Facebike

September 23, 2014 § 8 Comments

One day I was pedaling home from the NPR and I saw Scrum, a buddy. “Hey, man, I tried to message you on Facebag but couldn’t find you anymore.”

“Yeah,” Scrum said. “I deleted my account.”

“How come?”

“Every time I got on there it depressed the shit out of me. Everyone has a perfect life except me, it seems.”

“Oh, that’s just PR bullshit. People only put up what they want you to see. You know, happy stuff. They still get cancer and get fired and take Prozac like everyone else.”

“At least they can fake it. Anyway, I’m a lot happier now. Back to my old self. Best thing I ever did.”

Facebag, of course, has its problems, one of which is its moniker, “social media.” When I was a kid there was one phone in the house, we got our news from newspapers, and the only way you could socialize was by being around other humans. Talking to the cat never qualified as social. Instead, it often meant having to talk to Mrs. Wint, our nosy neighbor, who would run over to the house every time someone got divorced, pregnant, busted for smoking weed, kicked out of school, or caught screwing a non-spouse.

Social, in other words, meant having to suffer through her bad breath, stupid ideas, repetitive stories, receding gums, and un-bra’ed, floppy breasts in order to get to the good stuff. It was like shelling pecans. You had to peel away the bad part with quite a bit of effort to get to the meat.

Social is the one thing that Facebag is not because you don’t have to endure the physical irritants of your “friends” that you would have to put up with if you really were face-to-face, instead of screen-to-screen. When they bore you, or share their racist rants, you simply hide their feed. Most unsocial of all, you and only you get to pick the moment of interaction. In the old days you pretty much had to deal with Mrs. Wint whenever you ran into her, which was all the time. If you were social, you stopped to talk. If not, you waved and kept going. Quickly.

How many people do you know on Facebag who, when you run into them, are completely different from their profile? The friendly Facebagger who’s an obnoxious ass. The tough-talking badass who’s a pussycat. In the old days, Mrs. Wint was always Mrs. Wint.

Like quitting big-hopped beer, I’ve never been able to stay away from Facebag. The two times I deleted my account, I returned within months. With the help of Scrum’s sage advice, though, I’ve been able to make some very positive changes. I log in when I get up and spend no more than five minutes on it. I don’t endlessly scroll through my feed. I never click “like,” and rarely comment on anything. I post occasional things about gun violence to satisfy my twin needs of tweaking my gun-nut friends and doing a bit of Internet advocacy. At the end of each month I go back and delete most of the stuff from the previous month. I subscribe to a Sunday newspaper and read books instead of cat postings and self-congratulatory photos of third place at the Olde Bumfucke Crit and Shamefest.

But most of all, I’ve tried to get out of my shell and socialize on Facebike. Facebike is that two-wheeled thing that leans up against the wall in my bedroom. It lets me get next to friends, or behind their sweaty butts, and chat with them. Yesterday Derek and Aaron and I rode out to Latigo, and a good portion of it involved an old-fashioned political argument.

Remember those? When people exchanged heated opinions in person and then somehow had to come off the passion of the moment and the differing ideas and still be friends afterwards? When you couldn’t just end an argument the Facebag way — comparing someone to Hitler and deleting all their comments? Besides, after a hundred hard miles, who wants to argue anyway? And how can you argue when you’re begging for their last gel?

Facebag is still one of the world’s greatest bulletin boards, and that’s how I use it now. But when’s the last time you called someone “social” who spends hours a day staring at a bulletin board?

END

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The Rule

September 19, 2014 § 19 Comments

The Rule, and there’s only one, is this: The harder it is, the better you’ll feel when it’s over.

Bryce came whizzing by us on the bike path. He had hairy legs and a new $7k Cannondale with electronic shifting. Bryce nodded at us as he flew by.

“You know that wanker?” I asked Nate.

“Yeah, nice kid. Fitted him on his new bike last night.”

“He’s going awfully fast.”

“I guess it was a good fit,” said Surfer.

