Monday, January 21, 2019

It's Not All About Racing

From a recent Tweet from "The Path Less Pedaled"
This past Friday I was part of a thread on Twitter where someone had opined that the "media" was going to ruin gravel riding by focusing almost exclusively on racing gravel. A few responses came and then this quote from "The Path Less Pedaled", "So burnt out on the default mode as racing".

Okay, a bit of housekeeping on this quote: What "..the default mode.." refers to is how the bicycle industry, and the major media that covers it, almost always uses racing bicycles as its touchstone for any cycling related subject. This has been something I have criticized for years. When a small percentage of bicyclists actually race during any given year versus the overall amount of cyclists, it doesn't make any sense for cycling media and the industry to almost exclusively speak in terms of racing. This is especially bad when it comes to pavement style cycling. But when the industry desperately needs to bring in new cyclists, it really makes no sense at all to focus on something most people that ride bicycles would never do.

Of course, there are publications dedicated to racing. I get that in those instances, but many publications are not, and the default mode from them in reference to cycling is almost always about racing.

No numbers, smiles, and a casual pace. From the '18 GTDRI.
Then there is the basis for many designs of bicycles to be directly or indirectly influenced by racing. That has been a really bad route that the American market has gone down for decades. Look at any European city and most bicycles are definitely not racing bicycles because most people are not racing that ride.

Of course, this has as much to do with culture as it does a misplaced focus on racing, but the cycling industry could have been helping itself by focusing on more practical and fun modes of cycling, but it never got around to it. Not in any serious, long term way.

Yes, there is People For Bikes and some "feel good' donating and lip service being shared by the bigger brands. However; what dominates their social feeds is racing. Their marquee offerings are racing bicycles. There has been somewhat of a shift with the gravel scene poking its dirty little head into the goings on, but even that is getting the "racing treatment" by the brands and marketing wonks. The "default mode" still reigns supreme.

So, this all ties back into what I was talking about late last week with the media stories talking about the "Pro roadie" issue with gravel racing. So, there you go. The reason for the quoted reaction above by the PLP folks. It is such an old, hackneyed way to look at cycling that it becomes tiring when those of us that see the potential of cycling see and here these views again, and again. 

There are good things happening out there though, and I think I speak for some of us when I say that it would be nice if those things got some run in the press, if they influenced new gear, and if the narrative was redirected toward fun and freedom from competition. I know that we in the shops have been touting the "let's have fun" line to sell cycling and not the racing side. yet the industry seems entrenched in the racing side of things. The big brands sponsor race teams, the media focuses on them, and the narrative we all get from both is "race-centric".

Let's not eliminate racing, but let's put it in its place. It isn't what most cyclists do, so why should most companies and media make it the basis of any stories told to all cyclists about cycling. I like some of what I see going on out there. But I also get tired of "the default mode".


hank said...

G Ted, Howdy;

Very well expressed opinion you have. Nice photo to help see what it is you are referring to
with the cyclist on the Left wearing comfortable biking shorts but with a spandex top and his
neighbor to the Right decked out in spandex top and bottom. Why does everyone feel the 'need' to wear spandex? Ain't gonna make the vast majority of folks any faster then they are. Why not just wear something that's comfortable and loose. You know, 'Casual Friday is everyday' Besides, the vast majority shouldn't wear clothing that tight in the first place, they ain't built for it and the general public shouldn't be subjected to the sight of it.
... an that's what I got to say about that.


Guitar Ted said...

@hank- Thanks for that comment. A bit of context is needed, I think. That ride pictured was a 100 mile+ ride on a hot, humid day. While one could use "casual Friday" clothing for such a ride, I think the idea for the rider on the right was to stay as cool and comfortable as possible to match the conditions of the ride that day.

Hard lessons learned maybe push folks to reach for solutions that, yes, are inspired by racing. That said, had someone else showed up, (and by the way, there was another guy that did), dressed in casual recreational cycling clothing, they would be accepted as much as the guy on the right was. Myself- I was wearing a wool top and traditional cycling bibs. Kind of a mix there.

Now when I ride to work, or for errands, or just to goof around, I often wear street clothing. Blue jeans and boots. Dickies, shorts, street shoes with flat pedals. Often times no helmet in Winter, or on errands. I totally get the "barriers" that expensive cycling gear can throw up to people new to cycling, or considering it. I don't shame anyone for wearing "what they got or not". But again, perhaps hard lessons learned will inform others differently. That's all well and fine.

The main thing is that we get moving, and cycling is a great way to do that.

hank said...

G Ted, Howdy;

Agree that the main thing is to get moving, no matter how ...

When I went to buy my first bike in many, many years I found the
Local Bike shop and made the purchase there (MTB). After all the selecting
of various "extras", tools, bag, etc. I was asked what size jersey
and shorts I'd like to wear as, ya know, "ya gotta have this or that
or it just won't be a ride ...". These guys were used to the local
University crowd not someone such as myself, (at that time mid-50's
and living in a rural Southeastern Ohio County). Point is, they (shop folks),
couldn't separate one consumer base from another. Were treating me as
if I were one of the 'bro' flock ... So, to me, it appears the industry
folks from manufacturers to sales persons are pushing the trend to blend
in and wear the uniform of a cyclist.


Anon said...

I think there are at least two things driving the industry push for race bikes. First, people who race, or at least ride in a race-like fashion, are the more serious types that buy expensive products, and buy them regularly. The average casual cyclist isn't buying a new 4-10k bike every year, along with all the peripheral equipment. I know the margins are best on the low end, and on accessories, but those high dollar sales are important. Secondly, we live in a world where sex sells. Lean, attractive racers are more visually appealing to the average consumer than overweight, middle aged guys in casual clothes. The racer image provides a fantasy for some, and a goal for others.

