing for 20 straight years and can put out 800 watts for 30-40 seconds and then cruise at 350 watts until they cross the line. For the guy just getting back into it, most Masters races are a suckers bet. Caveat emptor, my friend.

      1. Steve J.

        I got your caveat hangin’ bro. Masters racing ain’t easy though. Thass fo sho’.

  6. Rod Lake

    I seriously don’t get the masters shouldn’t get paid point of view. Right now they’re footing the bill in terms of entries and equipment. But put that aside if you want. They pay the same fees, race the same course and take the same risks s every other rider. The “argument” seems to be, that person has more than me, they don’t need it, so don’t pay them. That’s pretty arrogant in my book. One last note, I’m currently into karting and entry fees are routinely over $1,000 with rarely any payouts in cash.

    1. Carl SUndquist

      Your argument suggests cat 5s be paid the same as P12 as well, doesn’t it?

      1. Rod Lake

        Carl: I don’t see where I suggested that. I would never say that a masters field should get the same as pros. It’s never been that way and never will. But I haven’t seen one rational argument for masters not getting something.

      2. Carl Sundquist


        I can’t post below your reply so I am replying here. For what’s it’s worth, I think 4s, 5s, and masters should be racing for trophies or medals, not cash. The system should be structured toward supporting those moving upward toward the professional ranks for the same reason you don’t pay every rider entered in a race and it is a descending prize list from the winner downward. Racing masters is not moving upward. If you want to race for cash, race with the big boys.

        Additionally, masters can generally double or even triple up on races at a discount. So not only can they race multiple times for the same travel money, they can race multiple times at a discount. That’s a rotten deal for the journeyman racer.

        All that said, I can see the argument that promoters are giving [masters] racers what they are asking for.

      3. Levi


        I think the problem is that most of the Pro guys don’t want the Masters racing for cash, so that they can get a bigger purse. So, in effect you want us to come and race around the course and then collect some little plastic trophy or yet another meaningless medal so you can race for more (of our) money? People here are smart enough to know when they’re being taken advantage of. Plus it’s all masters for the most part. Your comments make it sound like you want all the money even though the master’s fields are far bigger and often have more spectators, albeit wives, kids and other master’s racers. I honestly think people relate better to working people racing. The guy training full time is often looked at as a bit of a slouch in this day and age. Ya, he’s training, but that’s only a small part of the day. People working 50- 60 hours a week and still finding time to train and race look at them as timewasters to some degree. I mean bike racing as a career? Worst decision ever!!!!

        Right now masters numbers are huge, you guys get some of that money. But you want it all. If all the masters stopped racing, there would be NO bike races other than the big Pro races. We’re not talking about that though. We’re talking about the corn circuit. In those races, are there really any Pros? I mean c’mon man, a guy making less than minimum wage and doing all kinds of side jobs is definitely showing proof that he’s passionate about his craft, but a Pro? No. There’s maybe a dozen or two actual pros in this country. You know the kind with a contract and one that isn’t a zero dollar contract. One that pays a mortgage and supports children.

        I think a fair model would be to have prize money for any category that has 3 or higher.

        The dream of the gypsy bike racer has lots of great old tales, but it’s over. Except for Tilly, who God only knows how he keeps spending to travel and race, but God bless him. I just don’t think he knows when to quit. It won’t end well. I think lots of his readers share that sentiment…. Sorry, off track again. The bike racing thing has just dropped off the edge of the earth though. Maybe public hate of Lance has something to do with it. But I get it. I raced for 25 years and sometimes when I see cyclists riding out in the middle of the street or just toolbagging it up with a $10,000 bike and a garmin and a goddamn iPhone strapped to his arm and a fucking GoPro on his helmet so he can video himself pedaling like a cow for 32 miles. I just wanna run the fucktard over. But I don’t, I move way over or wait til theres a clear path to pass, because we’ve all lived on the right side of that little white line. But you can totally see why cyclists are hated. The clothing NEVER helped!

        Aint no money to be made racing. Get to work and then go riding in your free time. It beats the hell out of racing for glory that’s 30 years back, in the rear view mirror.

      4. channel_zero

        If all the masters stopped racing, there would be NO bike races other than the big Pro races.

        Exactly. And USAC does not care one iota about anything BUT the big Pro races.

        I’m not sure why this isn’t common knowledge.

    2. jpete

      Nah, the argument is more like, “what’s the point in spending 40 bucks to enter a race if you’re only going to make back 10 bucks more than your entry fee, which you spent on gas anyway? Seems logical to assume masters racers aren’t in it for the cash, if so return on investment sucks, so might as well bring home a cool souvenir. “

    3. Will Hickey

      Masters and lower categories shouldn’t get paid because it encourages sandbagging and discourages upgrading. Racers who want prize money can do the open race. Fields that exclude faster riders (by category or age) are designed to make racing more enjoyable for people who would just get beat up in the open field. Being inclusive is a worthy goal, but no one should expect to get cash if they’re not racing against the top competition.

  7. kurt

    I agree with Steve and it makes me sick too! Even the Dirty Kanza is turning into this! But you win a cool trophy and some swag, if your lucky.

  8. orphan

    The few races I’ve helped promote we had to buy more insurance because the city required it and pay the cops $35 an hour. How much did you pay the cops when you promoted Steve? And insurance was a non issue years ago. That has all changed.

    1. orphan

      I agree though that it’s out of control but I think you are blaming the wrong people.

    2. channel_zero

      “Insurance” as provided by USA Cycling is a scam. No one seems to notice the surcharges either. It sure doesn’t seem like much to the individual, but adds up at just one race to real money that vanishes into USACDF.

