How to buy a revolutionary

March 6, 2014 § 12 Comments

Don Ward is a big guy with big opinions and a big mouth and big, big, big, big street cred to back it all up. Infamously known as “Roadblock,” he’s the legend behind Wolfpack Hustle and the mainspring behind the off-menu L.A. Marathon Crash Race.

If you don’t know what a marathon crash race is, then you are tone deaf when it comes to urban cycling in America. Beginning in 2009 the Wolfpack Hustle riders “crashed” the L.A. marathon course. As soon as the barriers went up, usually around 4:00 AM the morning of the marathon, the ridazz would hop the barriers and race pell-mell from the start to the finish, ripping down L.A.’s biggest and most off-limits-to-bikes thoroughfares in the glory of a pre-dawn 26-mile beatdown.

The crash race, like all bike races, also featured crashes. Dudes on fixies, road warriors in full bike racer drag, the curious, the crazy, the anarchic, the manic, the insomniac, and every other species of rider found her way over the barriers and onto the marathon race course to sample that sweet asphalt freedom that is normally RESERVED: FOR CAGERS ONLY. It quickly became known as the largest unsanctioned race in the country.

It was the running of the bulls, L.A. style.

Have you ever been to Pamplona?

Whatever the running of the bulls used to be, it’s not anymore. In 2014 this completely bizarre, alien tradition of getting drunk and running from fighting bulls is now a college stunt. In addition to frat boys, it’s mostly a mix of young white guys, frat boys, some English fellows, frat boys, and boys from frats. What is the cachet? Hint: There isn’t any.

The L.A. Marathon Crash Race found out the hard way that you can’t be a rebel without a cause and a rebel with a city permit. Rebels don’t need no fuggin’ permits. What they need are open streets and a good criminal defense lawyer. The crash race’s demise, however, was much more terrible than everyone waking up one day and suddenly realizing that it would be “cool” to bike downtown L.A. in the wee hours, thereby making the crash race forever uncool.

No, the death of the crash race, like its life, was deeply embedded in the tattooed, drunken, drug-using, marginalized, borderline poverty line cycling counterculture that makes up the vast majority of bicyclists in greater L.A., a counterculture much of which may not even be tattooed or drunken or drugged. In short, the sanitized social view of cycling as something done by middle-aged white men on expensive bikes wearing $900 Rapha outfits had been turned on its head by Roadblock and the Wolfpack Hustle.

Most L.A. cyclists aren’t “cyclists”

The might and main of people who ride bikes in L.A. are not part of the lycra road riding crowd. They have a lot more in common with the Wolfpack Hustle, economically and socially, than they do with Velo Club La Grange. They ride bikes for transportation, and also for fun. Most of their riding terrain is the asphalt of urban Los Angeles rather than the off-road tracks of the Santa Monicas or the groomed climbs of the PV Peninsula.

Wolfpack Hustle began as an expression of this common bicycling humanity, a rejection of roadie elitism, a rejection of USA Cycling’s dictatorship-cum-greed, a rejection of cagers, and an assertion of every Angeleno’s legal right to ride in the street. It was no accident that Roadblock chose the night, a time that cyclists are typically terrified of riding, to establish the legendary late night ride of the Wolfpack Hustle. Even the word “hustle” was a carefully crafted mission statement. Life’s a hustle. To live in the city you gotta hustle. Ride your bike in traffic you sure as shit better hustle. Don’t straggle or fugg off in the group … hustle.

To lead is to advocate is to compromise is to change

Ward became a leader. No, he became the leader. He tapped into swirling currents of ostracism and outsider-ness that percolate through the urban L.A. cycling community, and he, with them, became a vanguard for the rights of bicycles in CARS ONLY LOS ANGELES. More importantly, he saw the connection between poverty and transportation and urban survival and police-community relations and took the issue of cycling rights to its logical conclusion: Human rights.

As an advocate he was hard-nosed, efficient, smart, and an ingenious consensus builder. The Hustle went from an outlaw ride to an organized ride that received the informal blessing of the LAPD. The success of issues related to riding bikes in downtown Los Angeles owes a lot to the work of Don Ward, and in the process he’s gone from cocktail-tossing revolutionary to patient member of the cycling establishment.

This repels many, who call him “corporate” and a “sell out” and who long for the good old days of outlaw rides and devil-take-the-hindmost. But these criticisms only prove the point: You can’t advance without compromise and you can’t compromise without change. Which means, of course, changing yourself.

Victim of a petty schmuck

The crash race was shut down by the “Chief of Investigation and Enforcement of the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services,” or “COIAEOTCOLABOSS,” for short. It’s pronounced “Coya-Yotco-Laboss,” or just “dipshit.”

Dipshit informed Roadblock that if he went through with the crash race he faced jail and fines for whatever the city had to pay as costs for enforcement. A revolutionary would have promptly placed the letter in the round file, or perhaps would have sent an email along the lines of “I have two sweaty balls. You are free to lick them.”

