Highway to hell

February 1, 2014 § 6 Comments

When you put a bunch of bike racers shoulder to shoulder, you shouldn’t be surprised if there’s some bumping and shouting, or if someone winds up on the deck. No one hit the floor in this instance, but several went home on unsteady legs. I got up the next morning with only a slight hangover, trying to remember the ride plan. Since the Monument was only a day away, I needed a very short, very flat, very easy recovery ride to spin the beer out of my legs. “Maybe Ozzie texted me,” I thought. I checked, and he had. “Erik’s at 7:15. MB Pier at 8:00.”

I dressed and pedaled down the hill to Erik’s. He opened the door and looked surprised. “Hey, man.”

“Hey. We’re meeting here at 7:15, right?”

“We are? I hadn’t heard, but come on in.” I showed him Ozzie’s text. “First I’ve heard of it.”

“He must have been drunk,” I said, recalling that I hadn’t been exactly sober.

We got to the Pier and Ozzie was waiting for us. “Hey, man,” I said. “How come you weren’t at Erik’s? And how come you didn’t tell him we were meeting there at 7:15?”

Ozzie stared at me stonily. “The reason I didn’t go is because I’m staying about a mile from the Pier, and Erik’s house is seven miles away.”


“And the reason I didn’t tell him is because it was already past midnight when we left the bar, with you screaming and yelling to everyone in the damned bar to ‘Meet at Erik’s!’”

“I did?” My memory had some pretty gaps after about ten p.m.

“Yes, you did. And I told you we were meeting at the Pier at eight but you weren’t having any of it. You were going to Erik’s come hell or high water and trying to bring about forty other people with you, including that blind girl in the wheelchair.”

“I was?”

Ozzie was getting pissed as he recalled what sounded like a very obnoxious point in time. “Yes, you were. And I kept telling you that I wasn’t going to Erik’s and you weren’t listening. ‘Eric’s!’ you kept raving like a madman. So when you staggered out of the bar with that empty Mason jar of cherry moonshine in your fist you screamed ‘Text me so I don’t forget!’ Then I think you passed out and Manslaughter carried you back to his car. So I texted you. And I wasn’t about to text Erik at midnight. Hope you didn’t wake up their baby this morning.”

Recovery is key

This was going to be an easy coffee cruise the day before the big race. We’d pedal to Santa Monica, grab coffee, and go home. Years of experience had taught me that the day before the Monument you needed to avoid any exertion. Murray, New Guy, Sailor, and Worldchamp left with us. New Guy was on his second group ride ever and was pretty excited. Once we got to Santa Monica the ride plan changed, as Erik didn’t want to stop for coffee. I’d missed the turn to the bike bath and suggested we just “go easy up Mandeville.”

Mandeville is a six-mile climb.

We did the climb, slowly, then returned for Santa Monica. As we passed by the Santa Monica Pier, New Guy turned to me. “Where do we turn?” He’d already jumped out ahead of the group a couple of times and overshot turns, so he wanted to make sure he knew where he was going.

As the experienced leader of the group, I patted him on the shoulder. This was my turf, my route, an area I could navigate with my eyes closed. “Follow me, grasshopper.”

A few streets later, with the entire gang on my wheel, I pointed. “Right turn!” I shouted in a commanding voice. Like lemmings, everyone followed as I swooped onto the right-hander hairpin that was the on-ramp for Interstate 10.

“Oh, fuck!” I yelled. “Wrong turn!”

Brakes screeched, oaths flew, a pair of cars narrowly avoided killing us all, and we got back on the surface street, pale. “Sorry, guys,” I mumbled.

New Guy was amazed. At that moment we came to the correct intersection. “Here! Right turn!” I shouted with authority as the lemmings turned with me once again.

“Easy to see how you could have confused those two turns,” New Guy said. “One is a narrow hairpin with a huge concrete embankment on both sides that says ‘Interstate 10′ and the other is a wide boulevard with palm trees and an ocean vista.”

We safely made it to Peet’s. “Coffee’s on me,” I said sheepishly.

Worldchamp turned to me. “I thought you said this was a pre-ride easy day before the hardest race of the year.”

“It is.”

“How many miles does this give you?”

“About 80.”

Nobody said anything.


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Three words

January 31, 2014 § 20 Comments

When I hear a funny noise on my bike I do the following two things: 1) Ignore it and hope it goes away. 2) If it doesn’t go away, hope that it’s nothing serious.

Some noises, though, are harder to ignore than others. This one happened every time I touched the rear brake on my ‘cross bike. Iw was the loudest, most horrific, piercing shriek you have ever heard in your life. It was so loud that it not only hurt my ears, it would startle passing motorists who had their windows rolled up while listening to Led Zeppelin. It was so loud that joggers a block away would jump when I braked. You probably think I’m exaggerating.

You’re wrong.

After about four days the noise kept getting worse. It was such a piercing scream that I started to think maybe it was serious. This led to a problem. If I checked out the source of the noise and found out that something was indeed wrong, I’d have to fix it. If I had to fix it I would end up taking out the three tools in my toolbox — hammer, screwdriver, pliers — and making the problem worse. Then I’d have to take it over to my mechanic, Boozy, and have him laugh at me before replacing all the parts I’d destroyed.