      The current state of affairs is due to the monopoly USACDF has on the sport.

  9. Franz

    I used to think they should eliminate prize money from all categories except for the pro/1/2 race to reduce entry fees to encourage more racing. However now I see that these races have hardly any prize list to begin with so I doubt if removing the prize list there would be much of a reduction in the entry fee. Then sometimes I see the $$$ bikes people are using in these entry level categories and I think if they can afford those bikes they can afford the entry fee. I would discourage promoters from funding their prize list with entry fees. I would try to charge an entry fee that covered the cost of putting on the race and use sponsor money for the prize list. No sponsor money no prize list. However promoters probably see the best way to grow their race and get sponsors is to have a prize list. Definitely costs more money to promote a race than most people realize. I remember 20-25 years ago I was starting a crit with a hefty entry fee and Tommy Matush of 7-11 was there and someone joked that we should have all just cut out the middle man by skipping the entry fee and given Tommy $20 directly.

  10. Robert Curtis

    Where to start….hmm…
    1. The largest change in that time isn’t “professional promoters” as you call them. Rather its a couple of key things that have changed – USA Cycling costs and fees have gone up significantly mainly driven by insurance. Municipalities – most of which are struggling for money – do not donate nearly anything anymore so fees, requirements, police, traffic barricade payments, etc are dominating the costs. I’ve been charging $35 in pre-registration for a category D event and usually I “might” break-even. This goes up to $45-$50 on the day of the race if you didn’t pre-register. All this being said I still lost ~$1500 over the 3 days that I ran it.

    2. The management behind the Prairie State Series charges the municipality or “host club” a large fee. When they started they were asking for $20k per venue. They have been down to $12k-$15k for most venues in the last year or so. They “sell” it to the buyers as a “professional race in a box” – pay the fee and have excellence. Same model as what Superweek used to do.

    Sometimes it feels like they forget what they are selling as they tend to rely on the host club/team/municipality way too much. Had a long talk last night with one of the local hosts who brought this up. When they moved into Crystal Lake I was told by a local bike shop owner how amazing everything was going to be. I asked how much they were paying – it was like $15-$20k. I asked if they were allowed to keep the entries. They said no. I told them I could bring them a local race, not charge them anything, and have roughly the same numbers in turnout – literally – as long as they simply don’t charge me for Police or barricades.

    The race went 2 years before the city decided it wasn’t something of value to them anymore. 1 more local venue put off of bike racing because of over-promising and under-delivering.

    3. We’ve argued before and you’ve got a long history of just – well – being Tilford. You can’t tour the country and live out of your car living off of race winnings anymore. You also can’t go to college and expect to get a job, expect to be able to afford a home if you have a decent job, or expect anything anymore. That’s just the way the world is.

    Add on top of it that this is really a tiny fringe sport with little to nothing to offer the vast majority of anyone remotely willing to sponsor it. I drop tens of thousands of my own personal money into the sport annually in sponsorship and support and I am a cycling company who stands to directly benefit from it. The equation just simply doesn’t balance out. I, as most patrons of the sport, do it simply because we love it.

    The sport has little to no monetary value in general – as demonstrated by the constant withdraw of top level sponsors, and definitely has a net negative value domestically in the US. Even with some of the best races in the country right here in the Chicago/Milwaukee area the attendance by racers is nearing a low I haven’t seen since before the LeMond era and the vast majority of the “fans” in attendance are either relatives of racers or a completely oblivious local who was wondering why they can’t drive to the store that day and got out of their car to yell at someone.

    Nothing says it better than Brad Sohner saying his entire job everyday as an announcer is to simply educate the people who decided to show up and have no idea what it is they are looking at.

    I keep open books on all of my races. I charge “High entries” and have “Low Prizes”. By all means – look through the finances of the races and tell me where this fountain of wealthy that comes from charging $50 but only giving $400 out comes from….

    Link to finances:

    1. channel_zero

      Thank you for taking the time to post the reply. The over-promise under deliver blame falls squarely on USA Cycling’s shoulders and they aren’t interested in delivering anything to grassroots.

      USA Cycling costs and fees have gone up significantly mainly driven by insurance.

      Their fee structure discourages any kind of growth and the fees to the promoter have grown rapidly with the promoter unable to recoup those increases due to the structure of the fees/rules/event. Again, USA Cycling is doing this intentionally and somehow racers don’t seem to mind. USA Cycling’s “insurance” is a great revenue generator.

      Any race doing half-way well is operated outside USA Cycling for a reason.

    2. LD

      Thanks for laying out the details. The individual expenses don’t seem that much but they sure add up fast!

      I do nonprofit fundraising and I can tell you it’s hard to convince someone to pony up $$$ to sponsor an event, even one that gets good publicity and is a well-liked local cause. Now imagine trying to persuade a business to sponsor a bike race when all they know about bike racing is Lance and doping.

      It’s a sad model that aspiring pro racers have to live out of their cars in order to try to make it. Given how much USA Cycling charges in fees (and pays their chief exec), there ought to be a way to pay them without local promoters having to go begging for prize money.

