Mang, I didn’t expect quite the response to yesterday’s article about the changes in local road racing. Several folks were pretty bummed at what they perceived to be a bummerville attitude about amateur road racing. But I think they’re misreading the message. Road isn’t going to die. It’s just getting smaller (again) and the folks drawn to it are consistently older, wealthier, and (typically) suburban family men. Bikes aren’t going to die. It’s just that a lot of the younger entrants to the sport are finding themselves drawn to less traditional forms of competitive riding. Earlier this year I wrote about the topic, but focusing on events like Red Hook and the London Nocturne. Both have had great commercial success, drawn out novice and nontraditional racers, and more importantly: created an entertainment product that appeals to fans far beyond the reach of cycling fandom.
The west coast equivalent of this trend is most evident in the events and culture developing around Wolfpack Hustle. It wasn’t long ago that I was among those who dismissed events like the Marathon Crash as foolhardy, irrelevant, dangerous showboating. I imagined the entire scene to be annoying teenagers with GoPros and thousands of Instagram followers. It turns out that I wasn’t entirely wrong on that front, but what I didn’t quite grasp is that the movement has shifted, and it’s shifted dramatically.
Yesterday I was chatting with a middle-aged racer about all of this. “I don’t really see it as a problem,” he said. “Yeah, when I started out we were all underemployed guys right out of college. That’s who raced. Today it’s middle managers with kids and an Audi. I actually like it.”
“No mang,” I said. “The New Golf road scene is fine. In fact, it’s kind of what’s carrying the industry right now, and I’m not saying we need a bunch of teenagers involved in order to validate the sport… the issue is that there are young people interested in bikes, and interested in racing bikes, but the culture just isn’t appealing to them, and this is why they’re not engaging.”
“Oooooh, so it’s not sexy enough then?”
“Yeah, it’s not sexy enough. Sexy matters.”
So do we need fixed gear crits to attract the new generation? Do we need awesome Instagram accounts and professionally produced, black and white videos? Do we need drag races, rollers races, and Red Bull sponsorships? Do we need snapbacks and tattoos, live DJs, and a hundred semi-pro photographers at every race? Do we need ridiculous photo op podium ceremonies with magnums of champagne?
I have no idea. But after watching these Wolfpack videos, I can totally picture a 14 year old with a $300 fixie dreaming about racing bikes, and then actually going out there and doing it.
Also: Will the Fyxation Open usher in an era of Wolfpack/Red Hook style events in the midwest, or will be be a one and done phenomenon?
Also: The subtext to this post is that diversity matters.