A weekend in a beach town gives many opportunities for a person to see, um, things they might prefer not to. In order to keep this post family-friendly, graphic details will be kept to a minimum. I'm not really talking about tattoo art; who knew Panama City Beach had so many tattoo parlors, or that a tattoo on a certain portion of the body was otherwise called the "Panama City License Plate?" I'm not talking about short shorts (again!), Speedos, or green swim trunks with the little yellow duckies (Agon Swim?), or post-race party observations from the Slowtwitch web site, either.
As you can tell I probably could hold forth for an entire post on one or all of these topics...but it's something a little more mundane.
Ride with a pack of cyclists, especially on a windy day, and you can tell how much more beneficial it is to be suffering with others than to be out there all alone. As long as everybody manages to keep their wheels from crossing one another things are pretty much all right. However, when it comes to triathlon, unless you're of the caliber of those Olympic athletes, the bike ride is an individual affair. Each rider is responsible to take care of themselves and cannot use another rider to shield them from the wind...legally.
Some bike courses, like the ones for Panama City's half-iron and iron-distance triathlon events, have been described in the past as "pancake" flat. Compared to the NOLA 70.3 course I might call them "blueberry-pancake-flat." Yes, there is a bridge over West Bay, but it's the largest "lump" in 56 or 112 miles of Northwest Florida. A "breakfast-quality" bike course doesn't separate the strong riders from the less strong as quickly; this gives Panama City's races the reputation for being a draft-fest. Strong bikers looking for a chance to make a trip to Hawaii have saved up their nickels and dimes for an early-November race...check YouTube for a bike's-eye-view of one section of the ride. Looked like the Tour de France.
The rules for bicycle riding in most triathlons are simple:
1. Ride on the right.
2. Pass on the left.
3. Stay at least two bike lengths back from the bike ahead.
4. If you want to pass, make the pass in 20 seconds, and,
5. If you get passed, drop back two bike lengths before you try to pass them again.
The rules are very simple when you read them to a person. The theoretically-simple becomes the practically-challenging when you tell the person to ride their bicycle this way. Multiply this challenge by several hundred persons on bicycles over a 50-mile stretch of road and the odds are very good someone will temporarily "forget" one or more of the rules.
Perhaps they won't do what they should because they can? Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Because Emanuel Kant's categorical imperative (live your life like your behavior would become a universal law) doesn't work well with nearly a thousand cyclists, there I was, riding on the back of a Harley-Davidson. Nine motorbikes and race officials, including my driver and myself, did our best to make certain all these athletes worked and played fairly together.
The first hour was fairly eventful, as two waves of athletes merged with each other about 15 miles into the ride. Most of the time the sound of that big Harley and those nice, loud exhaust pipes were enough to "remind" athletes of the rules and "encourage" them to follow them to the best of their ability. It's much like how we slow our cars down to a couple of miles above the speed limit when we see a state trooper on the highway.
However, the occasional rider sometimes "misses the memorandum" or didn't remember the rules from the athlete's meeting. Not else a guy can do but count off time, identify the rider and take down information; the head referee will sort it out at the end.
Near the end of the morning, we would approach a pack of riders and began to think of the old Irish ballad, "Danny Boy," '...the pipes, the pipes, are calling...' One rider near the back of the line, perturbed at what he thought was happening up ahead, looked at me and gesticulated with his left hand.
I know, friend. Just because they think they can doesn't mean they should.
Harley-Davidson is, quite often, an effective tool when you need to remind a crowd of bicyclists about the rules. Well, unless you're riding one bike length behind a very attractive cyclist.
Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
It's a lot like road race etiquette and protocol. There are many things which are - while not completely impermissible - are usually not fair to other race participants, and may not endear you to the race director on occasions...things like banditing (even if you don't go through the finish chute), going back up the course after you've finished to pace another racer in, self-seeding too far forward in the pack (especially with jogging strollers). On a personal note, I would even add arguing about the distance of a certified course (The "my GPS says..." argument?) in that short list. Sure, the individual racer can do these things, but it usually makes life a little more difficult for the rest of the community.
Just because you can doesn't mean that you should. Unless you find those duckie Speedos in your size.