Jail and fines, of course, are the way you bring a responsible advocate to his knees. The event’s “cancellation” came five days before the crash race, which was itself no coincidence, because it gave the disorganizers no time to try to obtain the mysterious “permits” without which such an event couldn’t be held. No matter that the whole beauty of the crash race is that it piggybacks on the existing infrastructure supporting the L.A. Marathon. No matter that the city’s “enforcement costs” are zero. And no matter that this is just one pinhead’s power play.

What matters is that an outlaw event, once tamed, can never return to the wild.

Thanks to Don Ward, L.A. is a better place to ride a bicycle for countless people. Thanks to Don Ward, bicyclists for five years sampled the sweet, evil pleasure of crashing the marathon. Thanks to Don Ward, a huge section of LAPD no longer looks at bikers as de facto criminals.

If we have to trade the crash race for all that, it’s a trade well worth making.

Hats off to you, Roadblock. Ride on.

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I brake for nobody

February 27, 2014 § 33 Comments

I got an email today from a very pissed off bicycle rider. He said that the main reason motorists hate cyclists is “usually that cyclists don’t obey the rules of the road. And that is absolutely right.”

Then he added that he “for sure doesn’t stop at all stop signs, and doesn’t even pause at some, like remote t-intersections, where there is no one I can impede. But I at least pause at almost all of them, and stop at any with cross traffic, and always yield the right of way unless waved through. But I constantly see guys just blow thru stop signs as if they don’t even exist [Ed. note: As if what doesn't exist? The stop signs? The guys?] A couple coming down the hill crossed onto my road in front of traffic, which was going uphill so I didn’t have to brake but noticeably slowed; they just blew through. I yelled at them  ‘You are giving cyclists a bad name!’ I heard a ‘Huh?’ in response.”

The angry cyclist continued: “Climbing up to a 3-way, stop, where I might have wanted to roll without stopping, since I was climbing, some guy with a huge smile on his face, comes sailing by, ‘Hey look at me, I’m having a great day!” and just blew through the stop. Had I tried to roll through the stop sign as I wanted, I would have been t-boned. I yelled at him too. I’ll soon be known as the grump of Whapdale Heights.”

He concluded with this: “Sometimes cyclists scare me more than cars. I talked to another cyclist who does stop at stop signs, and who said he’d almost been rear-ended by other bikes when he stopped. I know you’ve blogged about this before, but maybe again? Or another angle? Or you don’t think it’s an issue?”

Don’t think WHAT’S an issue?

I didn’t know how to respond other than to say that it’s not my job to explain the behavior of cyclists any more than it’s my job to explain the behavior of motorists, or astronauts, or chimpanzees. I also noted that from a safety standpoint, five bicycle riders had been killed by cars in SoCal in the last five days, and the number of motorists killed by cyclists since the beginning of time is, like, zero.

So, as Noel would say, “There’s that.”

Still, Grumpypants has a point, and I think the point is this: He’s comfortable running stop signs, rolling stop signs, and ignoring the law when he deems it safe and convenient for him, but he damn sure doesn’t think it’s a good idea for you. His premise also speaks for itself: Cagers hate cyclists because they break the law, and that’s as it should be.

He made no mention as to whether it’s okay for cyclists to hate all cagers for the few drivers who also break the law, or whether death and dismemberment are fair punishments for cycling traffic infractions. There was likewise no word on where he stands vis-a-vis the rash of hit and runs in LA (we’re number one!), and on criminal penalties for killing cyclists, and on other minor issues such as the right of cyclists to operate in the lane pursuant to law without having to suffer police persecution and/or death.

My guess is that Mr. Grumpypants didn’t think of these things, or worse, he thought they were of much less importance than his own “close” calls with happy, smiling cyclists who weren’t following the letter of the law.

But now that you mention it …

I suppose I’m also one of those happy, grinning idiots at whom he shakes his fist when I go ripping through a stop sign before he can beat me to it. I am probably one of the people who angry, latte-chugging PV housewives curse in their cages as I happily pedal to work. I’m certainly one of those smilers who controls the lane while livid cagers, delayed for three or even five seconds, spit bile and venom only to whizz around me and beat me to the stone-red light.

Who hates whom?

The nub of the problem, of course, is the assumption that cagers hate cyclists. They don’t, and how could they, when most cyclists are also motorists? Who in the hell are “they?”

For every nutjub who screams and froths and flips me off, fifty others sigh in envy as I pedal along. They know that as between us, the one who’s pedaling to work is the happier one.

In addition to the cagers who are cyclists, and the cagers who wish they were cyclists, there are the great unwashed millions who don’t care one way or another. They see me in the lane, or they see me *pause* through the stop sign, and they could care less. “Bikes aren’t cars,” they think, if they think at all. “It’s a heck of a lot harder to get a bike going from a full stop than it is to mash on an accelerator.”

In other words, I reject the premise that “motorists,” whoever they are, “hate” me. And the ones who do could care less whether I blow a stop, roll through one, pause significantly, or put both feet down and do a little bow. They have deep-seated psychological problems, vote Republican, and are likeliest to shriek “Guns don’t kill people!” after every mass shooting.

