Broken record

May 4, 2013 § 33 Comments

I hate to be the one to break your Strava bubble, but “PR” is an oxymoron. There’s no such thing as a “personal record,” any more than there’s a “personal Super Bowl victory” or a “personal presidential election.”

A record is a mark set by someone that at least two people have done. You know Chris Horner’s time up Mt. Palomar? That is a record. Eleven hundred people have done it and his time is the fastest. It’s a record time.

Even though when you climbed it on Tuesday two and a half hours slower than Chris and it was the fastest of your 67 attempts, it’s still not a personal record. It’s two and a half hours slower than the record. You can call it your personal best. You can call it your fastest time up Mt. Palomar. You can call it proof that your $2,000 power meter and $15,000 bike and $950/month personal coaching regimen are making you faster…but it still pegs you in about one thousandth place relative to the RECORD.

Nothing personal about it.

All cycling metrics point to one conclusion: You suck

Strava’s business model is simple: Provide data to wankers that shows they’re getting better. Since none of us is getting better, and in fact all of us are getting older and therefore worse, and since those of us who are improving quickly reach a plateau, there has to be a way to snake-oil us into thinking that we’re improving.

So Strava sells you a premium membership where you can join a smaller subset of records (65+ men with an inseam of less than 25″ who sleep on the left side of the bed), and thereby convert some of your meaningless “personal records” into something more meaningful: A higher spot on the age adjusted, inseam-length adjusted, side-of-the-bed adjusted leaderboard.

Unfortunately, even after adjusting yourself into 75th place, which is a huge jump from 1,000th, physics still mercilessly claws its way to the front. Your “progress” plateaus, and your ability to climb the flailerboard grinds to a halt. So it’s back to personal records, and chasing the illusion of improvement even though all the data point, or rather, scream deafeningly, to a wholly opposite conclusion: You not only suck, you suck more than you did on this segment last year. Introspective riders feel the icy hand of death tightening its grip around their throat if they look at the data too closely past about age forty.

Note to the Stravati: There’s a reason you prefer Strava to bike racing

I don’t vomit often, but when I do it’s usually after someone takes one of my KOM’s. I’ve only got seventeen of them left, and there’s not a single one that couldn’t be handily snapped up by any number of Stravati who live for that kind of thing.

It’s no defense, but I never tried to set a single one of those KOM’s, which is probably the reason they fall so easily. The handful of times I’ve gone out and tried to grab a KOM, I’ve failed, usually miserably. I use Strava for the same reason that I wear pants. It’s a social convention the lack of which would earn too much opprobrium. I also use it as a handy calorie counter. And finally, I use it for you. Just when you’re starting to think your performance is dropping, or you’re really not very good, you can click on my most recent ride and feel relief: There’s someone in your neighborhood who’s slower and an even bigger bicycle kook than you.

This, I believe, is a powerful source of inspiration for flailers and wankers throughout the South Bay. Through Strava, I keep them riding. It’s a social service, and you can thank me via PayPal.

What you can’t do is get away with the pleasant little self-deception that your KOM is as good as a bike race. You can’t even get away with the delusion that it’s as good as an old-fashioned group beatdown on the NPR.

You know why that is? Because it isn’t. Masturbating your way to the top of a leaderboard on Strava, when unaccompanied by ball-busting accomplishments on group rides or in real mass start races in which you have to actually pay an entry fee and pin on a number, are just that: Digital auto-titillation.

Believe it or don’t, I’m fine with that. Riding a bicycle is like consensual sex between adults: I not only approve of it, I’m wholly uninterested in your particular activities. I’m not a libertarian, I’m a “don’t give a fucktarian.” If you’re out pedaling your bicycle, in my book you’re winning.

If your riding is confined to setting Strava records without racing or group riding, though, you are wanking. Can we be clear about that? Good. Because last Thursday a new South bay cycling record was set. Not on Strava, where anonymous, zipless riders virtually compete  using all manner of tricks, traps, aids, pacers, run-ups, and “special assists” to set the record.