In Santa Monica we ran into him again, after we’d split up from Nate. “Where are you going?” asked Surfer.

“I was about to turn around and ride back to Hermosa.”

“You’re welcome to join us if you want to.”

“Where are you guys riding to?”

“We’re just doing a couple of climbs on the West Side.”

“Oh, yeah, I know all the roads over here,” Bryce said confidently.

Surfer, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of every street in Southern California, paved and unpaved, said “I bet you don’t know all the roads.”

“I work for the power company putting up utility poles. I know all the roads.”

Surfer smiled at him. “Then you’ll know where we’re going.”

I wanted to tell Bryce to turn back now, while he still had the chance. As a new cyclist out to test his legs, the last person you would ever want to run into is Surfer. Instead, I egged the kid on. “You look like a pretty good climber,” I said as we started going up Amalfi.

To his credit, Bryce was game. He punched away at the long climb. “Hang tight here in just a bit,” said Surfer. “It’s going to be unpaved for a little bit.”

We went through the gate and indeed the going got kind of rough. I took another look at Bryce’s deep-dish racing wheels. He was breathing hard, then really hard. We’d been climbing for a long time. “Hey,” he said. “How much farther to the top?”

“We’re almost there,” I lied.

After a while we went through another gate and the dirt climb stretched out forever, still going up. “How long you been riding?” asked Surfer.

“Six months,” Bryce said between deep breaths.

“What’s your longest ride?” I asked.

“Thirty-five miles,” he answered. “How long is this going to be?”

“Longer,” said Surfer.

Bryce got off his bike and started walking. We pedaled up the grade and waited in the shade.

“How much farther?” he asked when he reached us. “I’m done. I can’t go any more.”

“That little section is the hardest part,” I lied again. “You’re doing great. It’s pretty much a gentle climb from here to the top.”

“You’re lying,” he said. “You guys are assholes.” We were high upon a dirt ridge out in the mountains now. It was hot and he was out of water.

“We’re not just assholes,” said Surfer with a grin. “We’re the biggest assholes in Southern California. Want some water?” He handed over his bottle and Bryce thirstily drained it. “Need some food?” Bryce nodded and gobbled up the BonkBreaker. “Know this road?” Surfer asked.

Bryce looked at him, then laughed. “No. No, I don’t.” It was the laughter of “I’m cracked and hot and waterless and lost and I hope these guys don’t leave me.”

We pedaled on for a ways until we came to the final section of the climb, a solid quarter-mile where you had to get out of the saddle and hump it. I was glad I had on a 28. Surfer and I waited beneath another tree for a while. “Think he’s going to quit?” I asked.

“I hope not, because if he does we’ll have to go back down this damn thing and look for him.”

“I think he’s going to quit. Kid’s game, but this would break anybody. He was struggling back on Amalfi.”

At that moment Bryce appeared, grim and covered with red dust. “These shoes suck for walking,” he said. We gave him the last of our water. “I know that whatever you tell me is going to be a lie, but how much farther to the top?”

“This is it,” said Surfer.

He brightened. “Really?”

“Yes, but be careful after we make the right. The downhill can get away from you.” I looked again at his delicate carbon wheels and was grateful to be on my 32-spoke aluminum rims with wide, thick tires. Bryce banged and bumped and bashed his way through the ruts, over the rocks, and along the endless washboard descent, almost crashing hard a couple of times.

We stopped at the old Minute Man silo, filled our bottles, and poured water over our heads in the searing heat.

When we finally hit the pavement, he said “Where are we?”

“Mulholland, just a couple of miles from the 405.”

Bryce perked up. Finally, a road he knew.

We had been going at a snail’s pace up in the hills in order not to lose Bryce, but now we had to get home. Surfer wrapped it up to 30, gave Bryce a very short lesson on drafting, and off we went.

Bryce had gotten a second wind and was a quick study, rotating through smoothly and keeping the speed. Until San Vicente, that is, when the thousand-yard-stare set in.

