We’re halfway there

July 28, 2014 § 42 Comments

As part of the “Cyclists Belong in the Lane on PCH” project, on Sunday the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department met us at 8:00 AM in the parking lot of Will Rogers State Park. They were in an unmarked Ford Explorer. Greg Seyranian and Dave Kramer had rallied the Big Orange troops, along with other riders from the West Side and the South Bay. There were about fifty cyclists total.

This was the second phase of our law enforcement-cyclist cooperative. The first phase involved getting ticketed for riding in the lane, and then throwing a shit-fit about it followed by meetings with Captain Pat Devoren and his team of deputies. Much of the heavy lifting was done by Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition wunderkind Eric Bruins. Give them some money if you’re feeling so disposed.

As a result of the meetings, Captain Devoren suggested a ride-along where deputies would follow behind a Sunday group ride. This was going to be our opportunity to educate them about the realities of riding a bike on PCH, and about how much safer it is to ride in the lane than in the gutter.

The Big Orange peloton had prepared an excellent ride plan. From Temescal to Las Flores they would ride in the gutter, switching to the lane at those points where the shoulder vanishes, or where there are cars parked on the shoulder, or where other space considerations make continued progress in the gutter impossible. This would give the following deputies an opportunity to see how dangerous it is to continually switch from gutter to lane.

After Las Flores, the peloton would ride single file “as far to the right as practicable” per CVC 21202. This would show the deputies two things: first, that a line of 50 riders going single file on PCH is significantly more of an obstacle to motorists than a single, compact peloton riding 2×2. Second, it would demonstrate with utter clarity that even when riding “FTR” there is not enough space for a bike and a car to share the lane — and that’s without the 3-foot passing law that kicks in this September.

At Cross Creek the peloton would flip it and ride back to Temescal utilizing the full lane. This would let the deputies compare traffic flow, safety, and predictability of the cyclists versus the other two methods.

The peloton rolled out and we hung back in the unmarked vehicle for about a minute. Then, we got a little surprise: because it looked like we were tailgating the cyclists, a park ranger put on his flashers and pulled us over. It’s pretty awesome getting stopped by law enforcement when you’re in an unmarked vehicle with two dudes carrying LASD badges. Suffice it to say, no one got a ticket!

The deputies were immediately impressed with the difficulty and inherent danger of doing gutter-and-lane back-and-forth maneuvers. Although motorists didn’t harass anyone or honk, the constant motion from gutter to lane was plainly fraught with potential conflict, especially since the traffic at 8:00 AM on Sunday is incredibly light compared to what happens on this stretch of PCH during a weekday, or later in the day on a nice weekend.

When the Big Orange group shifted to single file, it was also clear that there was no possible way that a car could safely share the lane with the cyclists. The deputies immediately saw that putting fifty riders in a long single file created an extremely long line of riders. When I told them that as of September the weekly Big O contingent would be double that in size, they understood the importance of keeping the group as compact as possible.

On the final leg from Cross Creek back to Temescal, the chief concern of the deputies was how traffic would be obstructed. It wasn’t, not even a little. One deputy commented that it was no different from a motorist who has to go around a slow moving vehicle like a bus or a dump truck. They also noted the incredible number of obstacles for any rider who might choose to ride in the gutter. Cars parked up against the fog line, people opening doors, surfers magically appearing with surfboards, and bad surface conditions in the gutter were all things that became easy to understand when pointed out while following the peloton at a slow speed of 20/21 mph.

The deputies were fully on board with the idea that the best place for a group is in the lane. This is a huge change and represents a watershed in the way that law enforcement views bicyclists on PCH. The only concern they still had was how this type of lane control would affect traffic when it was only one or two riders and when it was done during rush hour.

I volunteered to do another drive along, this time with only one or two riders so they could see that although the obstruction of traffic was minimal, the motorist harassment is extreme and terrifying. We’re going to set up a date for that experiment, perhaps this coming week.

The take home for cyclists who want to ride in the lane on PCH is this: the deputies will report back to Captain Devoren and based on their report we will follow up with LASD to confirm that for now, at least as regards groups of riders, cyclists can expect not to be cited for CVC 21202 violations simply for riding in the lane. Hopefully we’ll be able to get that confirmation in writing or as a directive that is sent out to deputies working traffic enforcement on PCH.

