The old sly fox (jumped the lazy pack of dogs)

December 31, 2012 § 9 Comments

Yah, yesterday was hard enough so today Slim played hooky at the back, then hooky off the back as the pack rolled up the reservoir climb without him, then plowed up Homes & Domes without him, then bombed down the Switchbacks without him, then let him slide on by while they were filling up water bottles, then overhauled him again in Portuguese Bend.

Slim didn’t care. He wasn’t going to do anything except sit. Let the others suffer if that’s how they wanted to spend their Sunday morning.

At the glass church Marco, Mark, and Jay rolled off the front. Thirty or forty riders watched them go, waiting for Slim to surge from the pack and tow or bridge. But Slim sat and let their indecision fester. He knew every inch of this road and they all measured “pain.” Today, hurting was for someone else.

A few riders took turns at the front, but no one wanted to push it. The Glass Church hill is unforgiving. If you fire too hard too early, you’ll be watching your erstwhile friends recede into the distance.

Slim nestled into the center of the group. He’d found his wheel, and he wasn’t letting go. Marco & Co. were gone and not coming back anyway, not with this gang of “No, dude, YOU pull” types.

Slim had glued onto Old Fox, owner of the ugliest, nastiest pedal stroke in Southern California. It was a horrible, repulsive pedaling style, jerky, elliptical, toe on the left leg bent awkwardly in towards the crank, every spin of the legs looking like a bad piece of Aggie engineering that had been redrawn by Rube Goldberg.

Slim had first run into Old Fox on the reservoir climb six years ago. Slim had been fast and fit, and Old Fox had been clunky, chunky, and already older than most naturally occurring rock formations. Slim passed him. Old Fox hopped on. Slim upped the ante to threshold. Old Fox hung on. Slim pushed the needle into red. Old Fox started to wheeze. Slim punched once, hard. Old Fox took it on the chin and blew.

The whole thing had disturbed Slim because Old Fox was so old, so ungainly, so out of shape, but had held on for so long. Nothing grates on the ego of a cyclist like having a plainly inferior rider hang on when you’re going all out.

The next time they met, it was on Old Fox’s turf. Flat. Four corners. A big bunch. A fast finish.

Old Fox took second, coming out of nowhere, beating a dozen contenders who were twenty or thirty years his junior. Slim learned that Old Fox had gotten silver in the national crit championships as a younger racer. Those awkward, ugly strokes only looked inefficient. When you stopped staring at the ankles and the knees, you noticed the high cadence and the smoothness between the knee and hip.

In dozens of head to head encounters, Slim had taken Old Fox once, and that was with the lead-out of all lead-outs from the Fireman, uphill and after a hundred miles…and even so Slim had edged Old Fox only by the width of a tire.

Slim took stock of the group’s remnants as they crested the Glass Church hill. Maybe a dozen riders remained, even though the pace had been anemic at best. Junkyard, Pilot, Canyon Bob, Mike B., and one or two others took turns revving the downhill as they approached the first of two bumps that preceded the uphill sprint. A gang of over-excited Velo Allegro wankers had melded with the group a few miles back, and they jostled for position.

Old Fox did nothing. Slim hated the way he never worked, never took a pull, never went to the front, but he admired him, too. Old Fox’s conservation of energy was an art form. His easily spinning legs had yet to make any effort at all, even as those around him made withdrawals, some larger, some smaller, from their rapidly dwindling accounts.

Slim would beat Old Fox at his own game today. Slim hadn’t cracked a sweat. He hadn’t budged from the wheel. He let Old Fox guide him easily through the group. Old Fox’s clunky pedaling was a decoy for more than his efficient, high-cadence stroke. It also took your attention off the fact that he negotiated the cracks and crevices in the peloton with utter mastery and ease.

Halfway up the first bump Pilot moved to the outside and shot forward. Old Fox pushed the pedals hard and followed, still perfectly protected. Slim was right there. Over the first bump, down the screaming backside and approaching the second and final bump, Old Fox showed another one of his cards, the expert sprinter’s ace of spades: The card of patience.

This close to the line and Slim, if left to his own devices, would have been panicking and hitting the gas full-on. Not Old Fox. He knew it wasn’t time. It was close, but not close enough. A little more pavement, and it was still close, but not close enough. A few more yards till and it was close, closer, and then showtime.

The old man kicked the pedals so hard that his bike shot like a rearing pony, and only pure attentiveness kept Slim on his wheel. As the peloton was hesitating to see who would lead it out, Old Fox was shooting free and clear, none of the remaining riders having a snowball’s chance. He’d launched from the far outside, from a fast, strong wheel, mid-way up the pack, and with such ferocity that the only other rider who could grab his draft was Slim.

They were free, Slim could feel it without looking back. the chaos of the jostling and the whining of the wheels had been replaced by silence. No long shadow throwing forward. Just Slim and Old Fox, and Old Fox was about to get spanked.

