Thursday, March 5, 2009

Races and the Almighty Dollar

Maybe Iowans have it right. Or maybe, there is just some thing about the simplicity of cycling that some still hold true. With the rise of endurance races and longer gravel rides growing in number every year, it is not surprise that there are a number of different approaches to how they maybe organized, run and put on.

A few years ago, I worked at a shop with Mr. 24. Many of you know a bit of his back story, he is a solid endurance racer and his online influence on the cycling industry continues to grow year after year. He's honest and often brutally straightforward, which is one of the many reasons why what he writes about product and insights on cycling are accepted by so many. Saying that, I got to see the effect of how a few words on this inter-web of ours can have when Jeff was banned for a year from the 24 hours of Adrenalin series for questioning the costs of entry fees on a MTBR forum. If I remember correctly Jeff was only questioning the need for such high fees and it's effect on getting riders in the sport and keeping them there. I say this to acknowledge that I am approaching a very touchy subject.

I, for one, am far from what one could consider a racer. Only participating in a handful of mountain and cross races throughout my life, in which I have never had a problem with the fees that correspond with these closed course events. The epic gravel grinders have caught my attention and imagination for some time now, since the conception of TransIowa occurred some 6 years ago. I am bias in that I've known the organizers personally for some time and just seen their hearts on the matter. This event was put on by bike lovers for bike lovers. Keeping it as simple as possible and what do you know, it's worked.

Off shoots of TransIowa have happened all over the place from the Dirty Kanza and G-Ted's Death Ride to this weekends CIRREM. And what do all of these have in common? Besides the fact that you have to be a little off your rocker to do it... their all free. The CIRREM is more of a benefit than anything asking for free will donations to benefit a bike collective but bike lovers uniting for a great purpose.

All are open courses, all take a good amount of time to put together and promote, all have riders acknowledge that they are on their own. The organizers of these events deserve so much, and often chose putting this together and running the event over things like their own personal freetime, i.e. personal ride time, and spending time with friends and family. In the end, most still they believe that the sacrifice is worth it and start the process again.

Unfortunately, when 'sister' events of these gravel races come to be some promoters believe entry fees are needed to make the event worthwhile. Now, I can't say I'm against all race fees but of course, within reason. How much is enough, is really the question? Especially when these events are held on open roads, in which riders must deal with drivers who are not aware of an event going on. It's hard to compare long gravel races to longer MTB races because MTB races, of course, are on closed courses inwhich private lands can be involved, reserving the space and rights to public spaces occur.

So what does a race or ride organizer do? My only suggestion... transparency and communication. Much like a relationship, things only get worse when things are left unsaid. So if a race fee is $50, do a cost breakdown especially when there are sponsors are involved. It's no secret that when a company decides to sponsor an event it is not the event organizers paying anything for them to do so. The company might choose to donate certain things for prizes and when an entry fee is already listed but then there is not corresponding cash payout to the winning riders questions should be and must be asked of the promoter/organizer. I might be coming off a bit harsh on this but I've got to believe this is a valid concern. As state before, it's not that I'm against a organizer being compensated for their time and effort but the question is how much?

The arguement could go a few different ways in my mind for a rider now. One would be, if one feels so against the entry fee, don't do the race. Simply put, enough said. That does solve the problem. The other could be to poach the event, and I feel I must say I am adamantly against doing this for ANY race, since the ride is on public roads and is on a open course, why not? Save yourself the fee and still get to do the ride. Or simply pony up and do the event.

I guess the real question lays with each individual on what to do...

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