Down in the alley

July 24, 2014 § 34 Comments

A new bobble has been added to the weekly Donut Ride, and I contemplated it as the wankers of the South Bay chewed me up and spit me out. It’s a short, steep, nasty little alleyway that comes after a long uphill slog followed by a fast downhill followed by a gradual climb followed by a very short wall.

The point behind the alley is to crush the spirits and impoverish the souls of those who, even at the outset of the group ride, are already broken.

The Donut Ride has evolved into an almost perfect group ride. It is so hard that to properly complete it you must cheat, cut the course, suck wheel, sneak ahead while everyone is regrouping, or all of the above. The climbs are so vicious that hordes of South Bay bicycle owners refuse to even show up. It drops people while they are still in bed.

In common with all great group rides, it crowns a winner who everyone can dispute, but not actually beat. “Wily Greek is a wheelsucker,” we mutter each time he deftly sprints away at the bottom of the Switchbacks. And like all group rides, great or not, you get to declare yourself the winner of something. “I was the first one to the Domes out of the fastest people who got dropped in the alley.” “I was the fastest climber out of the non-climbing sprinters who live in Long Beach.” Etc. It’s almost as good as Strava.

The Donut Ride also contains the race-within-the-race element that so many of us live for: the OTB flailer who nonetheless fights tooth and toenail to finish ahead of the other OTB flailer who said something rude to him on Facebook. Best of all, like all group rides it’s free, starts close to home, doesn’t require an entry fee or a license, and when done properly will effectively wreck any legitimate training plan or racing goal.

The ideal group ride, which the Donut is, will be intense enough to destroy your legs but not make you faster. It will be long enough to exhaust you but not long enough to build your endurance. It will force you to ride either too slow to build your engine, or so fast that you’ll need an entire week in order to recuperate. It will expose all of your weaknesses and develop none of your strengths. Best of all, if you are a Donut vainquer, your victories will translate into little more than DNF’s and barely-finished’s at legitimate stage races.

It is a cul-de-sac for performance, and crystal meth for the legs. Plus, it finishes near several brewpubs which open about the time the ride finishes.

But the hardest group ride in America … Where is it?

My default vote goes to my own backyard; yours probably does, too. After all, no kid is smarter or better looking than your own. The Donut Ride is about 50 miles long and boasts about 5,000 feet of climbing. It goes off every Saturday, with anywhere from 80 to 100 idiots lining up at the start in Redondo Beach in the summer … and less than a dozen making it to base of the Switchbacks-to-Crest climb thirty minutes later, after which the smashing begins in earnest.

But is it the hardest?

The Swami’s ride in Encinitas is horrifically hard and staffed with twisted mutants like Tinstman, Bordine, Marckx, and Thurlow, but it’s shorter (about 30 miles) and “only” has 3,500 feet of climbing. Then there’s the SPY Holiday Ride, a beatdown so vicious that if I make it up the first climb without getting shelled I consider it a total victory: 60 miles, 4,000 feet of climbing, and a 100+ field that is always stacked with state champions, national champions, and group ride champions who live just to dish it out on gang slugfests like this one. The ugliness is sharpened by competition for KOM and sprint awards given out post-ride in the form of BWR Ale brewed by the Lost Abbey.

But is it the hardest?

I don’t know. America is filled with group rides that go off every Saturday, Sunday, holiday, Tuesday, Thursday, and every other day that ends in “-day.”

How do you evaluate their difficulty? The following criteria, for sure …

  1. Length. Should be more than 40 miles, less than 70. It has to be long enough not to simulate any race you’d actually do, but short enough that it can be completed before your wife goes completely apeshit at another wasted weekend on the bike. Also, it must be long enough so that you perform all chores and kid-activities with a glum face and lagging step.
  2. Elevation. Enough to make it hard, but not so much that the only champions weigh less than 130-lbs. Ideally, the elevation is spread throughout the ride rather than dumped at the end like the LA Holiday Ride, which is a joke. Having at least one 20-minute climb to obliterate the chubmeisters, the old people, the “just getting into the sport-ers,” and juniors is ideal.
  3. Number of riders. 30, minimum. Having somewhere to hide and suck wheel is crucial for a group ride. Too few people forces everyone to work, which reduces or eliminates the ability to name-call and point the finger after you get shelled.
  4. Wind. The more, the better. Wind is the great unequalizer, because it strips the skinny climbers of their watts/kg advantage and grinds them up into little rat pellets. Wind, preferably cold (although frying-pan hot furnace blasts are good, too), increases the chances of crashing and quitting.
  5. Elements. Freezing rain/brain-scalding heat/crushing humidity are always a plus. Especially in SoCal, where eternal sunshine cultivates softness, a good dose of terrible weather does wonders for separating the wheat from the cadavers.
  6. Pavement. Shitty road surfaces, hairball descents, off-camber paving, unannounced changes from tarmac to gravel … anything that will cause a flat or a crash or potentially crack your frame gets extra points.
  7. Quality of field. This is hard to evaluate, but generally, if the average age is “gets an annual prostate check,” then you’re playing with a worn out deck of cards. One good way to evaluate the field is financial stability. The more people living with girlfriends, out of cardboard boxes, sleeping on couches, the faster and more brutal the ride.

I’ve heard lots of stories about “our local group ride is the toughest,” and would like nothing better than to find out for myself. Is the real badass group ride yours? Post the info in a comment or shoot me an email, fsethd@gmail.com, with a link to the Strava segment if there is one. Extra points if the ride is so badass that it’s not even on Strava. It certainly won’t be any fun to go check it out in person, but it might assuage those late-night worries, i.e. “What am I going to write about tomorrow?”

Bike the Reich

July 16, 2014 § 21 Comments

“I would like to rent you a bicycle,” I said to the lady at the counter, who was understandably confused.

A split second passed. “Oh,” she said, correcting my bad German, “you mean you would like to rent a bicycle from me?”

“Er, yes, please.” This made a whole lot more sense because I was a tourist in Berlin and she was an employee at a bike rental shop. “I would like something in the range of 58 cm, I could go with 56 or 60, but 58 would be best, with a 110mm stem and a cut-out saddle,” I added, smiling. “Something to relieve the pressure down there.”

