Sunday, July 26, 2015

My 'Women Specific' Problem

Hide your children, hide your pets, because this is going to be a rant.


No, but let's be serious: I'm a woman. And most 'women's specific' shit doesn't fit. So... Does this mean I'm an alien? Am I an anomaly? Does this make me less of a woman?

I got a call from a woman today asking me why we don't carry women's specific road bike frames. I'm sorry, but do women ride road bikes differently than men? Last time I checked, those 'male-specific' frames fit my needs perfectly. Call me crazy, but those frames also work for thousands of female professional road cyclists, too.

My point? There is no such thing as a bike made for women. There are small accessories, there are pink accessories, but those are aftermarket additions that could be put on for any rider with certain needs. For example: a saddle with a certain amount of padding may fit a pelvis of a certain angle that has sensitive tissue, but a women's saddle it does not make. I've sold lots of 'women's saddles' (with horrendous names like the 'Diva') to embarrassed men who simply found them more comfortable. I also happen to have a best friend who is 5'3"... And male. And he loves small bikes. But does that mean he needs a women's specific bike? Hell no! He needs a small bike. Does that make him any less of a man, a human or a rider? Uhhhh, no.

I know that lots of marketing brains have put together this ideal of what a female (or male) rider might be, but let me tell you something: we are not amalgamations of someone else's 'ideal'. We are us. We are individuals with individual needs that don't discriminate according to gender. Not all women need small grips. Not all men need 500 lb titanium coil springs. And women most certainly do not need different frame geometry. Some humans need lower top tubes. GREAT! We can accommodate you. Oh, you have a shorter torso? Tighter hip flexors and limited flexibility? Long arms? Wider hips, a prosthetic leg, a sensitive bottom? Awesome! We have many bikes that will fit that particular need or that can be adjusted to be the best bike for you. But what we don't have is a women's bike. We have men's bikes with smaller grips, different saddles and 'female friendly colors' (whatever the fuck THAT means; I like black. I like purple. I really like black.), but we do not have a bike that is going to fit everyone of one gender. Guess what else we don't have? Gay bikes. We don't have bikes for black people, either. We have bikes for people. People of any gender, any size, any age. We have accessories for people. We even carry a wide selection of special items for special people that we keep in a bin in the back marked 'special'. But your gender and genitals doesn't dictate what bike you need, and it CERTAINLY doesn't dictate the bike I'll ride.

I don't want your female-specific bike. I don't need it. Why? Because my identity doesn't exist solely around having a vagina. I don't ride like a girl. I ride like me. I need me-specific bike parts, and that means that they're generally expensive, tough and black. For someone else, that could mean light, cheap and shaped like an elephant. I DON'T KNOW. And guess what? Neither do bike companies. And so telling someone that they need a 'women's specific frame' or 'women's specific tires' is just bullshit. I'm sorry, but that's what it is. B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T. Does a pink bike ride more gently than blue bike? Not when you ram it into a tree or attempt to play chicken with a fleet of semi trucks. Does the road ride differently for women than it does for men? Are my pedals female-specific? Do they reflect the magnetic power of my vagina?! No? Oh. Well then. I need some girl pedals.

If we want to make lasting, sustainable change inside of the bike industry, we need to stop pretending that there is a defining line that separates these false categories we've thrown each other into. We have to stop creating room for shit that doesn't matter in areas that are irrelevant. Women on bikes matters. More women on bikes matters. But that's not what we're creating. Instead of building a culture of inclusion and equality and addressing the matters that really DO affect our sport (like equal payout, misogyny, sponsorship, participant numbers, spectator attendance), we're building an entire world around something that simply does not matter. There are smaller grips. There are shorter cranks. There are softer saddles. There are pink helmets and blue trails and red lights and fiercely powerful riders of ALL genders. But there is no such thing as a women's specific bike.

