Thursday, May 14, 2009
Bike Week Reflection on the Popularity of the Sport.
One of the advocates for Bike Week recently asked me if I thought that competitive cycling was going to become more popular. I didn't have an answer, but it got me thinking. Would it be a good thing if bicycle racing "blew up?"
I have lived through the blowing up of one subculture activity already. I have retched as the passion and its asthetic was appropriated and abused by the masses. In the 1980's and 1990's I was a dedicated skateboarder. I honed my skills for years. I "trained." I traveled around the country to skate. I bought decks instead of food when times were tight.
When I began skating, the sport was dead. There weren't many of us. I had to mail order my first real board; there were few shops. The activity we were engaging in was demanding, expensive and offered intrinsic rewards, but had little to no value to the external world. We were left on our own and we flourished there, creating our own culture and building our own communities.
Then it blew up. Towns built skateparks, kids started showing up to the skateparks with thier supportive parents in tow. People who didn't skate started wearing skate branded clothing. Skating was cool. In short the culture became diluted and commercialized.
Obviously we know that competitive cycling is already commercialized. But bicycle racing is not all that popular here in the states. Those of us who race non-professionally are part of a small subculture, one that is rich with common understandings, familiarity and cohesiveness. Across categories, like each other or not, we all know each other. We all share a passion for something that the rest of our society does not understand.
In thinking about it, I don't want the sport to grow. I am happy with the way that things are now. What do we get if the sport grows? More sponsors? Great, they will want something for their money. More races? When is the last weekend that you couldn't find a well attended race within a 2 hour drive? A velodrome? I would argue that municipal skateparks helped ruin skateboarding by diluting its culture and bringing "outsiders" and poseurs in, I fear that huge velodromes will do the same for bike racing.
I realize that I hold a minority opinion here. I realize that there will be valid and worthwhile counterpoints. I just like things the way they are, perhaps I am becoming a curmudgeon.