“Of course,” she said, taking down my passport number and running my credit card.

“Also, SRAM if you have it, although I could do with Dura-Ace. Just not Campy, please, as I’m not too familiar with it.”

I signed the credit card receipt and we went out back to the rental bikes. There were about twenty black 3-speeds with upright handlebars, baskets, balloon tires, huge foam saddles, and giant v-cutouts instead of top tubes so I could get on and off in my skirt.

“Which one would you like?” she asked. They were all identically sized.

“Can I have the black one?”

“Of course,” she said, unlocking the enormous 10-lb. chain that went with the bike, giving me the key, then dropping the chain in the rear basket.

I swayed off, pedaling down the street, slowly gathering speed like an iron steam engine rolling down the rails.

No amount of bicycle iron, however, could detract from the feeling that screamed “Bicycle! Yippee!” that coursed through my veins. Like every bikeless cyclist stranded in a foreign city, after about two days I had begun to eye riders who whizzed by on commuter bikes with a fierce envy that finally turned to nefarious plans to murder some old lady just so I could have her bike to get around on. Of course most old German ladies, particularly in East Berlin, are about 6’4″ and not what I would call easy pickings, so I had inquired and found the rental shop.

As I yippeed along the streets I rolled through Checkpoint Charlie, by the Trabi dealer, past the Mauer Museum and the Topography of Terror Museum and then made a big loop back to Potsdamer Platz. Much of the loop had been in the middle of busy morning traffic and no one cared.

Berlin is a muscular yet understated city, gritty in the eastern part and clotted with big, blocky high-rises that in a thousand years will be extraordinary exemplars of fine architecture but for now just look like deformed Legos made of glass and steroids. Alexanderplatz and environs have the warm tingle of an urban shithole, decorated with American college kids discovering their first European venereal disease, bums collecting bottles from the garbage bins, and gypsy beggars asking “Speak English?” to which I reply “Can I borrow five bucks?” That made them wander off rather quickly.

Back on Helga the Iron One, I yippeed along the bike path until I was where I wanted to be: completely lost. So I yippeed some more until I came to a cafe that was just beginning to set out tables. It was already 8:00 AM, so I ordered a half-liter of Berliner Kindl pilsener. It is a fine, traditionally brewed Berlin beer that combines hints of cardboard and bad water with a forward note of bloody urine.

So I had another, and then two more. After that I lost count, so I paid the bill, or what I thought was the bill but was in fact just a piece of trash. I learned my mistake when the irate waiter chased me down after I’d unlocked Helga. It occurred to me to slap him with the butt-end of the 10-lb. chain, but since I’d never been raped in a German prison I figured I’d pay up and save that experience for another visit.

It is amazing how a bicycle can be transformed by a mere three liters of early morning beer. What had begun as Helga the Fat had become Ulrike the Sleek. “It really does kind of feel like a racing bike,” I said to myself, bouncing off the bike path, over the curb, and out into traffic where I just missed hitting a small but lively bus.

As I mashed on the pedals I was amazed at how fast it went, even though not in a necessarily straight line. However, all of the rush hour traffic was impressed, as they began honking and waving their hands in a show of entusiasm at my expert riding skills. I was in love with this magnificent city, and it with me.

Somehow I ended up in the middle of a giant throng of bike commuters stuck at a red light. There was a woman with a kid on the back. Five or six men in suits. Several old women doing the morning grocery shopping. But I paid no attention to them as I muscled my way to the starting line. I knew who I was going to have to beat: the dude in the helmet on the racing bike.

The light turned green and I jumped on his wheel. He didn’t notice me right away, but as he picked up speed the creaking and groaning of Ulrike caught his attention. What caught his attention even more was when the next light turned red and he braked. Ulrike the Sleek had become Ulrike the Don’t Brake None Too Good, and I whacked his rear wheel so hard with my balloon tire that it knocked him over.

In German I can now pretty much understand “You sorry motherfucker!” It sounds a lot like it does in English. I checked to make sure his tibia was okay and then continued on. Fortunately, just before the beer wore off I spied another cafe and pulled in to top off the tank.

“I would like to buy you a beer,” I told the waiter.

“Thank you,” he said, “but I am working. May I get you something?”

“A beer, please,” I said. It was almost eleven and the day had already been perfect. My German wasn’t getting any better, but I was caring about it less, and I had now learned to say “you motherfucker.” I sat there practicing for a few minutes.

“You motherfucker. You motherfucker. You motherfucker.” I said.

“Excuse me?” asked the waiter, who had arrived with my beer, just as I uttered my last “motherfucker.”

I stared smiling
at the foamy glass. “You look delicious on me.”

He scowled and set it down, but I don’t recall anything else. I’m sure it had a happy ending.

Dependence Day

July 5, 2014 § 10 Comments

Cobley and I drove down to Encinitas for the SPY Holiday Ride. He kept me awake with keen observations about life and an endless string of funny comments about our mutual loathing of wheelsuckers.

The ride started. Guys ahead of me in the massive group of 100+ riders pointed out cracks in the road, potholes, glass, and other obstacles. When I attacked a couple of miles before the first climb with some Aussie wanker named Matthew, he kept pulling through hard, giving me plenty of rest. Thurlow bridged, caught his breath, and towed me up the climb to the first rest spot.

Phil Tinstman put everyone to the sword on the Lake Hodges climb, and Thurlow smoked the meat off our bones on the return sprunt. On a 45-mph descent in the middle of a sweeping turn, Thurlow flatted both tires simultaneously. Anyone else would be in ICU now, but Thurlow calmly brought the smoking, shuddering heap to a stop, changed his flats, and continued home.

Cobley, who had worked like a Trojan, attacked on the flats and dragged me the ten miles or so back to Encinitas. Back at the shop, Brent offered to take a look at my bike, which wasn’t shifting right. He fixed it in a jiffy and, after close inspection, noticed that the frame was fatally cracked. He photographed it and got the ball rolling for a frame replacement. Then he gave me a bottle of water and a discount on a very nice tire.

