To Heckle, or Too Mean? – An Op-Ed on Heckling in Cyclocross by Daniel Curtin

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Heckling can be a fun part of cyclocross, but can be a curse too. "Carrying the Cross" by Sean Horita

Heckling can be a fun part of cyclocross, but can be a curse too. “Carrying the Cross Bike” by Sean Horita from Issue 5

You expect it. Even as a new racer, you know about it. It seems a primarily American thing, but it’s certainly not completely unique to our scene. But the frequency, volume, and popularity of it is unique to the US. And for the most part it’s something every racer faces down at some point at any given race in any category. Sometimes, not even juniors are spared.

Heckling.

We’ve talked about this before—see Ryan Kelly’s great treatise on heckling way back in Issue 5. But now, as the sport gets bigger, new racers and spectators are coming in without full understanding of what heckling—and heckling well—means.

Texting to the HeckleOnline.com Heckle Goul. © Karen Wells Hamilton

OVCX has embraced heckle tech. Here, texting to the HeckleOnline.com feeds the Heckle Goul. © Karen Wells Hamilton

There are, to be sure, artists among us. Folks who can get the crowd going, get a response or a grin from a rider. The ones whose material you steal and take to the next race in your own hometown. These are the pros. And their one-liners, like so many Internet memes, get passed around until they too are the equivalent of the double rainbow guy or the honey badger—the thing everyone’s heard a thousand times to the point it isn’t even funny anymore—“you’re getting ‘chicked’” comes immediately to mind. Bor-ing.

But there’s another heckler in our midst. If the artist is funny, this heckler is the polar opposite. The hack technique resorts simply to “you suck,” or profanity, or perhaps worst of all, personal insults.

Bear in mind that not every heckler who resorts to such tactics uses them 100% of the time. They may be childhood friends with the racer in question. They may be family members. They may be teammates. But even still, the hack method is like my poor remounting technique. It’s ugly, inefficient, and deserves to be made fun of in its own right. Plus, like everyone sees my stutter step, everyone hears these out of place comments but not everyone knows the back-story, if there is one.

Recently a category 4 racer took to his local race association’s forum and said he was hanging up his cantis. That he was done with cyclocross, because he:

“…was called fat, people that I don’t know threw water on me, and I was basically ridiculed on every lap. My wife told me after the race that it was not only me, but the children/juniors, people older than myself, and people with physical challenges were ridiculed as well. What makes matters worse is that most of the insults came from the guy with the PA, but the crowds failure to act is what condoned this ‘bullying’…an epidemic in today’s schools.”

Simply put, this isn’t right. Even if you think the rider in question may not have understood that heckling was part of it, personal attacks on people’s physical attributes simply isn’t or shouldn’t be part of the game. Same is true if you think the rider in question was a bit oversensitive. Doesn’t much matter.

I’m not sure what specifically was said. But if it was enough for a rider to take to a public forum, call out the crowd, and quit the sport, there was in all likelihood something said that was over the line. And it appears it was said over a microphone.

As a result of this incident, there was some discussion among a few local riders about where the heckling line was, if there was a line, if it was different for different riders or different racers or different hecklers. A general consensus of sorts was reached with folks generally thinking that:

  • It was different if the rider in question was experienced; cat 1 vs cat 5, cat 3 vs junior, etc. More experienced, older racers know what’s coming.
  • Heckling from the mic has to be reserved for true artists. Or simply avoided altogether.
  • Profanity should be avoided.

Of course, the crowd gets going and folks start trying to top one another. In spots where cyclocross is growing trying to “create the scene” is as much a part of any race weekend as the racing itself. And the effort to outdo the prior week’s event may be leading to some up tick in poor-form heckling. “Overcompensation,” as one rider put it.