No, this Thursday record was set the old-fashioned way. Clubbers clubbed. Baby seals got their heads staved in. Pain was ladled out in buckets. And only the strong, the ornery, the mutton-headed, and the relentless survived.

One thing that’s never happened on the New Pier Ride

…is a successful four-lap breakaway. Dan Seivert and I once, on a cold, rainy, windy winter day in 2012 attacked on Vista del Mar and stayed away for four laps, but it wasn’t a real breakaway. We sneaked off three or four miles before the real ride began, there was zero horsepower in the field, and no one even knew we had attacked. Although we hurt like dogs and congratulated ourselves for the heroic effort, it was more a flailaway than a breakaway. Plus, no one cared. To the contrary, they tortured us with the worst torture known to a group ride breakaway: “You were off the front? If I’d known that I’d have chased.”

Last week, though, word went out that MMX was coming to town to do the NPR. This meant one thing: Merciless beatdown in the offing.

There were at least ten thousand baby seals at the Manhattan Beach Pier when the ride left at 6:40 AM. We hit the bottom of Pershing and it immediately strung out into the gutter and then snapped. The Westside seals were all lounging on the roadside atop the bump, because they’ve learned from repeated beatdowns that it’s better to jump in after the first hard effort than to try and jump in as the group comes by at the bottom of the little hill. Just as they were finishing their first bucket of raw mackerel, we came by like a whirlwind.

As we passed the parkway, Josh Alverson drilled it.

Then Peyton Cooke drilled it.

Then Johnny Walsh drilled it.

MMX, who had started at the back and worked his way up to the point, later noted that from the bottom of Pershing it was pure mayhem. Many of the baby seals were killed with that first single devastating blow to the head. Others, un-hit, were so stunned by the acceleration that they simply pulled over, unclipped, and skinned themselves.

Robert Efthimos reported that Thursday was his 128th time up World Way ramp, and it turned out to be his single highest average wattage ever for a lap on the NPR. He churned out those numbers stuck at the back of the herd after the break left.

After the ramp, Greg Leibert blasted away, stringing it out into a line of about 15 riders, with a small clump forming at about 16th wheel and turning into an amorphous lump into which 80 or 90 baby seals still cowered. After Greg swung over, MMX opened the throttle, dissolved the clump and turned the entire peloton into a single line with countless little blubbering seals who began snapping and popping like plastic rivets on a space shuttle.

We turned onto the parkway in full flight, with Johnny Walsh, Marco Cubillos, Josh, and “26″ pounding the pedals. This is the point where after the initial surge, the front riders usually slowed down, or the neverpulls in back made their first and only real effort of the day to chase down the nascent break. Marco, John, Josh, and 26 kept going, and were soon joined by Greg, Jeff Bryant, Jay LaPlante, some dude from La Grange who was incinerated shortly thereafter, and one of the South Bay’s legendary purple card-carrying, neverpulling, wheelsuckers extraordinaire whose name shall not be mentioned.

MMX looked ahead from the pack as the break gained ground, surged, and bridged. Then he closed the door and threw away the key.

No break has ever stayed away on the NPR for all four laps. The course won’t allow it due to stoplights, the high tailwind speeds of the chasing field, and the relatively flat nature of the course.

We made the first turn and had a gap. Atop the bridge Jeff Bryant unleashed a monster pull, but then, over his head by the extreme effort, he and Greg were unable to latch onto the break as it accelerated at the next turnaround. Accounts differ, with some claiming a car pinched them, and others claiming they were too gassed to catch, but in any event the break didn’t feel like waiting, as there were already too many orange kits in the group. This meant the Greg/Jeff duo had to chase.

The pack was in a different time zone, which meant nothing as we’d just completed one lap and there was plenty of time for them to organize and chase in earnest. What we didn’t know is that they were already chasing in earnest, and the stoplight gods were smiling on us.

