A fellow teammate/very close friend and I recently had a discussion about road racing/cycling in general in the US. So often we hear “Road is dead” from our local cycling compatriots. Is this true? What’s the solution? Where did it go wrong?
Pete Hitzeman presents a wonderful and thought provoking account of the state of cycling in the US, including possible solutions to the “problem.” Well worth the read!
I don’t know if it’s dead, dying or just not very healthy but it aint what it used to be.
For a solution, I’d suggest start by looking at the segments of bicycle sport that aren’t dying. There are reasons why other segments (ie gravel, but I feel like there are others) are not in the same boat.
Haven’t read the article yet, but road racing is definitely down, based on what I think USA Cycling is reporting on number of racing licenses and participants in events.
The fascinating thing about this debate is that I think there are so many factors. Some may be cyclists don’t want to compete in that type of way. Frankly, it’s tough, and it can be demoralizing getting dropped in a long race (I should know lol). I think some have suggested the fondo format, where it can be competitive for some but for others it’s just a good challenge.
I also think it’s worth building up areas of racing that are on the upswing like gravel (although people may not want USAC butting in on gravel). CX seems to be doing really well in New England, we’ve got a great scene, and at the 4/5 level there are guys like me who really train, but there’s equal room for guys who just dabble in it and are not super in shape or competitive, and it’s definitely not as intimidating or demoralizing for someone just trying it out.
On general riding, I anecdotally read places that people prefer to ride inside where there’s no risk of injury. I’ll admit I’ve spent many summer days inside because I prefer to train that way (and not out of any fear of cars or anything), but I think there’s something lost if we all escape to our basements and aren’t out there being seen and getting together.
Anyhow, I’m sure this thread will be entertaining, looking forward to others’ thoughts!
This is me. I gravitate to the challenge of endurance and not much into the ‘bro’ culture competition of watts, etc. I like a lot of guys in my community but I really don’t see the pleasure in getting dropped on a group ride. I ride to keep my life in balance.
I am of the opinion that if we fix Reality #4, a lot of the other stuff around the sport will sort itself out. The community aspect is just missing from road racing. Without it, the entry to the sport is that much harder.
I really wish we could bring more people into the hobby as a starting point. People (including my wife) have seen how much I’ve changed physically since taking up cycling, going from 225 to 155, yet no one has even tried it for themselves. I try to be an advocate for cycling (without being pushy of course) but I honestly think some people are happier proverbially spinning their wheels and getting nowhere than push themselves out of their comfort zone
I think this is a big part of the general membership numbers at road races in general.
Doing a 5k is a lot more analogous to a gran fondo or gravel ride than it is to a crit or road race.
Many people can show up and gut out a 5k - heck you can walk them if you are so inclined. This is similar to what you can do at a gran fondo (pick a shorter distance) or a gravel ride.
Not so with a sanctioned race. Everyone on the line is forced to compete and will be dropped if they aren’t able to. This is both physically and mentally taxing.
Many, many people have a strong fear of failure (myself included). I think that this keeps them from racing more than the fitness challenges. It is intimidating to show up for a race where everyone is trying to win - not just finish. This very fear kept me from racing for years, and the stress I put on myself to win kept my race volume significantly down for a long time even after I started racing
It is counter to a lot of Western culture to show up and lose and lose and lose. If you race bikes you have to come to terms that you will rarely be the strongest person, and even if you are you won’t necessarily win.
This hurts the ego - there are no participation trophies in road racing - I don’t have a collection of medals for all the races I’ve lost but still finished but I work with someone who has exactly that for all the running events they do.
I’m taking 3 hours off work tomorrow in the middle of the day to attend a meet with some city officials who want to cancel a race my cycling club has been putting on in an office park for 10 years because last year 3 people complained it took them an extra 4 minutes to get into their office parking lot on a Sunday. Doing my part to keep racing alive!
We do need more racers but it is much more important to have more race organizers. If you race - good, but that is not helping as much as you think. Get involved at any level in putting on races if you really want to help!