Even more to the point, and perhaps this is where Mr. Grumpypants and I really diverge, I get on my bike and am willing to die for it, or at least be horrifically maimed and spend the rest of my life an even bigger vegetable than I already am. It comes with the territory, unfortunately, because when car meets bike, bike loses. Doesn’t make it right, but that’s the way it is in the big city.

So I make it a point not to smash into the cagers and to have them not run into me, and I remind myself every few seconds or so that there are no guarantees, that my fellow cyclists are not the enemy, and that since tomorrow may be my Unlucky Day, I’d better pedal hard and flog a few baby seals while I can.

After more than thirty years in the saddle and a regular output of 8,000 – 15,000 miles a year, if I do eventually get clocked by some cager who “hates” me, it’s still been worth it. I had more fun at age 50 on last week’s Donut Ride than the average cager has in a lifetime of commutes. But if they’re gonna take me out, they better take extra special aim, because chances are slim that I’ll be waiting, cow-like, for them to mow me down at a stop sign as I shake my fist at a fellow biker.

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We’ll keep the light on for ya

January 15, 2014 § 81 Comments

I was pedaling along Anza. This lady passed me so close I could smell her moist panties even though the windows to her SUV were shut tight.

“Fuck,” I thought, wondering if Sherri Foxworthy would be angry because it had taken two full sentences to launch the f-bomb. “That was closer than a porn star’s razor.”

The real problem, aside from being insane-as-proven-by-the-decision-to-ride-a-bike-to-work, was clear. How can I keep the murderers and negligent-homiciders from plowing me under?

Hundreds of commutes had given me the knowledge to classify cagers as follows:

  1. Scumfucks who intentionally want to kill me.
  2. Dumbfucks who don’t know I’m there.
  3. Law enforcement.
  4. Babes who think I’m hot.

The fact is that Scumfucks Who Intentionally Want to Kill Me have the upper hand and can’t be denied. So when my number is up, I hope you’ll attend my funeral and NOT say anything sappy like “He died doing what he loved.” Instead, I hope you’ll be profoundly drunk and barf on the curb, apologizing for your bad manners. Law Enforcement are similarly irrelevant. They have guns and handcuffs and radios. Whatever they do, even if it involves murdering innocent homeless people in Fullerton, gets a pass. Babes Who Think I’m Hot currently number approximately one, and that’s a generous estimate.

So that leaves us with Dumbfucks Who Don’t Know I’m There.

“Yo, Dumbfucks Who Don’t Know I’m There!” I thought. How can I let you know I’m there?

The answer, like full frontal nudity, was right in front of me: Lights!

The guinea pig is me

I once had pet guinea pigs, Uncle Albert and Admiral Halsey. They were awesome and smart and cuddly and they squeaked for dinner. They also pooped little oblong guinea pig poops, which didn’t stink and were easily cleaned. Anyone who would experiment on these harmless and loving creatures is a complete fucking douchebag. When it comes to cycling, however, I decided to try a new technique to ward off the Dumbfucks Who Don’t Know I’m There. How? By running my front Serfas 500 on “blinky” mode, and my rear Serfas taillight on “blinky” mode DURING THE DAY.

Guess what, wankers? When the average cager is faced with blinking lights … he/she backs off!

That’s right. If you run your front blinky during the day you will find that cagers hesitate before darting out in front of you, give you the right of way, and if you’re not too big of an asshole to smile and wave, they will smile and wave back. Then, the rear-approaching cagers, upon seeing your rear taillight, will give you a wide berth or, because they know how to drive, will buzz the shit out of you but do it consciously — you’re in no danger because they see you and know the dimensions of their cage and aren’t about to run you over.

In short, run your fuggin’ headlamp and taillight during the day. The morons will see you and give you a wide berth when they pass, or they will buzz the shit out of you BUT WILL HAVE SEEN YOU AND KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING.

Keep the lights on. Really. It will save your life, or at least get you to the next cold beer.

This PSA brought to you by Port Brewing’s Wipeout IPA. And me.

Remembrance

November 17, 2013 § 23 Comments

If you choose to write about cycling, you’re eventually going to write about death.

When I heard that Udo Heinz, a man I never met, had been run over and killed on his bicycle by a careless bus driver, I felt the worst thing that any human can feel inside.

I felt nothing.

The almost daily recitation of deaths and horrific injuries that rain down on people for the simple sin of cycling had made me numb. “Another innocent person killed,” I thought. It was as if I were reading of a battlefield casualty in a distant war.

The details trickled in, and they were terrible beyond any description. The sadness I should have felt when I learned that he left behind two young children and a lovely wife wasn’t there, only a black empty hole where my emotions should have been. This, and my recognition of it, made an awful event more awful still.

Udo’s price for riding his bike was destruction all at once. My price, apparently, had been a different kind of destruction piece by piece.

The memorial ride

By now the memorial ride has become a kind of dreaded institution in cycling. So many good and innocent people die so regularly and so violently that there is nothing strange about commemorating their lives with a ride. One of the people I admire most moved quickly to organize such a ride on Udo’s birthday, November 16.