All of this was going through my mind as I hurtled down Silver Spur at 45 mph. A car started to pull out in front of me, and I touched the rear brake, which had the intended effect. The eardrum-shattering shriek frightened the driver into slamming on her brakes. I flashed past, pleased that my early warning system was so effective, but also troubled. What if this unearthly, mind-bending noise meant that the brakes were about to fail? The thought of going down Silver Spur like that without any brakes almost worried me.

I pedaled along PV Drive until I came to a stop sign. Resignedly I got off to inspect the rear brake. Perhaps there were no more brake pads and this was the sound of metal calipers on metal rim? Nope. Perhaps there was something wrong with the brake mechanism itself? I stared intently at the complex, mysterious piece of machinery known as “bicycle brake,” hoping that today, after all these years, its workings would finally make sense and I could somehow fix them. But, like a chimpanzee staring at an x-ray, the brake remained inscrutable.

Next I checked the rim and immediately found the culprit. It appeared that during one of my more energetic chain lubing sessions in which I had enthusiastically lubed the chain, the stays, the tire, my feet, and most of the sliding glass window on the balcony, I had gotten a few quarts of lubricant on the rim. The lube had, over time, picked up filth and gunk from the road, resulting in one side of the rim being completely coated with a thick, black, gooey tar that apparently didn’t mesh well with the brake pads.

The solution seemed simple: Wipe off the crud. I took a finger and ran it along the rim, expecting the gunk to come right off. It didn’t. Instead it smeared and left my finger covered with the tar. Next, I tried it with another finger, then another, until both my hands were black with oily crud, but the quantity on the rim appeared about the same. Over on the roadside was a bush with big leaves, so I went over and collected a few. Then I bent over and started vigorously rubbing the rim with a big green leaf.

At that moment a super pro-looking dude in a pro-looking kit on a bike cruised by on his 10k machine. He glanced at me disdainfully, as if he’d never seen a goofball riding a ‘cross bike with a huge red blinky light in the middle of the day while repairing his bike with some leaves. I expected him so say, “You okay?” but he pedaled quickly by.

The leaves had magical crud-removal properties, and in a few moments the rim was clean. I spun it and clenched the brakes — no squeal. This was the first time I had ever addressed a bike problem and solved it. I hopped on the bike and pedaled after Mr. Rudely. Soon enough I caught up to him. He had those 450-mile-a-week legs of a 20-something dreamer who thinks that if he just rides more and races more he will get a pro contract.

“Hi, there!” I chirped.

He turned his head towards me and made the grimmest half-smile, followed by a slight nod to acknowledge that I existed, sort of. “Nice day, huh!” I eagerly chirped some more. He nodded again, slightly, staring straight ahead. I could tell what he was thinking.

“Here I am on my easy day and I’ve been overtaken by the world champion Fred who repairs his bike with leaves and pedals 15 mph at 150 rpm. This sucks balls.”

I zoomed past, turned onto PV Drive West, and headed up the little bump out of Malaga Cove. At the top I slowed down considerably and Mr. Rudely passed me. I hopped on behind him, figuring it would drive him insane, which it did. Since he was obviously on a recovery day, he wasn’t going to hammer away from me, so he took the opposite tack. He slowed down until I passed him. I laughed to myself. “Nobody beats Wanky in the slows.” So I slowed down until he passed me again.

Now he was really pissed. “Hi again!” I chirped.

He sped up and I hopped on his wheel. Then he realized it was his recovery day, so he slowed back down. As I read the sponsors on his jersey, I wondered if he knew that by being such a prick he was causing me to memorize the name of each sponsor so that I would never, ever, ever buy any of their products? I wondered if it occurred to him that by stopping, or even slowing, to say “You okay?” he and his club and his Orange County shop would have done the best advertising possible? And of course I wondered if it occurred to him that by refusing to even speak to me because of my dorkiness he proved to be an even bigger dork than I?

Seeeeeeeerious cycling

Road cycling has a tradition of snobbery, rudeness, unfriendliness, and contempt for those who are slower and weaker than you. Why? Mountain bikers are glad you’re out on the trails with them. I wish I had a dollar for each time an MTB friend has invited me to try out trail riding. Cyclocross racers are the same. They only want to ride with you and drink beer, and many don’t even want to ride. Track riders are a little more serious, but the ice is easily broken your second or third time out and they will bend over backwards to show you the tricks of the trade.

Not road racers, though. Although there are plenty of friendly, down to earth riders, there is a distinct class of road racing snobs. Whether you’re riding with a mirror, or the expiration date on your white shorts has passed, or you’re working on your bike with an old leaf, they believe you are NOT WORTHY.

That’s when I think about Fields. Fields was the best, the cagiest, the one who trained hardest, and the one who dominated the peloton. But he never looked down on anyone because of the bike they rode or the clothes they wore. And if he passed you on a ride he’d always offer a friendly greeting, not to mention stop if you were stranded with a mechanical on the side of the road. Fields believed that people earned scorn and contempt when they acted like assholes, not when they were out enjoying a bicycle ride.