    3. I Get It

      Robert, I may be missing it on your spreadsheet, but I don’t see any sort of sponsorship dollars coming in. Thanks to Google though I saw that you use the race as a phenomenal marketing tool. You aren’t a professional race promoter you are a custom wheel company owner that is getting title sponsorship of a three day event for the paltry fee of $1100. If $1100 seems like a lot of money to you for this captive audience don’t forget you sell single wheel sets that cost significantly more than that.
      As a promoter of a local crit that has held entry fees to $30 or $35 and pays out $7k total purse in prize money plus $500-$1000 in primes I can honestly say that with minimal sponsor hunting if I/my USAC club that puts on the race wanted to pocket my profits instead of putting it towards a local charity we would be walking away with a couple grand. It is simple, we find sponsors that either see overlap in customer base, have someone in the company passionate about cycling, or simply think it is cool to be involved in a race/team. For $1700 you would fall third on the hierarchy and certainly not be able to call the shots to guarantee the best return on your minimal investment. Heck, what does your bike shop or wheel company get you
      As far as local clubs failing racers, this is exactly where I see the fault. If you race your bike and do not take an active role in promoting a race, you are a parasite. Showing up and riding your bike in a circle and collecting a check for finishing top 15 in a 1/2 race is not what keeps us all bike racing each weekend. Taking the time and expending the effort to put on a well run and funded race and building consistency is what will enable our sport to grow. So USAC and their local associations can either get racers to start putting on races or deal with the fact that professional promoters are going to take over race promotion and are going to find ways to make money out of it or they are going to leave us without any races.

      1. channel_zero

        Taking the time and expending the effort to put on a well run and funded race and building consistency is what will enable our sport to grow.

        What year is this? You could have posted that in 1990. What’s changed?

  11. Bolas Azules

    I would have to guess the world we live in today has a lot to do with it. Costs of insurance, police detail and lawyers hiding behind ever bush trying to sue someone for something has made the risk/reward of putting on a race a shaky proposition for ‘do-gooder’ non-profit promoters.

    Add to this the stigma the sport carries around it’s neck of being a less than virtuous, clean game and the big money sponsors don’t want to touch it. So the costs are up, the risk of getting sued are up and the amount of paying race sponsorship is down…perfect storm in trying to extract $ from the last possible place, the riders.

    On a separate note, a friend recently told me what domestic “pro riders” make in salary and I about spit-out my coffee and I wasn’t even drinking any. No doubt in my mind the barnstorming crit riding / track riding rider of the 1970’s and early ’80’s made ten times what these ‘pros’ make today. How on earth can they race without a trust fund?

    1. channel_zero

      How on earth can they race without a trust fund?

      They can’t. They have a trust fund.

      That works just fine for USA Cycling. Nothing like an athlete paying into their dream of a “Pro Contract” payout that won’t ever come for most.

    2. Former Pro

      You do it out of the hope you will land a bigger, better contract next season. I did it for 3 years while couch surfing or living with my parents. Some of my teammates had wealthy parents, but not all. I couldn’t believe when I was going to start my first full time job after racing that was going to be paid $30,000 a year! I’d never felt so fortunate

  12. RadRenner

    Don’t even get me started on the Dirty Kanza. What an effing cash grab that turned out to be. $100 entry fee (plus another $200-$300 for gas/food/hotel) to ride on deserted country roads with absolutely no support whatsoever. The ride itself is amazing, but I was a little more willing to enter when the fee was $35 and the field size was limited to 200. Now the field is over 800 (plus a few hundred more for a “mini Kanza”, gawd) and the entry fee is $100 – and still no support (not even water stations) or prize list. Oh wait, you get a glass if you finish and if you’re lucky some “free” beer, if there’s any left after you finish 14 hours later.

    1. Pepsi Frank

      It would be interesting to see where all of that entry fee and sponsorship money is going. Especially sad when you can ride your own Dirty Kanza any day of the year for free.

  13. Charlie

    I agree 100%. Even citizen racing is expensive now. The Firehouse 50 is $55-65 now, depending on when you enter. If you do the time trial, you won’t even get a medal unless you win your age group–they don’t even go 3 deep for that anymore. How expensive would it really be to rectify that, and don’t you think the organizers could do so if they really weren’t watching the bottom line so miserly? I realize that this is just a citizen event, so not what you were really talking about, but I just paid my entry fee so it’s fresh in my mind.

  14. Charlie

    Sorry, that’s $50-60 rather than $55-65, depending on entry date for the Firehouse 50.

  15. Charlie

    On the other hand, you have a gravel event like the Filthy 50, which is awesome and totally free with nice swag and lots of free beer in Stewartville, MN. Nice course, cool promoter. That’s the other end of the spectrum.

    1. Franz

      Or the Almanzo 100 in Spring Valley, MN. 1500 people register to race for free with a great course and promoter.

  16. wmder

    Well, if races are costing $50/event (the local CX series are less, the training series are much, much less), then $35 of that total is accounted for by inflation relative to the $15 we were paying in the mid 1980’s–before the USCF insurance crisis. I can’t comment on prize money, nor on journeyman racers living the dirtbag lifestyle.

    I do know that climbers in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s managed to avoid the bummer life when there was no money whatsoever in the sport, and that they managed to remain passionate lifetime participants even once they aged away from the sharp edge. Their living was made elsewhere. Lots of them were carpenters. Some were mathematician’s wives. I assume many of the durable racing cyclists do likewise.

    Best Regards,


  17. steevo

    Bottom line is that without “professional promoters” there would be very few races, and those would be crappy club events.

    You cant expect to make a living anymore. I was talking to Tom Chew over the holidays, and he said that his final year as ajourneyman pro he made the same amount as the following year when he retired and became an engineer. Im sorry, that is just not possible anymore for even contract pros.

    If you want money for racing – “my advice to you is to do what your parents did… get a job sir..”

  18. Randy Parker

    I’m going to keep this short but I could write a book on this and am a little short on time…

    The Federation is to blame for allowing it. They caved in to a giant fat prick named Les Ernest about 25 years ago or so, who wanted to charge whatever he wanted to organize parking lot crits in Socal. He won, we all lost, and the idiots at USA Cycling still can’t seem to figure this out.