I’d guess that about two hundred people showed up. Before we rolled out, a couple of people spoke. One talked about kindness and about how crucial it is that we care for each other, because the smallest things can harm or kill us. Another spoke of his friendship. Finally, Udo’s wife Antje spoke about the man she loved and about her unwavering commitment to continue riding her bicycle as dedication to the life that her husband had lived.

Seeing the crowd and being in the milieu, hearing the words of Udo’s friends and his wife, the emotions that I’d repressed returned. I felt the weight of the whole thing, and it was terrible, made more so by the knowledge that my feelings were as nothing compared to those of Antje and Udo’s friends.

I thumbed through a notebook in which people had left messages for their friend. They were touching and sad and powerful.

“We’ll think of you when we gaze at the starry skies.”

“Miss you forever.”

“You left us too soon.”

Unlike most other North County bike rides I’d been on, this one didn’t turn into a murderous morning of being tied to the whipping post. People rode together and talked. Much of the conversation was about Udo, and it was all oddly the same.

What kind of man he was

Udo was a German engineer, and this is shorthand for many things. It implies intellect and great rigor of thought. It implies meticulousness and command of the big picture as well as command of the details. I can’t help but think that there were things about America that must have challenged Udo, and foremost among those things would have been the inordinate sloppiness and laziness that often goes along with daily life here.

One of his friends told me about working with him for the first time on a cyclocross race, and being surprised at how exacting and precise Udo was. It was hard for the friend at first to handle, but as they worked together he came to appreciate what a skilled worker Udo was, and how the concern for details was really reflecting an underlying concern for the race itself and the people who would ride it.

The course turned out beautifully, safe yet challenging, technical but not too “mountain bikey” as Udo loved to say, brought to perfect resolution. The relationship turned out well too. Each person who spoke about Udo remarked on an initial reserve that was matched by boundless warmth and sincere friendship as time went on. His intellect and skill as an engineer were also underlain by a keen wit and subtle yet profoundly funny sense of humor.

That life is an exercise in chaotic mayhem was driven home by Udo’s death. As a cyclist he was regarded as one of the safest riders on the road. He refused to ride certain routes if he felt they were too narrow to accommodate car and bike traffic. When he was killed, he was riding safely on one of the safest stretches of road in San Diego County.

In conjunction with my own accident of a few weeks back, Udo’s memorial ride made me review again the bike riding equation.

Simple math

The way it works, at least in my confused mind, is this: I am going to die. So, since I have to die, I hope I die on my bike.

The reason for this is simple. It’s on my bike that I am most fully alive. Udo’s life was a testament to this. His good works, a lasting marriage and two wonderful children, were expressed through his bicycle. The community of people who now feel a gaping hole is a community of bicycle riders. Udo’s passion for the bicycle was truly a passion, and he passed it on.

At last Sunday’s San Diego ‘cross race, when whiny and cowardly age-graded adults moaned and complained about the muddy sandpit and how dirty and difficult it was, a young boy came charging off the lip, picked a perfect line, and ripped through the pit without ever having to dismount. The boy was, of course, Udo’s son.

None of this is to deny that what happened to Udo was senseless and tragic. Of all people who ride bicycles, he should be here today. But since he isn’t, are we to now dismount like the quaking cowards around the mud pit and declare that, after all, riding a bike is too dangerous? Or are we to take a lesson from the younger Heinz, pick the best line we can, and keep on ripping?

What do you think Udo would have said?

I never knew him, but this much I know.

One for the good guys

November 15, 2013 § 45 Comments

One of the basic rules of engagement is “Know your enemy.”

The asshat who has been regularly buzzing our New Pier Ride group on Tuesdays and Thursdays assumed that we were just a bunch of defenseless schmos. He assumed wrongly, at least about the “defenseless” part.

Once our New Pier Ride page on FB lit up with the video of his dangerous antics and the history of his harassing behavior, a few things happened. One of those things was that folks within the peloton made certain calls to certain people. Another of those things was this: At least one NPR rider who occasionally shows up is, shall we say, very highly placed, very anonymous … and very much the worst possible person you could want to fuck with.

The combination of phone calls to the police complaining of asshat, and of engaging Worst Possible Person You Could Want To Fuck With resulted in this on today’s edition of the NPR: Cops on motorcycles. Cops in unmarked cars. Cops hidden behind the bushes running radar.

Cops who knew exactly what they were looking for.

When asshat got ready to do his morning troll, he got a very nasty surprise. Before he could even get started, he’d been identified and pulled over. I don’t know exactly what the message was, but it went something like this: “We’re watching you and we know who you are. You’d better drive more carefully.”

Strange to say, but today we didn’t get buzzed.

Now, I’m not a betting man, but here’s a wager I’ll make. Asshat’s buzzing days are over.

Any takers?

Fear and loathing in Los Angeles

November 14, 2013 § 33 Comments

This is really simple. A white C-Class Mercedes-Benz, with a license number we couldn’t confirm due to problems with the GoPro video that captured the scene, buzzed the Tuesday NPR group going an estimated 75 – 80 mph. No one was hurt. Lots of people were scared.