“I don’t feel so good,” he said.

“You’re bonking,” said Surfer, offering him the last gel packet.

“Next time we do this I’m going to kick you guys’ ass,” said Bryce. The kid was game.

The closer we got to Hermosa, the happier he got. “Hey, guys, thanks for dragging me along. This is my biggest ride ever!”

“You rode like a champ,” I said. “Not many people could have done what you did today.”

“For a couple of old guys you and Surfer go pretty good. But don’t think I’m going to forget about this.”

“We won’t, either,” I promised.

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Go to the front

September 18, 2014 § 31 Comments

A guy who is one of the best racers I know said to me, “Seth, when I first met you I was convinced you were ruining a whole generation of bike racers.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere.”

“Seriously. Always telling people to go to the front. That is not how you win races. That is how you lose races.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. There are only three ways to win a race. Attack and ride in solo. Go with, or bridge to a break and outsprint your breakaway companions. Or win the field sprint. Going to the front of the peloton and hammering like a knucklehead will guarantee that you never win any races.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. And there you were, telling all these young kids to ‘Go to the front!’ And they were doing it. It’s the complete opposite of race winning tactics. Going to the front will only fry you. In a race or even on these training rides people love it when you go to the front. You fry yourself, they get a free ride, and leave you like you were chained to a stump at the end. What’s the point?”

“Well, if people don’t go the front and make it hard, then how do you end up with a good training ride?”

“There’s always some idiot who will do that. Just don’t let it be you.”

“Really? I’ve been on plenty of rides where no one takes the bit and it’s just a wankfest shitshow with one or two hard efforts, usually on a climb.”

“Look, racing is energy conservation. The winner conserves through tactics, then expends his max at just the right time, or meters high-output efforts so that there are only a few of them. But they count. Your philosophy of going to the front and slogging away is stupid, and the only person it hurts is you. Anyone can sit on a wheel at 27, which just isn’t all that fast. What’s worse is that it teaches bad tactics because you end up racing the way you train.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

“So why don’t you lay off the ‘Go to the front’ propaganda for a while? You might even get on a podium yourself.”

“Because winning races doesn’t mean shit.”

“Lots of bike racers would disagree with you.”

“I’m not talking about bike racing.”

“What are you talking about, then?”

[...................................]

What was I talking about?

A couple of days ago I got the best email that’s ever come my way. This is what I was talking about.

Seth, I saw something the other day that reminded me of you. It was a show about Japanese culture where they were highlighting various festivals and some of the instruments played during the celebrations. One important instrument is the takebue flute. They visited a very old guy who is a master takebue maker and he said something very interesting that I thought you would appreciate.

Traditionally, takabue are made out of bamboo that the customer will bring to the flute maker, and it goes without saying that people who are going to spend a lot of money on this special item go to great lengths to cut for themselves a piece of bamboo that is especially beautiful, clean, and straight.

The flute maker said that years ago a man brought him a piece of bamboo that was curved and very rough. It was not what he was used to working with, but when he began hollowing it out and cutting out the holes, he realized that it was very strong bamboo, and that its wood was incredibly dense. When it was finished, the sound was especially bright, and far superior to anything else that he had ever made.

The flute maker asked the man where he had gotten this bamboo, and remarked that it was the strongest, most dense, and most beautiful wood he had ever worked. The man told him that most people choose bamboo from the heart of the bamboo thicket. The bamboo in the middle of the grove is sheltered from the wind and the elements and therefore grows straight and tall, so aesthetically that is the bamboo that people choose. But the sheltered bamboo, hidden from the battering effects of wind and rain and sun is relatively soft, whereas the bamboo on the edge of the thicket takes the brunt of the weather. It is scorched, frozen, pushed, abused, misshapen, and beaten by the elements, and that is what makes it so very dense and strong.

Take care, brother.

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Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 levers may soon control Garmin computers

September 6, 2014 § 20 Comments

Shimano Corp. revealed at Interbike today in Las Vegas that it is teaming up with Garmin to create the world’s first integrated computer-bike control system.

