May 30, 2013 § 81 Comments
When you grow up you’re going to ask about your father. You’re going to ask how he died. You’re going to feel the wordless pain of going through life without your dad. You’re never going to have the guy who gave you half your blood, half your genes, and all of your heart standing next to you at those moments in life when you most desperately need a father. Little kid, you’ve lost half of the most important thing any kid can ever have before your life has even begun.
Your dad died racing his bike in a stupid weekend crit. And you want to know why, and no one’s been able to explain. How can anyone explain something as senseless and pointless as dying in a weekend bike race, chasing the glory of a candy bar prime and twenty-five bucks in prize money?
Why we race
Before I try to explain why he died, let me try to explain what he was doing when he died. Your dad, who had been racing his bike for years, was taking a risk, a big risk, a life or death risk, and he knew it. He even signed a piece of paper that said he knew the risk was so big it might kill him.
But here’s the thing, little kid: He knew it, but he didn’t really believe it. If he had known, or had any idea that getting killed in that bike race might actually happen to him and leave you behind without your dad, he would have never been in that race. He wanted you and your mom at that race not to watch him get hurt, but so you could watch him compete and maybe even win. You were only a couple of years old, but you were so excited by the race and seeing your dad in it that even after he crashed, each time the pack came around you pointed at the peloton and said “Daddy! Daddy!” It was so cute, before we found out that your dad had died. After that it was heartbreaking.
Your dad was well known and respected in his bicycling community. He raced his bike for the same reason we all race our bikes: To see how good we are compared to the other people that day, that time, that event, when we stick the safety pins into our numbers and mass at the start line. To see how much we can endure. To battle with our friends without fighting them. To put everything on the line.
Why you were at that race, little kid
If we just looked at that bike race and at what you’ve lost, there’s no way it was worth it. No stupid hobby is worth dying for. No little kid deserves to lose his dad like that.
But it wasn’t just a stupid hobby, little kid. These people who were around him when he died, they were his friends. They were the people who helped him when he flatted on training rides, they were the people he helped when it was they who had a mechanical.
They were the people he laughed with. The people he suffered with. The people he sat down with at day’s end and shared a beer with.
Little kid, living in a community, whether you’re lucky enough to have a community of friends, a community of family, or both, is the only thing that makes life worth living. Without people around you to love, and to share the good, to help fend off the bad, and to laugh at the absurd, we’re not living. That loneliness of not having a community of friends can kill people, little kid, just as surely as a blow to the head killed your dad. It’s the loneliness that took the life of someone I loved, too.
But your dad, he lived. And when he entered the world of bike racing he entered the world of a bleeding, life or death intensity that those who haven’t done it can never understand. It’s a world of fear, of loathing, of pain, of exhilaration, of speed, of triumph, of defeat, and of unmitigated battle. It doesn’t make you better, or smarter, or even happier, but while you’re doing it you’re as completely, intensely, and thoroughly alive as anything else you’ll ever do, living so that your mind and body expand to fill the entirety of the time and space you occupy. You become, so briefly, the moment itself. When it’s done, you can only vaguely believe that it ever really happened.
That was your dad’s world, and the people he did it with were his people. What’s funniest, little kid, is that in our bike racing community, we’re friends even with people we’ve never even met. And I’ll try to explain that part, too.
Passing the torch
Your dad loved you more than you’ll ever know. How do I know? Because I’m a dad. Dads love their sons deeply and profoundly and wildly and also with the recognition that the little kid is going to be a man some day, and the man that the little kid becomes will outstrip the dad. It’s pride and love and expectation and respect and even a little chagrin, all mixed into one.
Your dad loved you so much that he wanted you to be part of his community. You would have grown up around bikes and bike racers and you would have learned some lessons, lessons like “The correct number bikes to own is n +1, where ‘n’ equals the current number of bikes you own.” Lessons like “Don’t sneak new bike purchases on the credit card. Discuss it with the wife first, then buy it.” Lessons like “Beer goes with bikes, but don’t overdo it.”
You would have learned other things, too, crucial ingredients that go into the recipe of making a little kid into a man.
“There is no ‘try.'”
“Give it everything you’ve got.”
“Overcome your fear.”
“Don’t give up.”
“Help your friends.”
“Take big risks.”
And the biggest one of all: “Teach by example.”
That’s the biggest one of all, little kid, because through his community and his hobby your dad was setting you up to learn all those lessons. He was setting you up to learn about adversity, about good times, about doing your best, about taking big risks, and about friendship. So when you ask why your dad had to die doing a stupid weekend crit, there’s part of your answer. He loved you and knew no other way to teach than through example.
Whether you ride bikes or race them later doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know how much he loved you, and how much he wanted you to learn those life lessons that every man has to learn in order to make his way.
The wheels around you
After your dad died, it created an earthquake of shock in his bicycle riding community. People who knew him and people who didn’t immediately thought of you, little kid. We thought about you because some of us have little kids, too, little kids who clap and cheer in between soda pops on race day. But those of us without kids had you uppermost in our minds, too. We love you, too, little kid, even though we don’t know you.
We love you because what happened to your dad could have happened to any one of us, and we know it. We felt the awfulness this way — “That could have been me.” — and we, because we’re part of your dad’s community and therefore yours, want you to know that you’ll never be alone.
We can’t replace your dad, little kid, or even come close. But your dad’s life will be memorialized, and he’ll have left behind something for you that’s worth more than any insurance policy: A legacy and reputation in his community, a community of friends who won’t ever forget him, and a community of friends who will be there for you if grow up and decide to follow where he led.
Peace out for now, little kid. We’ve got your back.
May 26, 2013 § 57 Comments
Newsflash: Lance Armstrong has been stripped of…pretty much everything.
Tour titles? Gone.
Income stream from his cancer foundation? Gone.
Ability to compete in sanctioned athletic events and the attendant income? Gone.
Mansion in Austin? Gone.
Self-respect after not getting hugged by Oprah? Totally gone.
Bonus newsflash: It’s not over yet. The Justice Department has joined Floyd’s whistleblower suit…former sponsors are suing to get their money back…he will be paying for his transgressions for a long, long time.
I don’t know about you…
But I believe in redemption. Not the Shawshank kind — I believe in the kind of redemption that says once you’ve been punished for your transgressions according to rule and/or law, you’re redeemed.
This type of redemption may not mean that you’re a sterling moral character, or even that you admit guilt or feel sorry for what you’ve done. It just means that you broke the rule, got punished, and are now free to move on just like new. Something worthless has been exchanged for something useful and new. Just like a coupon.
When you murder someone, rape someone, abuse a child, defraud the elderly, skim from the company till, or run a red light, your redemption begins when you’ve served your time or paid your fine. Redemption means trading in the old for the new. It means a fresh start.
And in case you were wondering, along with the punishment fitting the crime, redemption is the premise upon which our entire legal system is built.
Redemption gives convicted felons the right to vote, the right to work, the right to have a passport, and the right to fully participate as citizens once they’ve served their time. Redemption doesn’t mean you have to like the sinner or the ex-con. It just means you can’t legally continue punishing and persecuting him.