I started falling asleep on the drive home, so Cobley took over and let me half-nap while he navigated the freeway’s July 4 traffic. I got home at 2:00, put Yasuko’s bike in the back of the Prius with mine, and we drove down to Malaga Cove and parked. It was going to be impossible to drive through Redondo to Manhattan Beach, so we went by bike.

She hadn’t ridden a bike in 30 years, and this was my son’s Specialized road bike, very skinny tires and all. He’s about half a foot taller than her, and I had forgotten to lower the saddle for her. She could sit on the saddle just fine. The “only” problem was that her feet couldn’t reach the pedals.

We stopped a wanker with a massive saddlebag. “Do you have an Allen key?” I asked.

“Sure!” he said. Then he interrupted his ride and emptied the contents of his small suitcase on the pavement. He had three tubes, four CO2 cartridges, a paperback (a paperback?), a spoke wrench, a cell phone, two patch kits, a spare pair of socks, and a giant keyring. “Darn,” he said. “I guess I don’t have my Allen keys.”

But he had stopped and tried to help us and we were appreciative. “Why don’t you try Marcel’s?” Yasuko said. “He might be home.”

We walked a mile downhill to Marcel’s and knocked on the door. He ran to answer it in a frenzy. “It’s the last five minutes of the game!” he shouted, dashing back to the couch.

“Can I borrow your Allen wrenches?” I asked.

He sprinted to the garage, raced back and lobbed the 5-pound set of iron keys my direction. I lowered her seat. “Thanks, Marcel!” I said. A Dutch friend who will interrupt even five seconds of a World Cup where his team is still in contention is a friend indeed.

Yasuko rode beautifully on the densely packed bike path, threading drunks with the skill that I’ve still only seen watching kids in Japan ride their bikes to school — graceful, able to navigate the tightest spaces while bar-to-bar with fifty other kids, never braking … and she was singing, too.

In Manhattan Beach, Wehrley welcomed us warmly to his home and plied us with delicious hot dogs, Budweiser, and watermelon. Then we meandered over to Derek and Jami’s encampment on the beach where they shared drinks and stories and laughs.

Around seven we pedaled back to Redondo and collapsed on the couch of Greg and Jeanette, but not before they fed us with more food, hydrated us with copious amounts of water, regaled us with funny stories, and pressed into our hands a cold beer or two.

From their deck overlooking the water we watched the fireworks display just above our head. Well, everyone else at the party did. I slept in the chilly evening on the outdoor couch, draped with a thin blanket and warmed while propped up against the mass of my buddy Gus, the world’s best portable heater.

Home at eleven, Yasuko cooked us each a bowl of delicious instant ramen.

It was a long and wonderful Independence Day of dependence on strangers, family, and friends.

END

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My bicycle cellphone

July 3, 2014 § 44 Comments

In the late 1960′s if you were a kid and you wanted to go somewhere, you went by bicycle. Soccer moms hadn’t been invented yet, and during the summertime if you wanted to leave the house you had to pedal. And you always wanted to go somewhere because the alternative to outside was inside.

Inside meant nothing to do, absolutely nothing. TV for kids didn’t start until re-runs at 3:30 or 4:00, and since we didn’t have a television it didn’t matter anyway. Even the kids who had TV were up by seven and had the whole day to kill until they could watch Speed Racer or Ultraman in the late afternoon.

Inside there was a big box of comics that you had read ten thousand times. There was a stack of records you’d listened to a million times. So the only way you were going to have fun was by hanging out with your friends.

Someone in the neighborhood could always be counted on to want to steal something, beat someone up (hopefully not you, but sometimes it didn’t work out that way), start a game of baseball that would end in a fight, start a game of touch football that ALWAYS became tackle football and ended in a fight, throw things at cars and run away, smoke cigarettes, or see if someone’s older sister would show us her breasts.

The only way to find out what was going on and who was doing what was by using a bicycle cellphone.

You couldn’t call on the home phone because first and foremost, guys never called guys. It was un-guyly to begin with, and fraught with peril because the phone was always in some parent’s bedroom or in the living room. That’s “the phone” as in “the one phone in the entire house.” And it was black and it had a rotary dial with a piece of paper in the middle of the dial that had your phone number written on it in case you were too stupid to remember your own phone number, which no one was because the number was the same your entire life.

Mine was (713) 666-7639.

If Sam Rodriguez had stolen some of his brother’s drugs you couldn’t ask about it on the phone — his mom might be there, and so might yours. It was only by dialing the old bicycle cellphone over to a friend’s house that you could find out what was going on and if anyone wanted to play.

Of course with a bicycle cellphone you often got a busy signal. “Hello, Miz Schuermann. Is Mark home?”

“Why no, he isn’t, Seth.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“He may be over at John Sweeney’s.”

So you’d have to pedal over to John’s house a few blocks away and hope that he was there. Parents often had no idea where their kids were, and never had any idea what they were doing or when they would be home, except that it would be shortly before dinner.

Sometimes you’d have to go to several houses, then to the pool, and then to the park before you found anyone. That old bicycle cellphone would get dialed to hell and back before someone answered. And once you hooked up with your pals you’d ride somewhere else — the 7-11 to steal candy or play pinball, back to the pool for a swim to see if you could catch some girl’s top or bottom getting jerked down when she went off the high dive, or over to the Duques’ to see if anyone had any dope to smoke.

This meant you were always on your bike. More than that, it meant that the lousiest rider in the gang had “skilz.”

When I see new cyclists in their teens or early twenties, I always marvel at the things they can’t do. They can’t ride with their hands off the bars. They have trouble pulling out a water bottle without wobbling like a drunk staggering home from the bar. They can’t hop a curb. They clumsily totter at stoplights when they come to a stop. In short, there is a whole range of skills they never learned because they never had a bicycle cellphone to take them all over the neighborhood. When we wanted to see porn, we had to pedal all the way over to Patrick Klepfer’s place, where his big brother had a stash of Penthouse magazines, and after marveling at the anatomy we would gleefully read the Letters. Nowadays kids don’t need a cellphone bicycle to see porn, they just tap-and-jerk.

