Brown M&Ms

DBC Photo

That’s four barriers in a row and not the usual two

Before the start of the race, Matthew Hill says to Richard McClung, “It’s like Brown M&Ms, man.” 40 seconds later, we were off. Matt told me the rest of the story, about reading the freaking rider at a race, and I’m sharing it here. I clipped the 3rd and 4th barrier a few times, until I got the rhythm right…

Way back when, in a previous life before bike racing, I made my bones in the music business. One of the things I did to pay the bills was work with touring rock bands, at the tail end of the Heavy Metal Hair Band days.

You see a lot of s**t working that side of the scene, and – as you would expect – I’ve got stories to tell. You can fill in the blanks on most of them, of course. Groupies, drugs, debauchery… you’ve heard it all before.

That’s all just daily distraction type stuff, though.
The stories you don’t hear are the ones that aren’t nearly as flashy, or vile, or… well, they’re the actual nuts & bolts, down-low of what is, ultimately, a business.

Stuff like the legend of the Van Halen M&Ms.

When a band goes on tour, they send out a list of promoter & venue requirements in advance of their arrival. It’s called “The Rider”, and it’s purpose is to make sure that everyone is on the same page, and that the infrastructure is in place to support the band & their production staff at the gig.

Most of the stuff on The Rider is pretty straight forward; “There will be x number of 15 amp electrical sockets placed at y foot intervals evenly surrounding the stage area”.

Some Rider requirements can seem pretty bizarre, unless you know the band in question: “Promoter shall provide 6 new pairs of athletic sweat socks in sealed, plastic packaging” (cough – RHCP)

And then there’s brilliant.

Van Halen toured with a Rider that looked like a novel written for electrical engineers. When you’re hauling 9 trucks worth of production gear to every gig, there’s a long list of shit that can go wrong, and if you don’t want to see things blow up, trusses fall down, and people get electrocuted, you need to make sure that the “I’s” are dotted & the “T’s” are crossed.

Which ain’t easy.

‘Cause lots of the time, people flat-out just don’t care. Or pay attention.
Or something.

People will figure out a way to miss something that really matters, even though you spelled it out in exquisite detail, and it’s going to make the evening a nightmare for someone on the crew.

So, what do you do?
If you’re Van Halen, in the middle of your book-length Rider, you insert a line requiring that the promoter provide – along with a deli tray, and enough booze to intoxicate a fairly large fraternity – a bowl of M&Ms. With all the brown M&Ms removed.
Brown M&Ms in the bowl?
No show.
Van Halen still gets full payment.

There’s one word for this, and it’s brilliant. If you’ve heard this story before, odds are it was in the context of “…and then they trashed the green room in a petulant rock star frenzy after finding their obscene demands weren’t adhered to.”
That completely misses the point.
Brown M&Ms in the bowl?

It’s the perfect “Don’t give a shit” litmus test.

If they’re gonna’ miss something this simple – and this obvious – what the hell else are they ‘gonna miss, and what are the odds it’ll be something important?
Brown M&Ms in the bowl?
Get out the microscope & check everything ‘cause you know they either weren’t paying attention, or they just don’t care.

So, OK… great.
What the hell does all this have to do with bike racing?

It’s pretty simple.
When I show up for a USCF/UCI Cyclocross race, and the first thing I see is a neat group of four barriers proudly taking center stage, it’s like a big-ass bowl of g-damned brown M&Ms.

Read the freaking Rider.

Photo: DBC Photography who is shooting in Belgium next with the EuroCrossCamp.

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