Monday, July 20, 2009

Racing - Rules and Regs

When I was 14 years old and wanted to race, I pestered my (also 14 year old) racing friend all the time with questions about racing.

Finally, when I probably asked the same rules question for the umpteenth time, he gave me his rulebook (it was pre-pdf days, i.e. it came in a printed version) and said "Read it." I protested but he was firm and refused to answer my questions until I could cite some of the major rules in it, things like exactly what constitutes your finish in a race.

After you read it then you can ask questions.

Some good things to know:
1. Let's start with my friend's first question. What constitutes "crossing the line", i.e. what determines when you finish a race?
2. What is a free lap?
3. Do you have to have bar plugs?
4. Can you use an unmodified track bike in a time trial on the road?
5. When can you ride without a helmet on your head?
6. What is the penalty for rolling a tire?
7. What is the Junior gear limit (definition and gear)?
8. How long do you have to protest a race finish (like you thought you won but they placed you 10th)?
9. What category are you and how would you get to the next one?
10. What is your age group and with what other age groups can you race?
11. Can a woman enter your race/s?
12. Can you use aero bars in a road race? How about a disk wheel?
13. What happens if you miss your start because they started the race a few minutes earlier than the published start time?
14. What happens if there is a dead heat, i.e. two riders actually tie?

Although it's important to be fit physically, to be prepared equipment-wise, and to have some common group riding skills, all before your first race, it's also important to know the rules.

My take on rules is not particularly rebellious. For example, I don't necessarily agree with Critical Mass rides. I think that pushing for various laws or programs would be a better way of doing things. Those laws and programs take a lot of time, energy, and money though, and can take years to pass, so I understand some of the more edgy ways of attracting attention to the cause.

But with bike racing, the rules change annually. It's not quite as big a deal as it is changing an actual law. So changes happen all the time. For example, a big rule change (for me) for 2009 was a default "No feeding in crits".

Come on, you say, wasn't it always illegal?

Nope. I'm sure some incident pushed the idea to become a rule (I recall riders being DQed for taking feeds at Somerville), but by default feeding was legal. Perhaps someone tried to feed a racer flying along at 38 mph and caused him to crash. Whatever, now it's specifically illegal.

Another new rule is no loose equipment on the bike. No bags, pumps, things like that. Again, I imagine that something happened to push this rule through, like a frame pump went flying on a 55 mph descent, wreaking havoc with the riders around, and costing USAC's insurance company a bunch of money.

I fell victim to this rule just yesterday, when an official told me to lose my helmet cam if I wanted to start the race. After fumbling through some potential rules that would prohibit me carrying the camera (the official initially thought it was a radio), the official finally cited the loose equipment rule.

Because I'm not rebellious about rules, I decided not to fight it (although I did question exactly which rule would prevent me from carrying the camera, because riders give up their media rights by default now). I felt pretty disappointed because I really wanted to get that particular race on tape, but now I'll just have to wait until next year.

However, for the next race this year, I may have a ruling from a higher up which I can refer to if someone gives me a problem about the helmet cam. For example, if I pinned my camera into my pocket, it would be virtually impossible for it to fall out. Or if I had a CamelBak, or some other carrying system that mounted on my body, it wouldn't be "loose".

I'd like to record some more races, but now I'll just have to be more prepared.

The rules do, after all, apply to everyone.


Rich said...

So what officially makes something attached to you or your bike "loose" equipment? Does it need to be bolted or pinned to your body or bike? How is a Camelbak "attachment" different than a helmet cam strapped to your helmet? And for that matter, if a helmet strapped to your head is ok, how come a camera strapped to your helmet is not? What if you zip-tie your cam to your helmet? What part of the rule exempts water bottles (about as loose as it gets)?
To me it seems like the official was not focused on the spirit of the rule but just exerting his power with a new rule. You know, acting like a bike race official.

Yokota Fritz said...

I'm tellin' ya, man -- HERO Cam.

Aki said...

Rich - I realized after the fact that officials don't take the "customer service" approach. In other words, working with the rider. It's the old fashioned "No refunds for any reason" approach versus the "LL Bean" approach. I don't think they're ever trained to respond in a customer service type way. So it's always "my way or the highway", not "Well, the idea behind the rule is such, and if you do X, Y, and Z, then you'll be within the rules. Remember we're starting you in about 3 minutes."

I got footage from a Hero and I think it was odd. I can't remember now. Anyway I'm too broke to buy any of them now. If Hero wants to sponsor me though... :)

Anonymous said...

I was one of the officials at the race in ?. And it is up to the chief ref at the race to decide how to interpret the rules of the road. Now I've never had a problem with the helmet cams. Aki is savvy enough to know how to race and not try to jeopardize himself, his equipment or for that matter his peers in a race just to get a shot.
BUT someone did. And because of that someone, everyone, anyone who wants to film a race, will "suffer" the for the actions of that one person. Hey it sucks. There doesn't seem to be any real logic to it, but the powers that be from Colorado Springs deem it a hazard. So we lowly, below minimum wage, here before you show up and here far after you have left officials, in the rain, freezing temps, blazing sun, barely fed, berated at,officials must abide by the rules that are handed down.
If any of you racers ACTUALLY read the rule book, either download it off the USACycling website, or pay for one, then you would know what the rules are. Yes, we do refer back to the rulebook from time to time to get clarification, or to get to the letter of the law in regarding the rules. That is to make sure EVERYONE is playing by the same rules.
So here is something for you to chew on. Next time when you are at a race, thank that official who is giving up their time so you can race. Thank that official for making sure everyone has a level playing field. Thank that official who has stayed up past midnight trying to make sure the results are accurate. Thank that official who will spend an extra 2 hrs filling out the incident reports after you were invovled in that crash because someones bottle came out on a rocky descent. Thank that official who is standing on the start line listening to you complain about how cold it is at 12noon when they themselves have been there 5 hrs already.
Hey I have one better than that.
Every spring USACycling holds an officials course. Take it. Work a couple of races. Then, and ONLY then will you appreciate the hard work, and dedication that some officials give to the sport.
Oh, BTW Rich, I'm just acting like a bike race official.