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McMurtry wins women’s, Jones wins men's race following pandemic-adjusted Beer Bike

courtesy of Alicia Selvera

By Talha Arif and Keegan Leibrock     4/16/21 2:31pm

McMurtry College claimed first place in the women’s Beer Bike race while Jones College won the men’s race, according to preliminary results posted by Rice Program Council. This year’s Beer Bike took place over two days and was live streamed due to in-person capacity restrictions. Alumni did not participate this year.

According to campus Beer Bike coordinators Michelle Martinez and Isabel Tu, colleges have until Friday at 5 p.m. to submit petitions for changes, and race results will be finalized by Monday. Martinez, a Hanszen College sophomore, and Tu, a McMurtry College freshman, said the committee has received petitions every year and they don't expect this year to be any different.

Issues with planning for Beer Bike

Jonathan Lloyd, a Will Rice College bike and chug captain, said there were multiple issues the bike captains had with the race planning process.

“There was very little communication from RPC to the bike captains with updates in the planning process that caused many of the issues,” Lloyd, a sophomore, said. “[However] on the one side, ... RPC had many, many variations of the [Beer Bike] plan that were shot down by central administration, and on the other, bike captains sometimes made demands that we walked back on or modified.”

Alicia Selvera, a bike captain from McMurtry, also said that her Beer Bike team faced issues in communications with RPC and Student Center staff during the planning process.

“During one of the meetings, the [Student Center] staff was like, ‘You’re lucky we’re even having this race — we can take it back at any moment.’ That was honestly uncalled for and very unprofessional,” Selvera, a senior, said. “We didn’t want to make any suggestions because we were afraid to, and our concerns were genuine.”

Shreya Menon, the RPC executive liaison, said she believes this refers to a statement that was made by a Student Center staff member, and that its meaning may have been misunderstood. 

“RPC has never intended to cancel the races, nor have we ever intended to use this as a threat. We believe the exact comment made that day was one meant to emphasize the sheer difficulty in making a race happen given safety concerns and restrictions during such an unprecedented year, with the hopes that colleges would understand why it would be difficult to implement some suggestions, never as a threat to cancel the races,” Menon, a Lovett College junior, said.

Menon said that throughout the planning process, the RPC Beer Bike Committee has endeavored to be as open as possible to the suggestions of Beer Bike coordinators and captains.

“With the quick turnaround after the Beer Bike plan was approved by Dean Gorman and Crisis Management, it was more difficult than usual to allow for major changes to be made past this point,” Menon said. “Even still, the committee sought to plan a Beer Bike that could be both safe and as close to what coordinators and captains envisioned, and while we considered every single request, it would have been impossible to implement all of them.”

Mahmoud Al-Madi, Jones bike captain, said he believes there was virtually nonexistent briefing and information given on race day.

“We just kind of showed up, and all they really said was ‘let's go, races are starting,’” Al-Madi, a junior, said. “Considering there wasn’t a Beer Bike last year, there’s a lot [less experience] in the teams … This made a lot of the rules ambiguous and kind of made it a little sketchy because people weren't aware of some important rules for safety purposes.”

Lloyd said the first communication captains received regarding Beer Bike was about a month and a half before the races, where RPC provided a plan with little wiggle room for adjustments. 

“I personally would have liked a lot more communication from them prior to that meeting so that it wasn’t such a bombshell dropped on us,” Lloyd said. “As they made modifications to the plan, — and to their credit, they did their best to incorporate a lot of the requests that they made — we would also have liked some more regular updates on the status of those changes.”

Menon said the RPC committee scheduled another meeting with captains and coordinators over a week before the races to make them aware of plan changes and to ask any questions. According to Menon, the changes that had been made were in regards to the number of teams on the track at a time and the number of bikers and chuggers per team based on COVID-19 regulations.

