Grassroot Bike Racing

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I got a good story for you.  The story, to me, emphasizes exactly the reason that we need to do our best to make our sport healthy.  And by healthy, I mean drug free, good officiating, reasonable entry fees, and fun. And fun might be the most important thing.

A couple weeks ago I got a call on Thursday, when I had already raced the time trial at Joe Martin, that a local guy from Topeka, Andrew, was looking for a ride to Fayetteville.  I told him that all the guys I knew that were coming had already left.

Andrew works a couple jobs, he works at a coffee shop and also at the Topeka Community Cycle Project.  He also goes to college at Washburn, a local university.

Anyway, Andrew’s car has a head gasket problem.  He has an old Volvo.  So he was looking for a ride.

I didn’t see Andrew until Sunday.  It turns out that he got a ride with someone from Topeka to Kansas City.  But the problem was that his ride from Kansas City to Fayetteville wasn’t until Friday, late morning.  That was his only option, so he took it.

He decided that he would just camp out at a Walmart on Thursday night, where he was supposed to meet his ride on Friday. He got down there late-ish on Thursday night and soon realized that his plan wasn’t that great.

He said that there really wasn’t anywhere to hang all night, with his backpack and bicycle.  He had assumed there was going to be a bench or something, out of the way, but he couldn’t find a place he felt comfortable.

So, he went back to the camping department and bought a sleeping bag for $10.  And he got on his bike and looked for a place to sleep.  It had rained a ton and the ground was pretty wet.

He finally found a place by a storage locker place.  It was quiet, and there were pine trees, which had dropped needles, so it was dry.  He crawled into his sleeping bag and got a few hours sleep.

He got to Fayetteville on Friday and had a hotel room floor to sleep on.  He caught a ride to the time trial, but didn’t have enough time to pre-ride the course.  He was racing the Cat 5 race.

He had a pretty bad time trial, but went on to finish 2nd, out of a 3 rider break later in the day in the road race.  Then he got 3rd in the criterium and finished 4th overall.  His team affiliation at Joe Martin was Poverty Studies.

There are tons of Andrew’s out there.  I meet them all the time.  I was him.  The sport used to really take good care of guys like him.  It took care of me.  I can’t tell you have many floors I’ve slept on, how many rides I caught, how many generous promoters gave me free entries.  All these people allowed me to get to the point where I could self sustain.

I don’t think the sport does such a good job of this anymore.  We’re not horrible, but I don’t think society, in general, is so generous as it was in the past.  We need to make sure we, as a sport, acknowledge the need for generosity and old time ways.

To be successful, our sport relies on volunteers, host housing, etc., at a grassroots level.  And the grassroots level is what eventually makes the professional level viable.  And the professionals draw more riders to take part.   It is a symbiotic relationship.

Anyway, here’s to the Andrew’s out there.  The guys that make the sport interesting.  The guys that are the true blood of cycling.

Andrew's gear by the storage unit Friday morning.

Andrew’s gear by the storage unit Friday morning.

He took a picture of the pine needle bed.

He took a picture of the pine needle bed.

Andrew at the club ride last night.

Andrew at the club ride last night.

The two best dressed volunteers at the Velotek Stage race on Sunday.

The two best dressed volunteers at the Velotek Stage race on Sunday.


19 thoughts on “Grassroot Bike Racing

  1. jinglenuts

    not sure if its that way anymore though… it gets clicky now a days.
    the best biking movie ever has to be – breaking away…

    we used to have a vibrant biking community, there would be guys that would ride 200km just to make it in for a crit and other mtber types that would sleep at the ski hill during the summer cause they didn’t have a place to live.

    I know lots of guys now who raced pro and are faced with mounds of debt, lived off of credit cards for years supporting themselves as sponsorship is hard to get… yet the young columbians always seem to have tonnes of sponsorship, how is that so?

