If you’re a serious racer, someone who wants to compete, diligently track your progress and continually improve, the casual nature of grass-roots racing might not be what you’re looking for, but I’d argue that’s kind of the point. For me, gross-roots races turn out to be some of the best races I go to all season, but there are lots of pros and cons to grass-roots racing, for sure. Starting with some of the cons:

  • Because the race isn’t part of the official ABA schedule, etc… it can more easily be cancelled.
  • The group sizes and make-ups fluctuate from week to week. This means it’s hard to really measure how you did from one race to the next, even if you know where you came in. Last week, maybe you came in 6th, but for whatever reason a few of the faster racers in your usual group didn’t show up, or decided to race down or up a group depending on how they were feeling that day. Self-seeding means, people move around a lot and this can skew your race results from week to week.
  • Races are typically shorter than ‘real’ ABA races, so you aren’t getting the full meal deal here. With that in mind, you have to know that these races don’t really prepare you for a full ABA race.
  • Results aren’t tracked with the same level of accuracy. Organizers shoot to get the top three right for each group (A, B & C) , but make no apologies for potential errors for those that come in after. This can be frustrating for the mid-packers who still want to know how they did, but that’s just the casual nature of this kind of racing…

Now here’s the pros:

  • These races are fun, and they’re meant to stay fun, so they just can’t be treated that seriously.
  • The lack of seriousness allows new racers to come out and try a race in a much less intimidating environment. The races are typically shorter as mentioned above, so this makes it even less difficult for new racers to break into the sport and cut their teeth a bit before trying a full-on race. This is additionally important because these ‘fun races’ act as training grounds for future ABA racers, and feed the race field numbers. This is especially the case in cyclo-cross – the ABA race fields have been steadily growing year-over-year.
  • There are no ABA points here, so if you have a bad race, or miss one because you decided to go watch the NHL season opener – oh wait… it doesn’t matter. You can catch next week’s race and it’s no big deal.
  • It’s also a bit easier on the organizers, who don’t need to do quite as much prep getting the race course ready, pay commissiars, bother with advance on-line racer registration and all that. It’s also easier for the racers – it’s  just show up, pay up and race. Nice and easy.

All in all, grass-roots racing, though it’s kind of seen as ‘no big deal’ when it comes to your race season, it really is an important part of keeping the sport healthy, removing barriers to people getting involved, increasing the number of people in the sport, etc… And for those of us who do most of the full ABA races, the grass-roots races give us a chance to remind ourselves why we got into racing in the first place. Here in Edmonton, we’re pretty lucky, with a grass-roots racing scene spanning the entire race season, including the Spring Series Road Races in the spring, then the Hardcore Mountain Bike Store Fat Tire Tuesday MTB Races mid-season, and then finishing up with the United Cycle Cyclo-Cross Tuesday Nighters.  Combined, you could have a really fun and full race season for a lot less $$$ just by frequenting these alone, never even entering a full-on ABA race. Further to that, does anyone see grass-roots racing eroding the ABA membership and race registrations at some point?

Do you have a preference: grass roots, versus ABA/UCI  sanctioned racing? Any key pros and cons to either I didn’t mention?