Cobra Racing! Jan 17, 2019

Cobra Racing is a Bicycle Motocross inspired bandit race in Portland, Oregon. Paying homage to BMX, Alley Cats, Cyclocross and all those who create something rad for their community.

Each racer is assigned a number plate and group number. Racers have three opportunities to qualify for the main event. These qualifying races are called motos. Motos are one lap. Pedal hard! Top 2 from each moto make it into the main event.

COBRA Racing provides equal payout for WTF and Men categories.

  • Man, I really want to like the DIY/punk-rock/inclusive ethos of this, but can’t help but feeling that unsanctioned, guerilla racing like this is going to do more harm than good for the racing community.

    • How so? How are unsanctioned races going to harm the community? I’ve thrown dozens of unsanctioned events, included a few during Cross Nats in Austin and never found them to harm anything or anyone. If anything, it lowers the barrier for entry to racing, allowing more people to try it out. Racing sanctioned events can be intimidating for new comers to the sport, but through unsanctioned events, newcomers can get their feet wet without buying a license or paying fees. The structure is a bit looser too. I’ve witnessed people who never raced before come out to our events and then the next season, I see them out at USAC races.

      Night racing is especially fun and since no one uses the trails at night, it’s even better…

      • What I take issue with here is that they are using city parks without permission, and are taking people’s money for it. If it’s truly in the spirit of fun and inclusivity, fine, then just make it free, don’t use number plates or score the races, and do it somewhere with less visibility (or with landowner permission), so you aren’t souring the park department’s view of cyclists/racers, making it harder than it already is for legit promoters to get permission to run events.

        And if you want to charge, and have prize money, then why not just take this same energy and effort and put on a legit race that is respectful and repeatable? We are really lucky in Oregon to have the excellent racing governing body that is OBRA. They do an amazing job of lowering the barriers to entry for both new promoters and racers. As a promoter, they have tons of resources available to assist you, and as a racer, you can get a day license for $5, and they are free for juniors.

        • Ok, I understand all that and maybe you’re more familiar with this race than I am, but where did you get all the information regarding this event? If it’s based on assumptions, I get that, but it’s not accurate across the board.

          In Austin, the parks dept didn’t care one bit. They said as long as it’s under 200 people and no money was exchanged for products or alcohol it was ok.

          Money usually goes back to the races, not to the pockets of the organizers. It costs money to buy caution tape, etc. We usually charged $5 and then put it in a pot, dividing the money equally down the middle.

          • Juan C

            John, Broken & Coastal is or, is a part of the people who organize the races.

          • Yep I know. They emailed this to me.

        • COBRA Racing is a community-based event that brings together cyclists from all walks of life. Some people come to race, some come to cheer, and some come just to help out.

          Races are spontaneous and yes held in city parks. The courses are assembled and broken down in a bat of an eye. Everyone helps, and the parks are left cleaner than they were before.

          There is no money exchanged, $5 simply goes into a pot that is split equally between the Men and WTF categories. First time WTF racers race for free.

          The COBRA Racing format was inspired by BMX. BMX racers use numberplates and race in qualifiers called Motos. Each moto is one lap, and the top two from each moto move onto the finals. Racers get three chances to qualify. Numberplates are designed, printed, laminated, and hole punched by volunteers. It’s these small gestures that make COBRA, COBRA.

          Thousands of unsanctioned bike events take place in Portland every year. Many of these events traverse through city parks and public land. It’s a tradition that will continue to live on year after year. This is what makes Portland so special and hell, isn’t this why we moved here in the first place?

          • The promoters that put on legit races in the area work really hard to obtain land-use permission and maintain positive relationships with the communities surrounding their venues so that the events can keep happening year after year. With 50+ participants, and the intention to grow these events, the potential for backlash from the city seems pretty high, and how is that going to affect potential legit relationships moving forward? You say you leave the parks cleaner than before, are you also helping to mitigate damage to the grounds after the events? How do the neighbors, and other park users perceive your use (at night, with public consumption, etc…)?

            As I initially said, I appreciate the ethos and intention of these events, I just think you should put a little more thought into the possible long-term effects of your methods, and the potential reverberations throughout the cycling/racing community.

