I like stirring the pot a bit. I like getting people riled up and generating some good banter in the comments. I got that in spades yesterday. Thanks everyone for participating.
Yesterday’s comments were so good and brought up so many good points, that I wanted to do a post today that debates a few of them. In no particular order, we’ll start with Rick:
I know a lot of cat 5 road racers who could compete with the Cat 1/2 guys (They are called mountain bikers).
I'm just saying....it's kind of cool to be a cat 5 AND be fast. And it's cool if a cat 5 guy has a nice bike.
The numbers don't mean much to me.
Very true. As Rick also pointed out, Nate P. has won the overall at Lotoja riding as a citizen on a one day license. There are tons of blazing fast guys who are Cat. 5s or who have never even raced. Holding an annual license that has a category other than 5 only means that you have dedicated enough time to road racing to get your upgrades. Nobody is making value judgments about anyone else’s ability based on their racing category or lack thereof.
I will say, though, that the guys who have earned Cat. 1 and 2 upgrades are in a different league than most of the rest of us and by and large really have earned them*—those things are hard to come by and require a commitment to racing frequently and the ability to get some good results to earn the upgrade points.
*In most cases. Rumor has it that there are some guys racing with Cat. 2 licenses that somehow talked their way into a Cat. 2 upgrade because their team gives free bikes to anyone racing in that category. But these are just rumors.
And while there are some stupid fast MTB racers out there, racing MTB as an Expert isn’t like upgrading to Cat. 2 where you have to actually get results to earn it. Anyone who wants to can sign up for a MTB race and declare him or herself an Expert and race in that category. Why you would want to without being shamed into it, I have no idea. But anyone who wanted to could do it.
I won’t get into which of the two systems is “better” because frankly, each has its merits. And nobody is asking me to make a binding decision anyway.
As for Rick’s other point “And it's cool if a cat 5 guy has a nice bike.” Well, I agree with this too. If someone loves to ride bikes and wants to have the best one money can buy with no intention of ever racing it, that’s totally fine by me. But again, if you’re dropping the coin on the nice bike just because you think it will make you faster, you’re doing it wrong. It’s like when I was a little kid and saw the ad at the shoe store with a kid jumping over a mailbox. I had to have those shoes. And I was crushed when I got home and couldn’t jump over my mailbox in them.
Spending a bunch of money on a TT bike may make you marginally faster in a TT, but you still need to have the fitness. You can’t buy speed, at least not meaningfully. And I don’t understand why Cat. 4 and 5 guys even buy TT bikes since TT and GC results don’t count towards an upgrade at that level and there are only five races a year where you actually get to use the thing. Nobody buys a TT bike because he just loves to ride it—if you’re positioned right, those things are about as comfortable as a piece of 60 grit sandpaper on your chamois.
But I also think cigarettes, lottery tickets, and $300 jeans are stupid ways of spending money, and yet clearly some people disagree with me here because all three seem to thrive. Well except maybe the $300 jeans. So spend your money how you want. Your local bike shop/crack dealer thanks you.
Faceless Ghost said:
As far as I know, the UCI has few, if any, equipment restrictions in mountain biking (although downhillers are no longer allowed to wear lycra, lest they taint the sport's image). If that weren't the case, I doubt we'd see nearly as many full-suspension bikes or lightweight 29ers. (If one accepts the premise that racing drives development).
I’ll accept the premise that racing drives development, but who wins in that situation? Six or seven years ago, a top-shelf race bike, road or mountain, cost between four and five thousand dollars. Today a top-shelf race bike is between eight and twelve thousand dollars, sometimes even more. The bikes cost 100% more, but are they 100% better?
They’re lighter. By 10% or so. They’re stiffer and more aero. The suspension is more efficient on the MTB side. But for all the development, the bikes have actually improved by maybe 20%. Yet we’re paying twice as much for them. Doesn’t sound like much of a victory for the paying-his-own-way amateur racer to me.
True innovation would be improving the performance and keeping the cost the same. Or if the cost goes up, improving performance to a degree that exceeds the cost increase. So if the bike costs twice as much, it should be twice as good.
I know a lot of guys who ride rigid single speed mountain bikes. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the fastest-growing category in the mountain bike market. Fixies are similarly popular in the road bike market. Why are these things selling (aside from the fact that they’re trendy) if it’s not a backlash against the technology—a statement that I don’t need innovations to enjoy the experience of riding my bike?
Let's have fun and not be haters on a group we all belong to, or at one point in time, belonged to. If someone can afford to buy a TT bike and a road bike; good for them. Who cares if they aren't very good at it. At least they are having a good time.
And Kris said:
I can't help but compare with group rides. For instance the Alpine Loop. It's an unspoken race to the top. The riders naturally break into "categories". Getting to the top is a win. Congratulate the fast guys. Sprint to the shack. Good workout, friendly competition, no overhead.
That’s the nice thing about choosing to do this—we do it on our own terms. When it stops being fun, it’s time to either stop doing it or find a new way of doing it that makes it fun again. Sure I call people out on this blog—especially people that call attention to themselves. It’s like the guy out on a trail ride in full team kit—you have to chase him to see if he can back it up. But when it comes right down to it, we all look pretty frickin’ ridiculous in our brightly colored lycra and shaved legs. So if we can’t laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at?