Mr. Rudely and I did another set of slow – and – pass before he got so angry that he stomped by me on the Switchbacks. I followed at about three bike lengths. When we got to the college the light was red. We stopped. I smiled. “Where are you riding today?”

“What’s that?” he said.

“Where are you riding today?”

He twirled his finger in the air as if circling the PV Peninsula. “Loops.” Then he telepathically communicated something along the lines of please-shut-up-now.

I left him for good this time, touching my rear brake occasionally on the long descent. They were perfectly silent. Maybe I’m not such a bad mechanic after all.


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A penny, or $71.76, for your thoughts

January 30, 2014 § 26 Comments

I am motivated by money. There are countless things I do in daily my life that I wouldn’t do if it weren’t for money. In fact, if it weren’t for my hungry desire to get money, my entire life would be radically different.

The first time I ever did something for money I was five. My brother had taken several cases of crackerjack-type snacks on consignment for some school fundraising thing or other, and he had to sell them. The problem was that we lived at 1512 Rosenberg Street in Galveston, across from the Ursuline Convent. This meant that one side of the street was inhabited by nuns, and the rest of the neighborhood was inhabited by people even poorer than we were.

My pal Chris’s mom was a prostitute and heroin addict. The Rodriguez family had seven kids and covered their windows with bedsheets to keep out the rain. The one or two families that weren’t destitute were close to it or they were retirees living on a very tight budget. In other words, Ian’s customer base for all those snacks was nil.

After a couple of failed door-to-door attempts, he hit on an idea. “Hey, Dad!” he said.


“I know how we can sell all these snacks!”

“We?” Dad had been against the project from its inception, mainly because he’d sold Fuller brushes door-to-door, and had also briefly tried to sell newly constructed homes to passing motorists. He knew first-hand what the word “hopeless” meant.

“Yeah! Me and Seth!”

“Seth doesn’t have anything to do with this.”

“Sure he does. He said wanted to sell ‘em with me. Dincha?” He looked over at me but I didn’t answer. Under his breath he said, “Say you did, dummy!”

“I did,” I said not even halfheartedly, perhaps it was 1/16 heartedly, or even 1/32.

“So what’s your idea?” Dad asked.

“Take us down to the ferry landing. We’ll sell ‘em to all those people waiting for the ferry.”

Dad nodded. “That’s actually a pretty good idea.”

“See?” Ian said. “Let’s go!”

It was a Saturday, so we climbed into the Galaxie 500 and drove over to the ferry that ran between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula. It was hot and humid and the air was filled with mosquitoes as it always was. Ian started at the front of the line and I started at the back.

The ferry wait was long and boring, and the people in cars were thrilled to buy the crackerjacks. By the time we met halfway we’d both sold our entire inventory. I’d never seen so much cash in my life, close to a hundred dollars.

“This is great!” Ian said. “We gotta go back to school and order some more crackerjacks! We’ll be zillionaires!”

“Just a minute,” Dad said. “You’re not getting paid to do any of this, and it’s taking up my time, and I don’t want to spend another Saturday down at the landing. You’ve sold your quota, and we’re done.”

When it came time to turn over the money to his teacher, Ian, ever the businessman, only forked over half the money. “This total isn’t right,” Mrs. Johnson said.

“I know.”

“Where’s the rest of the money, or the crackerjacks?”

“They got stole.”

“They did?”

“Yeah.” Then he made up a story about how someone had stolen two of the cases while he was selling them on the ferry landing. When he got home he crowed about his windfall.

“You better give me some,” I said.

“I ain’t giving you nothin’ and you can’t make me.”

“Then I’m gonna tell Dad and you’re gonna be in big trouble for stealin’.”

“If you tell Dad I’m gonna beat you up so bad you little crybaby.”

“I’m tellin’ then.”

“Hold on!” Ian fished into his fortune of fifty dollars and gave me five. “If you ever say a word I’ll kill ya, ya little snitch.” I greedily took the fiver, never thinking to demand half, and happily sharing in the spoils of the crime.

Money, money, money

That little five-dollar caper sparked my lifelong appreciation of money and desire to have more of it. Unfortunately, that desire has always been compromised by something I read in a book written by my dad’s communist friend, Max Crawford. It’s a line I can’t forget. “If you want to make money, you have to take it from somebody.”

That line has haunted me my entire life, making me feel guilty about every penny I ever earned.

So when I decided to put a link on my blog where people could subscribe, I felt really weird about it. Why? Because my blog is the one thing I would do whether it ever made a nickel. I write because … well … because. And when I put up the subscription link, and people began subscribing, it felt really weird to actually get money for something that I’d do anyway. When I got a report from PayPal that said my account now had $92 in it, I switched from “weird” to “that’s legit beer money!”

And it was good.

Then out of the blue I got a letter yesterday. Inside it were two things, a note and a check. You might see it and say “You’ll never get rich blogging, pal,” but you’re wrong. With friends like this, I already am.

photo 2photo 1

When Johnny comes marching home again

January 29, 2014 § 23 Comments

I had my nose stuck to the stem, legs spinning, lungs maxed out like it’s supposed to be on Lap 1 of the New Pier Ride.