Lance is no convicted felon. If you don’t think he’s been punished, see above. If you’re still harboring resentment and anger, that’s understandable. But he’s not going anywhere, and I’d suggest that there’s a better way to deal with him than continually bludgeoning him for his transgressions.
It’s an old concept, actually. It’s called forgiveness.
Cranking up the PR machine
Lance has recently begun doing what he does best: Going on the offensive. Whether it’s calling Patrick Brady and chatting with him for an hour or unblocking Lesli Cohen and a bunch of other diehard Lance opponents, it’s clear that he has a plan in place and has begun to execute it.
What’s the plan?
The plan is to get back in front of the sports media and build Lance 3.0. This newest iteration is simple. Lance 3.0 is a…
- Family man.
- World class athlete.
What will Lance 3.0 do? He will sell something. What will he sell? I don’t know. But I do know this: He won’t be setting up a pyramid scheme to defraud Medicare, or a criminal syndicate to assassinate journalists. Most likely, he’s got a plan that will let him earn a living as a speaker/athlete/patient advocate.
Is that so bad? How many other people get out of prison and see their mission in life as one dedicated to helping others? Mind you, I don’t know that that’s his plan, but what does he have left? And why is it contemptible for him to try and rebuild a career that’s been destroyed through his own mistakes?
Ultimately, though, does it really matter what his end game is? No.
What matters is you
A group of local riders were climbing Latigo Canyon Road yesterday, and guess who they met at the top? Barry Bonds.
He’s the guy who was held up as one of the most evil and crooked baseball players of all time, a guy who stole Hank Aaron’s record on the strength of drugs and lies. Today he’s a slim and fit bicycle rider.
When the gang ran into him on Latigo, no one cringed, or cursed him, or called him a scumbag doper. Instead, they mugged for the camera and posted photos on Facebook.
First, of course, is star power…and we are here in LA. Second, though, is the fact that Barry has paid for what he did, and he didn’t even go on Oprah and confess. We know that he was caught, that he’s been punished, and that now he’s just a dude on a bike who used to hit a lot of home runs. Our lives are too short to keep hating on a guy who’s been punished to the full extent that the system demanded, particularly since all he seems to do now is pedal around, show up at the occasional crit, and generally act like a normal dude.
We’re done with his crime, and so is he. Now we just want to say hello and ride our bikes.
What about Lance?
Lance is different from Barry because the latter earned hundreds of millions of dollars and wisely invested them over the course of a long career. Barry doesn’t have to work.
Lance has five kids, huge ongoing legal bills, and a lot of years left to live. It’s impossible that he’s got anywhere near the pile that Barry is sitting on, or even anything close to it. Unlike Barry, Lance has gotta work. Rather than pulling up the drawbridge and living inside the fort, Lance has got to get out and mingle in order to rebuild.
For people getting out of prison and living in halfway houses, it’s called “You have to get a job.”
Lance showed us that pro cycling is a corrupt freak show. Danilo di Luca confirmed yesterday that it still is. Nibali, Wiggins, Dave Brailsford, Chris Froome, Pat McQuaid, Hein Verbruggen, and USA Cycling reaffirm that anyone who thinks the sport is clean isn’t thinking very hard.
If you hate Lance because he “ruined the sport,” maybe it’s time YOU moved on. The pro sport is rotten. If you follow it and still bury your head in the jocks of its stars, there’s a problem all right, and the problem is with you. If you can watch Nibali repeatedly hit the gas in the snow at the end of the most grueling stage of the most grueling stage race while his competition is rolling over and dying on the slopes, you’re the one who needs to analyze my modification of this old saw: “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me over and over and over, and I’m a fucking moron who enjoys being fooled.”
As Billy Stone might put it, “And the dopers ruined your life as a Cat 4 masters athlete exactly how?”
Where’s it all going?
Now that Lance 1.0 and 2.0 have been airbrushed out of the history books, what’s wrong with giving 3.0 the same degree of redemption that should be afforded to axe murderers, tax cheats, misdemeanor DUI’s, and kids on grade probation in college? How is our agenda advanced by refusing to lay down arms, and instead insisting that he still be treated like the unrepentant, unpunished cheat that he was a year ago, when he’s repented and been punished?
Does it ennoble us to keep shrieking “Off with his head!” after his head has been offed, stuck on a pike, and paraded around his kids’ schoolyards? I think it does the opposite. It shows us up to be petty, vengeful dorks who actually think that pro cycling is so important it transcends common notions of justice and fair play.
Five years hence, ten years hence, Lance 3.0 will have been fully rebuilt. He’s that smart and a whole lot smarter, he’s that hard working, and he’s that motivated. He’s also got close to four million people on Twitter who want to know what he says and thinks, as well as five kids to feed, clothe, and put through college.
Most importantly, he’s not going anywhere. Do you want to be the wild-eyed crazy standing in the corner screaming, “But he doped! He cheated! He lied! He ruined my Cat 4 masters racing career!” long after he’s been punished and the rest of the world has moved on?
If the UCI and USA Cycling and WADA are done with his case, then I am, too. Keep clubbing at him if you want, but don’t expect me to join in. I’d rather go club some of the baby seals on next Tuesday’s NPR.
May 25, 2013 § 10 Comments
I’m only three or four years younger than Thurlow, which is like comparing myself to the greatest basketball player of all time by saying, “I’m only three or four inches shorter than Michael Jordan.”
I first saw Thurlow at the Tour of Texas in 1984 at the Camp Mabry crit in Austin. He was racing for Raleigh. Nelson Vails was his teammate. Dude was old even then.
There’s no name in the peloton that is as heavy as “Thurlow.” It weighs about four thousand pounds. You can slacken a room full of bike racer boners just by whispering “Thurlow.” It’s the only word in the English language that makes grown men hunch over and start to droop. Generations of cyclists have been flogged, tortured, punished, and then dropped by “Thurlow.”
The only residue remaining in this, his fifth decade of bike racing, is the residue of pain and defeat. Yours.
“Thurlow’s not his old self”
Commentators have remarked that in 2013 there’s something missing from the arsenal of America’s winningest bike racer. He only got second in the BWR behind Neil Shirley, a pro who is young enough to be his great-grandson’s grandson.
He’s only won a couple of races so far this year, and has only gotten top three placings in about a dozen. “You should have seen him at SLR,” said one of my buddies. “He just folded. Never seen Thurlow fold like that.”
I mused. Thurlow has more national championship jerseys than my buddy has race participations for the last two years. Oh, and a rainbow jersey. And that Olympic team stuff. Then there was that season that he raced with Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond on La Vie Claire.
“Oo eez Bernard Hinault?” asked our homestay French student who comes from, of all places, Bretagne.
“Eez joos ze greatest fucking French bicycle racer ever,” I snarled.
“I don like ze sports,” said Homestay before going out onto the veranda to smoke a cigarette and wash it down with some Colt .45.
Imitation is the most pathetic form of idolatry
I’m always trying to race like Thurlow. You know, the way he always understands what’s always going on all the time. The way he rides close to the front and never misses the split. The way he rests, then attacks, then rests if they bring him back, then attacks again. The way he seems to summon the most strength at the one point in the race when everyone else is at their weakest. The way he stuffs the painburger down your throat with a red-hot poker, then beats the end of the poker with a 30-pound hammer.
