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Archive for October, 2012

Choosing a Team – Part 3

 The next installment of choosing a bike racing team is geared toward the higher lever racers.  Not that they need the advice, but it seems this topic is of interest to folks new to cycling.

The transition from Category 3 to 2 is a big one.  So many racers end up racing masters or retiring after this upgrade.  Category 3 is 80% of the time raced independently of the higher categories in larger states and often Category 2 is raced in conjunction with Category 1 and full Pros.  I would say that 95% of the races I have competed in are P12 races.  The very large national level races will separate out Cat 2 riders and occasionally a local race will give the option of a 2/3 race and a P12 race. 

Why is this important?  It plays into how a team is set up to race.  If you are racing national level races, a team might need to have 1 and 2 teams so that the Category 1 guys have teammates.  If you are racing local, having enough 1s combined with 2s should work out OK.  

Again, I think at these upper levels it is critical to believe in team work.  Riders are so fast in each of their strengths that it is rare to find a rider that can TT, sprint and climb competively.    Many folks can achieve all-rounder status, competing in the top 25% in most categories, but even that is tough.  What generally happens is that a couple of riders per team are good at each type of racing and teams have to find a way to support them in those races.  Team work is still not guaranteed at this level and many teams duke it out with each other as much as they work together.  A team that shows cohesiveness still has a big advantage. 

Sponsorship begins to play a much larger role in team’s recruitment efforts and rider selection.  Whereas many teams will accept an unlimited number of lower category racers, it usually takes getting selected to be on a team in the 1-2 level.  There is much more scrutiny on performance and more pressure to achieve results since the financial commitment from the team is usually greater.  I have seen this element have a HUGE variation depending on team’s values, what region it is in, and the ability of team leadership to market.  Everything from a free ride (races paid for, equipment free, etc.) to just a free kit can be a part of the sponsorship.  A newer expectation is being a part of social media and other sponsor promoting activities outside of racing your bike.  I think this evolution is a good thing and will give a better direct correlation to sponsorship and exposure.

The overall team direction may play a role as well.  Is the team attempting to achieve UCI or Domestic Elite status?  Does the team have links to Pro teams or riders?  Many riders may be looking to make a career out of cycling and will find that cycling is like many other businesses.  It is who you know, not what you know (do) that will make the difference in finding a pro contract or being suspended in Cat 1 status forever. 

Next up – Why I choose Sonic Boom Racing.

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The more experienced racer often has different needs regarding the choice for at team. I’ll start off by saying that I advocate staying on the same team as much as possible.  There is a cohesiveness that forms as riders get used to each others racing style and strengths.  It takes months, if not years, for new teams to come together and perform as a team.  I have only chased teams when my team went out of business or I have moved.  I believe in commitment and loyalty. 

Choosing a bike team can be as personal or impersonal as a racer wants it to be and there are a variety of people out there looking to race.   I, however, believe that if you want to race on a team at the Category 3 level or above, you should be ready to participate as a teammate and not another racer in the same kit.  Many riders can upgrade to full on Pros without much team work or knowledge, so I don’t assume that Cat. 3 riders are fully aware of team tactics.  My Colavita team in Colorado won many races in the 3s and the State Team Championship due to team work and not necessarily having the best riders.   An interesting footnote to this discussion is that Colorado racing is a bit different that other states.  The racing is so fast here and the courses tend to be more challenging.  (Koppenburg is a good example) Why is this important?  It mitigates much of the teamwork opportunities due to fitness playing a larger role in race tactics.  Other places with flatter, longer road races as a larger part of their calendar will have an affect on how much team work plays into racing success.

By now a rider should begin to understand their strengths and interests in racing.  Finding a team that you fit into is key.  If you are a sprinter, then look for a team that is in need of a sprinter.  If you are a stage racer, look for a team that is interested in pursuing stage races.  The discussions begin to be around how you fit in and what do they expect of you in return.  Supporting other riders is important, as well as being supported.  Are you interested in racing local or all over the country?  Each team will have a different outlook on how that affects their sponsors and their goals.

Learning is still critical in a racers growth.  There are Pros that are 30 still talking about how important experience is in racing and that they still need to learn.  I like having other riders that have something to teach on the team.   A good mix of ages and experience in each category is a good recipe for larger team’s success.  Anyone looking to upgrade beyond Category 3 should be looking for teams with riders in the upper categories.

