30 June 2008 was a momentous day in cycling history. That was the day the ‘Silly Commuting Racing’ thread on the BikeRadar forum was started. And nearly 1,300 pages later, it’s still going strong. Why? Because Silly Commuting Racing (SCR) makes every day a race day, every commute a challenge, and every other rider a potential competitor.
Catching up with some SCR regulars at the Morpeth Arms in Pimlico on one of their irregular Friday evening meets, it’s clear that there’s camaraderie as well as competitiveness. And, as they point out, we’ve probably all played the game ourselves. “This puts a name to that silly voice in the back of your head,” says Mark, aka ‘Clever Pun’. “You’re on a high, someone tries to overtake you and it’s ‘no, no, no!’”
During its early days the SCR’s rules were formalised, with a strict scoring system taking into account the type of cyclist you’re overtaking – or ‘scalping’ as forum parlance has it. The cycling food chain has scooters at the top of the 14 bikes listed; ‘roadies with shaved legs – like girls’ are second, with ‘proper rapid singlespeed (real men, messengers, tarty shiny fixies)’ third; electric bikes are at the bottom.
It may sound like a complicated system, but forum user ‘Fury21’ simplified it very early on: “If you get confused on the road, think of it this way – if you drop anyone who looks faster than you: +1. If you get dropped by anyone that looks slower than you: -1. Couldn’t be simpler!”
But they’re a responsible lot, and there’s no jumping red lights for the SCR rouleurs. “It’s all about doing it safely,” says ‘Clever Pun’. “There’s no point causing danger. On my 15-mile commute if I jumped every red light I might get to work five minutes earlier. And it gives us a bad name.” All the rules of the road have to be obeyed at all times, even if – as one forum user recounts – a policeman on a bike tries to beckon you through a red light.
Many of those who came to SCR found it by accident. Self-described commuter racing newbie ‘Sketchley’ got involved on his return from the World Cup in France; finding himself out of shape, he went to BikeRadar looking for bike-buying advice. Olivia, aka ‘Lost_in_Thought’, asked a question about fixed-gear bikes – she was met with a chorus of “girls don’t ride fixed-gear bikes, are you sure you’re a girl?” – but after that she caught the SCR bug. She’s aware that it’s still a predominantly male pastime. “I do try to recruit other women to commuter racing, but it is quite a blokey thing… and boys don’t like being overtaken by girls!”
We expected tales of car-related carnage, but the SCR regulars were sanguine in their assessment of other road users. Apart from ‘IT Boffin’, who’d had three run-ins with taxis in the previous week, there was a pleasingly low incident count, with the most serious injury the result of a fall on the train home after a post-Friday pub session. Do watch out when it rains, though, says ‘IT Boffin’: “When it’s dark and raining everybody switches off their brains.”
SCR membership can lean towards the obsessive. Last year’s commuter racer of the year, ‘Clever Pun’ Mark, clocked up over 8,000 miles – and there are tales of riders stretching their usual 10-mile commute to 70 miles. Mark even got a little trophy for his efforts, which he achieved on a Brompton, a road bike, a fixie and even a Boris bike!
But the main thing is the racing, and especially collecting scalps of riders higher up the cycling food chain. ‘Wrath Rob’ is typical: “I have my flat-barred mountain bike [number 8 on the cycling food chain] – I like being able to scalp on that thing. I’m never caught by anything!” But we’ll leave the last word to Mark: “If someone goes past you and it looks like they’re not trying, you go ‘Aaarrggghhhh!’ If you can beat someone on a hill it’s a lot more fun. Inside you’re saying ‘Please let this hill end’.”
For more about the world of Silly Commuter Racing, go to www.itsnotarace.org. This site has links to the BikeRadar thread, SCR Facebook page and Twitter. Itsnotarace also has a Food Chain Calculator, so you can work out your own cycling food number, or CFN.
The food chain: where do you come in the system?
- Roadies with shaved legs*
- Proper rapid singlespeeds (real men, messengers, tarty shiny fixies)*
- Roadies with hairy legs*
- Faux singlespeeds (fakengers, dirty/functional bikes, silly eggbeater gears)*
- Touring bikes (mudguards)*
- Fast hybrids*
- MTBs on skinnies*
- MTBs on knobblies
- Bromptons/collapsing bikes
- MTB full-sus on knobblies
- Shoppers with wicker baskets
- Electric bikes
Flats: +1. Toe Clips: 0. Clipless/SPDs: -1
The Rules: Silly Commuter Racing By Numbers
- No dangerous manoeuvres. Don’t be a danger to others or yourself. Falling off causes pain to you and others around you, and you lose yer points!
- Don’t ride like a c*ck, we’re all just trying to get somewhere!
- No passing at lights/ junction/crossings. All passing on open roads only.
- Filtering in traffic is null and void (you know if you’ve dropped someone fairly, and haven’t turned off afterwards)
- Pavement passes – either you or the target is void
- Show no pain – unless your face is just like that