Of course, I’ve never Ridden Like Thurlow, starting with the omniscience thing. Where Thurlow knows what’s going on all the time, my awareness seems to focus on stuff like that family sitting on the picnic blanket on Turn 4. “Wonder what’s in their sandwiches?” I wonder.
Boom. Break is gone and Thurlow has a 45-second gap.
Or the ride towards the front thing. Try as I might, as far forward as I get, pretty soon I’m back in 87th position, right behind Lardball with the Grand Canyon asscrack and the Serengeti grassland of hair sprouting from the waistband of his non-bib shorts.
Then there’s that attacking thing. Thurlow attacks the way an angry farmer with a pitchfork stabs the head of the king as it rolls off the guillotine’s blade. My attacks, to quote Aaron Wimberly, “Are like a huge commuter bus on four flat tires going up a mud mountain with a full load of passengers.”
And of course Thurlow rests, then goes again. I rest, and then there’s a football field between me and the peloton, a DNF, and a personal request from the family in Turn 4 to give me some of their sandwich.
But still, that doesn’t stop me from trying and experimenting. Whether it’s a fancy power meter, or nose breathing, or the water + kimchi diet, I’m always up for something new, because the difference between me and Thurlow can’t be that he’s just better…there has to be a trick, and one day I’ll find it.
Me & Prez
A couple of weeks ago Prez and I were riding back from the NPR. Prez notices everything when it comes to biking. Nothing escapes his attention, so I usually ignore him when he’s talking, but this particular day he mentioned Thurlow.
“There are guys out there whose pedaling is so efficient, it’s incredible,” Prez said.
“Uh-huh,” I answered, watching the cute nubbin in the Smart car prepare to back over the dude pushing the stroller.
“Like Thurlow, you know? That guy’s pedaling is so incredibly efficient.”
Now I was all ears. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. One reason is that he seems to pull up as much as he pushes down. He’s got that little muscle on the hams just on the inside of his thigh that you never see in cyclists. Him and Charon, they’re about the only two around here with it; it’s because they’re so efficient.”
All I had to hear was “Thurlow” followed by “Charon” and now I was hanging on every word. But I pretended to be bored and only half-interested. “Yeah?” I said.
“Yeah,” Prez said. Then he launched into a complex and insightful description of pedaling efficiency and why most of us, him included, were so inefficient. “It’s the pulling up,” he concluded.
Secrets stolen stealthily
Chuckling to myself at this new-found secret, which I had wrested from the knowledge banks of Prez without him even knowing it, I immediately began pushing and pulling up simultaneously. Then I discovered that this was impossible, because after about four strokes your legs give out. It appeared that rest was part of the pedaling equation.
Nonetheless, by the time I’d reached the office, I had figured it out. You didn’t actually pull up with your feet, you pulled up with your thigh. It was not so much a push and pull effort as much as it was extremely short intervals between the flexing of the thigh. I went noticeably faster. I was noticeably more exhausted.
“Could this be the long lost key to victory?” I wondered. “Have I finally cracked the Code of Thurlow?” I raced through the day’s work, bounding out of the office at 4:00 in order to Thighflex ® all the way back home. Preliminary plans showed that I would now be able to crush all the competition, earn every Strava KOM I desired, and sell the newly trademarked Thighflex program to coaches worldwide. I might even realize every cyclist’s dream of finally getting a pro contract and riding the Tour without too many drugs, or the Giro with way too many.
Thighflexing up the Mt. Home Commute
As I warmed up my thighs with the proprietary Tiny Muscle® Thighflex® limbering method, I felt the incredible strength and speed from this new system. Poor Prez. What a sucker. He’d revealed the most important secret of riding and I was now on the cusp of millions, huge victories, and taking a Strava KOM away from Lane Reid when he least expected it.
“Heh, heh,” I chuckled gleefully as I roared up Mt. Home and its vicious 2% grade. “Wait ’til I unleash this at the CBR Dogpoop Memorial Day Crit.”
In preparation, I showed up to contest the Lower East Side Long Beach Shopping Ride, an incredibly intense, competitive, powerful informal race disguised as a shopping excursion of 65+ elderly ladies with baskets on their mamachari bicycles. As we approached the first stop light, which was turning yellow, I Thighflexed®. The grandmothers couldn’t follow my jump, and in seconds I had opened a gap. The youngest grandmother, whose basket was filled with a 10kg bag of rice, leaned on the pedals and clawed me back.
I glanced over my shoulder and attacked again, this time putting maximum power to my Tiny Muscle® while Simulflexing® the Thighflex®. Undeterred, the granny held my wheel, forcing me to decelerate slightly, cause her wheel to overlap, and allowing me to take her to the curb.
She grabbed a handful of brakes as her front wheel caught the curb. The rice bag burst on impact as I redoubled my Thighflex®, now a solid 100-150m ahead of the hard-charging grandmothers, who weren’t about to let me get to the Costco pallet of discount diapers before them. They were no match. With a couple of more threshold efforts I pulled free and was gone.
With this independent verification of the Thighflex® system’s incredible power transer, I actually pity the fools who have signed up for Monday’s CBR Memorial Day Crit at Dominguez Hills. I’ve told Chris Lotts that he can go ahead and mail me the winner’s check, minus the entry fee to save me the inconvenience of actually having to show up and race. If he forces me to toe the line, well, all I can say to the riders out there who haven’t yet subscribed to the Tiny Muscle® and Thighflex® performance systems is this: You’ve been warned.
May 21, 2013 § 25 Comments
I had a wonderful bike ride Sunday morning.
It started at 4:55 AM. I rolled down the hill, met Half-Wheel Chris at Malaga Cove, and then pedaled with her along PCH to Crenshaw. From there we rode north to Wilshire, then over to downtown LA, then east to Central Avenue, and back through south central LA to Compton, then Carson, and from there to Manhattan Beach.
No one honked at us. No one yelled at us. We didn’t even get killed.
Instead, we had a good ride, and punctuated it with fresh donuts and hot coffee on the corner of Normandie and PCH. If you want good donuts in LA, ask Raja Black, then listen when he answers.
From bubble to bubble
The thing about Los Angeles is that it’s a city with a tiny bubbles of wealth separated by huge minefields of not-much-wealth and, yes, grinding poverty. The goal of many people is to get from bubble to bubble without having to venture out into the minefields, which are mostly black and brown.
Cars are the bubble shuttles for LA residents, zipping us from one “safe” area to the next. Multi-multi-multi-billion dollar freeways create safe bubble corridors so that we can take our safe bubble shuttle to the office or the beach or the museum or the bike race without the discomfort or the danger of having go out into the minefields. LA’s freeways are safe, right?
The benefit to this system is obvious. You don’t have to encounter or deal with actual humans. But the downside becomes clear until you get outside the bubble on a bike and start figuring out how to navigate without hitting a mine.
Suddenly, moving around LA goes from being a drive to being alive. Your choices have consequences. Getting from A to B requires more than a tank of gas and your favorite radio station.