I want to stress that this is a work in progress. We’ve gotten key deputies to examine this stretch of PCH from a cyclist’s perspective, and in their words, “We’ve been educated about what cyclists face on PCH.” It doesn’t mean that the issue is fully resolved, especially with regard to solo riders or cyclists in groups of two or three.

Although it’s tempting to describe this as a “victory,” it’s much more a significant step in the right direction. The sheriff’s department has been professional and not even the slightest big adversarial with regard to these discussions. With the continued support and open-minded approach of LASD — not to mention the riders who are willing to come out and help with the process of educating law enforcement — we may not be too far from the day when all cyclists will be able to exercise their right to ride in the lane all the way from Santa Monica to County Line and beyond.

Huge thanks to all of the people who have given time, lent encouragement, and donated money to keep this project moving ahead. Thanks as well to Captain Devoren and LASD for being open to change. If you want to get involved as a volunteer, send me your contact info to fsethd@gmail.com. You can also:

  1. Subscribe to this blog: Your $2.99 monthly donation helps me advocate for cyclists.
  2. Join California Association of Bicycling Organizations. $10, cheap.
  3. Join LA County Bicycle Coalition.
  4.  Talk with your club and discuss riding in the lane on PCH the next time you’re out that way.

It’s been less than a year since Greg Seyranian and Big Orange began using lane control on their group rides on PCH. Thanks again to all who have helped.

Down in the alley

July 24, 2014 § 34 Comments

A new bobble has been added to the weekly Donut Ride, and I contemplated it as the wankers of the South Bay chewed me up and spit me out. It’s a short, steep, nasty little alleyway that comes after a long uphill slog followed by a fast downhill followed by a gradual climb followed by a very short wall.

The point behind the alley is to crush the spirits and impoverish the souls of those who, even at the outset of the group ride, are already broken.

The Donut Ride has evolved into an almost perfect group ride. It is so hard that to properly complete it you must cheat, cut the course, suck wheel, sneak ahead while everyone is regrouping, or all of the above. The climbs are so vicious that hordes of South Bay bicycle owners refuse to even show up. It drops people while they are still in bed.

In common with all great group rides, it crowns a winner who everyone can dispute, but not actually beat. “Wily Greek is a wheelsucker,” we mutter each time he deftly sprints away at the bottom of the Switchbacks. And like all group rides, great or not, you get to declare yourself the winner of something. “I was the first one to the Domes out of the fastest people who got dropped in the alley.” “I was the fastest climber out of the non-climbing sprinters who live in Long Beach.” Etc. It’s almost as good as Strava.

The Donut Ride also contains the race-within-the-race element that so many of us live for: the OTB flailer who nonetheless fights tooth and toenail to finish ahead of the other OTB flailer who said something rude to him on Facebook. Best of all, like all group rides it’s free, starts close to home, doesn’t require an entry fee or a license, and when done properly will effectively wreck any legitimate training plan or racing goal.

The ideal group ride, which the Donut is, will be intense enough to destroy your legs but not make you faster. It will be long enough to exhaust you but not long enough to build your endurance. It will force you to ride either too slow to build your engine, or so fast that you’ll need an entire week in order to recuperate. It will expose all of your weaknesses and develop none of your strengths. Best of all, if you are a Donut vainquer, your victories will translate into little more than DNF’s and barely-finished’s at legitimate stage races.

It is a cul-de-sac for performance, and crystal meth for the legs. Plus, it finishes near several brewpubs which open about the time the ride finishes.

But the hardest group ride in America … Where is it?

My default vote goes to my own backyard; yours probably does, too. After all, no kid is smarter or better looking than your own. The Donut Ride is about 50 miles long and boasts about 5,000 feet of climbing. It goes off every Saturday, with anywhere from 80 to 100 idiots lining up at the start in Redondo Beach in the summer … and less than a dozen making it to base of the Switchbacks-to-Crest climb thirty minutes later, after which the smashing begins in earnest.

But is it the hardest?