That really sucks (about the potential cancellation), and I think it speaks to this sort of self-centered, car-centric culture we have where even on a weekend bike racing is viewed as a burden and inconvenience.
There was one race in Rhode Island (Jamestown) which ran for 40 years but a couple of years back stopped being a USAC race and became a shell of itself as just a recreational ride, because people complained about cyclists crowding the downtown area, which BTW was on columbus day and people would go to shops and what not. But I think there’s a visceral hatred of cyclists out there
I’m friends with one of our local race promoters here in the Dallas, TX area and he’s told me in the past that race numbers are down in Texas across the board. I’m not surprised that it isn’t just my home state.
I don’t race or even attend too many road events, but I do race mountain biking and cross events and just my experience and perception alone tells me that the numbers are down. For cross, we joke about Texans only coming out to races when it’s hot and dry, but it’s true to some extent. Numbers are definitely down when bad weather sets in (“bad” being a relative term here).
Weather aside, cross numbers are definitely down I want to say 4-5 years running now in Texas (that’s what I was told; I don’t have data to support that). To cite a specific instance that still perplexes me, we had a local mountain bike race get cancelled because of trail conditions (you can’t ride the trails in Dallas when they’re wet b/c of the gumbo-like dirt, plus there may have been some flooding issues). Right about that time we also had a UCI level cross race going on. We figured we’d get a whole mess of people showing up for the 4/5 race. We even encouraged people to come out with their mountain bikes (that’s how most of us got started in cross, right?) and have some fun. In the end, we got the usual suspects at the race and I don’t think any significant uptick in the numbers. Like I said, I don’t get it.
The fundamental problem with road cycling in the US is it is by and large an adult sport. In most areas, there is no junior racing to speak of and no path for a kid, say 14 years old, to get started. If a kid approached you who wanted to road race, where would you send them?
Contrast that with a sport like swimming in the US. Swimming is not exactly the most glamorous sport, it is not easy and it is certainly not spectator friendly. Yet, USA Swimming has 335,000 annual memberships, their equivalent of a USA Cycling license, and the vast majority of those members are under 18. There are over 2800 USA Swimming registered clubs in the US and almost all of them are youth age group focused. USA Swimming has a strong track record of producing highly successful Olympians and it starts with every 6 year old who’s parents put them in a swim club. USA Cycling has no on ramp. I just lends a hand if you finally, on your own, get on their radar at 20.
Since anyone who is even thinking about racing has a bike I don’t think its fair to include that in the cost. No adult is not racing because they can not afford a bike anymore than someone is not enter a competitive golf tournament because they could not afford clubs. By and large, you already have to have a bike before you even start thinking about racing.
Having actually talked to a number of folks who can ride well enough to race, the leading reasons they don’t are:
Lack of interest in competition
Fear of getting hurt, or worse, ending up in the hospital
On any given weekend day, they’d rather go on a hard 3-4 hour ride at tempo pace rather than than doing a 45 minute crit with repeated VO2 max efforts. They just want to ride their bikes. (Hence the huge popularity of Fondos they f it this group to a T)
There is also a whole class of people who might like to try racing but they are just slow enough it does not look welcoming. Larger fields would get some of these folks out. While some folks are afraid of larger fields, a ton of would be racers are more afraid of getting dropped, riding by themselves, then getting pulled.
Cost has never come up once in any conversation I have had with someone who could race but doesn’t.
Used bikes can be had cheap and there are plenty of old man racers who are more than happy to give a deal on their used stuff to some deserving youngster who wants to race.
Anyone who is not dedicated enough to come up with $1500 for a road bike is not dedicated enough to the idea of racing to actually be a racer. So while some folks my whine about cost, that is an excuse, not what is actually keeping them off the starting line.
Heck, someone can buy a $600-700 entry level claris bike and do just fine racing (I actually have a new 8 speed allez from last year). When I started racing 5 years ago I used a 1995 raleigh with 8 speed 105. I can definitely beat people with more expensive bikes lol
But bike shops that I’ve been to continue pushing the notion you can’t race on entry level, when claris (except for some bigger jumps) is just as good as 105 and above