What Los Angeles really is
…is a city. It’s not a series of disconnected bubbles as seen through the windshield. On a bicycle you see the transitions and you feel how abrupt they are. As you descend — literally — from the heights of Palos Verdes into Gardena and Lynwood, you notice that no one is starting their day with a Starbucks latte. They’re starting it at the bus stop. At 5:30 AM. On a Sunday.
I always feel nervous pedaling through someone else’s neighborhood like that. Then the bus stop folks give me a smile and I smile back, for just a second, before I return to my chat with Chris, which goes like this: “Quit half-wheeling me.”
Isn’t it daaaaaangerous?
Most of my friends don’t ride their bikes through Gardena, Lynwood, Hawthorne, Lennox, and Inglewood. They don’t even drive it. “Is it safe?” they ask.
What they mean is, “Are the black and brown people going to attack me because I’m a skinny, shrimpish white dude, and take my expensive bike?”
The answer to the first question is easy. Of course it’s not safe. Riding a bicycle in LA puts you in close proximity to cars, who are driven by people actively trying to kill you.
The answer to the second question is not as easy. Depending on the time of day and the location, there are places on this tour route where people would attack you and take your bike no matter what color you are. LA has some rough neighborhoods, and if you hang out on corner of Long Beach Boulevard and Greenleaf on a Friday night with a 12k TT rig, I suppose someone might relieve you of it.
But the simple act of putting on your fancy bike uniform and hopping on your fancy bike and pedaling — briskly — through south central LA early on Sunday morning seems a lot less risky than riding on PCH north to Malibu.
One thing that’s hard to miss if your regular beat includes the pretty coastal cities is the people who serve food out of the trunks of their cars. People living out of shopping carts. Understanding that the best insulating material for the poor isn’t a Patagonia jacket, it’s cardboard.
The downtown LA loop also puts you on what is often cracked, pothole-filled asphalt, the kind of paving that would tear up the undercarriage of a nice car…if there were any nice cars. So don’t forget your spare tire and a couple of extra cartridges.
Flat ‘n chat is the new drill ‘n grill
If you ever do this ride, or even suggest doing this ride, someone’s going to ask, usually with a wrinkled nose and skeptical brow, “Why?”
“Because it is there” worked for Hillary. It won’t work for Crenshaw.
The “because” is simple: Because it’s flat, and because you can chat. I’m not saying you have to give up the drill it and grill it approach that involves hammering your brains out. I’m just saying that every once in a while it’s nice not to have to do 100 feet of vertical for every mile you ride. Sometimes it’s nice to have a bikeversation that contains more than “How are ya?” “Fine. You?” and is followed by hammering ’til you crack.
Most of all, though, by a factor of at least eleven, is the supreme reason to Do The Downtown: It turns into a Donut Ride with real, honest to goodness donuts at the end and cheap, hot coffee enjoyed from a plastic bench.
There’s something special about sharing a quiet, sugar-drenched, lard-filled moment with a friend, when you can look over at her with a smile after having ridden sixty miles together from dawn to sunrise, and say from the bottom of your heart, “Would you please quit half-wheeling me?”
May 18, 2013 § 2 Comments
Many South Bay locals celebrated Kristabel Doebel-Hickock’s graduation into the pro ranks this week, as she continus her rocket trajectory from local wanker with Big Orange to statewide force at SPY-Liv-Giant to pro racer for Tibco. Some celebrated because they like seeing a smart, hard working, talented rider make the big time. Others celebrated because she won’t be effortlessly crushing their sausage egos quite as often. A few celebrated because it gave them a cheap excuse to crack open another beer, get drunker, and post the photos on Facebook.
One lone rider, however, had mixed feelings about the success of this young woman. That would be me. Of course I’m happy for her and wish her all the best. Blah, blah, blah and etcetera.
But I’m kind of pissed that in all of the press releases, public encomiums, and grateful notes of appreciation, no one saw fit to acknowledge MY contributions to this woman’s success. What am I, chopped liver?
So I thought I would take the opportunity to set the record straight. Ten years hence, when historians reflect on the dazzling ascendancy of Kristabel’s extraordinary career, I want them to have a paper trail that documents her earliest efforts in the world of cycling and that gives me proper credit for helping her when it mattered most.
Discovery of an incredible talent
Everyone knows she’s talented. But who discovered her? Who, I say? Well, it was Chief. He was riding along the bike path and he ran into her. They chatted. He recommended she connect with Big Orange. The rest is history. Now I didn’t have anything to do with that discovery directly, but I do have coffee with Chief regularly. And if it had been me who had seen her first instead of Chief, I would have discovered her. So please make a note of that in future press releases and Wikipedia entries.
Race like you train
After I met Kristabel I immediately taught her everything I knew about racing and training. She uses that stuff DAILY. Here are the biggies:
- If you hammer like an idiot all the time you will get dropped and lose. I showed her this technique repeatedly, both in my training rides and on race day.
- Once a wanker, always a wanker. She would never have learned this without me, ever. Each time we rode together I showed her a new element of wankerdom and how I had always been this way. She totally got it.
- Advice sausages who are always telling you what to do should always be ignored. I advised her TONS about racing and training and stuff. She ignored all of it. Look at her now. QED.
- Power meters suck. I taught her that power meters are useless and she didn’t need one and she would be fine if she just hammered a lot. Unfortunately, she started getting coached by Ron Peterson, the wanker who turned guys like Jeff Konsmo and Greg Leibert into succesful bike racers, and he was all about training with power, and shortly after that she began winning huge. I still think it’s a coincidence.
- Food and water are for wusses. This speaks for itself. If you’re gonna be tough, you need to learn to ride on air and determination. I’m not sure she really “got” this, but if she ever does, she’ll win even more.
- There’s no “I” in team, which why you don’t need one. I tried hard to convince her that all she needed in order to win stage races and NRC events was to hammer from the gun. Eventually everyone would give up. At the same time, people like Michael Marckx at SPY were whispering in her ear that with a SoCal women’s squad backing her up she would have better chances in the big races. I was totally against this, by the way, but she and Michael put together this women’s team, got it funded, and won/earned podium spots in a ton of races this year. Is that effed up, or what?
- Friends in cycling are your worst enemy. I taught her from the beginning that guys like Greg Seyranian and Dan Cobley, although they seemed like good people who wanted to help her out, were actually going to ruin her career. They were talking up all this gradual increase in distance and intensity bullshit, and “helping” her with things like bike handling and choosing races, whereas what she should have been doing is huge miles and hammering. It pissed me off so much to see them talking her off the cliff of 9-hour group ride hammerfests in favor of rest, recovery, nutrition, and a “sound” training plan. We’ll never know how good she could have been if she’d only listened to me.
- Ditch your parents. Kristabel’s dad, Mike, was going to all her races, helping her with the feeds in long road events, and making sure she was completely taken care of. I tried telling her that getting hand-ups was a sign of weakness. I tried telling her that she would race better if she had to strip down and rebuild her bike herself each night before a race, pack the car at 3:00 AM, drive herself there, race, carry all her own food and water, and drive herself back. “Your dad’s an albatross, Kristabel. Every bottle of water he gives you makes you mentally weaker.” Somehow she overcame all that “love” and “support.” Dad-gum if I know how.