    When I raced, luckily I found a sugar momma to live with and paid little rent. But, that soon dried up once biking and work became my life, leaving her out of the picture… divorce time it was and nasty at that. Lived out of my car for a few months, still relying on biking to keep my spirits up though…

    I know a couple of guys now facing divorce, after years of racing… I’ll open up my door to them until they get back on their feet.

    racing is tough, it gets costly and takes a lot of time – mostly solo on the saddle. Its a long way to the top if yah wanta rock and roll they say…
    Need more people opening up their doors to grass root types. Need more grass root racing to keep the costs down….
    its a great sport, saved my azz a couple of times…. I’d probably be strung out on drugs and on the streets if it wasn’t for cross country running, weight lifting and biking… I took all that pent up energy and used it for something worthwhile rather that something self destructive…. many stories, many memories, good times…

    Definitely need more grass roots stuff rather than structured boring stuff… the grass roots off the wall stuff really grows top notch racers and its damn fun…

  2. Bolas Azules

    Aaaaaah, the days before half the peloton getting shots in their asses regularly, ‘trade teams’ bringing home ex-Euro pros to teach them ‘the program,’ before our cycling aspirations jumped from maybe landing a rider in the top ten of an Olympic or Worlds to getting on with domination of the entire sport….those were the days.

  3. channel_zero

    Making six figures working for a monopoly run by one older guy probably isn’t that much fun. But, man is it easy. You guys keep sending them money no matter how hard they make it on you and the degree of product awfulness they aspire to every year just keeps getting higher.

    Does anyone know if USA Cycling published an annual report for 2015?

  4. Jason

    This reminded me of some of my earlier travels to bike races. Sleeping next to some church in Mississippi, sleeping at a rest stop, sleeping in my car in a hotel parking lot, and the rare but occasional host housing. I personally never asked for free race entry, but I have known many promoters who have given free race entry to someone who volunteers. Every race needs as many volunteers as possible and that’s a great way for people to race for free. Exchange some work for a free entry? Why not?
    Anyways, great post, reminded me of the happier times I had when I was racing.

  5. Touriste-Routier

    While I appreciate his dedication, I don’t get how this rider’s story is USAC’s problem, or shows a lack of support for grassroots racing.

    The race was on the calendar for a long time, and if I am reading this right, he didn’t reach out to his buddies for a ride until the day before the race.

    Yes, grassroots support in general needs to be improved, but riders need to do some planning too. I fail to see how better officiating, doping controls and host housing would have changed this particular scenario. If anything, this points to needing larger, more active club teams in a given area, rather than dozens of tiny ones.

  6. Mike Rodose

    Agreed. This is as much a Category 5 episode in addition to the grassroots story.

    Andrew deserves kudos for his desire, his dedication and fine results! That $10 sleeping bag was a wise investment. Imagine what a $40 hotel room would do!

  7. JP

    The entry fees are what is really destroying the race scene. I personally have never done a crit or road race. I prefer the dirt. My point being, a local crit just popped up on my radar and the fees were too much for me to even think about it. $30 for a 30-45 min crit if you have a license. $45-50 if you wait until the day of the crit and don’t have a license. Who would want to drop $45 on a race they are not even sure is for them? More people than ever are riding bike in the US, just not racing them. After looking at the race flyer, I won’t spend that money to do circles for 30 minutes. I will find a nice country road and just ride for a few hours.

  8. channel_zero

    I don’t get how this rider’s story is USAC’s problem, or shows a lack of support for grassroots racing.

    Apparently you haven’t spent much time reading the documents/requirements they have for getting USAC sanction. Obviously, plenty of the rules are good common sense, but the requirements are pretty specific end up shaping the every event.

    USAC under Wiesel has had over a decade (20 years??) to increase the number of low ranking events. Have they? How about the number of members ex acquisition? How about the number of paid continental pros?

  9. channel_zero

    $30 for a 30-45 min crit if you have a license.

    If you are pulled, as most are, 10-20 minutes.

    Roadies are spending thousands on gear. They aren’t going to miss $30.

  10. touriste-toutier

    @ Channel_Zero
    I’ve sanctioned plenty of USAC/USCF events. Even if I concede your point, what does this have to do with a rider not making arrangements to get himself to a race? How is lack of planning on a racer’s part USAC’s fault?

    Governing bodies don’t generally create events; individual promoters and clubs do. Yes, a promoter has to live with their rules, which often suck. Continental “pros” are not considered true professionals by the UCI, and are not required to pay salaries. How is it USAC’s fault that more US registered Conti teams don’t pay salaries?

    I am not a fan of USAC, but in these instances, place the fault where it lies.

  11. JP

    I think this is one thing that has spurred the growth in gravel grinders and fondos. You get more value for your entry with longer distances and you still get to show off your bike bling. Lol. I prefer to stick to mt bike events, but those fees are getting outrageous as well. Seems we pay about a buck or two per mile you want to ride this days.

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