Monday, July 20, 2015

MTB Nats And The Avalanche Of Stupid

It's a post-race weekend Monday and for me, that often means one of two things is happening: gratuitous gloating over the superhuman feats of strength and power I performed or a few stormy days filled with brutal workouts, tearful cloud bursts, self-flagellating and abusive brain language that I would never dare spew at another human.

Today is the second half.

I sucked this weekend, guys. It was a a full on suckfest. It sucked so much that I feel like I spent the weekend with my mouth glued to a glass window, like a starfish at the aquarium. That's the level of suck displayed.

Sure, I could blame my lack of positive race result on the course, but I won't. I could blame my level of failure on USAC routing an entire Enduro field (and the accompanying 29-inch wheels and fistfuls of terrified braking) down the DH course, but I'll save that for later. Instead, I'll be honest: it was a great fucking course. It was probably the best nationals course we've had in a very long time and it was brutal. It was technical and fast and loose and it made almost every single pro look like a bunch of silly beginners... That's how amazing it was. And guys, it was faaaaaaaaaaaaaasssssssst. Like, so fast your hair blows back with how stupidly fun it is to go that fast but you probably should slow down because this corner is loose and oops, there goes all of the skin on your elbow. That's how fast it was. And loose. I will never give my cat a funny look ever again when he climbs out of the litter box with tiny pebbles stuck between his paws -- I'll be dumping rocks out of places I didn't even know existed for the next six months.

I had fun. I really, really did. Despite my level of irrationally fearful suck, I still had a lot of fun. But I really did suck. I balked at the bottom of the first rock garden where I injured my back two years ago, I shied away from commitment at the ledge/kitty litter pit, and I refused to send some baby root gaps closer to the bottom. I could blame it on being 9 weeks out of a horrendous collar bone surgery that included two plates, a lot of screws, a hinge, and some pins, but my shoulder felt great. My body was ready. But my brain?

HA! I think my brain said 'adios!', hopped a plane to Cabo and took the week off. Because nowhere in my mind was the usual devil-may-care sender dumbass. Instead, I was replaced by an annoying four-year-old version of myself who threatened to tattle every time I thought about trying something dangerous or remotely risky. "I'm gonna tell mooo-ooom!" she would chant. (You know the tone.) And it worked. I would shy away from features that I wouldn't normally even slow down for. I yanked on my brakes and stumbled over lines; I washed out in the slow sections and balked at the fast ones. I was a wreck.

Would I have preferred that USAC hadn't decided to send multiple trail bikes down the same route for their first-ever sanctioned Enduro race for a fairly empty title in a discipline they don't oversee? Sure. Would I have liked it if the terrain had been left natural and/or less-manufactured to reflect the true spirit of the mountain? Of course. But those things happened, and as racers, we learn to deal with them. I didn't, and that put me .036 second off the damn box.

And I wasn't not on the box because of the course or the technical values. I wasn't not on that box because of USAC. I wasn't not on that podium because of equipment failure, injury, or a life-threatening disease. I failed to make it on that box because I chose to go around the rock garden, chose to hop through the second ledge and basically, went really fucking slow. For whatever mental, physical, emotional, intellectual reasons, I failed to perform. And that's the kicker of racing -- I'd love to make excuses for why I was almost 52 seconds off Jill's pace, but there are none. I failed to adapt and converge with conditions. I failed to go fast enough. I failed. And that's something I get to live with for another year.

That's racing.

And that was the avalanche of stupid.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

"The World Doesn't Reward Mediocrity" II...

If the world doesn't reward mediocrity, how do you explain the number of 'ambassadors' in mountain biking? Not athletes who actually win anything, but folks who's looks, connections and/or behavior have somehow made them appealing to the ridiculous masses who would admire a burning shit covered in fur and then complain about how expensive tickets were.

Explain. Because that's mediocre as fuck. #justsaying.

Also: justify this blog. Because it's mediocre as fuck, too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Why Does Downhill Racing Need USAC?