“We have the technology to put the computer controls directly into the levers,” said chief engineer Shin Hayata, “and Garmin is the perfect partner. This allows them to reduce the size of the onboard computer as well.”

In addition to data control, the next-generation Shimano Di-3 Unilever will also incorporate a power meter as part of the bottom bracket. According to assistant lead engineer Haruo Nakajima, “More and more, cycling is a data-driven activity at all levels. Instead of having different components by different manufacturers that have to be synched, the Di-3 Unilever will be a truly all-in-one experience with a continuous wireless Strava or Garmin Connect upload that lets you read your KOM’s, PR’s, and more importantly, the data of other riders in realtime, as you ride.”

Perhaps most revolutionary for the average cyclist, the Di-3 will also include on-board controls that allow riders to instantly access email, bank accounts, and social media networks such as Facebag, Tinder, Grinder, and Slither. Marketing and technical outreach director Akiko Fuji explains: “Cycling is quickly becoming an extension of our daily life, and research shows that people become anxious when they are away from home on long bike rides, most of which last an average of 35 minutes. Our Fully Integrated Technology System [FITS] lets customers work, answer emails, balance their checkbook, and check the kids’ homework while they’re riding. It really redefines the word ‘fun.’”

Not everyone at Interbike was thrilled with the new Di-3 Unilever. “What’s next, an automatic tampon changer?” snarled Road Bike Action Guns and Lance Magazine technical editor Smithy Wesson. “Bikes were made for pedaling and for defending one’s home against abortion providers. This takes away from the essence of cycling although we expect massive ad buys as a result, which is a good thing.”

Fuji disagreed. “Cycling has become too difficult for most Americans,” she said. “With our FITS system, which will eventually utilize electronic hub-assist so that riders don’t have to pedal too hard, more people will be exposed to the wonderful world of bicycling. With direct downloads to Netflix and drone robots to do the actual pedaling in the Di-4 model, people can enjoy cycling on the couch, which is much safer than actually riding in traffic.”

Noted philosopher and bicycle maker Richard Sachs rolled his eyes when asked about the latest technical improvements. Speaking from a cave filled with hammers and other crude Paleolithic tools in the Massachusetts woods, Sachs claimed that “Bikes is bikes, stupid,” and asserted that “It is doubtful that having someone else ride for you can be considered ‘cycling.’”

END

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How to break your tongue

September 4, 2014 § 3 Comments

There are many linguistic theories on how the Welsh language developed into an unpronounceable stew of jawbreaking consonants, but the most favored explanation is that after centuries of toothlessness the people of Wales simply gave up on vowels. This explains the difficulty that outsiders have in pronouncing names like “Aberystwyth.”

I won’t suggest the proper way to pronounce “Aberystwth,” but a friend of mine who has a name that is almost as unpronounceable, Mike Puchowicz, has recently begun collaborating with the exercise physiologists at Aberystwyth University. Mike has tried for the last few years to erase all evidence of his connection to the anonymous Twitter feed of Cap Taintbag, but to no avail. Cap Taintbag’s observations, curses, innovations in English, and general insults to the cycling public remain Mike’s greatest and most enduring work. They do not, however, do much to assist his current efforts at getting tenure.

The Aberystwythians and Puchowiczians are very interested in human power, how it is generated, and how long it can be sustained. They have therefore put together a study protocol to advance this investigation, although if they’d asked me I would have suggested a 2-hour survey of Pornhub (you’d learn all you ever need to know about human power and its duration). A link to the study is here, and guess what? You’re invited!

In order to participate, you’ll need to do the following:

  • Ride your bike a bunch
  • Race your bike four times (in an 8-week period)
  • Use a power meter
  • Bear your own risks for nausea, vomiting, cardiac dysfunction, and death

There. I’ve done my part for the advancement of science. Now back to our regular programming.

