Rocking the Pulpit (or not)

Georgia Gould on a fast section of multipurpose path on the north side of Pulpit Rock.

Georgia Gould attacks a fast section of multipurpose path on the north side of Pulpit Rock.

During a break in my paying chores yesterday I rolled over to Pulpit Rock to watch a bit of the women’s cross-country race at the US Cup. Man, was that ever one thin crowd, and I ain’t talking body weight here. I have more voices in my own head, f’chrissakes.

The men’s race I watched via streaming video, and while there seemed to be a few more spectators for that contest, the crowd was still pretty sparse, about what one might expect for a Marilyn Manson concert in St. Peter’s Square or a meeting of the Louie Gohmert Fan Club.

Not being a big mountain-bike guy — I quit racing in the mid-1990s after a guy deliberately crashed me at Rage in the Sage, and haven’t covered a race since the final Cactus Cup in Arizona — I have no idea whether this is SOP for the discipline these days or some class of an aberration specific to Bibleburg, which has been hosting the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb all week long.

Any mountain bikers out there in the audience? Is this the way things are now? Or are we here in Bibleburg just “special,” as we are in so many other regrettable ways?

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33 Responses to “Rocking the Pulpit (or not)”

  1. Pat O'Brien Says:

    I think the Epic Rides events get good crowds based on the photos they send and experience at the 24 Hours of The Old Pueblo. Don’t know about other current races.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Yeah, makes sense. More participants, more spectators hanging about. I think the crowd at your average cyclo-cross is about 75 percent participants who have finished or are awaiting their own races.

  2. John in GJ Says:

    I, for one, know virtually nothing about mountain bike racing, but from what I’ve read I have to say that you’re right, Colorado Springs is special. As in “funny bus to school” special, “ate too much lead paint as a child” special, and, of course, “almost as batshit crazy as Grand Junction” special.

  3. mountainhigh10200 Says:

    Us here in Bibleburg are just special. and ignorant, but as an excuse the US racing association is home here. If I was still part of that community I would consider this to be the home of Kryptonite and certainly would not come to an event here. All apologies to Andy B. who while being long winded at the start line and ruining my warm-up always puts on a good race in the area. Have not raced the sand creek series since mid-90’s

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Andy the B is a hard-working fella, to be sure. I always wanted to get him involved in promoting cyclo-cross, but he usually flamed out around mid-year, same as me.

  4. JoeyDurango Says:

    This is 2014. If it ain’t enduro it ain’t mountain bike racing. /sarcasm

    But seriously, XC racing interest is waning. I quit working the World Cup circuit in 2009, but even then there was a lot of talk about how XC racing was down and out. It was always amazing to see the difference between crowds in Europe and the US. Hell, at a tiny little town in Quebec we had more spectators coming out of the woods than we saw at the Windham, NY, World Cup the next week, a short drive away from NYC.

    True DH racing requires a lot of infrastructure (lifts) and big money bikes, and keeps all but the most dedicated out. Underground endurance racing (100-milers, 12/24 hour events, multi-day) is alive, well, and my favorite, but most of these are free – no entry, no prizes, no support – and tend to be patronized by a less-flush and more new-gear-itis resistant subculture. Thus, the industry can’t figure out a way to make money on them and prefers to ignore them. Enter the all-mighty enduro: A way to get average riders to believe they are MTB superstars and buy a lot of matched-colorway shit from any company shallow enough to slap the e-word on a product and call it “enduro-specific”. Nothing wrong with average riders. But it sure is hard to take when suddenly anyone’s descent of a middling-difficulty singletrack at mediocre speed is worth GoPro footage, just because they’re “racing” the BME. Someone’s making a lot of cash somewhere…

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Ah, yes, “enduro” — the latest and greatest. Flavor of the Month™. Otherwise known as “riding your bike,” like “gravel grinding,” the other bit of marketing bullshit making the rounds. Is there anyone in the industry who doesn’t have a couple of GGs in the line these days?

      I was totally ahead of my time, herding that ti’ Voodoo Loa with the one-off, drilled out Marzocchi fork and the 700×40 tires around the gravel highways and byways of Weirdcliffe, back in the Nineties. Who’da thunk it?

      • John in GJ Says:

        Gag…cough….cough….snort. Sorry, just gagged on my Coco-Puffs when I read PO’G use the phrase “I was totally ahead of my time…”.

        Realistically, though, I think “gravel grinding” is about all there was for the first fifty or so years of the bicycle. All that was once old is new again: gravel roads, single speed, fixed gear. Up next: wooden rims, friction shifting and non-aero levers.

        And please, could someone enlighten this intentionally reclusive roadie: just what in the hell is “Enduro” and how is it different from all the other types of riding on dirt?

    • JoeyDurango Says:

      John, “enduro” refers to a MTB racing discipline currently in vogue where people get driven, or mostly driven, to the top of some mostly downhill course, then get timed on only the downhill sections (there may be some *minimal* climbing on timed sections). I’ll just stick with the facts and omit the snark…

      • John in GJ Says:

        I thought that was snark.

        I remember years upon years ago there was some small bit of controversy in the world of MTB downhill ’cause the winners tended to look like they lived on nothing but Whoppers and Mac-n-cheese, and plenty of both, if you know what I mean. Perhaps the uphill sections weed some of those people off the podium.

        Still…cycling without the climbing. That’s about as wrong as…well…electronic shifting and 11 speed cassettes.