“This is how the lion feels before it sinks its teeth into the soft, warm neck of the kicking gazelle,” Slim laughed to himself. “Now tell me how you like these fangs, fucker.”

Legs fresh, with plenty of gas in the tank, Slim kicked as the finishing sprint sign approached.

But…surprise, surprise. Old Fox had some fumes left to cook off as well. Slim came off the wheel and hit the wall of wind. At the same time, Old Fox gathered his powerful shoulders and arms, coiled his entire body, and kicked the pedals one last time. Through the sucking gasps Slim saw the old man’s legs move perfectly around in that final lunge. Nothing ugly, or ungainly, or wasted, just one last complete effort.

Old Fox by a bike length.

The panting, lazy dogs came scrambling up after, frothing and foaming with frustration and proffering the best and most practiced of excuses.

“Dude it was too squirrely back there, I just let it go,” barked one.

“I was gonna lead you out,” panted another.

“I got boxed in,” yapped a third.

Old Fox just smiled and let them roll past.

Like the old days

December 30, 2012 § 18 Comments

I like today and its brake lever shifters, plastic bikes, Facebook-Twitter-Blogging-Email meet ups, and of course old wanker dude racing teams with better, slicker, more uber-pro outfits and gear than any Tour de France star in the 70’s or 80’s ever dreamed of having.

But I like yesterday, too, and today was a yesterday kind of day.

Back during yesterday, you trained with one or two regular buddies, or by yourself. They had names like Kent, Fields, or Callaway, or Vermeij, or Dickson, and the day’s workout was always the same: You were going to go hard, go long, and be very tired at the end.

Back during yesterday, you and Fields would roll out and it wouldn’t matter if it was raining, or colding, or hotting, or if the wind was howling, or if you were tired, or if you had a sniffle. You rolled out. You warmed up. And for the next three or four hours you suffered like a dog stuck to his rear wheel while he towed and battered and hauled you all over the Texas Hill Country.

The “group ride” on Saturday and Sunday started with a huge turnout of maybe thirty people, whittled down to half by the time you got to Webberville, and finished with three or four a long time later. No GU. No BonkBreaker. No energy drink.

It was simple. Meet, ride, suffer.

Empire State Express

Coming home from the North County Swami’s Ride today, I tuned into the jazz/blues radio station. Today is okay in the world of blues, too. There are lots of good musicians who innovate. Who wizardize on their guitars. Who make trumpets and electronic keyboards and other instruments sound like they belong in the blues.

But I grew up listening to yesterday’s locked down twelve bar blues. Plastic discs spinning names like Leadbelly and Blind Lemon Jefferson, one voice, one guitar, one dude. That was it.

Cruising through Oceanside the radio hit me like a hammer. The DJ had decided to play Son House’s Empire State Express from his 1965 recording sessions. Son was old then and “rediscovered” by the hippie blues revivalists. His voice was cracked and rough and broken; no honey or silk left on the raw, smoked out vocal cords.

His guitar playing was stiff and banging, the glide on his National steel was all jerky and hard, like his brain knew where the sound should be but his fingers couldn’t make the notes right enough. Like a worn out pair of shoes those recordings were, capturing a historical figure and his historical music for embalming in some piece of amber, to be fixed for all time and gawked at in a museum.

But oh! Even with all that, Son’s music had the grind, the power, the punch, the ungilded emotion that rose up from the field hollers of the chain gang, from the depths of Parchman Penitentiary, from the life and servitude of the Mississipi Delta.

I listened to Empire State Express with my hands clenched on the steering wheel, skin tightened up into goosebumps, the sounds I heard growing up as a boy in Texas re-floated to me on the Interstate back to Los Angeles.

A little time warp had opened up, and I’d slipped into it.

Do it ’til you get the hang of it

Every beatdown ride has its own unique pain profile. The first few times I did the North County Swami’s ride I thought the pain profile was this: Extreme pain from start to finish, with no rest or relief.

Now that I’ve learned to cower, avoid the front, and treat the thing like an exercise in survival, I’ve come to appreciate its true nature. The ride has a series of four or five pain spikes followed by recovery sections. Each pain spike clears out some chaff until you reach the church sprunt, where the reduced group lunges for an imaginary line.

Today I cowered, and even got a shove from Andy Schmidt as we crested Rancho Santa Fe. By gritting my teeth through the pain spikes, which soon ended, I reached the church sprunt unscathed.

Not so for those behind me. As I rolled into the church parking lot, Steve Hegg came up. “Dude, your kit stinks beyond belief. Wash it. Or better yet, burn it.”

It dawned on me that the repeated farts I’d been blasting in the middle of the peloton had wreaked havoc on those behind me. “Sorry, dude. Kimchee, green beans, and pinto beans for dinner last night. Toxic combo.”

