October 2, 2013 § 22 Comments
Every day I climb it on the way home. I know it intimately, its cracks, its pitch, where it flattens out, where it leaps up at its worst, the manhole cover with the fissures around it, its little traps, curbs, streets and driveways that empty onto it, its stoplights, the color and texture of its pavement.
On a good day, this hill sits with a kind of passive obstinacy, opposing me but shrugging when I surge up it. On a bad day it thwarts every pedal stroke and makes me feel small, human. On a terrible day it dares me with pangs and searing stabs to ascend so much as a foot.
There are no wonderful days on this hill.
This hill’s drivers are of a certain character, hurried, a bit rude, vaguely contemptuous of my efforts. “Why don’t you drive?” they think. “It’s faster and a whole lot easier.”
Still, a few of them marvel. I can feel it through the windshields of their cages. “I couldn’t do that,” they muse. “He is in great shape,” they admit. “I wonder if … ” they wonder.
If they ever slowed down to ask, I’d tell them, “I’m not. You can.”
The hill doesn’t admit of ever being conquered. Some days you go up faster, some slower. That is all. As an inanimate beast it doesn’t engage you., you engage it. My best time and best effort is as meaningless to the hill as my slowest time, my weakest climb.
The hill is a bad relationship, it gets in my head early in the day and won’t leave until we have it out. Then I can forget about it until the next day, when I have to go down it, my thrill at the speed dampened by my glum realization that the fun of the descent is never equal to the misery of the return.
But like a bad relationship, the hill and I stay together because one of us needs the other, and the other doesn’t care. If the hill only cared, it would be a good relationship, even with the pain. I must have the hill in order to climb into my beer and drink my bed. The hill doesn’t need me at all.
Yet there is a secret behind all the complaining, just like the bad relationship. In my quietude I don’t simply need the hill. I like it. With a twist of the ignition it would be easy to obliterate the hill entirely, erase it with internal combustion horsepower. If the hill were really that bad, I’d leave it, easily, behind the wheel of the great-great-great-great grandchild of Henry Ford.
And that’s the secret, in a nutshell. The hill exists, impervious to me. And I impose myself, briefly, upon it.
October 1, 2013 § 26 Comments
I have a friend who I’ll call “Knoll.”
There are a lot of things I want to tell him to his face, but can’t. Before you think that’s stupid, think of all the things you wanted to say to your mom or dad or brother or sister or close friend, but didn’t. Then, they were gone, and you didn’t forever.
I’m not sure why it’s hard to say things to people, since I generally say all kinds of shit to everyone, seemingly unfiltered. The catch, of course, is that no words are unfiltered, there is no stream of verbal consciousness, there is no exactitude of sentiment or thought or even science.
Everything is an approximation.
I first met Knoll in that zipless anonymity of the Donut Ride, in 2007. He had a black jersey that said “Dopers Suck” in bold, blocked, squarish white letters.
“What a dork,” I thought, because, you know, 2007 was the apogee of big dope. Today we have smaller riders who dope smallishly. But he was right then, and he’s right now. Dopers really do suck.
I soon changed from “What a dork,” to “What a motherfucker,” because Knoll was one of those guys who went to the front in the face of certain oblivion, shattered the field, and went just so much farther that only the best could follow. Everyone else fell to the wayside with plans for next week or a reason for why following the move didn’t fit with the training plan.
I’ll lead you out
I started doing the Sunday rides out to Cross Creek. Knoll had these Sidis with red heels. I know that acutely because when the group had been whittled down to five or six, or when it was still all massed, as we got two miles out he’d always slap his ass in the universal lead out lingo of “Get on my wheel, bro.” My vision would soon tunnel down to those pounding red heels.
It’s weird to say, but we were only friends from watching each other ride. I’d latch on and he’d bury himself for one and a half miles. No one could come around until he was done. He’d swing off, far from the bridge, done, and the sprinters would blow by.
Sometimes I’d grab on and beat them at their own game, but usually not. The few times I did, it was thanks to Knoll. Who puts himself at the bottom of the pain cave for you just because he likes the way you ride? Only Knoll.
Hey, is that you?
As with so many things, he was a person who revealed himself by degrees. A guitar virtuoso. The funniest writer ever. A raw and exposed human nerve, picking up every sensation and internalizing it, absorbing the pain of others so they could get through the day, however much of a hell it made for him to get through his.
With each peeling of the onion it was voila, a whole new layer, but unlike an onion, it was never more of the same, and always more of the different. We got to know each other over the course of years, time spent riding down PCH, post-coital time spent over coffee at Peet’s, time spent on social media, being, as you’re wont to be, somehow connected and separated at the same time.
I got to know him best of all one day a few months ago. I had lit out from work at ten o’clock, drawn to the pavement by the sunny sky. For some reason I headed down the bike path to Santa Monica. On impulse I stopped at the Marina del Rey bridge and called him. “Hey, man, got time for a cup of coffee?”
He didn’t ask why, or when, or what for. He just said, with a certain kind of finality that only comes from a friend, a true one, “Sure.”
“I’ll be there in fifteen.”
“And I’m broke.”
“Coffee’s on me, then.”
A few minutes later I rolled up and he was there.
September 27, 2013 § 63 Comments
There is a Strava segment outside my apartment. I made it. Until a few days ago, only three people had ever ridden it, and two of those rides were before it became a segment.
