MTB on the ropes?

We all love a good fight. Mountain biking’s in one right now.

I’m not ashamed to identify myself as a mountain bike racer. That’s ok, a lot of good things come out of racing. Carbon frames and components, wide diameter fork stantions, 29-er wheels, and stable platform rigs have all gotten their starts in the pits of the world cups. Companies pay the racer, the racer breaks shit, and sends it back to R+D. Repeat. Eventually: Cool shit ends up on your bike. It might make your bike cost more, but what the hell, it rides way better than the Trek Y-bike you had in 1997. Like to night ride? Tinker and Eatough and all those psychos are the ones making your light lighter, burn brighter, and run longer.

So consider this: American mountain biking is in critical shape. I’ve written this kind of sob story before, but it deserves a new look, given our international financial crisis. Since 2002, when Chevy pulled out of NORBA, elite-level races have been generally declining in numbers, participation, and payout. Don’t ride in lycra? That still means less cool stuff on your 6-inch bike.

A serious shoutout goes to the CEO of Sho-Air, Scott Tedro, who is trying to be a bulwark against the erosion of sweet events. Sho-Air has sponsored a team, promoted the American Mountain Classic, and is currently holding the ball for UCI mountain bike events in the US next year. So you don’t race? Don’t need UCI points? Consider this: No UCI points = fewer US mtb’ers in the olympics. Poor starting positions for those who do venture across the pond = less sponsorship. Less sponsorship = less sweet stuff trickling down onto your Pugsly.

And get this: USA Cycling is about to pay the bill for its idiocy in 2004. Sue Haywood handled it delicately here; the full story is summarized here. In my opinion, USAC got what it deserved – it fucked up and it should pay up. Sue’s a wonderful person and has been a stalwart contributor to mtb racing. Good for her.

But she just took home 4% of USAC’s books. And that’s more than they’ve been investing in mtb racing at a national level? WTF? Where are they spending their money? And now they’re trying to solve the racing mess by doing away with the semi-pro category and making the ranking system like road racing?

We just sent a black man to the white house. and we did it cause we believe something better can come after a dark 8 years. Well, after 8 dark years of racing, lets get behind dudes like Tedro and support our scene a little bit. And USAC could do their part by recognizing that mountain bike events not associated with them have been steadily increasing in attendance. Why? That’s what they can use the other 96% of their budget to figure out.

Now that this election’s over, I’m gonna do my part and login here every once in awhile and provide a product review of some random bike-related gadget I liked or loathed.



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About the sullied cycologist

"measures, daily, just how quickly we are destroying our atmosphere. thinks riding bikes might just help this problem. tapes his middle finger to the handlebar (unsuccessfully represses rage). mountainbikes in lycra. Tomac did it. he does it. he's not Tomac." Missoula, Montana, USA

21 thoughts on “MTB on the ropes?

  1. Seems like the hand full of NUE races were really well received. The one I raced in North GA had huge proletarian turnout as well as Jeremiah Bishop showing everyone how to ride 100 miles with relative ease. I think supportiong/sanctioning more of those events on the regional level would serve USAC well. As for straight up racing, I think for the average cubicle dad who plates up on the weekends, the bloom has fallen from that rose. Is that where you are seeing the lack of support? If so, what do you propose?

  2. I met Scott from SHo -Air at the AMC in UT. Helluva fucking race by the way. Helluva fucking guy. Puts his $$ where his heart is. He is spot on. This problem also stems from US Bike companies not investing in the sport. We need to put the pressure on them as well like Scott did to Specialized. USA Cycling is a colossal clusterfuck in every way and are not the answer. It needs to improve at all levels from grass roots to pro ranks.

  3. This is the kind of ‘racing’ my friends and I prefer.

    All racing is local and people is this area who used to race are flat out tired of high entry costs, mediocre courses and an excess of sandbaggers. Training to race isn’t fun, riding to ride is fun.

    We’ve ditched our weight conscious XC bikes and realized we don’t care about efficient climbing we’d rather have fun beating ourselves up along rocky singletrack high in the sierra mountains. Most guys I know have removed the big ring from their bikes and have replaced them with bash guards.

    Drop seat post and the hammer schmitt are not about XC racing. I don’t know anyone that even cares about MTBing in the olympics or how many spots we have. I don’t know many people who know who’s kicking ass on the mtb pro race circuit in the US or Europe. The last mtb race I paid attention to with pros racing was the SSWC a few months ago in Napa. And the winner was wearing a speedo and cape.