The driver is a repeat offender, and westbound on Westchester Parkway around 7:30 AM seems to be the time of his daily commute. I first became aware of him several months ago, sometime in June. A Texas Aggie cyclist had shown up on the ride and proceeded to crush it. Being a Texas grad, I waited for the interloper to exhibit the famed Aggie traits of doofishness, flaildom, and crackage.

This guy rode like a champ, kept pushing it at the front, and really stood out for his strength and work ethic and solid skills. I didn’t want to admit it, but he was damned good. Just before the finish a white Mercedes came roaring by in excess of 80 mph, buzzing the finishing sprinters. The Aggie took the win, and as I shook my head in respect I noticed that the rapidly receding asshat in the Benz had his alma mater emblazoned on the back.

It was a silver metallic Texas Longhorn.

When we turned left on Pershing, asshat had gotten hung up at the light, and we exchanged words. He sped in front of us, then threw on the brakes, as if to get out and fight. When he realized that the approaching mob contained about fifty grown athletic men, he flipped us off and sped away.

Ever since then he has periodically buzzed our group, and one day he’s going to kill someone.

This is what we put up with in order to ride our bikes on the streets of L.A.: Morons from Texas who are too chicken to get out and confront us, and instead risk our lives by trying to intimidate us with crazy, high speed games. Fortunately, since this repeated harassment has occurred in the City of Los Angeles, we have a remedy, because the city has passed an anti-harassment ordinance that specifically protects cyclists from life-threatening harassment such as the kind that this asshat regularly engages in.

Stay tuned. This one isn’t over yet by a long shot.

We’re all pretty fragile

November 11, 2013 § 17 Comments

I was eating a hangover burrito and slurping down my second cup of lard-infested coffee when I saw the dreadful Facebook news: The glorious Sunday Kettle Ride had been pulled over and ticketed for riding in the lane. The person who got pounded with the ticket was, of course, G$, the guy who always steps up as the leader.

The sheriff’s deputy had these words of wisdom: “Every accident I’ve been to where a cyclist was hit, it was their fault for riding in the middle of the lane.” He was uninterested in the actual California Vehicle Code which permits the type of riding that the bikers were engaged in.

This came the morning after a super twisted opinion piece in the New York Times, in which the writer opined that the laws in this country essentially allow motorists to kill cyclists with little to no penalty, while at the same time the cyclist/author confessed to being afraid to ride anywhere except … in his basement. The message was apparently that although it’s wrong to kill cyclists, it’s even wronger to stand up for your rights by riding on the road.

As I was struggling up Via del Monte yesterday, my good friend Surfer Dan looked over at me and said, “You know, we’re all pretty fragile.”

On cue, I pulled over and lay down in the grass, caught in that half-contraction between swallowing and vomiting. The sun beat down. Dan looked on, mildly amused. We had finished the Donut Ride several hours ago, and decided to consummate our healthy bicycling activity with a massive cheeseburger, fries, and copious amounts of beer.

Dan, who doesn’t drink but who compensates for his abstinence with the ability to clear off the largest plate of food in a matter of minutes, had been sitting around the table while I and a handful of others enjoyed the Bike Bomb Effect. This is the smash-to-the-brain that you get after a long, hard, hilly ride in the sun that leaves you completely famished and dehydrated, and then follow up the ride with several 23-oz. glasses of Thunderhead IPA.

The others staggered home, and Surfer Dan nursed me back through the beach cities and up the endless steeps of Via del Monte. When you are suffering from the Bike Bomb Effect and going uphill, it feels like you weigh about 800 pounds.

“You should probably get up before they call the police,” Dan advised.

He had a point, but things were still too foggy for me figure out what it was. “Why would they do that?”

“Because it’s unusual for people to be lying in the front yard of these multi-million dollar estates.”

I pondered it for a while. The sun felt very good, and the road was so very steep. The grass felt like it had when I was a child, fresh and green and bendy, and scratchy in a good way, cushiony, and despite the sun it was cool out, and if I rolled over to my side just a bit the sun stopped hitting my eyes and it was better than a bed or a hammock.

“Come on, man,” Dan said, nudging me in the gut with his shoe.

The sharp prod of the shoe spoke with a kind of harsh logic that his words hadn’t, so I got up and got on my bike, except not really, because it kept falling over. Finally I started pushing it. “Does it get flatter up here?” I asked.

Dan was laughing. “Yeah, it does.” And it did.

For the remaining mile, which took forever, we spoke of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, of why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings. We concluded that whether it’s our own inner turmoil, or some asshole cop giving you a ticket for something you didn’t do, or some fool behind the wheel of a car who kills you because he “didn’t see you,” we’re all pretty fragile.

So it would be good, then, to handle with care.

Week in review

September 23, 2013 § 12 Comments

Lots has happened.