Other riders pedaled by. “Was that you? Damn, that stank and I was twenty wheels back. That shit lingered, too. It was like a floating cloud of turd over your head the whole way out.” Their faces had that green-around-the-gills look.

Secretly pleased at the stealth weapon that had caused such destruction in the group, I apologized, sort of. “I guess you could have gotten in front of me…”

Those teeth all look pretty sharp to me

After the church, most of the group turned right to return home. A smaller group turned left to get in a longer ride. The group’s composition did not look inviting. It included Thurlow Rogers a/k/a THOG a/k/a The Hand of God. It included some very tough, fit looking riders. Worst of all, it included three or four national team members, none of whom was over twenty and none of whom weighed more than a hundred pounds. One of the riders had gotten fifth in the UCI U-23 World Championships in 2012.

Fifth.

And they were headed for the Lake Wolford climb, which, for a lamb like me, is akin to saying they were headed for the executioner’s pen. I looked at MMX, who had turned with me. “We going with these mass murderers?” I asked.

“Sure. Unless you’re not up for it.”

“I know a shark tank when I see one. What happens when we hit the climb?”

He mused, briefly. “Shrapnel. You’ll be dropped instantaneously. Everyone will be destroyed except those tiny youngsters and Thurlow.”

“How about we turn off and do our own ride?”

“If you want to, sure.”

I wanted to.

Don’t twosome with the guy who owns 257 Strava KOM’s

The sharks swam away, and the two of us turned off and began our own ride. If I’d been expecting a leisurely, conversational pace, I was soon disappointed. MMX bent over his handlebars and pushed the pace up to where it was just unpleasant enough to seek refuge on his wheel.

Over the next hour we eased off and chatted a bit. The weather was warm. The back roads were uncluttered with cars. The North County rollers that typically exacted such a high price from my legs seemed to be minor obstacles at best. With the exception of Bandy Canyon, where I came unhitched and he had to wait, we pedaled in unison along the scenic roads.

Then his phone rang. “Yes, honey. Yes, dear. Okay, honey. No, I didn’t forget, honey. It’s just me and Seth. We’re right around the corner from the house. We’ll be home shortly, honey. Okay, dear. Love you, too.”

“You’re in deep shit, huh?”

He nodded. “Yup.” He clipped back in. “We’re going to take a more direct route back.”

“Are we really right around the corner?” I was always lost in North County and had no idea where we were.

“No.” Then his face got a funny look. “But we soon will be.”

Tugging on Superman’s cape

He pointed his bike onto a bike path that paralleled some freeway. I tucked in behind him. 16. 15. 14. 13. 12. Then 11. The last cog. And it was turning quickly.

MMX is the perfect draft for me. He’s about my height and slightly wider. When he gets going it creates the ultimate cocoon of draft. As he roared along I snuggled up against his rear wheel, blasting along without having to do a lick of work. The only nagging doubt I had was that at some point he would tire and I’d have to pull. At this speed, any effort on the front would completely do me in.

He just went faster.

After about ten minutes my little twinge of shoplifter’s delight began to fade a bit. Yes, I was stealing a wheel. Yes, it was a great wheel. No, he wasn’t flicking me to pull through.

But…it was starting to hurt like hell.

At each roller he came out of the saddle, driving it harder to maintain the hellish pace. I’d flail to hold the wheel, then settle back into the cocoon. After about twenty minutes I was in a world of hurt. All I could see were the pounding pistons of his legs where the calf separates from the soleus, and the variations of his chain: Now the 11, up to the 12, back to the 11, repeat.

Occasionally the strain would show as his shoulders rocked, but the pace never dropped, and still he never waved me through. The only consolation was that no matter how tired I was, he must have been at the very end of his tether.

We finally slowed at the end of the bikeway and he looked back. His eyes were narrowed and his mouth was set. That’s when I realized it. He wasn’t racing to get home. He was tackling a segment on Strava. For me to pull through would have meant that it didn’t count.

“When we hit PCH I’m going to drop you. But don’t worry. I’ll circle back and pick you up.”

“Go fuck yourself,” I laughed silently. “I’ve been sitting on your wheel and not doing a lick of work. You’ve been carving it up hill and down dale into the teeth of a nasty crosswind. You’re tired. You may be stronger than me, but you’re not strong enough to drop me after an effort like that.”

But I said something slightly more diplomatic. “I’ll be fine. I’m riding well on these rollers for the first time ever. Tucked here behind you, I won’t come off so easily. My legs are really coming around.”

He nodded. “I’ll circle back.”

The Little Engine that Couldn’t

We rolled underneath the Interstate and he began accelerating. Soon we were on a long roller leading up to Del Mar. I could see the ocean and knew that all I had to do was hold his wheel up the climb; after that we’d descend and be on PCH and I’d be home free. He was tired. He’d been drilling it relentlessly for miles. I’d been hunkered down in his draft. This was a gimme.

