Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Racing - Licenses Through The Ages

So someone commented on the color on the licenses, and I had just been poking through some of my "Bike Memoribilia" stuff. In there somewhere was a precious Campagnolo plastic bag (maybe cables came in it - it's big enough for a sheet of paper to sit in it) with a bunch of my licenses in it.

So, in the spirit of things, I pulled out a bunch of them. I skipped some boring ones. And it seems like my very first one is too precious for my bike memoribilia box - it might be (i.e. I hope it is) in my main "memoribilia" box. I found a slew of training diaries but I figure pictures of daily planners wouldn't be too thrilling.

Excerpts, though, might be interesting. I'll post them at some other time.

Back to licenses. So, starting at the beginning...

First off, since I always carried my license, and they were printed for a long, long time on regular (well, slightly thicker) paper, they became my scrap paper when I needed to write something down. So as not to intrude on some long forgotten people's lives, I've taken the liberty of using a primitive program to black out my scribbles.

By the way, if you click on the picture, you get a much, much bigger version. You can actually read things on the license.

So, to start things off, my oldest license not in my main memorabilia box - 1985. They came in a standard license/credit card size thing but they folded over. Inevitably the two halves separated unless you were very, very careful.

I was very, very careful with this one. And it's in two pieces.

The outside:

The right side is the "front", the left side the "rear"

The inside - the meat of the license.

Note I'm a Cat 4. Yep, me. A 4.

At first my number, 25664, was pretty high. I mean, numbers were issued in order, so I was the 25, 664th person to get a license after the American Bicycle League became the United States Cycling Federation. I may be old but I didn't even know about the ABL until someone told me that's what the USCF used to be. Low numbers were in the 4 digits, and the guy who got me racing was like 10,000-something.

Back then there were no 5s. Just "Citizen" racers. Then someone sued someone and bingo, you had to buy a One Day License to race. But this was in the primitive days. In fact we had virtually no helmet rule. You had to wear a "helmet" but nothing defined what a helmet was, other than something more than a cycling cap. I never wore a hairnet (like the Italians in Breaking Away) but I did wear a Brancale helmet (which I'll dig up) which was absolutely useless except to keep my hair in place.

By the way you can see that I wrote my address on the license. My address in the Fall of 1985. Until then I had lived in the same place in Connecticut for about 7 years, so I wrote down my first new address in forever.

Fast forward 5 years to 1990. Some of you were born by then :)

The outside looks the same:

This is still in one piece, barely. Upgrade blanks on the back now. Note they are still blank.

Here's why - I was already a 3. More miscellaneous notes and such, all blacked out to protect the names of the innocent. Note I wrote some things down - Cat 1 is national level, Cat 4 is beginner - I think I was explaining it to someone, using the only scrap paper I had - my license.

The reason I wanted to fast forward 5 years is the time between them was a disasterous time for the USCF (eventually to become USA Cycling).

First off, they went to stupid big license. Hard to tell in the picture but I'll do a "compare and contrast" picture below. Suffice it to say that they were too big to fit in your wallet. I guess too many people were washing their small licenses.

Enormous license. Upgrade sticker. Yeah!

I want to boast about the upgrade sticker so please bear with me. I was a first year Senior, had three years of racing under my belt. I'd won my last race as a Junior (collegiate, but, hey, it was a win). The training series back then were at New Britain, a points race format, one that favors those in shape.

And in college, I was in shape.

I was on academic probation by the fall of 1986, but, hey, there's a price to pay.

Anyway, on that race. I won the first sprint, by accident, because the UCONN cycling team's coach told me not to go for the first sprint, just follow the guys in case someone took off after the sprint. I followed wheels, did a little jump, and passed everyone.


So then, to be fair, I decided to actually go for the next one.

And won it.

So the next time, so as not to be totally unfair, I took off at the bell, trying to blow myself up before the line.

But I got to the line first anyway.

Finally two guys took off right after that sprint, and although we let them dangle for a while, I caught them 10 feet after the line. I didn't win the sprint.

One more sprint, a teammate led me out, and I notched up another sprint win. In fact, he returned to racing about 5 or 6 years ago in the area. I don't think he remembers leading me out though, but I'll have to ask him.

The final sprint was coming up and my coach was yelling exactly who to watch, how many points he had, and I didn't know what he was saying. I mean, come on, what could I comprehend in the tenth of a second I had to hear what he was yelling? I figured I'd do as well as I could and that would be my race.

I won that final sprint.

I stopped immediately, turned around, and asked the officials.

"Did I win the race???"

One of them laughed.

"You won all but one sprint and you don't think you won?"

Well, I wasn't sure, to be honest. But it seemed illogical when he put it that way.

The same official said he was upgrading me that day, got out his stickers, and stuck one on my license.

I never dominated a race like that ever in my life again. In my eternal optimism I made a list like Greg Lemond, modestly peaking at doing Corestates in Philly. I never got past "Win State Road Race".