None of this is to say the sport needs to be sterilized. My family goes to a majority of the races where we live. My wife and I are adults and know what to expect. And neither of us look to the crowd at a race to raise our kid—that’s our job. We put the kid in the venue, so it’s our responsibility to explain, should it come up or at an appropriate time, why it’s OK for some folks and not OK for her to say certain words. And why it’s never OK to make fun of folks based on looks and to explain the unique culture and community that we choose to be a part of and it talk about that “line” when she’s old enough to get it. But we can’t do that for every new rider, every junior, every family in tow. So the crowd has to take some responsibility for doing it “right.”

Of course, venues change. Settings are different. What might be right at the local weeknight practice race might not be when at the Saturday main event. Generally though, as one rider suggested, “heckle you friends, encourage everyone else” and that seems to make some good, common sense when paired with avoiding personal attacks and profanity.

As cyclocross apostles we have a duty to create the culture properly.  I spend a fair amount of time explaining the sport to friends. Even to other cyclists and racers in other disciplines. I tell them “it’s so much more fun than every other style of bike racing. Much more welcoming and great for new racers and spectators.” I don’t want to be made out to be a liar by the insulted rider any more than he wants to be insulted. I don’t want to see cyclocross carry the badge that–wrongfully in my opinion–roadies carry. And I certainly don’t want to see cyclocross compared to the NFL.

We need to up our heckling game.

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daniel curtin

Daniel J Curtin Jr works for Bicycle Sport Shop in Austin, Texas and sits on the board of the Ghisallo Foundation, a local cycling non-profit. When not skulking about the shop or writing board meeting minutes, he captains his ’cross team. A recovering lawyer, his primary gig is stay-at-home dad to his 4-year-old daughter/director sportif.
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84 comments
MalcolmUK
MalcolmUK

,:Heckling is such a strong word, it's what us Brits do to politicians and crappy stand up comedians, putting down hecklers is an art, just read up on the masters such as Winston Churchill and Nye Bevin. Sledging is what we call insults, quite rare unless Aussies are involved eg "shift yer arse fatso" or "you geriatrics ...". Banter is where the fun is, gentle ribbing. Several comments from my last race- I race in the Central League here in England - Strugglin up a grassy bank a spectator yelling "oi! your wheels nearly going round mate", after looking stuffed passing the commentator, the next lap James Brown s I Feel Good blasted out of the p.a., "for rider 110, Mal needs a boost" etc. My fave from that race, as us over 50s were being gridded some very fit lads from the uber competative Notts & Derby League were lining up with us, one voice piped up "Don't they realize that this is a gentleman's league"

Jason Kooken
Jason Kooken

All Hecklers bow down before Corey, Bob Threeton take note the hecler van will not be denied!

seanwittmer
seanwittmer

What I find interesting is the posts that tell people that they should basically harden up and take the heckling. Would you walk up to a person on the sidewalk or in the home depot and tell them they are fat or blocking you and to get the f out of the way 'cause you are a loser? I doubt it. You'd likely get confronted right back in your face. Or get something else in your face.

It's kind of hard for to stop during their race, where they are full on anaerobic to let you know that you are being a dick. Being a dick outside the tape is pretty easy. Kind of like being an anonymous poster on a cycling site. 

Heckle the pros or your friends if you feel the need, but doing to the cat 5 racer that just started 'cross is makes you a dick in my book.

DjangoFurioso
DjangoFurioso

Even Nys doesn't tolerate spectators throwing stuff on him (look it up if you don't know). That, raw profanity, and personal attacks have no place in cross. This sport is hard enough without having to dismount to beat the stuffing out of someone.

BCC
BCC

I've raced cross in New England since it began and never heard heckling until cxmag starting hyping the Georgia Gould heckleme campaign. Since then cxmag has been trying to promote it as part of cx history. Really? Hurling insults at someone isn't a good way to grow the sport. This country deals with far too much bullying, insulting, sarcasm, and attacks on self esteem as it is. Trying to defend it as an art form is sophomoric at best. It's not a part of the cx I grew up with. Like most, I see races are a refuge from all the sarcastic loudmouths that pervade society. Bringing drunken loudmouths into the scene and encouraging them to be rude is poor form, we already get enough of that in our daily lives. Hand ups are fun, costumes in good taste are fun, being rude isn't, nor is being around unfiltered drunks. Cxmag should report on the sport and stop trying to shape it. The sport is hard to compete in and exciting to watch, it doesn't need to be marketed as an anything goes out of control freak show. When someone gets up the courage to dive in, the last thing they need is Jerry Springer's audience making them feel bad about themselves. It is irresponsible to expect spectators to police themselves especially when they are receiving mixed messages. The sport is already fun without the contrived hijinks.