The Swami’s ride in Encinitas is horrifically hard and staffed with twisted mutants like Tinstman, Bordine, Marckx, and Thurlow, but it’s shorter (about 30 miles) and “only” has 3,500 feet of climbing. Then there’s the SPY Holiday Ride, a beatdown so vicious that if I make it up the first climb without getting shelled I consider it a total victory: 60 miles, 4,000 feet of climbing, and a 100+ field that is always stacked with state champions, national champions, and group ride champions who live just to dish it out on gang slugfests like this one. The ugliness is sharpened by competition for KOM and sprint awards given out post-ride in the form of BWR Ale brewed by the Lost Abbey.

But is it the hardest?

I don’t know. America is filled with group rides that go off every Saturday, Sunday, holiday, Tuesday, Thursday, and every other day that ends in “-day.”

How do you evaluate their difficulty? The following criteria, for sure …

  1. Length. Should be more than 40 miles, less than 70. It has to be long enough not to simulate any race you’d actually do, but short enough that it can be completed before your wife goes completely apeshit at another wasted weekend on the bike. Also, it must be long enough so that you perform all chores and kid-activities with a glum face and lagging step.
  2. Elevation. Enough to make it hard, but not so much that the only champions weigh less than 130-lbs. Ideally, the elevation is spread throughout the ride rather than dumped at the end like the LA Holiday Ride, which is a joke. Having at least one 20-minute climb to obliterate the chubmeisters, the old people, the “just getting into the sport-ers,” and juniors is ideal.
  3. Number of riders. 30, minimum. Having somewhere to hide and suck wheel is crucial for a group ride. Too few people forces everyone to work, which reduces or eliminates the ability to name-call and point the finger after you get shelled.
  4. Wind. The more, the better. Wind is the great unequalizer, because it strips the skinny climbers of their watts/kg advantage and grinds them up into little rat pellets. Wind, preferably cold (although frying-pan hot furnace blasts are good, too), increases the chances of crashing and quitting.
  5. Elements. Freezing rain/brain-scalding heat/crushing humidity are always a plus. Especially in SoCal, where eternal sunshine cultivates softness, a good dose of terrible weather does wonders for separating the wheat from the cadavers.
  6. Pavement. Shitty road surfaces, hairball descents, off-camber paving, unannounced changes from tarmac to gravel … anything that will cause a flat or a crash or potentially crack your frame gets extra points.
  7. Quality of field. This is hard to evaluate, but generally, if the average age is “gets an annual prostate check,” then you’re playing with a worn out deck of cards. One good way to evaluate the field is financial stability. The more people living with girlfriends, out of cardboard boxes, sleeping on couches, the faster and more brutal the ride.

I’ve heard lots of stories about “our local group ride is the toughest,” and would like nothing better than to find out for myself. Is the real badass group ride yours? Post the info in a comment or shoot me an email, fsethd@gmail.com, with a link to the Strava segment if there is one. Extra points if the ride is so badass that it’s not even on Strava. It certainly won’t be any fun to go check it out in person, but it might assuage those late-night worries, i.e. “What am I going to write about tomorrow?”

An eye for an eye …

July 22, 2014 § 67 Comments

… makes the whole world blind.

Of course, if you saw the video put up by Santa Paula reserve police officer Laura Weintraub, you might well have gone blind with rage. Her “satire” included a diatribe against cyclists that openly condoned hitting them, and concluded with an image of one of the most horrible bike-car accidents ever photographed. She captioned the photo, “Like you never thought about it.”

The terrible swift sword of justice was quick. Santa Paula’s police chief, Steve McLean, immediately repudiated the video and placed Weintraub on administrative leave. She resigned the next day, but not before NBC News, the LA Times, Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet blew up. Outraged cyclists tracked down her phone number and threatened to kill her and dismember her body.

Whew. Ugh.

At 4:30 AM on Monday I woke up and checked the LA Bike Blog. Ted Rogers, who had been on top of the story from its inception, penned an insightful piece wondering if, perhaps, we’d squandered the “teachable moment” for the blood lust of watching Weintraub’s head roll. Wasn’t this, Rogers wondered, in actuality an opportunity to forge understanding?

I thought about that and emailed Chief McLean. Here’s what I said:

Hi, Chief McLean

I’m a lawyer and cycling advocate in LA, and have been working with Captain Devoren over at the Lost Hills Substation and with CHP regarding cycling safety issues on PCH.

