Killing the Fun.

Yesterday I was in a local bike shop (let's just say it's part of the shattered remnants of the Death Star), trying to shame the denizens of that dank place to sign up for the Tour of Fairbanks. They used to throw riders at the race back in the day, and it would be nice if they did it again. My mountain bike-centric team can't prop up Anchorage's reputation in Fairbanks alone, although new Speedway powerhouse David Arteaga might be our best hope. I called into question this team's manhood, called them scared, questioned if they actually rode bikes anymore... all in the interests of getting a handful of their riders in vile green kit to make the journey and help fill out a respectable Open Men field.

Later I'll make the rounds of the other shops. Can't say I didn't try to piss off everyone.

Towards the end of my stop, as I paid for a couple of tubes I bought so they wouldn't throw me out for shit-stirring, the incident that happened at a fat bike race came up again. A rider I happen to respect felt his honor was directly called into question during that exchange, and to be honest, if I was in his shoes I probably would have interpreted it the same way. Knowing the people involved on both sides, it was a misunderstanding that was blown far out of proportion. Of course, I had a hand in that, because that's just how I roll.

What this got me thinking about was negative perceptions and how they can quickly kill the fun and kill participation. It doesn't take much, and suddenly your once-healthy event is floundering as people find other things to do.

A guy I used to ride against had a really solid diesel. He used to ride on the front all of the time, and of course we all fought to sit in his generous draft. He was a regular at the races. He eventually found he enjoyed riding long distances, and entered the Fireweed 400 a couple times. On his last time competing in the event, he was leading the race when he looked over and saw the smiling face of the guy he had dropped long before smiling at him from behind the window of a car going 55 MPH. The race organizer was ferrying riders across rough pavement, but there was nobody to give him a ride when he reached the section in question, so he kept going. When he saw the grinning rider fly by, it completely drained his available supply of fucks he had to give, and he climbed off the bike. If he would have kept going, he could have argued his point, but I understand why he dropped out so far into the race. When an organization allows this sort of thing to happen, it shoots itself and the rest of the sport in the collective foot. He found other things to do, and sold his road bike recently. I miss drafting behind him.

I have multiple other examples of how sanctioning bodies, some big, some small, manage to screw up the basics, killing the enthusiasm of their target audience in the process. By the basics, I mean provide a clear set of guidelines for competition, a reasonably safe venue, relatively balanced fields of competitors (within reason- we can't all be special snowflakes), and a reliable standard (timing in this case) to judge the efforts by. When you screw up one or more of these pillars, you breed discontent and people find other things to do. Believe me, I'm an expert at breeding discontent.

For me, this is all self-serving. Bigger fields mean there's a greater chance of someone being slower than I am, which allows me to prop up my fragile ego for another year. Without an active field of participants, my house of motivational cards crumbles.

Make sure the basics are solid before you get creative with ways to "grow the sport", because without them you're just wasting your time. People will find the fun elsewhere.

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