Julie Cutts, who rides for La Grange, won two world masters championships this weekend, one in the time trial and the other in the road race. More about this at a later date, but suffice it to say that this is staggeringly, incredibly, amazingly fantastic news. Julie was joined in Trento, Italy by Rudy Napolitano, Mike Easter, and Tony Restuccia, who all raced in the men’s 35-39 world championship. Although everyone can appreciate Julie’s two victories, not everyone can appreciate the men’s results — 15th, 19th, and 60th. Let me be the first to say that these results are extraordinary. Out of 101 finishers, these three racers performed exceptionally on a global stage, on a brutal course that ended with a 20km climb, in the epicenter of world cycling. Simply being invited to the biggest stage for masters racers is a tremendous accomplishment. Finishing as strongly as these guys did is testament to their toughness, ability, and racing skill.

Cyclocross is here

The 2013-2014 cyclocross season kicks off in Southern California next Sunday, September 29, at the historical downtown LA state park. Dorothy Wong brings cyclocross back for another year, only it’s bigger, better, and promises even more participation and excitement. Even as road and track racing stagnate in the state and nationwide, ‘cross continues to grow. Why? Because it’s audience-friendly. Road and track focus on the athletes, and with the exception of blowout races like Tulsa Tough, it’s unheard of in SoCal to see a road race, circuit race, or crit that’s packed with spectators.

Cyclocross brings people in to watch. The courses are exciting and spectators can put their tents right next to the most thrilling parts of the course. The racers go slower and they come by much more often, and spectators are encouraged to cheer, heckle, and give questionable hand-ups. ‘Cross courses are “parky,” so kids can run around. After racing, the athletes are often found under the tents drinking beer, hanging out, and enjoying the rest of the day. What’s also interesting is that, as far as I know, there’s little or no prize money — and the racers could care less. They’re energized by screaming fans and a fun time, not the illusory professionalism that comes from getting a “paycheck” of $25 and a box of Clif bars.

More PCH tomfoolery

I did another couple of Sunday rides on PCH, taking the lane all the way out to Cross Creek and back. The criticism of this approach was initially massive by the local cycling community, or at least among the people with whom I ride.  Then, thanks to a video captured by a biker on Sunday, I saw an entire crew of “gutter bunnies,” 50 riders strong, taking the lane. So that’s awesome. One disappointment has been the almost complete absence of “take the lane” advocates, folks who are quite vocal about taking the lane and who spout lots of facts and figures regarding the  merits of this method, but who can’t be bothered to actually do it on PCH. Maybe you don’t believe in your method quite as much as you say?

My kingdom for a stem

On the way to the ride this morning I ran into Mike Barraclough, who was sidelined just past Malaga Cove with a flat tire, a short stem, and no stem extender. My wheels are box rim aluminum Open Pros and so they take any length stem, no matter how short, but when I went to the bike shop to get a new tube the only ones they had in stock were the 60mm. It turned out that this was just the right length, so we swapped his spare 52mm for my 60mm, and we got underway. Dave Kramer, also en route to the ride, had also stopped to help. Pressed for time, we took the most direct route from Redondo to Manhattan Beach, which is PCH, and we took it at full speed. Mike and Dave had breathing problems along the way, and we had to back it off a notch to stay together. Then, once we turned on Gould and dropped down to Valley, Dave and Mike blew a stop sign that had a police cruiser parked off to the side, waiting for speeders. This was our lucky morning, though — I put a foot down for the first time in recent memory, and the cop just watched us pedal away. When we got to the start of the ride, Mike and Dave looked like they were on the finishing leg of RAAM. Ron Peterson looked up and laughed. “You were supposed to exercise the horses, son, but instead you done broke ‘em!”

Can’t say enough about these shoes

I’ve been riding Bont shoes for about six months now. My first shoes were Detto Pietro. My second shoes were Marresi. My third shoes were the Sidi Revolution, the first shoe with a velcro strap. My fourth shoes were Duegi white patent leather track shoes with wooden soles … I used them on the road and almost died in them atop a high mountain pass in Japan, but that’s another story. My next shoes were Sidi, and I wore their various iterations for twenty years until two years ago I bought the Specialized S-Works under pressure from a local dealer. My feet eventually adapted to them, but the dials constantly wore out and it was frustrating and expensive to replace them. It also felt like a bit of planned obsolescence, so that I could keep spending money on the shoe. It rubbed me the wrong way.

I was given the Bont shoes as part of my team’s sponsorship package. Basically, they give me a bunch of world-class gear so that I can go place 57th in the local crits and DNF the occasional road race. I was skeptical about the Bont shoes because you have to put them in the oven. They are also flexible like well-cured concrete. And the road shoe looks a little boxcar-ish. Once I had cooked them and used them for a week, my feet molded perfectly to the interior of the shoe. Everyone loves to talk about their “stiff frame” and “stiff BB” and “stiff soles” and “stiff” whatever, but it’s a word I’ll use with care for the rest of my life after wearing the Bont.

So, how stiff are the Bont shoes? They are “sailor on shore leave” stiff. They are stiffer than a fused spine. Stiff like glass. When you push down on the pedals, the shoes are so stiff that, if your bottom bracket is sufficiently robust, the earth will flex on its axis before you’ll flex the soles on these beasts. The ‘cross version of the Bont Vaypor is just as good, with several modifications for the rigors of cyclocross. If you’re unhappy with the flexiness of your current shoes, consider the Bont.