Matthewpisano
Matthewpisano

I agree with the both of your statements. This is a great sport. There are so many great people involed in it.Your really have a great time. I have seen it grow from the early 90s to today. I cant wait for race day.

WOOOO HOOOO!!!

Garrett Dunnam
Garrett Dunnam

All that doesn't sound like hecklers. Sounds more like dumb ass morons. I heckle with means I say things that are mean but the people I heckle know what I'm really saying and I keep it clean weather my kids are with our not.and don't bad month any one the last few laps when they truly suffering. Our people I don't know. That what heckling is. Not actually trying to mess up some ones race or disrupt the course. That's dumb and no fun. Heckling should be fun nit drunk moronic behaviour.

Seth Bradley
Seth Bradley

I was just pointing out that you are an artist.

Myles Romanow
Myles Romanow

Im shocked that people are throwing things. Thats disgusting. Think thats the reason were not doing beer this year

Cyclocross Magazine
Cyclocross Magazine

Kenji Sugahara, well said, and that's exactly why we posted this, as we want the sport to be welcoming to all.

Matthewpisano
Matthewpisano

I get that. But out of all the cycling disiplines cross is getting big. We do need people showing up and having a good time. Yes I beleave the harder the course the better. But people should not feel like shit racing or hanging out at the races. You can say suck it up but I don't know about you, But myself if some is there to start shit with me and put me down, They are going to be in a heap of trouble. So all you bullys or smucks stay home. For everyone who wants to have a good time come out and have some fun.

Matthewpisano
Matthewpisano

Here in Pa Our team knows a lot of riders. I yell words of encouragement. Move it catch Them Bridge up. Stuff like that. I know at our races I haven't heard bad things. But if you are yelling crap like that to the racers,

STAY HOME!!!!  We all are racing our asses off whatever place we come in we earned it. And were proud of it!!!

rfh1949
rfh1949

Our races in Kansas are fun.  We do not tolerate obscene behavior at races.  I have had to argue with someone who was visiting last year from Chicago.  When I called him on it, he stated "that is the way we do it in Chicago".  I was really disappointed to hear that response because I grew up in Chicago.  I heckle but I do it in a positive manner, most of the riders know it is coming from me and they know that I care about them and the sport.  I am not mean nor obscene because I know what is the limits.  CX is so much fun to set up, promote, take pictures, play DJ, all of it, it is the greatest time of the year. 

Martin Lisk
Martin Lisk

I have to say Kenji is one of the best representatives for bicycling racing in the United States. Glad to be part of OBRA and do my little part to help out. So many others to include, but Kenji has been a central point for OBRA and Oregon cycling leadership

craigmacintyre
craigmacintyre

As I read through the comments I am struck by the disparate opinions.  However, I am more disturbed by the "man up" type comments.  Heckling in cross is really based in its roots when this was an "outlaw" sport.  Nobody was doing it, there was a tight knit community and it added to the fun and suffering.  As the sport has evolved and grown there have been various issues that have caused teething pains (course design, equipment, etc).  This issue, I think, is going to be the cornerstone.

I asked my wife about it and she was frank.  She doesn't like to go to cross races because while the intent of heckling is supposed to be fun, more times than not it isn't.  The atmosphere is one of a party and people are trying to have a good time.  However, to get from the back room to the show room things are going to have to change.  As reticent as I am to admit it, this is the one.  Blaming the victims is not a solution to the issue.