    MTB racing may be dying but MTBing is just fine.

  4. KG – I hear you with regards to lame courses, sandbaggers, and expensive race fees. I love “locals” events too…they are a blast because you get to ride and hang with your buds. But you got the blinders on man, there are a lot of people outside your social circle who know and care that Jeremiah Bishop killed it at Iceman Cometh and that singlespeeder Marko Lalonde placed 6th- not far back might I add.

    The reason I deal with that is because I enjoy the white hot core of anaerobic hell, sometimes finishing mid-pack knowing I left it all out there, and seeing the top dudes and chix make it look easy – even though it is hard as f*ck.

    Bike companies do less than they have to because their bread and butter are recreational sh*t. Ain’t no answer here other than get out and ride and support your state race series from time to time.

  5. Todd Sadow of Epic Rides deserves some mention along these lines for keeping the competitive endurance scene real in AZ. Todd puts a lot of effort into his events, puts on a hell of an event and as a result attracts national entrants.

    I agree that the the big cycling companies could probably do a little more to promote the competitive side of the industry in terms of providing more event sponsorship, etc…

    the grass roots events definitely rule. but the sport undoubtedly benefits from the national points races and olympic contentions.

  6. Yo,

    Y’all are so right. Sadow deserves much respect. his rides are the best around, bar none. USAC should undergo an apprenticeship to Epicrides.

    KG, i hear you, we’ll always ride. It’s the development and generation of interest in the sport that i see racing as helping with.

    We should support some local, state, and regional events. It’s fun.

    Grant, i propose promoting local events and drawing attention to the shitty job USAC has done with mtb. that’s a start, i guess. I hear about races in Italy, where there are races that draw thousands, cost 5 bucks, and you can take the train to get there. That’s ideal. Let’s keep that in mind while we shoot for a lower-hanging fruit.

  7. Dude, 29er’s are not cool…….unless they are where they are supposed to be, under my ass on my road rig. (700c) for the folks who think Gary Fisher is some kind of MTB messiah.

  8. I’m not sure I want USAC involved in my state MTB racing series. Right now I pay $25, get great courses and a meal afterwards. The winner of my sport class gets $40-$70 per race, depending on the number of entries. A good finish in my series points last year got me a pair of Rudy Projects and a free entry to Iceman. Before NORBA disappeared from OH, WV and PA I tried a few of their races. I don’t want them back. Why would I pay $15-$20 more, get no food and watch the winner get a $5 plaque? Last NORBA/USAC MTB race I did was a marathon race at Snowshoe, WV. I think there were 25 riders total, pros and amateurs. The NUE series gets 5-10 times that many entrants and continues to grow. The pros are showing up to these types on non-USAC races in greater numbers than ever. USAC needs to go back to the drawing board before the average rider will consider going back, but I’d still be afraid they’d screw up what I love about the sport. It’s not about the pros all the time. This sport is about participation! I might even consider road racing again if any non-USAC races existed.

  9. I am new to racing and it seems what is killing mtb and road, besides the f’d up organizations, is the lack of press for the events. From websites that take going through three different pages to look for info, to the fact that there is no T.V. coverage unless it is an hour long summary of a beautiful race through AZ. For fuck sakes someone we all know has to know someone with money that can complain and get this shit on ESPN or FSN. VS only shows bullriding and fishing now they need to show more cycling events. That will help the sport.

  10. At long last with the election over…

    KG and I are in agreement.

    Fuck racing… just go ride with friends.

    Over and out.

  11. I think about the WORST thing that could be done would be to initiate a category system like the roadies have. I started racing during NORBA’s “heyday”, and was usually eager to hit events with that body’s sanctioning as I was paying for a license every year, but more and more “local” events were closer to my home and more crowded…and thus a better option. DINO in Indiana, WORS in Wisconsin, the FUN Promotions races in Michigan…all are awesome series that are very rider-friendly…and consequently…very well attended. I tried for about 1/2 second to get into road racing…when I was told I’d have to start as a Cat.5 after riding Expert/Elite off the road…I pretty much gave up…I didn’t want to dedicate the time it would take to rise up in the ranks of a sport I really didn’t “love.”