Midway up the climb I was fine. Three-quarters of the way I’d redlined. A few hundred meters from the top MMX stood on the pedals and shook me off, effortlessly. My engine blew completely, and he disappeared.

Glad he was going to circle back.

A few miles from Encinitas he came back to get me. We rolled into town and had a cup of coffee. I felt awful, wrecked, broken, and demoralized, but consoled myself with the fact that it was North County. I always felt destroyed post-ride in North County.

MMX checked his iPhone. “Cool. Ten new KOM’s.”

“Go to hell,” I said.

“You rode well. But you look pretty beaten.”

“Yes,” I said. “I am.”

And I was. And it felt absolutely great. Just like old times.

Simple ride and punch in face

December 29, 2012 § 34 Comments

Have you ever noticed how there’s no such thing as a simple ride? Once you’re on your bike, shit happens. The reason we don’t think anything of it is because we forget most of it by the time we’re home.

Why do we forget?

Because when you’re on a bike, you’re out “in life,” where shit happens. You’re not cooped up in the car, or couch surfing, or nailed to a theater seat. You’re out in the world, going slightly more or slightly less than the speed of the world around you, unprotected from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

So much happens so quickly, and it’s all interspersed with intense activity, that when you get home all you want to do is eat, shower, and sleep. Once that’s done, the details of the ride are a distant memory, or no memory at all.

Nothing special happened today

I met up with Jeff, Harry, and Rod for a leisurely pedal from the Center of the Known Universe to Mandeville Canyon. It was California cold, which is to say in the mid 40’s which is to say that a whole lot of cyclists stayed in bed despite the clear skies and beautiful morning.

The extra effort of pulling on a pair of booties can be, like, such a drag.

After drag racing up Mandeville, with Rod playing pacemaker until he fried, and then Jeff putting King Harold and me to sword, we turned around and descended. While clipping along San Vicente’s long, fast, straight downhill at well over 30 mph, a large magnolia seed cone fell from a limb and hit me in the face.

It was such a blow that it jerked my head back. Had it not been for my glasses, which absorbed much of the blow, my eye could have been taken out. I’ve often thought that the extra wide frame of my SPY Quanta frames afforded me extra protection, but this day proved it (insert applause for shameless plug here). As it was, I was lucky to retain control and pull over. Aside from a small cut, minor bruising, and a fine string of oaths, I was unhurt.

As we pedaled on, Jeff reminded Rod of the time that a giant piece of steel had flown up and hit him in the shin. “Remember that?” asked Jeff.

As if anyone ever forgets excruciating pain! “Oh, hell yes,” said Rod. His entire shin swelled up, he’d had to dismount, doubled over in pain…it was quite epic. Pain filled. Memorable.

This of course recalled insect bites. “Remember when that dude got stung in the eye by a bee?”

“Yeah, and his whole body swelled up like a giant grapefruit, and EMS had to come and take him off to the ER.”

“Or what about the time we were riding along and almost got hit by that piano?”

Everyone nodded, recalling the near disaster when a piano fell out of the back of a truck, bouncing along the tarmac at 50 mph, keyboard, legs, and chunks of wood flying like spears, scattering the terrified peloton.

“What about when G$ went over the guardrail at 40?”

“Or when Hottie hit that giant rock going down the Switchbacks at speed?”

“Remember when the angry driver got out and pulled a pistol?”

“That was scary as hell. And the naked chick on the motor scooter?”

“Ten stars! What about the time Stern-O wrecked an entire frame by running over a stick and getting it caught in the rear triangle?”

“High tide on the bike path when that huge wave came over the breakwater, knocked Jack off his bike and took his water bottle out to sea.”

“Stern-O’s wipeout at speed going into Pedro. Rolled a new silk sew-up at 40 in the turn dropping down Western. What the hell was he doing with silk sew-ups on a road bike?”

“Strauchmann’s one-legged crash and bike toss that almost took out Yule’s recently repaired elbow!”

“That freddie who got bit by a rattlesnake while changing a flat up on Piuma.”

“That dude who stomped off in the weeds to take a leak and found a small pot farm.”

“All those condoms and underwear in a neat pile underneath the bridge.”

Pretty soon we were home. And except for the punch in the face by the falling seed cone that almost blinded me and caused a horrific crash, it was a perfectly normal day.

It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to

December 25, 2012 § 141 Comments

Christmas Day is a melancholy day for me and I don’t have to apologize for it. It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to.

It was melancholy for my grandfather Jim, who was stone drunk by ten every Christmas morning, and on the blind staggers by evening. His elder sister had died on Christmas when he was a young man, compounding what was a sad holiday anyway. Celebration of the birthday of an innocent man who was nailed to a cross? Day of mourning is more like it…

My brother was born on December 27th.

I spent my life chasing him, and for two days every year we were the same age. What a wonderful feeling, those two days of equality, until he would race by me again, reminding me with a thump on the head that he was still the boss. This year I’ll pass him forever. What I wouldn’t give to be the younger one again.

