August 29, 2003

Transport as sport

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

Tonight, chez moi, Patrick Crozier (no less) is to give a talk about Formula One motor racing, which suggests a further piece of writing along the lines of: "Please, please add some comments however inane just to suggest to each individual passer-by that he is not the only reader of this." See my previous posting here about Transport in Art (which also invited a sub-string of comments about Animals in Transport).

Next suggested comment stream, Transport in Sport. Horses, cars, boats. Airplanes. Remember those legendary Schneider Trophy races which gave birth to the Spitfire. Okay fighter airplanes aren't transport. But there are surely some semi-sporting contests along the lines of crossing the Atlantic the fastest that have made meaningful contributions to transport development. And come to think of it, the early days of motor racing were not some kind of refuge from everyday driving; they too were a contribution towards its improvement (i.e. its speeding up).

My favourite transport sports, at least as ideas, are definitely those twin blooms of Americana, Stock Car Racing (ancient saloon cars) and whatever they call that amazing sport where they charge around in the front bits (only the front bits) of huge articulated lorries. Trucks, I guess that would be in the USA. And I seem to recall the word "Derby" making an appearance in among such things.

Beneath and beyond all such geekery, there lies a theory, which is that, just as some sportiness may be involved in developing it in the first place, as soon as a means of transport has had its day, it survives, but as a sport. Think about it. Horses. Really fast cars (increasingly banned from everyday life). The Duke of Edinburgh does some weird kind of chariot racing, does he not?

The theory probably only applies to individually controllable means of transport. It's hard to see how you could have a train race. Although come to think of it they did have train races, in the early days, when trains were still speeding up on a regular basis. But train races after all the real railways have been shut down couldn't really work, could it?

Ballooning never really took off (sorry couldn't resist it) as a serious thing, but it survives hugely as a sport, I believe. And think of all the sport that goes into sailing, which has definitely had its day as serious way to do any business besides selling sailing stuff to sailing sporties. Something rather similar seems to be happening with skate-boarding. Presumably ice-skating survives as a serious way to get around in a few odd places, but that too is now mostly sport.

There should probably be lots more entertaining and useful links besides the one ego-link scattered in among all this. Apologies for omitting them. I must now rush to try to have my place a bit cleaner for Patrick's talk this evening. Have nice weekend, doing whatever you do, racing whatever item of ex-transport you race, watching the racing of whatever item of ex-transport …

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While they're not actually obsolete technology, there are apparently people who enjoy racing school buses.

Posted by Tino on August 29, 2003

http://www.nicolecooke.com/
http://www.itsmillartime.com/
http://www.mariocipollini.net/
http://www.danilodiluca.com/
http://www.danielenardello.it/
http://www.michelebartoli.com/
http://www.janullrich.de/
http://www.erikdekker.nl/
http://www.johanmuseeuw.com/
http://www.stuartogrady.com.au/
http://www.lancearmstrong.com/
http://www.tylerhamilton.com
http://www.hincapie.com/
http://www.axelmerckx.com/

Brian, You only missed out the greatest sport/pursuit in the world ever!!!

I know that to a man who sits on the edge of his seat watching 2 blokes run up and down between a couple of posts while 11 other fellas stand around watching in between throwing a coconut around for five interminable days, that watching the worlds fittest and toughest athletes compete in all weathers, from the coldest Belgian rain to the scorching Midi sun, from the smoothest Spanish roads to the roughest Flandrian tracks, from battling the wind across the flattest Dutch polder to the steepest Dolomite mountain, cycling might not seem very interesting. But to some folks (http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=7993_Scatman) it's the greatest sport there is. And the great thing about it is everyone can do it and feel the same sensations that the pro's feel. As I rolled up Duncton Hill (ordnance survey map), having covered 54miles of my 68mile ride on Wednesday, my legs would have felt as tired and sore as a pro's riding in to Leige after riding to Bastogne and back in one of the oldest races on the calendar (Liege Bastogne Liege was first run in 1892). Yes it hurts. But in a good way and the sense of satisfaction after a tough ride is hard to express to a non-rider. I also love being out in the country. Only this past week I've seen the farmers ploughing their wheat fields ready to plant next year's harvest.Two weeks before that the combines were out in the baking hot weather collecting this year's.

