Mike Butler has a problem. He calls it the professional novice syndrome.
Butler turns the crank for the National Capital Velo Club, a happy bunch of semiserious and serious bicycle racers who gather once or twice a week to compete against each other in club races.
He's a gentle, easygoing fellow who still carries in his voice lilting traces of his native Guyana. He is not easily riled. People who won't acknowledge their advancing abilities rile him.
"Okay," he said, pacing before the line at the start of NCVC's novice race last week at Greenblet Park. " see we have a lot of professionals novices out here again this week. You know who you are, and you know that this is the last time. Right?
There were mixed chortles and chuckles from the colorfully clad riders, who appeared to indeed know who the offenders were. Butler stepped back grumpily and gave them an informal gun. "If you're ready, you can go."
The bicylists cruised off, fumbling with their toe clips.
Three and a half minute later they were back, sweeping past the start line in a pack acccompanied by the hushed hiss of narrow tires on macadam.
"Look at that," said Butler. "All bunched up like professionals. Some novices. I bet their lap times are better the 'B" class."
Butler has watched a lot of bicycle races in his seven years as a moving force behind NCVC. He was right. The novices managed TO TURN IN BETTER LAP TIMES THAN THE "b" racers later that day. "B" racers are supposed to be two notches above the novices.
"We try to encourage these people to move up as they improve, but they're afraid They think licensed racing means you have to get serious, get expensive equipment. They like to just stay where they are and keep winning," Butler said.
"We even had a policy for awhile that if a rider won a novice series we gave him a free promotion, with no charge for the new license. People actually turned us down."
The Velo Club is trying to do two things: sponsor good competitive races every weekend for a wide spectrum of talent, and interest new people in bicycle racing. Sometimes one gets in the way of the other.
Said Dave Riggs, who won the "B" class race last Sunday: "That's what we need to do here -- to get new people interested and not scare them away with a bunch of hotshots. I'm pleased that they keep the novice races separate, so newcomers don't have to ride against the veterans.
"Otherwise the new people get lost on the first hill and end up riding alone. That's no fun."
It's no fun but it's exactly what happened to Bill Black, who turned out Sunday for his first bicycle race and wound up huffing and puffing up the last hill a full half-lap behind the hotshot "novice" leaders.
"I gave it all I had the first lap," he said. "I was leading. Then we got to the hill and they shot by me. I never saw them again.
The problem of the professional novices is one that Butler undoubtedly will have ironed out by the time the next NCVC racing series begins in April in Rock Creek Park. By then he'll have concrete evidence of who can do what. He'll have the results of the club's March effort to identify the wheat and the chaff.
Every Sunday of the windy month members and non-members will gather at Lock 6 on the C&O Canal, just north of Chain Bridge, for time trials. These are races against the clock ("very British," said Butler) at which anyone with a bicycle and helmet is welcome.
he course is five miles up the George Washington Parkway and five miles down, and a respectable racer is expected to complete it in 25 to 30 minutes.
The time trials are cheap -- a $2 entry fee covers the entire series. And they're safe, since riders are sent off at one-minute intervals and don't race against each other.
There's one drawback. Registration runs from 8 to 8:15 or so. That's a.m., you with the sleep in your eyes.
The trials will give all comers -- from "A" class speedsters who train 300 or 400 miles a week to flabby suburbanites with their first 10-speed -- a good idea of where they stand.
And nothing will escape Mike Butlers's watchful eye.