- Treat cycling like a drunken knife fight in the mud over a two-bit hooker. One of Kristabel’s greatest weaknesses was her tendency to thank people, show appreciation, and never forget a kindness. That so bummed me out. I spent lots of time shouting at her from a long way off (I’d let her outclimb me for her self-confidence) that she should use people up, toss them to the side, and immediately take credit for everything herself. This is how successful people operate. Instead, what does she do? Thanks people. Expresses gratitude. Bullshit like that. It’s kind of charming, but not really. People only like you when you treat them with contempt.
- Understand your place. In the beginning, she had this attitude like “I’m here to learn and improve.” I tried to tell her that my way was better: “I am the greatest and the rest of you are worthless.” That’s what got me tenth place in an old-dude’s crit last year, BTW. She insisted on the “learn and improve” thing, though.
Kind of bums me out that it’s been an uphill battle getting her to do things the right way, but I’m still sending her emails on this topic. She’s blocked me on FB and all my emails keep bouncing (must be some technical glitch), but if any of you out there know her cell phone number please send it to me so I can keep sending her coaching advice via text message. I just want what’s best for her.
May 17, 2013 § 10 Comments
Nature is beautiful. The tiny chicks hatch, featherless, and are carefully tended by momma bird until they fledge. As they get too big for the nest, the timid fledglings are gently nudged out onto the limb. Anxiously, their loving mother sits by their side, gently chirping and encouraging them as they prepare to take their first flutter into the air.
It is a scary moment in a little bird’s life, but made tolerable by the constant cooing of momma bird as she helps the little chickie take its first tentative flaps before leaping off the branch. Momma bird watches nervously and immediately flies to baby bird’s new perch, praising and cooing and urging him to take another tentative flight.
Love, support, encouragement, and the watchful eye of mommy all lead to success. Baby bird quickly gets his “flight wings” and by day’s end is proudly flitting from tree to tree, but never too far from his warm little nest where momma bird can praise him and yes, even reward him with a moist, plump earthworm or two. Baby bird snuggles against momma’s cozy feathered breast and enjoys his yummy snack, proud of his accomplishments on his big day and looking forward to more in the days to come.
The North County Puke & Gulp isn’t quite as tender
When we rolled out from the Starbucks at La Costa and El Camino Real, an entire flock of baby birds was nervously perched on the corner. But rather than being protected by anxious and encouraging momma bird, they were eyed hungrily by ravenous, toothy wolves with names like Full-Gas Phil, Battering Ram Abate, Red Light Davis, Bad Magic Johnson, and MMX.
The baby birds chirped nervously as Full-Gas tossed it into the big ring and simultaneously swallowed a fistful of fledglings — feathers, feet, beaks and all. He spit out the beaks.
When the peloton hit PCH, Bad Magic opened the throttle and, with stomps of his hob-nailed, steel-toed boots, he mercilessly ground up another handful of baby chicks into pink slime, ready-prepped for the McNuggets factory. Battering Ram barreled to the fore, knocking an entire row of terrified fledglings off the branch and into the blood-stained maw of MMX, who chewed off their heads and spit the mangled carcasses onto the bowed shoulders of those who cowered at the back.
I had made the mistake of stirring the North County pot, and on this morning the testosterone stew bubbled and boiled and gurgled and roiled with the intensity of a steel smelter. The first crew of forty-eight was, by ride’s end, reduced to less than a dozen. None was wearing Swami’s blue.
How DO they ride down in San Diego County?
I’ve ridden enough in North County to know that they love welcoming newcomers with a fistful of nails and broken glass rammed down your throat. If you want an extra helping of hard, they always seem eager to serve seconds, then thirds. Moreover, a handful of North County natives have been kind enough to come up to Los Angeles and do our New Pier Ride, so I wanted to return the favor and sample their wares — but not before taunting them as weaklings and slackers. [Note to self: Do not send out boastful emails prior to showing up for a North County ride.]
No matter what anyone says, it’s fun to have visitors on your local ride. The North County Tuesday/Thursday ride I especially wanted to do because one of the people who’s been instrumental in ramping up its popularity and difficulty — my buddy MMX — never fails to pop in on the NPR when he’s in town and ladle out an extra scoop of misery.
If you’re in town on a Tue/Thu, I recommend this ride. It’s exceedingly hard and challenging, but as with any ride it has its drawbacks. Before I extol the virtues, here are the blemishes:
- It’s too short. The whole thing is well under an hour.
- Although there’s some good pre-ride congregating, as soon as the ride finishes everyone hurries off to work or to complete a longer ride. There doesn’t seem to be a permanently unemployed or underemployed leisure class who can sit around post-ride and burn up the rest of the morning quaffing coffee in the sun.
- They don’t have anyone remotely close to Prez. They don’t even have anyone who wears neon yellow shoe covers with bright pink gloves.
- It is a relentless beatdown with nowhere to hide. This is good if you want to leave 90% of the participants inert and blown out the back, but the death knell if you want to have a 100+ wankoton on sunny days, where baby seals and fledglings can leech off the strong while doing little or no work at the back.
- No warm-up. You get on your bike and you’re doing 30.
But then there are the pluses…and are they ever pluses.
The course, the characters
I call this ride the North County Puke & Gulp. It started so hard and fast that I tasted breakfast multiple times on the ride, and especially in the first ten minutes. Tinstman, Bad Magic, et al. set out at a wicked pace on La Costa, and after a couple of miles we hit the coast highway. The leaders sprinted up to speed, a solid 35 or faster, and a handful of riders churned the front with brief, intense pulls.
“Full-Gas” Phil Tinstman made the pace so hard that no one could pull for more than a few seconds. The vast majority of the 48 riders got nowhere near the front, but unlike NPR, where there’s safety at the back, the tiniest of gaps sent riders rocketing backwards, alone, shelled, before the ride had barely begun. Battering Ram, Red Light, Mike Williams, Bad Magic, and MMX busted more freeloaders off the back and put them out to pasture.
There is a small hill going up to Palomar Road but people were already so fagged with the speed that it was devoid of the crazy attacks I’d been assured would be on offer. By now pages of Strava KOM’s had been rewritten, if you’re into that kind of thing, and everyone in North County apparently is, as the short 20-mile ride has been broken down into fourteen thousand segments.
The ride reaches its first neutral zone in downtown Carlsbad, a picturesque little seaside town that would be even more picturesque without the snot and spit and bloody stool that people were leaving on the road. The group had thinned considerably; perhaps a third of the fledglings had already been rolled in batter and dipped in the fryalator.
This first section, the “Front Half,” was the easy part, though I was barely able to hang on. Several riders came up and told me to “be ready” for the “hard part.” I don’t know how you get ready for something that you’re too weak to do, especially when the moment of truth is five minutes away or less. Once on the Back Half, the relative flat of the coast gave way to the punishing rollers for which North County is infamous. It is here that the ride completely and forever leaves aside all comparisons with the NPR.
Unlike our L.A. ride, where a bit of tenacious wheelsucking will get almost anyone through the hard bits, once you hit the rollers on the back side you either have the go-legs or you have a lot of time alone with yourself. MMX drove it to the top of El Camino Real and separated the group for what I was sure was for good. I blew apart halfway up, and the leaders made it easily through the light. My chase group hit the light on dead red, and we were all eternally grateful for the chance to stop, catch our breath, and blame the breakaway on the traffic signal rather than our weak legs and puny lungs.