Let’s get this straight. There is no reason for anyone to ride up the street, Ravenspur. It parallels Hawthorne and doesn’t go anywhere except to my apartment. It is steep as snot, but there are fifty dozen better climbs within a half-mile that can logically be incorporated into your ride. Among its other drawbacks, once you reach the end you have to make a left onto crazy-busy Hawthorne across four lanes of speeding traffic.
Why segmentize it? Because I don’t ride with a Garmin and I wanted to know how fast I could go up it. Oh, and to also sneak myself a little KOM-action, because I hardly have any left. “What the heck,” I thought. “No one ever rides up this street. It’ll be a nice little vanity-KOM that I can take out, polish, and caress for a few months, maybe longer.”
Uh-oh, looks like YOU SUCK!
So you can imagine my chagrin when, four days ago, I got the dreaded message. “Uh-oh! Your KOM was recently devoured whole by Spencer! Enjoy the rest of the day, gnawing on your own liver!”
If it had been anyone else I would have felt sad, despondent, and very blue. This is because I’ve never retaken a lost KOM. But to have it taken away by Spencer, a dude with eight entire pages of KOM’s, was infinitely worse. Why? Because one of the best Strava riders in our neighborhood had targeted me and my piddly KOM. It was important enough for him to track my activities, drill down to my rides, and wrench the precious little KOM from my soft, chubby hands.
I’m sure the moment he took it, the elaborately programmed disco ball in his living room went off, the stereo began playing “We are the Champions” by Queen, and he threw on his ermine robes and tinsel crown as he paraded naked in front of the mirror.
My sad face transformed into one of violent rage, and I set out to reclaim what was rightfully mine.
The devil is in the details
One of the things that was going to make my retake so hard was the very nature of the street. Coming home from work I’m headed uphill, and have to turn left across two lanes of fast, oncoming traffic in order to begin the short but steep climb. This means that when I set the KOM, I did it from an extremely slow starting speed. Spencer’s time was twenty-two seconds, one second faster than mine, and I knew that in order to claw back two seconds over a .1-mile segment it would take everything I had.
As I approached the left hand turn I slowed, hoping for a break in traffic so that I wouldn’t have to unclip before hitting Ravenspur. Sure enough, the timing was good and I slid through. The bump is quite steep, so I had it in my 39 x 25 and instantly ramped it up to max rpm. By the time I hit the finish, I could barely see. I got off my bike and, unable to stand, had to lean on the top tube to keep from falling down.
But I smiled. “Take that, Spencer.”
Imagine my shock when I uploaded my iPhone data and saw that not only was Spencer still the owner of my own little personal front-door segment, but my hardest effort ever was a full second slower than my earlier best time of 23 seconds. Now the devastation was complete, and a part of me died that day. I wiped away the tears and ambled to the dinner table while my family consoled me.
“It’s okay, you don’t suck at everything!” said Mrs. Wankmeister.
“I’m proud of you, Dad, because you’re helping me learn through failure,” said my supportive 15-year-old.
The spirit of a warrior
The next day I woke grim and determined. The day flew by, and I hastened it by leaving the office an hour early. My legs felt light, strong, powerful, rested. I warmed up on the ride home, doing quick bursts on Anza and two steady efforts on Via Valmonte and Silver Spur.
When I moved into the left-hand turn lane, I was going a solid ten miles per hour. Magically, a breach appeared in the oncoming traffic. Perfectly geared in my 53 x 21, I launched up Ravenspur. This time there was no question. I raced to the top, collapsing as I had the day before, but secure in the knowledge that I’d reclaimed my KOM.
As I whipped out my iPhone I crowed to Mrs. Wankmeister. “Finally put ol’ Snotnose back where he belongs!” She had no idea what I was talking about, but nodded and smiled.
What happened next was too terrible for words, and I collapsed in a heap, sobbing. My “record time” was a full second slower than the day before, which was already a second slower than my all-time best. The better I rode, the slower I went. A couple of hours later, after I’d stopped crying, I called Derek the Destroyer. Through chokes and half-sobs I explained my problem.
“Dude,” he said. “You’re never gonna get that KOM back.”
“These Strava geeks grab the segments strategically.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The two biggest factors are temperature and wind. Go back and look at the time of day he took it. It was in the morning, when it’s cooler. You’re always going up that thing at the end of the day, when it’s hot. What were you wearing today?”
“I had on my long-sleeve winter jersey from my morning commute into work. I was sweating like crazy.”
“Your body won’t produce the same wattage when it’s 80 degrees as it will when it’s 70, or 60, or 50.”
“No, I’m not. That’s why you never see any of the Strava geeks take the hard climbs during a group ride. Do you actually know this guy?”
“I’ve never seen him, in fact.”
“It’s not that they’re stronger riders, it’s that they’re better Strava riders. Also, go back and look at your segment. Is there only one approach?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re coming at it uphill, right?”
“Yeah. It’s a ball-breaker.”
“Is it possible to hit it by coming down Hawthorne and turning right? You’d have a huge head of steam there, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh, come on. There’s no way Spencer would do that. It’s a completely different attempt, doing a standing start up a 13 percent grade versus hitting the climb after a 25 mph sweeping turn. Nobody’s a big enough wanker to coordinate temperature, wind, and a downhill just to rob me of my one silly KOM.”
Derek laughed. “If you say so.”
The terrible team of titans
I opened up Strava, unwilling to believe what I’d just heard, and there it was. Spencer had hit the Lungpopper segment on the Hawthorne downhill, after dropping off Highridge. A more evil, sneaky, dastardly, unsportsmanlike thing I couldn’t imagine.
