Cyclocross Worlds is upon us this weekend, and we at Jalapeño Cycling can't believe that we'll have to start using the #crossiscoming hashtags already. (In the area and want to watch the World Championships live? Be sure to swing on by our store starting at 7am on Saturday and 8am on Sunday for some coffee and pastries and fauxpro commentary.)
A few weeks ago, Kate Cumming and I wrote a piece called Cyclocross is Still My Favorite Bourbon, mainly in response to reports of the stagnating participation numbers for the sport of cyclocross, and possible solutions. We were overwhelmed and gracious about the number of readers and replies. One of our favorites came way this morning from a couple of self-described "fauxpromoters," who responded to our thoughts with a full article. They promoted their first race this year, and their cyclocross vibe gets our serious thumbs up of approval (we'll overlook the pinwheel for the first year). They offered a few more thoughts that some of the salty faux pros here at Jalapeño Cycling overlooked, as well as made a few points that ran counter to ours. We appreciate the ideas and keeping us honest. Be sure to check them out with their links at the bottom of their response.
By Gordon Jones and Colston Jones (title photo courtesy of Marci Fulton)
DISCLAIMER: The authors are not experts (on cyclocross or anything else). In fact, neither of us had ridden in or even attended a 'cross race before last year, but we put together a team of fauxpromoters and hosted the Rustbucket Races in our hometown of Norfolk, Virginia on December 17 of last year. 89 people came out to ride; we are grateful to all of them and can’t wait to do it again next year.
Here is our reply to “Cyclocross is Still My Favorite Bourbon” by Andrew Reimann.
1) Cast a Wide Net
Gordon: We sold 35 one-day USAC licenses for the Rustbucket Races. Since this was our first time promoting a race, we didn't know what that meant, but our lead official informed us that it was a big number, especially for a first-time event.
Our race had a broad reach in part because we are outsiders to the sport ourselves, so many of our contacts in the local bike community are commuters and people who ride for fun. Getting a few riders who typically wouldn't race or weren't familiar with cyclocross to sign up for the race really helped spread the word locally. Getting involved in your local bike community and going on new or different group rides can really pay dividends.
Colston: At the same time, it’s important not to be a stranger to the existing cyclocross community. We volunteered to help with set-up at the local races, and were rewarded with great support from a strong local club, Rogue Velo Racing (four-time Virginia state champions, by the way). As a practical matter, it would be difficult to start a race without some established support, because the cost of stakes for the course could be prohibitive otherwise.
To your point on attracting people who are new to CX, it was important to me to offer true beginner categories, so our Novice races were only open to Cat 5 men and Cat 4 women. (In theory, if you have raced more than one season, you have "experienced out" of your initial USAC category with a mandatory upgrade.) Setting up the Novice categories this way may have put off a few experienced racers, as we didn't offer a Men's 4/5 race. In the future, we may offer that in addition to the Novice category, but the beginner-exclusive races will likely be a fixture.
2) Promote Cyclocross as Inclusive
Colston: After race day, one of the folks who rode in the Rustbucket reviewed the race on Facebook. He wrote that our race showed that cyclocross is an "extremely inclusive" bicycle discipline. He nailed one of the great things about 'cross: inclusivity.
Andrew touched on inclusivity when he argued that 'cross should be promoted as an affordable sport. No one should feel like they can't try a CX race because they don't want to shell out for high-end gear, and that's a great thing to emphasize.
Inclusivity goes beyond cost, though - 'cross is for different types of bikes: not only CX bikes, but mountain bikes, vintage road bikes, singlespeed bikes, even fixed gear bikes. 'Cross is for people of all ages and all levels of fitness and bike-racing (and promoting) experience. We were really welcomed warmly into the awesome community of cyclocross, even though we didn’t know a run-up from a hand-up.
Another piece that experienced CX racers who want to promote the sport might be overlooking is that the pro racing kit may scare people off. By having different categories on the course at different times, it seems like most races can accommodate both people who want to ride in (regular) shorts and a t-shirt and people who want to ride in a skinsuit. People who own a bike but not spandex make up a big group of potential cyclocross participants. It wouldn't hurt to aim some promotion at them.
3) Find a Way to Stand Out
Gordon: We found a unique site for the Rustbucket Races: a site owned by the Norfolk Public Works department that has been used for unloading trucks, impounding cars, and storing parade floats and hurricane debris. We'd like to take credit for hand-picking the site, but we didn't know it existed until our contacts with the city brought it to our attention.
Because we wanted to keep the race in Norfolk, options were limited after the city parks, our first choices, were ruled out due to access and use concerns. It worked out in our favor, however. I think it's safe to say that not many ‘cross races are held in industrial areas in the middle of cities. Tying our name to the site gave us some immediate visibility (thanks, Sean Freeman!).
Second, we were not part of a series. This gave us more control over the categories we could offer, like the World Heavyweight Championship of Cycling, and allowed us to have some fun with kit contests and the like. It made the race seem less intimidating, at least to me, a first-time bike racer.
Also, by not being part of a series, we stumbled onto a date that was open for lots of possible riders. December 17 was an open date for our local series, the Virginia Cyclocross Series (VACX), but also the MABRA and North Carolina Cyclo-Cross series. If you're an aspiring promoter, don't think you have to be part of series right off the bat to be successful.