    Most current races are not Promoted in the least and therein lies the problem. They are simply organized, sponsors are the same token sponsors on the club jersey. Entries pay for the event, the organizers profit if any, and prize list. I would love to see PROMOTERS make big bucks. Then they might PROMOTE more races. I don’t want them funding their events off the back of the athletes. Stop going to these carpetbagging events guys! Stop!!!! Stay home, do a bandit race with your buddies. Do a cookie ride.

    The problem is when the Federation does not mandate any reasonable correlation between entries and prize lists, Organizers take the easy way out. If they are not selling and promoting the races to local business es, the have no real need to promote the race to the media. If the media does not cover the race, the sport dies little by little, since the Cycling Teams having nothing to show a sponsor other than some ridiculous podium shot in a cornfield with 6 people standing around. If the Teams have no media to show their sponsors, team backing dies.

    Yes Steve Tilford, we use to pay $25 bucks to do $5000 and $10,000 races all the time, and see yourself in the newspaper and TV. Not any more.

    “Oh, but this is what they do in Triathlon and 10 K races.” News flash moron! apples to oranges. There is no mass participation element unless we are talking about Cookie Rides and Gran Fondos and there is a whole other under promoted and wasted resource in regards to promoting bicycle racing.

    More time than I had, but thank Les Fucking Ernest for the idea, the Federation for caving, and USA Cycling for not having the common sense that they have fostered a culture where bicycles races are no longer promoted (not talking major events here obviously ) but rather simply organized. And everyone loses…..

    1. channel_zero

      They caved in to a giant fat prick named Les Ernest about 25 years ago or so

      Wow! What did Les do to you? The federation of Les Earnest was history when Thom Wiesel bought it and paid Les to go away once and for all. Maybe I’m wrong. I would love to hear how that’s possible.

      FYI, the federation has quite specific prize purse regulations. You’ll find the federation discourages prize purses in favor of taxing promoter revenue so the promoter can only ever nearly break even.

    2. Craig

      Tulsa Tough manages it with a HUGE sponsor and off of the backs of the participation rides … they have back to back 100+ rides on Sat and Sun in addition to the townie ride. Combine that with a huge sponsorship profile and it explains how they can …. the other races don’t have that going for them so to use this model, if we reduce the number of races to about 10 a season and make them massive corporate productions then yes, your $100 will go a long way. Otherwise, we get what we get … I know 3 promoters who are out of the “business” because they lost too much money and got tired of listening to the whiney ass racers who never seemed happy …

    3. General Consensus

      That is a very good and very true comment. The problem then, as you correctly point out, is that the riders will not speak out against the race organizers. The only power we have as racers is to support good and fair events and boycott the others.

      The best way to do it is to get together with some buddies and start your own Thursday Night World Championships…which starngely enough is exactly how organized racing was born.

      As for Carl Sundquits, let him support his utopian view of cycling and fund the US junior scene on his dime. My opinion is that when I see 15 year old kids riding $10,000 rigs, the last thing they will see is any of my money. It’s very obvious they or their parents have plenty.

  19. Mark D

    I agree on the prize money/entry fee issue, but I’m going to put a little back on the teams who are supposed to put on the race. I’m in Wisconsin and many of these races ended up getting put on in industrial parks. That sucks.
    They’ve stripped down the race to put it in a terrible location, no music or announcers and definitely no spectators. Who wants to bring their family to that? One port-a-john and no food! Psh, give me break.
    The fields keep getting smaller and smaller with no new people going to the race.
    So, this seems to be a double edge sword. Races held by professional promoters, create an environment spectators want to go to, and racers want to race at. This is awesome! Spectators become interested an racers enjoy the crowds. Maybe it’s paying for the experience. However, racers at the top level should have serious incentive.

  20. Tim

    That is why I don’t race anymore. I’d rather spend my money elsewhere. And if I want to race, there are always free practice races or worlds rides.

  21. Doug D.

    I very much agree with Steve’s comment that “I think that all junior’s entries should be almost nothing. Maybe $5 to cover the insurance. The race is already happening. We don’t need to be making money off a bunch of teenagers. We need to be encouraging them to race as often as possible.”

    A year or two back, I wanted to ride the local (Cottage Grove, OR) Gran Fondo with two teenage boys, one of them my son. This would have cost more than $300 for the three of us, to ride roads that we ride anyway. I went back and forth on email with the race organizer. He initially refused to give the boys any discount and finally offered modest discounts on their $100+ fees. We didn’t participate.

    At least here in Eugene, OR, the barriers to entry for a talented teen are huge. We have a few national class teenagers. They are all the offspring of dedicated racers and have been going to races with their parents since they were small. They have coaching and logistics support from their parents. Other kids who are strong on the bike have nowhere to go and so they gravitate to other sports. And we wonder why the U.S. does not compete well internationally.

  22. Josh

    Thank you. I’m 18 and can hardly ever afford to race driving 2.5 hours to the Spring Fling in Lawrence then paying $40 bucks for a freaking training crit.

    1. John

      The spring fling was $32 per day not $40 or $130 for all 5 days and you could double up without paying more if your category had more than 1 race (1/2/3 and 3/4 and masters for example if you were a 3).

      $130 / 5 is $26 per day, and if you can race twice then you’re down to $13 per race. Pretty damn good for a training race that gives prizes for the series! And to top it off, the Juniors race for free in the Junior categories.

      Not sure what you want. Try to put on an event yourself in Wichita? and see what it would cost to break even and hope you have enough people show up when it’s raining and 40 degrees. Then ask yourself if it’s even worth your time and energy and get to hear it from people that feel you’re ripping them off when in the end you lost money because a low turnout from weather.