“On the days of the races, RPC coordinators visited each team to reiterate the main points written in the Beer Bike 2021 Rules and Regulations, which was handed out to all teams by the beginning of April,” Menon said. “This document outlined the exact structure of the races, as well as the penalties set in place. RPC has strived to be transparent, letting colleges know if any rules needed to be changed following the release of these documents.”

Dara Okeremi, a McMurtry biker, said she believes the races went very smoothly on the day of Beer Bike, and commended the RPC for their work.

“Obviously, the two-day structure was not the most ideal … but I think it ran smoothly,” Okeremi, a junior, said. “With all the COVID guidelines and precautions, I think that’s one of the best things that we could have done.”

Martinez said one of the biggest challenges for RPC during planning was trying to balance the amount of volunteers with the amount of Beer Bike participants in line with COVID-19 policies.

“We wanted to limit the number of volunteers and staffers to allow for more students to be able to participate in the races while still adhering to safety protocols,” Martinez said.

Lloyd said in the future, he would prefer to have some bike captain liaisons to the RPC Beer Bike committee to represent the team’s interests on the committee.

Level of college engagement

Terri Liu, a Jones bike captain, said there was a different intensity at the track this year due to the lack of a crowd.

“The track was more race-mentality, like we were gonna do what we have to do, and then getting back to Jones is where the actual celebration happened,” Liu, a sophomore said. “It was weird to have those two things kind of segregated, but I think the celebration and the race itself were still incredible.”

Vy Dang, a Hanszen bike and chug captain, said that in addition to the smaller crowd due to COVID restrictions, there were challenges in rallying enthusiasm within the college environment at Hanszen given this year’s online circumstances.

“I think from the perspective of a bike captain one of the hardest parts was trying to get the college hyped up and practicing regularly,” Dang, a senior, said. “Throughout the semester, we weren’t exactly sure what some of the campus regulations were for biking like what the limitations were going to be for people on the track.”

Okeremi expressed similar challenges in bringing enthusiasm to McMurtry’s Beer Bike events given the circumstances.

“It was really difficult to bring hype to this year’s events, especially given that the current juniors and seniors were the only people that have experienced Beek Bike in its full capacity,” Okeremi said. “I think [McMurtry’s] Beer Bike coordinators did a really great job of trying to hype everyone up and just trying to bring all the semblances of what Beer Bike typically is into this year.” 

Al-Madi said he thinks there was still a lot of hype around Beer Bike this year and Jones was just as loud as they normally are during the team’s send-off to the track. Christian Metoyer, a Jones College biker, said one of the Jones residential associates told him students were still chanting the biker’s names and Jones chants while watching the livestream.

“Even though there's no way we could have heard them, that was still super nice and fun to hear,” Metoyer, a junior, said.

Jones bike captain Victoria Lee said she believes the culture at Jones with Beer Bike helped maintain the hype this year.

“The send-off was really nice for us … I think it helped us get into a good mindset that our college is cheering us on, and they're watching us,” Lee, a junior, said.

Race day(s)

On Saturday, the first race was between Baker College, Hanszen College and Will Rice College. The second was between Brown College, Jones College and Wiess College. On Sunday, the first race was between Lovett College, Martel College and Sid Richardson College. The second was between Duncan College, McMurtry College and the Graduate Student Association. Women’s races occurred before men’s within all four heats.

Lloyd said he believes that because of changing weather conditions, having races on two separate days and in several heats definitely affected the overall results.

“Our heat had high winds and low temperatures, but starting with the second heat and into day two, the conditions were amazing for biking. Totally unfair,” Lloyd said. “Even having all of the races on one day would be not ideal, because … our heat in the morning was horrible conditions and the second heat had perfect conditions. Perhaps [it was] just a casualty of [COVID-19], but certainly a factor to be considered when looking at race results.”

Dang expressed similar concerns regarding the large differences in weather conditions between races.

“The winds on Saturday morning were much higher than the winds on Sunday afternoon, so I think having the races closer to be together would have been nice,” Dang  said. “However, I also understand that you need a little bit of breathing room for the judges and RPC between each race.”