This morning after the NPR I was rolling around the Hill with Manslaughter, the Destroyer, Jake, and Whatshisname. They were very curious about the segment. As we discussed the awfulness of the whole thing, a gleam appeared in Manslaughter’s eye. “Whattaya say we go and ‘pay Spencer a visit’?”
Soon enough we were charging up Via del Monte. When we turned left on Hawthorne and hit the downhill the speed ratcheted up. I signaled the turn and one by one we swooped through it, then jumped as hard as we could, scattered across the road.
When Spencer checks his email later today, he’s gonna have to go looking for six spare seconds, because that’s how many he now needs to climb back atop the leaderboard. The Destroyer, Jake, and Manslaughter are ahead of him, too. And my front-door segment KOM? It’s back where it belongs. And just in case you’re thinking about coming out and taking it away, I’ll tell you right now: I have a car, and I’m not afraid to use it.
September 24, 2013 § 24 Comments
I was talking to Pops on the phone the other day while I was driving to court. “I’ve started riding my bike again,” he said. Pops is 76.
“Yep, had to stop taking my walks because of my heel.”
“Biking’s better, anyhow.”
“I got a helmet and everything. But hey, I have a question for you,” he said.
“I’m trying to find the right kind of mirror and don’t know if I should get one for my helmet or for my glasses.”
Pops has a very stiff neck and can’t turn around to see what’s behind him. “Let me ask around and get back with you.”
“Okay. Boy, riding sure does bring back memories of my first bicycle when I was a kid.”
“Oh, yes. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
“Pops, would you do me a big favor?”
“Of course. What is it?”
“Would you write down your bicycle memories and email them to me? I’d love to post it on my blog.”
“Consider it done.”
Pops’s Old Timey Bike Story
Bikes. Not easy to come by when I was growing up in the dusty little wide spot in the road in southern New Mexico of Lordsburg, population 3,000 or so, not including rattlesnakes, jackrabbits, and horny toads. Well, used bikes were fairly easy to come by. But a new one, that required big money, and the cool dudes had them. I dreamed that I, too, might one day acquire one. We’re talking the 1940′s.
I got my first bike after I got my first gun. My dad was a U.S. Border Patrolman. He wore a pistol and loved guns. He had grown up on a West Texas cattle ranch, and you needed guns to kill rattlers, deer, rabbits, foxes, rustlers, and so forth. Maybe not the rustlers. When I was nine or ten I asked my mom if she would tell Santa Claus I’d like a BB gun for Christmas. Several of my friends had one. A week or so later she informed me that Santa had said “No.”
BB guns were dangerous, and Santa said kids thought they were toys and would shoot each other with them, sometimes putting out an eye or doing some other kind of damage. “Oh well,” I thought.
Christmas morning I walked into the living room, and there under the tree was a gun. “A BB gun!” I yelled and raced toward it.
“No,” my dad said. “It’s not.” I picked it up. It was a bolt-action Springfield .22 rifle, complete with a scope sight. I thought I was dreaming. My dad said, “That can kill someone real quick. And you’re not going to shoot it until we have some safety lessons.” Later that morning he took me into the desert outside town and I spent quite a while learning about gun safety. I never killed anybody unintentionally thereafter. What a Christmas! I never had another one quite that exciting, not even the one a year or two later when I got a bike.
But that was a pretty exciting present, too. It was a brand new single speed, which was standard in the 1940′s. It was also kind of fancy. There was a thingamajig beneath the cross bar that enclosed a battery and a buzzer. Whenever I came up behind someone, instead of merely ringing a little bell on the handlebar, I pressed a button on the thingamajig and it would buzz. Damn! Now I was really, truly a cool dude because I didn’t simply ride a bike, but a new bike with a buzzer.
That Christmas season I rode around town a lot on my bike, of course. What’s a bike with a buzzer for if not to show off, especially to the girls? Some of them had bikes, too, but they were, well, girls’ bikes, without a cross bar, so they could get on and off without raising a leg and kicking their skirt up. No cross bar, no thingamajig, no buzzer.
I had a lot of fun with that bike, even beyond showing it off. After a bit of rough weather in Lordsburg such as a sandstorm, say, that could sandblast a car windshield, a new bike wasn’t new any longer. There was one place in particular I liked to ride it. South of town there was a ghost town called Shakespeare. Only one family lived there. The rest of the community had long left or died or both. It had a great cemetery, and some old 19th Century buildings. It was a bit up on a hill, and I found it hard getting there, although a serious biker would scoff at anybody who would call the climb hard. But I was not, well, a serious biker. Coming back to Lordsburg from Shakespeare was a lot of fun, anyhow. It gave a new meaning to “Going downhill,” at least in the good sense of the term. I’m now going downhill in a different sense, and that’s another story. Instead of traveling from a ghost town, I think I may be heading toward one.
Anyhow, such was a biker’s life in Lordsburg, New Mexico near the end of World War II. We didn’t even wear bicycle helmets. I don’t think we had even heard of them, or really anything except Levi’s and tennies. Helmets were something soldiers wore. We had no idea that bikers, real bikers, wore biking outfits. I don’t think we had ever heard of the Tour de France. Of course, there was no Tour during World War II, and that was before TV, anyhow.
Well, there you have it in a nutshell, a young biker’s life in the New Mexico desert. I thought it was the good life. I guess I still do.