Death and remembrance

I swung by the PV Bicycle Center yesterday to pick up my ‘cross bike, which had been cleaned and overhauled after the bitter abuse of half a beginner’s race season. As I parked, Dave Lindstedt was pulling out. He rolled down his window. “Did you hear about Steve?”

Now you know and I know, that’s a question that’s never going to end well. I expected the worst, of course, which in my world means that another friend got mowed down by a motorist. I braced for the account of the accident, the extent of the injuries, and finally the location of the hospital.

If it was a bad accident, I’d likely be spending Christmas Eve at UCLA Harbor. If it was only terrible-bad, I’d be visiting him at Torrance Memorial. If he’d gotten pegged on one of his longer rides, it might even be UCLA in Westwood.

“No,” I said, opening my door because the electronic window was still broken and I’d just covered the controls with duct tape to keep from inadvertently hitting the button and causing the window to leap out of the frame.

Dave swallowed hard. “He’s gone.”

“He’s what?”

“Gone. Yesterday in Malibu, climbing with Marcella. His heart gave out.”

We looked at each other, me in shock, him in pity as the shock coursed across my face. There’s that moment when anything you say is small and inadequate and rent with cliche, when reflexive utterances fill the void.

“I can’t believe it,” I said.

Lost in sound

Steve Bowen owned the PV Bicycle Center. He, like most other bike shop owners, worked all the time. He knew his customers. He was honest. He was beyond fair. He was always willing to help. He cared about people. He was never too busy to listen to your story, no matter how stupid.

There was always one customer who seemed to live at the shop but who I never saw buy anything. He would stand at the counter and brag about his hard rides, about his toughness, about his great skills on the bike. He would ask a thousand questions about products, prices, components, and repair. He was a single-handed drain on Steve’s bottom line in terms of time alone, not to mention annoyance, making other customers wait, and the bad smell that he brought with him into the shop. He was the kind of guy who sucked you dry and then did his shopping online, where he saved five percent.

I never saw Steve show resignation, or boredom, or frustration at this boob. If it had been me, the second time he walked into my shop I’d have told him to buy something or get the hell out. That’s another reason I didn’t get into retail, I suppose.

Steve marched to a different beat, though, and it showed. Steve was originally a concert pianist, and he had the gentleness of an artist as well as the slightly detached third ear of a musician. He always listened intently, and always seemed to be hearing more than you said.

I think that’s what gave him his profound empathy; it was his ability to hear the rhythm and the undertones and the overtones of the subtext that overlay whatever it was you were saying. His gentleness showed itself in his demeanor towards people and even more so towards animals.

His shop dog, Peanut, was proof of Steve’s kindness and easy spirit. The dog was weaned on love and raised on affection, which breeds satisfaction and kindness in animals and people alike.

Firing up the base

Steve did more than sell bikes. He sold people on the importance and enjoyment of biking. His shop sponsored all manner of rides, everything from beginner rides to seminars with local pros. He helped local authors promote their books: Patrick Brady’s bike book sat at the front of the cash register. He sponsored local racing teams. He worked hard to get women into cycling by creating an environment that was safe and fun and not permeated with with the chest-thumping advice sausages who so often intimidate women and ruin their excitement at discovering cycling.

The PV Bike Chicks, a local club that is the largest women’s riding group in the South Bay, was formed in large part due to Steve’s unwavering support. At public hearings like the one in Rolling Hills Estates, when the horse people tried to shout down an extraordinary infrastructure plan that would accommodate more cyclists and make bicycling safer in one of LA’s best riding areas, Steve was always there and always willing to speak.

His demeanor was factual, friendly, reasonable. Shrill, squawking, madman-with-a-kazoo type speeches a la Wankmeister were not his thing. He spoke, he talked business, he talked safety, he talked health, and people listened.

Everyone had a feel-good story about Steve

A couple of years ago, when Michael Marckx was trying to help Blue Bicycles get a foothold in the Southern California market, Steve made the extra effort to carry their bikes. He believed in helping.

When his shop manager, Sean, interviewed for the job he came back home to his girlfriend and said, “I gotta get that job.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because this guy really cares about people. It’s not just push, push, push and grind the bottom line. You can tell he cares.”

I have my own litany of stories about Steve. Most of them involve last minute needs, after-hours wants, inconvenient demands made at inconvenient times for inconvenient products and inconvenient services. Steve was always there for me, and treated my patronage like it mattered.

Most importantly, he was a cyclist’s cyclist and he maintained a dual-repair track. There was one track for bikes that needed fixing. They got put into the queue. There was another track for cyclists who needed their bike so they could ride it.

Those gonna-get-ridden bikes always, always, always went to the head of the line. Steve knew the difference between someone with three bikes who was looking for a particular upgrade and a racer with one bike and a busted wheel who was racing or doing a big ride the next day. He loved bikes, but he loved people who rode them more.

