Our hour

June 27, 2013 § 24 Comments

I rolled into the velodrome on a flat rear tire, an empty stomach, and the beer needle buried on “Empty.” The first person I saw was Plotkin.

“Hey, Plotz, you drink beer?”

“‘Course.”

“Take me down to the supermarket so I can get a sixpack.”

“Nah. I want to stay and watch the races.”

“You’re kidding, right? The 55+ 2k ITT? Hockeystick’s the only entry anyway. Even with that ol’ beer belly, he still has to win.”

“Nah.”

“Come on, Plotz.”

Plotz is a (beer loving) devoted Christian. “I’ll do it if you say ‘I believe in God.'” He gave an impish smile, settled back in his chair, and got ready to reconcentrate on Hockeystick.

“I believe in God. There. Let’s go.”

Plotkin jumped up. “You do not!”

“Do not what?”

“Believe in God! You’re an atheist!”

“Yeah. So? Let’s go get some beer. I upheld my end of the bargain. I’ll buy the beer anyway.”

He was really upset. “You were just saying it! You don’t really believe it!”

“Hold on, pal. You didn’t say I had to believe anything. You just said I had to say it.”

“It was implied!”

“What was?”

“That you had to actually believe in God, too!”

“Well, that’s mighty Christian of you. Promise to do something in exchange for something, then crawfish on me when I uphold my end of the bargain.”

“You’re a liar!”

“So? Was it also implied I can’t be a liar?”

“I only meant I’d do it if you really believed it.”

“Okay, you win.”

Plotkin settled back, still flustered.

“Hey, Plotz.”

“Yeah?”

“I believe in God. With all my heart. I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior and I believe the Bible is the literal truth, even Leviticus 19:7.”

“Leviticus 19:7?”

“Yeah, the law against cutting your hair or shaving. You’re going to hell, by the way, for that Gillette look you’re sporting.”

“You do not believe any of that.”

“I don’t now, but I did a few seconds ago. C’mon, let’s go get some beer and argue about whether or not we’re going to have stone Fukdude to death during his hour record attempt for violating Leviticus 19:19.”

“Which one is that?”

“The law against wearing clothes of more than one fabric.”

Plotkin waved me off like a pesky gnat and went back to the race.

Tiptoeing on needles

I had arrived two and a half hours before Fukdude was going to try and break the U.S. national one-hour speed record for left-handed myopics with astigmatisms in the right eye under 6’3″ but taller than 5’11 1/2″ PBF-insufficient men aged 40-45 Category. As Fukdude had said earlier, “It’s a small pool but everyone in it is  fukkin insane, dude.”

Before long Fukdude himself showed up. I was incredibly respectful of the awesome pressure I knew he must feel, and stayed away at first, not wanting to unbalance his finely tuned mental condition, which was almost at fever pitch. After all, he’d invited the press, rented out the entire velodrome, paid for three USA Cycling officials, paid for the college educations of the children of his coach, his dietician, his chain-lube dude in Colorado, and the entire stateside staff of Fast Forward Wheels, USA. Plus, he’d invited his friends and family, including the Bonganator and Fireman, both of whom were guaranteed to show up with a pony keg apiece jammed down the leg of their jeans.

However, just to make the pressure absolutely unendurable, he’d also invited Greg St. Cinema and Smokin’ Hot CU Tomorrow, he a pro Hollywood cameraman and art photographer, and she a smokin’ hot babe in tight jeans with unreal skills as a sports photographer. Any possible flail on Fukdude’s part would result in photographic evidence (half-life of digital images = 3.4 trillion years), and worse, looking bad in front of an entire gallery of bike babes tricked out in tight pants and chesty t-shirts.

The fever pitch

I finally walked over to Fukdude, nervously, hoping not to disturb him. “Hey, man,” I said timidly in an obsequious voice, my eyes averted so as not to rattle him.

“Hey dude!” he said.

I jumped. “Don’t want to bother you, I know you’re getting into the zone, but…”

“What?”

“The zone, I know you’re doing the athlete visualization focus thing and…”

“What the fuk you talking about, dude? Hey, check out my chain. Rad, huh?” I was shaking out of nervousness as Fukdude threw his bike up on the rollers. What if he crashed off the rollers and broke his collarbone?

Fukdude was instantly pounding away. “So hey, dude, hope I don’t fukkin flail. That would be lame, huh?” At that instant his bike wobbled on the rollers and skittered off the edge. He laughed, yanked it back, and kept going. I almost fainted.

“How’re the legs?” I asked.

“Fuk, who knows? Doesn’t matter now, does it?” He grinned and continued his warm up. So much for the finely-tuned, highly strung athlete.

It’s a screamathon

Shortly after 4:00 PM, Fukdude left the starting gate. The velodrome, which is normally not even full for World Cup events featuring the greatest track riders on earth, wasn’t full for this, either, by a long shot. Still, the legion of Fukdude Followers had made the trip and were already pretending to be interested in watching a grown man with the shoulders of a pre-pubescent junior high school girl ride around in circles by himself, drenched in sweat and suffering like a dog for an hour.

Hockeystick was at the mike, and even though Motoman, Bonganator, and Fireman had showed up with liberal quantities of cheap beer, dispensed for free, it promised to be boring beyond belief. Every once in a while Hockeystick would chime in with an anecdote about Oscar Egg’s hour record attempt in ’29 or remind the crowd that Fukdude’s favorite singer was Doris Day, but aside from those fascinating bits of commentary, people were nodding off.

Then Hockeystick’s wife leaned over to him and said, “Tell people to come down to the rail and cheer, for goodness’s sake!”

