Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Demise of Cyclocross - Part III: Complaints

One of the biggest detractors within the virtual world of cyclocross these days are complaints. I say virtual because although complaining does still happen in person at the events, the bulk of the whining seems to appear leading up to and following any given cyclocross event. This discourse takes place in the annals of cyclocross Cyberspace and within the Internet Blogosphere. I think the fact that the communication mode is primarily written is a basic statement on modern society, where by with the advent of the Internet and a public means of publishing virtually anonymously, people feel free and empowered to say whatever they feel. Take me for example. With this anonymity I believe that people have also become more and more brazen. Most won't think twice about firing off a flaming message pointed directly at an individual, the content of which they would likely never say to the individual in person.

Back in the day if you wanted to do this you would have to physically write a letter on Mimeograph paper and then turn the crank and make copies on the Mimeograph machine and then either mail them out or stand on a corner handing them out. Not terribly effective, in terms of the potential reach and scope and also a whole lot of effort for the potential reward. The upside was that you did get a sweet buzz from the chemicals used in the process. The alternative was to take out a paid advertisement in a newspaper which although more effective was also quite costly. Life really has been made so much easier by technology.

These days the Internet based email list crackles with the sound of a million messages in the days and weeks leading up to a given race, abuzz with news about team parking or team tents, pre-riding the course and UCI rule enforcement. These discussions often start harmlessly enough but inevitably someone breaks the ice and the complaints start to flow. Many of these explorations are actually fruitful. For instance, discussing the ramifications of pre-riding a course while racers are still finishing their race was effective in making the point that everyone deserves the respect and consideration required for them to be able to complete their individual event uninterrupted. I think that this went a long way to quell the impression that most other racers were so self absorbed that they didn't really care about others. This may be common sense but occasionally it takes some reinforcement for people to realize that point.

Lately it seems that more often than not, someone is taking exception to one point or another, either on the list or on their personal cyclocross related blog . This fall especially, it seems to me that we have had a massive increase in complaints and rants as compared to years past. Maybe this is a sign that the honeymoon is over and that the community is starting to look at cyclocross with more of an eye toward scrutiny. Maybe it is simply that people have too much time on their hands and feel the need to complain about something. Regardless, it is interesting why there seems to be an increase now. Or is it simply that the noise was always there and we just weren't choosing to listen to it? Is it actually just that the perspective has changed?

I think we can classify these complaints into a small number of different types. Of those who complain, the first up are the ones with an actual, legitimate concern or issue. Believe it or not there are legitimate reasons for people to complain from time to time. You could argue that there are places to which it either is or is not appropriate to air these valid cyclocross related complaints but we can assume that in at least some cases, the public cyclocross forum is applicable. An example of legitimate case would be racer(s) being interfered with or impeded by people warming up on a closed course. That is a real issue and if it either is, or appears to be systemic, then the public forum is an appropriate audience. If a one time incident, it is probably best to see the officials or promoter who are in a position to do something about it directly, in a timely fashion after the incident. In many instances, time is a critical factor in dealing with these types of issues. Like results, you have a certain amount of time to protest, otherwise they are assumed accurate and final.

Next up are those who feel compelled to complain based on their own insecurities and shortcomings. I suspect that they tend to be the same people that speak negatively of others as a means of making themselves look better. To some degree or another, we all fall into this category. By proclaiming that a course didn't really suit our skills or that we were somehow handicapped by some one or something we are effectively making excuses and falling into this trap. It's easy to do this as we are a society that delights in a Cinderella Story where even with the odds stacked against our hero, they triumph through adversity. If they fail then they have a reason as the odds were simply insurmountable. One thing that has done a great job in showing us is that almost none of the excuses matter, barring some major catastrophe, you are going to finish just about where statistics say you are going to, regardless. Get some humility, drop the excuses and if your performance was below your expectation, focus the scrutiny inward rather than outward.

There are to a lesser degree, those whose complaints stem from fundamental differences in the overall objectives in racing in general between the disparate parties taking part in the races. For many, racing is very serious business. Countless hours and dollars are invested in practicing, training and preparation for the racing events of the weekend. For some this is an actual job. For others it is what defines them. There are, however, a large number of people who see bicycle racing as something else and possibly something more than just a race. It is a festival of sorts or even a celebration of their own individuality. Yes, it all centers around the race as the focal point, but it has a beginning a middle and and end that may downplay the pertinence of the actual race itself.

More and more people seem to be re-focusing away from their own individual goals and toward a common goal with their children and families. This seems to be making for more of a family event at many of the races. I'm seeing groups coordinating and having a much bigger team or club presence at the races. We are also seeing huge numbers of participants at the beginner level. We can't disregard these folks needs as they are the ones making it possible for the rest of us by effectively subsidizing the events with their numbers. Would we have nearly fifty local cyclocross races a season in New England if only the Elites were racing? All of this fanfare and color can add to the fun, festival like atmosphere at the cross races and is to a large degree, what helps to keep them fresh and vibrant. Diversity is what makes the sport great and in many cases a unique mixer. We have doctors, engineers, teachers, executives, carpenters and people from literally all walks of life mingling together on the start line. Where else do you get this type of interaction and coming together of wildly disparate backgrounds all with a common goal? The competition at the event is the meat and potatoes but it can be so much better with appetizers and desert as well. That may explain my current issues with and aversion to the skinsuit.

