Yesterday, I finally renewed my racing license for 2011 and promptly bragged about it on Facebook. Of course, it was just a matter of time before a comment “You need a license to race bikes?” made an appearance. My knee-jerk reaction was to simply reply, “yes,” but as I started thinking about it, this thing we [racers] pay for every year is really not a license at all. Not legally speaking, that is.
These next few paragraphs might get a bit pedantic, but I’ll do my best to provide some comic relief. A legal definition of a license is permission to do something or enter somewhere; a license is also revocable at any time. Usually, these have to do with entry onto premises. One example is when you call a plumber. When the guy shows up, he’s given an implied license to walk his butt-crack into your house and inspect your pipes. But if the butt crack proves to be too much for you to handle, you can always ask him to leave – revoke the license. The other example is a ticket to a ball game. The ticket is a license to enter and watch, but as soon as you get too drunk and try to grope the good looking girl (depending on how much you had to drink, she might only be good looking to you) sitting next to you, your license gets revoked and you get thrown out.
With that working definition in mind, let’s see how a bike racing license issued by USA Cycling fits in. Let’s start with the “permission” part. So you really need permission to jump into a race? What would happen if you lined up without a number and raced? Your results wouldn’t count; if you’re in a team kit, your team (or the team) manager may get an earful from the official; this is technically called poaching a race because you haven’t paid an entry (you cannot have the luxury of paying for an entry w/out a license), but it’s not illegal. As far as road races are concerned, I’m not even sure that you could be charged with trespassing because the roads aren’t closed to traffic. With crits, there might be a better case made for trespass, but you are on a public street after all, so it’s anything but clear. So if you want, you can be an ass and enter a race without getting a license or paying, but knowing that your results won’t count and everyone in the peloton will look at you funny – you’ll also probably get stares for your hairy legs, too.
The other side of that coin is that you really don’t need a license to race in general. Get a bunch of your buddies together and have a race. Who’s stopping you? (rhetorical) So the permission aspect of our legal definition is clearly absent. Now, let’s try to find that “revocation at will” requirement, so maybe we can at least refer to this as a half-license type thing.
To get your Cat. 5 license, you just pay the $60. Then, you can stay in Cat. 5 for as long as you like, finish every race dead last, crash as many times as you want and no one will revoke your license. To get from Cat. 5 to Cat. 4, all you need to do is race 10 races. Then, once you have your Cat. 4 license, you can finish dead last in every Cat. 4 race, but still keep your license. It works exactly the same way all the way up to Cat. 1. Clearly, if you’re finishing every race dead last as a pro, you might not have a very long pro career.
So there, it’s not a license after all. It’s a club we join – one very large club, with a governing body, officers, regions, rankings, tabulations and benefits. We join this club because we want to race against others, preferably against the best (I mean who wants to be beaten by the worst?), and this club helps us get organized in promoting this effort. I guess next year my Facebook status update will read – “Just renewed my 2012 NCNCA membership!”