Whatever Hockeystick thought about the suggestion, he didn’t dare gainsay it, so he began to call folks down to the balustrade. And they came. Within moments the morgue-like atmosphere of people so bored they wanted to kill themselves became a screaming, frothing, wailing, clapping, and sideboard-banging house of mayhem.

At a relentless 19-second-per-lap tempo, we began screaming ourselves hoarse and pounding our palms into swollen lumps of meat every time he came by. With half the crowd on the far side, half on the other, and the other half completely drunk, the place was electric. Down on the track G$ and MM screamed and gesticulated like people having a seizure. Brian G. had handed out several cowbells, and as Fukdude buried himself into his 28 mph+ pace the entire velodrome went from Bleak House to Fire on the Mountain.

The pain in the brain

By the time Fukdude hit the 45-minute mark his face was distorted into the look of someone who’s pulling his own teeth out with a rusty pair of pliers and doesn’t know why, but can’t stop. At one point he lost focus for a split second and shot up to the blue line, then over-corrected and clipped a foam cushion, but with that exception the electronic “beep” of the timer told us that he was right on schedule. That certainty didn’t dim the screaming and yelling one bit.

With a handful of minutes to go, Fukdude sunk an already buried needle as deeply as it could go and from some dark, unhealthy, generally-to-be-avoided place within himself he cranked it up another couple of miles an hour for the remainder of the hour. When the timer marked one hour he sat up to thundering applause, drunken screams, clattering cowbells, and the silent fantasy of Hockeystick at the mike, imagining himself as the next Hour Record Holder By The Dude With The Most Massive Beer Gut Ever.

Davy Dawg peeled Fukdude off his bike, and for an instant that sweat-soaked, frail, girlish, wispish, 145-lb. waif held barely together with a few stringy muscles and even stringier tendons, looked even frailer. We all peered into his eyes, trying to grasp, even for a second, what he’d endured in this event that Eddy Merckx swore had taken years off his career, if not his life.

Dawg thrust the mike up to Fukdude’s quivering lips. “Any words for the crowd, Kev?” he asked.

Brief pause. Long breath. Drizzle of sweat pooling on the floor. “Fuck, dude,” said Fukdude. “That was hard.”

Tara’s big birthday adventure

June 25, 2013 § 24 Comments

Yesterday a group of about twenty-five riders rode from Malaga Cove to the downtown L.A. Ciclavia. Along the way we picked up riders along Crenshaw as we made our way to Wilshire Blvd., the epicenter of the big event. One of our number was Tara, who had mistakenly hopped in thinking we were the Wheatgrass Ride.

It was Tara’s birthday and she had opted out of the Ontario crit and decided to do an easy pedal around the hill. “Where’s this ride going?” she asked.

“Downtown,” I answered.

“Well,” she said “I hope it’s an adventure. Today’s my birthday and I want an adventure.”

Your wish is my command

We got to the Ciclavia and learned an important fact about bicycle riding. The slower you go, the hungrier you get and the worse you have to pee. Stephan was ready to gnaw the covering off his saddle after our two-hour stop-and-start meander to downtown. Alan was chewing on an old inner tube, and as I stared at my compadres everyone was starting to look like a different kind of food item. It didn’t help that as soon as we got to Wilshire, Raja started talking about Tommy’s Chili Burgers and Chili Fries.

“You don’t have to order chili on your burger,” he said. “Just order a burger. It’ll have more chili than hair on a nun’s butt.”

“Yeah,” added Charles. “If you order chili, they’ll just put chili on the chili. It’s alright if you’re not too concerned about stuff like cardiac arrest.”

The Ciclavia wasn’t yet in full swing, but there were already tens of thousands of people walking and riding along the street. We stopped at the food trucks at the end of Wilshire and ate, then coffeed up around the corner. Several of the group were going to return to the coast, but I had planned to attend Kevin Phillips’s hour record attempt at the Carson velodrome, so my route would take me down Central Avenue.

“Heading home via Watts and Compton,” I said. “Who’s with me?”

“Uh, I, uh, am taking the beach route,” said Raj as the entire crew pretended not to hear me.

“Beach route? You’re FROM South Central, dude.”

“My ghetto card expired,” he confessed. “But you’ll be fine. Skinny white dude on a $5,000 bike. No one will notice. Maybe tape a few Ben Franklins to your arms to be more incognito. Before they stab you to death just tell ‘em you’re looking for women and crack. You should be fine.”

Tara piped up. “I’ll go with you. I want to see Kevin tackle the record.”

Raj nodded with approval. “Yeah, man. Skinny white dude on $5k of bike and cute white chick on $6k of bike and tight pants. You cats will blend right in. You know how to dial 911, right?”

Most of what you’re afraid of is wrong

Raj let us go because he knew the ‘hood, and he knew that people in South Central L.A. are a hell of a lot friendlier than the average Angry PV Housewife Behind a Benz. We pedaled along for a ways, passing Moreno’s Bike Shop and Mother’s Bike shop on Central as we cruised through Watts.

After a while we saw two riders ahead of us, one wearing a stars and stripes jersey. We picked up the pace a bit, passed them, and then mistakenly veered off onto Clovis. As we rode in the bike lane, a giant mound of broken glass appeared in front of us. I wasn’t worried, having made the clever choice to ride my ‘cross bike and its mondo, bulletproof 700 x 34 knobby tires.

Tara, on the other hand, was in trouble. “Are those tubulars?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Where’s your spare?”

“I don’t have one.”

“No spare?”

“No.”

“How come?”

