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I’ve noticed that the officiating is done more and more by officials that have never raced bicycles. “In the old days”, most of the officials were bike racers themselves or had raced bicycles. Or, better yet, we had Event Services, where Brian Drebber and Gypsy (Fred Patton) pretty much ran the whole show. Now it seems there are professional officials, people who don’t even ride bicycles let alone race them. People making money on the weekends by officiating. With that said, you’d think officiating would become more professional then, too. But, it hasn’t. It kind of amazes me that at many NRC races, there are many officials at the event that make more money than the PRO rider that wins the race. That seems just wrong.

Anyway, I’m kind of tired of officials trying to enforce rules that don’t matter. A case in point is a situation that occurred last weekend in Arkansas. I had the unfortunate luck to be parked right next to the pre-race officials meeting. I overheard one of the officials talking about crinkled numbers to the promoter. Then, the other officials started talking about how to apply the $25 fine to the riders, etc. It was a big deal. They were trying to figure out the best way to police all the separate fields. The promoter told them that was between them and USAC.

I could not help myself and just had to interrupt and ask them exactly what it was they were talking about. I told them I had already crinkled my number and that I’d done it thousands of times. I couldn’t believe there was actually a rule against a crinkled number.

One official pulled out his rulebook and showed me the following rule, which he had already underlined and highlighted sometime earlier-

1N7. Racing numbers.

(b) Riders shall place their numbers as prescribed by the officials and in such a way that they are visible when the rider is in a racing position. When shoulder numbers are provided for cyclocross, they are worn on the upper arm to be visible from the front. Hip numbers shall be attached securely at least at the four corners with pins and no accessory or hair may obstruct a clear view of the number (riders with misplaced, obscured or unreadable numbers will not be placed). If shoulder or frame numbers are provided, they too shall be placed as prescribed. Numbers may not be folded, trimmed, crumpled, or otherwise defaced. [Replacement of the numbers at riders’ expense if noted before the start, otherwise warning or relegation.]

I’ve been crinkling numbers for decades. Actually, I might have been the first rider ever to ever crinkle a number. I guess I should use the USAC’s vernacular – I might have been the first rider ever to crumple a number. Crumpled numbers sit much flatter on your jersey, are easier to pin and don’t catch wind and flap. I have only heard one explanation why not to crumple a number. Something about the idea that light refracts off the number, especially at night, and the number is not readable on the camera.

If that is what they are using for an explanation, it is just wrong. Maybe, in theory, I’ve raced more bicycle races than just about anyone around. At least, more bicycle races using the current/modern tyvek numbers. And almost for sure, I’ve raced more night time criteriums than just about anyone else alive. And, I can’t recall one time that my crumpled number had anything to do with me not being scored. It is just not an issue.

I hate subjective rules. I looked at Catherine’s number just after she had pinned it on. Then she went to the bathroom, peeled down her skinsuit and put it back on. The number was pretty crumpled. Crumpled enough that an official could call her on it.

Number pinning is a pain in the ass. Especially doing it yourself. Think of the normal Cat. 5 guy that pins his number. He pins his number on, most likely upside down, and then his kid crawls all over his jersey. Or, he is so nervous, he sticks the jersey back into his bag and gets a different jersey out and then remembers his number is pinned on the first jersey. By then, the number is illegal. It is nearly impossible not to have a crumpled number.

So, these officials are trying to enforce a rule that doesn’t have anything to do with what is actually going on in cycling. I don’t know how many riders went back into registration and got new numbers once the rumor got going that the officials were planning on fining riders $25 on the line. A lot. And they were making riders change their numbers on the line if they were crumpled.

We, as bike racers, don’t need the added nervousness/hassle before the start of a race. We create enough of that on our own. The sport is supposed to be fun for the weekend warriors. I can understand certain rules applying to the PRO-1 race only. But, this isn’t one of them.

The best official at a bike race is one that you don’t ever know was present. A race went perfectly if there was no interaction between the riders and the officials. Let’s try to make that a more commonplace occurrence.


17 thoughts on “Officiating

  1. Maurice Hessel

    Couldn’t believe it when one of the officials stop me and gave me a lecture about my crumpled number. I explained to him I wasn’t aware of the rule. Then a second official came up to me, and let me have it again. They were actually pretty rude, I think it was “I’m in charge of this race” thing.

    Anyways, I totally agree with your assessment.

  2. velodoc

    Apparently you cannot fold the 5mm trim around the edge of the number either. I used to crinkle, now I fold. I will always do one or the other. I will not have my number flapping in the wind or parachuting behind me, period. Have always done so since 1994 in my first MTB race.