I’ve followed the matter regarding Laura Weintraub closely, and appreciated her apology as well as your department’s swift response.

I think this matter has created a great opportunity for outreach and education. Although the video clearly offended many people, it has brought attention to the conflict between cyclists and motorists in Ventura County and the need for better relationships on all sides.

If you have some time today I’d be more than happy to call and talk about some ways that we can turn this into a win-win situation for your department, for cyclists, and for motorists in Santa Paula.

Best regards,
Seth Davidson

Later that morning I phoned Chief McLean, and was surprised when he took the call personally. I’ve dealt with law enforcement in many adversarial situations, and fully expected McLean to be defensive and skeptical regarding my motives. He was nothing of the kind. To the contrary, when I suggested a meeting with representatives from LA County Bicycle Coalition and Ventura County cycling advocates in order to explore ways that we could provide outreach and education opportunities to the police department, he said this: “I would very much like to have such a meeting, and sooner rather than later.”

After a phone call to Eric Bruins of LACBC, we were able to set up a meeting for this coming Friday. The idea is to bring cycling safety issues to the forefront and to combat some of the most common motorist prejudices as expressed by Weintraub in her video: that cyclists are a nuisance, that their lives don’t really “count,” that people who look different deserve persecution, and that cyclists don’t really belong on the roads.

My conversation with Chief McLean convinced me that the views of Weintraub are not the views of the department. It is regularly involved with pro-cyclist activities, not least of which included acting as a host city for the 2014 Amgen Tour of California. With regard to education regarding cyclist safety issues, the new 3-foot passing law that goes into effect in September, and some of the more technical aspects of cycling law such as CVC 21202, we now have a great opportunity to provide education and outreach to law enforcement in an area heavily frequented by cyclists.

Our biggest challenge in Southern California, which is the epicenter of American car culture, isn’t how to demonize our opponents, although I’ve been known to lob my fair share of Molotovs at aggressive cagers. Our real challenge is getting law enforcement and the community to recognize and accept our right to be on the road. The city of Santa Paula’s police department seems ready to meet that challenge head on, and for that they deserve our respect.

———

Do you support advocacy for cyclist rights? For safer streets? For better relationships between law enforcement, the community, and bikers? Here are some ways you can have an impact:

  1. Subscribe to this blog: Your donation helps me advocate for cyclists.
  2. Join California Association of Bicycling Organizations. $10, cheap.
  3. Join LA County Bicycle Coalition.
  4. Sign up as an activist by emailing me your contact info at fsethd@gmail.com
  5. Get out on your bike and take the lane; learn CVC 21202 by heart!

NorCal cyclists still playing catchup with SoCal

July 20, 2014 § 16 Comments

After years of lagging behind their more talented brethren in Southern California, bike racers in Northern California are finally beginning to make incremental improvements that, they hope, will eventually bring them on a par with the more accomplished southerners.

“It’s going to take years,” says top racer Johnny Metoprol “but we have to close the gap. It’s a total embarrassment, and thank goodness that Logan has stepped up.”

CitSB was able to sit down with NorCal racer Logan Loader and discuss his recent results.

CitSB: So, it’s a been whirlwind these last few days, I suppose.

LL: Yep.

CitSB: And I guess it gives new meaning to your last name.

LL: (laughs) They used to call me “loaded” in junior high, actually.

CitSB: How did this all come about?

LL: NorCal has been several steps behind SoCal for a really long time; it’s that simple. It got to the point to where we were asking ourselves practically every day, “When is USADA going to start showing us some of the love?”

CitSB: How do you feel now?

LL: I’m pretty pleased. SoCal racers aren’t the only ones who know how to get busted. My inbox has exploded with congratulations.

CitSB: Why methylhexaneamine? That’s a pretty weak drug to get popped for.

LL: I knew I’d hear criticism that it wasn’t really big time, I mean, we all know about the guys in SoCal shooting cortisone up into their superficial dorsal veins before races …

CitSB: Their what?

LL: Dorsal veins. You know, the superficial dorsal vein. It’s the one on your … you know … gee, this is kind of embarrassing.

CitSB: Yuck.

LL: Right? And frankly the guys in NorCal aren’t at that level yet. Not to mention the girls. But methylhexaneamine seemed like a good place to start. After my 8-month ban runs I’d for sure like to try some of the better stuff. One step at a time.