“I don’t know how to change a tubular, so it wouldn’t do me any good even if I had one.”

“I know how to change a tubular.”

“Too late for that. But I have this.” She reached into her jersey pocket and whipped out a giant tube of Fillitup, a goo injector that looked bigger than the cartridge from a grease gun.

“Man, I hope you don’t flat. That thing is useless. When you’re riding urban routes you have to run beefier tires. Otherwise you’re asking for trouble.” I pointed expertly at my awesomely honking-Foxworthy-approved-mondo-treaded tires.

On cue, there was a loud hiss — pfffft — flapflapflap. From my rear tire.

“You’re rear tire is flat,” said Tara.

I cursed a tiny little bit.

“We can pull over here and change it if you want.”

“Uh, that won’t be happening, unfortunately.”

“You think it’s dangerous here?” Several local denizens were curiously eyeing us from the edge of their shopping carts.

“Dangerous? Shit, no. You see, I, uh, don’t have a spare tube.”

“No spare?”

“Uh, no.”

“How come? These urban routes can be pretty rough on tires, I’m told.”

“Yeah, I, uh, well, you see, I’ve never flatted on these tires and I figured they wouldn’t, you know, like, flat today.”

“Ohhhh,” Tara said. “The old ‘these tires don’t flat’ deal, huh?”

“Something like that.”

“Well, keep pedaling then. Goodness knows I don’t have a spare.”

Manuel y Pablo’s Hardware y Pupuseria

We got back over onto South Central, and after a mile or so, just at the end of Watts, there was a dude smoking a cigarette on the porch and grinning at us. “Hey, man, is there a bike shop around here?” I asked.

“A what?”

“Bike shop.”

“Whatchu want one of them for?”

“I got a flat tire.”

“Aw man, you fucked. Ain’t no bike shop in the ‘hood less you go back uptown and hit Mother’s. She gon’ fix you up.”

“No, that’s too far the wrong way.”

“You can try Manuel and Pablo’s. They got tacos and hardware, man. Maybe can’t fix yo bike but you can eat up like a dog and get some hardware if you need any.”

“I don’t need any hardware.”

“I know that. But yo skinny ass could use a taco, know what I’m sayin?”

“I really need a spare tube.”

“Manuel might have that too. Might as well have a look ’cause they’s on your right a half mile up.”

“Thanks, man.”

We pulled into Manuel y Pablo’s Hardware y Pupuseria just as a lady was putting away the dogs. The small one was about as big as Tara and lunged so hard against the leash that if it hadn’t been wearing a spiked choke collar it would have ripped free and mauled us both. Tara held my bike while I went in.

The lights were almost completely out and it took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. The tacos smelled great. “How can I help you, senor?” a very nice girl asked.

“Do you have any inner tubes for a bike tire?”

“Oh yes, senor, we have so many ones. On the last aisle over there.” She pointed off into a distant area where it was darker than a black hole. I made my way over. Two dudes in cowboy hats were smoking cigarettes and drinking beer and looking at me.

“Hi,” I said. They nodded. The bigger of the two had out a monstrous Bowie knife that he was using to pare his nails. A scar ran down across his forehead, and his front teeth had so much gold they glittered like Smaug’s treasure hoard despite the gloom.

I found the inner tubes and squinched my eyes hard to read the labels. Bowie Knife sauntered over. He was so big he blotted out what little gloom there was. All I could see was the glint on his teeth and the shine on his knife. I was so fucking scared I thought I would crap in my pants.

“Man, whatchu lookin’ for?”

“A…inner…tube…sir…” I stammered.

“Ya, man, what kinda tube?”

“It’s for a kind of bigger style bike, ‘cross, I mean, uh, bigger wheels.”

“Ya, man, you want a 700 x 34. They got one right here. He reached over and pulled the box off the shelf.”

“Oh, gee. Thanks. Yeah, exactly. 700 x 34, that’s exactly it.”

He squinted then reached over and pulled it back out of my hands. The knife glittered. “Ya, man, but you don’t want this one.”

“I don’t? I mean, of course I don’t.”

“Ya, man. I saw your bike when you rode up, man, you’re runnin’ Presta. These are all Schraeder. In the ‘hood it’s all Schraeder. You want Presta you gotta go back up to Moreno’s or Mother’s.”

“Oh, yeah, right.”

“That’s some nice SRAM Red shit you runnin’, bro. Want a beer?” He thumbed over to the half-drunken case of Tecate.

“No, man, but thanks.”

“Yeah, no problem.”

I went back outside. “Let’s go.”

“No luck?”

“Zip.”

“Even if they had a spare, you don’t have air do you?”

“No.”

“Or levers?”

“Those, either.”

“Well, with sixty years of experience between us, we’re pretty unprepared, aren’t we?”

“You said you wanted an adventure…”

A little help from my friend

As I thunk-thunk-thunked along the rutted asphalt, a great idea occurred to me. If there was one person alive who could help me out in a pinch it would be Mr. Freewheeling, a/k/a “Phil.”

Phil was the best mechanic alive and I just happened to have his phone number. So what if he lived in Austin? I dialed.

“Hello?”

“Phil, this is Seth.”

“Seth?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s up, man?”

“I’ve got a flat rear wheel, no air, no spare, and no levers. How do I fix it?”

“First just pull off the tire, then stuff it with grass. You’ll be fine.”

“I don’t have any levers.”

“Can’t you pull it off with your bare hands?”

“No, I mean I don’t think so.”

I could hear him rolling his eyes. “Really?”

“Really.”

“You’re dead to me,” he said, and hung up.

