The beautiful people

August 24, 2013 § 28 Comments

When you bike, you meet people you otherwise would never meet. It’s enriching.

Hoofixerman appeared on the South Bay scene a year or so ago, riding an ancient “state of the art” aluminum frame with first generation handlebar shifters. He’s one of those dudes who used to ride a lot and then got married and had kids and gave birth to a mortgage and spent his spare time on his first love, some Italian chick named Ducati.

Then the kids got older, the mortgage shrank a bit, and the Italian chick started hinting that she was really into more kinky, dangerous stuff, and Hoofixerman gravitated back to the bicycle. It’s an old story: Formerly fit dude gets back into cycling and after a bit he picks up where he left off, kicking ass and taking names.

Cycling being cycling, and the arms race being the arms race, after a year or so he made a stealth upgrade, and one day Hoofixerman appeared on the New Pier Ride pedaling an all-black, all-carbon Giant TCR with deep dish wheels. A month or so into the new bike and he was  sticking his nose out into the wind, testing his legs with a few attacks, seeing how far off the leash he could go on those 52-year-old pegs with a swarm of hungry, pounding punks hot on his heels. Answer: Not very far.

The bike wants to live, too

One day Hoofixerman, who’s a blacksmith and shoes the horses of the rich and famous for a living, joined me for a trip up to north L.A. for a bike ride. Being old and afraid of death our conversation turned, of course, to the dangers of cycling. We talked about that ridiculous old notion of “calculated risk,” a comforting nostrum invented by people aware of the deadly potency of the bike + car traffic combination who want to stay immersed in the toxic stew but also have a clever explanation for why it “makes sense.”

Hoofixerman talked about motorcycles and about unlearning common sense when you’re moving fast on a motorbike, about unlearning the instinct to hit the brakes in a turn, about unlearning the fear reflex, and most of all about letting the physics of the two twirling gyroscopes do their thing — knowing when to inject yourself into the dance, and when not to interfere.

“Ya gotta remember,” he said, so casually that it was an iron fact, “the bike wants to live, too.”

My mind exploded with the concept. The bike is a living thing and it wants to make the turn just as badly as you do. It’s got the full panoply of physics at its disposal, and all you have to do is ride it and guide it without asking the iron horse to buck the laws of physics.

It may be an iron horse, but it’s still a horse, and the horse wants to live, too.

There was an elegance in Hoofixerman’s idea that made me happy every time I thought about it, turned it over, examined it. From every angle, it was pretty and smart and sound.

Little victories

Last Tuesday we hit the last stoplight on the last lap of the NPR before the turnaround. After the turnaround there are approximately three minutes and twenty seconds of hell that finish in a sprint.

Hoofixerman hit the gas when the light turned green, and the hundred-strong pack watched him roll away.

“He’s too old.”

“He’ll never make it.”

“Who’s he kidding? Does he think the new bike makes him younger?”

“He’s wearing the same funny helmet as Cobra Penis. No way.”

We got to the turnaround and, for the first time since the New Pier Ride was created, the entire pack was held up for thirty seconds by an endless stream of cars. Still, no problem. With enough horsepower to reel him in, the engines went to the front and started drilling it.

Everyone knew the rules. The NPR is governed by traffic and stoplights, and you have to take that into account when attacking or following an attack. If you escape and the chasers get hung up at the red lights, that’s their penalty for not risking all with the break.¬†If your breakaway gets stuck at a light or by traffic, and you get brought back as a result … that’s the risk of taking a flyer.

The one thing you can never say on the NPR is this: “Yeah, I would have [ fill in awesome result here] if it hadn’t been for that light.”

We buried ourselves to bring him back, until there, a few hundred yards before the finish, he was, going full gas with only a few yards left to the end. We had him. His bid would end vainly, full of vanity, in vain.

And then he dug once more, hard and deep, with everything he had. The carbon frame and carbon wheels kicked ahead, leaping like a horse catching the bite of the spurs, and somehow, in front of the fastest finishers in LA County, he crossed the line first. He was so gassed he couldn’t even raise an arm. Everything left there on the road, he was the oldest guy to ever win the NPR. It was incomprehensible to everyone else, but not to me.

Because you know, the bike, it wanted to win, too.

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