Jason Miles has a run-in with the powers that are supposed to be helping him.
A few weeks ago a mountain bike race happened in a park just outside Manchester. I’d organised it. It took a long time to get everything sorted out, mainly because hardly anyone entered it until I’d moved the date twice. That bit cost me a few quid because when their online entry system is used, our national governing body (for the purposes of this column, let’s call them ‘Big Chris’) charges money for every entrant who asks for a refund when they can’t make it to the new date. Plus, there’s an extra processing charge for every batch of riders that withdraws. That’s after Big Chris has charged money to process every entrant when they initially enter the event. That’s OK though – chasing medals costs Big Chris money and I know my place.
On the days leading up to the event, the people who work for Big Chris rally round and lend me stuff. For that I am very grateful. They then put me in touch with the volunteer officials who need to attend the bike race in order to make sure that I’m not sending anyone over a cliff and thus risking an awkward insurance conversation later on.
Normally there’s just one official who will turn up, take a look at the course, drink a few cups of tea and behave in a very friendly manner to me, the team who help me, and to the riders. This is all very important – those riders are paying customers and need to be treated as such.
For some reason, Big Chris decided that three officials were needed this time. Not only that, but three of the most officious, rulebook-bashing, totalitarian stormtroopers ever to pick up a high-vis vest and a whistle were sent to give my event and the unsuspecting riders a good going over.
Historically, this race has always been more laid-back than most. The only rules are ‘wear a helmet’ and ‘don’t be a dick’. I’ve always understood and appreciated that there needs to be a official presence for insurance purposes, but it was a shame that this time the Big Chris task force set about turning this friendly, fun, grass-roots event into an autocracy, drowning it in rules that I’d never even heard of, nor had any clue as to why they would be applied to anything, anywhere.
“ALL RIDERS MUST FINISH THE RACE ON THE SAME BIKE THEY STARTED ON.”
The youngest and physically largest of the bike race enforcers megaphoned this rule to the unsuspecting crowd. The race was probably the muddiest thing since 1916, so differentiating between two bikes would be tricky, if not impossible.
“YOU DO NOT HAVE A FEED ZONE. YOU MUST HAVE A FEED ZONE.”
No one starved, just like to reassure you about that.
“NO FILMING OF ANY SORT FOR REASONS OF DATA PROTECTION AND GDPR. CARRY ON FILMING AND YOU WILL BE DISQUALIFIED AND FINED.”
I love it when people make films with my event in, even when other people are subsequently filmed doing a bike race in a public place, which I’m sure causes no outrage whatsoever. Which ‘rule’ then led onto…
“PRACTISING ON THAT SECTION OF THE COURSE IS NOT PERMITTED. I WILL FINE YOU 150 POUNDS IF YOU CONTINUE.”
Stormtrooper No. 1 thus threatened riders. It was at this point that my opinion of him darkened. He won’t be coming back.
“YOU MUST RETAIN AND FILE ALL THE SIGN-IN SHEETS AND LAP COUNTING DATA.”
Lap counting data was basically a small pile of soggy notepad pages with numbers scruffily written on them. But apparently, they are important for future scrutiny. (They’re in the bin.)
“THERE ARE A NUMBER OF ISSUES WE HAVE IDENTIFIED THAT WILL BE INCLUDED IN OUR REPORT.”
To date, I haven’t had a copy of the report.
The power struggle went on all day. I’m going on a bit now myself – in fact, as I recount some of this stuff in my head I’m even getting a little bit angry about it again.
In my opinion (and theirs may differ), Big Chris exists partly to support and encourage people like me to give up time and energy to make events happen. Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful people who work for our beloved governing body who do all they can to help and over the years a handful of them have become good friends. There does, however, seem to be an underlying vibe there that we’re only organising and taking part in bike races because we’re being allowed to.
I have a copy of the Big Chris Rule Book here. It’s quite thick. Geoff Capes might be able to tear it in half, but then he’d probably be fined.