For the next hour my rear wheel went bump — bump — flapppp, bump — bump — flapppp, all the way to the velodrome in Carson. Tara had slowed down to my lumbering 7 mph and accompanied me every inch of the way. “Adventure?” I asked.

She grinned. “Unforgettable.”

Ride in Peace

June 23, 2013 § 14 Comments

I joined the Montrose Ride yesterday morning with local legend and German import Armin Rahm. He guided me along the route, providing the world’s steadiest wheel in a sea of swervy riders. Coming into the big sprint in front of the school crossing, Frank Schroder provided a 1-kilometer lead out at Warp 7 that popped and frazzled all but a handful of riders who were strong enough to come around him at the end. After the ride Armin and I enjoyed a knockout cup of coffee in the picturesque town of Sierra Madre.

Even though it’s all L.A., and even though the distance isn’t very far, the South Bay’s separation from Pasadena by the Great Ocean of Unmoving Traffic means that there’s not nearly as much cross-pollination of the two cycling communities as there should be. Still, it was great to see friends like Tony Sells, David MacNeal, and Ed Engay on the ride.

Afterwards I swapped out Lycra for wool and headed over to the Chris Cono Contreras memorial service at the Pasadena Civic Center. I’m not sure how many people the room held, but it was easily three hundred if not a lot more. Death has a way of cross pollinating, the same way bike rides can. It brings together different groups of people with nothing in common except the person who has died, only to find out that they really have a lot in common, after all.

Chris’s cycling friends got to meet his friends from other parts of his life that didn’t revolve around two wheels. Family got to meet people who had only known him on the bike. The outpouring of grief, and its attendant sense of loss and regret, were intense.

After the service everyone migrated over to a wonderful outdoor reception, where we ate, talked about Chris and his life, and got to do the thing that he most likely would have been doing: Drinking a few beers and talking bikes and bike racing.

It’s a proven fact that after death no one has ever come back to life, myths and fables notwithstanding. The idea of “rest in peace,” then, is a funny one for me, because from a factual standpoint, you’re not “resting” at all. You’re just gone, and the web of life reflexively and instantaneously mends over the tiny tear you’ve left in the giant skein. Death is so painful and shocking and dramatic, but life rolls on like a giant wave, smoothing everything in its path, indifferent, benign.

Still, one of the people who stood up and reminisced about Chris said this: “Ride in peace.” He said it with tears streaming down his face and it was moving. I think it’s a beautiful sentiment for those of us who are still here, so I’ll pass it on as a new motto, in memory of Chris: Ride in peace.

Four points

June 19, 2013 § 18 Comments

I went out for a quick spin two days ago that turned into something a bit longer. Cruising down PV Drive North at noon on a Monday when you should be in the office feels just like playing hooky from school.

Tink was going by in the opposite direction so I did a u-turn, hooked up with her, and got an amazing blow-by-blow about the brutal Nature Valley Grand Prix stage race that she’d just finished on Sunday. Arriving back in LA at 1:00 AM she was, of course, already back on her bike. Tink’s team, Tibco, won the overall, the QOM, and 125 points for Tink’s backflip twisting plancha that she did off the start platform in the time trial.

It was her first launch from a little covered house, and she went out in style. A light rain had made the platform slick, and she’d been advised to start in a bigger gear, so when they let her go and she mashed on the pedals it tore her back wheel loose, which then twisted her bars, which then pointed her straight at the edge of the platform instead of the ramp, which then propelled her straight off the side. Like I said, 125 points.

All funning aside, Kristabel turned in an amazing performance despite going down in the 93-mile road race, and despite being tasked in the 83-mile road race with “drilling it on the rollers” for the first 30 miles of the race, effectively leaving her completely gassed with 53 hard miles left to ride. Her efforts played a role in Tibco’s overall victory and validated their confidence in bringing her onto the squad as a neo-pro midway through the season. Before long she will be one of the best women racers in the nation.

Back seat driver

On the way back home I stopped at the Center of the Known Universe. It was a sunny Monday afternoon, so the work week hadn’t properly started, and over the course of the next few minutes in dropped New Girl, Gussy and his daughter Lucy, Trey, some moto pro former winner of the Daytona 200, Jens, and a buddy from my youngest son’s Little League days.

“What are you doing here in the middle of a Monday afternoon?” he demanded.

“What are YOU doing here in the middle of a Monday afternoon?” I shot back.

Gussy had just finished a tandem ride with his daughter, who had just graduated from middle school. Seemed like a bit of punishment, but she appeared not to mind. I got to chat with her for a while, and can say that she was one of the most poised, intelligent, and charming people I’ve met … maybe ever.

I’d always believed that the proof of the parent was in the child, and this sealed it.

Still going strong

On the way home up Via del Monte a biker pulled out from a side street ahead of me, so I chased him down. He wasn’t going very fast, and the closer I got I could see he was riding a very old bike with downtube shifters. I caught up to him and we started chatting. His name was Vince and he’s 78 years old.

He started cycling when he was 50. “I’m too old and slow to race around the Hill anymore with you fast guys,” he said. “But I still get out every day and climb up to the top.”

“Wow,” I said, because the top is 1,200 feet in elevation gain and has some sections that are really quite steep.

“Most of my buddies have given up. All of them, in fact. I’ll sometimes call them up and try to get ‘em out on the bike, and they promise to one day, but they never do. It’s just me any more.”

“It’s hard to keep going,” I sympathized.

“Maybe,” he agreed. “But it doesn’t get any easier by quitting.”

We parted at Hawthorne and GVA. He’d shared some wisdom, hadn’t he?

