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.

Water the roots

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.

SPY Optic

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.

Dorothy Wong

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.

Rahsaan Bahati

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.

Connie Paraskevin

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!

Jim Hannon

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.

Chris Lotts

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.

Greg Seyranian

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!

Cycling Illustrated

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.

Color it

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.

Let me tell you how to ride your bike

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.”

“You reckon?”

“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 … “

“We?”

“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?”

“Dick broke?”

“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?”

“What?”

“Most of these motherfuckers are out here for one reason and one reason only.”

“What’s that?”

“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.

The finest bike path in Southern California

September 2, 2013 § 97 Comments

Bicyclists are conservative and don’t like change, with good reason. People are always advising you about training, racing, equipment, technique, you name it. Bikers quickly learn that skepticism is their friend. Easy reliance on the suggestions of others is folly.

So when I suggested that we all ride our bicycles out in the middle of the lane on PCH today, the 80+ riders were skeptical, to put it politely. To put it impolitely, they gave me the “You’re outta your fucking mind” look, especially when I explained the plan in detail.

The plan was to take control of the right-hand lane by riding in it. We would not cross the fog line and venture into the guttery shoulder in which the PCH rides always take place. By riding in the lane we would avoid the trash, the holes, the parked cars, the concrete barriers, and the door zone. It would be a steady but totally doable pace of 18-19 mph.

Even though less than 2% of all bike-car collisions are rear-enders, we were all still afraid, particularly since only a handful of the eighty-strong contingent chose to ride in our group. “We support you, dude,” one friend said as he rolled off.

“I’m a gutter bunny, sorry,” said Junkyard.

One after another people defected until we had only seventeen riders. We all felt fearful, but we were also committed to putting theory into practice: By controlling the lane we’d be safer, cars would pass us with wide margins, and the worst we’d have to deal with were honks and curses.

Off they go

We picked a great morning to implement. It was the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, and by the time we hit PCH at about 8:15 there weren’t many cars, and none of them were furious yet at having had to spend the day in sweltering in bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic. The weather was perfect.

We started in the lane and it felt deliciously bad, like I was cheating on my wife — it felt so bad, but it felt so good! Of course, what we were doing was perfectly legal, but we’d all been so brainwashed into thinking that the lane was for cars only that the simple act of being there felt wrong, even as the liberation from the slavery of the gutter felt so empowering.

In the first couple of miles we kept waiting for something bad to happen, but the only thing that happened was that cars passed us on the left with tons of room. We could see onesy-twosy riders ahead of us in the gutter getting passed by those same cars with inches to spare.

Then, as we kept going, we began seeing gutter bunnies with flats, a certainty on PCH if you ride the guttery shoulder. We noticed that our bike lane — the “car” lane — was smooth, devoid of detritus, and not pockmarked with holes and cracks. The frantic waving and pointing and shouting, “Hole! Rock! Barrier! Door!” was gone.

Next we saw a moto cop whiz by in the opposite direction. He kept on going. Our first angry beep, and it was a pathetic one, came from … a motorcyclist. We laughed. By the time we got to Cross Creek, seven miles later, we’d been transformed.

PCH was no longer the terrifying alley of death it had been before. It was now our road, too, and we had plenty of room to negotiate it and, most importantly, to enjoy our ride. When have you ever ridden from Temescal to Cross Creek and back while chatting easily the entire way?

Never, I’m guessing, but that’s exactly what we did. The cars passed us, with only a couple of irate honks, and for the entirety of the out-and-back, including stretches of PCH that normally pucker your sphincter tight enough to crap diamonds, we chatted. Not only did we chat, but for the first time ever we enjoyed what is one of the most beautiful views in California, one you never see in the gutter because you’re lasered in the door zone, the bumps, the garbage, and the cars pulling out of garages and highway parking spots, not mention the traffic that’s often buzzing your handlebars with inches to spare.

