Singletrack Magazine Issue 125 | With great power comes great grumpiness

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Jason Miles has a run-in with the powers that are supposed to be helping him. 

Jason Miles, Rumble in the Jungle 2016
“Would you like to see a party trick? I can inhale a samosa in 0.1 seconds”

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. 


Comments (7)

    I have had run ins with Big Chris’s sister, Sophie Chris.
    Sophie struggled to organise a p*ss up in a brewery, she lost a portfolio that took hours of effort not once but twice. She cancelled courses without informing the attendees and the man that works for her running some courses is an arrogant t*sser who like making new riders and racers feel small for not having a carbonz bike with two changes of pedals for each day and likes to speed through 30 zones in his car with a Sophie Chris sign on the side.
    For this reason my club now doesn’t benefit from my volunteering every Thursday – I even wrote to Sophie Chris outlining my issues and she didn’t even bother to reply.
    So, no Big Chris next year Jason?

    It seems like the m****s from Big Chris ignored the “Don’t be a Dick Rule”.

    I too used to be involved in the organisation of a grass roots bike race in a park in North Manchester with a chap called Jason. It was great. It was a race for people who didn’t do races. It was hugely popular because it was a race for people who didn’t do races (Binners won it one year FFS!*).

    For the first couple of years Big Chris sent a bloke with an amusing hat that I’ll call Paddy (because that was his name and he wore a daft hat). Paddy was ace. He made sure that we knew what we were doing, the course was safe and that the riders were properly briefed. Then he just let us get on with it.

    One year they sent a bloke that I’ll call Not Paddy (because his name wasn’t Paddy) and he turned up with a bell. I thought he was getting in with the whole vibe as we’d had brass bands, bag pipers, a trouser-monger with a didgeridoo and some samba drummers. A solo campanologist would fit the vibe nicely. However, it turned out that he just wanted to shorten the race by 20 minutes and apply rules that frankly nobody gave a toss about. And to ring his bell. I should have spotted this when he didn’t put on a daft hat.

    Big Chris’ foot soldiers should have taken a look at the field and worked out that the ratio of racing snakes to people there for a good day out was heavily weighted towards the latter. Then they should have backed off a bit once it had been determined that the course was safe and we knew what we were doing. There’s a place for deadly serious officialdom and there’s a place for a gentle touch. Acting like an officious fool when there is no need is only going to put people off. Luckily we had excellent first aid cover should somebody suddenly accidently sit down on a bell.

    *There were only 3 teams in his category, but he still won it (With NBT and Bunnyhop IIRC)

    It’s no better further up the organisation. There are NO officially sanctioned road race courses in Cheshire at the moment. A couple of years the police started enforcing ancient road traffic rules regarding course length, the percentage of 30mph zones allowed withing the course etc. etc. Because of the way roads have changed over the years this pretty much killed all courses available, and a couple that were designed with the laws in mind were ruled out by Big Chris at risk assessment.

    Big Chris did sweet Frank Andrews to engage with organisers and the police to remedy the situation. Our club used to organise one of the national championship womens road races for him. It was called the Cheshire Classic, attracted all the best womens UK pro teams and riders. Had a larger prize fund than equivalent mens races. Big Chris’s reaction to the loss the course to run this Cheshire Classic was to suggest, ‘Could you stage it in Lancashire?’

    uh oh…catalyst for years of pent-up ill-feeling klaxon!

    That’s true terrahawk.

    But so much is deserved, Big Chris has p*ss*d off so many though.

    Once you start organising BMX races they seem to leave you alone and just want money off you…. have you considered using eventbrite for entries and just advertising via the events section on Big Chris’s website? You’ll be in control of race fees then… We just do pre reg and pay on the day, appreciate that might not work for large one off event where you need to hire equipment in. All we pay then are the race levies after the event…

    Oh and the camera rule is just nuts. Love going to the mega where I can festoon myself with action cams to catch my mincing down a hill in bullet time, whereas in the UK, careful now that camera may kill you…

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