Sponsorship may begin to play a role at this level, however I wouldn’t expect too much still and I think that this is the least important aspect.   I have seen a variety of sponsorship, everything from a nearly Pro deal to nothing but discounts after you have to pay a membership fee.  Curiously enough, I think most racers are not looking to get the “deal.”  I am a firm believer that sponsorship follows commitment.

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Choosing a team as an amateur bike racer can be a rather complicated affair.  As a racer starting out, I don’t think the amount of “sponsorship” should play much of a factor.  There isn’t enough bike racing money to go around to give much in the way of sponsorship to Category 5 racers.  So what should a beginning racer look for?  There are 3 items to consider:

  1. Team organization.  Is your team set up to grow racers?  Do they have a system for helping racers upgrade?  (who works for who, etc.)  Do they give as much attention to beginners as the elite riders?  Does the team have team rides and are they in a location that you can participate?
  2. Experience.  Depending on your final goals, having racers at the 1-2 level may be important.  Even if you aren’t going pro soon, having some older racers around can be a huge benefit.  Tactics, equipment, and teamwork are important in racing and the learning curve is steep.  Having folks around to usher you through can be critical to success or even staying in the sport.
  3. Community.  Does your team do thing together?  Much of what is fun is having folks to hang out with a talk about racing, etc.  The tighter the team, the better folks race and the more fun you can have.   Is there a greater goal within cycling or your city?  I’ve enjoyed being on teams that have had loftier goals than just riding your bike.

Next up – The more experienced racer.

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I have finally finished my “mountain cross” frame and built up my bike.  The final touches of paint, inspired by my Lazy Boy recliner I still have from college (thanks Chad for the idea), and the added logos have created a more final looking frame. 

I built it up with Avid Ultimate brakes, Dura Ace 7800 from my old road bike, and a new Ritchey WCS cross fork. 

So here is the typical review:

I am thrilled with the look of the frame.  The blue came out great.  There was a small mistake in the paint behind the cable guides close to the seat tube.  It is hardly noticeable, especially built up, however I am not pleased with the result.  I had to have the frame powder coated twice and wasn’t about to sign up for a third time.  Creating a system for building and finishing frames is a process and I am taking it in stride.  The logo prints came out pretty nice and they look good on the frame.  Centering and placement is a new challenge that I would give myself a C+ grade on.  It will be interesting to see how they hold up.

The ride.  Well I have ridden the bike 4 times in 3 days.  New bike fever is a fun thing to have and I have it good. The rides have been at Valmont bike park, Elks cross course, on the road, and Breckenridge Colorado Trail.  So a good diverse set of single track with major rocks, smooth dirt, tight handling, and road feel.   When I design a frame I have certain characteristics I try to work into the ride.  I’ve talked about how I wanted this bike to ride in previous posts.  This was all based on what I know of basic physics and a long history of bike design by the real professionals.   I can now say that I am extremely surprised and pleased with the bikes ride quality.  It is exactly what I was hoping for and maybe even better.  It is incredibly smooth, attributing the ride to both type of steel and design.  There is a good deal of rear end vertical flex and the bike nearly feels like it has a small amount of suspension.   It feels plenty snappy under power (I have not sprinted on the bike using road wheels yet and that will give me a better sense of frame flex).  I didn’t make this bike to be a sprinters bike and I won’t be surprised if it flexes a bunch under extreme power situations.  So far I can only say that on an out of seat steep mountain climbs it feels great.  The geometry was a bit of an experiment.  I was worried about handling confidence due to the higher bottom bracket.  In tight cornering I may feel at a disadvantage, but truthfully I haven’t noticed it yet.  Rather I feel a ton more confidence due to the geometry shifting my weight to a more centered space due to the tall front end.  I have much more control over my front end and like the ability to get in my drops for braking on steep descents (a bigger issue on mountain bike trails than cross racing).  The uber stiff front end design seems to be a big advantage and I am loving how well the bike tracks.  Much of this could be due to the Ritchey fork that I have really liked so far.  In regards to the components. The brake are great almost feel like they have the same amount of power as my mountain bike discs, they do however require quite a bit more hand strength.  The 7800 Dura Ace group is awesome.  It has always been my favorite road group and I had forgotten how much I liked the silky smooth feel of the shifting.  I love the grip and the ride.  It makes me think I ought to look into buying some used groups for all my bikes. 

So if I could sum it up, I am very happy with the bike.  It’s already covered in mud and dirt from my few days out and I am happy to be able to get out there and thrash it around.  I can’t wait to do a “long term test” report later.  Up next is a road frame using some very light weight stuff.  Goal will be to make a solid steel race bike without giving up too much in weight or stiffness. 

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