A bad omen

For several years Steve ran his bike shop in a small, hard to find, harder to reach location adjacent to the vet and across the way from a grocery store, tucked into one of the least desirable spaces on the Hill. He busted his butt. He built a loyal customer base. He toiled the long hours.

Then, three years ago he teamed up with Specialized to make a full-service, modern, beautiful bike shop that combined the best of an integrated Specialized operation with the integrity and friendliness of an LBS. If anything, he worked harder, but never lost the smile.

Earlier this year, while doing one of his 100-mile+ mountain rides, Steve keeled over and was briefly hospitalized. The doctors gave him a clean bill of health, but it was clearly worrisome to him as they’d been unable to pinpoint the cause. He kept riding and working and working and riding until this past Sunday.

He’d ventured out to the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu with Marcella Piersol. She was ahead of him on the climb when a motorist flagged her down.

“Your friend back there has fallen.”

She whipped around and sped back to him. A passing driver had stopped; as chance would have it he was a doctor who immediately tried to revive Steve, with no success. Despite her career as a cop with the LAPD, the shock to Marcella was indescribable. Steve was one of her best riding buddies, and a good friend besides.

She tried telling herself that he died doing what he loved, but that never takes away from the loss, it only makes us vaguely thankful. Vaguely. “It could have been worse” never lessened anyone’s pain.

The sound of music

Steve was a cyclist’s musician. He listened to the details. He cared about harmony. He was passionate about the larger, orchestrated movement.

He played a song for us, a song that was all too brief, and a song that was more complex than it seemed at first listen. Part of the coda, though, is this, and it’s something that Steve would have agreed with unreservedly: Life is fragile. Life is brief. Enjoy it now, while the band still plays.

RIP, Steve Bowen. My life is better because of knowing you. I’ll add you to my Christmas melancholy, but even so the thought of your goodness and your friendship will make me smile anyway.

Peace out.

Benediction

December 24, 2012 § 12 Comments

Oh! The lives we led
Though now we’re bent
And curled at the edges like old leaves.

Oh! The cuts we bled
When joy ran rampant
And we wore our hearts upon our sleeves.

And, oh! The mercies that we pled!
From deaf unseeing gods
In whom today only the luckiest believes.

All bound together
Uniting under tender tether
Braving cold, inclement weather
Sheltered under Christmas eaves.

Shine a light on me

December 23, 2012 § 25 Comments

I still see bikers riding at dusk, or just before dawn, or sometimes even at night, without a headlight.

They are stupid or cheap or both. They are going to get run over by a car. They are going to spend thousands to fix their stupid bones and their stupid bike, they are going to lose income from being bound to a hospital bed and peeing through a tube, their wifeband is going to fucking ream them to a fare thee well because s/he never approved of cycling anyway, and the jarheaded cop is going to assign them liability for the accident, cutting off a lawsuit and potential recovery against the offending driver.

They are going to spend tens of thousands to fix themselves, when they could have prevented the whole mess with a $150.00 purchase.

Oh, and of course they didn’t stint on the $2,500.00 racing wheelset, and no, they don’t race.

Stupid and cheap people don’t deserve death or horrible injury just because they’re stupid and cheap, but the world often disagrees.

The temerity of the review

I’m usually first impressed, then quickly contemptuous of, people who review new cycling products. It’s impressive because the responsibility is so enormous, and blogger/Bicycling Mag types seem to assume it for no more than a free shipment of swag.

When you review a product you’re telling people how to spend their money. This is like telling them how to do their job, or how to talk to their wife, or what school to send their kids to, or which religion to believe in, only way more personal than those things.

For cycling crap, reviews are more than telling people “buy this, not that.” Depending on the product, reviews are also saying “trust your life with this, not that.”

I’m thinking tires. Glasses. Brakes. Frames. Shoes. Wheels. I’m thinking any of those numerous items on a bike which, when they catastrophically fail, can result in catastrophic injury.

I get contemptuous of the new product review pretty quickly when the product is one of those things we depend on to keep us alive when we cycle. Why? Because there’s no way to review a new product on one of its most important qualities: Durability.

The reviewer may see his mailbox regularly fill with free crap, but most cyclist consumers buy shit and use it for a long time, often way past the expiration date. Shakes the Clown comes to mind, the only cyclist I’ve ever seen actually wear out the color neon yellow. He wore this hideous jersey for so many decades that the unfadable color finally faded.

Or John Saggyshorts, what about him? Dude wore out the stretch in his lycra such that the bottoms of his shorts look like flair jeans. He doesn’t care. he’s in his 70’s, and he knows that bell bottom shorts will be in fashion again someday. Not they ever were, of course.

