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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
September 13, 2013 § 5 Comments
Call it the low season, call it the beer season, call it the ‘cross season, call it the off season if you must, but it should also be the season, however briefly, to thank those who’ve spent so much time and energy watering the grass roots of cycling.
Who pours more energy, more money, more enthusiasm, more style, and more quality product into all of the SoCal cycling disciplines than SPY Optic? No one. Whether they’re funding a new women’s squad, sponsoring ‘cross races, offering up high quality primes, or donating a cooler of beer, SPY has reminded us every single day this year that great things happen when we focus on happy.
If any person defies the physical law that you can’t occupy two different spaces at the same time, it’s Dorothy. She’s a passionate cycling advocate. She’s a tireless race promoter. She’s a dog lover. She’s an advocate for gender equality in sports. And she puts on one hell of a ‘cross race. If thousands of people now look forward to the “on” season of cyclocross from September through February in SoCal, it’s thanks to Dorothy.
He’s the only pro I know who thinks that ordinary people on bikes are just as important as the speed freaks. Rahsaan does the local rides, shares his encyclopedic knowledge with the youngsters and the crusty masters wannabes, and does it all with class, style, and impeccable fashion. In addition to his outreach to youth through the Bahati Foundation, Rahsaan has the magic touch of making people want to be better, and he’s touched so many lives it’s almost unbelievable.
I’ve written about her before, but this woman defines commitment and perseverance. She’s one of the few who sees bike racing as a touchstone for other, more important things in life, not as the end-all, be-all that many coaches hold up as the goal. Connie gives kids skills and experiences that make them better, stronger, healthier people, whether they continue cycling all their lives or turn to something else. She does it quietly, for the pleasure of the result.
PV Bike Chicks
They pick a target, then they hit it. Their target? Getting more women interested in cycling. PV Bike Chicks has grown to become a force on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and environs. They provide encouragement, support, training opportunities, education, and plain old good times to any woman who wants to get out and pedal. Plus, they make a mean carrot cake!
He’s a one-man whirlwind powered by his wife Debbie, who has the strength of a thousand Jims. Jim has taken the Beach Cities Cycling Club and ramped it up into an inclusive club that numbers over 500 riders in the South Bay. Jim’s efforts have led to more than 214 miles of dedicated bike routes in the South Bay, and he does it by building consensus, making friends, and never taking his foot off the gas. He shares his knowledge and resources with incredible generosity and makes the roads safer for every single cyclist out there.
Some call him stubborn. Some call him funny. Some call him irreverent. Everyone calls him crazy. Now in his 400th year of race promoting, Chris swings the bat a dozen times each year to provide quality, convenient, affordable racing to cyclists in SoCal. He does it with a flare all his own, and he makes no apologies. Quick to take offense, he’s just as quick to kiss and make up. Without Chris and his commitment to local bike racing, we’d have a shit-ton fewer opportunities to race our bikes, and even fewer funny stories.
Big Orange used to just be a masters racing team. It’s now the most inclusive and the largest bike racing club in the South Bay, and it’s all thanks to Greg and his open door policy. No snobbery, no hierarchies, just a welcome and an opportunity to learn how to race your bike. Sure, that ugly little orange thing on his saddle is annoying, especially when it’s riding away from you. Sure, his endless lectures on “tactics” make your eyes roll back in your head like dials on a slot machine. But when you crash out, flat, or get a boo-boo on your butt, Greg’s the guy who will stop and take care of you. And feed you beer.
Robert Efthimos a/k/a Sausage a/k/a C.P.
There’s a reason more and more West Siders are riding in the South Bay now, and the reason is Sausage. He’s one of those people who make riding fun. With hilarious and skilled videos that capture the camaraderie and silliness of bicycling, Robert has a way of making people want some of what he’s got — and what he’s got is kindness, self-deprecation, and a good pair of legs.
Martin Howard and the Long Beach Freddies
Martin and his gang have put on their first full season of grass roots racing at Great Parks and Eldo, and it’s been a huge success. Neither cracked ribs, deflated lungs, or ambulance trips in the middle of 500-mile beatdowns have kept these guys from relentlessly promoting the message of fun and healthy competition on bikes. Hats off to you, after the tube gets taken out of your chest!