    Now, I’m like the only guy left in my riding circle that still has a big ring hardtail…and like KG said, they’ve all gone the way of the bashguard and 5″ travel. Hell…I think I’ll pick one up next year…although I really want to do the Iceman…maybe ONE last race…

  12. It is not about older guys, sure we ride for fun. It is about promoting racing for the next generation. Racing gives you goals, and unless you are out there freestyling it up, speed and endurance is what it is about. Bike companies should continue to put money into racing because the dividends are huge. If I didn’t race I would still be wearing cut offs, riding flats and thinking a water bottle holder was for a soda or beer.

    The essense of Free riding is the spirit of being out riding the high, whether it be coasting a road bike at 45mph downhill, letting go of the brakes on the xc, jumping effortlessly on the squish, or ralleying it up with some beer and friends.

  13. The point is well made here. Elite racers in Elite Races fuel technology R and D and the net result is better product for us.

    I am not sure how that this is the trend anymore in the Mountain Bike industry regardless of Racing however. Most of the R and D money in the Industry is spent on the Free Ride crew. X Games type of culture is serving the same process now.

    Bike companies are less focused on XC bikes regardless. It is all about all mountain and big hit which lends itself to the recreational trail rider.

    They said the same thing when the DH series dried up. But a Free Ride culture developed giving us more riders to work with than say the top 10 guys who hammer up a hill.

    I disagree with your statement that XC Racing alone lends itself to Long Travel development. It has shifted. All the bike Co. dudes are in Whistler and the like on a year round basis with the boys and girls looking to modify this and that etc. It is a new venue and it is shifting and arguably causing some of the break down in Racing as well.

    One might even argue that the 29er movement came from the consumer need for fun comfort bikes to the average Joe not the XC Race circuit.

    While it sucks to lose racing more and more I disagree with part of your premise. And MTB is alive and well and will survive with or with out XC racing alone

  14. I see both sides to this argument. Racing can be great for the sport, for sure. We should all support guys like Adam Craig, who can kick ass internationally but maintains such a sense of humor and fun that he shows up to the olympics with aviator sunglasses. Guys like Dave Wiens, who proves that mtbikers belong to the toughest category of cyclists. The Tinkers and the Tomacs who have brought our sport to new places.

    But for a mortal like me, mountain bike racing is generally ruined. Don’t even get me started on the problems with Leadville (where I live). I grew up racing in Maine, and had a blast until races started to cost 50 bucks plus. I’m also sick of the consumerism, the elitism, and chest-thumping that comes with racing in Colorado.

    I’m proud to be a mountain biker, but instead of wasting time and money on mediocre courses racing stuck-up assholes, I’m going to invest in my local trail advocacy club, building trails that future generations can enjoy. Sure, racing has been important to the technology of our sport, but right now what we need more than anything is trails and access. See you out there.

  15. It is not a cost issue.

    Tri Athletes pay much more to enter a race, and there is a waiting list to get into most events.

    People who pay 4k for a bike then complain about a 40 dollar entry fee, humor me.

    Pro’s are the only ones who should get paid prize money. Plaques and ribbons are good enough for non Pro’s.

    Seriously, you won the sport 33-34.5 age group local race, whoopdee shit, now upgrade.

  16. Don’t fuck with my Clydesdale Cat. unless we break it down into an over/under 45

    Viva Le Clydesdale Division


  17. Bob,

    It is about the cost. I don’t know many 15-18 year-olds who find $40 to $70 dollars easy, especially when the gas for the trip costs $$$. Racers are consumers and we know the value of our money. I feel much better about spending money on the entry fee when part of that money is returned to the racers in terms of prize money, food and good times.

    You missed the point about participation. Some of us race because its fun to push ourselves to our limit and see what we can do. Some of us don’t win races, despite training and effort. It’s still fun to be mid pack, knowing an upgrade is not in the future. It’s the act of participating that makes it worth it. Many non-Pro’s appreciate when a race promoter thinks as much of them as they do the pros. After all, where the hell do you think the money for the sponsorships, appearance fees, and prizes comes from? You gotta take care of the common man or business is going to fail. NORBA is a perfect example!

  18. Show me a Junior who wants to commit to racing and I will make sure their entry fee is paid and that they get a super deal on a bike and parts. I mean it, this is not a commentary, but a promise, my team and shop will make it happen.