Note to users: If you try this technique you will notice that off to the right of PCH on the way back into Los Angeles, there is a giant and beautiful blue, shimmering ocean. You’ve never seen it before, but you will once you’re in the lane and not playing Survivor in the Gutter.

Our end game

We got back to the Center of the Known Universe unscathed, with a total of four irate honks and one catcall, from a guy in a convertible going the other direction who yelled at us, “Hey you motherfucking assholes! Get out of the fucking lane!”

We smiled and waved.

But just one group ride isn’t enough. In the name of those who have needlessly died on PCH and other death traps in SoCal, we’re going to be repeating this exercise throughout the winter. We hope that the skeptics and the inveterate gutter bunnies will take a chance and experience the liberation of riding in the real bike lane — not the one filled with crap and potholes and into which texting drivers drift at 60 mph, but the one that is perfectly maintained, that provides a safety buffer from exiting cars and pedestrians, that provides an unparalleled view of the ocean and the hills, and most importantly, that forces cagers to notice us, slow down, and pass us on the left with plenty of room to spare.

It’s an exercise that, if repeated often enough by enough people, will train the PCH cagers, educate them one at a time, to understand that bicycles don’t simply belong in the lane, they are an expected part of the traffic flow and are guaranteed to be there.

To the riders who were brave enough to do something that turned out to be completely uneventful, yet profoundly cathartic precisely because nothing happened, thank you! To those who are unconvinced, I hope that in a few weeks or months you’ll join us for a test run.

It will be the best ride in the finest bike lane you’ve ever had.

A modest proposal

August 31, 2013 § 63 Comments

Dear Friends,

The recent death of Debra Deem is unacceptable. People have asked “How many more?”

My answer is simple: “None.”

The time has come for us to stand together and do something that makes a permanent difference. Not a Facebook campaign, or an Internet petition, or a town meeting, or an angry letter to the city/sheriff/police chief.

The time has come for us to do what is simple and what is right.

The problem

I believe the problem is painfully simple. We are afraid to ride in the lane, where we belong and where we have alegal right to be. We are afraid because we don’t want to get hit, so, paradoxically, we ride on the shoulder or in the gutter, where we are much more likely to get hit.

What’s even worse is that we stop riding on certain roads, confirming the cagers’ claim that no one rides bikes “there,” and further curtailing our presence on the road.

The solution

The solution is simple: Take the lane. It is ours. We belong there. It is safer. It trains cagers to expect us. It forces cagers to acknowledge us. It demands that cagers make a conscious decision: Hit us or slow down and pass.

It’s my firm belief and it’s my experience that they will slow down and pass. If they choose to murder me for exercising my right, so be it. At least they won’t be doing it because they didn’t see me. At least they might get a speeding ticket after I’m dead.

While we’re in the lane, they may curse. They may honk. They may get angry. But we will be safer, and more importantly, we will be making the road safer for everyone else. We will be doing what is our right. We will be taking a stand for the Debras, the Mariselas, and the thousands of others who have been killed for doing nothing other than riding a bicycle.

TPO

On Sunday I’ll be rolling out at 7:00 AM on the Kettle Ride, which leaves from the Manhattan Beach Starbucks. When the ride reaches Temescal Canyon, those who want to go ahead and do the usual ride in the usual way, that is, hugging the shoulder, dodging the rocks and glass and nails and sand and parked cars and behaving like second class citizens in terror of the cars that buzz them and harass them … those folks will go ahead and do their regular ride.

I’ll be taking the lane from Temescal Canyon to Cross Creek, where I belong, where I have a right to be, and where the cagers will have to deal with me as I am: A cyclist obeying the law and exercising his rights to use the open road.

I hope some of you will join me. We will ride single file in the lane. It will not be a fast pace. It will be steady, and it will not waver from its position.

This will be our first step to reclaim for Debra Deem what should have been hers all along: A safe and open and obvious and legal place to ride her bicycle. Once we complete the ride we’ll have a quick debriefing to talk about what worked and how we can continue to encourage actual riders on actual bicycles doing actual rides to reclaim PCH.