Rider down

This morning I learned that Jackie Price Dunn died today after crashing at the Tuesday Night Races held at the San Diego Velodrome. Coming hard on the heels of the deaths of Steve Bowen, Eric Ringdahl, and Chris Cono, I’m horrified, but also numb. My heart goes out to her family and friends.

Your house, hour house

June 16, 2013 § 26 Comments

Fukdude woke up one day with a completely crazed obsession, which was completely different from the completely crazed obsession he’d had the previous year, or the year before, or the year before.

“I gotta fukkin do the hour record,” he said to himself.

So he went down to the velodrome, hopped on his bike and did a practice hour record ride. He missed setting a new mark by 300m.

With zero preparation, coming so close to the mark on a test ride would give mere mortals cause for celebration. All it gave Fukdude was a case of raw sack.

“My fukkin left nut was out of position, pushed up against a nest of hairs on the inside of my thigh.” (FD is extremely analytical.) “Those three or four hairs rubbed up against the sack nonstop for one fukkin hour. Like scraping your balls with a wire brush. Fukkin saddle sore on my nut was the size of a small fukkin Frisbee. Couldn’t wear underwear for two weeks and had to soak my balls in an avocado-linseed oil poultice. Shit fukkin hurt.”

Why are bicycle riders insane?

This is what I was asking myself, having swung by FD’s place to pick up a copy of “The Hour” by Michael Hutchinson, an insane British bicycle rider who had misguidedly taken aim at the most holy record in sports, and predictably failed.

“You gotta fukkin read this book if you’re gonna blog about my attempt,” he said. “Then I can tell you about bearing friction and chain drag coefficients and tire thread counts and crr and Cda. Pretty cool shit, actually.”

“It is?” I asked.

“Fuk yeah, dude.” Then FD reached down onto a shelf and pulled out a bag with a chain in it. “Imported from Japan, dude,” he said with pride.

“Like my wife?”

“No, dude, this is special. Bro deal.”

I nodded. “Any other special stuff?”

“Fuk yeah. Check this shit out.” FD reached into another shelf and pulled out a box, in which was a bag, in which was a cloth sack, in which was a plastic covering, in which was a monstrous 55-tooth chainring that looked bigger than the reported Frisbee on his nutsack.

“Wow,” I said.

“Fukkin Japanese dude makes these things. Imported from Japan. Japanese. Fukkin rad shit, huh? $200 bucks, dude.”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s some coin.”

“No big deal. We just dial back the hot water, gas, and electricity for six weeks, slash the food budget and drink more water. It’s healthier, actually. Good for your fukkin hour record diet too, dude.”

When the fad is bad

This whole hour record thing got started in SoCal by Keith Ketterer, otherwise known as “KK,” “Superman,” or just plain “Sir.” A quiet, unassuming guy, KK did his preparation and set the hour record in two separate age divisions.

His successful assaults were the picture of suffering, and when he finished his second record ride he was pulled off the bike looking like a corpse that was way past its expiration date. The epic nature of his ride and the unspeakable nature of what he endured lit the fire of emulation under many who saw him.

Fortunately, most of the emulators did a few trial laps at speed around the velodrome and instantly realized the folly of their fantasy, and more importantly, the unspeakable pain of riding so fast even for a lap. So they quit and went back to the events that required something less, like ice hockey, drinking beer, and of course the most popular cycling event, Talking About Cycling And Spending Money On Bike Crap.

Not Fukdude. For him, the pain and the flogging and the obsessive attention to every possible detail made the fire burn brighter. It didn’t hurt that he has long been one of the best amateur bike racers in the state, and owns a pair of national titles on the track.

I found out about it through a Facebook invitation to the event that FD had sent out.

“It’s gonna be fukkin boring beyond belief,” he enthusiastically assured me. “Some dork riding in circles for fifty minutes, dude, people will be looking at each other going ‘This is some boring shit.'”

“Yes,” I tentatively agreed.

“It’s not ’til the last ten minutes if you’re on track that the misery and agony and suffering and flogging and hell sets in. That shit’s fun to watch. Dork goes from ‘I’m kicking ass’ to ‘I’m about to get totally fukkin humiliated in front of my family and friends plus waste all that money on tires and chains and shit from Japan,’ and then he fukkin goes balls out and flogs himself and you can see the fukkin fear of failure scratched all over his face like a bad tattoo. That’s when it’s fun to watch.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I mean, bike racing is a fukkin niche sport no bigger than a termite’s ass. And track racing is a fukkin tiny crevasse in the crack of the termite’s ass, right? And the fukkin hour record is a fissure in the crack of the termite’s ass’s microniche. Like, who fukkin cares?”

“So why are you doing it?”

“I’m obsessed, dude. If I don’t have a fukkin goal I’ll be eating a dozen baked chocolate donuts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and drinking beer by the keg. Gotta have goals in life, right, dude?”

Preparing for the flogging

If I had done a practice run and only missed the new record by 300m and some raw skin, I would focus my training exclusively on proper nut positioning and maybe do a couple of intervals to sharpen up for the real day of reckoning.

Not FD.

He assembled a team to conquer that last 300 meters that was truly incredible. Roger Young, former Olympian and curmudgeonly genius track coach feared by all, but who is really quite talkative on Thursdays between the hours of 3:00 and 3:15 AM. Philip Goglia and his eating program in Santa Monica, who is The Man for pasty, skinny dudes like FD who want to look even sicklier without losing leg power. Thanks to Phil, FD was able to develop entire new vein displays on his abdomen and thigh.