These cheapskates, and millions like them, are going to buy the product you recommend after careful thought and comparison, and they’re going to use it until the end of time or until it falls apart, whichever comes first. So the reviewer who slap-happily gives a “two thumbs up” to some product that hasn’t been battle tested over thousands and thousands of miles, varying conditions, and preferably a couple of years, is doing a service to no one but himself (gets more free swag) and the manufacturer.

Which, by the way, is fine, as long as it’s disclosed, which it never is, with a disclaimer like this: “WARNING: This is a bullshit review of a bullshit product that has not really been tested against the conditions in which you will use it for the length of time that you will use it. I’m a paid whore for [—–] and my opinions count for shit.”

A quick overview on headlights v. taillights

Bike shops are replete nowadays with salamander lights. These are headlights and tailights whose beam is no bigger around than the rectum of a salamander. This is the kind of light I’m talking about, and the market is flooded with them. I’ve seen countless “serious” cyclists with these or their equivalent strapped to their bike. They are stupid and pointless and a waste of money and when seen from behind cannot be seen from behind. When used to illuminate what’s in front of you they don’t illuminate what’s in front of you. They do, however, identify you as a stupid cheapass.

Since there’s some confusion about what a bicycle light should do, let’s first cover the basics.

  1. Taillight: This should blind anyone behind you and alert them to your miserable existence. It should be so red, and so bright, and so screamingly obvious that the driver coming up behind you should wonder whether or not you’re an emergency vehicle. I’m talking about something like this. How do I know it works? Fellow cyclists beg me to shut it off when I meet up with the group and they have to ride behind me. Since getting this thing two years ago, on my nightly commute cars swerve wide to pass where they once used to pass so closely that I’d regularly get brownshorts. The taillights’s purpose is not to save weight, or to be aero, or to awesomely blend into the architecture of your frame. It’s to keep the fucking traffic from crushing and killing you. So, take a look at your taillight, and if it’s not the brightest, most annoying, badass beam of death out there, throw it in the trash and get a real one. Can’t afford the $60.00 price tag? Then how the hell are you going to afford the catheter that drains the excess fluid off your brain post-collision?
  2. Headlight: This is not really to let people know you’re there. It’s to light the roadway in front of you. So there’s no sense in having a “blinking” front light unless your eyes open and shut uncontrollably and everything’s a strobe to you anyway. The headlight should be a powerful beam. How powerful? So powerful that when a skunk or possum runs across your path, the beam clearly illuminates his spinal cord underneath the fur and skin. So powerful that if you leave it focused on one place for too long, it will start a fire. So powerful that when you plug it in for a recharge the entire apartment complex’s electrical system momentarily sags. In lightspeak, it should be no less than 500 lumens, which is basically the brightness of commercial aircraft landing gear. Can’t afford the $150.00 price tag? Sorry to hear that your brains and bones and internal organs and children and wife and job cost less than $150.00. Or rather, envious. “Green with envy” envious.

Down on Nite Rider stuff, possibly forever

A week ago I was planning this blog post and thinking about all the great things I was going to say about Nite Rider. First, I was going to castigate them for misspelling “Night.” Cutesy names chosen to avoid trademark infringement are nothing more than testament to a feeble imagination, and if you can’t think up a catchy, available name, how good are you going to be inventing something that actually works?

Quite good, apparently.

I’ve used Nite Rider lights for three years, starting with the MiNewt 350 and then, at the end of 2011, upgrading to the MiNewt 750. The beam is bright, and although the brightest beam never seemed to last very long, and certainly never lasted for the 1.5 hours bandied about on the web site, the lower beams were plenty bright to light my way.

I liked the MiNewt because the headlamp was tiny and aero, fit snugly on the bars, and was very solidly built. The $250+ that I paid for the 750 was a downer, but a few extra bucks for a whole lot of extra light was worth it.

The other downside to the MiNewt was the battery pack, which you have to strap to your frame or your bars. When I was riding with my stem jammed all the way down, I’d bump the battery pack with my right knee when climbing out of the saddle. And the lashing-down process with the velcro strap before each ride was a pain in the ass, but the baseline comparison for me was always the same: How much of an inconvenience is it compared to a spinal fracture at C2 and spending the rest of my life navigating a wheelchair with my tongue?

Exactly.

Planned obsolescence: Don’t get me started, or rather, please do

Two weeks ago the Bull and I were descending in the pitch dark on the way to the NPR. He was missing a taillight and the conversation got around to headlights. He was using the new Serfas TSL 500+.

“What’s up with the new light? What happened to your Nite Rider?”

He and I had used the same light for a while now. “The battery pack died.”

“Why didn’t you get another one?”

“Nite Rider has it conveniently set up so that the cost of a new battery pack is about the same as the cost of buying an entire new lighting system.”

“You’re fucking kidding me.”

He wasn’t. A new 750 MiNewt battery costs $129.00, and with shipping and tax is right around $150.00. Bottom line: Nite Rider sells you a product that is designed to wear out, then rapes you on the replacement part.

