March 14, 2014 § 20 Comments
She saw me fiddling with the car keys. It was 5:30 AM. “You ain’t takin’ onna car, I hope.”
“Uh, yeah I am. I’m going to the La Grange mixer after work and it’s on the West Side.”
“Don’t you remember I was tellin’ you I’m drivin’ onna girls party night tonight?”
“How come you ain’t listenin’ anything I say about me and you got big old commode seat ears when somebody’s talkin’ onna drinkypants biker party?”
“Commode seat ears?”
“Means big old ears can catch any old crap.”
“No big deal,” I said, knowing it was a huge deal. “I can ride my bike there.”
South Bay vs. West Side
My friends on the West Side regularly made the trek down to the South Bay for our occasional bike events, and that was invariably a labor of love because the traffic from there to here in rush hour is mind-numbingly bad. If Sausage & Co. were willing to brave the 405 for us, it only seemed right that I’d do the same for them. Still, doing it on a bike presented problems.
The biggest problem was, of course, clothing. You can show up at Naja’s wearing a bike outfit, or a t-shirt with holes in it, or with bicycle helmet hair, and you’ll fit right in. On the West Side, you simply can’t. Whereas you can be ready for any event in the South Bay with a quick pass of dental floss and a bit of de-stinkifier to dilute the B.O., West Side casual is a highly sculpted, carefully developed look that takes time, money, and incredible attention to the details that will make what you’ve “just thrown on” look like something out of fashion magazine.
After wet, sticky bike clothing and the musky stink of armpit, my next challenge was, of course, the biking itself. I’d done the NPR that morning and knew that by the time 4:00 PM rolled round I wouldn’t feel like climbing back into my smelly kit and riding for thirty miles to a bar I’d never been to. The “never been to” issue was also a problem: I didn’t know the roads in West L.A. at all and had no idea what roads were best for a bicycle.
Be like Wike
By 4:30 I was heading to the bike path, and somewhere around Manhattan Beach I saw Wike blazing by in the opposite direction. We waved. Minutes later he had flipped it and rode up to me. “Where you going?”
“That sounds good. Where?”
“I’m not sure. Somewhere near Beverly Hills I think.”
Most people would want more information about someone doing a thirty-mile ride to get beer. “Like, what’s wrong with the beer around here?”
“Nothing, but La Grange is having a mixer, and I need to get mixed, and they always come down here, so this time I’m going up there. Wanna go? I have no idea where this place is.”
“What’s the address?”
Wike, who knows L.A. like a human Googlemap, grinned. “Okay. You’re gonna need some help. I’ll go have a beer with you. I think I can get us there.”
As we came to the turnoff onto the Ballona Creek bike path, Wike veered left. “No Ballona Creek?” I asked.
“I’d rather bike through a hostile Afghan village with ‘Jesus Saves’ taped to my forehead than take that thing,” he said. Ballona Creek is famous for toughs who lie in wait and attack passing bikers for their bikes and the five or ten dollars they carry in emergency change.
“It’s that bad, huh?” I’d never taken it, but my computer map recon before setting out indicated it was the best route.
“Yeah. We might have a little traffic on the streets, but it’s no big deal.”
When your ‘no big deal’ is my colonic cleanse
Before long we were tearing up the gutter along Admiralty, Lincoln, and an entire network of surface streets that were choked to the throat with cars. This was urban guerrilla riding at its most intense, and it involved somehow following the wizardry of Wike as he hopped potholes, power-slid around gaping cracks, bunny-hopped onto curbs, sliced impossibly narrow slits between swaying buses and parked cars, split lanes, charged around tight corners in tandem with sedans whose numbers were inches from our hips, sprunted through yellow lights, raced ghetto dudes on green-and-yellow-and-purple fixies, and shot through darkened freeway underpasses filled with glass, rocks, nails, condoms, and detritus from the week’s auto collisions.
I’ve made a note to myself. “Riding up Pico from the 2000 block to the 10000 block is not for the faint of heart or for those who like a clean chamois.”
We got to the bar half an hour before the party and had to beg to be let in with our bicycles. The bar, Steingarten L.A., was run by a friendly manager and friendlier hostess who let us park our bikes on the patio. We clattered across the stone floor looking like the bike dorks we were. Two beers and a bratwurst in, we couldn’t have cared less.
At 6:30, Wike got up. “Thanks for the beer, dude. I’m headed back.” And back he went.