Having taken the initiative in trying to fend off the entire baby seal population of the South Bay, we were being rewarded with a string of green lights even as the baby seals were being punished with reds. Naturally, post-ride the baby seals that survived chalked everything up to the traffic signals rather than the sheet-snot that covered our faces and the haggard, beaten look of those who rode the break for the entire four laps.

Greg and Jeff, unable to reattach, finally hopped across the road and jumped in as we whizzed by. Greg then attacked us balls-out the remaining lap and a half. Ouch. Every time we brought him back another of our matchboxes was incinerated.

On the final stretch, after berating Sir Neverpull for never coming through, MMX unleashed the leadout from Klubtown. Sir Neverpull, suddenly discovering that with the end in sight he wasn’t quite that tired after all, leaped just in time for his engine to blow and his legs to detach from his torso. Jay LaPlante sprunted around the MMX lead-out with Josh fixed on his wheel. Going too far out and in too small a gear, Jay settled for second after a doing yeoman’s work in the break.

We celebrated this, the first ever four-lap breakaway on the NPR, with coffee and sunshine.

And yes, it was a record.

Me, my brother, and my bike

June 27, 2012 § 22 Comments

Yesterday’s New Pier Ride was dedicated to my brother, who took his life on June 16, 2012. Slightly more than seventy people rolled out from the Manhattan Beach Pier at 6:40 AM. By the time we turned onto Westchester Parkway, the peloton was easily a hundred strong.

Christine Reilly, Stella Tong, Greg Leibert, Lauren Mulwitz, Joe Yule, Vickie VanOs Castaldi, Izzie VanOs Castaldi, Chris Gregory, Tink, Suze Sonye,  Jay Yoshizumi, Brian Perkins, Gus Bayle, Rahsaan Bahati, Cary Alpert, Sarah Mattes, Greg Seyranian, Dara Richman, and David Perez brainstormed and got the word out so that people were at the Pier well in advance of the start time. Vickie and Greg took the sixty-five handmade armbands, beautifully lettered by Izzie with “R.I.P. Ian, ’62-’12″ and tied one to each person’s arm. Then Dave Kramer introduced Greg, who made a short, moving, and beautiful speech about my brother, someone he had never met.

I then clipped in and led us out onto the bike path. Once I pulled off and floated to the back, I was overcome by the sight of the countless yellow armbands fluttering in the breeze. My friends had done this for me, as well as people I’d never even met, like Emily and her boyfriend Chris, who came over from the west side just to be there. Others who couldn’t make it like Dara and Laurie were there in spirit, and still others showed up at TELO in the evening and shared their sympathies and condolence. I’ll never be able to repay any of them.

It’s a very good debt to owe, forever.

Girls and bikes

I got into cycling as a result of my brother, indirectly. His second year of high school he got in a horrific fight with my mom about the car. Our parents had divorced a couple of years before, and it was the kind of hateful, acrimonious, bitter divorce that paralyzes the kids and poisons your life for the next few decades, like battery acid in the ice cream. Ian was tired of fighting over the car and one day he went out and bought a black

Fuji touring bike. It cost $300, an incomprehensible amount of money.

Going from a Jeep Golden Eagle Cherokee to a bicycle? I had one conclusion: “Dork.”

Within a couple of weeks, though, I discovered the source of his inspiration. His girlfriend was a cyclist, and they biked everywhere together. “Whatever,” I thought. “He’s still a dork.”

Then a couple of weeks after that I began to hear moaning and groaning coming out of his bedroom. This was way before Internet porn. This was awesome, and he was a dork no more. “What a stud!” I thought. “That bike deal is pretty cool!”

Buses and bikes

Although I didn’t rush out and get a bike to aid in the quick dispatch of my virginity, the idea remained that bikes were cool. This was partly because Ian had let me test ride his Fuji a few times, and it was so different from the rusted out Murray that I’d used for three years to commute to Jane Long Junior High that it hardly felt like a bicycle.