    I do not disagree about returning to the racers, but there will be no races if the promoters don’t turn a small profit. I’m not talking Granny Gear like profit either. There are few who do it out of charity. I run a team out of charity, it is almost a full time job at times. If I get burnt out, it is likely the team will shrivel. It is a lot of work, with little return, except for Granny Gear.

    Races are like that to. The MTB series finals in Utah is going away, because the promoter is burnt out after 14 years. So much work, such little return.

    The highest racer turnouts in Utah are the CX races, where there isn’t even a podium post race, just an occasional raffle of shirts and socks and the like. Close to 250 racers a week.

    I race to push my self as well, my point about the 33-34.5 year old sport category is that is helps create the ‘everybody is a winner’ mentality.

    I won 3 Intermountaincup expert 40-49 races this year, including the season overall. I won one expert 40-44 national this year. It was great to win and a lack of swag or cash took nothing away from the feeling.

    I have made close to 600 bucks in my 8 year racing ‘career’ that would pay for my wheel-set, maybe.
    Most of that came from the Solitude mid week series which has a 150% pay out. But that is rare and unheard of. The top pro’s in the US barely get a paycheck and those that do are a part of the old boy network, Non-Pro’s should expect less is all I am saying, not nothing, but less. Maybe swag, but cash, not really reasonable.

    Grass roots racing is where it is at and Scott of Sho-Air has pumped hope back into the sport at the national level. It is up to us to help him and those like him by racing our local series, and nearby nationals or whatever they are called and by helping juniors race.

  19. Bob, have you seen the average triathlete? 40-50 Y.O. male with a white collar job, or retired because he is filthy rich. Go figure, money isn’t an obstacle… Don’t believe me…catch the age ranges of the latest FL IM. My broke ass friend competed and gave me a run down on the rigs and lifestyles of these gappers.

    All y’all need to catch up on the East Coast DH scene. There are some young rippers moving up that will start putting the US on the map very soon. And they are cutting their teeth at local events. $60+ minimum E.F.s.

    DH racing allows a wider demographic to potentially excel at the sport. I would highly recommend some of you guys checking out a DH race. Training involves a nice mix of aerobic, bike handling, skill building, and confidence building…and it isn’t on the road with those crazy bastards who are more and more out to take us all out. And you can compete with that snazy new all mountain rig…hell the latest DH rigs weigh about as much.

  20. Bob,

    I thoroughly enjoy the discussion, but your points really have nothing to do with the subject brought up by the original post. The debate here is about what USAC (formerly NORBA on the MTB side) can do to promote MTB racing. That is what I discussed.

    Racers are customers. Always conscious of where their money is going. The successful midwest and east coast races I’ve seen cater to the customer. I pointed out that USAC has not been successful promoting MTB racing because of lack of attention to the racers/customers.

    I’ll give you other examples why NORBA/USAC is failing MTB’ers and why racers choose non-USAC series. They can’t even support their pros. Look at Sue Haywood, who lost an Olympic spot because they failed to report points. Or, look at what I saw a couple summers ago. Jeremiah Bishop showed up at a nearby 100 mile endurance race, he won and received his check (presumably a few hundred dollars). I ran into him 2 months later at the NORBA marathon race at Snowshoe, where he had to race much harder to beat Chris Eatough. You know what the great NORBA/USAC gave him, a pro, who trains tons more than us mortals, drives all over the country, never complained and was friendly and open with every amateur racer present? A CAMELBACK! If your right that the cash prizes should go to the pros, which is a reasonable thought, then at least our leading MTB race organization could come up with a better prize than a camelback for 5 hours of superb racing at LT through WV mud against other top pros!

    Your example of cyclocross is also excellent. But, I can use it also to demonstrate how a poorly run series fails (as did all the NORBA stuff in this area over the past 10 years) Locally for the last couple of years a local promoter ran a cross series. He didn’t even bother trying again after his reputation for poor treatment of his racers continued. This year an alternate cross series with a different attitude and better customer service is succeeding in his place.

    I am disturbed that you could turn what started as an intelligent discussion into a personal attack. If my teenage child needed a sponsor or coach, I don’t think I’d send him or her your way no matter how much support offered.

  21. dude. what personal attack. seriously I must of missed something, If you took offense, I apologize, I was concurring on some points and disagreeing on others. Seriously, sorry.

    I am passionate about the sport and it’s future. I would never insult anyone, sorry if you took something I said as an insult.

    The sport needs help, our help, USAC isn’t gonna get it done.