I’ve come to expect this from Shimano (replaced the covers on your brake levers lately?), and would expect nothing less from Campy and longtime cycling manufacturers who treat consumers like cows to be continually milked and given nothing in return, but for some reason it came as a shock that Nite Rider has also bought into this philosophy.

It’s a shock because the light market is competitive. Fucking over loyal consumers will send them elsewhere, which is what happened to me. I popped over to the LBS and bought a Serfas TSL 500+. It plugs into the wall, doesn’t have the clunky battery pack with lame velcro strap lashdown system, is super bright, is lightweight, and seems to work just fine.

The only downside is that it’s larger than the MiNewt atop your handlebars and doesn’t look as sleek. However, it easily unclips and fits into your back pocket after the sun comes up, something you could never do with the MiNewt.

So, fuck you Nite Rider. The Serfas may also be built to fail, and it’s only been given one test run, and I can’t vouch for the its quality, durability, or ease of use over time, but for now it has replaced you, who were as of a few minutes ago deposited in the garbage chute.

I don’t mind being screwed around by a light manufacturer…oh, wait a minute…yes, I do.

Good Nite, Rider.

Good Nite, Rider.

Remains of the day

December 22, 2012 § 5 Comments

Too many days there are too many things that happen for me to organize them into a theme or even a coherent thought, so the day goes by and so much that needs saying goes unsaid, or in my case, unblogged!

Today, in no particular order except the first item:

  • Prez showed up for the Donut Ride in full Santa kit. No, you don’t understand. I mean full Santa kit. His tall black Santa boots were fitted over his cycling shoes so that his cleats could lock into the pedals. His Santa hat was fixed to his helmet so that it flopped but the helmet was rock solid (protecting what, we’re not sure). He had red cycling shorts. Yes, red. As in the color red. He had a red jersey. He had red gloves. Aside from being the most amazing get-up I’ve ever seen on a bike, he did the genuine Santa impersonation by Going to the Front as we rolled out of Redondo Beach, then pulling the other reindeer (all 100 of them, including Dopey, Stinky, Lazy, Bashful, Twitchy, Flinch, Crazy, Stupid, Slothful, Sexy, Naughty, and Embroey) up out of Malaga Cove and all the way to Lunada Bay. Santa, I’ve been naughty this year. I hope that means I get a whip or some handcuffs.
  • Stathis the Wily Greek unleashed a tour de force on the Switchbacks. The wankoton sucked eggs all the way to the bottom of the climb. Then he let loose. I followed for ten seconds before blowing. It shattered the entire field. None could follow. John Hall, Craig L., and several others duked it out for the scraps. Mark Alvarado got shelled, but then blasted by me at the end in an amazing show of speed. Eric Anderson climbed with the climbers. Keith, Marco, Rico, others all represented.
  • Marshall P. rode like a champion up Zumaya. At the tail end as I was about to overhaul him he gave a big kick and was gone. Kudos!
  • Tink is riding “at power.” This means she goes faster than 99% of all the other riders but doesn’t ever accelerate or attack. 2013 is going to see some scalps hanging from her coup stick. Glad I don’t race against her.
  • The Serfas handlebar-mount headlight (500 lumens) is awesome. More about that in a separate post.
  • Nite Ryder lighting systems just went from fave to frown. More about that in a separate post.
  • Todd Buckley and Rahsaan Bahati put together an all-day ride to Camarillo. All-star cast included Charon, Suze, and many others. Wish I could have made it.
  • Pischon Jones is down at least 15 pounds. I saw more lean meat on that boy than you could find at a Weight Watchers convention. Dude has the discipline hat on. Props!
  • SoCal cyclists are so weather-wussified it’s hilarious! MS, before the Donut started: “Gosh, I’d forgotten how cold it is here in SoCal!” It was about 50 degrees. He’s coming from two years of school in Jamaica, and after the holidays is moving to Chicago. Does it ever get below 50 in Chicago in the winter? Har!
  • Joe Yule got the hardware out of his elbow this week, and he and Manny Guzman got into a “Whose 13-inch elbow scar is gnarlier?” photo contest on FB. Not for the queasy of stomach…
  • Great bike sales and seasonal deals in the South Bay at Bike Palace, Sprocket Cycles, PV Cycle Center, and Manhattan Beach Cycles.
  • Super nice waves this morning at the Cove. Indicators was breaking, and so was Lunada Bay. SoCal cyclists may be weather wussies, but it’s pretty cool to be pedaling your bike in late December in sunny, warm weather while gorgeous sets roll in on the point.
  • Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride approaches. It’s going to be grim.
  • SPY Optic and Ride Cyclery have two big holiday rides, one on 12/24 and one on 1/2. The 12/24 ride will be a swords-drawn survival of the cruelest. You have been warned!

‘Nuff for now. Gotta shop. My, uh, favorite family activity…

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