  3. Jon Downey

    As an official, event promoter, rider, racer, etc, I can say I see this issue both ways, but a crumpled number can be harder to read.

    Is it always a real issue? No. Can it be? Yes. The fact that Steve Tilford is always scored is because you are Steve Tilford. Can it be hard to score riders that the official doesn’t know? Yes. Does the crumpled number make it even harder? Sometimes, yes.

    The easiest thing to do is follow the rules. That goes both ways. If the official is rude, report him to USAC. No one wants any rift to develop between riders and officials because of someone being rude.

    I agree – there are more important things to worry about at a race other than crumpled numbers. Sometimes folks (riders and officials) need to be looking at the bigger picture.

  4. Dave

    In addition to people without a racing background or a real stake in the sport looking to make an extra buck officiating, we have more troubling in my mind seen an increase in officials who i would almost classify as “groupies.” They are hanging out at NRC races asking for autographs at the Start when they should be doing their job.

  5. julie

    I totally hear what you’re saying, but who the hell wants to be an official? As a racer, promoter, and official, I can say easily that I get the least enjoyment out of officiating. It usually sort of sucks. It makes sense that you don’t see more former or current racers officiating- they know better! And that’s why it pays- otherwise nobody would do it.

    As for enforcing useless rules, just be thankful they’re not forcing UCI wheel regs, leaving many riders wheel-less. Seriously, though, the problem isn’t the officials, it’s the darn rulebook. That’s what has to change.

  6. Justin

    I have always (since 1986 we even had cloth numbers) crumpled and wadded up my numbers…and will keep on, keepin’ on. Not to be spiteful, it just makes sense.


  7. myktech

    Can we just come up with a way to use our iPhones as timing devices, and then we will not need officials or cameras, unless we want some glory pictures?

  8. Beauquifanequiashanaynay

    I have been cycling and racing since I learned to ride a bike at age 4. So let’s see…that’s ummm 42 years. It is the only sport I have ever been involved in where the participants don’t know the rules. Really don’t know the rules. Little League Baseball players learn the rules, Pop Warner Football players learn the rules….shall I go on. For the love of god man learn the rules. You should be an ambassador for the sport, not a pain in the ass Prima Donna. You are 50 years old, act like it. The younger racers look up to you (I don’t know why, but they do) and you act like a child. If you don’t like the rules then tell the folks in Colorado Springs. Oh and by the way remember that when you bought your license you agreed to follow the rules set out by the folks in Colorado Springs, and if you do not I will be happy to suspend YOUR license.

    And proof read your blog. Paragraph 3, last sentence .

  9. Bruce Dunn

    Just to be clear, bib numbers aren’t glass. No one has to store the bib number in a book or iron it flat. But please don’t take the number and wad in up in your hands. You really have to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this”? If the answer is I think it makes me a better racer…we need to talk. The only reason anyone ever crumpled a number was because they saw someone else do it and thought it was a good idea. PLEASE! If you think a crumpled number makes you faster then you really should be racing Cat 6. The most professional teams who attend each year at the Joe Martin are the ones who get it. Sorry guys and gals, but not following a rule to not follow a rule is such a lame excuse.

    As more and more participants want/demand better services from an event, there is more and more pressure on the race organization and officials to provide “instant” results. Racing back in the day meant you scored the payout placing and then the results may some day get posted. Now that we have seen results instantly flashed on the television screen with a FinishLynx camera system and a six-figure timing budget…everyone expects that same level at all events. As the President of the Arkansas Bicycle Coalition and Tyson Racing and owner of All Sports Productions, which promotes the Joe Martin Stage Race, we want to provide the best, most accurate results possible. A wrinkled number is only visible with a FinishLynx quality system in the very best of conditions and then sometimes the bib is still unreadable. If everyone knew how much time, effort and experience it takes NRC-level timers to decipher the plethora of poorly pinned and positioned numbers no one would ever alter his or her bib number. Additionally, that is why frame numbers are so important…bib numbers aren’t always visible in the best of conditions or positions.

    Now….to the point of USA Cycling making a rule. Does anyone really think the governing body of cycling had it in for the weekend warrior by writing such a rule to just be another rule? REALLY!

    Before another participant believes that promoters or officials are out to get you and me (as I’ve raced for a few years myself…although you may not believe it from my performance at Cowskin when I was lapped by Mr. Tilford thank you very much), please know that the amount of time and resources spent on officials and timing by a small one-day crit or a NRC event is exponentially out of proportion to the amount of resources spent on any other event expense.