END

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Thank dog for flats and King David

August 31, 2014 § 11 Comments

I rang the doorbell. “Come on in,” said Eric, so I did. The Donut starts at 8:05, he lives about ten minutes away, and it was 7:45. “Want some coffee?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

He ground the beans and started boiling water as he leisurely poured some cereal into a bowl. I wasn’t worried about being late, because Eric’s never late. I was worried about the pain.

At 7:55 he ambled off to fill his bottles and “get ready.” I went outside and waited. I was shaking because I knew what was coming.

At 8:00 he rolled down the driveway with me. “We got plenty of time,” he said. “That ride never leaves on time anyway.”

What he meant was, “We’re going to go really fast now.”

It’s a long gradual downhill after climbing from his house up to PV Drive all the way to the start of the Donut Ride in Redondo Beach, with only one brief bump. You know what it’s like when you go, cold legs, from zero to thirty-five in a few pedal strokes? It was like that.

Hanging onto his wheel for dear life, a black Suburban came up behind us but wouldn’t pass even though we were on the shoulder. I kept flicking it to come by, but it wouldn’t. We were doing forty, and finally it came through. No wonder it wouldn’t pass: Clodhopper was at the wheel. “Hop on, boys,” he shouted.

Eric dived onto the bumper as Clodhopper wrapped it up to fifty. I came off at fifty-five and Eric vanished. I caught up to him at the start of the Donut, legs completely blown before the ride even started.

The 80-strong ride tore out of Malaga Cove lickety-split, mercilessly kicking the weak, infirm, and hungover riders out the back. A month or so ago we started doing “the Alley,” a vicious little wall-and-rest-and-steep-kicker that comes early on in the ride. The Alley has eliminated the safe-haven wheelsucking that has always plagued the Donut Ride by allowing wankers to coast along until the big climb up the Switchbacks. Now, the group separates early. One group does the Alley and pays for it the rest of the day; the timid and weak avoid it, only to be swept up and spit out later in the ride. Those who consistently do the Alley get stronger or they quit cycling, what’s known in the business as a “win-win.”

Although initially despised by all who did it, the Alley is now not so much despised as it is thoroughly hated.

Today was no exception. Boy Wonder Diego Binatena led the charge; Sausage, Rudy, Aaron, and a handful of others roared after him. Everyone else was pinned, by their foreskins, with rusty carpet tacks. Shortly after the first stop light, the Wily Greek attacked and took Derek, Rudy, Boy Wonder, and a couple of others. We came close to catching them, as in “the three-legged dog came close to catching the cheetah.”

Chatty Cathy, who had hopped in at the stoplight with a bunch of other course-cutters, came up to me after the break escaped. “Nice new kit you’re wearing!” he said.

“Why don’t you shut up and get your sorry fucking ass up to the front and chase down the break instead of hopping in after the hardest part of the ride and sucking wheel like a leech?”

Chatty Cathy shrugged. “Okay,” he said. Then he went to the front and obliterated about twenty people who were already hanging on for dear life. Then he ramped it up even more and came within 200 yards of pulling back the break. He swung over. “How was that?” he asked.

I spit blood and pooped a little poop. “Urgle,” was the best I could manage.

On the way down from the Domes I spied my teammate Derek on the side of the road with a flat. There is nothing better than being on a ride, feeling destroyed, looking for an excuse to quit, and spying a friend with a flat. I pulled over, and a few other broken souls did, too. The ride roared by.

We spent the next hour riding slowly and enjoying the day. On the final climb up Via Zumaya, a miserable, steep, and endless slog, I was alone and tired and didn’t care. Midway up the climb there was another clump of riders, also changing a flat. More happiness ensued as I dismounted and sat on the curb. Some lady from the neighborhood was walking her poodle and had stopped to chat. She had a very strong South African accent.

“Are you from Texas?” I asked.

“South Africa,” she archly replied.

“Oh,” I said. “You sound like a Texan.”

She laughed politely and the conversation seemed poised to end, which was bad since the flat had been changed and that meant I would have to remount and keep riding. “Where did you go to high school?” I asked her.