Geeks v. Dorks

September 17, 2013 § 54 Comments

I’ve been puzzled by the split of opinions about where to ride on PCH. In the lane, or in the gutter? That’s the question, and it has evoked strong reactions.

On one side are the racers/ex-racers/soon-to-be-racer geeks who “know” how to ride safely. On the other side are the bike dorks — the dudes with mirrors, crusty machines, and weird signs hanging off their saddles. This is a simplification, since many “racer geeks” have also signaled their agreement with take-the-lane positioning on PCH by, well, taking the lane.

Still, it got me thinking about the cleavage. An FB page I frequent, “Cyclists Are Drivers,” and a web forum I belong to, the CABO forum, are both filled with bike dorks. The key feature of the dorks is that they are focused on facts, numbers, and hypotheses that can be tested with regard to cycling safety in traffic. They are often in sharp, even vitriolic disagreement.

The key feature of the racer geeks is that they are focused on riding their bikes fast, or at least pretending that what they’re doing will allow them to ride faster later. Racer geeks, unlike bike dorks, keep their disagreements on the down-low for the simple reason that they spend much of their time riding in groups with one another. They’re fundamentally group animals, whereas the bike dork tends to be more of a loner, at least to the extent that bike dorks seem to commute a lot by themselves, which makes their concern with traffic safety obvious.

The dislike of public arguments between race geeks makes sense when you see some of the online disagreements between the bike dorks. It would be hard to go have a fun group ride with a bunch of people you’ve just excoriated as misguided imbeciles.

How I joined the dorks

I became a bike dork by accident, or rather, I’ve always been a dork and the bike dorks won me over with, well, logic and debate. I won’t reiterate their reasoning, since it’s available by the ream to anyone who can do a Google search, other than to say that after trying out their lane control tactics on Del Amo and then Hawthorne, I found my traffic rides much less stressful. Lane control rides on PCH reconfirmed that taking the lane is superior to being a gutter bunny, at least for me.

What surprised me is how poorly the dorks’ ideas were received by many of my racer geek brethren. One of the bike dorks I respect the most had this to say with regard to racer geeks and the authority with which they speak regarding traffic skills:

Bike racers are to traffic skills instruction as auto-racers are to driving school instruction; not qualified unless they go though certification training. I know highly trained and traffic skilled racers, … and others who are terrified of traffic and ride like children, by hugging the curb in fear, and a spectrum in-between the two extremes. Just because someone is a racer, or has good paceline skills does not mean they also have bicycle driving skills. I’ve seen too many national and world class racers operate very hazardously in traffic to buy that common misbelief.

This, more than anything else, puzzled me. Are the people I’ve ridden with for years, people whose wheels I trust, people who have performed magic on two wheels, are they unqualified to speak about traffic skills on PCH because they haven’t taken some sort of course?

Sticking to PCH

The more I thought about it, the odder it seemed. One of our recent ride additions, a bike dork par excellence, had aroused the ire of the racer geek group with his riding. What was interesting was that his same behavior had annoyed me on our lane control ride, even though his antics were simply riding closer to the lane divider stripes than I thought reasonable.

Why would this behavior elicit such condemnation?

Then it hit me. The bike dork is primarily concerned with not getting hit by cars. The racer geek, although he’ll tell you that is his primary concern as well, is mostly concerned with not getting taken out by other riders. I don’t think I’ve ever actually witnessed a car hitting a bicyclist, but I’ve witnessed countless accidents  on group rides caused by bad bike handling.

Now it was starting to make sense, sort of. The bike dorks are talking about where to ride safely in the lane. The racer geeks are trying to keep conformity within the peloton because that’s where the danger is greatest. Erratic, unpredictable moves cause crashes, scare the shit out of people, and act as a total buzzkill for what is supposed to be a fun social event. It may be true that the conformity would be even more easily handled, and bad bike handling would be more easily accommodated in the lane rather than in the gutter, but for purposes of the debate that doesn’t really matter.

The bike dork is viewed as a living, breathing threat to the racer geek’s bunch ride.

Traffic skills versus bunch riding skills

No one likes to be told, “Your biking skills suck.” Except me, because mine do, and I’m reminded of it every time I ride. I was amazed at how ignorant I was of basic traffic skills the couple of times I rode with Jim Hannon’s BCCC group. My default mode of “blow the stops,” and “consider red lights as advisements only” was the tip of the iceberg.

Lane control riding also required a new set of skills. Yet while I noticed — and notice — my traffic skills deficiencies, I also notice that there’s not one bike dork I’ve met yet whose wheel I’d take if the pace ever got over 21 mph, much less if it happened in a group. The bike dork, for all his traffic skill, is a hopeless threat when the pace picks up and the group gets congested.

This is where the auto-racing analogy breaks down. You will never simulate race car conditions on normal streets, i.e. tightly packed, one-way, high speed roadways with vehicles going well over 100 mph. But you will always, if you’re a racer geek, find yourself in tight bunches going at race speeds even on “easy” days. The useless car racing skills that are not relevant to traffic skills in a car become highly relevant if you’re a recreational rider who does “the Saturday ride.”