Roger put together a training plan that included things like eight 10-minute threshold sessions with 3-minute rests between intervals; three 40-minute threshold sessions (done three times a week); two 30-minute climbing intervals on a 9% grade at 350 watts…etc. Experts agree that if simply reading through the workouts doesn’t physically exhaust you or make you sob uncontrollably, you have what it takes to attempt the record.

Phil put together an eating plan that was based on the concept of gaining strength and power while losing weight and eating everything out of a Tupperware box. No more baked choco donuts. No more entire loaves of French bread. No more buckets of ice cream. No more Five Guys. In short, no more fun.

FD, however, was quick to point out that this had nothing to do with fun. “Fukkin starving yourself on lettuce and spending the best part of your adult life on an indoor trainer, dude, that’s fucked up. Which is why we do it. Right?”

“Uh, right,” I agreed, secretly planning to swing by the donut shop on the way home.

“Okay, cool dude. Nice talkin but I have to get back on the fukkin trainer. See you next week?”

“Wouldn’t miss if for the world. Hey, one question — “

“Shoot.”

“What happens if you do the hour record in, say, 59 minutes?”

*NOTE TO READER (singular): FD attempts the hour record in the 40-44 year-old age category at the VeloCenter in Carson, CA, on June 23 at 4:00 PM, immediately after which we will celebrate his NEW hour record with lots of fermented liquid electrolytes, chocolate donuts, more fermented electrolytes and awesome tales of how awesome he is. Which, in fact, he is.

Confessions of a dirty racer

June 14, 2013 § 18 Comments

I’ve been racing dirty.

There. I said it.

The signs have been out there for a while, but I thought people wouldn’t connect the dots, especially since I’ve been such a vocal advocate for clean cycling. But the thing that pushed me to confess, aside from my conscience, was an email from a friend. “It doesn’t add up, dude. Why don’t you come clean?”

The “it” he was referring to was a series of eyebrow-raising results, starting with a CBR crit at the end of last year where I got tenth out of a break that included some pretty phenomenal competition.

Then, this year I finished Boulevard with the group. Typically I get dropped on the first lap. Next was a third place crit finish, 50+ CBR. Icing on the cake was third place last week, where I overplayed my hand by riding in every break and collecting three primes.

Now that I’ve confessed, I’m going to do what others who’ve been caught most often refuse to do: I’m going to explain how an older masters racer goes from racing clean to racing dirty. It’s not a pretty story.

The problem is, of course, rooted in my childhood

When I was a little kid, I hated taking baths. Getting me wet and soaped down was always what my mom called a “production.” After cajoling, threatening, chasing, and finally manhandling me into the tub, a process that took a solid hour and was utterly exhausting to a woman with already frayed nerves, once I was in, I was equally hard to get out.

My brother and I would have water wars, spill most of the tub water out onto the mildewy tile, and leave the large white porcelain claw-footed bath with a thick black grease ring that took a can of Ajax and a bad case of elbow tendinitis to remove. If she could get me bathed twice a month it was a good month. In the summertime the success rate was even lower.

Why was I such a filthy, dirty little kid? Because I was from Texas, because we didn’t have a TV, because I was always outside, because I was always barefoot, and because of Fletcher.

When there’s a funny smell…blame it on the dog

Fletcher was our mixed German Shepherd – Airedale – Snipsnsnails mutt who rescued us when we went to the La Marque ASPCA to get adopted by a pet. Fletcher grew up into a rather large mammal, and like every dog in Texas from his generation, that meant he had an even larger contingent of fleas.

Dogs, yes, used to have fleas. There were no magical flea collars, or special flea-icide that you rubbed into their coat, and there sure as hell weren’t any mobile on-demand mutt washers painted pink with cute names like “Poochy Pedicures” or “Scrub-a-Dub Doggie.”

In those days, the only way to kill the fleas was with a garden hose and a box of flea powder made by DuPont or Dow, a chemical so strong it would make your fingers rot off, or dissolve the enamel on your teeth when you added it to the bathub gin, but that never, ever, ever killed one single solitary flea.

Instead, the lethal flea powder made the fleas stronger, bigger, jumpier, and supercharged their flea libidos such that after the flea bath Fletcher would, within days, have twice as many as he did before the rubdown. Since Fletcher slept in my bed and on the couch, and since I laid and played with him on the floor, and in the grass, and in the mud, I, too, was covered in fleas.

Many was the lazy summer afternoon when my brother and I would sit on the white couch and catch fleas, expertly laying them on their side, up against the hard edge of our fingernails as we popped them in half for having the audacity to bite us. In sum, Fletcher was a filthy, dirty dog, and not just because of fleas.

He was also especially nasty because he was constantly licking his balls. Nowadays the first matter of business when you get a dog is to whack off his gonads, but not in 1968. Dogs in those days had balls, and big dogs had big ones. Dogs grew to maturity with their nuts intact. Fletcher’s balls were big and purple and of all his body parts, they were the one that never got bitten by a flea. He licked and slurped and kept those things scrupulously clean, and woe betide the flea who tried to suck the blood out of either of those big doggie nuts. Whatever else you could have said about Fletcher, you couldn’t question his priorities.

Of course, in addition to constantly licking his balls, Fletcher would often lick us boys as well, on the hands if we were eating something, on the face if he saw a bit of peanut butter that hadn’t made it down the gullet, or on the legs if he just needed some salt. So I grew up, I suppose, in addition to having fleas, with a protective layer of dirty dog slime that covered me from head to toe.

As a side note, and in confirmation of what recent studies suggest, suffice it to say that I never got sick.