It was a matter of a couple of bike rides for me to learn how to use toeclips and toestraps when I got my first road bike. Why? Because sticking your foot into a metal cage and cinching down the strap was nothing compared to the ramps.

We had two. One was on the way to school, on Pine Street just before you got to Braeburn Elementary. There was a big ditch that ran parallel to the road. You’d start fifteen or twenty yards back and pedal like hell for the lip of the ditch. Then you’d shoot down into the ditch and up the other side, “catching air.” The landing zone was about five feet long, and you had to time it perfectly or you’d fly off the curb and into oncoming traffic.

No one got killed, but we had plenty of close calls. The idols could catch huge air, hit the ground, and stop just before going over the curb. We wankers would catch little air, close our eyes, and pray that the cars were paying attention.

The big ramp was on Chimney Rock. It had a long dirt entry, went down into a very deep ditch, and came up a vertical lip that was much higher than the entry lip. If you didn’t have huge speed you wouldn’t even make it over, and would tip backwards, cracking your head and spine as you backflipped into the ditch. If you had huge speed you would go so high in the air that without perfect positioning you’d have your forehead staved in by the giant tree limbs that overhung the landing zone.

Our parents never paid attention to us when we came home covered in dirt and smeared with blood. How else WOULD we have come home?

As I pedaled along the bike path the other day, despairing of this younger generation that doesn’t instinctively know how to avoid death and dismemberment on a bicycle, I saw something that made my heart sing.

It was a 12 or 13-year-old kid on a cruiser bike with a surfboard racked to the side of the bike. He had one hand on the bars and was texting with the other. No helmet, pedaling in flip-flops. The path was crowded and he weaved between countless Obstacles of Death. He hit a thick patch of sand, barely stayed upright with one hand, and never stopped texting despite narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with a baby stroller. He might even have been high.

My optimism for the future of America has never been greater.

END

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Expert fees

July 1, 2014 § 25 Comments

The guy who fired me was an asshole, but that’s only partly why he let me go. The other half of the equation was me: I’m the easiest guy in the world to work with but the hardest person in the world to manage. This is because I don’t like being told what to do, which is, you know, one of the most basic prerequisites for holding down a job, or life.

There were other reasons, of course. My boss was a cheapskate and he was paying me a lot of money, and once he’d profited from the changes I had brought to his shop, there was no reason to keep me on. Use ‘em and kick ‘em out the door because, ‘Murica. So there I was, unemployed a month before Christmas, one kid in college, two at home, and a wife who didn’t work. I was also living in one of the most expensive places in Southern California and the housing crash and Great Recession were just starting to peak.

The last thing anyone anywhere was hiring was another plaintiff’s lawyer.

When things are grim I have found that it is usually best to ride my bike. This is a proven way of avoiding the nasty consequences of whatever’s bugging you, and no matter how dire your circumstances are, they’ll feel less dire when you go pedal around for a few hours. It’s also a guaranteed way to run into other bikers, and when you’re down and out, no one cheers you up like a fellow parishioner at the Church of the Spinning Wheel.

One Saturday in the middle of this mess I ran into Michael. I knew who he was from the Donut Ride but had never introduced myself.

“Hi, I’m Seth,” I said.

“Michael.” He stuck out his hand and when I shook it, it was firm and solid. And although I don’t put too much stock in these kinds of things, he looked me straight in the eye, a look of kindness and friendship. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly, not a grin but a pleasant smile. With a few physical nuances he had convinced me to trust him in the first five seconds.

“You’re a lawyer, right?”

“Yes.” He didn’t add any of those fake comments like “don’t hold it against me” or “unfortunately.”

“What kind of law do you practice?”

“Criminal defense.”

“I’m a lawyer, too, but I just got laid off. Any chance I might come by your office and chat for a few minutes later this week?”

“Sure. You have kids, don’t you?”

This seemed like a strange question, rather out of the blue. “Yes. Three.”

“Wife work?”

“No.” I couldn’t help wondering why he was asking about my family. Surely it was obvious I was going to ask him for help finding a job.

“Why don’t you swing by Monday around five? I’m usually back from court by then.”

“Will do. Thanks.”

I went to his office at the appointed time and he graciously welcomed me. I told him my situation and wondered if he might be able to help my job search. “I will certainly try,” he said. At the time I didn’t know that when Michael said he would do something he always did it, and that there were no exceptions.

After an hour or so he changed the subject. “I understand you’re pretty familiar with Internet marketing.”

“Yes,” I said.

He asked me some questions and I answered them. They were simple and straightforward. That part of our exchange took about five minutes. “Well,” he said, “thank you for your help.”

“My help? I’m the one who should thank you. I really appreciate your making time for me and asking around on my behalf.”

“No,” he said. “Not at all, I’m happy to do it. And thank you for your professional advice regarding online marketing.” He stood up and lifted an envelope off his desk. It had my name printed on it. As he handed it to me, he said “Thanks again for your consultation.”

“Whoa,” I said, pushing his hand away. “I came here to ask for help and you have generously given it. I can’t accept anything from you. Five minutes of Internet marketing advice is nothing. I’m honored to be able to do it, and it’s nothing you couldn’t have found after a quick search on Google.”

Michael looked at me with kindness, but it was unyielding kindness. “You’ve given me the benefit of your professional expertise,” he said. He held out the envelope again.

I was humbled, and hungry, and desperate. So I took it.

When I got home I opened the envelope and couldn’t believe what I saw: a check that ensured that I, my wife, and kids would be provided for through year’s end, and then some.

I’m pretty sure that Michael hasn’t thought about it since then, but I think about it almost every single day.

END

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Worst day cycling ever

June 28, 2014 § 170 Comments

After experimenting with riding in the lane on the fastest, most heavily trafficked section of Pacific Coast Highway between Temescal Canyon and Trancas, I reached the following conclusions.