As a racer geek, I view the bike dork with great skepticism when he or she starts telling me what’s safe or where I should ride. “What the fuck do you know?” I think. “I’d drop you like a heavy turd from a tall horse without even trying.” Even more to the point, I do what every racer geek does when a new wheel appears in the group, regardless of how they’re dressed or what they’re riding or how fit they look. I give them a wide berth and pay scrupulous attention to how they handle their bike. Doing otherwise wil put you on the pavement, quickly.

It’s a two-way street

Just like racer geeks hate being told that their lifetime skills of bunch riding don’t count for squat when it comes to traffic safety skills, bike dorks hate having it pointed out that they’re slow, weak, can’t sprint, can’t climb, can’t hold a straight line, and that they terrify the shit out of everyone behind them. Bike dorks find that all the knowledge and expertise in the world won’t keep them in the group if they lack the lungs and the legs.

The racer geeks wrongly see this as proof that the bike dorks don’t know anything worth knowing. The bike dorks wrongly see it as evidence that racing skills are inapplicable to traffic, particularly when accompanied by running stop signs, blowing through yellow lights with fifty people on your wheel, etc.

Both groups are right up to a point. Bike dorks are correct that lane control works. People who do it find it less stressful than life in the gutter. Race geeks are right up to a point, as well. An authority on traffic safety who drops his head when he’s tired or who can’t hold a straight line is a much greater threat to the group than cars.

But both groups are also wrong. Bike racing skills do lend themselves easily and seamlessly to traffic skills as compared to new riders who are still unable to clip in without the risk of tipping over. It’s easier to train someone who rides 10,000 miles a year than someone who still can’t shift properly. And bike dorks are right in that lane control can make the whole bunch safer, and can more easily accommodate unskilled group riders.

One final note from the dorks

Of all the factoids and anecdotes I’ve run across, one of the most instructive was the bike dork observation that you, the racer geek, may not owe your survival to your great bike handling skills as much as you think. Cycling is statistically one of the safest recreational activities you can do, with a rate of .26 deaths per million cycling activities. Compared to skydiving, with a rate of 128 per million, cycling seems to be quite a bargain.

Better put, the chance that you’ll be killed on your bike is tiny, whether you ride in the gutter or in the lane. Whether you’re a wobbling Willy or a stoplight-flaunting Eddy Wannabe, the numbers are on your side. So it would seem that those who vociferously oppose lane control on PCH should be willing to try it out for a month or two, ’cause it ain’t gonna kill ya. Then get back to me and see if maybe you don’t have a bit of the bike dork in you, after all.

All butthurt and such

September 14, 2013 § 17 Comments

I’m sensitive and timid. When my friends criticize me I get all butthurt, and when cars crawl up my ass at 60 mph, I get scared. That’s normal, right?

I had a long Facebag debate with a dude I admire and respect, a grizzled old opinionated PCH gutter troll who has seen it all and done almost everything that is legal between consenting adults. His take was simple. Ride on PCH in the lane without taking into account other factors, and you’re fucktard stupid. Encourage others to do the same and you have blood on your hands.

My position was just as simple. Ride in the lane and control the lane because it’s safer and it’s legal. I trotted out my arguments, which went like this: Blah, blah, blah. And blah.

Getting from “Blah” to “I’m right and you’re not”

In order to ease the pain and reduce the swelling from the butthurt, I had a few beers. Then I went to Cho Dang and gorged on pork bulgogi, after which I came home and fixed up a honkin’ big bowl of ice cream, inhaled it, and fixed up another one. Butthurt cured!

Somewhere between the kimchi and the bulgogi, it occurred to me that the argument about “how to ride safely on PCH” was a silly one. Maybe, instead of being the alley of death that terrorizes us so, PCH is pretty damned safe. Maybe hardly any cyclists die there when they ride in groups, whether in the lane or in the gutter. Maybe given the number of miles driven, bongs inhaled, vicodin popped, messages texted, cell phones fished out jersey pockets and answered while riding, and miles pedaled, PCH isn’t all that dangerous.

Maybe you’re going to live when you pedal PCH no matter what, simply because most people who drive that stretch of road know it’s shared by cyclists and, more importantly, they don’t want to fuck up their clearcoat with biker splat. Maybe the real issue isn’t “Which method is safer?” but rather “Which one do you like better?” kind of like “Vanilla or chocolate?”

I like smooth and easy

Even if one method is marginally safer than the other, the chance of YOU getting killed on PCH is minimal. If you prefer riding in the gutter and showcasing your amazing glass-and-rock-and-used-dildo avoidance skills, then ride there. If you think nice, clean, smooth, wide roadways with great panoramic views are the bomb, then take the lane. Either way, the traffic on PCH is almost certainly going to steer around you.

If the “almost certainly” gives you heartburn, then you have a third option. Get a medical marijuana prescription, fire up the Netflix, order a pizza, and stay the fuck home. I’ll be out on PCH. In the lane. And enjoying the view.

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