If this is succeeds as I hope it will, we can start thinking about how to reclaim the other roads that have turned so much of Southern California into a terror zone for bicyclists.

No more excuses. No more hand-wringing. No more waiting for advocacy groups, the highway department, or city governments to “give us a solution.” No more memorial rides for the innocent. No more lives lost and survivors’ lives wrecked because we were too afraid to do the right thing.

The solution is here.

The solution is now.

The solution is us.

See you there.

For what it’s worth

August 30, 2013 § 28 Comments

Today was the most perfect of days in Southern California. It began with a brisk and punchy pedal on the New Pier Ride, and after the ride we congregated at the Center of the Known Universe and enjoyed coffee … rehashes of the ride … and the joy that comes from soaking in the sun on a perfect August day just a few feet from the shimmering blue Pacific Oean.

When it came time for us to head in to work, we left the bricks reluctantly. The longer we dallied the less time we’d spend in the office, and then it would be Friday of Labor Day weekend, and nothing stops labor dead in its tracks like the Friday of a three-day weekend that exists solely to celebrate the ecstasy of not having to work.

I watched my buddies pedal off as they did their very worst to get into the office by ten.

She can’t see the sunshine now

On Tuesday afternoon Debra Deem was finishing up her workday much like we were starting out ours. She had recently retired from her high stress litigation job and was spending her retirement providing charitable legal services, and devoting herself to the gardens and plants she tended at her home.  Debra had been riding for more than twenty years and was an extremely safety-conscious cyclist. It was just her nature.

Very close to the same stretch of road where two women cyclists were hit and killed by motorists last year, and where a doctor was killed by a teenager in a runaway sports car, Debra was struck on August 27 by a minivan as she approached the intersection of Newport Coast Rd. while heading west on PCH. She died the following day.

I had gotten the news yesterday through Facebook, and though I didn’t know her, I couldn’t help feeling awful as the comments started coming in. Her husband Paul is a well-known cycling coach in Orange County, and has been a fixture in Southern California for decades. He raced the 4k team pursuit in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and won the gold medal in that event in the 1975 Pan Am Games.

I kept thinking about Debra all the way to work, thinking about how one more bicycle rider in Southern California has been killed by another careless driver. And I hate to say the obvious, but it’s just not right.

What is “right”?

In the case of cyclists being killed by cagers, “right” means reducing the risk that slower moving bikes will be hit by inattentive or errant drivers. It is a fact that putting bicyclists in bike lanes or over on the shoulder increases their exposure to careless cagers. It is also a fact that putting bicyclists in the center of the lane decreases accidents.

The down side to this simple solution of “put bikes in the middle of the lane” is also simple: It requires drivers to slow down and pass, and the more cyclists there are on the road, the more it drivers will perceive their progress to be slow, even though the increase in riders means there are fewer cars on the road and there is therefore less congestion, not more.

This perception of being slowed down is everything, and in conjunction with putting cyclists into the middle of traffic, where they belong, we must also have major changes in the way drivers are taught to drive. This includes a meaningful section in driver education classes and on the licensing exam, but it also means continuing education in the form of sharrows, those “bike + arrow” markings that tell cagers and cops that bikes belong in the middle of the lane, not over in the gutter.

The bloody history of Newport Coast Drive

The intersection of PCH and NCD is horrifically dangerous for cyclists, because they have to leave the bike lane and merge with traffic into the right-hand turn lane in order to get onto NCD. Traffic is frequently going full-bore, and even in the best situations it’s dicey.

What’s so outrageous is that at least three people have died on NCD in the last year, and numerous others have been hit and injured. Cars race up the NCD grade so fast that the wind buffets bikes on the side of the road. On notice that the road is deadly, that the traffic mix for bikes and cars must be better controlled, and that drivers treat the open stretch like a testing ground for their sports cars, the city and county have done nothing.