As of late, through injury, race breaks and lots of time spent on the interwebs (clearly), I've been ruminating on why exactly I'm a continuing member of USA Cycling. As of today, I'm examining that a little closer, given the announcements made here:

Am I a member because of the UCI points? The access? The promotion? The standard of the tracks? The payout? The insurance? No. The sole reason at this point would be to maintain eligibility for the UCI. But. We all know I can't seem to start one of those. (Har har)

As a pro downhill racer, I spend a hefty amount of my time, energy and financial resources on racing. In 2014, over the course of 8 months, I spent nearly $20,000 on downhill racing and related costs; that figure excludes medical bills and related expenses. As the second-ranked female racer in the US as of the 2014 US Gravity National Championships, you could say I was heavily invested in what eventually became little more than a detrimental hobby with a very high price tag.

For some background: USA Cycling (often referred to as USAC) took over the now-defunct NORBA series in 1996 after what had been a remarkably successful run for the National Off Road Bicycling Association. With downhill and gravity racers coming from all over the world to race US-located races, the NORBA Nationals series was most comparable to the current IXS DH Cup in Europe, if not larger. With event and series sponsors including corporate contributors such as Jeep, ChevyTrucks, VISA, Reebok and Maxxis, athletes of all abilities and ages were practically guaranteed a good time. Mountain resort villages were packed, pro fields were deep enough to hold qualifiers for the top 30 women and prize payouts for the fastest racers often covered their bills.. On the road and at home. Former racers describe bustling pits with full-factory teams boasting rosters 6-10 riders deep with coaches, mechanics and physios considered par for the course. The mood was electric.

But not everything was peachy. Behind the scenes, NORBA was struggling to retain its authority through the later years as individual sanctioning bodies began popping up with their own races after the USAC takeover in 1996 and subsequent decline of support and race events. Former racers and organizers describe the decline begging with the acquisition and when the NORBA National series underwent various marketing changes and leadership swaps. These swaps were rumored to have alienated longtime members and racers, eventually leading to the scrapping of the NORBA name for good in 2004. What changed? According to industry insiders who wish to remain anonymous, everything changed.

In a 2001 article about the departure of then-managing director Leslie Klein, cites a membership drop of 39% between 1997 and 2001. Why such a drastic drop?

Former racers describe the pits and corporate sponsorships going from 'full-tilt' one season to 'almost empty' within the next two. Teams changed hands, title sponsors pulled dollars, and focus seemed to wander as USACycling diverted valuable man hours into the quickly-growing gold mine that seemed to be US elite road racing. 

Even non-US athletes who traveled across the globe to earn their winnings (or wheels) on American soil at the notoriously fast tracks seemed to taper off; maybe they opted to stay closer to home or, beginning in 2002, try their hands at the other gravity disciplines then gracing the UCI World Cup stops. Dual-slalom evolved into four-cross and the hard-charging athletes seemed to find their niche alongside their beloved downhill.

But interestingly enough, 2002 was the same year that, for the first time in almost a decade, there wasn't a single American female represented in the top three WC overall DH standing. Between Kim Sonier, Missy Giove and Leigh Donovan, the US had been well-represented amongst the strongest female riders in the world.

It was even worse for the American men; between the last American-held podium with Mike King and Myles Rockwell in 1995 and Aaron Gwin in 2010, the US would go for a long fifteen years without a top-three placement in the international series. 

So what changed? Why? 

And why do these dates suspiciously correlate with the changing of hands of an entire cycling federation, the near-death of a sport, and the current climate of squeezing blood from the members of USAC's most under-developed discipline?

How does a well-loved niche sport go from being a six-figure income for riders one year and within a few short seasons, practically bankrupt?

I cannot personally speculate on the details of why or how. But I can say this: stepping away from the minutiae of day-to-day industry news and operation to take a look at the bigger picture won't hurt us. Being able to piece together both our history and the patterns of where we've gone off track as a sport will enable us to have a future. How? By not making the same mistakes again. 

