Saturday, July 30, 2011

Feed Zone Etiquette

So any bike race longer than 50 miles is going to have a feed zone in it.  This is an area where riders can pick up water bottles and throw away empty ones while racing.  This can lead to some dangerous situations, so here are a few rules to try to keep people from hurting themselves.  My wife, who is every bit as judgemental as I, is gracious enough to spend hours at a time driving to feed zones and waiting for me to ride by them.  She is quite adept at feeding me, and has contributed enough wisdom for me to produce 2 sets of rules: 1 for the feeders, and another for the cyclists.  I'll start with the cyclists.

Besides basic human decency, there's a reason for this:
The "volunteers" aren't doing this out of their love for racing.  There is often an organization that does this in order to raise funds for other sports teams, to which the race promoter makes a donation, or payment, or whatever.
This means that the people handing you bottles are members of a high school lacrosse team, or a bunch of soccer moms.  They are most likely doing this for the first time and are learning as they go.  If you make the experience unpleasant by yelling at them, they aren't going to want to do it again, and we'll all suffer a new crop of clueless rookies next time.  These people can't tell the difference between you and Lance Armstrong, so be nice to them, and they'll appreciate it.  Say "thank you" if you can breathe.  If you can't, say it to someone after the race.

Get to the right side of the road.
Feeding from the left is against the rules, and it's dangerous and stupid.  Throwing/catching bottles is also dangerous and stupid.  If you want a bottle, get as far right as you can without hitting anybody.

Slow down.
Especially if you aren't climbing already.  Missing a bottle at 25mph sucks for you, but it sucks a lot more for the 50 people behind you who have to dodge it.  Don't be the guy that caused the crash in the feed zone.  Plus if your first bottle ends up on asphalt, you have to slow down and try again anyway, or get nothing.

The ideal feedzone situation goes something like this:  You anticipate it, and get to the front of the group on the right side of the road.  You throw your existing bottles where they will be easily found, but won't hit anybody or anything (like my wife or her parked car, douchebag). Grab the first 1 or 2 (depending on what you need) bottles and get to the left side of the road as safely as possible.  I tend to hold the first bottle in my teeth while going for the second.  It's easier than trying to put it in the holder while watching where you're going.

Granted, this isn't how it's going to be every time, but if you REALLY want your feed, this is how it should be done.  Otherwise, you need to be ok with the possibility of missing it, and it will be nobody's fault but your own.

For the Feeders:
My wife has been to almost as many bike races as I have, and she's gotten to know the way that feedzones work.  There is always 1 person who thinks they're in charge, but they often have no clue what they're doing.  Here is what you need to know, and don't listen to the bossy idiot.

Right side only.
Again, it's the rule, and its unsafe any other way.

If it's cold outside, sometimes people don't want to stand in the middle of the road for hours waiting for riders to come by.  A cooler or a stack of bottles on the shoulder acts as a place holder.  Respect it.

Hold the bottle by the top nipple thing, and let it hang straight down.  This makes it easiest to grab, and least likely that you'll be holding onto it when they grab it.  This does make it easy to knock the bottle out of your hand and onto the ground, but if this happens, it's the cyclist's fault, not yours.

Stand Still.
Don't run.  Don't move.  Don't swing your arm and try to match speed with the cyclists.  Trying to get a bottle from a moving target is way harder than a stationary one.  Plus you're running and looking back at the cyclist, and not the other feeder you're about to slam into...

If you're neutral, say so.  If you aren't neutral, say the name of the team you're supporting:
Otherwise, I'm going to try to grab the bottle, you won't let go, it'll end up on the ground, and nobody will be happy.

I think that's it. 

Feedzones are hectic.  Riders anticipate them for as long as volunteers are sitting around waiting for the riders to show up.  The entire ordeal lasts only a few seconds, but has the potential to ruin somebody's race.  Just keep in mind that we're all doing this for fun, and that staying calm and being prepared are the best ways to promote success.  Freaking out is only going to make everything worse.

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