I swung off and saw HIM. “Whaaaaa?” I thought, but before I could confirm that it was HIM another wanker had hit the front full gas and I pounded to keep my place in the line.

I rotated back, watching Sausage studiously avoid the front, watching Prez cagily twirl his legs while avoiding the front, watching the mass of riders who were there for the NPR workout but who weren’t necessarily there to work and certainly weren’t there to go to the front.

As I cruised in the rotation back up to the hot part of the kitchen I saw HIM again. Unmistakably, it was HIM.

“That you?” I said, knowing that it was.

He grinned back at me, skinny and barely able to fill out the legs of his bib shorts. “Yeah,” he said.

“Welcome home, wanker.”

“Thanks, man.”

Then I hit it as hard as I could and tried to shell him.

Baby, please don’t go

One by one the other riders in the herd recognized him. They all did a double take when they saw how much weight he had lost.

Chiseled Girl rolled by. “Oh, my dog! It’s you! It’s really you!” She put an arm around him as we pedaled at 30 mph in the weaving, swirling bunch of crazies. “But where’s the other half of you?” she asked, marveling at his thinness.

He laughed. “It’s called the Afghanistan MRE Diet. Not as glamorous as South Beach, but way more effective.”

A steady stream of friends came by in between attacks and paid him the ultimate biker compliment. “Welcome home. Dude, you’re fuggin’ lean!”

We had all watched him ship out the year before with a terrible sense of dread. It was his second tour, and after following the progress of his first one, which had been in Iraq, most of us were terrified. To make matters worse, he left us about as eagerly as a dog going into the vet’s examining room.

There are so many good reasons to hate war, and you can add this one to the list: Seeing a good friend vanish off to a faraway place and wondering if he or she will encounter any of the randomly bad things that can happen to unwelcome soldiers. That doesn’t just include the obvious hazards such as getting shot, stepping on a mine, getting blown up by a bomb, having your aircraft shot down while you’re in it, getting kidnaped, getting beaten up, getting tortured, or winding up as “Missing in Action,” it includes the noncombat bad endings as well like accidentally shooting yourself, suicide, tropical diseases, getting hit by a bus, falling off the bar stool and cracking open your head, slipping in the shower, food poisoning, depression, PTSD, root canals, getting operated on by a quack, falling into a giant piece of machinery and getting ground up into little bits, getting lost and dying from thirst, plagues of locusts, smallpox, and, yes, ending up in the belly of a whale.

So when I saw him there on his bike, skinny as a rail, all of his pre-tour insulation smelted off his bones, pounding like every other idiot on the ride, a wave of relief washed over me.

He’d made it, and to make matters better in a few months he would be retired. No more deployments, no more whale bellies.

The more things don’t change, the more they stay the same

We chatted for a few more seconds.  “When did you get back?”

“Last night.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah, around six.”

“It doesn’t look like you’ve lost much in the firepower department, man. You’re going great.”

“Just happy to be home.” He looked at me briefly and that phrase “happy to be home” came from somewhere deep down. It was followed by a smile of happiness and relief that, as I think about it, I may have never seen before on another human being.

“We’re glad to have you home,” I said.

He glanced at the peloton. “Nothing seems to have changed.”

“Right. Same bunch of idiots trying to kill each other before work.”

“Feels awesome,” he said, right before attacking hard and riding off the front for good.

“Damn,” I thought. “Wonder where I can get me some of those Meals-Ready-to-Eat?”

Treat me like a dog

January 27, 2014 § 23 Comments

We had just finished a major Sunday tweezle ride. New Girl, Erik the Red, Diego’s Mom, Ozzie, Texas Loverboy, and Teddy Bear were all sitting on the bricks at the Center of the Known Universe, quaffing coffee and enjoying the late morning sunshine.

Teddy Bear took a sip of his Venti double mocha soy latte with chocolate sprinkles topped with low fat whipping cream and looked at me as our thighs touched. “I can’t imagine life without my children,” he said. “They’re what make life worth living.”

I generally enjoy agreeing with people, except for the times I don’t, which is pretty much always. “That’s not what the latest statistics say.”

“Oh?” asked Teddy Bear.

“Yeah,” I said. “Studies show that parents tend to be unhappier in their relationships than non-parents.”

“Hmmm,” he said. “That’s weird.”

At that exact moment Teddy Bear’s smoking hot wife, Peggy Sue, strolled up in her Lululemon yoga pants. “Hi, Sweets,” she said, bending over to give him a wet, tonguey kiss. “How was your ride?”

Teddy Bear, who is worth $47.982 million dollars, owns a ship, and makes more money off interest from his investments while he sleeps than I’ve earned in salary since I was 18, returned the wet kiss. “What were you saying?” he asked me.

At that moment, up walked Chiseled Girl with her dog, Archeaopteryx. Archeaopteryx is a big, brown, short-haired Pure Breed Dog of unknown provenance. Archaeopteryx hopped up on the bricks where we were sitting and investigated Teddy Bear’s coffee concoction. “Oh, I’m sorry,” said Chiseled Girl. “You’re not a dog person, are you?”

“Not really,” said Teddy Bear, “but I don’t mind,” even though he clearly did.

