Monday, November 06, 2006

Bike Racing Versus Running Racing, Part 1

When a bike racer goes to a running race for the first time, his likely reaction is "Damn, look at all these young people, ...and are all those women really going to race, or are they just here to cheer for their husbands/boyfriends?!?"

The answer for all you spandex-clad middle-aged white-and-nerdy male chauvinists is:

Yes, they are racing. And there are probably more women than men.

What a contrast to bike racing! Here's a little data for you. I took the results of last weekend's SB Half Marathon (just runners, not walkers) and broke it down. This plot shows the age-group and sex percentages of the ~1,500 finishers. More women than men, and the 20-29 group is the most populous.

Now let's do the same thing for bike racing using the USCF membership data for the SoCal region. There are nearly 3,000 licensed riders and here is the percentage breakdown by age group and sex...


Pretty sad, eh!?! BY FAR, more men than women, and most of them are in the 40-49 group. Why are the demographics so different???

8 comments:

Butthead said...

"Why are the demographics so different???"

Another easy one...your comparing the wrong events. Running events are more comparable to "Century" and "AIDS ride" type events...not to bicycle racing. In both those events, the vast majority of the participants are just going at their own speed and the main accomplishment is just in finishing the distance or beating a previous time.

Bicycle racing is more analogous to master's track events.

Marco Fanelli said...

Butthead said:
"the vast majority of the participants are just going at their own speed and the main accomplishment is just in finishing the distance or beating a previous time"

And this explains what exactly???

Besides, the same can be said for most bike racers, as in, the majority aren't really competing because the don't have a prayer of winning. Many just feel satisfied finishing in the bunch. They just think they are cooler than century riders!

I'll try to dig up some stats for you, such as membership in USAT&F and participating in championship races, etc. BTW, look at participation in high-school and college cross-country... it's nowhere near as male/female skewed as bike racing is.

Marco Fanelli said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Butthead said...

Marco said:
"Besides, the same can be said for most bike racers, as in, the majority aren't really competing because the don't have a prayer of winning. Many just feel satisfied finishing in the bunch. They just think they are cooler than century riders!"

They're not only "cooler"...they're fitter. There's a minimum fitness level required to "finish in the bunch" even at the lowest levels of bicycle racing. You're comparing apples to oranges...on many levels.

Besides...cycling is a "gadget" sport...guys like gadgets. Gals...not so much. That may sound sexist, but it's true. I'm not saying there aren't any "gadget-lovin'" gals out there. They're just less common than "gadget-guys".

Marco Fanelli said...

Butthead,

What is it that you are disputing? I claimed that a far greater percentage of bike racers are male and older (30-50) than is the case for running racers. You said that is because there is a greater percentage of running "participants" who are not truly competitors and that they generally are not as fit as cyclists.

Well, lets look a bit deeper then. Based on a suggestion from SB runnnig guru Jim Kornell, I took the same results for the SB Half and applied a threshold to the "age-graded performance percentage" which is a normalizing factor relating age, percentage of world-record speed, and distance. With a threshold of 80% (very elite), there were 3 women and 3 men. At 70%, there were 23 women and 39 men. At 60%, 139 women and 172 men. And 50% has 479 women and 442 men.

Combined with the plot in my post, this does suggest that there are more women running at a "participation level" than men, but this data also shows to first order that the number of women *racing* is roughly comparable to the number of men, at least within a factor of 2.

Contrast that with bike racing where there are nearly 9 men for every 1 woman licensed in SoCal.

The same kind of analysis wold verify that there are more young *racers* in running than in cycling.

Now some homework for you: You said that licensed cyclists are "fitter" than the runners... How would you make the mapping from cycling to running in terms of, say, per-mile-pace for a median SoCal bike racer. What do you think a 40k tt time would be for the median, and further, what running per-mile pace would that be equivalent to for a half marathon distance? Let's get this discussion in apples-to-apples, which I suppose would require determining the power output for elite distance runners and cyclists, and then looking at the percentages of those values for regional and local competitors like us.

butthead said...

Hey...you can't give me homework!

Besides, you're asking me to spend way to much "math energy" on something I don't really give a dang about one way or the other ;-)

I think you may still be doing an apples-to-oranges comparison in trying to use 40K TT times vs. running pace. There's this thing called aerodynamics that mucks things up. Bikes have to honor it...runners, not so much. In addition, there are lots of ways to "hide" in the pack in a road race so that even the guys finishing "in the pack" can have vastly different power outputs/capabilities.

I think you'd be better off comparing bicycling climbing rates in W/kg vs. running power. I know that for a decent Cat 4 climber you're talking about a minimum of 4.5 W/kg. I'll let you figure the running pace vs. power output stuff...

I still say it's all about gadgets...oh...and danger too. Bicycle racing is a much riskier activity than running, from a physical safety standpoint.

velogirl said...

butthead gave you your answer.....because most men (including race promoters, coaches, male racers, blog commentators) don't really give a dang!

this could be a long post but I'll keep it basic because I'm racing tomorrow. women need to be welcomend/recruited into the sport. that isn't happening, with rare exception. and the way to retain them is to provide a support network where they can be challenged, supported, and grow. Dorothy Wong's made some headway in SoCal along with Bonnie Bourke.

Marco Fanelli said...

velogirl said:
> butthead gave you your answer...

Yes, but I had to argue with anyone named butthead!

> ...because most men (including
> race promoters, coaches, male
> racers, blog commentators)
> don't really give a dang!

Or at least not enough to be proactive about growing the women's side of the sport. (BTW, you can make the same points about juniors.)

There's reason to be optimistic in my opinion. Here in Santa Barbara, we'll have two women-only teams in 2007, both run by very enthusiastic and supportive women racers. They've been successful at recruiting former runners and triathletes, and they take the time to teach them all nuances of bike racing. Experienced bike racers take a lot of stuff for granted that can be overwhelming to new riders coming from a running or tri background.

Thanks for the comments and good luck in the races.