Some months ago I made plans to join my friends for a little ride down in North County San Diego, the SPY Belgian Waffle Ride. SPY’s CEO, Michael Marckx is both someone I’ve been able to count as a friend and a certifiable creative type. I began hearing his vision for the ride a couple of years ago, shortly after he joined the company. He’d spitball ideas at me and I’d drool, if only on the inside.
I needn’t go into the reasons why a few days ago I sent MMX, as he’s known to friends, an email with the subject line, “Regrets.” But I did; pardon me while I use the passive construction and say, it had to be done.
In place of doing the Belgian Waffle Ride, I’ve had a pretty stellar day. I got a ride in, came home and hung out with the Deuce and watched Paris-Roubaix. Once Philip came back from a trip to the park with his mom, he curled up on the couch with me to play games on our iPad as the Deuce napped nearby. A terrific day, full stop.
The thing is, I missed something special today and that’s gnawing at me.
If I may be so bold, the BWR is a case study for everything wrong with bike events. Mind you, I’m not saying that the folks at SPY got it wrong; I’m saying that compared to the BWR, nearly everyone else is getting it wrong.
I gave up doing industrial park criteriums years ago. At a certain point I realized that I needed more out of a bike event than just proving I was faster than some other guy I’d probably enjoy riding with if the entire raison d’être for the event wasn’t predicated on proving who was fastest. And because those events were tucked into the disused weekend corners of communities as if they were an embarrassment to proper athletic endeavors, they seemed a disservice to actually promoting cycling as a sport worthy of watching. Nevermind the real-world challenges of securing a course, industrial parks aren’t so much low-hanging fruit as fallen fruit. Picking ripe fruit is worth the effort.
With the BWR, SPY has created an event meant to reward the fastest, so in that regards it does settle a question that never gets old, while re-imagining just what an experience can be. Thankfully, they dispensed with calling it a gran fondo. While a gran fondo is a special sort of event, and something I love doing, here in the U.S. the term has come to be applied to every century that was having trouble drawing a crowd before. Blech.
Promoters ought to take a close look at these flyers that SPY sent out counting down the days to the event. They are genius because they serve so many purposes. First, they build excitement for the event, and being excited about an event is key to having a special experience. They do the entrants a service because they offer insight into course challenges—a handy thing given the enormity of the undertaking. Finally, they pimp sponsors, something most race promoters devote too little effort to.
Abraham Maslow wrote about the ingredients that go into a peak experience. Anticipation and expectation offset by preparation. With the exception of the guys at Bike Monkey, who put on Levi’s Gran Fondo, I’ve never seen another outfit put half this much effort into ratcheting up excitement for an event in the run-up.
Perhaps there’s no truer measure of their success than the ache I feel for not having been there.
And if my own sense of missing out isn’t enough, I can tell you that several dozen riders from the Southbay drove down for the event. In all my years of riding with my peeps, not another ride has done more to unite to the locals’ ambition (and carpool skills) as the BWR.
The question I’d like to put to event promoters is: Why bother, if your aim isn’t to give everyone who enters a memorable experience? What have you given to anyone who is not the winner? SPY has created something memorable, even in the missing. Hell, they even got local TV coverage the other day. When was the last time a non-big-time bike event managed that?
Perhaps the best way to frame their achievement is with my favorite quote by Teddy Roosevelt: “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure … than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
And here those poor spirits to which I refer are not athletes, but event promoters. I challenge you: Dream large.