Hank, not sure what your problem is with "spandex." For most of us, it is the more comfortable clothing for cycling. It's not simply about it making us faster. I doubt it does much in that respect at the speeds we ride. It does wick moisture well, and it provides the most mobility on the bike. If you can overcome your self-consciousness about revealing clothing, you might find that you like it. Lastly, let's stop stigmatizing heavier people that wear activity appropriate clothing. They have just as much right to be comfortable on the bike as a fit 22 year old racer. They in no way need to "spare us." Don't spend so much time thinking about and judging what other people wear.

Guitar Ted said...

@Jonas Malever- First of all, thanks for the comments.

I wanted to address a few things you brought up.....

First, you said the following,"First, people who race, or at least ride in a race-like fashion, are the more serious types that buy expensive products, and buy them regularly."

That's not driving the racing bent in terms of what cycling companies and media doing. In fact, racing oriented bicycles and gear, in terms of the data available with regard to sales, is down. Way down.

Participation figures are also down across "traditional" racing categories. Only gravel racing is showing any significant growth numbers and most of this is not from traditional racing folk.

Racing is a "thing" because many brands are filled with former racers, racing aficionados, and, along with the media who are also mostly former racers, are putting out the narratives. This is what causes the "default to racing" narrative to a large degree, but it is not the only reason.

The other thing I wanted to respond to is where you say, "sex sells". That's another huge problem within cycling and our society at large. I would take issue with anyone thinking this is a "positive" thing. In fact, it is rather hurtful, since here you hold up an "ideal" which the vast majority of folks will never live up to. That's a negative influence and this should be discouraged at all costs. It's also at odds with a comment you directed at "hank" where you state, "... let's stop stigmatizing heavier people that wear activity appropriate clothing." Yes and amen to that, but saying "The racer image provides a fantasy for some, and a goal for others" is simply pitting what a few may think against bitter reality for most of the population. We don't need that.

As an alternative, I would hold up what Salsa Cycles is doing with Crystal Kovacs as a much more positive message, which you may or may not be aware of:

This is the sort of inspiration that brands need to be bringing to the fore- NOT the typical racer narratives we've seen in the past. It is my contention that things like what Salsa Cycles is doing, and sites like "The Path Less Pedaled" is doing, has greater affect on influencing the larger numbers of people who do not race and still has an uplifting message to those who do. It isn't exclusionary, nor does it speak down to us with image, attitude, or in its voicing.

hank said...

Jonas Malever, Howdy;

Have we met??? If so, I apologize for not remembering the time, date, nor the occasion.
It must have been an interesting time, as you remember me so well. Even my body type and
that I suffer from extreme self-consciousness issues. What where we talking about during
that meeting??? Couldn't be the previous season's excursion to several "Sun Seeker Resorts"
that I enjoyed immensely. Oh, well, it'll come to me sometime in the future.

What have I against Spandex, nothing really, it just is the apparent 'uniform' that has
been adopted of of the different styles that exist. Myself, I loath tight fitting clothing.
never could abide it.

Jonas Malever, I truly hope that as you gain knowledge and experience in this journey that
we refer to as 'Life', you won't be so quick to jump to assumptions. Perhaps asking some
questions, taking the time to not just read something and then blurt out something you have zero knowledge about but think about what has been said and then attempt to respond with thought rather then kick out a knee jerk response. Should you desire any other information I am mostly an open book that requires an inquiry to receive more information.



Salmon said...

My default mode tends towards 11mph average over distance and second to last place.


When the racers blow by me, please give a “on your left”, because I’m probably in my happy place and assuming no one is behind me.


Anon said...

GT, interesting point about industry and media folks being ex-racers. I think it ties in to what I was saying in a way. They promote what they have known in their past as racers, and the people I described provide a feedback loop, even if they don't actually constitute the bulk of the market. Also, I hope it did not seem like I was supporting the use of sex in bicycle marketing. I understand there are a lot of people who are discouraged from entering the sport because of it, but it persists for a variety of reasons. The comment about fantasy/goals was referring to the mindset of the racer/serious enthusiast that wants to see attractive people doing the things that they are doing, not my own personal desire. Hope that is clear.

Hank, you said, "Why does everyone feel the 'need' to wear spandex? Ain't gonna make the vast majority of folks any faster then they are. Why not just wear something that's comfortable and loose...Besides, the vast majority shouldn't wear clothing that tight in the first place, they ain't built for it and the general public shouldn't be subjected to the sight of it." I suppose the only assumption made was about self-consciousness. My apologies. The rest came directly from your comment above. No assumptions or knee jerk reactions there. In fact, you are the one that made a number of assumptions in your comments. People feel a need for spandex, spandex won't make people faster (the assumption being that folks wear it with this belief or for this reason), loose clothing is more comfortable on the bike, etc. Then, your final comment was simply an insult. Frankly, I'm surprised my post rankled you so much considering it was not nearly as aggressive or offensive as your posts. Conflict on the internet is not my thing, so I'm finished here, but once again, I apologize for making a small assumption about you.

nellborg said...

As a mid-50's ex road and mtb racer, I'm now getting back into bicycling after a 15 yr hiatus - work, kids, a cervical disc herniation, and another sport took me away.

So, this whole gravel thing looks like fun - not that we haven't been doing it for decades on our hardtail mtb's and road bikes - but many of these events look like they'd be a nice way to spend a day.

I'll try to do a few this year (I'm in central Wisconsin). I'm not interested in racing, them, but I always enjoyed spirited riding way back when. Although I haven't done a Grinduro, the format seems to be a great "happy medium" for gravel events, i.e. you can race segments of the course if you'd like to and still stop and stuff yourself with donuts and cookies at the rest stop. But, sprint finishes, prize money, etc...I hope those go away because they always have a way of changing the nature of an event.