CitSB: Any other reasons that an aspiring doper might start off with methylhex? Do you have some advice for the youngsters out there?

LL: Sure. Best thing is that it works great with the “loose powder” defense that was used so successfully by your masters guy down in SoCal last year. You get popped, fill a container with some contaminated substance, and blame it on the manufacturer. And you smile a lot and say “I’m sorry.” Got me down from 2 years to 8 months.

CitSB: Don’t you think the manufacturers are getting a little tired of being blamed every time some hacker turns up positive?

LL: No doubt, but as long as you don’t actually name the manufacturer and just blame it on an “over-the-counter supplement,” it’s pretty much a victimless crime.

CitSB: Let’s go to your tearful confession for a minute, the one that was posted in VeloNews. Pretty funny stuff.

LL: (really laughs) Right?  My favorite line was “I will take full responsibility for my failure to properly read the manufacturer’s label and check for prohibited substances and fully understand the consequences.”

CitSB: That’s a howler, all right. Makes it sound like instead of being a douchebag drug cheat you’re just some moron with a reading problem.

LL: (really, really laughs) Right? (Guffaws, drizzles spit)

CitSB: The apology part was pretty funny, too, especially apologizing to your family.

LL: Like they give a flying fuck, right? It’s shameful enough that I’m a bike racer.

CitSB: Right. My favorite line was this one: “At no point was I attempting to enhance my performance or take part in any unethical practices or sportsmanship.” I mean, if you weren’t trying to enhance your performance why were you taking a supplement? To diminish it?

LL: Hee, hee. We talked a lot about whether to throw in the line about taking part in unethical practices or sportsmanship.

CitSB: I’m sure. What does it even mean?

LL: Nothing. It was just stupid-sounding flummery that we figured was dumb enough for VeloNews.

CitSB: How has your team responded?

LL: High fives all around. We think that with practice and getting used to handling the superficial dorsal vein and a 65-guage Tuohy needle, we can step up our game. No pain, no gain.

CitSB: Goals for 2015?

LL: I think the entire NorCal racing community is behind me when I say we can get a solid 5-year ban in the next twelve months.

CitSB: A second violation might do the trick.

LL: Right?

CitSB: Any last thoughts?

LL: My ultimate dream? A lifetime ban. That would even the score pretty darned quick.

CitSB: Good luck. You can do it.

Taking control of PCH in Orange County

July 18, 2014 § 8 Comments

The work that has been done in Los Angeles County to bring attention to cycling and lane control on Pacific Coast Highway is already paying dividends. Thanks to the efforts of LA County Bicycle Coalition, local activists, and most importantly to the cyclists who are taking the initiative to utilize lane control techniques while riding on PCH, others in Southern California who face the same issues as we do are taking matters into their own legs.

David Huntsman, a friend, fellow lawyer, and board member of the Orange County Bicycle Coalition, has been following our experiences on PCH in Los Angeles. The reason is simple: Laguna Beach in Orange County has an even worse problem with motorists on PCH than we do here in Los Angeles (although we do have Cher, which makes our stretch of PCH aesthetically much less appealing).

On June 17, slightly more than a month ago, John Colvin was riding his bike on PCH in Laguna Beach in the gutter while training for his first Iron Man. John’s edge-riding position is the default one for cyclists in Orange County along this stretch of PCH, just like it is in Los Angeles. A 19-year-old local resident struck John and killed him. Then, after casually killing John, the teenager drove along for another mile before deciding to stop and notify law enforcement. His car was badly damaged and the windshield smashed in; perhaps if the damage to his Prius had been less the driver wouldn’t have even stopped.

Since he was very distraught at having killed someone, and since he was a local OC boy, law enforcement asked him a few questions, then released him and sent him home to his mother. No charges have been filed, and no explanation has been given for why he hit-and-ran or for why he was driving on the shoulder.

Debra Deem was killed last August, also on PCH, by a cager who “didn’t see her.” This is a valid excuse in Orange County and most other parts of the U.S. for killing cyclists. Like Colvin, Debra was riding on the edge of the road; this stretch of PCH has no bike lane or other infrastructure to accommodate cyclists even though it is heavily used by bicycle riders. The plain fact is that cyclists on this part of PCH who occupy the edge or who are on the shoulder are much less visible than riders who are legally controlling the lane, especially given the dangerous design of the roadway, which makes zero accommodations for cyclists.

