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Life as a Bike Jockey: Dave Towle's Judy Freeman catches up with a familiar voice in U.S. cycling — Dave Towle

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FreemanCrowds will gather this weekend to watch some of the biggest names in U.S. cycling duke it out at the cyclocross national championships in Bend, Oregon.

But equally entertaining will be the voices calling out those names. And one of those voices belongs to Dave Towle. There are a lot of announcers out there I really enjoy, but I’ll say it outright: I’m a Towle fan.

As a racer and a spectator, I appreciate Dave’s passion for the sport, interest in the riders and respect for his job as announcer. But Dave’s ability to make you think and laugh at the same time, for me, makes him a top pro at his job.

Dave has been making me laugh since the days he was sitting on a hay bale announcing the local Boulder short track races about eight years ago. It was after one of those races I had to grab a dictionary to look up the word “donnybrook” only to learn I got dropped in what Dave was calling a “rowdy brawl or free for all.”

Schooled twice. Thanks, Dave.

Dave Towle working the 2010 mountain bike national championships. Photo by Brad Kaminski
Dave Towle working the 2010 mountain bike national championships. Photo by Brad Kaminski

A Mic Does Not An MC Make

Still, I didn’t start to appreciate how difficult it is for an announcer to be funny until a few years later at a road crit where I listened to an announcer who made the event about as uncomfortable as having a drunk clown at a birthday party.

In an effort to get a laugh out of the crowd (unless he was trying to get fired) that announcer repeatedly conjured up less-than-savory images for commentary. As I recall, the effects of spicy food on the weak of stomach seemed to be his go-to material.

However, the whole event did clue me in to just how hard race announcing is. You’ve got to be quick on your feet to hype up crowds and racers, relay information, smooth over dead air and incidents and promote the event — all at once. An attempt at humor can be a dangerous addition to the mix.

Do it right and you can convert first-time spectators into passionate fans. Do it wrong and you can convince a whole crowd of perfect strangers that you spend an inordinate amount of time in bathrooms.

Do the Numbers

Humor, I think, is a numbers game. The more you throw out there the greater the chance of something going wrong. But Dave always seems to keep the balance. Off limits are topics that wouldn’t make for polite conversations, let alone race announcing, like sex, race or religion.

You’d think that is a given, but Dave has heard it done before. Aside from unprofessional, he says that to be that insensitive “you ruin someone’s day, maybe their week,” he says. “Why would you do that?”

What is Your Quest?

“I love bike racers. My goal is to make them feel that,” says Towle. “I want [the crowd] to understand just how hard racing is. Racing takes courage.”

Towle’s strategy to this end is simple but not easy.

“I want to actively engage people in the race,” he explained. “[Humor is] a way to engage people.”

For Dave, it’s not sufficient just to say a rider is working hard to make a move. To drive it home to the crowd, he’ll yell out that a rider is “flogging himself like a rented mule due back at 4 today!”

“If I can make someone think, ‘Did he really just say that?’ and make them think how hard the rider is working — getting them more engaged in the race, then I’ve done a good job,” he says.

The Source

Dave did his racing years ago to get the feel of the “hurricane of pain” or riding in the “jail break” he calls out in races. Today, he gives a lot of credit to his racing friends.

“Bike racers are funny people,” says Towle. “I’m lucky I have racing friends I talk with and learn from.”

A big source of inspiration for announcing, however, goes back years ago to watching his dad at family functions.

“My dad had amazing social skills. He was great at connecting people,” he recalls. “His strength was that he genuinely cared.”

Connecting people with racing is how Dave continues that legacy. A bit uneasy with any flattery I offered, Dave was quick to say that he has his critics. He acknowledged he’ll never please everyone. The documentary “Hecklers” was good to watch, he says.

In the Bend

Knowing how hard the job can be, Dave says he has respect for many announcers on the cycling scene. This weekend he’ll be commenting alongside Richard Fries, a fellow announcer with whom he loves to work.

“We play to each other strengths,” he says.

If you’re out in Bend for CX ationals this week, be prepared to see and hear some of the top pros in the game.

Judy Freeman is a pro mountain biker out of Boulder, Colorado. In 2009 she represented the U.S. at the World Championships in Canberra, Australia. For 2010, she’ll be racing for Kenda/Felt Mountain Bike Team. Other sponsors for 2010 include TrailMaster Coaching, Hayes, Manitou, Voler Apparel, Pearl Izumi, WickWerks, KMC, SDG, Crank Brothers, Uvex, Pika Packworks, Smith Optics and Mighty Good Coffee.