Just today, USACycling released a new breakdown of the fees and costs associated with licensing for mountain biking, which included exorbitant fees for anti-doping regulation. USAC claims that this increase is to more tightly control doping due to an increase in amateur and elite doping, yet they haven't released numbers as to how many American amateur gravity athletes (or MTB in general) have tested postive for performance-enhancing drugs. The last publicly-identified gravity racer suspended for failing a drug test tested positive for cocaine... Three years ago? Two? I don't know of a single US gravity athlete within the last ten years that has tested postively for doping, and yet our financially-beleaguered discipline gets to bear the brunt of yet another overreaching USAC policy, as well as a licensing fee increase for 2016?! 

This is absurd. For any federation it would be absurd, but especially for a cycling federation where the prize payouts for the national series races are notoriously sparse and rarely cover racer expenses, if that.

So my question to you tonight is this: How do we move back to a rider- and results-based race economy built on sustainable growth and progression of the sport? How do we reward race hosts and organizers for their time and risk? How do we adequately insure riders and event managers in the case of a catastrophe so that we are able, as a community, to take care of our own? Because right now, any pro athlete on the gravity circuit in the US likely has a USAC insurance horror story; these stories are, unfortunately, not few nor far between. 

Gone are the days where we get to hand the reins to the adults in the room. We are the adults in the room, and we have to start behaving as though this is our livelihood. Unless you want to continue living four-deep with your buds and your bikes until you're 60, it's time to look at downhill in the US as more than a weekend hobby. This is a business. But we happen to be in the business of selling the best sort of fun. What's cooler than that?! 

However, our current situation isn't working. The races, the underwhelming 'programs', the U23 advantages (oh, sorry, guys -- that's this program for XC racing), the lack of responsible stewardship... It's stunting the development of an amazing sport that, at one point, we were highly dominant in. And why? Because our federation claims 'money issues' or 'lack of membership involvement!' or 'declining race numbers'... And yet we have zero insight into the role outside sponsorship plays in the gravity-specific disciplines? But why would USACycling have any interest in exerting effort to secure the same moneyed sponsors that benefit from marketing DH to the masses on a daily basis? After all, this is the same federation who, despite their lack of authority or history or involvement or investment or INTEREST in the discipline, crowned multiple US Enduro National Champions in 2015. Why would a federation with zero experience with enduro suddenly feel it appropriate to crown a US National Enduro Champion? How is that expense or effort even relative to the many disciplines they already have made commitments to? And why are they looking to make money from participants of a discipline that they don't care about? 

Maybe they've lost their way. Maybe the bank account and moral compass are spinning so far in the wrong direction that our federation doesn't even know which direction is 'up' anymore.

Because maybe it's time that the gravity world part ways with USACycling. 


PS: Thoroughly interested in exploring the possibilities of a North American Gravity Association. Anyone else game? Ha! 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"The world doesn't reward mediocrity"... Let's Be Honest

I often wonder why people want to pay me to say shit on the Internet, and this morning, I realized what it is: I'm extraordinarily, fantastically mediocre. But I'm loud about it. I'm hilariously terrible. My mediocrity is on full display at all times because I never learned the value of shame and really don't give a flying fuck about whether or not I have something to lose. Because, c'mon -- no one is getting out alive, guys. Is it REALLY that important? The entire human race is a stage where mediocre plays out, and I'm the lead (in my own mind, at least).

Oh, sure... Sure. Sometimes I care. I care deeply about a lot of things. But, like most (read: all) people on planet Earth, I generally only give enough of a shit to convince myself I'm still partially human. Because we care about equality, right? Civil rights, that fuzzy-tummy feeling? We care about climate change? We care about war and finances and consumption and recycling and yet, I drive to work in a gas-guzzling truck to sell shit people don't need to make money to buy stuff I don't need to race bikes kind of mediocrely to get hurt to pay bills to go back to work and...? The cycle begins again? Sure. We care. I CARE, DAMMIT. 