To shout or not to shout? Primal scream therapy or gentle remonstrance?
There are two schools of thought on shouting at people who screw up on the bike. One school holds that shouting is rude, counterproductive, frightening, and that it ruins budding friendships. The other school holds that if you ride like a dumbshit you deserve to be yelled at, since studies show that dumbshits learn best after a good solid hollering.
In our case, the chase group was populated with adherents to the second school, and when two riders blew through the dead-red light that had traffic stacked up at opposing ends of the intersection, there was more yelling and screaming and cussing than a Westboro Baptist funeral protest.
One wanker turned around mid-intersection; the other sped up the road to join the disappearing leaders. It was impressive to see how the entire group reamed this poor dude out; almost as impressive as watching him humbly accept the tongue lashing and then apologize. Wanker #2 got yelled at later in the ride, yelled at on Facebook, and privately reprimanded by MMX. Like an adult, he accepted responsibility, proffered no lame excuses, and apologized.
This, more than anything else, impressed me. Whereas our ride shout-outs result in lifelong enmity, or in riders pouting for months on end, these guys were able to be dressed down by their good friends and cursed at like sailors, apologize, and have their apology accepted. Cool stuff.
Key ride facts
The beatdown delivered by SPY, Full-Gas Tinstman, and Battering Ram Abate left everyone else hanging on for dear life. It was a record day on Strava in case anyone doubted the intensity; MMX got 9 KOMs on a course he has ridden twice a week for the last two years. Everyone who finished the ride chalked up PR’s, top 10’s, and many set course records for various segments.
The finishing group would have been truly microscopic in size had we chasers not reattached with the leaders who got stopped at the world’s longest light.
Unquestionably, Full-Gas was the single biggest factor in keeping such a torrid pace. If one other thing contributed to the intensity, it was likely the desire of the local crew to show that whatever kind of ride we have in L.A., they’ve got that and then some in North County.
They are, however, now running short on baby birds.
May 13, 2013 § 54 Comments
No one wants to be “that guy.” He’s the one who says to the person what other people say about that person behind the person’s back but won’t say directly to the person.
“That guy” also goes by nicknames like “ass,” “jerk,” and, yes, even “Wankmeister.”
But here’s the thing: I don’t do it because I care about you. I don’t do it because I care about safety. I certainly don’t do it to be nice.
I do it for me.
Long ago I learned that Dog created the universe and all the things in it for me. The minute I stop existing, poof! There goes the universe. So, since I’m confident my existence is getting briefer with each passing day, it’s important for me to say the things that need saying before the universe vanishes along with me.
The down side is that I’m often wrong. The down side is that I piss people off. The down side is that I ride alone more often than not.
The up side?
People sidle up to me at quiet moments and say, “Thanks for saying that. It needed to be said.”
This really, really needed to be said. So I said it.
First, about the weekly flailfest. The ride is a collection of every specimen of hobby bicyclist. We have the aspiring pro chick. We have Tweezly Smails, whose #1 goal is to pedal in a straight line. We have The Saint, who scrapes up the broken bodies and fixes flats. We have ER doctors. Mechanical engineers. Smokin’ hot babes. Portly old dudes still dragging around the spare tire they picked up at the frat house in ’69.
We got everything.
This is why it’s such a great ride. If you want to match pedal strokes with the legbreakers, Dog bless you. If you want to chase with the droppees with your tongue in the spokes, Dog bless you. If you want to lumber along with the deadwood at the back of the back of the back, Dog bless you.
There’s something for everyone, and at various points the gang regroups so you can start over again with whatever it was you started with. As The Saint said, “Get up there!”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because they’re ahead of you!”
“What happens when I get there?”
“Then you’ll have to get on up to whoever’s ahead of them.”
“There is no ‘then what.'”
No more beating around the bush
So, this dude shows up with tri bars. He’s a good dude and has never been anything but nice to me.
Problem is, there’s a basic rule when you’re a freddy riding with freddies: Leave the fucking tri bars at home. No matter how good you think you are (and trust me, you aren’t that good), the minute you go full aero in the middle of a flailing pack of wankers is the minute that our collective rectums pucker up quicker than a raisin in a blast furnace.
So I’m watching this dude as he flails up the climb. He’s so far off the back that he’s with me, and even though there are only three or four people around him, his line isn’t that good, and it’s a really narrow road, and there’s traffic whizzing by, and then, when we crest the climb, he goes full aero, reducing his already sketchy line to the razor’s edge of wobbledom.
What’s wrong with me?
This is what I was thinking: “What’s wrong with me that I care? He’s not going to crash me out because I’m going to pass by and never see him again. He’s a grown man. These other people are sort of adults. It’s their risk, let them deal with it.”
The problem is that as soon as that thought finished, it was replaced with this one: “What kind of experienced athlete rides full aero in the middle of a group that includes plainly inexperienced wankers? I know what kind: The kind of person who doesn’t give one rat’s ass about crashing you out. The kind of person whose training includes showing off his tri bar prowess among people like me who are either terrified of him or, worse, not experienced or smart enough to be terrified of him.”
This led to the next thought: “Is anyone going to say anything? Or is he just going to keep rolling along, full aero, oblivious to the fact that what he’s doing is the social equivalent of smearing your hand with feces prior to shaking hands?”
And finally, this: “Well, if no one’s going to tell him…”
So I told him
I really need to work on my delivery, because sometimes how you deliver the message is just as important as the message itself. In other words, when I yelled at him with the veins popping out of my neck and forehead, “Hey dude, you need to leave the tri bars at home because you’re a fucking health hazard and an out of control menace and don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, okay?” he got really angry. People are just so darned sensitive nowadays.
He got so angry, in fact, that he paused for a second in disbelief before shouting back these immortal words: “Do you know who you’re talking to?”
He never got around to telling me exactly who he was, but since he didn’t look like someone whose last name was Zabriskie or Cancellara or Bordine or Rogers, I kept pedaling.
Pangs of guilt
Truth is, I felt bad for ripping into the dude (a little). But then I thought about every ride I’ve been on where some idiot shows up on a TT bike to “try it out” in the middle of a densely packed sardine can of flailers. I thought about the tri-geeks with horrendous bike handling skills weaving and wobbling in and around an already sketchy peloton.
I thought about how many curses and angry tirades I’d heard my fellow bikers unleash (out of earshot, of course) on the kooks who don’t know how perilously unstable they are when going full aero even with the best of skills–and of course these jackanapes never have the best of skills. They have skills of the most marginal sort, skills which are useless when they bump or get bumped by some poor slob who’s just trying to stay upright; when they hit a nasty chughole; when their razor-thin tires pop on a nail or asphalt chunk; or when they’re goofily trying to climb or descend a steep grade.
Finally, I thought about this YouTube video, proving everything you need to know about using tri-bars in a group when you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. I call it Crash of the Titans. (Warning: Graphically stupid content.)
Okay. “That guy” is done. You can crucify me now. And the next time you show up on a ride full aero, I promise to smile and just keep pedaling. Really.
May 12, 2013 § 14 Comments
…because that’s what it’s gonna take to clean these shorts after the pre-ride this morning.