This blind eye, this willful ignorance makes itself known by the absence of stepped up patrols, by no changes to the configurations of the roads and intersections, and by not even a willingness to let the ghost bikes stay in place as a reminder of the ghastly deaths and injuries that have occurred here.

A sharrow might have saved Debra’s life, some simple white striping that costs a few cents. What’s a human life worth? It’s surely worth that.

And when will the death count be enough, these numbers that are real people with real lives, these statistics that leave ragged, gaping, eternally bleeding, unfillable holes in the lives of those who are left behind?

How many will it take?

Cager dic

August 2, 2013 § 23 Comments

As a mutton-chopped, mutton-headed sausage who’s been crammed into lycra that would be over-revealing even if it weren’t three sizes too small, I often have a hard time understanding Cagelish. The way cagers speak is different from us. I’ve provided a cager dictionary to help explain some of their most common phrases.

It’s not in the usual order, but will be if they ever learn to alphabetize.

  1. Busy street: Place where I am currently driving my car. Usage: “Cyclists should never ride on busy streets.”
  2. Obey the traffic laws: Do something that I myself do not. Usage: “I hate those fucking cyclists because they refuse to obey the traffic laws.”
  3. Bicycle: Target. Usage: “There’s a bicycle.”
  4. That bicycle ran a stop sign: First element required in order to prove that cager’s invocation of Stand Your Ground was justified. Usage: “I was justified in using deadly force. I have it on video where that bicycle ran a stop sign.”
  5. Fucking faggot: Male bicycle rider. Usage: “Obey the traffic laws on this busy street you fucking faggot.”
  6. Fucking cunt: Female bicycle rider. Usage: “Obey the traffic laws on this busy street you fucking cunt.”
  7. I didn’t see him: I was texting. Usage: “Did I kill that bicyclist, officer? Oh, wow. I didn’t see him.”
  8. The bicyclist came from nowhere: I was fiddling with my car radio. Usage: “Did I run over and crush that bicyclist’s pelvis, officer? Oh, wow. The bicyclist just came from nowhere.”
  9. Your taxes don’t pay for these roads: You deserve to die. Usage: “Hey, you fucking faggot! Get off this busy street! Your taxes don’t pay for these roads, you asshole!”
  10. Ride on the sidewalk: If you don’t do as I advise  I will kill you. Usage: “Hey, you fucking cunt! Get off this busy street! Ride on the sidewalk!”
  11. Spin bike: What real cyclists do. Usage: “I would never ride on the road. It’s too dangerous. That’s why I love spinning at the spin class on my spin bike.”
  12. Bike path: Pedestrian zone. Usage: “Hey, you fucking faggot! You almost clipped my XXXL wife and twin baby stroller and three kids on leashes and my Irish Wolfhound! Ride on the fucking sidewalk or on the street, asshole!”
  13. Bicycle infrastructure plan: Scribblings of a lunatic. Usage: “I know how we can reduce congestion, clean the air, make people healthier, make them happier, and save money all at once while providing even MORE space for cagers. Let’s develop a bicycle infrastructure plan!”
  14. City council: Bicycle infrastructure plan crematorium. Usage: “Let’s take this bicycle infrastructure plan to the city council.”
  15. Stakeholder meeting: Public gathering where bicycle advocates are burned at the stake. Usage: “Let’s get grass roots consensus on this tiny bike lane on an unused street next to a school to make sure we don’t make any cagers crazier with rage than they already are by holding a stakeholder meeting.”
  16. Car: Means of conveyance guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, somewhere around the Second Amendment, or the Third. Usage: I drive a car.
  17. Parking space: Bike lane. Usage: “There’s a perfect parking space.”
  18. Bicyclist: Terrorist. Usage: “Let’s kill all the bicyclists.”
  19. Police: Lazy public employees who should be ticketing and jailing bicyclists. Usage: “Why don’t the police arrest all those scofflaw bicyclists?”
  20. Gym: Mirrored restaurant. Usage: “I hate bicycling. That’s why I go to the gym.”

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