I love to heckle - good naturedly to those I don't know and a bit sharper to those I do.  However, knowing that there are kids around and this is supposed to be fun, I have reigned in some of the more bombastic things - save them for the fun rides and practice.  A good run of thumb is that if you wouldn't say it to your spouse in front of your kids it has NO place on the course.

If we want the sport to grown, become a viable mainstream spectacle and remain fun it will have to change.  If we don't, then leave it alone and love it for what it is.  But then be aware that it will remain the step-child of cycling in North America.  Nobody who wants a fun afternoon out with the family is going to wrap them up, drive to a crappy venue in the cold and listen to a bunch of drunken fools abuse the riders.  

If you want a simple analogy, frat parties were fun when you were in college but I sure don't want to have that experience at my company Christmas party.  Nobody else does either.

Myles Romanow
Myles Romanow

Theres nothing wrong with heckling; there's plenty wrong with being mean

Kenji Sugahara
Kenji Sugahara

So there's not much that irks me more than over-zealous heckling. It's super important that everyone steps up and says something. In Bend I saw a water balloon fly and hit someone. I grabbed the chief ref and we marched over and addressed the issue (with my 9 month old strapped to my chest no less). We got a promise that they would stop and would apologize to the rider - and I just sent an e-mail to confirm that this happened. There was another issue with water being sprayed at un-costumed individuals. We identified them and are addressing it with their team. This behavior goes against our whole ethos of making the sport welcoming and having a great and supportive community. There's a reason our kiddie cross, junior and women fields are big. It's because we work hard to create a supportive environment. We do not want to turn off parents from bringing their kids. We don't want to turn off new racers from coming back. Boorish behavior serves to dissuade people from coming to and participating in our events. I made a note in our e-newsletter that goes out to over 8,000 racers to cut the over-zealous heckling. We need more people in our sport- not less. This message not only has to come from the top, but from the promoters, the officials and everyone else in the community. Step up folks - this is our sport.

Kenji Sugahara
Kenji Sugahara

No prob man. Carrie- and anyone else shouldn't have to put up with that.

Stania Juriga
Stania Juriga

riders yelling at each other and giving each other a hard time is one thing...especially at a higher level of any sport but spectators heckling riders? seriously?!! I've never heard it up in canada but then again I haven't raced in 2 years...I would never do that standing on the side lines to a rider, I know how hard they work out there beginner or pro...what kind of lazy shi* thinks it's ok to heckle someone?? especially if they've never worked that hard themselves ever, what do they know??!...I like to think if someone had the idiocy to actually pull that kind of crap up here, the other spectators would take them out behind the barn (so to speak)... teach them a lesson in manners...

Ann Blackburn Hiner
Ann Blackburn Hiner

Yeah, read that earlier. I personally only yell stop sucking to Mark Bayer :-p

Myles Romanow
Myles Romanow

Its definitely a recent thing out east as well. There's good natured fun to be had, especially if you are a pro heckler.. "Hey tim johnson was just here 3 minutes ago he said to say hi", but more and more we're seeing just total assholes step up with "you suck" esque attempts. It's really not pleasant ,or entertaining to be around.

rigidbicycle
rigidbicycle

Blah, blah, blah, bloo bloo bloo.   We heckle in Austin.  Get over it.  BABIES!!

Mike Thomas
Mike Thomas

The North Carolina CX Series is one of the best ever! The race officials are awesome; they keep EVERYBODY straight! If I ever hear somebody heckle a Junior racer, they are going to have to deal with all 6'5, 230 lbs. of me. BTW, CX Natz in Asheville, NC in 2016!

Erik Martin
Erik Martin

Cx is a great sport but for some reason people think its ok to shit talk the racers. No one would tolerate this behavior in any other sport. The fascination with blow up dolls at races is inappropriate as well. My daughter races cx. We made the trip to Louisville just so she could see Katie Compton race at Worlds. We had a great time except for the drunkards who thought it was great fun to lower their blowup doll in front of my ten year daughters face over and over again during the race as the racers rode past. People need to have a little.class.