  1. A large group of 10 or more riders can do it easily and safely with little or no cager hostility.
  2. A small group of 2-4 riders will get a small amount of harassment in the form of honking and yelling, with an occasional chop.
  3. Riding in the lane and obeying the traffic laws while politely defending my right to be there is safer and more enjoyable riding on the edge of the lane or in the gutter.

Last Sunday I rode by myself, further testing the practice, curious to see what the difference in cager reaction would be towards a small group versus a solo rider. Exiting onto PCH at Temescal Canyon at about 8:00 AM, I elicited six quick angry honks, but not much else all the way to Cross Creek and back. My confidence soared.

Then yesterday morning I took the plunge, getting out solo on PCH at about 7:00 AM on a Friday morning. It was the worst cycling experience of my life. As dedicated as I am to lane control on this stretch of PCH, I simply cannot recommend that a solo rider tackle this stretch of road riding in the lane on a weekday morning.

I stopped counting the honks at fifty, and that was only until Cross Creek. One driver after Pepperdine got on my rear and laid on his horn for almost a full minute. I was buzzed several times, and although this has never really bothered me in the past because buzzers usually pass with plenty of room, one cager missed me by less than a foot. I was flipped off and yelled at continually.

The hatred and anger fed on itself; as one motorist began honking, others would lay on their horns as well. I noticed that by far and away the most common harassing vehicle type was a pickup, usually with a toolbox in the back or a modified tool rack in the bed. Young surfer types in cheap cars were also more likely to honk,  but I was blasted by everyone.

Going up Pepperdine I thought I would be killed. Drivers were screaming and tailgating, and a line of cars was backed up behind me in my lane. A succession of about ten cars in a row honked as they passed. I even got screamed at by a jogger who was running against traffic on the shoulder. “What’s wrong with you?” she yelled. I have pretty thick skin and am pretty good at holding my ground, but I was shaken. I’ve never been abused like this before on a bike, and the cute chick in pink running tights added insult to injury.

However, none of this was anything compared to what happened after climbing the hill past Latigo. Firmly in my lane, traffic backing up behind me, I heard the squeal of tires. My heart leapt into my mouth. “I’m going to get hit,” I thought. I looked back and a Toyota minivan packed with construction workers had avoided rear-ending me by a couple of feet.

They were laughing, doubtless from the look of abject fear on my face.

I wasn’t just terrified, I doubted the principle that you’re safer in the lane — at least riding solo on this stretch of PCH during a workday. One of the criticisms that gutter bunnies make about lane control is that riding in the lane makes you more liable to getting hit from behind. Despite thousands of miles in the lane, I’ve never had a cager rear-end me or even come close, but it almost happened yesterday.

The minivan changed lanes and raced by, and a pickup got on my tail and started honking and gesturing. I was still shaking from the minivan, so I flipped him off. He raced past and pulled over, jumping out of his truck and motioning me to stop.

We had a heated exchange. He told me to ride “in my lane,” pointing to the shoulder where he was parked.

“That’s not a lane, it’s a shoulder, and the law doesn’t require me to ride there.”

“Yeah? Well you’re a fucking idiot because you almost got killed. And you could have killed someone else!”

“How?”

“By making someone hit the person in the car who hit you, asshole!”

“So it’s my fault when a driver runs me over illegally and then someone who’s tailgating him has an accident?”

“You’re fucking right it is! Get out of the road! You were in the middle of the fucking lane! You have the whole goddamned shoulder! What’s wrong with you? You’re a complete fucking idiot!”

I thought he was going to punch me out. I tried to stick to the law and my right to be there, but I was still shaking from fear, and the conversation got crazier. “I don’t give a shit about the law!” he said. “Your Nigerian president spies on me with his fucking IRS and lets all these fucking Mexicans into the country. What about those laws? People break laws all the time!”

The only thing that might have fanned the flames was to mention the 2nd Amendment or maybe Benghazi, or to tell him that it was Kenya not Nigeria. “You don’t seem real happy about laws being broken,” I said.

“Damn right I’m not!”

“So why are you making the case that it’s okay to break the traffic laws? I have a right to be here.”

“Fuck you! This isn’t a goddamned debate it’s a fucking freeway! You are gonna be in the right all the way to the fucking morgue and you’re gonna kill someone else. Hope you and your fucking legal rights are happy! And I’ll tell you something else. You are the biggest idiot I have ever met in my whole fucking life. Goody-bye, Big Fucking Idiot!”

With that he got back in the cab and drove off, but not before I started again, got out in the lane, and made him pass me in the other lane.

Still, I was shaken, and worse, my ride was worse than an 8-hour trip to the dentist. When PCH turned into two lanes past Yerba Buena, I moved over onto the shoulder. My stress level plunged. I was happier dodging shit and running over glass and nails than getting continually harassed.

On the return trip I stayed in the shoulder except for sections — particularly past Cross Creek — where the parked cars are right against the fog line and there’s nothing to do but get in the lane. Moreover, when I did get in the lane I never ventured more than two or three feet from the edge, even though this encouraged cagers to squeeze by in my lane, passing me uncomfortably closely.

When I got back to the bike path at Temescal, I was relieved beyond belief.

So although I still think that group riding in the lane is the way to go for this roadway, it’ll be a while before I tackle it again solo on a workday morning.

In order to make this stretch safe, and more importantly, enjoyable for bicyclists riding solo, much work needs to be done. More groups need to take the lane so that cagers expect us there. Shared lane markings need to be put in the lane, along with plentiful “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signage. The people who are advocates for lane control need to get their asses out on PCH on a workday morning, solo, and ride this stretch of roadway. And don’t be surprised at the brown stripe in your chamois after you get home.

END

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Life in the not-very-fast lane

June 26, 2014 § 39 Comments

We were riding along, not very fast, in the middle of the lane on PCH just past Pepperdine. A big new Ford SUV pulled up alongside us, slowly, with the window rolled down. The guy in the passenger seat stuck his head out the window. He had a joint in one hand and his eyes were redder than a Bloody Mary.

“Dude,” he said. “You need to get out of the road.”

“I need a lot of things,” Jay said to him. “But I’m pretty sure that’s not one of them.”