Gang Boss Buell
Saturday AM “Daddy Ride”
Meets at Kelly’s Corner, climbs up from the reservoir conversationally, climbs Better Homes conversationally, climbs the Domes conversationally, ramps it up at the Glass Church, sprunts at Hawthorne, finishes with a cup of coffee at Golden Cove Starbucks just in time to watch the Donut Ride come sailing by.
Crabs tows us up the Glass Church hill, hairy legs pounding. I take an easy pull once we’re over the top, saving my legs for the beatdown that’s up next when I join the World Famous Donut Ride. Casey drags us up the first bump past Terranea. Gang Boss takes over and accelerates on the short descent, then begins to stall as we come up the second bump right before the sprunt.
Crabs, smelling a blow-from-behind sprunt victory, comes out of the saddle and lunges down on the left pedal, all 195 pounds of butter, beef, fine wine, cheap beer, hot dogs, french fries, pecan logs, pizza, sausage, banana pie, ice cream, and peanut butter concentrating on the tiny contact point on his antique cleat. Unbeknownst to Crabs, I’ve been filing my nails and checking the want ads as he and his trusty trio have been doing all the work. Prez-like I look up, note the oncoming sprunt effort, and prepare to easily take the candy from the baby and pop it in my mouth with bike lengths to spare.
At that instant, Crabs’s left foot pops out of the pedal, and his bike crazy-dances in wild discontrol over to the left, the exact place that I’m about to come around. Time becomes extremely relative as I watch the slamming door of his rear wheel move backwards, derailleur and all, and over into my spokes. I see my face, Prez-like, splattering on the pavement. I see my brain, Prez-like, swelling up into a giant bruised grapefruit. I see my attorney drafting the lawsuit against the city of RPV for negligently paving the street in such a way as to make Crabs want to sprunt and thereby crashing me out. I definitely see Slowplay Pedals as a defendant for the negligent design of a cleat and pedal that Crabs has only been riding for fifteen years. I see the long line of speakers at my funeral, each one mumbling words of praise like, “We’re sort of going to miss that wanker, maybe.”
And then I see the impossible: Crabs follows the boneheaded move of the day with a move of parallel boneheadedness…his worn cleats and shredded Slowplay pedals pop his foot out of the right pedal as well. His butt, nuts, and pubic bone slam against the top tube and drive his bike radically to the right, away from my spokes and straight towards the curb at 35+.
This is the point in a bike crash where you and I close our eyes and await the impact. In this case it’s just past the pullout on the right, so he’s going over the bars, onto the gravel, and into the cliff wall. The collision will be severe, and you and I simply clench our teeth, mutter a few religious phrases and hope that Dog hasn’t noticed the lifetime of atheism and religion-bashing, and prepare to instantaneously meet the deductible on our health insurance policy.
Nuts crushed, gut impaled on the stem, and both gout-plagued feet sailing free in the wind, he looks away from the place he doesn’t want to go (Hades) and looks towards the place he does want to go (the road). His right foot hits the gravel and he jerks the bike away from the curb just before impact, trailing his left foot like a rudder, throwing up a shower of sand, gravel, and dirt with the right. No longer a player in the drama and merely a spectator, I watch with approval as he somehow avoids death. Gang Boss is looking over his shoulder, mouth agape, and Chatty Casey has for once stopped talking.
Crabs clips back in. Chatty regains his breath. “That was the most awesome save I’ve ever seen!”
“That was the stupidest move I’ve ever seen in my entire life since Tuesday,” I added.
“I suppose it’s time to replace the pedals,” Crabs suggested.
“Yes,” I agreed, “it is.”
May 11, 2013 § 27 Comments
It’s really simple: We have the best early morning weekday rides. San Diego doesn’t.
What is a “best” early morning weekday ride? It’s one that begins around 6:30 AM, has a huge regular turnout, and rips your legs off.
“Oh, no!” I can hear you wailing. “We have the awesome Tuesday-Thursday ride! It’s hilly and it shreds the field!”
First of all, our ride is better because yours doesn’t even have a cool name. That’s because you’re too dumb to think one up. All that supposed surfer-cyclist-artiste creativity in North County and the best you can do is two names of the week? Sad.
Second, our ride is better because your ride has such a tiny turnout. Five semi-fast guys showing up with a hangover and pulling out each others’ teeth with rusty pliers does not a legendary bike ride make. Maybe it’s the early hour and you wike your wittle warm bwankie. Maybe it’s the lack of a swollen pack of baby seals among which the weak can cower and hide ’til the moment of reckoning. Maybe it’s the fact that the vast majority of bicyclists in North County ride Trek. But most likely, it’s the fact that your riders just aren’t that good.
Third, our ride is better because we have Rahsaan Bahati, Suze Sonye, Greg “32” Leibert, Eric Anderson, and Cory Williams as regulars. Who do you have? That dude with the full purple bodysuit and the bad smell, that’s who.
Fourth, our ride is better simply because of the riders that you have and we don’t. Leaving aside for the moment that none of your guys have even halfway decent nicknames, let me list a few rotten limbs in the pile of deadwood that makes up your “ride”:
Stefanovich–Comes north to do our NPR, returns home a shell of his former self, which was a shell to begin with.
Crazy Legs–The name kind of says it all, eh? Along with him, “Sketch,” “Skitters,” “Twitch,” and “Jerky”…
Andy McClooney–The best rider to never come north and get his serving of NPR humble pie.
Celo Pacific Wheelsuckers–This is a club developed around the riding “strategy” of “do nothing until the end, then do even less.”
Los Ranchos Suckeros–Every yummy pie has filler, but these sandbaggers don’t even taste good when you chew them up and spit them out.
Velo (barely) Hangers-on–Close relatives of NPR baby seals who think “towards the front” is synonymous with “at the front.” It isn’t.
Swami’s B, C, and D Riders–It’s the alphabet soup of lowly categorized wankers. Their best ones make the first ejecta from the first acceleration on the Saturday ride. Their worst ones don’t even have bicycles.
Nytro trigeeks–They don’t always look and ride like idiots, but the 99.9% of the time when they do, they’re so far behind that no one knows or cares.
The Wolf Pack Up-and-Leavers–Last to the fight, first to the feast.
Fifth, our ride is better because we brag about it. If it weren’t for my amazing powers of investigative journalism, I wouldn’t even know your ride existed. If you don’t brag about it, it must not be any good.
Sixth, our ride is better because we have a cool FB page. Do you? Of course not. Without a cool FB page your ride can never be more than sucky. Sorry.
Seventh, our ride is waaaaay better because Robert Efthimos and Cory Williams video everything and then post cool movies of wankers like Jay “Manslaughter” LaPlante trying to murder his buddies. Then we get to spend the entire workday on FB chatting about it. What do you poor slobs do? You go to work and work, that’s what.
Eighth, our ride is better because we actively make fun of people who wear Oakley. SPY is how we roll, yo.
Ninth, our ride is better because we have that cute Asian chick who’s always jogging down the alley as we roll out. Who do you have? That furry dude who lives in the shopping cart behind the Starbucks.