Orange County riders commemorate the lives of John and Debra by taking the lane

This Sunday, July 20 at 8:00 AM, the OC Bicycle Coalition will commemorate the lives of Debra and John through a short ride on PCH. Riders will be using full lane control techniques along this stretch of Pacific Coast Highway. The 5.1 route is as follows:

–Heisler Park to Newport Coast Villas
–R Cliff to PCH  0.3 miles
–L PCH to Newport Coast for 4.4 miles
–R Newport Coast to Pelican Hill Road So 0.4 miles
–R on Pelican Hill Road So (aka Tuscany)
–Regroup, and then turn back or continue with a regular Sunday ride

Some riders will go all the way over to Newport Coast; some plan to take mountain bikes high above Laguna to get back; some will head on to do their regular Sunday triathlon training; some will enjoy the trails in the State Park before completing the the ride back into Laguna on PCH.

OC Bicycle Coalition considered and rejected the idea of a traditional memorial ride with police escorts. “It sends the wrong message,” said my buddy Dave. That message, of course, is that bikes don’t belong on PCH except for special occasions and when accompanied by the police. The real message that cagers need to hear is that bikes belong in the lane, that they belong on PCH, that John and Debra’s lives were needlessly lost, and that we refuse to passively ride by as motorists kill us at will.

Riders will not be riding on the edge or in the gutter during this ride, but will be exercising their legal right to control the lane pursuant to CVC 21202. The families of John and Debra want the ride to help make motorists on this deadly stretch of road keenly aware that cyclists have the right to be in the lane; they also want cyclists like John and Debra to know that they are safer in the lane on this stretch of PCH than they are when hunkered down in the gutter.

By forcing motorists to see us by forcing them to change lanes to pass us, and by forcing them to take note our position squarely in the lane, the families of Debra and John support this ride not simply as a memorial to needlessly lost lives, but as a positive agent for permanent change.

So … how can you help?

  1. When you’re on your bike, ride in the lane, and know CVC 21202 by heart, because you may well get a ticket. (If you do, let me know and I will try to arrange a pro bono defense of your ticket.)
  2. Join the ride for John and Debra on Sunday.
  3. Join the OC Bicycle Coalition and the LA County Bicycle Coalition.
  4. Subscribe to this blog: Your monthly $2.99 donation will be used to promote activities that help secure the right of cyclists to legally ride on California roads, and to provide legal defense for cyclists who are illegally ticketed by law enforcement.
  5. Follow the best cycling blog in Los Angeles, if not the world, “Biking in L.A.
  6. Send an email to fsethd@gmail.com to be put on my Activist List. I’ll notify you of upcoming protest rides, letter writing campaigns, and general thorn-in-the-eye activities designed to keep us where we belong: Alive.

Bike the Reich

July 16, 2014 § 21 Comments

“I would like to rent you a bicycle,” I said to the lady at the counter, who was understandably confused.

A split second passed. “Oh,” she said, correcting my bad German, “you mean you would like to rent a bicycle from me?”

“Er, yes, please.” This made a whole lot more sense because I was a tourist in Berlin and she was an employee at a bike rental shop. “I would like something in the range of 58 cm, I could go with 56 or 60, but 58 would be best, with a 110mm stem and a cut-out saddle,” I added, smiling. “Something to relieve the pressure down there.”

“Of course,” she said, taking down my passport number and running my credit card.

“Also, SRAM if you have it, although I could do with Dura-Ace. Just not Campy, please, as I’m not too familiar with it.”

I signed the credit card receipt and we went out back to the rental bikes. There were about twenty black 3-speeds with upright handlebars, baskets, balloon tires, huge foam saddles, and giant v-cutouts instead of top tubes so I could get on and off in my skirt.

“Which one would you like?” she asked. They were all identically sized.

“Can I have the black one?”

“Of course,” she said, unlocking the enormous 10-lb. chain that went with the bike, giving me the key, then dropping the chain in the rear basket.

I swayed off, pedaling down the street, slowly gathering speed like an iron steam engine rolling down the rails.