“Cool, man,” said the stoner, taking another hit on the joint. “Whatever.”

We rode on for a while. Then, a couple of miles before we got to the long downhill at Zuma Beach, we heard a different kind of honk, the braaaat of a cop car followed by a siren burst.

“Oh, boy,” said Kenny. “Here we go.”

We pulled out of the lane and onto the shoulder. The deputy sheriff got out, cherries and berries flashing away.

“Hi, officer,” I said.

“Hi, there,” he answered. He wasn’t angry or rude or aggro, just professional and polite. “Would you guys all come over here so I can talk to you together?” We gathered around — Kenny, Jay, Peyton, David, and I. “So can you tell me why you guys are riding out in the middle of the lane?”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “It’s kind of a long story, but we met with Captain Patrick Devoren back in January, him and the sergeant, and we discussed the issue of bicycling on PCH and enforcement of CVC 21202 and its requirement that we ride as far to the right as practicable.”

“Okay,” said the deputy.

“And we discussed the fact that 21202 has a couple of exceptions that, when certain conditions exist, no longer require us to right as far to the right as practicable.”

“Which exceptions are those? I don’t think I’m familiar with them.”

“One is when a bike and car can’t safely share the lane. Another is when the lane is of substandard width. When those conditions exist, we can occupy the full lane.”

“Why can’t you safely share the lane with a car?” he asked.

“Well, we need about 5 to 6 feet total, taking into account the width of the bike and the natural lateral movement of the bike for those of us who can’t ride in a perfectly straight line. These lanes on PCH are all about 11 to 12 feet, so that puts the total amount of space needed very close to the center of the lane. A car, pickup, van, or truck can’t fit into the remaining 6 or 7 feet of lane space safely next to a bike without running it over.”

From that point on we talked about the safety of riding in the lane versus hugging the fog line; the unsafe nature of the shoulder with its debris and pavement irregularities; hostile drivers; the unlikelihood that there would ever be a bike lane on PCH; the right of bikes to use the roadways; the risk of road rage induced by bikes in the lane; the necessity of patrol officers to interpret the law as required to provide for the public safety; the rules of the road as they relate to backed up traffic and when those rules apply.

I also explained that although there was certainly some risk of getting hit by an enraged driver, in all of the bike-car accident cases I’ve handled, only one was caused by something close to road rage. The rest were the result of the driver not seeing the cyclist and hitting him when he was either on the shoulder or over on the edge of the road.

It was a great conversation that ended with the officer enjoining us to ride with care and agreeing that we could ride in the lane. The deputy was a credit to the L.A. Sheriff’s Department and treated us with respect.

We continued on to Decker Lane, climbed it, descended Encinal, and rode in the lane all the way from Encinal back to Temescal Canyon. We got honked at less than half a dozen times on the way back and got shouted at once or twice. By the time we got back on the bike bath we’d begun waving at every person who honked or shouted, and had stopped taking umbrage at the honking. We saw it instead as a cager saying “I see you. Fuck you, but I see you.”

A copy of the letter that I sent to Captain Devoren is printed below:

 

Hi, Captain Devoren

Just a note to let you know that I and four other cyclists were pulled over yesterday by Deputy Mulay near Zuma Beach while riding north on PCH. He very professionally and respectfully initiated a discussion with us regarding why we were riding in the lane. It was not hostile or confrontational in any way. We talked about the hazards of riding on the shoulder and talked about the exceptions to CVC 21202 – substandard lane width, or when bike and car can’t safely travel together in the same lane – as reasons that we were not required to ride as far to the right as practicable and were legally entitled to make full use of the right-hand lane.

He shared concerns about safety, about shared use of the roadway, and about his work as it involves ensuring safe use for cyclists and motorists. It was a great discussion and reflected well on your department and the respectful way they interact with us cyclists. After we finished talking, we continued on our way, utilizing the full lane without incident all the way to Decker Lane and then back again to Temescal Canyon. I really appreciate the time you and your staff spent with me, Eric Bruins, and Gary Cziko back in January to discuss proper enforcement of CVC 21202 on PCH as well as motorist/cyclist issues on this beautiful but sometimes congested road.

Thanks again!

Sincerely,
Seth Davidson

END

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Beer, bikes, and a long-ass hill

June 24, 2014 § 28 Comments

One of the things that comes with the Parent Package is an item known as “Regret ™ .” It is included with every shipment at no extra cost, it lasts for a lifetime, it never wears out, and it works especially well late at night, when all is quiet except for the sounds in your head.

The family I grew up in was almost the last one that participated in the cycle of violence. This is a simple cycle. Parent hits child, child grows up, hits his child, that child grows up, etc.

Our earliest family violence stories were about ol’ Great Granda Edward. He walked from Leesville to Alpine, Texas when he was sixteen, a very solid 500-mile stroll. In Alpine he bought a team of mules and became a freight hauler. Then he inherited some money from a childless great-aunt he’d never heard of in Philadelphia, so he bought a ranch.

When he wanted to make a point with his two sons, Frank and Eddie, he made it with a two-by-four and with his fists. My grandfather Frank got his points across with severe beatings. My dad vented his job/family/life frustrations with belt whippings, although many of them were richly deserved, like the time we mined the alley out back with a hundred broken bottles and watched gleefully as all the cars got double or even quadruple flats.

My own ventures in corporal punishment were brief — a few spankings when my daughter was two or three, and then one day I realized it was wrong, realized how much I’d hated being hit, and never hit her again. My two boys have never been hit, and they’ve never complained to me about it.

Still, just because our family has evolved out the beatings doesn’t mean that I’m not a victim of the frustrations and annoyances and anger that buffeted my dad, or my granddad, or my great grandfather. Take, for instance, beer.

A couple of months ago I hit on the bright idea to recruit my youngest son as the family brewmeister. What could be better than having a son who brewed your beer for you? We bought a brewing kit, he read up on the process, and after a long while we started on the first batch. I’m not much of a cook or a chemist, so I “supervised” by standing around and taking orders.