– Chandler Davidson
September 18, 2013 § 35 Comments
When you have a WordPress blog you can find out which search terms people use to discover your clever, amazing writing. It’s a great litmus test for the quality of your work and the quality of your readers. By examining the terms that people use to find your blog you can also get great insight into the ideas, thoughts, and concepts that stimulate your audience.
So I was honored (yet again) to review the search terms used to find “Cycling in the South Bay” over the last seven days, search terms like:
sam warford pictures
hey fuckface pvc
death pch bike newport beach
gas room heating flandria switch on
women spying on wankers
why don’t cyclists eat pig
And my favorite …
coach fucks cyclist in lycra videos
But it’s not all bad news
Aside from the rather depressing realization that the very best creative writing I have to offer attracts the lowest gutter-scum of the Internet, I continue to be buoyed by the things I witness while riding my bike. For example, I saw something really cool this morning on the NPR.
I’m now deep into the off season, which means that for the next ten days I’m only riding nine of them. My regular services at the Church of the New Pier Ride were curtailed this morning. Rather than trying to hammer for four laps I decided to suck wheel at the very back for two, after which I’d quit and pedal into work.
As I sat on the back I noticed one big ol’ wanker huffing and puffing to stay on the with the group. He’s a new NPR rider and has never made it the four full laps, typically getting shelled with the first hard surge up the Parkway. We were halfway done with the second lap and he was still there.
As the group accelerated up the modest rise to the bridge, he started to come off. That’s when I heard a somewhat stern voice say “Push harder!” It was Rider X, one of the bosses of the peloton.
Struggling Sam grunted his way back onto a wheel. “Good job,” said Rider X. “Now keep your damned head up. Don’t drop your head when you get tired or you’ll crash.”
Struggling Sam jerked his head up. “Okay,” he wheezed. The pace had slowed and he was firmly latched onto the back.
Another couple of minutes went by as Rider X, the dude who’s stonily silent most of the time and who strikes terror into the hearts of his enemies, gave helpful and friendly tips to Struggling Sam, which was just enough encouragement for him to hang on. “Never made it this far!” said Sam with an elated grin as the group hit the turnaround and I glided on alone, heading to the office, my day started with search terms like “happy.”
September 17, 2013 § 54 Comments
I’ve been puzzled by the split of opinions about where to ride on PCH. In the lane, or in the gutter? That’s the question, and it has evoked strong reactions.
On one side are the racers/ex-racers/soon-to-be-racer geeks who “know” how to ride safely. On the other side are the bike dorks — the dudes with mirrors, crusty machines, and weird signs hanging off their saddles. This is a simplification, since many “racer geeks” have also signaled their agreement with take-the-lane positioning on PCH by, well, taking the lane.
Still, it got me thinking about the cleavage. An FB page I frequent, “Cyclists Are Drivers,” and a web forum I belong to, the CABO forum, are both filled with bike dorks. The key feature of the dorks is that they are focused on facts, numbers, and hypotheses that can be tested with regard to cycling safety in traffic. They are often in sharp, even vitriolic disagreement.
The key feature of the racer geeks is that they are focused on riding their bikes fast, or at least pretending that what they’re doing will allow them to ride faster later. Racer geeks, unlike bike dorks, keep their disagreements on the down-low for the simple reason that they spend much of their time riding in groups with one another. They’re fundamentally group animals, whereas the bike dork tends to be more of a loner, at least to the extent that bike dorks seem to commute a lot by themselves, which makes their concern with traffic safety obvious.
The dislike of public arguments between race geeks makes sense when you see some of the online disagreements between the bike dorks. It would be hard to go have a fun group ride with a bunch of people you’ve just excoriated as misguided imbeciles.
How I joined the dorks
I became a bike dork by accident, or rather, I’ve always been a dork and the bike dorks won me over with, well, logic and debate. I won’t reiterate their reasoning, since it’s available by the ream to anyone who can do a Google search, other than to say that after trying out their lane control tactics on Del Amo and then Hawthorne, I found my traffic rides much less stressful. Lane control rides on PCH reconfirmed that taking the lane is superior to being a gutter bunny, at least for me.
What surprised me is how poorly the dorks’ ideas were received by many of my racer geek brethren. One of the bike dorks I respect the most had this to say with regard to racer geeks and the authority with which they speak regarding traffic skills:
Bike racers are to traffic skills instruction as auto-racers are to driving school instruction; not qualified unless they go though certification training. I know highly trained and traffic skilled racers, … and others who are terrified of traffic and ride like children, by hugging the curb in fear, and a spectrum in-between the two extremes. Just because someone is a racer, or has good paceline skills does not mean they also have bicycle driving skills. I’ve seen too many national and world class racers operate very hazardously in traffic to buy that common misbelief.
This, more than anything else, puzzled me. Are the people I’ve ridden with for years, people whose wheels I trust, people who have performed magic on two wheels, are they unqualified to speak about traffic skills on PCH because they haven’t taken some sort of course?
Sticking to PCH
The more I thought about it, the odder it seemed. One of our recent ride additions, a bike dork par excellence, had aroused the ire of the racer geek group with his riding. What was interesting was that his same behavior had annoyed me on our lane control ride, even though his antics were simply riding closer to the lane divider stripes than I thought reasonable.
Why would this behavior elicit such condemnation?
Then it hit me. The bike dork is primarily concerned with not getting hit by cars. The racer geek, although he’ll tell you that is his primary concern as well, is mostly concerned with not getting taken out by other riders. I don’t think I’ve ever actually witnessed a car hitting a bicyclist, but I’ve witnessed countless accidents on group rides caused by bad bike handling.