No amount of bicycle iron, however, could detract from the feeling that screamed “Bicycle! Yippee!” that coursed through my veins. Like every bikeless cyclist stranded in a foreign city, after about two days I had begun to eye riders who whizzed by on commuter bikes with a fierce envy that finally turned to nefarious plans to murder some old lady just so I could have her bike to get around on. Of course most old German ladies, particularly in East Berlin, are about 6’4″ and not what I would call easy pickings, so I had inquired and found the rental shop.

As I yippeed along the streets I rolled through Checkpoint Charlie, by the Trabi dealer, past the Mauer Museum and the Topography of Terror Museum and then made a big loop back to Potsdamer Platz. Much of the loop had been in the middle of busy morning traffic and no one cared.

Berlin is a muscular yet understated city, gritty in the eastern part and clotted with big, blocky high-rises that in a thousand years will be extraordinary exemplars of fine architecture but for now just look like deformed Legos made of glass and steroids. Alexanderplatz and environs have the warm tingle of an urban shithole, decorated with American college kids discovering their first European venereal disease, bums collecting bottles from the garbage bins, and gypsy beggars asking “Speak English?” to which I reply “Can I borrow five bucks?” That made them wander off rather quickly.

Back on Helga the Iron One, I yippeed along the bike path until I was where I wanted to be: completely lost. So I yippeed some more until I came to a cafe that was just beginning to set out tables. It was already 8:00 AM, so I ordered a half-liter of Berliner Kindl pilsener. It is a fine, traditionally brewed Berlin beer that combines hints of cardboard and bad water with a forward note of bloody urine.

So I had another, and then two more. After that I lost count, so I paid the bill, or what I thought was the bill but was in fact just a piece of trash. I learned my mistake when the irate waiter chased me down after I’d unlocked Helga. It occurred to me to slap him with the butt-end of the 10-lb. chain, but since I’d never been raped in a German prison I figured I’d pay up and save that experience for another visit.

It is amazing how a bicycle can be transformed by a mere three liters of early morning beer. What had begun as Helga the Fat had become Ulrike the Sleek. “It really does kind of feel like a racing bike,” I said to myself, bouncing off the bike path, over the curb, and out into traffic where I just missed hitting a small but lively bus.

As I mashed on the pedals I was amazed at how fast it went, even though not in a necessarily straight line. However, all of the rush hour traffic was impressed, as they began honking and waving their hands in a show of entusiasm at my expert riding skills. I was in love with this magnificent city, and it with me.

Somehow I ended up in the middle of a giant throng of bike commuters stuck at a red light. There was a woman with a kid on the back. Five or six men in suits. Several old women doing the morning grocery shopping. But I paid no attention to them as I muscled my way to the starting line. I knew who I was going to have to beat: the dude in the helmet on the racing bike.

The light turned green and I jumped on his wheel. He didn’t notice me right away, but as he picked up speed the creaking and groaning of Ulrike caught his attention. What caught his attention even more was when the next light turned red and he braked. Ulrike the Sleek had become Ulrike the Don’t Brake None Too Good, and I whacked his rear wheel so hard with my balloon tire that it knocked him over.

In German I can now pretty much understand “You sorry motherfucker!” It sounds a lot like it does in English. I checked to make sure his tibia was okay and then continued on. Fortunately, just before the beer wore off I spied another cafe and pulled in to top off the tank.

“I would like to buy you a beer,” I told the waiter.

“Thank you,” he said, “but I am working. May I get you something?”

“A beer, please,” I said. It was almost eleven and the day had already been perfect. My German wasn’t getting any better, but I was caring about it less, and I had now learned to say “you motherfucker.” I sat there practicing for a few minutes.

“You motherfucker. You motherfucker. You motherfucker.” I said.

“Excuse me?” asked the waiter, who had arrived with my beer, just as I uttered my last “motherfucker.”

I stared smiling
at the foamy glass. “You look delicious on me.”

He scowled and set it down, but I don’t recall anything else. I’m sure it had a happy ending.