Tenth, our ride is better because we have a ride kit. That’s right. Our ride is so pimpin’ that we have a kit with our cool ride’s name on it and lots of clever “in” jokes emblazoned on it by Joe Yule. Our ride is beautifully tanned Argentine leather. Yours is naugahyde.
Eleventh, we have Joe Yule. You have that dude who lives in his mom’s garage and builds web sites with Dreamweaver.
Twelfth, we have CotKU. You probably don’t even know what that is. Sad.
Finally, after our awesome ride, which is always awesome and so much better than yours, we get to sit around at CotKU, drink coffee, and watch Dave Perez do interesting things dressed up in purple and yellow. What do you have? A bunch of really serious MRI dudes dressed up in electric green baby dwarf artichoke outfits. Hint: You can’t be serious if you are a dude in a baby dwarf artichoke suit. A clown, perhaps, but not a serious dude.
The day of reckoning
Although I’ve already reached my conclusions, invented my facts, and printed my story, I thought I would at least do you the favor of coming down to the next Tuesday ride to confirm that your ride is a complete sham and pose fest. I have no doubt about what I’ll find: A handful of scraggly, half-shaved riders, tummies hanging out of their undersized stretch pants while they suck down a gallon of pre-ride sugar goop pretending that their “ride” is a ride.
Please also be advised that I will be showing up fully primed and prepared to teach each of you the meaning of the word “beatdown.” Although I don’t expect to break a sweat, you should expect to suffer a calamitous clubbing. This is what LA is all about: Schooling the noobs in the south about how to ride their bicycles. After that I will give the survivors a surfing lesson, beginning with “How not to purl every time” and then followed by a video showing you the difference between a rideable wave, a closeout, and whitewash. Not that it will help.
See you soon, and bring your moped. You’re gonna need it.
May 7, 2013 § 27 Comments
It is part of our bicycling delusion that we are made of the qualities we reveal “on the bike.” The power meter tells you that you’re a badass (the opposite of which is what? A goodass?) Showing up for the NPR when it’s raining toxic sludge in 40-mph sideways sheets proves that you’re a tough guy, whether or not you’re even a guy. Hanging onto Rudy Napolitano’s wheel for the first 50 yards of his acceleration on the Switchbacks makes you a fighter.
That’s who you are, right? Watt pumper, road tough, and a competitor.
Bicycling may or may not reveal character, but it sure is replete with characters. And the character of those characters, in my experience, is most often revealed not on the bike, but off it.
The cast of characters
G3: I still don’t know what “G3″ stands for, and I’ve been riding with this wanker for years.
Stathis the Wily Greek: Only smiles for money.
Little Sammy Snubbins: Baby seal pup who loves to ride his bike.
Stitchface: Cat 4 adventurer who’s already gotten 100 sutures in his face this year.
Anonymous Steve: Generic bicycle rider whose chief characteristic was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Cast of Dozens: Amalgamated Idiots, Inc., a/k/a Usual Donut Ride Crew.
Portuguese Bend is a hallowed part of the Donut Ride. It connects Palos Verdes Estates (a fancy enclave whose denizens’ shit doesn’t stink) with the Switchbacks, the epic 8-minute climb that punctuates this weekly beatdown.
Portuguese Bend is so geologically unstable that a permanent road crew is assigned to the 2-mile stretch of twisting roads, which shift and crack daily. The instability is such that sewer lines are placed above ground and re-paving the entire roadway is done multiple times each year. The crews make weekly repairs to gaping crevasses that open up overnight as this side of the slope slides relentlessly into the sea.
With steep ups and downs, cracks that appear suddenly, narrow lanes, speeding traffic, and a long downhill from the Switchbacks, of course it’s the perfect place for the weekly gaggle of idiots to charge through the area at speeds exceeding 40 mph.
What could possibly go wrong?
The delicately choreographed Dance of the Club-footed Oafs
Cold logic, or even cool reason, don’t live in a peloton (“peloton” is French for “speeding gaggle of imbeciles.”) When you drop off the Switchbacks it’s a straight plunge several miles long to the bottom of Portuguese Bend. You wind up tightly bent into a densely packed anthill of carbon and meat and wires and metal, crammed into a tiny bike lane with livid pickups passing on the left three inches from your bars, your nose jammed up the next rider’s rear end, your front wheel an inch out of the next rider’s spokes, the busted and uneven and pockmarked road rattling your wheels and your frame and your legs and the tiny pea inside your skull but instead of sitting up and braking and letting the crazies dash off to their doom you bury yourself into the heart of the swarming beehive where there’s no escape hatch and the slightest waver will slam you to the pavement or worse catapult you off your bike into the oncoming traffic where Suzie Q whose shit doesn’t stink will mow you down in her Range Rover while talking on her cell phone and sipping a latte, as she’s wholly untrained to avoid catapulting bicycles flying across the road onto her grill which is pretty much what happens in the next instant when Little Sammy Snubbins, tucked deep in the hive at tenth wheel, hits a crack and, because he’s Little Sammy Snubbins and still on the lower part of the learning curve is rocketing along the jarring bumpy roads with his hands loosely gripping the bars instead of clenching them like his life depends on it which in fact it does and the crack that he smacks full-on with his front wheel jolts his left hand off the bars and his right hand steers him t-bone style into the side of Stitchface who, at 40 mph, is hit by Generic Steve full force in the rear, taco-ing Stitchface’s rear wheel and tossing him into the air like a rag doll and hurling his bike and him into oncoming traffic but actually against all odds Suzie Q WAS expecting a flying bike and Raggedy Andy biker to come sailing airborne over into her lane from thirty feet away and she locks up the ABS and doesn’t squash Stitchface like a bug or even hit him but down goes Generic Steve and down goes Little Sammy Snubbins and the Dance of the Club-footed Oafs goes from being a sort of delicately clumsy waltz to a screeching, screaming, clattering, skittering, pandemonic mishmash of smoking rubber and hands filled with maximum brake and, miracle of miracles, no one else chews the asphalt and Little Sammy Snubbins only breaks his bike and Generic Steve barely gets a scratch and Stitchface peels his body off from the pavement and declares himself unhurt even after the shock wears off.
Unfortunately, someone has to be the grown-up
So for the moment the bicycling is over. Everyone stops; well, almost everyone. There are a handful for whom getting in their miles is more important than stopping to see if Stitchface has been gored to death or to find out if Little Sammy Snubbins needs mouth-to-brain resuscitation, and…
…there is no “and.”
It’s now, off the bike not on it, that character is revealed.
The character is revealed of G3 who swings back, gets the riders off the road, orders others to control the traffic, and swiftly calls the rescue wagon with Nurse Jeanette and Nurse Ava to come and haul back the broken bikes and thankfully unbroken bodies.
The character is revealed of Stathis the Wily Greek, who despite his stone-faced demeanor is one of the first to dismount and leap to the aid of the fallen, though he was on Generic Steve’s wheel and narrowly avoided catastrophe himself.
The character is revealed of numerous other riders whose first and only impulse was to stop and help.
And the character is revealed of those who couldn’t have cared less.
The little drama plays out again, reminding us that it’s not about the bike, it’s about what happens on the bike, and what happens off it. The unsophisticated and uninitiated might even go so far as to call it “life.”