Interestingly, turning to libertarian enlightened self-interest for a moment, cycling began as a professional sport. This is rather unusual as most sports, especially those starting out in Victorian times were initially played by amateurs for fun. Bicycle manufacturers saw that they could get publicity for thier product by sponsoring riders. Newspapers organised most of the early races, both for publicity as well as the added sales from having the heroes of the day on their front pages. The Tour de France was organised by l'Auto et Velo in response to a rival organising another event. The tour had to be bigger and better to capture the public's imagination. It also mattered outside of mere sales too because in 1903 these two papers were on either side of Dreyfus affair. Even today the Societe du Tour de France is still owned by the owners of l'Equipe, a decendent of l'Auto. 'Amateur' cycling, at the top level anyway, was a fabrication invented for the corinthian 1896 Olympics. It's nadir of pointlessness was in the 1970s and 80s when full time athletes like Sergei Soukhoroutchenkov of the USSR and Olaf Ludwig of the GDR where winning the Olympic road races against plucky Tommy Blenkinsop of Great Britain taking advantage of factory shutdown to hang on for 10 lap. Okay I made up Tommy Blenkinsop but you get the point. Consequently, since the mid 90s there has been no distinction between pro and amateur. Riders at UCI sanctioned events are classed as either elite or under 23.
I have a pet-theory that bicycle racing is one of the purest demonstrations of the idiocy of the socialist equality is everything mantra. The bicycle is great leveller. Me or Charles Johnson could ride up Duncton hill on the latest carbon fibreColnago creation, built with the lightest gearsets, saddles and handlebars and yet anyone of the pro's listed above could set off at the same time on a heap dredged up from the local canal and still be waiting for us at the top. Hence, we are not equal and each man must climb every hill from a relative pimple like Duncton to the Großglockner using his efforts alone and only he is able to reap the reward. It isn't much surprise then, to learn that the second black world champion in any sport was a cyclist, the first was a boxer - another sport professional from birth. No affermative action can help conquer Col d' Izoard.
Okay. So Lance Armstrong is a republican but I'm not sure how much more cycling/non-socialist correlation there is. Given cycling traditional but not nearly so today working class competitors and fans probably not enough to draw a conclusion.
Anyway enough. Keep enjoying your cricket and I'll enjoy my bike. At least our activites will be linked by your sport's Flemish name and mine's popularity in that part of the world.
Mark

Posted by mark holland on August 29, 2003

Brian, you said the word "Derby" was sometimes connected with these various stock car races, etc. Usually that refers to a "Demolition Derby" -- a contest where drivers deliberately crash into each other's cars, attempting to disable the other vehicle, with the winner being the person driving the last car capable of movement. (I hadn't thought about it before, but this is probably a peculiar U.S. sport, right?) Hmmm, sort of anti-transport contests, aren't they? These events are usually held as part of county fairs (i.e., more in rural than urban areas) along with events like tractor drag-racing, tractor pulls and automobile daredevil shows.

Posted by Jim on August 30, 2003

One of the problems faced by public ---i.e. group --- transport is that it must compete with the car as fun. So mant of our sports (as opposed to games) involve movement through space: skiing, sailing, horesback riding, cycling, rollerblading, walking, white water rafting, the list is endless. We love to be in motion, especially when we can direct things. That's tough competition for communal travel.

Posted by City Comforts on August 31, 2003

Let us not forget the oldest transport of all, running. Now done seriously over long distances(in the first world at least) only as a sport.

Trotting races are clearly optimized chariots.

If you want to look at a perculiar American sport, look at 1/4 mile racing. Now associated mostly with cars and bikes, this was actually developed in the 1600s when the quarter horse was developed. (http://meme.essortment.com/quarterhorsesh_raga.htm)

Posted by Patrick on September 1, 2003

Patrick

Running. Good point. Hadn't thought of that one, but you're right.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on September 1, 2003

In fact today, US Labor, is the last day of racing I think at Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico, the world center for quearter horse racing.

Posted by City Comforts on September 1, 2003

And then there is The End of a Southern Tradition.

Posted by City Comforts on September 3, 2003

Brian, no sooner had you posted than train racing - I am led to understand - returned on WAGN Railways. The train in question is reported to have cornered on two wheels. Oh to have been on board.
By the bye, how does one get invited to hear Patrick?

Posted by James Hamilton on September 4, 2003

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