“In Johannesburg.”

“Really? I had an old girlfriend who went to high school in Johannesburg.”

The nice lady could now tell she was being hit on by some idiot who didn’t know South Africa from Texas. She raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”

“Yep,” I said. “She went to King David.”

The lady’s jaw dropped. “You’re joking.”

“Nope,” I said. “But you wouldn’t know her. You’re way too young; she’s fifty now.”

“And how old do you think I am?” she coyly asked.

I looked at the landmine and deftly stepped over it. “Early 30′s max,” I lied.

She blushed. “I’m fifty. What was your girlfriend’s name?”

By now the other bikers had regained their composure and stood there, laughing. “I like your style, Wanky,” said Aaron. “Ride up and swoop in. Nice work.”

I ignored him. “Her name’s Annette. Annette Davis.”

The blood drained out of her face. “This can’t be happening. We were best friends.”

By now I had thrown a leg over my bike and got ready to pedal off.  I looked at her intently and paused. “Yes,” I said. “I know.”

END

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Trouble

August 30, 2014 § 23 Comments

He was the kid your mom didn’t want you to play with, but you did.

“Dude,” I said as I rolled up to his shop, a small mountain of surfboard shavings piled in the corner. “I gotta be back by 10:30.”

“No problem,” he said. Even for him, 10:30 sounded like a reasonable time to start the day. “What’s going on?”

“I have to get a couple of documents back to clients and they need the drafts by noon.”

“What were you thinking of doing?” He had that smile, and fastened his helmet.

“Santa Monica, then Amalfi, down Sunset and over to Mandeville. That should put me back with a couple of minutes to spare.”

“No problem.” Smile.

In Santa Monica we started up Amalfi. “Hey,” said Surfer Dan. “You ever do Sullivan Ranch?”

“No,” I said.

“Wanna do it? It’s got a little stretch of pretty cool dirt.”

We were on our road bikes. “I don’t care what we do,” I said. “But I gotta be back by 10:30.”

As anyone who doesn’t know Los Angeles will tell you, it’s a concrete jungle. Surfer knows every nook and cranny of the city, and before long, high above the millionaire mansions of Brentwood, we were past a locked gate and climbing a steep dirt trail. “Glad I got these CX 2-mm’s.” I muttered a prayer of thanks to Moonshine, who had given me the tires a few weeks back. I dodged rocks and slogged uphill, barely keeping Dan’s ass in sight. We’d been climbing for miles now, ever since the base of Amalfi at sea level.

“You okay?” asked Surfer, smiling.

“Yeah,” I grunted. “Glad I got this 28-cog on the back, though.” My frame shuddered through another chughole.

A couple of mountain bikers came by, hanging on for dear life and giving us the crazy look. “You can’t do that,” their faces said. “You’re on road bikes.”

We came to another gate. Beyond it was a dirt road that went on forever.

“Wanna keep going?” Surfer ask-smiled.

“Look, man, I don’t care, but … “

“… you gotta be home by 10:30.”

“Right.”

“Let’s keep going, then.”

Now we were far from anything. There was only the sound of our tires crunching the dirt and our frames bouncing along the washboard and my labored breathing as we climbed, climbed, climbed, and Dan chattered on.

A long time later we reached an old deactivated Minute Man ICBM silo. We finally descended to pavement. Our bikes and we were covered from head to toe in dust, which made sense because I’d cleaned my bike that morning.

The road dumped out at Sepulveda and the 405, smack in the center of the worst traffic in America, as magical as if we’d walked through Alice’s looking-glass, from silence and endless green vistas that reached to the glittering sea to the thrum and impatience and sweating frustration of a million cagers locked in their steel coffins.

“How far are we from home?” I asked.

“Two hours if we drill it.”

It was 10:30.

“Let’s go, then.” I grinned at him and he grinned back. We put our heads down and pinned it, me and Trouble.

Of course I ended up being late, but I wasn’t, really.

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