You know the poor idiot that shop mechanics hate because the idiot knows just enough about bikes to make a total disaster of everything, but not nearly enough to actually fix the shit they broke? That's me. With life. I'm that guy (or gal). And I routinely spew total nonsense. I break shit, but guys, I know what I'm doing here, okay?! Sometimes, it's because I'm curious about how much shit people will actually believe and regurgitate and sometime, it's because I really truly have good intentions. Mostly, it's a mixture of both. I want change but I'm lazy as a fat cow on a sunny day. I have talent, but it's generally wasted. I like reading, but there are so many words. I'm curious, but only so long as there's a low risk of anything bad happening. AND YOU'D BETTER ENGAGE ME, DAMMIT. And my opinion is fact, and nothing else matters and that makes me think about Metallica and the most over-strummed song IN HISTORY. Every guitar hero knows those fucking chords. 

Anyway. Mediocrity. Where was I? 

Oh, yeah. I am the internet's embodiment of mediocre. No, I don't know the riff in Nothing Else Matters, but I do have an opinion about everything, and it changes with the wind. If someone I respect even farts, it'll probably influence my thought patterns one way or the other. I'm THAT flaky. Speaking of flaky, I'm also that. I'm the friend that always cancels plans because hey! Mediocre is as mediocre does, guys. It's not like life actually interferes with anything, right? Besides: repeated brain damage is a preeeeeetty powerful excuse when it comes to not giving a shit. 

And I guess that's what half-assing  everything really does for a person: it frees up all of this exta time for me so I can write stupid comments and throw shit fits about how I make (on average) $.78 to every $1 that a guy does. Unless you live in Utah (where I currently reside), and the it's only $.70. Oops. Or the fact that all I'll ever be judged on is my looks. But I'm even mediocre at that -- I can't actually remember wearing lipstick a day in my life except for this one time on Halloween where I got really smashed and had black lips all night. And even then, my mediocrity was hidden... Because I was trendily drunk, guys. It wasn't even a serious drunk. I was ironically intoxicated, people (although the puking sure felt real). There was (and is) a layer of bullshit hiding my terrible lack of substance. 

I've started thinking seriously about this. And I'll tell you what; the world DOES reward mediocrity. In fact, that's the only thing it actually rewards. EL James, Kim Kardashian, George W Bush, Donald Trump, Anthony Weiner... Don't get me started about the athletes with rudimentary skill and model-type looks. All mediocre as fuck and yet they all seem to be the ones in positions of power or wealth or fame. 

So they're right. "The world doesn't reward mediocrity." It TREASURES it. The world adores mediocrity. We have what, an author who wrote a grammatical holocaust of an erotic book series, a woman who became famous for her sex tape, a daddy's boy who lied about WMDs, a morally, socially and financially bankrupt windbag and the guy who sent dick pics to the world? Sure. We definitely don't reward mediocrity. Because all of the great minds and souls in history have been so treasured, right?! Of course. Joan of Arc wasn't burned because she was brilliant or brave, huh? Galileo wasn't persecuted because of his extraordinarily intelligence? Plato? Even Einstein, right? He totally died rich and fulfilled and supported by the masses. No, we certainly don't reward mediocrity. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! 

We eschew everything bright and beautiful and wonderful to maintain the status quo and then publications like 'Fortune' highlight company men who say cliche shit like this. And everyone buys into it. But no... Mediocrity isn't rewarded. Not by us. 

The best part about my total success as a mediocre blowhard is that I can pretty much shape whatever I say to match the demographic I'm selling to and be almost completely sure that whatever it is I'm schilling, someone on the Internet will get butt-hurt about. It's pretty cool to be that fucking ridiculous, guys... Gotta be honest. If I can ride this idiot pony all the way to the pump house, maybe someday I'll get my own video blog or a paid podcast and then a reality TV gig where I meet my future partner who releases a secret sex tape and ride into the annals of history as the most mediocre fucking 'athlete' on the planet. 

How awesome would THAT be??