Thursday, April 15, 2010

Peacocks getting their feathers ruffled

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'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?

Dave said:

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?


  1. I think I figured out what you are saying. We should spend our money on EPO and Steroids. Caus that stuff must make you faster. And I hear it is much less expensive than trying to shave a few grams off an 18 lb bike or buying a TT bike.

    Now if that does not start a fight I do not know what will.

  2. "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."

    Bingo. This reminds me: it's all good. The only quirk is, I really enjoy my cycling preferences so sometimes I come off as evangelical. Thanks for bring it back to basics.

    Blackdog - I think a cost anylisys would back you up.

    StupidBike - So stupid is slang for awesome, right? Like phat is good?

  3. I strongly agree that $8-12K bikes are not worth the marginal increase in performance. But instead of comparing today's top-end bikes to those of a few years ago, consider this:

    My first race bike was a Cannondale R5000. It had an aluminum CAAD 7 frame and a DA 7800 drivetrain. It cost $3200, and that's only because it was a leftover from the previous year and marked off 40 percent. The original retail price was over five grand. But right now you can go to your local Cannondale dealer and buy a CAAD9 with a DA 7900 drivetrain for three grand. Or you can buy it with a Rival drivetrain for about half that. The story is pretty much the same for any major manufacture. That's trickle down.

    The fact is, you can by a truly race-worthy bike for two grand, but people are too distracted by the latest wonder bikes to notice.

  4. "And I was crushed when I got home and couldn’t jump over my mailbox in them."

    jeezus i wish i could see a video of this. i mean, what is youtube for if not this?

  5. I want EPO. I had something clever to say until I saw in big, giant, cartoony letters, "EPO."

    "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.

    You're such a purist.

    Incidentally, I'm particularly entertained by your pot-stirring. Especially when you get a reaction. Reactions are fun. I got an e-mail just the other day from the "owner and editor" of Utah Valley Magazine. She was "surprised and frightened" by a blog post I did that bashed her beloved magazine. She wants to take me to lunch to discuss "ideas." Like I'm going to reveal my identity to the owner and editor of cheesy magazine. Like, really.

  6. FG: valid point.

    Dug: thank goodness I'm old enough to pre-date youtube.

    Rabid: weren't we just talking about this? And now you're the first one to get real hate mail? I. AM. SO. JEALOUS.

  7. rabidrunner - I immediately looked up your blog post about Utah Valley magazine. I despise that pretentious, plastic rag. You were spot on, and if anything, too nice.

    SBJ - If you want hate mail, I can oblige. Would you like to select the topic for me to berate or be surprised?

  8. Kris: Surprise me. Just remember that it's up to me whether or not I post it.

    Except you have a blog too, so I guess that doesn't work. Maybe you should just make it an open letter. But make sure it's truly hateful. Either that, or couch the hate speech in euphemisms like "discussing ideas."

  9. The level of bike bling would mean nothing for a slow poke like me. Spending the extra money would be pointless. I think the faster you get the more financially feasable-but I agree with Ski-Bike Junkie that if you do have the bling, you better bring it-or just resign yourself to be made fun of.

  10. Hey KK, I think SBJ is registered for LotoJA (again). Bwaahahahaaa.

  11. Some day we'll move away from terms like Cat 1, Cat 2 or Expert MTB, Pro MTB and replace them with

    Full-time job with 3+ kids

    Part-time job and single


    That would make much more sense.

  12. Rick: Amen to that.

    Anyone who checks "trains 20+ hours per week with sugar momma paying the bills" has to spot the rest of us 10 minutes.

  13. Maybe b/c its tax day, but you (SBJ) have been bringing on the rants and everyone has obliged with the banter. Good on yuh. Very entertaining.

    MTB races sanctioned by UCI do have more stringent rules on signing up for a class (they have gotten rid of sport/expert/pro and gone to Cat 1/2/3). Not sure how it works, though, for upgrades. But most local mtb races are not UCI sanctioned and I think most people do it for the fun of it, not to get upgraded in UCI categories. Road races could be the same way if people wanted and demanded the same flexibility as local mtb races. Why road races are "geared" differently is another whole topic (OK, that deserves another post by a certain blogger, hint hint).

    I don't mind people buying expensive bikes. Go right ahead. Though, unless you are a pro, reducing the bike's weight a half a pound will make little difference in performance. Dropping 5-10lbs off my body will do much more (and save $$ from eating less!) than spending an extra $3-5K on a lighter bike. As will extra training.

    Of course, I agree that if some one has the right to buy a $10K bike, everyone else has the right to make fun of them if they suck, just like wearing a full kit. If you ride/wear it, you better bring it. Otherwise, others have the right to make fun of you. It's like a universal (bike racing) truth.

    And hate mail? Wow - is that an invitation or what?

  14. Oh dear sweet lord, I just went and looked at and 'The Fabulous 50' are you serious, I think I lost like 3 pounds of brain mass already,

  15. So Junkie, you might want to remove the link to uvmag. If someone clicks on it, she'll find you too!

  16. I think she gets a freakish excitement over reading the mag's analytic report.

  17. If you haven't done so yet, please click over to I'm hoping the owner/editor finds me, sends me hate mail, and "invites me to lunch" for making fun of her ridiculous, plastic, pretentious, everything that's wrong with mormon culture mentality even though it almost tries very hard to not let the mormon roots seep through magazine.

    Thanks for the tip, Rabid. I'll keep you posted on what happens.

  18. I just think road racing at the level most of do it at is taken way to seriously and is kind of stupid. That is why I am still a cat 4 roadie but a cat 1 mountain racer. Also, that Utah Valley Magazine scares me. To think I am moving down there for school next fall.

  19. Do not do it Tanner. Learn these words. Utah man Sir a Utah man am I.

    I promise you will be happier and healthier in the long run. In Utah county they have more rules than road racing.

  20. As someone who has worked for the big bike company you like to make fun of and who currently works in the outdoor sporting goods industry, all I can say is thank goodness people buy equipment they don't need. If everyone followed a utilitarian approach and bought rationally based on cost/function, the industry would die. There's a reason the Outdorr Retail show takes the entire Salt Palace. People just like to buy cool sporting goods that will hardly ever be used to their potential.

    It might surprise you to know the super high-end equipment is usually not very profitable for the company selling it due to the very limited volume and very high development costs.

    So, why do we make crazy expensive high-end stuff? Frist, outdoor sporting goods companies are run by people just like you and me. They love really cool stuff. Accordingly, they always want to make something new and better. Second, the market for high-end equipment that has no upper price limit is just big enough to justify playing in it (usually, just breaking even is good enough). Third and most important, the technology of high-end equipment does in fact trickle down to the meat of the market. Faceless Ghost is right, the $2,500 road bike today is significantly better than the best road bike 7 or 8 years ago. With some minor changes to reduce the cost, the S-works frame of today is the Tarmac Elite frame three years from now.

    All that being said, I too think cat 4's and 5's on expensive TT bikes are silly.

    Bob, 29ers are stupid. I guess that's why you ride one now.

  21. Tanner, don't worry, anytime you feel Utah County insanity coming over you, just go chill at Racer's and all will be good.

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