Next to Teddy Bear was some lady who had also sat down on the bricks to enjoy her coffee. She wasn’t a cyclist and was carefully attending to her infant, who suckled his bottle in a very fancy pram that cost more than my Prius. That’s how they roll in Manhattan Beach, yo.

Getting even more interested in Teddy Bear’s coffee dinner, Archaeopteryx stood up and wagged his tail. This positioned his butthole about three inches away from the lady who was next to Teddy Bear. If you’ve never been three inches from a big dog’s butthole, it’s kind of a sobering experience. Even though Chiseled Girl, in keeping with Manhattan Beach custom, apparently kept Archaeopteryx’s rear cleaner than a surgical theater, when he stuck his wrinkly, brown little raisin of an anus up into the lady’s face, she looked a bit surprised. No one was paying attention except me, as everyone else was watching the dog try to get its nose into Teddy Bear’s 1,982-calorie coffee meal.

At that exact moment some dude and his wife strolled by. They saw Archaeopteryx and smiled. “Oh, look at the beautiful dog!” said the dude. He reached over and gave Archaeopterxy a pat on the head. Then his wife, who was also wearing the mandatory Manhattan Beach Lululemon Smoking Hot Housewife Yoga Pants, scratched him under the chin. “What a cute puppy!”

He wasn’t a puppy, and his butthole was still so close to the other lady that if she’d stuck out her tongue she would have gotten a very bitter taste on the tip of it. Like any self-respecting Manhattan Beach housewife, she was grossed out by the butthole, but was too embarrassed to say, “Would you please get your dog’s asshole out of my face?”

Archaeopteryx, on the other hand, was ecstatic. He had gotten his nose into Teddy Bear’s coffee, and Teddy was so grossed out he wasn’t going to have any more, ceding the field to the dog’s slurring tongue. At the same time, strangers were patting his head and scratching his chin. About all he had left to make it a perfect day was to take a steaming dump in front of the Starbucks.

Teddy Bear looked at me, not upset at all. “Isn’t it funny?” he asked.

“What’s that?”

“The way people will come up to a strange dog who, for all they know, might rip their fingers off, and stroke him and pat him and love him and admire him and let him drink from their coffee cup.”

“That’s funny?”

“Yeah,” said Teddy Bear with his characteristically gentle smile. “What would the world be like,” he asked “if they acted that way to other people?”


This past week, several more readers have subscribed to my blog! Thank you! It makes me feel so great to know that there are people who find this somewhat-daily-offering worth nine cents a day. For those who think it’s not worth even that much, well, I can see where you’re coming from. On the other hand, if you’ve ever aspired to write, to paint, to perform music, to act, or to submit yourself to the Muse, you’ll know how profoundly I appreciate your contribution. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner if you feel like it, and even if you don’t … thanks for reading and for commenting!

Welcome to our community!

January 25, 2014 § 30 Comments

Fred woke up excited. He’d been invited to join the Friday coffee cruise by his friend Elaine, who was one of the South Bay cycling crowd and a real sweetheart. Fred and Elaine were neighbors, and he’d gotten into cycling two years ago after developing knee problems from running. Fred had been fit all his life and he quickly took to cycling. Occasionally he’d ask Elaine advice about riding and she would always invited him to join one of the group rides.

“You’ll love it,” she said.

“I don’t think I’m ready yet,” Fred would always say, declining the invitations but secretly wishing he had the nerve to say “yes.”

One day he stopped Elaine as she was coasting up her driveway after finishing the big Saturday ride. “Hey,” he said. “I was wondering if there are any really easy rides I could do with you and your friends?”

“Of course! We have a coffee cruise every Friday. It’s usually six or seven riders and it’s always easy. We pedal for an hour or so, hit a coffee shop in Santa Monica or in PV, then sit around and chit-chat for a while before pedaling back.”

Fred looked anxious. “You think I’ll be okay?”

“Oh my gosh, you’ll be more than okay. You’ll be saying to yourself, ‘I was worried about this?’ It’s a super friendly pedal, not even a workout, really, just friends chatting and pedaling together. It’ll be a perfect introduction to the gang!”

Fred had hardly slept the night before. He was going to do his first group ride with a bunch of real roadies, and even though Elaine had promised that it would be slow and easy, it was going to be fun. He’d seen the big packs swirling along the bike path, charging along the Parkway, rolling out on the weekends, and he’d always wanted to be a part of it. Now it was going to happen.

Fred and Elaine rolled up to the Pier ten minutes before eight. One by one the other riders showed up. Elaine introduced him to the others, and they were all friendly except for one guy, Liam, who made a point of saying hello to everyone except Fred. Liam was kitted out in the nicest Assos clothing and was riding one of the fanciest bikes Fred had ever seen. Just before they left, Fred caught Liam’s eye and smiled. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Fred.” Liam rolled his eyes, clipped in and pedaled off with the group.

It was a gorgeous winter day in the mid-60′s and Fred wasn’t about to let a little rudeness spoil his morning. He was soon chatting with one of the other riders, a friendly and easygoing woman who looked like she was in her forties. She inquired about Fred’s cycling background in a friendly and interested way, making him feel like part of the group.