Brett Hooton
Brett Hooton

cheers/jeers it's all the same for me. I read the article & thought-uh oh here come the FUN POLICE again. The heckling guide lines are exactly the ones I have always used. I could care less less what someone yells @ me, just keep the Jagermeister coming on the crappy stair run ups & offer a burning dollar once in a while.

Hemanth Shenoi
Hemanth Shenoi

Forget them and their pathetic lives. You are a hero for getting our there while they go home to mommie's basement to play video games.

Hemanth Shenoi
Hemanth Shenoi

Hecklers are bullies and have no place in cycling. We all saw Sven Nys chase down an ass who doused him with beer and I'd like to believe that I would do the same. As your mother said, if you have nothing nice to say, shut your pie hole.

bkisch
bkisch

If you don't race don't heckle. Unless of course you are my 5 yo daughter standing behind the tape screaming "pick it up buttercup" at everyone! She even heckled the elites in Providence last year. 

Cyclocross Magazine
Cyclocross Magazine

Curtis Manley, we think the biggest assumption there is that he already likes the sport. Perhaps he was just giving it a try hoping to find something fun that he would like, but found it is not worth the ridicule and that's not how he wants to spend his free time.

kenrides
kenrides

I am not a fan of ccx heckling at all.  I simply don't get it.  In no other sport I can think of, is this accepted.  I'm also not sure where all this "clever, appropriate" heckling is happening as I've been racing ccx many years and I can't recall any heckling I appreciated or that made me smile.  Cheering, yeah.  Heckling that leaves me down happens all the time however.  Usually it's an aggressive attack on my racing style or relative success in a tricky section.  Sure I don't ride as well as better riders.  Why is that your job to point out to me?  The last one, someone just yelled, "Don't put your foot out!!" as I cornered a muddy 180 turn.  I just yelled back "Don't tell me what to do!  I'm my own man!!"  At least they tend to shut up at that point.

Curtis Manley
Curtis Manley

I am anything but an internet tough guy... but this guy quit doing something he likes because some people at a race hurt his feelings? Really? Bullying is definitely a hot topic issue right now but it could be dealt with a little more effectively if people would quit being such victims. I suck at cyclocross. I have this reaffirmed to me by strangers at each race. I will keep going. I will keep sucking (he he). And will hopefully not suck as much at the end of the season as I do at the beginning.

Brad Joe Scott Howard
Brad Joe Scott Howard

If you can hear what they are saying over the sound of your heart pounding...you aren't riding hard enough!

Robyn Michelle Angeles
Robyn Michelle Angeles

He just slaps the kid out, and knocks the beer from his hand ... words, walks away (Underaged drinker, I'm guessing.) Good for him, some people really need a "Reality check!"

Matthewpisano
Matthewpisano

@Mike Thomas  Yep your seris rocks. I raced with one of your master racers. Fast as hell and a great guy also.

rigidbicycle
rigidbicycle

@craigmacintyre @rigidbicycle I DON'T care.  Whiners will whine.  When I hear complaining about the course I set it up harder the next week.  It's cyclocross not kickball.  If you wear a skin suit to a race you are going to get heckled.  If you complain about the course I will make it harder.  If you quit the sport because you have thin skin go ride the hike and bike trail (btw: I love hike and bike). 

rigidbicycle
rigidbicycle

@craigmacintyre @rigidbicycleAs a beer drinking heckler I have never made personal insults, racial slurs or ever sprayed racers with water or any other substance.  I am an equal opportunity heckler.  Grow some skin.  LOL "respect and common decency"  

craigmacintyre
craigmacintyre

@rigidbicycle @craigmacintyre You are kind of making my point.  Heckling and complaining about a sport have nothing to do with each other.  Unless it is dangerous, nobody I know complains seriously about a hard course.  We may bitch and moan cause we sucked but we are all in it together.There is absolutely nothing fun or funny about drunk's yelling personal insults at riders, even if it is an "inside joke" between them.  When the guys I ride with are out by ourselves we talk sh!t constantly.  The moment others are involved it gets dialed back.  If I recall, that is called respect and common decency.

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