My freshman year in college at the University of Texas, 1982, my parents refused to let me have a car. I lived in the Village Glen Apartments out on Burton, six or seven miles from campus, and had to take the shuttle bus, which in those days was run by union-busting Laidlaw. They employed only hippy stoners from the 60′s and 70′s to drive the buses, and paid just enough to keep the hippies in weed, ensuring that there would never be any unionizing.

The Village Glen was one of the last bus stops on the Riverside Route before getting on I-35 and going to campus, so in the morning the buses were often full. That meant having to get out to the bus stop extra early, as the first bus or two rarely had room for even one more passenger. One morning in October I was standing in the rain waiting for the bus. The first one passed me and splashed me. The second one passed me. The third one roared by with an “Out of Service” sign on the front.

I screamed at the driver and flipped him off. He braked. I’d never seen a whole bus go sideways. Out bounded the raging hippy, fists balled and murder in his eyes. If I hadn’t been so tiny and petrified he would have killed me. Instead he screamed. “How about I beat you into a fucking pulp you snotnosed little fuck?” he roared.

“Uh, I, I, I’m really sorry. Please don’t kill me!” I begged.

“You ever fucking give me any attitude on a bus I’m driving I’ll break you in half you little prick. They don’t pay me enough in this shit job to put up with bullshit from spoiled little assholes like you!”

“Yes, sir,” I mumbled.

[To crack dealer] “So, should I start using crack?”

I had to wait another twenty minutes in the cold, pelting rain. During those twenty minutes I went from being grateful that I’d get to school with all of my teeth to angry at being a bus sheep. My resentment built throughout morning classes and exploded in an epiphany when my last course finished at noon. “I’m gonna buy a fucking bike, just like my brother did! Fuck Laidlaw! Fuck that hippy stoner fucker! Fuck the rain!”

I practically ran down 24th Street to Freewheeling Bicycles and Crackhouse, where I realized something else after walking the aisle. “Fuck, I’m broke!”

Fortunately, Uncle Phil Tomlin had just the bike for me, a Nishiki International with Suntour derailleurs, Dia Compe brakes, and Sugino cranks. At a paltry $375.00, I’d be able to easily afford it as long as I didn’t eat in November. Food or bike? It was an easy choice, especially with Uncle Phil kindly and professionally assisting me with my first bikecrack purchase.

The rest is history, and a year later I’d already been voted “Most Likely to be Killed by a Car or Truck” by my riding buddies. 1984 was my breakout year, when I dominated the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff Time Trial and won a coveted Laverne and Shirley board game for first place. The thirty years after buying that first bike have flown by, and somehow I’m still riding with the same happiness and joy as the day I pedaled that Nishiki out of the Freewheeling parking lot.

This is gonna hurt me and it’s gonna hurt you

So this thing that has given me more joy and happiness, this thing that has surrounded me with friends who are often closer than family, is a gift from my brother. I thought about that while Greg spoke. He paid me the ultimate compliment in the process, saying that they had come to honor my brother because without him, I wouldn’t be part of their community.

There’s no other way to say this than to say I felt more loved than I have ever felt in my life. Sweaty, muscled men threw their arms around me, and sweaty, muscled, beautiful women did, too, each one saying something that sounded like love, regardless of the words. And as proof that these weren’t just empty phrases, when we hit the bottom of Pershing they went so hard so fast that I was almost blinded by the pain.

“This one,” Jaeger said as he came by with the ferocity of a jungle beast, “is for Ian.”

There’s a place for gentleness and for camaraderie; it’s called the bricks on the Manhattan Beach Starbucks after the ride. The New Pier Ride itself is a place for the unbridled beatdown, the relentless attacking into the wind, the crushing of the weak by the strong.

“Memorial lap in silence?”

“Fuck you, dude.”

“Give ol’ Wankmeister the win?”

“Over my dead body. He wouldn’t want it and I wouldn’t give it.”

Suffice it to say that today I was the weak, and others were the strong, and the law of the jungle prevailed, as it always should. But even though I was the weak and struggled at the end, I didn’t get crushed. I got carried along by the unlikeliest thing of all, a raft of soft yellow ribbons floating in the breeze.

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