    2. Mrs. Stadanko

      Josh, my advice to you is that you quit racing immediately and go back to school. If you put some effort into it, you will soon be able to write coherently.

  23. Randall Legeai

    Costs for a 2014 2-day stage race with entry fee around $65 (much less for Juniors, Women) are below. This was a lower turnout than usual because of a conflicting race in another state and a bad weather forecast. The USAC costs for insurance and permit are pretty trivial compared to the venue and prize costs. As a masters racer who remembers entering this same race for $3.25, as a race director, Local Association president, and as an official, the balance among entry fees, prizes, safety, and good race venues is something we really struggle with, especially in an area where races rarely draw more than 200 entrants. Back when entry fees were $5, there were no police at the intersections, no portable toilets, one volunteer official with a clipboard and pencil, no neutral support, etc., just a start line, course map, and finish line, and a merchandise prizelist of about $2k. Even with pretty good sponsorship we lose between $2k and $6k on this event nowadays, and that’s money that we could otherwise be using to help cover team member entry fees and travel expenses. We could do it more cheaply, but it wouldn’t be a race we could be proud of. Not included are the volunteer officials, the finish line cameras and other equipment provided by the Local Association (our LA gets about $4k/year from USAC – NorCal gets close to $40k/year), etc. I, for one, believe in cash prizes that help a lot of riders to race more frequently by covering some of their travel costs.

    Police and fire for weekend support $4,647.00
    Awards, portalets, donations, officials fees, Hotels $3,160.96
    prize money $6,080
    total costs: $13,887.96

    total registered #116
    reg online fee collected $6,913.6
    total coupons -$540
    promotor fee -$364.75
    net online reg revenue $6,008.85
    race day enteries $585.00
    total net entry fee revenue $6,593.85

    post event costs
    $3/day/rider insurance $669.00
    permit fee $180
    toal post event fees $849
    net revenue from entry fees $5,745
    net ($8,143.11)
    event sponsor $6,000
    net after sponsorship ($2,143.11)

  24. H Luce

    The reason that the professional promoters have taken over is that they have the resources to get real insurance – not just the USAC policy – and they have good lawyers around to fight off any wrongful death or liability claims, and this costs real money. Back in 1991, I was in the Cincinnati Velo Club (CVC) and we put on a race on River Road in Kentucky. 300 foot climbs and descents, 1750 feet per lap. We had the USCF officials, race marshals – working for free, the local radio amateur club – also working for free, hay bales on dangerous trees on descents, and the USCF insurance which had a maximum payout of $1 million for wrongful death or other liability. The entry fee was $15 and there was a cash prize list and medals/trophys. It worked out well, except for one rider, who crashed into a hay bale on one of the descents and died. His family sued USCF and CVC – and the directors of CVC, named individually, including me – jointly and severally, for $5 million for wrongful death. So the next few weeks after that were a living hell for me, I was making $20,000 per year as a post-doc at UC and had no other assets. The other people in CVC were in a similar situation, except for the president of the club, who owned a bike shop. We lucked out, the coroner ruled that the rider had a heart attack and was dead before he hit the bale, so there was no liability for the club, but that was enough for me. And the USCF was nowhere to be found, they couldn’t be contacted, returned no calls, refused to do anything. That was the last race I’ll ever have anything to do with as a club member, promoting the race or taking any role in putting it on.

    1. channel_zero

      USCF was nowhere to be found, they couldn’t be contacted, returned no calls, refused to do anything.

      You don’t say. USCF and their “insurance.” It hasn’t changed.

    2. former pro

      I was in a crash at a crit where a spectator was hurt. The riders in the crash, promoter, sponsors of the races, and USA cycling were all sued. USA cycling’s lawyer represented us all. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but USA cycling took care of us in that situation.

  25. Jason

    I think somehow you’ve missed how the sport has changed over the last decade. Cycling is the new golf and there are plenty of well-off folks willing to pay large entry fees for a race, gran fondo, or even a charity ride. And massive amounts of money on equipment and their own personal coaches. They don’t care about prize money. It is a hobby that they are spending disposable cash on. The high fees are here to stay because there are more than enough people willing to and they can easily afford them.

  26. Jacque Meihauf

    Modern day promoters are a bunch of profit hungry thieves.

    Yes, there are exceptions, but the rule of thumb today is that if you are racing, then you are getting ripped off. Mountainbike racing is the worst. With the cost of equipment reaching the ridiculous and the skyrocketing entry fees coupled with piss-poor prize lists, it’s just not worth it. Nope.

    I hope the promoters price themselves out of an income and out of our lives. Who needs them? All you need to race bikes is more than one person and enough bikes to go around.

    Don’t get me started on the subject of Levi’s Fondo, George’s Fondo and others of that ilk. Damn…

    Props to you Steve Tilford for writing this post.

  27. HANS

    The entry fees for Masters races is stupid. $40 entry and medals top three. I understand insurance and such…but bike racing and equipment just got too dear.I stopped.

    1. Jim

      I don’t mind racing for nothing (and that is likely true of most guys, we just want to race) but I resent the idea of paying $30-$50 to do so. I understand there are costs (police, insurance, etc) but if I am racing for free, my entry fee should only be enough to cover those costs.
      Just my $.02.

      1. gregg

        Why would anyone go through the hassle of putting on a race for you that just covers the costs?

  28. Shredder

    How about this- All bike racers should be required to volunteer for USA Cycling each year and to help race promoters at the events we all participate in. Especially anyone who was, when times were better and there was more participation and growth in cycling, paid travel funds by USA cycling, there should be no bitching now when ultimately $53 bucks for a race in Chicago is not at all out of line when Superweek was $25 for Juniors in 1988! For Pros it was $35 all the time 25 years ago.