Now it was starting to make sense, sort of. The bike dorks are talking about where to ride safely in the lane. The racer geeks are trying to keep conformity within the peloton because that’s where the danger is greatest. Erratic, unpredictable moves cause crashes, scare the shit out of people, and act as a total buzzkill for what is supposed to be a fun social event. It may be true that the conformity would be even more easily handled, and bad bike handling would be more easily accommodated in the lane rather than in the gutter, but for purposes of the debate that doesn’t really matter.
The bike dork is viewed as a living, breathing threat to the racer geek’s bunch ride.
Traffic skills versus bunch riding skills
No one likes to be told, “Your biking skills suck.” Except me, because mine do, and I’m reminded of it every time I ride. I was amazed at how ignorant I was of basic traffic skills the couple of times I rode with Jim Hannon’s BCCC group. My default mode of “blow the stops,” and “consider red lights as advisements only” was the tip of the iceberg.
Lane control riding also required a new set of skills. Yet while I noticed — and notice — my traffic skills deficiencies, I also notice that there’s not one bike dork I’ve met yet whose wheel I’d take if the pace ever got over 21 mph, much less if it happened in a group. The bike dork, for all his traffic skill, is a hopeless threat when the pace picks up and the group gets congested.
This is where the auto-racing analogy breaks down. You will never simulate race car conditions on normal streets, i.e. tightly packed, one-way, high speed roadways with vehicles going well over 100 mph. But you will always, if you’re a racer geek, find yourself in tight bunches going at race speeds even on “easy” days. The useless car racing skills that are not relevant to traffic skills in a car become highly relevant if you’re a recreational rider who does “the Saturday ride.”
As a racer geek, I view the bike dork with great skepticism when he or she starts telling me what’s safe or where I should ride. “What the fuck do you know?” I think. “I’d drop you like a heavy turd from a tall horse without even trying.” Even more to the point, I do what every racer geek does when a new wheel appears in the group, regardless of how they’re dressed or what they’re riding or how fit they look. I give them a wide berth and pay scrupulous attention to how they handle their bike. Doing otherwise wil put you on the pavement, quickly.
It’s a two-way street
Just like racer geeks hate being told that their lifetime skills of bunch riding don’t count for squat when it comes to traffic safety skills, bike dorks hate having it pointed out that they’re slow, weak, can’t sprint, can’t climb, can’t hold a straight line, and that they terrify the shit out of everyone behind them. Bike dorks find that all the knowledge and expertise in the world won’t keep them in the group if they lack the lungs and the legs.
The racer geeks wrongly see this as proof that the bike dorks don’t know anything worth knowing. The bike dorks wrongly see it as evidence that racing skills are inapplicable to traffic, particularly when accompanied by running stop signs, blowing through yellow lights with fifty people on your wheel, etc.
Both groups are right up to a point. Bike dorks are correct that lane control works. People who do it find it less stressful than life in the gutter. Race geeks are right up to a point, as well. An authority on traffic safety who drops his head when he’s tired or who can’t hold a straight line is a much greater threat to the group than cars.
But both groups are also wrong. Bike racing skills do lend themselves easily and seamlessly to traffic skills as compared to new riders who are still unable to clip in without the risk of tipping over. It’s easier to train someone who rides 10,000 miles a year than someone who still can’t shift properly. And bike dorks are right in that lane control can make the whole bunch safer, and can more easily accommodate unskilled group riders.
One final note from the dorks
Of all the factoids and anecdotes I’ve run across, one of the most instructive was the bike dork observation that you, the racer geek, may not owe your survival to your great bike handling skills as much as you think. Cycling is statistically one of the safest recreational activities you can do, with a rate of .26 deaths per million cycling activities. Compared to skydiving, with a rate of 128 per million, cycling seems to be quite a bargain.
Better put, the chance that you’ll be killed on your bike is tiny, whether you ride in the gutter or in the lane. Whether you’re a wobbling Willy or a stoplight-flaunting Eddy Wannabe, the numbers are on your side. So it would seem that those who vociferously oppose lane control on PCH should be willing to try it out for a month or two, ’cause it ain’t gonna kill ya. Then get back to me and see if maybe you don’t have a bit of the bike dork in you, after all.
September 13, 2013 § 5 Comments
Call it the low season, call it the beer season, call it the ‘cross season, call it the off season if you must, but it should also be the season, however briefly, to thank those who’ve spent so much time and energy watering the grass roots of cycling.
Who pours more energy, more money, more enthusiasm, more style, and more quality product into all of the SoCal cycling disciplines than SPY Optic? No one. Whether they’re funding a new women’s squad, sponsoring ‘cross races, offering up high quality primes, or donating a cooler of beer, SPY has reminded us every single day this year that great things happen when we focus on happy.
If any person defies the physical law that you can’t occupy two different spaces at the same time, it’s Dorothy. She’s a passionate cycling advocate. She’s a tireless race promoter. She’s a dog lover. She’s an advocate for gender equality in sports. And she puts on one hell of a ‘cross race. If thousands of people now look forward to the “on” season of cyclocross from September through February in SoCal, it’s thanks to Dorothy.
He’s the only pro I know who thinks that ordinary people on bikes are just as important as the speed freaks. Rahsaan does the local rides, shares his encyclopedic knowledge with the youngsters and the crusty masters wannabes, and does it all with class, style, and impeccable fashion. In addition to his outreach to youth through the Bahati Foundation, Rahsaan has the magic touch of making people want to be better, and he’s touched so many lives it’s almost unbelievable.