Pretty soon Liam had swung to the back and was right behind Fred. “Hey!” he yelled. “Watch your fucking line!”

Fred didn’t know what Liam was talking about, and lightly touched his brakes. “What are you doing you fucking idiot!” roared Liam.

Fred looked over his shoulder, causing his line to wobble again. “What?” he asked, somewhat frightened.

“Goddamn you!” shouted Liam. “Don’t you know how to ride a fucking bike?” Liam sprinted back to the front, looking over his shoulder once to glare at Fred.

“What was that all about?” he asked the woman next to him.

She laughed. “Don’t worry about him. He’s an asshole to everyone who’s new or who’s not wearing the right stuff, or riding the right bike, or who’s inexperienced.”

“He is?”

“Yes, he’s infamous for it, actually.”

“Really? Why does he do it?”

The woman laughed again. “It’s the snobbery of road cycling. Some people are so serious — usually the riders who aren’t very good and who no one really likes — and they treat new riders like shit just to make themselves feel better.”

“Wow,” said Fred. “He sure has fancy stuff, though.”

“Sure does. It’s to make up for the fact that his legs and lungs are completely ordinary.”

After a while they got to the coffee shop and everyone filed in. Fred turned to his newfound friends. “Coffee’s on me,” he said with a smile. “Thanks for letting me be part of the group.”

Liam glowered at him and pushed by. “I can pay for my own fucking coffee.”

Fred didn’t know what to say. “Okay.”

They sat around and enjoyed their coffee in the sunshine. Liam had cornered one of the riders and begun a detailed lecture on gear ratios and proper descending skills. He talked loudly, making sure that Fred could appreciate the depth of his knowledge and experience.

Finally, they remounted and returned to the pier. Everyone said their good-byes and thanked Fred for the coffee. Liam ignored him and rode away.

Fred and Elaine pedaled back together. “What did I tell you?” she said. “Piece of cake, right?”

“Yes,” he said. “Thanks for letting me tag along.”

“Want to join us on the ride tomorrow? It’s a bigger group and a bit faster paced.”

Fred looked at her. “No, thanks,” he said.

The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 6: Having the right de-equipment

January 24, 2014 § 19 Comments

As you continue your rest period, being laughed at by Sausage, called out by Donnie, and ridiculed by the entire NPR peloton as they pass you yelling “Spin, wanker!” and “Wanker on the right!” and “Outta the way, moron!” and “Are you available next Thursday?” you must have faith and be strong. This is what it was like to a Christian in the lion’s den, or, even more horrific, to be an atheist in a Houston public school in the 70′s.

Now that you have spent days on end going slow and tweezle spinning, your legs should feel fresh, relaxed, happy, and purged of the two most lethal chemicals that stand in the way of proper muscular and cardio development: lactic acid and old beer. However, this is only the beginning. Your adoption of the Wanky Training Plan ™ requires that you begin to tune in, turn on, and drop out (of Strava).

Proper training requires the absence of the right equipment

Before moving on to the next step in the WTP, please take the following handy-dandy quiz.

  1. I am on Strava. Yes/No
  2. I have a power meter. Yes/No
  3. I have a heart rate monitor. Yes/No
  4. I have a Garmin. Yes/No

Did you answer “yes” to any of these? Of course you did! So, let’s take them one-by-one and figure out how we can get you completely dialed into the Wanky Training Plan ™.  First, Strava. You need to get off this, just like you need to get off crack, meth, and Facebook. Not happening, you say? I know, but Strava’s not helping your cause because it becomes an end in itself. You fear posting a ride (Lane! Brian!) that’s not awesome, as if you’re a porn star who can’t get the job done on film. The reality is that by constantly forcing yourself to perform on Strava, you’re letting the software dictate your workouts — and tire you out. So what’s a Gollum-like Strava-head to do?

– Ride for the next thirty days without uploading a single ride.
– Quit looking at other people’s rides.
– Turn off the “You lost your KOM!” alerts (assuming you have any, which is doubtful).

Next is your addiction to the power meter. Studies have shown that no one ever rode faster due to a power meter, but millions have ridden slower, or given up riding altogether because of one. A power meter is a feedback mechanism that, at best, confirms what you already know: You aren’t that fast. Remember the first time you got one and how devastated you were to learn that your FTP was equivalent to that of a Cat 4, or a newt? Then remember how, after a year of hard work, you were only able to raise it to a Cat 3, or a salamander? Shuck the PM and accept that no improvement will ever come as the result of a device. Better yet, accept that no improvement will ever come. So, take off all your crank-connected, hub-connected, pedal-connected power meter devices and give them to someone you really despise. You’ll be glad you did.

Heart rate monitor? Really? There’s no need for this item. Like the power meter, it will only tell you that your heart is beating so fast you can’t possibly sustain the effort, so quit now before the infarction. Although the heart is an integral enemy and perpetual foe in the WTP, for now all you need to know is that you can — you must — ignore it.

Nothing has done more to ruin the essence of cycling than Garmin. This device has reduced the open road, the huge vistas, the stunning sunrises, the incredible panoramas into a tiny little plastic screen that spits out “data” which only tells us what we already know: You are slow and weak, and getting slower and weaker. Ditch the Garmin.