  5. Larry T. Says:

    MTB’s were kind of a fad, though I get arguments about this all the time from those whose introduction to cycling was through fat-tire bikes. Back-in-the-day when guys like Overend and Tomac defined the sport it was an American deal – then European cycling took over and interest waned. Add that TV MTB races are BORING, even to folks who enjoy riding them and where’s the sport to go? Meanwhile the bike biz was on to the next-big-thing, though I forget what it was before they moved on to hype the hell out of ‘cross…which will eventually flame out as well I’d bet….just like MTB racing. The bike biz’ musical-chair game with wheel sizes for MTB’s seems like a last gasp effort to squeeze some profits out of the sector. What will be the newest-latest craze at the bike shows this year? What was the last one? Fat bikes, gravel bikes. or something else?

    • Ira Says:

      The next wave seems to be electronic shifting and hydraulic disc brakes. You take something as simple and reliable as cable-pull brakes, and complicate the hell out of them with slave cylinders and calipers. Electronic shifting is great, if you’re in a race. Other than that, it’s just another lithium battery to buy, and dispose of at the end of it’s life.

      • Larry T. Says:

        I’m happy that Campagnolo (official supplier to CycleItalia) is continuing development of mechanical groupsets rather than concentrating solely on electronics. Seems that a few of their high-profile (as in Vincenzo Nibali) riders also prefer levers and cables to batteries and servo motors. As a mechanic rather than an electronics wizard, making things more complicated, expensive and less user serviceable is not what I want when it comes to bicycles.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      The thing about televised mountain-bike racing (cross country, anyway) is that it looks slow. You know better, if you’ve ever raced it, but watching it on TV makes golf seem rowdy by comparison.

      ‘Cross, on the other hand, looks fast and slightly deranged, if the weather conditions are properly sloppy.

      And yeah, electronics and hydraulics. Just what a fella wants in his recreation, the same shit that goes sideways in his car en route to work.

      I mostly ride eight- or nine-speed, with bar-end shifters and cantilever brakes. Simple devices for a simple mind.

      Now, I’ll admit to having enjoyed riding this Bianchi Disc Zurigo, with its fancy-schmancy SRAM Apex 10-speed and the Avid BB5 mechanical discs. But is the advanced technology worth the price we pay — not just in terms of money, but learning curve, roadside repair/adjustment, and longevity? Beats me.

  6. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Good morning all Mad Dog aficionados. 102 yesterday, so ride this morning starts (again) at 0600.
    Patrick, this declining mountain bike race spectator issue sounds like a good piece for BRAIN. Maybe Epic Rides does better because they organize events more than races. The spectators are the riders, thousands of them. Then you have the pro race with equal purses for men and women. They are good at getting the host towns and other government agencies like the Forest Service to buy in. No USAC sanctioning. Add camping, beer, vendors, and live music, and you got a great weekend.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Hah. Herself has you beat, Pat. 107 in Vegas yesterday. Only 95 or so here.

      All due respect to the pros, but the races for participants, not spectators, are the way to go. I’ve never really been much of a sports fan, even when I was an assistant sports editor; I’d rather be doing something than watching it.

      Now, if I can do something and then watch someone else do it better — say, race a masters ‘cross and then watch Katie Compton crush in the pro women’s race — I consider myself to have stumbled across the best of both worlds.

      I have yet to try a 12- or 24-hour event. I probably owe it to myself, if only for cultural awareness. Anybody promoting a 24-hour ‘cross race? I’m the second-worst mountain biker in the world.

      • JoeyDurango Says:

        Who’s the worst? 🙂

      • John in GJ Says:

        I’m right here.

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        John and I are in a track stand trying to win the Lanterne Rouge trophy.

      • John in GJ Says:

        Oops. I just fell over.

      • Weaksides Says:

        Ha…my broken right hand says “take a seat fellas”.

      • md anderson Says:

        Epic Rides’ 24HITOP (Feb, near Tucson) is a non-mountain biker’s mountain bike race. I can even ride that course without crashing, well more than once anyway. There is added incentive to staying upright as any stray off course and you’re liable to get up close and personal with a large cactus or two. Only one real climbing section. But the “Seven Bitches” at the beginning will have you panic shifting into a granny gear and hoping you can keep the cranks turning over.

        As my favorite Texan used to say “Joe Bob says check it out”

      • mountainhigh10200 Says:

        Weaksides I will raise you a seperated shoulder,one dislocated elbow, broken thumb, wrist and hand, one set of bruised ribs and a broken bike. at least I can fix the bike.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Jeez, what did you do to yourself? Huck off the Bijou bridge into a coal train?

  7. John Dallager Says:

    Are those broken limbs, appendages, etc. you all have from MTB’ing or road cycling?

    My theory has always been that in road cycling, someone else is trying to kill you… MTB’ing, you’re trying to kill yourself.

    Maybe a bad assumption??

  8. brokenlinkjournalism Says:

    Patrick, to answer your original question – is this what mountain bike racing has become? – the answer, my friend, is quite clear. This was the US finals… June… the fourth race of the series! The days of NORBA have long since faded from memory – much like misaligned cantis – into what has become a boring shell of what could barely be called “racing.” The heyday of the 90s has long passed the sport by.
    I guess an upside might be that it reminds me of the old school ‘cross races from that era: unorganized, guerrilla warfare in a local park. Now ‘cross is mainstream (relatively) and cool! Maybe, just maybe, mountain biking will be cool again… 20 years.

    • rodney Says:

      I think you’re right. I too stopped by and watched a couple laps of the pro women’s race, and there must have been 3 other people there watching. I used to go to NORBA national series races in the early ’90s and there were always huge crowds there and much more exciting racing. The sport seems a shadow of its former self.

  9. Pat O'Brien Says:

    OK, Weaksides and Mountainhigh, time to ‘fess up. What in the world did you run off of or into this time? Inquiring minds are nosy, at least I am. Maybe I can learn something.

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