Why call it ‘cruising’ and not ‘sandbagging’?

Some people have questioned my use of the invented term cruiser, which I didn’t invent myself by the way. I would have to credit some guy on the Zwift forum whose name eludes me, but the thread has been archived into thread heaven and is no longer available, so I can’t credit him by name. I liked the term though and stole it. I will explain why.

But first let’s answer the question, isn’t cruising the same as sandbagging? And why even bother with a new term when there is already an old established term that predates Zwift by centuries?

If we are getting into etymology, then hmmmnnaah… I don’t think the terms are quite identical. Sandbagging describes the act of misrepresenting your true strength by deliberately downplaying it, only to strike later once you have lulled opponents into believing you are weaker than you are.

There is still some confusion around the origination of the term. The phenomenon exists in car racing where a racer might provide a false dial-in time for his car before the race so that he can enter a lower bracket and win it easily since his car is actually faster than what the dial-in time said (essentially more similar to a “hacker” or weight/height doper in the Zwift context than a “sandbagger”).

But sometimes sandbagging is taken as putting bags of sand in your ride to weigh it down to make it look like it runs slower. I’m not so sure that has ever been a common practice among race car cheaters though. There are other more convenient ways to fake your car’s speed. Perhaps it is a confusion with horse racing, where you do put weights under the saddle, but then the purpose is not to cheat at all, rather quite the opposite. The horses’ weights are to be equalized in a race so that no horse is advantaged by carrying a lighter jockey and tack than the others.

However, the origination of the word sandbag is actually more sinister than just dead weights. A sandbag is like a sap, like a blackjack, a homemade weapon you clobber someone on the head with when he least suspects it, perhaps after conning him into a dark alley, and it might not even leave a mark on the unconscious victim you just robbed. It’s in that sense the term has been used in poker for many decades. You play your hand weakly and place a small bet, representing weak cards, to trick others into raising you. Which is exactly want you want, since a more forceful bet from you from the start might have scared them off. And then you clobber them by raising them back and now there is suddenly a whole lot of chips in the pot and your opponents are already committed and it’s too late for them to get out.

In any case, whereas both terms, sandbagging and cruising, refer to downplaying your true strength, sandbagging might have made cruising a redundant term, only it doesn’t. And cruising better describes the actual activity behind the term anway. It also captures another very important feature not to be missed. We’ll come to that.

Today when people complain over “sandbaggers” in Zwift on some forum, they rarely if ever refer to cruisers. It’s not always crystal clear what exactly they are referring to since the term itself rests on a somewhat far-fetched analogy. In 90% of the cases, however, people using the term refer to racers joining a lower category than what ZP pins them at. And in 90% of the cases they also refer to racers who have no intention to respect the performance ceiling of the cat they are racing in. So the actual deception when sandbagging, according to these people, is just the act of joining a lower category while your intention is to pace the race as if it was your “true” category. That interpretation of sandbagging is now so widespread, and sandbagging is also so blatantly obvious to even the dimmest racer, that many people seem completely oblivious to existence of cruisers. But as I hope I have been able to show here on the blog, i) I do actually exist, and ii) I am not alone in my trade, far from.

So while what a sandbagger does isn’t necessarily crystal clear, what a cruiser does should be more obvious. He cruises races. He races at a more casual pace than his actual limits, his full steam ahead.

Note here that while sandbagging hints at a malicious intent, cruising does not. There might not be any particular intent at all. Although I often speak of cruisers as having the motive to cheat, it might as well come down to just a matter of preferences for some of them. Some people don’t like to get too winded. They prefer to cruise in all activities in Zwift. Which is fine. You just shouldn’t be given an advantage in races when cruising, and that is Zwift’s fault, not the cruiser’s.

Yet sometimes you can actually spot malicious intent in the activities history of a racer. Some cruisers do way harder solo workouts than their races, which ZP doesn’t pick up on. Some cruisers show a history with a previous upgrade to the bottom of a higher category, where they became pack fodder and then apparently decided to go back to their original category again, supposedly where it was more fun since they won races there. There are all kinds of cruisers with all kinds of motives, I’m sure. But the thing is intent doesn’t matter. The effect on the race is the same regardless. It screws up the race for people who go hard, whatever their intent is.

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