    In terms of inflation and costs to promote events- the major costs associated with increased police requirements and other barriers for promoters are undoubtedly the tidal wave of bullshit and bureaucracy associated with dealing with the Police- not just paying them. But paying them is just math- quixotic to attack there. I’m sure Intellegensia Coffee and the promotors are not making any significant money on this event and I think that’s the same for most events. Should they not make any money and just serve you?

    Appreciate the promotors, neighbors, any money you might make in your sport, etc. Pay the entry fee.

  29. Aki Sato

    Tonight I happened to be going over the bills with my wife, bills related to the March-April spring series I promoted. Four weeks, industrial park stuff, so just one officer, no road closures per se. I’m looking at 3 credit cards, about $1800, $2500, $2800. Some of it is my stuff, fine, but most of it is from the races. I used all the entry fee money to pay the initial batch of bills but now the money is gone and there are still bills left to pay. I worked two more events, clearing almost enough to pay that $1800 bill (before taxes), but nowhere near enough to pay the other $5k. I’ve already collected all my entry fees etc because the last race was April 12.

    I’ve been paying for entries this year by selling bike equipment, winning some prize money ($105 so far? something like that), and that’s it. Cash in my wallet, I use it to pay for entries. I sold a frame so I think I’ll be good for the rest of the season, in terms of entries. I can only draw on this well so much, after that it’s dry – I don’t have many frame sets to sell, that’s for sure. I haven’t bought any team kit for two years, fortunately it hasn’t changed any since 2014, and the club gives a free jersey a year so I have two jerseys now that are current (2014, 2015).

    In 2014 my series ran 7 weeks. I was fortunate to have no snow days (March/April in CT = usually one or two snow days). A high level break down of the expenses from 2014 are as follows, from my P&L:
    – Actual race costs, $20k, including over $8k prize money. USAC insurance was $4.8k. I paid for one racer’s license because he couldn’t pay for it at that moment. Numbers, pins, officials, permits, fuel for generator, portapotties, stuff like that.
    – Police, $8k (town didn’t charge me to hold the races).
    – Promotion entity costs (business related, website, domain fees, LLC, state, supplies, equipment, etc), $4k. This doesn’t include gas/mileage costs (I wrote off $1600 in travel but the real gas/maintenance costs were slightly less, and I don’t track actual gasoline costs – I probably got 8-10 fill ups of about 20-25 gallons each, plus some maintenance costs).
    – Payroll costs, because I actually pay my staff and have workman’s comp and insurance and all that, $11k.
    It’s about $44k for expenses.
    I got about $38k income from entries.

    I know all this because my wife is a CPA. It’s like a pro racer being married to a USADA official. All my books are 100% above board, 100% audit-able, and therefore I declare every dollar I take in (and declare every expense possible). I made money working 5? other events and in the end only lost $2k for the year.

    Last year I had some savings so I paid for the shortcoming out of my own pocket. This year I have zero savings so I put it on my credit cards. It’s the first time I’ve carried debt on my cards since 1997 and that debt is solely because I promoted a 4 week series of industrial park kind of races.

    It’s not that USAC costs have gone up that much. I mean, okay, they have, but the majority of my costs are from other things. This year it was city personnel (different municipality that had a minimum requirement for personnel), park fee, police, etc, but I don’t have a good breakdown of all that stuff for 2015 (I just gave my bills to my wife the accountant). The Bethel Spring Series (the 2014 numbers are from the last Bethel Spring Series I held) started in 1993 or so. At the beginning we didn’t have police, we had zero staff, close to zero prize money, $8 entry fee, etc. Now we have staff, police, deal with tenants in buildings that didn’t even exist in 1993, more portapotties, more equipment to prep a Connecticut course after a Connecticut winter, etc.

    For a couple years I helped another promoter with their race. The promoter said that they just needed 20 riders to cover the police for this one field. Police was something like $800/hour. I thought it strange he was so focused on police. I asked about the prize money, my fee (I got paid to help), the cost to close down the roads. He was like, uh, right, I guess it’s more than that. Granted, he had a sponsor for some stuff, but the prize money came from his pocket, so did my fee. So that was another 20 riders right there for prizes, another couple for me.

    He’s a pretty bright guy but it was almost like he didn’t want to accept how much it costs to hold a race. He needed to justify that it was okay to hold a race. I figure that’s what I have, whatever that affliction is called. Idiocrity? Moronism? I don’t know. If I was smart about it I wouldn’t promote another bike race in my life. I’m an idiot/moron/etc so even after 20-odd years of essentially break-even-at-best-over-2-decades stuff I’m still thinking of where I can hold another race. Pay another $1000-2000 a day to watch people have run racing their bikes.

    I joke that racing at my own races are the most expensive races I do. It’s like throwing a concert just because I want to hear a band play.

    Yes, there are promoters that make money. Yes, there are years that I made money, more than $500/week. However the reality is that none of the regular promoters are making money doing it. I don’t think it’s one specific thing, it’s not promoters trying to gouge the riders. It’s that things are much tighter now. Towns/cities don’t offer police for free. Look what happened to Corestates – the city used to provide police for free, suddenly one year they needed to charge whatever hundreds of thousands of dollars for police. Towns/cities can’t justify paying a bunch of officers overtime so that a few hundred intramural cyclists can race their bike (that’s how one of our teammates described ourselves – “we’re just a bunch of intramural softball players that happen to be racing bikes instead of throwing a ball around”). Race courses go away because there are more people using the roads on the weekends, making racing on a Sunday an impossibility. Heck, the Bethel Spring Series ended because of traffic, not because of anything else. We’ve had a fatality, we’ve had riders threaten to sue me, local tenants/property owners threaten to sue me, but in the end it was a 2009 rezoning of the park to include retail, leading to hundreds of people patronizing a business on Sundays. That traffic put a stop to the Series, not anything else. Each year it got more and more expensive to hold the race (another cop, another marshal/staff member, etc). But the traffic killed it.