Let's get back to the licenses, shall we?

Here's the "compare and contrast" shot:

Three years of enormous licenses. There are four licenses, yes, but the right two are the same year. I misplaced the bottom right one and got the top right one as a replacement. Then found the original one.

To give you an idea of the scale of these suckers, I put my 2007 license on top. Even if you folded the big ones over, you couldn't stick it in your wallet.

Some of the things that happened in those days that didn't seem to make sense include...

First, helmets that passed ANSI became mandatory (in 1986). You'll note that the green license has a Monarch sticker on it. I took it off my helmet and stuck it on my license. You had to bring your helmet to registration to prove you weren't going to race in a hairnet. I guess checking at the line didn't count (?).

Second, you had to prove you belonged to a club. So I stapled my club membership card to my license. Coincidentally they were green so it matched.

Third, unattached fees were insane. So I got my license fixed so I wouldn't have to pay these huge unattached fees.

Fourth, if you belonged to a club (they didn't differentiate between clubs and teams) and the club didn't hold a race, you could still be a club. You just couldn't race in any kind of "kit". So in 1988 (?) I raced in a plain blue jersey because we didn't hold a race in 1987. Bummer.

I wish they did that now. We'd have a lot more races.

So anyway, sometime after 1990 they returned to small licenses. Everyone said, "Well it's about time, whose dumb idea were the large licenses anyway?" I'm sure people started washing their licenses by accident too.

In their infinite wisdom, the USCF issued plastic cards, sort of like what you have now. Here's one (and I'm pretty sure I washed it a few times):

Look carefully at my Category

But with mountain bike racing such a hot thing, and no categories in mountain biking, the USCF decided to follow mountain bike naming protocols.

In other words, Beginner, Intermediate, Sport, and Expert. Yeah, take a look at that license.

Suddenly, instead of a Cat 3, I was an Intermediate. Or was I a Sport? I never remembered.

I felt this was terrible. I still wanted to be a Cat 2, and now, if I got upgraded, I'd be, what, an Expert? It seemed to devalue Cat 2s because in NORBA upgrades were on (lack of) honor. In other words, if you wanted, you could be an Expert mountain bike racer. Or a Beginner. No biggie. You could change from one race to another, on a whim, be whatever you wanted.

Lots of grumbling again. And finally the licenses became a bit more normal. In 1995:

There was one thing though.

At some point the licenses became 12 month deals. So if you got your license in March, it was good until next March.

But say you got it March 31. Shouldn't you be okay until April 1? So, just to be sure, the USCF gave you an extra month. So a March license would be good until the following April.

I got my first license with this 13 month thing in a January. My license would be good until February. The following year, I got my license in February, and it expired in March.

Since I think long term sometimes, I decided that when my license expired in August or September, I'd think about whether or not I wanted to race between then and next March, and if not, I'd skip renewing a year.

You know, one of these long term benefits of racing with the USCF. Buy 8 years, get one free.

Yeah, so I did that. And I got inundated with a bunch of "You didn't renew this year, we miss you" kind of things. I was thinking, "Hey, I'm just taking a short break. Lay off me."

So I didn't renew until the following year.

And that was the year that they went to the "B" license numbers. And I didn't get a low number because I was trying to save, what, like $36? The long term "Buy 8, get 1 free" license deal. And I lost my low, low number.


In fact, my license number now, 31337, is higher than my old one, 25664. So I'm more of a noob than I was before, sort of. I guess it's always good to have some humility. So now there are guys out there who say, "Oh, I must have started racing before him - he has a higher number than me."



Mike said...

Interesting history Aki.

btw, you were winning races when I was in diapers.

Giles said...

Hey Akira--I guess you don't know that 31337 actually means "elite" in hacker nomenclature. It's the hacker word for PRO. Try google searching it. You could probably find bumper stickers that say "31337" . . . When I google my number (269637) all I find is a Cambridge study on the protective effects of yogurt consumption.

Aki said...

OMG I feel like a numbnut. Or pwned as they say. I actually have a 31337 bumper sticker upstairs and my Antec has a h4x0r sticker on it (not that I can do anything too fancy - but I did play CS for a while *without* any aimbots or anything). What the heck was I thinking??? Thanks for making my year. I'm keepin' this one.

Bob Dopolina said...

Nice post.

I think I still have a few old licenses kicking around here somewhere...

As someone who studied history, it is exactly this kind of documentation that sheds so much light on the past. In this case the sad, disorganized nature of cycling's governing body in the US.

Aki said...

hocam - lol diapers. I'm one of the old guys now. "Dude, you see that guy there? He was winning races when I was in diapers."
"Jeez he looks kinda, you know, heavy."

bob - you probably know but it was actually a suspendable offense to bad mouth the USCF. Now that's it's not the USCF, I felt like it'd be okay to write some critical words. In the old days my blog post could have gotten me suspended.