This phenomenal, homegrown cycling publication is the manifestation of extraordinary talent and hard work by guys like BJ Hale, Danny Munson, and the rest of the CI crew. The online and print versions keep us apprised of the news and keep us excited about what’s happening on the bike in SoCal. They do it on a shoestring, but it feels like a major masterpiece, and in between the brushstrokes they also hold down jobs, families, and (allegedly at least) real lives. We owe you.
The Anonymous Ones
They’re the individuals who donate to cycling foundations, who dig into their hip pocket to fund a bike racer, who contribute silently to the bicycling causes about which we all care. They do it without fanfare and in anonymity. Rather than leaving their name on a building, they prefer to leave their mark on a life. I know many of you, and admire you most of all.
September 12, 2013 § 25 Comments
Okay, huge humiliating admission: We get a magazine called “Money.” I don’t know why it comes to our apartment. I’ve never paid them a dime, but it comes like clockwork, and always with some stupid cover story about how to do the one thing I’ll never be any good at: Taking what I’ve got and making it into more.
Each month it’s like a nasty nag from a surly spouse. “Retire early!” “How to save money on college!” “Stocks that will make you rich!”
To which I say, “Fuck that shit. I gotta go [ride my bike] [check Facebag] [drink some beer].”
This month’s issue got my attention, though. It boldly shouted “Best Places to Live 2013, America’s Top 50 Small Towns.” This got my attention because I think the best place to live in 2013 was also the best place to live in 2012, 2011, etc. In other words, the best place for me to live is the place I’m at, since wishing I was somewhere else is about as satisfying as watching someone else eat chocolate.
I flipped open the mag and skimmed the list of “best places.” It looked funny. Sharon, MA? Louisville, CO? Vienna, VA? Chanhassen, MN? Sherwood, OR? WTF? The whole list was like that, but it wasn’t until I saw Pflugerville, TX (No. 44) that I got it.
You see, Pflugerville is a shithole. It’s north of Austin, and even before Dell it was a sleepy little redneck town of gun nuts, Jesus freaks, and lycra-hating pickup trucks. Oh, and it was white. White, white, white.
Now I understood. The phrase “best towns in America” is, like so many other things, code for “no blacks or Mexicans.” You know, good schools and middle class values, that is, “white people.” To confirm what I already knew, I meandered over to http://www.census.gov. Yup.
Sharon, MA is in Norfolk County. 551,487 white folks, 38,148 black ones.
Louisville, CO is in Boulder County. 257,889 Dog-fearing white people, 2,532 black ones. Place is so white you’ll need two pairs of shades.
Vienna, VA is in Fairfax County. 677,990 white people, 99,218 black ones.
Chanhassen, MN is in Carver County and a portion of Hennepin. 84,450 whites, 1,124 blacks.
And so on down the list. (Pflugerville was 709,814 white, 87,308 black, but as with all the census data, these are county-wide numbers. These “top” towns themselves are much whiter than the county as a whole. So, should I note, is my own RPV, a mostly-white-and-Asian community in the South Bay of LA.)
You get the message without trying very hard. If you want good living in the U.S.A., go to where the white people are.
Bikers of color
One of the things I loved about riding in Houston is one of the things I love about riding in L.A. We got everything. Show up any morning on the NPR and you’ll get your pick of ethnicities. Show up for the Tuesday night Major Motion ride and if you’re white you’ll understand how it feels to be a minority. Do the Mexican 500 in Carson and you’ll be mixing with a whole lot of people who speak Spanish. Asian faces on our rides are commonplace.
Regardless of what you think about race and racism, people from different backgrounds tend to get along better when they spend time together, and more importantly when they depend on each other. There are few things that require more trust than sitting on someone’s wheel at 28 mph in a tightly packed bunch.
As a society we argue a lot about race, but not so much on the bike. When we’re pedaling, we’re just trying to stay upright, to not get dropped, and maybe to whip the rider next to you in the sprint — or even give him a push. Color doesn’t mean as much in the context of cycling together.
When Rodney King said, “Can’t we all just get along?” he voiced a very basic human desire, to put aside the bullshit, accept our differences, and move ahead with the business of living and making a living. It’s what we do on the bike.
I’m sure many of these “best places to live in 2013″ are nice enough towns. But as far as I’m concerned, the best places are the ones where different people can mix, and do. Viva L.A.
September 11, 2013 § 42 Comments
So this dude pulled up to me and said, “Can we talk? I have some concerns about the upcoming Sunday ride.”
In my world, “I have concerns” means “I have a problem, and the problem is YOU.” Either that, or it means “I have a problem and I’d like YOU to fix it.” It never means “Here’s some free money” or “Would you please sleep with my beautiful wife for me?”