    I had a discussion about this with our regional rep a couple Sundays ago, my last race I entered (paid with frame set funds). I said that the area is just getting more and more crowded, it’s harder to find a quiet loop on a Sunday, everyone’s trying to maximize productivity with businesses, roads, etc. It’s hard to find even industrial parks that are quiet on a Sunday, forget about main streets and such.

    There’s definitely a crisis in road bike racing. I don’t know how to fix it. However, for me personally, I’m getting to the point where, for the first time in 20-odd years, I can see myself not promoting a race or race series. It’s too much stress, too much work, and consistently a money losing prospect. It’s not very encouraging.

    Sort of a rambling comment but it’s been very discouraging for me as this is the first time I haven’t’ been able to pay all the race bills immediately. I still have to pay a couple things, and one unpaid bill (portapotties) is sitting under my arm as I type.

  30. Aki Sato

    A final thought. What about “journeyman promoters”? Is it okay that a promoter make $500 or $1000 a weekend? That’s my goal. It’s not easy racing a bike but I find pretty challenging to promote a bike race. At least with promoting I don’t have to train or have good genetics. I can work hard, try to leverage my skills from my non-cycling life, and hopefully make enough money to justify losing a number of days in the preceding months of the race and then losing maybe 3 days for each day of race promoting. Minimum losses are the day before, the day of, and the day after. For me it’s more like Fri-Tue for each Sunday I promote, I’m ineffective on Mon/Tues after I promote a Sun race.

    1. Robert Curtis


      Was hoping you’d chime in. It doesn’t make sense and we are all as dumb as the racers – there’s no money in this sport. Don’t like it? Change it or take up a stick and ball sport.

      See you in Vegas if you’re going this year.

  31. Touriste-Routier

    I understand this post was about the demise of journeyman racers. However. for the most part, this is an amateur sport/hobby. How many other amateur sports have cash prizes? Yes, it sucks to be a “pro” from a financial sense, but most of the so called “pros” aren’t really “pros”.

    I also think it is very telling/funny about the “hate” on professional organizers/promoters. Some amateur racers expect to make money for participating in their pastime, but don’t want the professional organizer to make money for doing his job, and taking on the financial risk. Those of you who have jobs probably don’t/won’t work for free.

    Cycling has a lot of obstacles; some lay with USAC and the UCI, some lay with municipalities (their costs and concerns regarding safety/liability), others lay with the death of the club system.

    But racing cyclists tend to have a sense of entitlement (and self importance) that very few other sports/hobbies have. I don’t know too many road runners who bitch about prize lists, entry fees, or expect their running shop to give them free shoes or clothes. Softball players? Hockey Players? Soccer Players? Swimmers?

    1. Steve Tilford Post author

      Touriste-The problem is that to become a good bike racer you need to race a ton to get good at it. I’d say a fully committed rider should probably race around 50 days a year. We drive these young guys from the sport because it becomes so cost prohibitive. It really isn’t comparable to swimming or the other sports you mentioned. Cycling is much more expensive on all levels.

      1. Touriste-Routier

        Steve, yes it is an expensive sport. Maybe gymnastics and ice skating are better comparisons., but look into what pool time and coaching costs for someone who wants to become an elite swimmer, or what camps and travel to tournaments cost for baseball.

        I don’t have a problem with prizes in general, or especially for a Pro/Am field (men or women). But I think demands by Cat 3/4/5 and Masters are a bit silly. Furthermore, we are talking about paying 10 – 25 people out of a field of what size? Of course all the racers are going to have to subsidize the prize list which goes to a few people.

        However the total cost of competing goes beyond the cost of entry fees. Equipment and travel costs often far outstrip the entries. Bike racers don’t expect the gas station to subsidize their fuel, or the auto dealer to subsidize their vehicle. So why expect the person who provides the very platform to compete to make the sacrifice, when that person/group takes all risk of organizing it, and gets all the complaints from the very people they are trying to serve.

        While one can say the events should have sponsors to cover costs and prize lists, shouldn’t the teams/clubs likewise have sponsors to help cover the cost of travel and entries? The fact is, except for the highest levels of the sport, there really isn’t a product to sell to non-endemic sponsors, unless there is a proponent for the sport involved.

        People complain about the lack of stability in cycling at the pro level. However it is the same at the local level too. How many racers jump from team/club to team/club, because of the lore of an extra piece of clothing? Bike racers have a case of the “give-mes” that few other sports have.

        Go to any velodrome in the US, with the exception of T-Town, and the grandstands are sparse. If you can’t get bike racers in the gate to watch and support the sport, how can you expect the general public to have any interest?

        When I organize events, I try to keep costs as low as possible, but I have a hard time listening to complaints about entry fees from middle aged riders with good paying jobs, who spent >$5k on a bike, who don’t volunteer a second of their time to help put on any events, or do anything meaningful to promote the sport. Yet many of them think they are doing something very important when they ride or race their bikes.

  32. Steve Tilford Post author

    I’m not so worried about the entries of the master’s guys. I’m more worried about the new riders and new talent that needs every penny they can scrounge up to get to the next race. When entries become the cost they can’t afford, then that is the straw that broke. I figured it out a while ago and even going to a race that is relatively local, it is nearly $500 for the weekend. Say you drive 300 miles each way at 20 mpg, then you have nearly $100 for gas. Then hotel is another $150 minimum, entry at least 100, then food and any equipment you toast. It is close to $500. Most teams won’t reimburse a young guy anywhere near this amount.