    I would like to challenge everyone to take the time and commit the energy to be the race promoter of an event; you would truly appreciate how hard everyone works to give you/me a venue to do something we love. One of the greatest things I get to experience each year as promoter of the JMSR is the change in attitude of a former racer who was the leader of a Continental Team who has now become a team director. The change is 180 degrees. They now appreciate what is takes to put on an event, which has so many moving parts.

    And finally…JMSR has once again hired the best in the business to time and score the race. But, you if you chose to manipulate your number so it can’t be read…don’t come asking why you weren’t scored or placed. With that being said…I know beyond a shadow of a doubt the officiating crew and timing company are 110% committed to scoring and placing each rider who crosses that line. I ask everyone to consider the bigger picture the next time you go to pin your number on your jersey.

    See you on the roads….

  10. inquire

    Steve- Apparently Beauquifanequiashanaynay has mistaken you for someone who gives a shit.

  11. Andrew

    Bruce, as the promoter of your NRC race do you give riders numbers for every stage, because once a number is used in a race it gets wrinkled. As a person that has scored well over a 1000 races witha video camara not a finishlynx I can say that its more about number position then anything else. If the the scoreres are so worried about the scoring either have a jersey at the registration table witha number pinned where you want it or walk through the start area during staging and check number placement. Beauquifanequiashanayna has obviously never raced at a higher level and wants to take out his lack of ability on riders with more talent.

  12. hluce

    I’ve picked riders coming across the finish line and if the number is illegible or crumpled so that it looks like another number, what happens is that you end up putting down the wrong number then having to guess who the hell it was when the rider with the number you thought you picked(invariably pinned on straight) comes across the finish line, usually out of the money. It’s worse in a close race. Maybe the answer is to do a photo-finish for each race, then you could abolish the rule entirely, just give team riders different numbers or color tags or something. Picking riders is a pain at best, and if you screw it up, you’ll get yelled at. I’m not much interested in doing that sort of thing ever again, I’m sure there are lots of people out there a lot better than I am, so I’ll leave it to them. BTW, I was a volunteer all the times I did this, never got paid anything (except for maybe a T-shirt or something.)

  13. Temp

    That’s right. I have raced, ride all the time, and am now an official. When I raced (KS – RCRC) I always wadded up my numbers. It’s more comfortable and just makes sence!! But, now as an official it is true that wadded numbers are hard to read. The reason you always get scored is because you are Steve Tilford. Hell, there have even been times at the Bazaar RR the start time has been pushed back because “We gotta wait for Tilford”. What makes sence to me now is if racers want to be scored correctly they will do whatever is best for me to be able to read their number the easiest. You do that, then there is no hassle and you don’t even know i’m there.

  14. Beauquifanequiashanaynay

    I’ll say this. If you cant follow the rules set out by the governing body in the USA(cause…you know WTF do they know) stay home and drink beer and watch NASCAR.

  15. Jim

    I am an official in high school wrestling so I have some basis for what I say. The best line I ever heard was you want to be the official that no one remembers. You did your job so well that no one noticed you. Regarding number crumpling, we would call that “looking for boogers”. IOW, don’t go looking for a problem and don’t make something into a problem.

  16. Curtis Martell

    I’ve been racing off and on since 1981 AND I’m an official therefore all opinions put forth here are “well reasoned and insightful.” This is freaking hilarious! Everyone is right to some extent -except the folder. The rule says don’t mangle the number. Follow it. On the other hand…With some cameras and light conditions the crinkled number does not produce as much glare and therefore is more readable to the officials when reviewing finish tapes. Folding back the edges is always a bad idea however because it makes the numbers less visible on film.

    I recall the first time I crinkled my race number. It was at Quad Cities one of my first races. There were Cat 1 riders with matching uniforms and bikes and everything! They were wadding up these numbers so I had to also. Just like I had to get a set of Oakley Factory Pilots when Greg Lemond had them. I figured there must be some advantage to this practice if these guys were doing it. Of course those were the days of those card stock numbers so getting one to sit flat was impossible.

    At this point in my life I can’t figure out the advantage of wadding up a number. Now I follow the rule and just pin on the number with the pins parrallel to the edge resulting in no
    wind flap. Ride harder, loose weight, train more, eat better, lift weights – all too hard. Wadding number: fast and easy performance gain??

    Thanks Steve love the blog.


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