          • I’ve been to a fair number of races in Portland and understand that but public parks are there for the public to use. It’s no different than people having birthday parties in them where 100+ people come out to BBQ and drink. Maybe Portland is different than other cities that I’ve lived in but I think the dynamic from this mostly comes from the bigger races are for profit (let’s not forget that), thus they have to be more careful about things like community consciousness. They also have food vendors, apparel vendors, alcohol, team tents, etc, which requires a different permit.

            To offer a counter point, if this were a weekly trail running meet up would it be any different?

            Public parks are for the public to use and as long as rules aren’t being broken, I don’t see any issue here. Now, I don’t know what the rules are in Portland and if this video showcases activities breaking those rules, then that’s another story, but I wholeheartedly am against the belief that only sanctioned races grow communities.

            Sanctioned races are about being profitable. Bike racing shouldn’t only be limited to sanctioned events. We just threw the LA Tourist Race where 100+ people took to the National Forest. No permits were pulled because again, hikers, trail runners, etc come into the forest in large groups and don’t pull permits either.

          • Technically, if they are charging anything, they need a permit: “All commercial activity (a service or product that customers have or will pay for that is provided within a park) requires a permit.” Most parks do not allow bicycles off of the paths/trails. IF they were only using the marked/approved paths and trails, and they weren’t charging anything, then sure it would probably be fine. And the same would apply for a trail running meet-up, if they weren’t charging anything, and using approved trails, fine.

            Not ALL sanctioned events are about being profitable. There are a number of local races that are 100% volunteer driven, and 100% of the proceeds go to non-profits. Done purely for the love of the sport.

            Each venue has their own requirements for post-race mitigation. Some don’t care at all, some will require raking and re-seeding.

            Just to be clear, I am not a representative of OBRA, nor am I trying to argue that only their events grow the sport, I think there is plenty of room for healthy competition to the OBRA race calendar. I just feel like THIS isn’t the way to go about it.

          • fair enough. cheers.

        • cshoe

          and as a racer, you can get a day license for $5, and they are free for juniors.

          Yes, but that’s on top of a $30+ entry fee.

          And if you want to charge, and have prize money, then why not just take this same energy and effort and put on a legit race that is respectful
          and repeatable?

          Because it’s not nearly the same amount of energy and effort. The OBRA calendar has been quickly losing road races and crits over the last couple years. Yes, some of this has to do with trends in cycling moving towards gravel fondos and such. But a lot of it has to do with how difficult it is to put on these races. I’ve been a part of putting on the Montinore road race the last few years and it takes well over 500 volunteer hours to make it happen. The bulk of these are put in on race day but a nontrivial amount are put in months in advance. From the interactions we have with the community, I can say that they would much prefer we were in a park somewhere rather than on their roads. I’ve never done a road race in Oregon where there wasn’t some instance of a car dangerously passing a field. Anyone that has course marshalled a road race has been the target of an angry driver. I think the public’s view of bike racing isn’t great whether or not a governing body is involved.

          I’ve heard many Oregon racers lament the lack of crits on the calendar. I’ve also been a part of a group of people that have given a legit effort into making one happen the last couple years. The permits, police presence and community buy in needed to make it happen are nearly non-starters.

          I share many of your concerns but also support COBRA. I’ve attended most of them and raced in a few. The organizers appear to take many of our shared concerns into account when they chose a location. The parks used are ones that are away from houses. If a COBRA race course had a series of hairpin turns in the middle of a soccer field, or even touched a sports field, I’d take issue with it. But the courses I’ve seen are in less manicured ares of the parks.

          Most of the rules that are being broken at a COBRA race are the same ones broken by events like N.O.I.S.E Ride yet I don’t hear much rumbling about it. Maybe because N.O.I.S.E is more of an institution in Portland? It gets promoted by things like bikeportland.org.

          I’m starting to ramble but to your statement of “respectful and repeatable” I’d say that the COBRA community has been a respectful and positive aspect of the community. I hope it continues to be. There have been roughly 10 races so it seems to be repeatable as well.

  • Chaise Jonsen

    Well, that escalated quickly.