“Sure, dude. What’s up?” I glanced at his helmet mirror and the giant flappy sign hanging off his saddle that said “Bikes May Take The Full Lane.”
“I’ve got some organizational concerns,” he said.
This was another DefCon 1 word. “Organization” is to my life what “battery acid” is to a rectal probe. “Oh,” I said.
“Yes. I’m concerned that if we have an extremely large group show up on Sunday we will need to instruct them to break into smaller groups for safety.”
“Definitely. Our first ‘take the lane’ ride on PCH was 100% successful in forcing vehicles to change lanes prior to overtaking us.”
“Our ride?” I asked.
“Well, your ride,” he corrected himself.
“Dude, that wasn’t ‘my’ ride. That was me riding down PCH and bunch of other people going with me. I don’t own it.”
“Yes, well, my organizational concerns are that if we have too many people it will actually be a problem, so we need to instruct them at the beginning to break into manageable groups and … “
“Well, you. I mean, you could tell them … “
We were packed into a tight formation on Vista del Mar as the peloton returned from a modestly-paced Tuesday morning NPR. Signage Dude had been shelled the second the pace picked up, and had been forced to wait for the ride to end in order to get back with the pack. “Dude,” I began. “You see that motherfucker right there?” I pointed to Dawg.
Signage Dude flinched at the obscenity. “Him?”
“Yeah, him. That motherfucker is one of the bad-assedest track racers in the country. He’s also a crit boss and one-man leadout train.”
“What about him?”
“You know what he’s gonna say when you tell him he needs to ride in some special group?”
Signage Dude knew where this was going. “What?”
“If you’re lucky, he’s not gonna say anything. Then he’s just gonna keep riding like he always rides.”
Signage Dude nodded.
“And that motherfucker there. See him?” I pointed to Bull. “That motherfucker rides ten thousand miles a year and breaks dicks as easy as you or I break eggshells. You know when you got your dick broke going up Pershing before we even started going hard?”
“Yeah, dude, dick broke. When your fucking dick was hanging out of your shorts and getting whaled on so hard that it busted up into tiny little pieces and you had to pull over to collect the fragments, remember that? That was Bull taking his first warm-up pull. He had the whole fucking peloton strung out single file for two miles on the first lap. You really gonna tell the Bull that he needs to get in some fucking group to ride his bike?”
“Well … “
“See that motherfucker?” I pointed to Rahsaan.
Signage Dude nodded.
“Motherfucker is the former elite national crit champ. Wins fucking races just by showing up and scaring the shit out of the competition. Dude is such a badass he has a tattoo on his butt that says ‘BAD.’ You gonna tell that motherfucker how to ride?”
“Well,” Signage Dude said. “No one here knows me. I’m new in town. But they know you. So you could tell them.”
“You got the first part right, bro. No one fucking knows you, or rather, they do know you. Every fucking biker on the NPR has taken note of that giant sign and they’re avoiding your ass like the plague. You might as well have a bumper sticker that says ‘Crashtastic Sam’ on it.”
“It’s for the cars.”
“I know it’s for the cars, dude, but the point is no one knows you. You can’t just show up from Minnetonka one day and start telling these motherfuckers how to ride their bikes.”
“But you can … “
“No, dude, I can’t. I’m just a blogger dude who rides his bike. And you know what?”
“Most of these motherfuckers are out here for one reason and one reason only.”
“This is the one place no one tells them what to do. No old lady saying ‘quit drizzling piss on the toilet rim.’ No psycho boss telling them to ‘get it done yesterday.’ No sagdick husband saying ‘You ride too much.’ Get it? This is where we put our mental illnesses aside for a while and are, you know, free.”
“Yes, but in the name of safety … “
“Fuck safety. If you want to ride your bike safely, take the fucking lane. I do. If you want to gutter bunny it, or ride ten abreast on a busy highway, or unicycle on the freeway, fuck it man, do it. No one gives a rat’s pecker. But the minute you start telling these motherfuckers how to ride, bro, you’re gonna be getting a little push back.”
“Hmmm,” he said.
“We don’t have much in this life,” I continued. “But while we’re on the iron maiden, we’re free. You fuck with that freedom at your peril.”
“I see your point.”
“Good. Glad you’re in town and glad you’re riding with us. See you Sunday, I hope.”
And I meant it.