    I take a bunch of young guys to races. I don’t charge them for gas and if they want to sleep on the floor at the hotel, then that is free. So they are left with food and entries. Entry becomes the limiting factor for them. If they have to spend $400 a month on entries, it becomes too much, so they skip racing. It’s a big deal for most guys that are just scrapping by. The sport is just too expensive.

    1. Harold

      Don’t forget that when a rider pays his or her entry fee, they have already paid for the following:
      bike $4000-$10000
      wheels $750 -$3500
      shoes- $175-$750
      bib shorts-$129-
      and so on…

      1. H Luce

        You might also want to figure in the average lifetime, because a lot of that list won’t last more than three years, and some of it won’t last for a racing season. Crack a carbon fiber frame in a bike wreck, and that frame is done, you’d be better off with a titanium frame that will cost more but which will last your racing career. If that’s ten years, and the frame is $10,000, then that’s $1000 per year. Figure spending another $1500 per year on equipment/clothing/shoes, and that’s $2500 you have to make before breaking even. Add in gas, hotel, food – say $3000 per year, and you have to make $5500 per year to start making money.

        Racing accelerates wear and tear on equipment, and drastically reduces its service life. If the equipment is unrepairable, it has to be replaced outright, so if you want to make money on the sport, make and sell the equipment, otherwise, it’s a loser for 98% of the other people involved.

  33. usedtorace

    Yeah, I don’t remember there EVER being an entry fee for the Nationals road race in the 1980s.

  34. Dieter Drake

    This is pretty unrealistic, misguided, and uninformed…but it’s amusing nonetheless. Race promoters are the only people keeping this sport alive here in the US. You’d be hard-pressed to convince be otherwise.

    Cycling is going through a fundamental, societal change and I think it needs to adapt. Races compete with not just other races now, they compete with other endurance sports and activities in ways they never did before. Before there were just races, and now there are gran fondos, gravel grinders, tri, adventure races, cross, half marathons, 5ks, etc. An average road racer might be pulled in one or all of those directions at certain times of the year. Most racers I know do other things in addition to racing these days.

    The other thing that has to be acknowledged is that racers are aging through masters age groups and are not being replaced by juniors or even 20 somethings. A friend works in the skiing industry and they are experiencing the same changes: people are doing other things and the younger set is not participating at the rates they used to in the 2000s. He then made an interesting comment… “the Millennials are not taking risks.” They’d rather live in cities, not buy cars, participate in social media, and live a more structured life, free of the risk-taking that the generation before them was known for. I thought that was pretty astute. He’s right.

    While the competitive side of cycling will remain going forward, I believe it will (and should) look for ways to attract new participants and to reduce costs. That may include ditching the traditional formats for category racing or moving toward mass-start or gran fondo styled events. This would accomplish two things right away: 1), it would be more inclusive, and 2), it would reduce operational costs: larger fields would reduce the overhead with officials, etc. and would condense the schedule + reduce time on the road (police, local complaints, etc.). That may mean that smaller events are really small – if they are events at all (Tuesday night practice races, unsanctioned weekend ‘races’, office park crits, etc.), and larger events are really large, with nothing substantial in between. I think this is very likely.

    I think there is a place for professional cycling (I know a bunch of pro criteriums that do pretty well), but it’s not going to last in association with the amateur side much longer. It’s usually a completely different approach with sponsors and almost always unsustainable as a professional-focused event. In any case, it’s no longer a tool to attract racers into the sport. Those days are over, sadly, as the Lance days have blackened the memories of the older generation, and have jaded the perceptions of the current one. It’s just over.

    With regard to sponsors – most sponsors I talk with are (for better or worse) not interested in the slightest with professional racing. They’d rather engage a higher volume event that focuses on challenges, health, fitness, and wellness. The current mix of cross, gravel grinders, gran fondos, etc. has real value here. Amateur racing should take note…

    1. channel_zero


      Agreed on all points with USA Cycling positioned for none of what you mention which is why the healthiest events are all outside USA Cycling.

    2. H Luce

      Most of the Millennials can’t afford to take risks which entail monetary loss, they have lousy health insurance with high deductibles (if any), and a debt load from schooling which precludes them from buying houses and other such things, have largely unmarketable degrees and so they’re stuck in low-wage jobs, and so forth. Even so, back in 1990, the Cincinnati Velo Club paid John Stamstad, one of our team members, for every entry fee for that year. Without that support, he may have ended up pursuing his other career path, that of a professional photographer. He could have ended up being a Pulitzer-prize-winning photographer for National Geographic, or Outside, or something along those lines. He was just out of college with a psychology degree, and living in a cheap apartment in Over the Rhine, a cheap but dangerous part of Cincinnati. He drove a used, black-spray-painted Honda for years, drove it until the tires were bald. It was a miracle he made it to many of the races. So club support of talented, yet cash-poor, riders is essential.

  35. Jeff

    Thanks for throwing in the bit about juniors, the rest of your article is spot on too Steve. One nice idea Steve Brown has available for the Iceman race, at least for juniors, is working with Michigan Youth Cycling and offering scholarships for top junior finishers. They also have reduced entries for them (juniors). The U18s get to start on their own as well and have the biggest fields I’ve seen in any of the “citizen” races in the midwest. We drive to this race from Wisconsin and will continue to do so in order to support that kind of thinking.
    Also, the Chicago Cross Cup has for years only charged juniors $5 to race, basically on the backs of all the masters who show up. As participants we all need to support the races that really help to grow the sport!


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