Tumpkins leads TdF; Facebag announces news blackout

July 15, 2014 § 11 Comments

With the recent crash-abandons of Andy Schleck, Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish, Frank Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Alberto Contador, and the remaining 189 riders, the lead in this year’s Tour de France passed today to unheralded Mathers Tumpkins, a little-known domestique for Team Diaper. Diaper was the last team to receive a wildcard invitation, and Tumpkins, a/k/a “Jellyroll,” was the last rider to be selected.

Tumpkins appeared astonished at being led to the podium and asked to pull on the coveted leader’s jersey. “One minute I’m the lanterne rouge and the next I’m on a stage sticking my tongue down some bimbo’s throat watching the Badger punch out some bum in a wheelchair. Dayum!”

Evgeni Mxyzptlk, director of Team Diaper, was also suprised. “That’s the shits, as we say on Team Didy. Only reason Tumpkins even got on the team was because his father owns the company.”

After Froome’s multiple bicycle-falling-off incidents and resultant boo-boo, the biggest news of the day aside from everyone giving up was Contador’s falling-off-incident. El Dopalero was eating a banana when he inadvertantly flung aside the remains and his bicycle slipped on the peel. Dramatic photos show El Dopalero’s bike frame cracked in half; bystanders said that Contador rode into a small 12-foot pothole and snapped the frame.

Specialized immediately issued a press release denying that its frame was weak, substandard, shoddily made, or in any way less than perfect. The release is printed in full below:

Specialized deeply regrets losing El Dopalero from the 2014 Tour de France. However, the catastrophic failure that appeared to occur when he slipped on a banana peel and rode off into a mine shaft had nothing to do with the integrity of the frame despite alleged eyewitness accounts.

Eyewitnesses were flown to a Specialized Rendition Center in Uzbekistan where it was determined through perfectly legal measures that they were drunk at the time of the accident. Each witness signed a full confession admitting that Specialized makes perfect bikes of uncompromising structural integrity.

Specialized fully intended to make the witnesses available to the media, but after signing their confessions they accidentally fell down some stairs and died. Moreover, in the event that El Dopalero did not fall into a volcano crater, we are prepared to offer evidence that the frame broke because it was damaged while passing the Belkin team car, or because it got run over by accident after El Dopalero fell, or because it was mauled, but not eaten, by the dog.

Race leader Tumpkins was circumspect about the crash and mass abandons as he chewed on his fourth donut and swigged from a bottle of beer. “Look, it’s all the same to me whether he rode off a cliff or is having a heavy monthly flow. Fact is, there’s no one left in the Tour except me and I intend to take my fuggin’ time.”

Mxyzptlk concurred. “There is no reason to rush anymore. Everyone else has gone home. This last 450-mile cobbled uphill headwind freezing rain and ice stage was too much, even for Jens Voigt and his pharmacist.”

When asked whether fans would stick around for a 2-week victory parade, Mxyzptlk shrugged and turned the corners of his mouth down in that funny Euro way which essentially means, “Who gives a fuck?”

Facebag issues Tour de France news blackout

In related Tour news, Mark Suckerberg, president of social media giant Facebag, issued a press release regarding the new Tour Blackout algorithm. “We have set up Facebag so that nothing can be posted on it anymore before the entire Tour concludes, thus saving sensitive members of our community from having the event spoiled for them.”

The new algorithm was apparently developed in response to the piteous cry made by Mr. Mailliw Enots, winner of the not-so-coveted 2013 Most Time on Facebag Award. Enots’s plea for help is reproduced below:

It is really terrible when blatherskite people post the Tour results before I return home from work because, juice box. Those who do this apparently have a deep seeded (sic) disorder marked by wanting to be considered important and knowing when they have done nothing to suggest they are either. This posting of spoiler things must be stopped.

Although it was later pointed out that Enots hasn’t been to work since 1974, and a study team posed the question of why he was on a web site that exists specifically to spoil everyone’s fun about sporting results while posting photos of last night’s dinner and cats, Suckerberg took pity on the orthographically challenged Savant from Hooterville.

“While it does seem strange that someone would be surfing Facebag at work (you get fired for that here at Facebag), and even stranger that they would be surprised to find out what happened in the day’s major sporting event, some people deserve pity, and if not that, at least a healthy measure of contempt, or both, and he is one.”

It is not clear how Facebag or Enots will deal with the fact that Mathers Tumpkins seems poised to win every successive stage until Paris.

 

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