Lastly we have those who just like to complain because they are intolerant or because they like to hear themselves or because they are just plain evil. If they were old and like this, they would be deemed 'cranky' or 'cantankerous' and could be found on the front porch shaking their fist and yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off their lawn. In reality, they are often just incapable of seeing things in a positive light. Serious glass half empty people who delight in turning this inner hostility outward and sharing their misery with everyone who has the misfortune of listening. The only way to deal with these folks is to distance yourself from them and ignore them. Though they may occasionally have valid points, it unfortunately isn't worth the cost to pick these infrequent nuggets from the rest of the mess.

Bottom line is that if it isn't fun and all you can do is complain, why are you doing it? When you start to complain and moreover, focus on other complaints you enter into a downward spiral of negativity. As we are discovering through this series, there are a number of aspects that can and do lead to this. None of these "revelations" are earth shattering. Most all of this is common sense and the type of lesson that we learn in kindergarten. As adults we seem to lose track of them though.

Complaints, whining , excuses and overall negativity are just components in the bigger picture the same as taking oneself and ones results too seriously and having unrealistic expectations. For the vast majority of us, cycling is a pastime, a hobby that we do for fun or for fitness. It's easy to get overly wrapped up in it and in the outcomes but remember, unlike Lance it really is about the bike. That is why we all do it, the love of the bike. Take time to remember that and keep the focus realistic. Don't sell yourself short but keep it in perspective. At the end of the day, nobody lives or dies because you did or did not win the race. Be thankful for the fact that you had the opportunity to race your bike for fun, because you wanted to and not because you had to.


Trigirlpink said...

Wahhhhhhh. Dunkin Donuts was out of my "prerace" flavored coffee shot.

Wahhhhhhh I had THE shittiest starting position EVER that's why I missed the hole shot
Wahhhhhhh I have the wrong tires for this course and it made me slow.
Wahhhhhh I lost a gazillions places because EVERYONE kept crashing in front of me.

Wahhhhhhh Too many turns... Wahhhh... too many dismounts.. Wahhhh.... too dry... wahhhh too muddy..... wahhhhhhhhhh I only slept 15 minutes last night after drinking an entire keg by myself. wahhhhhh... the photographer never takes pictures of me.. Wahhhhhh no beer here today?? Wahhhhhh HuP United won't let me join. Wahhhhhh I'm so bloated. Do I look fat in this skinsuit??

mkr said...

Ironically enough, I guess I'm actually complaining about the complaints.

matt said...

this blog sucks ;)

AA said...

I want to complain about the off topic pictures of sunsets and cats.

Caroline said...

From now on, I will see Opie/Ellie staring at me with a critical eye every time I feel a complaint coming on...

mkr said...

I'm glad someone saw the point in the use of the pix of Opie :)

The twilight pix symbolize the coming to an end of this thread. The vivid colors contrast the stark darkness in some of the past pix and offer hope in the upcoming day (series topic) in accordance with the old nautical saying about pink skies.

RMM said...

Blogs are expressions the writers' thoughts. Cycling blogs are about cycling and sometimes the writers of these blogs have a real or imagined complaints. The blog is a logical place to express these complaints.

I complain. Readers have the choice to read my complaints or not read them.

Maybe I still have readers because I only spend part of my bandwidth complaining...

Jonny Bold said...


I just stumbled onto this blog. I didn't know you were here. Great writing/thoughts. I especially enjoyed the "battling for mediocrity" post. We all go through that and I think it may help to put it out there to let people know that we sometimes hate the vicious cycle.
You might be complaining about the complainers, but you're doing it in a sound, thoughtful, constructive way. I wish I had thought of that! I've fallen into the trap of responding to the complainers in an angry reaction, but it doesn't do any good. The interwebs are a game to some people, and they usually don't "own" their comments. I like the way you're approaching it here and I have to agree with everything you've written so far. Looking forward to the rest of the series. Also looking forward to having you down for some more Mt. bike rides and sliding around on the skinny skis for the pure fun of it.
I often think the good old Hilljunkie has this thing figured out better than all of us. He get's in some racing but I don't know anyone who shuvs more living into a life than he does, at what point do we bag all the racing and just do the adventure weekends with good friends? Those weekends or trips are much higher ranked in the fun category, so why do we do it? I think it's competition. I think we're all addicted to trying to beat our nemesis'.
Anyway, carry on. JB

~Bob said...

Very well written, and I agree with nearly everything you said.

The anonymity of the internet and the emboldening effect it has on whiners is something that has always frustrated me.