After a couple of weeks the beer had stopped fermenting and it was time for bottling. “You gonna bottle that beer tomorrow?” I asked.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I thought I was the one in charge.”

That stung. “You are, but is it just going to sit there forever?”

“No. I’m gonna bottle it.”

“When?”

“Not tomorrow.”

“Why?”

“Because mom is making me go watch her Michael Jackson flashmob in Santa Monica and I’ll be too tired to bottle five gallons of beer.”

The way he spoke to me was a way that, if I’d ever spoken in such a way to my father, would have resulted in a memorable beating. I felt my blood heat up, then simmer, then boil. “When are you gonna do it then?”

“Monday, after summer school.”

“Why don’t you do it today?”

“You said we were going to ride bikes today.”

It was already six o’clock, I was wrecked from the Donut Ride, and I knew he didn’t want to ride bikes. It was a strategic ploy to force me off the beer gambit. My legs ached and I got so angry. Now I’d have to either admit that I didn’t really want to ride bikes either (he’d win) or I’d have to go ride (legs would fall off), and in either case the beer would get put on hold. He had me.

“Fine,” I said, even though it wasn’t fine. “Suit up.”

I stomped into my room and pulled on my kit. The anger was profound, and what made it worse is that he wasn’t upset at all. “Sure!” he said.

All of our previous rides had involved driving down the hill and commencing our rides in Torrance or on the gradual rollers. The reason was simple: leaving from our place meant a 10-minute descent and an awful, 2-mile climb with a couple of very severe pitches. I knew that there was no way he could make it up the hill, so we had always driven.

But this evening I still had one move left in this chess game, and I played it.

We rolled out. It was pretty obvious we weren’t taking the car. I never looked back as we dropped, descended, flew down towards Malaga Cove. He had never descended that far or that fast and now I was trapped in the full riptide of regret. “What if he fucking crashes? What if he gets killed?”

But we dropped like stones and all I could think was that we lived atop a high hill and if he was going to ride a bike with me, someday he’d have to ride it fast, and that some day was now, and anyway, it was way too late to turn around.

We reached the plaza. “Where are we going now?” he asked.

I made a loop through the parking lot and we started back up the hill. “Oh,” he said, looking at the wall of Via del Monte.

Now the regret took another phase; what I was doing was, it seemed to me, one step removed from a beating. I never looked back, but I didn’t have to. I heard him breathing, then grunting, and every minute I waited for him to say “Stop” or “I need to rest” or “I can’t.”

At one point after the hook turn he veered into a bush. “Goddamit,” I heard him curse. All I did was slow down, listening to him disentangle from the branches and get started again. The road flattened and then kicked up hard. He was gasping now. I hated myself and my father and my grandfather and my great-grandfather, but I couldn’t turn around and say a word of encouragement or do anything except push the pedals. It’s called the cycle for a reason.

He never stopped, though, or asked for mercy. Waiting for the light at Hawthorne I looked at him and said, “Good job.”

He didn’t look at me directly, only tried to catch his breath.

We got back home and he went in the door first. Yasuko was in the kitchen. “How was your ride?” she asked.

“It was so awesome!” he said. “I made it all the way up the hill without stopping!” Then he turned to me, beaming. “Thanks, dad!”

The beer didn’t seem very important anymore.

Crazy bicycle cat lady

June 23, 2014 § 15 Comments

I was on my way to the Michael Jackson flash mob in Santa Monica (please shut up) and came up to the stoplight. There was a lot of traffic, and because it was Santa Monica, and because it was sunny, and because it was past the noon wake-up hour, the crazy people were out in force.

There was the toothless white man singing Swahili war songs. There was the shopping cart lady with four bags of empty plastic bottles slung over her shoulder. There was the toothless couple in their 70′s, he in a thong, she in a bikini (what is it about Santa Monica and bad teeth?). There was the fat shirtless dude shirt salmoning up the sidewalk with big steel hoops pierced through his nipples. There were the holistic women toting cloth shopping bags overflowing with kale, flanking a shaman who had a giant bone tied in his beard.

There were rich people trying to look poor. There were poor people trying to look rich. There was a dude carrying a surfboard wearing a wetsuit nowhere near the ocean. There was a dog adoption place. There was a farmers market filled with faux farmers.

The light turned green and a lady whizzed past me on her mountain bike. She was wearing black yoga pants that came down mid-calf, paired with a sleeveless white top, pink sneakers, flat pedals, and a white baseball cap. As she blitzed through the intersection she stuck her left hand directly out in front of her and shouted “Straight!”

Then a parked car on the right turned on its engine and the brake lights flashed. “Watch it!” she screamed. The car hadn’t even moved. A trash truck was doing its thing and blocking the bike lane, so she swerved like a pro slalom skier out into traffic, and screamed some more. “Everybody take cover!” she hollered. That, I had to admit, was a new on-the-bike warning.

I could see this was going to be good, so I picked up speed and started tailing her. She was in pretty good shape and ripped along in the bike lane, unevenly and unable to hold a line. The cars were barely going the speed of our bikes, and a convertible with four young women slowly passed us. “What are you looking at?” she roared. “Pay attention to the road!” Then she swerved in front of them, causing the driver to lock it up. “Goddamn you!” the crazy lady shouted. “God damn you to hell and back!”

At that split second another parked car started to open its door. She was no where near the door zone, but she let the poor guy have it, uttering a mighty shriek. “Watch your door! Watch your door! Watch your FUCKING DOOR!”

The guy jerked his door shut but hadn’t pulled his leg back in. It smacked his shin with a huge crunch. I heard him moan and curse as I cruised by.

Now crazy bicycle cat lady had a big old head of steam going. She was shoveling coal through the Ashland and Main intersection, and since there weren’t any cars to shout at, she abused a lady pushing a stroller. “Stay on the damned curb! How hard is it, fer Chrissake!” The lady hadn’t even started to move.

The faster she went, the more she shouted, and pointed, and cursed, and swerved. She finally caught the light at Ocean Park and let loose with a torrent of invective. “How fucking hard is it, morons?” she shouted. “HOW FUCKING HARD?” Watching the cross traffic lights change, she jumped the gun and rushed out into the intersection just as the light turned green. A guy coming the other way was trying to beat the yellow, and he braked hard, missing her by a couple of feet.