According to Lloyd, this year’s circumstances also introduced more pacing difficulties compared to what it would have been like with a larger race.

“In races where there was noticeable discrepancy in team speed or ability, all teams would have found it harder to draw energy off the neck-to-neck racing that leads to the best results,” Lloyd said. “In our heat, Will Rice and Baker stuck mostly within range of each other over the duration of the race, but Hanszen pulled away quite quickly, and with wind factored in as well, I think they surely would have been faster than Jones.”

Liu also said that she believes drafting or the lack thereof affected the times of some races, as drafting occurs in races that are close but not as often in races where bikers are more separated. Drafting refers to bikers moving behind another cyclist, which reduces wind resistance. 

Dang said that differences in the judges’ level of expertise between the two days may have played some role in how the races played out.

“I think there were disadvantages to having the races spread out across two different days … [in that] you have differences in judges [experience levels],” Dang said. “A lot of the judges seemed to be more knowledgeable or at least more comfortable with being able to judge correctly as the days progressed and they got more familiar with the process.”

According to Dang, the Hanszen team noticed discrepancies between their own recorded time and RPC’s, so they have filed a formal appeal.

“The track times that we got for the woman’s race was that the Hanszen women were faster than the Jones women by a couple of seconds, but then the reflected time for Jones was like ten seconds faster than ours,” Dang said. “We went back to the livestream and marked the times at which people crossed the line, so I think it was nice to have that method of verifying the times.”

Takeaways from this year’s structure

Tu said that although the livestream wasn’t perfect, she believes it was generally very well-received.

“Remote students and alumni alike expressed appreciation for the chance to watch the races from all over the world, and many expressed interest in the race livestream being continued even post-COVID,” Tu said.

Edesiri Mushale, a McMurtry senior who watched the races through the livestream, said the dynamic camera views were really nice to see the different angles.

“I think in general it's a great idea, because people not at Rice or [who] don't want to make the trek to the track can still enjoy the races and cheer it on,” Mushale said. “I'm pretty sure I saw mothers and alumni in the chat as well, and that was cool to see.”

Dang also said she appreciated the Beer Bike livestream, as it provided her family a method to view the races without coming to campus.

“I think the virtual aspect [of Beer Bike] was actually kind of nice … Having the livestream was very accessible for a lot of people, including our families, who aren’t able to come to Houston to watch [the races],” Dang said. 

Kay Duong, the track area coordinator for RPC, said rather than reflecting on what RPC could have done differently, this year led them to think about changes for future Beer Bikes. 

“Beer Bike 2021 was safer due to the reduced amount of bikers on the track, and the livestream turned out to be a useful tool,” Duong, a Will Rice freshman, said. 

Scott Fessler, a Jones College biker, said he felt pretty lucky overall to have had a Beer Bike this year.

“Even though the team would have liked to have more of our teammates out there and getting more people involved, … we recognize that RPC and the Beer Bike coordinators were doing the best with the situation that we had,” Fessler, a junior, said.

Fessler said that while Jones did not receive any penalties from the chug or pit crew, penalties are something that many are skeptical of and require more transparency. According to Metoyer, in 2019 the Jones women’s team received around a minute and a half in penalties. Lee said she would appreciate more transparency and having proof of where penalties occur in the future.  

“I've talked to a few of my other friends from other colleges and they're like, ‘we don't know where these penalties came from,’ and there's not really much they can do other than file a complaint,” Lee said.

Martinez said that she enjoyed being on the planning side of Beer Bike this year.

“Things were so different because of COVID guidelines, but it is very rewarding to see the event come together and see people passionate for the event across campus,” Martinez said.

Selvera said that, despite the many obstacles in planning, most of the people she talked to were content with the races’ organization.

“I think most of us were pretty happy with what ended up happening on race day,” Selvera said. “I think it went better than any of us expected.”

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