When the boy becomes a man

I cruised through elementary school a dirty and greasy little urchin and never thought much about it. Then, in seventh grade, we were sitting in the cafeteria at Jane Long Junior High, and the guys started talking. It was 1978, and boys had long hair.

First was Danny Martin, who had long, black, shimmering, beautiful hair. “When do you shower?” he asked Steve Wilson, who had long, shiny bronze hair.

“Before school, for sure.”

“Me, too,” said Danny.

Bill White, who had long, silky, blonde hair, piped up. “I shower at night, too. But I only shampoo in the morning.”

Everybody looked at me, including Glynis Wilson, the lovely girl with the gorgeous long hair. I stammered. “Uh, only in the, uh, morning,” I said.

A fiery curtain of red started at my neck and enveloped my entire head as I realized I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d bathed. In my entire life I’d never showered. That was for girls. Then I looked at Glynis and a light went on. Maybe girls weren’t so bad…

If I could have covered my head in a bag the rest of the day, I would have. I rushed home and ran to the bathroom. There, staring out at me from the mirror was an oily face topped with a rat’s nest of long, thick, matted, greasy hair. I jumped into the shower. I washed my hair. And I never intentionally missed a morning shower for the next thirty-six years.

Racing clean

When I started racing my bicycle in 1984, I raced clean, and I believe that most of the peloton did, too. There was always the dirty racer here and there, but for most of us there were too many compelling practical reasons to stay clean.

First and foremost were the shorts. Word was that if you wore the same shorts for even two days running, you’d end up with butt boils and ass chancres and festering saddle sores the size of a fried egg. That scared us. So we washed ourselves, and we washed our shorts.

Second of all was the stink thing. We were young men, and we smelled rather badly rather quickly. Unlike the halcyon years of little boydom, when I could go unbathed for weeks and never smell much worse than a mild case of mildew, all that changed with puberty.

Any mom who’s opened the closed door of a teenage son’s room knows this smell. It’s the dank, rank, febrile, fertile smell of boymones, those chemicals that lace everything they touch with the strong smell of reproduction. Stick a young man on a bike, make him pedal around in the hot Texas sun for a few hours, and you’ll wind up with a case of the Serious Stanks, the noxious B.O. that screams “I’m in France!” or “Next we invade Rome!”

Yeah. That smell.

So between the stink and the sores, it just didn’t make sense to race dirty. And I didn’t. For over thirty years I rode clean.

When the levee breaks

I have to admit, though, that it was frustrating, especially as I got older, slower, weaker, and more stupid. People who had once begged for mercy on my mighty wheel now came around me barely cracking a sweat. Was I that slow? Had my decline in my 40’s been that rapid? Was that massive sucking sound at the end of every chain gang me?

I tried everything. Diets. Power meters. I once spoke with a coach. I even talked to a guy who knew someone who had been properly fitted on a bike. I traded in my steel for carbon. Wool for lycra. I buried myself in the physics and metrics of performance, with the singular goal of cycling success. But the only compromise I refused to make was riding dirty. I’d win clean or I’d not win at all.

But then I’d look around and see some dude who wasn’t nearly as experienced, who didn’t train nearly as hard, and he’d spank me without even trying. I knew those guys were dirty, and I finally decided, if just to prove it to myself, that if I were as dirty as they, then I could win, too.

The long descent into corruption

The first thing I learned about racing dirty is that you don’t get fried egg-sized saddle sores. That’s just a fairy tale they use to scare away the goody two-shoes and keep them from going to the dark side. I found that you could wear the same pair of shorts three, four, five times (six if you were Brad House), with no ill effects.

Riding dirty wasn’t so bad, and the money you saved on laundry could go straight to gas money and entry fees. That’s how the system works. Sad, but true.

The other big fear riders have about riding dirty is that they’ll smell bad. This is true for the young dudes, but old fellows lose that stink of youth starting about age 40, and by 45 the testosterone odor has been completely replaced by Ben Gay. You can sweat for days on end and go to bed with a salt crust encasing your entire skin and it will only barely out-duel the smell of those joint creams and diaper balms.

In short, I got on the dirty racing program, and it worked. Even though you don’t smell that bad, it’s bad enough for guys not to want to draft off you, or at least not to draft too closely. And once I knew the secret, I could immediately tell who else was riding dirty, and who was riding clean. That’s how it is when you’re on the program. And it would shock you to hear some of the names.

Anyway, I’ve tried it and I’ve had enough. It’s time for Mrs. WM to let me move back in from the porch. From now on I’m going back to riding clean. But if there’s real money or prestige on the line, you just never know…

Clogstacles don’t sprint

June 13, 2013 § 27 Comments

You, dude, are a clogstacle.

Look it up, Merriam-Webster’s New Dictionary of American Cycling: “Clogstacle: A bicycle racer who clogs the lane in a finishing sprint, then rapidly decelerates so as to become a deadly obstacle to the real sprinters who are still accelerating to reach maximum speed.”

I can hear it already. “Me? A clogstacle? No way! I’m a sprinter!”

Uh, no, dude, you’re not. Take this handy-dandy (not to be confused with Dandy Andy) quiz and you’ll see what I mean.