I’ve written about her before, but this woman defines commitment and perseverance. She’s one of the few who sees bike racing as a touchstone for other, more important things in life, not as the end-all, be-all that many coaches hold up as the goal. Connie gives kids skills and experiences that make them better, stronger, healthier people, whether they continue cycling all their lives or turn to something else. She does it quietly, for the pleasure of the result.
PV Bike Chicks
They pick a target, then they hit it. Their target? Getting more women interested in cycling. PV Bike Chicks has grown to become a force on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and environs. They provide encouragement, support, training opportunities, education, and plain old good times to any woman who wants to get out and pedal. Plus, they make a mean carrot cake!
He’s a one-man whirlwind powered by his wife Debbie, who has the strength of a thousand Jims. Jim has taken the Beach Cities Cycling Club and ramped it up into an inclusive club that numbers over 500 riders in the South Bay. Jim’s efforts have led to more than 214 miles of dedicated bike routes in the South Bay, and he does it by building consensus, making friends, and never taking his foot off the gas. He shares his knowledge and resources with incredible generosity and makes the roads safer for every single cyclist out there.
Some call him stubborn. Some call him funny. Some call him irreverent. Everyone calls him crazy. Now in his 400th year of race promoting, Chris swings the bat a dozen times each year to provide quality, convenient, affordable racing to cyclists in SoCal. He does it with a flare all his own, and he makes no apologies. Quick to take offense, he’s just as quick to kiss and make up. Without Chris and his commitment to local bike racing, we’d have a shit-ton fewer opportunities to race our bikes, and even fewer funny stories.
Big Orange used to just be a masters racing team. It’s now the most inclusive and the largest bike racing club in the South Bay, and it’s all thanks to Greg and his open door policy. No snobbery, no hierarchies, just a welcome and an opportunity to learn how to race your bike. Sure, that ugly little orange thing on his saddle is annoying, especially when it’s riding away from you. Sure, his endless lectures on “tactics” make your eyes roll back in your head like dials on a slot machine. But when you crash out, flat, or get a boo-boo on your butt, Greg’s the guy who will stop and take care of you. And feed you beer.
Robert Efthimos a/k/a Sausage a/k/a C.P.
There’s a reason more and more West Siders are riding in the South Bay now, and the reason is Sausage. He’s one of those people who make riding fun. With hilarious and skilled videos that capture the camaraderie and silliness of bicycling, Robert has a way of making people want some of what he’s got — and what he’s got is kindness, self-deprecation, and a good pair of legs.
Martin Howard and the Long Beach Freddies
Martin and his gang have put on their first full season of grass roots racing at Great Parks and Eldo, and it’s been a huge success. Neither cracked ribs, deflated lungs, or ambulance trips in the middle of 500-mile beatdowns have kept these guys from relentlessly promoting the message of fun and healthy competition on bikes. Hats off to you, after the tube gets taken out of your chest!
This phenomenal, homegrown cycling publication is the manifestation of extraordinary talent and hard work by guys like BJ Hale, Danny Munson, and the rest of the CI crew. The online and print versions keep us apprised of the news and keep us excited about what’s happening on the bike in SoCal. They do it on a shoestring, but it feels like a major masterpiece, and in between the brushstrokes they also hold down jobs, families, and (allegedly at least) real lives. We owe you.
The Anonymous Ones
They’re the individuals who donate to cycling foundations, who dig into their hip pocket to fund a bike racer, who contribute silently to the bicycling causes about which we all care. They do it without fanfare and in anonymity. Rather than leaving their name on a building, they prefer to leave their mark on a life. I know many of you, and admire you most of all.
September 11, 2013 § 42 Comments
So this dude pulled up to me and said, “Can we talk? I have some concerns about the upcoming Sunday ride.”
In my world, “I have concerns” means “I have a problem, and the problem is YOU.” Either that, or it means “I have a problem and I’d like YOU to fix it.” It never means “Here’s some free money” or “Would you please sleep with my beautiful wife for me?”
“Sure, dude. What’s up?” I glanced at his helmet mirror and the giant flappy sign hanging off his saddle that said “Bikes May Take The Full Lane.”
“I’ve got some organizational concerns,” he said.
This was another DefCon 1 word. “Organization” is to my life what “battery acid” is to a rectal probe. “Oh,” I said.
“Yes. I’m concerned that if we have an extremely large group show up on Sunday we will need to instruct them to break into smaller groups for safety.”
“Definitely. Our first ‘take the lane’ ride on PCH was 100% successful in forcing vehicles to change lanes prior to overtaking us.”
“Our ride?” I asked.
“Well, your ride,” he corrected himself.
“Dude, that wasn’t ‘my’ ride. That was me riding down PCH and bunch of other people going with me. I don’t own it.”
“Yes, well, my organizational concerns are that if we have too many people it will actually be a problem, so we need to instruct them at the beginning to break into manageable groups and … “
“Well, you. I mean, you could tell them … “
We were packed into a tight formation on Vista del Mar as the peloton returned from a modestly-paced Tuesday morning NPR. Signage Dude had been shelled the second the pace picked up, and had been forced to wait for the ride to end in order to get back with the pack. “Dude,” I began. “You see that motherfucker right there?” I pointed to Dawg.
Signage Dude flinched at the obscenity. “Him?”