So what performance measuring device do I really NEED?

For hundreds of years, the holy grail of sailors was a watch that could keep time. Once it was invented, people conquered the globe by being able to plot longitude, enabling them to sail from an obscure port in Europe all the way ’round the world and back again in tiny barks scarcely worthy of the name “ship.” If it was good enough for Columbus, wanker, and if it was good enough for Eddy, then it’s good enough for you.

That’s right, the only device you need to measure your performance is a Timex wrist watch. If you can measure distance and you can measure time, then you can measure speed. Scott Dickson didn’t need a Garmin to win Paris-Brest-Paris. All he needed was a wristwatch, plenty of scotch, and an iron will. The wristwatch is likewise all you need for measuring cadence. Start the stopwatch function, count out 30 seconds worth of pedal strokes, multiply by two, and boom! You’ll have your rpm’s without needing to adjust magnets on your spokes, your crank, your chain stay, and without having to wirelessly ANT the whole thing to a $500 computer that, after the ride, you have to upload to a remote server, then upload to WKO+, then analyze with graphs.

Just use the stupid watch. Really.

Now that you’ve de-equipped yourself, you’re ready for the first week of non-training. Here’s your plan:

  1. Calculate your normal rpm with the wristwatch.
  2. Add 20 rpm.
  3. Ride for two hours at the new cadence.
  4. Drink a shit-ton of beer after you finish.

Don’t you feel good now? Sure you do.

Love will keep us together

January 23, 2014 § 30 Comments

Divorce makes me sad. My parents did it, and every time I think about it, it makes me sad. Our local peloton is filled with people like me whose parents are divorced or who themselves are divorced or, hardest of all, who are going through divorce.

Breaking the marital bonds is often for the good. Once the rupture is done the scar tissue can begin to heal the wound. Lots of people come out of divorce happier, better adjusted, and with a new lease on life.

When I read that the Captain and Tenille had filed for divorce in Arizona after 38 or 39 years of marriage, it made me sad. Not because they were making the wrong decision — no one on the outside can ever understand what’s happening on the inside — but because the media couldn’t resist making fun of them. Their hit 1975 single, “Love Will Keep Us Together,” earned them a Grammy. Written by Neil Sedaka, who discovered them performing at a dive bar in Burbank, it’s a great song. Simple, catchy, powerful, and true. “I guess love couldn’t keep them together” was the running gag line, sharp like a razor, tossed gleefully at them in their pain.

The Captain apparently has a severe Parkinsons-like neurological disease that makes it impossible for him to play keyboards or even go out in public, and TMZ juicily reported that he was blindsided by the filing. Why anyone would shove so much happiness in this old, ill man’s face is beyond me, except for this one fact: people are cruel.

Love really will keep us together

I don’t have any special respect or admiration for marriage. It works for some people, it doesn’t work for others. Marriage is no more meaningful or important or wonderful or honorable than what the partners put into it, get out of it, and expect from it.

What I do respect and admire is people who make the effort to hang onto relationships they care about, whether it’s a spouse or a friend or a riding buddy or someone at work. Human relationships are nasty, bloody, painful affairs, but when we work on them they give us something we can get from nowhere else except maybe a dog or a cat. The marriage of 40 years is no more impressive than the marriage of 6 months because both take the same daily effort and elbow grease required for the relationship to make it to the following day.

That effort is what keeps us together, riding our bikes together or sleeping in the same bed or being there to take my California phone call in frozen Illinois. I call it love.

The monument

January 22, 2014 § 19 Comments

The Boulevard road race is perhaps our only monument in Southern California. It’s got two modes, “up” and “down.” Those who win it cross a terrible no-person’s-land to do so. Those who finish it do, too. Those who quit plan for next year or focus on crits.

I could tell you all the terrible things that await when you line up at Boulevard. I could tell you about starting at 5,000 feet. I could tell you about the howling descent that goes on forever. I could tell you about the unforgiving climb that pinches off riders in bunches and singly until only the hardiest remain. I could tell you about the green road, or the lonesome desolation of the Mexican border, or the freezing winds when the sun drops, or the icy rain that falls in bad years, or the inhuman pounding that your body takes simply to finish.

But I won’t, because none of those things make Boulevard a monument. They just make it a bike race.

The seed of fear

A monument frightens you, and it frightens you early. It’s not the nervousness that precedes a race, or butterflies while you’re crumping a hairy beet in the port-o-let, or the anxious chatter you expel on the drive up. A monument scares you long before it ever happens. It gets inside your head, and outside it, too. The external world becomes a series of ominous warnings, of suggestively bad outcomes, of predictions that all end in “failure” and “pain.”

Boulevard stands at the head of the line because of its relentless climbing and because it’s the first major road race of the season. Some would say it’s the only major one, although those who say so haven’t raced Devil’s Punchbowl in the snow of Vlees Huis in the 100-degree heat.

With run-ups like Poor College Kids, and follow-ons like UCLA Punchbowl and San Luis Rey, Boulevard is at the head of the class. If you sign up for it, you’re afraid. If you don’t sign up for it, it’s because you’re afraid.

