In the past six years, I have spoken four words to more than 3,000 racers: “Don’t be that guy.”
Like many racers, you may be asking, “Who exactly is ‘this guy?’ What’s so bad about him?” or her, as I’m using “guy” in a general, non-gender-specific context. I’m talking about the ultra-high-maintenance racer and, trust me, female racers can be just as bad as their male counterparts.
This affliction comes in two forms: the completely enjoyable, admittedly discombobulated guy; and the stuck-in-a-bubble guy who doesn’t quite notice things beyond their own experience. The first category screws up, but shows up with a smile, admitted guilt and pure appreciation for your solution. They are the ones who don’t pay attention to details, and end up buying everyone beer for unpacking 600 bags to find their race shoes at the start line. You love being friends with this guy, but wish their mother still followed them around.
In the latter category are the ones who are putting in pro-level training hours while working full-time jobs and trying to trade their newborn for a new lighter wheel set. They are moving up the double-digit placings at local races and want you to know about it. This is your friend with whom you love to ride, but from which you don’t want to hear another tale of weight saving, leg shaving or time gaining.
At this point, you are probably thinking, “I know this guy! I ride with him (or her)!” And you would be right, because almost every riding group has its high-maintenance racer. They show up to ride at 8 a.m. sharp, but with their bike in pieces. Or they show up to a recreational, group-training ride to take a few seconds off their Strava PR. They sign up for races with hundreds of competitors, fully expecting to be treated like individuals—they want to be the exception to every rule, guideline and timetable. For the most frustrating ones, this comes out in a litany of requests that forces you, in a motherly voice, to explain, “If we let you do that, we would have to let all the other racers do it too.” The most oblivious, it means offering a six-pack of beer in an outstretched hand with a mumbled admission of “I fucked up again.”
For better or worse, these are the racers you also get to know the best, and who test your skills as a race organizer. This is inevitable when you’re helping them figure out how their extra bike frame (not allowed) can take the place of their forgotten sleeping bag (explicitly mandatory). Or when you’re saying things like, “Yes, the course tape is there for everyone,” or “No, you cannot file a protest because you got a flat tire.” A special and personal favorite will always be, “I’m sorry our singletrack is so narrow.”
And yet, despite—or, more accurately, because of—their drain on resources and patience, in the end we grow to love them. This is because they can laugh at themselves, or at the very least, their friends can laugh at them (which makes it OK for us to laugh too). We may never know what makes them this way, what gives them this ability to be so passionate yet so oblivious, but they are the most flavorful spice in what at times can be an otherwise mundane and tedious scene. They fill the slow spaces, keep each year fresh, whether they know it or not. And they usually don’t.
As a new race season is upon us, with it comes a whole new batch of “that guy(s).” You can’t miss them: look for the man waiting for the women’s shower “because the line is shorter.” Or the one arguing for a time adjustment “because my teammate is too slow.” Or a new race start “because I missed mine when I was in the Porta-Potty.” Or the one who is regularly reporting to anyone involved in event organization, because giving daily feedback is their duty.
And if while reading this you realize you don’t have such a character in your friend group, you should probably get one. Their quirky, sometimes-grating, often-endearing love of the sport is contagious (if frustrating at times). They motivate us to ride, and to keep our own shit together. And, most importantly, they remind us that—at some point or another—we have all been “that guy.”