She never slowed down, but she roared and cursed and swerved and pointed and shook her fist. I was humping it to keep up with her, when I noticed something odd.

The long line of traffic was terrified. The entire stream of Sunday cars rolling down Main Street had one concern and one only: don’t hit the cat lady. The ones she made eye contact with got a fist shake and a curse. The ones who she passed, drivers who were minding their own business, got yelled at so loudly that you could see them start.

By the time we got to the Santa Monica Courthouse, she had whipped the whole lot of them. Straight-arming the traffic through Pico and rushing full bore towards the t-intersection, I marveled at her. This wasn’t lane control. It was lane domination. She was the spike-heeled, leather clad, whip-wielding dominatrix of the Santa Monica Sunday rush hour, and the more she cursed and yelled and abused the hapless drivers, the more they got the hell out of her way. She wasn’t even wearing a helmet.

We parted company on 2nd Street. I eased out into the lane as a bunch of cars started backing up behind me. I could feel what they were thinking, and I knew that all it would take to get them off my back was a good dose of crazy bicycle cat lady abuse. I turned around and looked at the angry driver, hunched over his steering wheel, pissed at having to troll for parking, pissed at being in his cage on such a pretty day, and most of all pissed at having to crawl along at 15 mph behind some dude riding around in his underwear. He shot me the scowl of a gun nut listening to a lecture about gun control.

I smiled and waved.

He relaxed and smiled back.

Then I mouthed the word “Thanks,” turned back around, and kept pedaling.

END

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After the loving

June 21, 2014 § 19 Comments

I’ve begun seeing bicycle racer posts requesting money to “help me get to nationals” or to “fund my attempt to race the Tour de Beerfart.” That’s okay, I suppose; begging has always come naturally to me (have you subscribed to this blog yet? It costs $2.99 per month, which is less than you spend on rim cement and marginally more entertaining).

I suppose it’s also okay for people to chase their dreams, even when their dreams are beyond their means and require angel investors to pick up the tab for gas. We run a permanent welfare state for corporations and the rich, so why not a little extra charity for deadbeat bike racers?

But then I think back to January, when the lovemaking was so intense, when the professions of adoration and loyalty were on everyone’s lips. I think about the fresh, taut pull of the new kits, the luxurious taste of the new recovery drink formulas, the screaming sleekness of the new aero bike frames, the sensuous fit of the carbon-soled racing shoes, the gladiator masks of the new shades. I think about the protestations of love and about how each sponsored masters racer preened in front of the mirror, danced on the pedals during team training camps, and proudly strutted in front of the weekend group rides.

And, like the Led Zeppelin song said, “It makes me wonder.” It makes me wonder what you sorry ass take-the-swag-and-run deadbeats have been doing to pimp the brands since then?

Where are the social media posts? The tweets? The blogs? Where is the shameless self-promotion, the periodic reminder to all and sundry that the only reason you’re wearing this trick shit is because YOU PROMISED TO PIMP IT.

Do you know what happens to a whore who doesn’t strut her stuff in order to make money for her pimp? He dumps her quicker than a colon dealing with a bad street burrito. However, in amateur cycling, this hardly happens because hardly anyone really expects that the athletes will do anything more than give the most perfunctory praise for the stuff they get for free, even though it’s stuff without which they probably couldn’t race their stupid bikes.

Of course in between uploading data to Strava, counting calories, analyzing the results of all twelve categorized races in last weeks crits, cruising FB for photos of yourself that you can steal from the photographers and make your new profile pic, it’s sometimes difficult to remember the names of your sponsors, much less reasons to say good things about them. And anyway, it’s time for dinner.

Because bike racers are thoughtless, selfish, inconsiderate turds and because they aren’t always the most adept at creative writing, I have put  together some stock sponsor promotional language that you can use on FB, Twitter, the Honey-Do list on the fridge, etc. to show how much you’re doing to really earn those thousands of dollars in swag that really ARE a smart investment by your sponsors (hee, hee).

  1. Bike. “My Chinarello is the lightest, fastest, stiffest, most responsive bike I have ever not had to pay for. It handles better than a porn star. I would never have podiumed at the Beerfart Crit on any bike but this one.”
  2. Recovery/precovery/postcovery Drink Mix. “Thanks to Amalgamated Steroid Labs’ specialized prostate enhancer, I am able to train 20% longer, go 34.3% harder, and recover 12.98% better than when I was using Ol’ Buzzardpuke Lipid Replacement Drink and Plumbing Unguent. I take Amalgamated products before, during, and after sex. You should, too.”
  3. Clothing. “Last season I kept getting dropped because the paper-thin, sandpaper chamois on my old team kits would wedge up my (buttcrack/vaginal crease) and cause horrific irritations, lesions, and antibiotic resistant nodules. Now, with my ultra aero kits by Fluffer Racing, the pad is big enough to spread out and have a picnic on (after you scrape off the skid marks). I’ve never been more comfortable.”
  4. Sunglasses. “We used to ride Dokely Eyewear because our team manager thought it was kind of cool to look like your face had been sheathed in a motorcycle fairing with mud flaps on the bottom and side. We crashed a lot, though. Now we only wear EAVESDROP Optic products with their patented Beer Goggle Technology so that everyone looks beautiful even when you’re not drunk. Talk about happy!”
  5. Wheelsets. “Our old Creekncrack Wheels were round, but our new Zippy Wheels are even more round. Studies show that Zippy’s patented More Round Technology translates into more roundness. And round is good.”
  6. Helmets. “Time was, I was afraid to go down in a bunch sprint at forty and crack my head on the pavement. But now that I’m riding the new Styro-gira I crash all the time on my head and feel fine. It comes with fourteen layers of styrofoam infused with chitinous crab shell bits. Fifty-three major blows to the head so far this year and I’ve never felt better!”

Okay, athletes. Now you know what to say … so get out there and say it!

END

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