What’s in a bike race?

There’s no such thing as an easy one if you want to cross the line first. Think four-corner crits are easy? Well, perhaps they are if you just want to finish. But any event that requires you to pin on a number will take you to the limit if you want to win it.

As a monument, Boulevard takes you to the limit and then, if you’ve got your eyes on winning, takes you beyond. Boulevard is one of the few races in SoCal you’ll ever do that conveys a measure of respect simply by being able to say, “I finished.” If, like Greg Leibert, you’ve won it multiple times, it conveys more than respect. It conveys greatness.

My record with the beast

2010, DNF. 2011, 27th place. 2012, 39th place. 2013, 15th place. These are not numbers to be proud of, but they’re numbers I’m inordinately proud of, especially 2010, when I was lucky enough to flat on the first lap after being soaked to the skin in freezing rain that pelted us from the beginning of the race. Last year I got what Jack from Illinois (not his real name) would call “Enough of a result to further the delusion that next year it will be better.”

In short, 2014 is my year. The magical combination of experience, beer, homemade bread, butter, and high-rpm training practically dictates that this is the year I stand on the podium. And if I don’t, so what? At least I rode the monument, and with fortitude and luck, maybe I also finished.

I hope you’ll be there, if only so that you can say you’ve ridden a monument.

My first strip club

January 21, 2014 § 12 Comments

I had never been to a strip club before this year. You can laugh, or disbelieve, or whatever, but it’s still true. In fact, after hearing some friends talk about their most recent visit to a strip club, I went home and looked up the word “lap dance.” It’s not that I’m a prude, or a Puritan, or averse to naked women. The one time I came closest to going to a strip club was when a former employer, after getting terribly drunk, drove me all over Long Beach looking for one. He couldn’t find it, and I went home as unexperienced as when the day had begun.

All that changed a couple of weeks ago, when I was in Palm Desert with my bike racing team. I finally got to go to a strip club with the guys, even though my wife was back in the hotel room.

It was awesome.

This gal was gorgeous

The stripper was performing in our own reserved room. What was even more awesome was that she was so freaking gorgeous she had a handler. They wouldn’t even let this gal out by herself, she was so smoking hot. I suppose they assumed, correctly, that anyone this drop-dead sexy would drive a roomful of testosterone-crazed men into a frenzy.

I was mesmerized when the handler introduced her, even though her name was kind of weird. “Okay, folks,” he said. “Here she is — feast your eyes on — Miss Propel.” He gently removed her clothing, which was kind of this big black sheet thing. It was incredible.

Her curves were so firm that every guy in the room could imagine himself pushing her as hard as he could without fear of doing any damage at all. Her handler confirmed it. “You can ride this baby all day long … if you’ve got it in you!”

Her proportions were perfect. Not too long, not too short, not too heavy, not too light, firm but responsive, able to lead you when necessary yet also willing to go where you wanted to take her with just the slightest and most subtle of touches.

The heavy disco beat in the background, the dimmed lights, the spotlight shining on her gorgeous front end, and the roomful of excited guys brought the whole thing to a fever pitch. Suddenly one guy stood up, intoxicated from one drink too many, and staggered to the front with a five-dollar-bill. He madly tried to stuff it into her seat, but the handler pushed him away.

Another guy dropped to his knees and begged for a lap dance, waving a fresh Ben Franklin. He fell back into his chair and the handler brought Miss Propel over, placing her gently on his thighs. She was light as a feather, and he groaned. “I gotta have her between my legs,” he pleaded. The handler snatched her away.

“She’s not for sale today. You’ll have to put in an order and get in line.”

I was so overcome with the moment that I reached out and tried to stroke her cups. “Get your nasty hands off her bottom,” shouted the handler, who led her back up to the front.

“She’s your dream girl,” he said with a sly grin. “Light, quick, responsive, strong, willing, sleek, and so much better than any you’ve ridden before.”

His words froze me. Wordlessly, I got up and went back to my hotel room.


She was waiting for me when I got back, and she knew something had happened. I looked at her critically. She hadn’t changed at all. She still had the same perfect proportions that had made me fall in love in the first place. Sure, she wasn’t as young as the new girl, but since when does any man who knows anything judge a woman solely by her age? I touched her and felt her, just as firm and strong as ever.

Why had I been so tempted by Miss Propel, when I had this beauty waiting for me back in my very own room? I thought about the times we’d spent together. Some of it had been rough sledding, more than a few rocky roads when I thought about some of our trips to North County San Diego in April. But most of the time it had been magical, climbing on her back and gliding down or flying up — even the times when she’d wound up on top I’d never been much the worse for wear.

And I was going to trade her in for someone new with a fancier set of wheels and a racier lifestyle? Was I that much of a cad? Willing to consign this elegant lady who’d stood by me through thick and through thin just because some handler got me all hot and bothered with promises of excitement?

I stroked her seat and smiled. Our love was old, perhaps, but it was part of me. I ran a cloth over her chain and sprinkled her links with a few dabs of lube. I could feel her wanting me, begging me to throw a leg over. “I’m too tipsy now,” I said. “Just wait ’til tomorrow morning, okay?”


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