Key –

YANAS: You Are Not A Sprinter
YAS: You A Sprinter
YUNT: You A Sprunter
YANK: You A Wanker

Step 1: Sprinting Self-Evaluation Quiz

1. You are sitting on Jon Davy’s wheel at 35 mph with the finishing line in sight. You say to yourself:
a. “What am I doing here?” = YANAS
b. “There’s no way I can come around.” = YUNT
c. “Faster, motherfucker!” = YAS

2. You come through the final turn with 500m to go. John Wike is on Ivan Dominguez’s wheel. You want the wheel, so you muscle over onto John. Wike hooks his left elbow under your arm as you lean against him, and says to you in a voice as cold and steely as a sharp knife shoved into a warm belly, “You move one more millimeter and we’re both going down, buddy.” You say –
a. “Sorry, dude.” = YUNT
b. “Eek!” = YANK
c. “See you in hell.” = YAS

3. In a race there is first place and ______.
a. A participation ribbon = YANK
b. A hot contest for 57th = YANAS
c. Nothing else = YAS

4. The crazier the finish, _______.
a. The happier I am to make it home alive = YANAS
b. The more I prefer giving a good lead out = YUNT
c. The better = YAS

5. You’re in a two-up break. The other rider turns to you and says, “How much do you want? My wife and kids are here, this is my biggest race of the season, and I’ve never won before.” You say –
a. “And you won’t today, either, motherfucker.” = YAS
b. “$500, but we’ll have to make it look close.” = YANAS
c. “$5,000, ’cause I haven’t, either.” = YANK

6. You’re in a two-up break. You turn to the other rider and say, “How much do you want? My wife and kids and grandparents and boss are here, this is the biggest race of my life, and I’ve never won before.”

YOU ARE NOT A SPRINTER, PERIOD.

7. You’ve had closed-head and spinal injuries in previous sprint crashes. You’re the sole breadwinner and have five young children. You speed through the final, twisting turn when suddenly Twitchy MacGruder goes sideways and the domino effect starts, with the sprint train on the left starting to brake and rub tires and scream and curse. You can brake and stay upright and still get second place and $500 bucks or you can gun it through a rapidly closing, impossibly tiny window of daylight which, if it slams shut, will send you headfirst into the pavement at 40 mph. The last thing that flashes through your mind is –
a. “Nuh-uh.” = YANAS
b. “My family is too important for this nonsense.” = YANK
c. “I’ve GOT this.” = YAS

8. It’s the bell lap, there’s been a pile-up in front of you, and you’re now 75th wheel with three turns to go. A superhuman effort with balls-out risks will net you a top-ten finish, so you –
a. Give it all you’ve got because it’s a great workout. = YANK
b. Give it all you’ve got because it’s gas money to get home. = YUNT
c. Get off your bike and throw it into a pond. = YAS

9. When someone slams you hard in the middle of a full-on sprint, you –
a. Steady yourself to keep from crashing. = YANAS
b. Slam them back. = YUNT
c. No one ever fucking gets anywhere near you in a sprint and lives to tell about it. = YAS

10. The key to winning sprints is –
a. Core strength and workouts in the gym. = YANAS
b. Having a good lead out train. = YUNT
c. Being crazier than a shithouse rat. = YAS

Step 2: Textbook racing advice for clogstacles

If you took the above quiz and selected any answer other than one that led to “YAS,” you are by definition a clogstacle. And although you will never win a sprint, all is not lost for your cycling career, although, frankly, it pretty much is. Below are some rules for what to do and what not to do now that you know your chance of ever winning a sprint is zero or much less.

Cat 5 Clogstacle Tactics and Strategy

As a Cat 5, every pedalstroke of every turn of every race is fraught with potential carnage. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what you do. Bull your way to the front, or hang onto the tail of the whip, the risk factor is the same. So, on the bell lap, you should go all out no matter where you are in the field. The worst that can happen is permanent debilitating injury or death.

Cat 4-3-2 / Masters Clogstacle Strategy

Now that you’ve left the 5’s, it’s evident that you will never be a sprinter. This means that on the last couple of laps of every crit, your goal is the same: Get home alive, get out of the way, and leave the bike racing to the bike racers. This means you should ease off on the pedaling, drift to the back, and put as much space as possible between yourself and the field. Quitting is fine, too. Below is a list of things you should not do under any circumstances:

1. “Lead out” your teammate. If you’re not good enough to sprint, your pathetic lead-out attempt will get you far enough forward to really gas you, make your head droop, and smash into the curb, endangering everyone else as well as yourself.

2. Go for a podium spot. This is madness. Those spots were reserved long ago by people with last names like Williams, Smith, Bahati, Wike, etc. Go to the back of the bus. Now.

3. Take a flyer. If you were too weak to ride off the front with Tinstman and DeMarchi, why would you suddenly be strong enough to hold off a field charging at 35 with Danny Kam, Tomo Hamasaki, John Slover, and Kenny Rogers driving the train? Answer: You won’t be. What will happen is you’ll get out there, blow, and then become a wobbling, weaving, rapidly decelerating lump that everyone else has to swerve around in the finishing turns.

4. Follow the wheel of anyone named “Charon” with five laps to go. Dude! 85 guys want that wheel, and sixty of them are ex-pros. What are you thinking? Aaron Wimberley will bust you off that wheel with two to go easier than taking a wallet from a corpse.

5. Join a gym. You are wasting money, son. It’s not about the strength in the core, it’s about the craziness in the head. You ever see Johnny Walsh or Aron Gadhia hanging out at a stupid gym? ‘Course not.

6. Ask Bahati for “sprinting tips.” He will tell you everything about sprinting, but you will still suck. When it’s showtime, go to the back and stay there. He’ll respect you for that lots more than crashing out thirty people in a mid-field sprunt where everyone else has sat up and you’re still charging for the line like a bull with his balls in a vise.

Any questions? Good. Now get out of my way. I’m going to win me a sprint on Sunday.

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