“Yeah, him. That motherfucker is one of the bad-assedest track racers in the country. He’s also a crit boss and one-man leadout train.”
“What about him?”
“You know what he’s gonna say when you tell him he needs to ride in some special group?”
Signage Dude knew where this was going. “What?”
“If you’re lucky, he’s not gonna say anything. Then he’s just gonna keep riding like he always rides.”
Signage Dude nodded.
“And that motherfucker there. See him?” I pointed to Bull. “That motherfucker rides ten thousand miles a year and breaks dicks as easy as you or I break eggshells. You know when you got your dick broke going up Pershing before we even started going hard?”
“Yeah, dude, dick broke. When your fucking dick was hanging out of your shorts and getting whaled on so hard that it busted up into tiny little pieces and you had to pull over to collect the fragments, remember that? That was Bull taking his first warm-up pull. He had the whole fucking peloton strung out single file for two miles on the first lap. You really gonna tell the Bull that he needs to get in some fucking group to ride his bike?”
“Well … “
“See that motherfucker?” I pointed to Rahsaan.
Signage Dude nodded.
“Motherfucker is the former elite national crit champ. Wins fucking races just by showing up and scaring the shit out of the competition. Dude is such a badass he has a tattoo on his butt that says ‘BAD.’ You gonna tell that motherfucker how to ride?”
“Well,” Signage Dude said. “No one here knows me. I’m new in town. But they know you. So you could tell them.”
“You got the first part right, bro. No one fucking knows you, or rather, they do know you. Every fucking biker on the NPR has taken note of that giant sign and they’re avoiding your ass like the plague. You might as well have a bumper sticker that says ‘Crashtastic Sam’ on it.”
“It’s for the cars.”
“I know it’s for the cars, dude, but the point is no one knows you. You can’t just show up from Minnetonka one day and start telling these motherfuckers how to ride their bikes.”
“But you can … “
“No, dude, I can’t. I’m just a blogger dude who rides his bike. And you know what?”
“Most of these motherfuckers are out here for one reason and one reason only.”
“This is the one place no one tells them what to do. No old lady saying ‘quit drizzling piss on the toilet rim.’ No psycho boss telling them to ‘get it done yesterday.’ No sagdick husband saying ‘You ride too much.’ Get it? This is where we put our mental illnesses aside for a while and are, you know, free.”
“Yes, but in the name of safety … “
“Fuck safety. If you want to ride your bike safely, take the fucking lane. I do. If you want to gutter bunny it, or ride ten abreast on a busy highway, or unicycle on the freeway, fuck it man, do it. No one gives a rat’s pecker. But the minute you start telling these motherfuckers how to ride, bro, you’re gonna be getting a little push back.”
“Hmmm,” he said.
“We don’t have much in this life,” I continued. “But while we’re on the iron maiden, we’re free. You fuck with that freedom at your peril.”
“I see your point.”
“Good. Glad you’re in town and glad you’re riding with us. See you Sunday, I hope.”
And I meant it.
September 7, 2013 § 11 Comments
First, it went “click-click-click.” It was an unnatural, grinding sound, and despite the cacophony of whirring carbon rims, clicking derailleurs, and spinning chains, our ears were finely tuned from the instinct of self preservation to quickly pick up any sound that didn’t belong, and this one didn’t belong.
I couldn’t see the origin of the click but since it was ahead and to the right I moved left as the clicking became the mashing clash of a pedal caught in spokes followed by the cursing and the inevitable smashing sound of a plastic and metal bike hitting the ground at full speed, body and head and arms and legs attached. The chain reaction included the guy who slammed into the twisted mess at full speed, and also the idiot who had awoken that morning with the terrible foreboding that today he would crash badly and even though he had plenty of space and time to avoid the catastrophe, he gave in willingly to what he thought was fate but what was actually nothing more mysterious than his decision to chew up some asphalt with his face.
I steered through the carnage and chased onto the peloton, now reduced by half thanks to the crash and a very manageable field of about thirty riders. My teammate F-1 Jim had gotten stuck behind the crash and been given a free lap, so the next time around he rejoined us.
On the first turn through the start-finish another foolish person smoked into the turn and made idiots of everyone behind him, as an even bigger crash ensued. One victim vaulted head first into the pavement, and as he bounced, shedding teeth, skin, and valuable bicycle components, he had the presence of mind to scream “You stupid motherfucking idiot sonofabitch!” at the bleeding, inert corpse that had caused the pile-up.
Rather than shed precious teeth and sensitive skin in the pursuit of blaming the crasher, I focused on the only two options before me: Hit the bloody head of the corpse, or shoot a narrow gap in the barricades and race up the sidewalk over the grass, and back onto the course without, hopefully, killing the baby twins in the pram and the nice, terrified lady pushing them.
I executed the escape and returned to the course just as F-1 Jim, caught behind yet another crash, made his way up to me. Rather than chase, he cleverly approached the official and requested another free lap. Terrified and gassed as I was, taking a breather sounded like a great idea, so I followed his lead.
The official had other ideas. “Did you crash?” he asked.
“No,” we said.
“Then you’re chasing!”
Now we were hopelessly behind, but not out of stratagems. We madly raced to the start-finish and relayed our sob story to yet another official. “Okay,” he said. “Go over to the pit.”
Along with a BBI wanker, we flipped a u-turn in the middle of the race course and dashed to the pit. The announcer and officials began screaming. “Hey, you’re going the wrong way! You can’t do that!”
Once at the pit we changed our story up a bit to make it even more calamitous. I explained how I’d had to bunny hop Godzilla’s penis and climb out of a 30-foot sinkhole filled with black adders.
The official, who was dumber than a sack of broken dicks, accepted the story without question. “But that wrong-way maneuver to the pit was against the rules. You’re all three DQ’d!”
“Maybe we are!” I snarled. “But just wait ’til next year!”
September 1, 2013 § 24 Comments
It was a crazy busy Labor Day Saturday in the bike shop, a bike shop I’ve only used once before.
“Hey, man, my handlebar tape’s shot. Any way you could wrap my bars for me and slap on a new tire?”
The harried owner grabbed a ticket. “Sure,” he said with a friendly smile.
“Oh, man, I’m so sorry to ask this, but could you do it, like, now?”
His workstand was empty, and he gave me the quick up-and-down lookover, standing there as I was in my NPR kit and covered in sweat. Bike shops are funny. If you’re halfway polite and you need something done so you can ride your bike, they tend to give you priority. There’s nothing a real bike shop owner hates worse than not being able to service a cyclist who needs something in order to actually ride right now.
“Can you wait thirty minutes?”
“Of course. Man, I really appreciate it.”
He nodded and wheeled my bike around the counter.
Then, in walked Safari Jim. You know how you can tell some people are assholes before they ever open their mouth? They might as well have “I’m an asshole” tattooed on their forehead, because you know at first glance that “This dude is an asshole.” And he always is.
This particular asshole had a jaunty, very expensive safari hat on his head. You need those in SoCal because you never know when you’ll have to shoot, gut, and skin an elephant. “I need some wheels,” said Safari.
I glanced at the ceiling of the bike shop, which had at least fifty wheelsets hanging on hooks. “You’ve come to the right place,” said the owner.
“I’m looking for the Shimano WH-9000 carbon/aluminum clinchers.”
“Well, that’s lucky, because I have a pair right here.” The shop owner took down the wheels. They were absolutely gorgeous.
“These are $1,300.”
“That’s too expensive!” said the asshole. “I can get them on the Internet for $1,100.”
This is of course the reason I don’t run a bike shop, because it’s the point in the conversation that I would have said, “Well, maybe now is a great time to start clicking your mouse and get the fuck out of my shop.”
But the owner smiled. He waved his hands at his shop. “This,” he said “isn’t the Internet.”
Asshole didn’t back down. “You’re charging two hundred over the MSRP. I can get a pair of these wheels at a shop in San Luis Obispo right now for $1,100. See?” He held up his smart phone to show the owner.
I couldn’t stand it any more. “No, dude, you can’t,” I said.
He looked over at me. “Can’t what?”
“You can’t get those wheels in SLO right now.”
“Because it’s 4:00 PM on a Labor Day Saturday. With traffic you’re looking at a four-hour round trip drive. They’ll be closed when you get there.”
He swiveled back to the owner. “I don’t see any reason why I should pay that much,” he insisted. “What year are these wheels anyway?”
“These are 2013.”
“The 2014 are already out. Why should I pay more for an outdated set of wheels?”
I looked at his droopy gut, saggy bosom, and fat knees. “Dude,” I thought “whether they were made in 2013 or 1913 probably isn’t going to make you ride any faster.”
“I’d at least like to know the technical specifications for the difference between these and the 2014′s,” he said.
“Just a moment,” said the shop owner. “Let me see if I have that information.”
He looked uncertainly at me. “These are clinchers, right?”
“No,” I wanted to say. “Those are glueless beaded tubulars, dumbshit. And you’re asking for ‘technical specs’ when you don’t even know the fucking difference between a tubular and a clincher?” But instead I said, ”You sure seem to be interested in those wheels.”
“I am.” Then under his breath he said, “I bought a new 11-speed Shimano group on the Internet. Got an unbelievable deal. Then I took them over to a different bike shop to build up the frame. No way I’m paying retail for a group, heh, heh.”
“So why don’t you get the wheelset at the other shop?”
“They don’t have it.”
“Can’t they order it?”
“I want it now.”
It was kind of impressive, the way this jackass was singlehandedly making every bike shop in the South Bay of Los Angeles hate his fucking guts.
The owner came back. “Do you live around here?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah. I live in Manhattan Beach. We’ve been there for five years now. My wife bought the house while I was on a business trip.”
The owner nodded. “I don’t have the new specs for the 2014 wheelsets yet, but I can try to get the Shimano sales rep on Tuesday to get you that information.”
“Well, I like these wheels but they’re overpriced for old wheels.”
“Dude,” I said.
“Did your wife really buy you an entire fucking house in Manhattan Beach while you were on a business trip?”
“Yes,” he proudly smiled. “It’s a very large and beautiful place.”
“I’m sure the fuck it is. And after dropping two mil on a house now you’re haggling with a damn bike shop over a couple hundred bucks for a pair of wheels? You fucking kidding me?”
He turned beet red. “Well, she and I keep our money in separate accounts.”
“I’m sure you do. And these wheels apparently need to come out of hers.”
He was now so embarrassed that he folded. “They are nice wheels.”
“Damn straight they are. Now buy ‘em and slap ‘em on that new bike. You’re gonna love ‘em.”
He nodded at the shop owner. “I’ll take them. They come with covers and skewers, right?”
“Of course, sir.” The owner took his money and bagged the wheels and waved good-bye.
The mechanic had finished wrapping my bars and putting on a new tire. He grinned as he pushed over the bill. Amazingly, it was very, very, very cheap.