The La Grange partiers were filtering in and everyone pretended that you know, since they were a bike club that it was, you know, totally okay for me to be standing in, you know, a stinky, wet bike outfit and cycling cleats that sounded like an angry man pounding the floor with a hammer every time I walked. More beer was poured, much of it in the form of Belgian triple, and more food was eaten, and by the time the party ended I had lost the $130 taillight on my bike and my credit card.
With Belgian triples, though, you don’t care. “Who needs a fuggin’ light at midnight in L.A.?” I slurred.
The person who needs a taillight at midnight in L.A. is YOU
Several La Grangers were concerned that it might be difficult for me to get home, seeing as it was a long way away and I lived on top of an unlit hill. Others thought that I was only getting what I deserved. Still others were hugging me good-bye with their arms outstretched and touching me only with their finger tips and what looked like rubber gloves.
“Even in the South Bay,” I thought, “I’d be considered rather gnarly.”
As I reached into my jersey pocket to put on my glasses, I realized that I didn’t have them. I’d left my Rx clear riding glasses at home and only had what would be most helpful for a long night’s trek in the dark, my Rx sunglasses with extra black tinting to keep out the bright California sunlight. There didn’t appear to be any of that, and when I put them on things got noticeably darker.
“You’re gonna fuckin’ die, hon,” said Foxy. “You want a ride home?”
“Nah,” I slurred. “I can ride on the bike path.”
“You’re still gonna fuckin’ die, hon. But I can at least give you a ride to the Santa Monica public toilets. That’s where you seem to meet everyone anyhow.”
I let the comment slide, grateful that I wouldn’t be riding Pico at night.
The long march
Once I started pedaling, the mixture of beer, bratwurst, beer, Korean BBQ appetizers, beer, my lost taillight, beer, and my lost credit card started to add up. “Why do I feel so bad?” I wondered. “And why does the start of a measly 25-mile ride feel like the end of the Bataan Death March?”
Of course … by totaling up the morning’s ride and the commute to Steingarten, it was already an 80-mile day + greasy food and beer. This would be a full century, finishing with a 1,300-foot climb in the dark. Thankfully, it was also cold, so I had that discomfort going for me.
It took forever to get home, and I got to observe a complete cross-section of late-night life on the bike path. Waifs texting in the moonlight, homeless people looking for a place to lie down or for perhaps a waif, strange women pushing baby strollers with babies in them, men running up and down steep staircases and grunting, and bargain hunters combing through the trash cans. By the time I hit the bottom of the big hill I was frozen to the core and barely turning the pedals. Somehow I got up it and got home.
I can’t wait for the next mixer on the West Side with the beautiful people. But I might listen a little more carefully to Mrs. WM when she tells me about her schedule.
March 11, 2014 § 15 Comments
I have come to accept that nothing is as it seems except for those things that appear incomprehensible, which is to say all people, each of us, you, me, your mother, your father, and the real person inside the true person inside the secret you.
One of the craggy inscrutables was always Dave, with his wry grin and potato-chip-thin build and weird way of talking and weirder way of spelling and writing, weird because he was Plan II and had read books and had written sentences, in theory at least, to get through his rigorous liberal arts college degree, but maybe he’d forgotten all of that? Maybe he’d had the whole four years ghostwritten? Maybe he was beyond grammar and syntax and spelling and normal speech because you know, he raced bikes for Labor Power and when you raced bikes in the long cruel shadow of MKA, the self-invented caricature of a cartoon, the loneliest one always surrounded by people, maybe you have to forfeit the common currency of language as we know it and speak only in tongues, mystic ones understood by a nation of two, or even fewer.
That tumbling moment of car and bike and crush of bone on steel and hospital and blood and bills and the poor Mexican in the next room who was hurt in some horrific industrial accident and who they slapped Band-Aids on and hustled out asap because NO INSURANCE AMIGO while they plugged and prodded and poked and rode the rich bitch of Dave’s comprehensive health insurance policy until he was sewed and screwed and glued back together as good as new except, you know what?
Humpty was put back together again but they left out the bicycle, the screaming madness down a wild and woolly hill surrounded on all sides by other idiots who thought the glory of a city limit sprint or the cheapass trinket for winning a forgettable race in some shithole in the desert made it worth risking this, the only time that Dog has granted us, privileged us, us in all of the universe and in all of infinity and the space-time continuum, and you’re gonna squander even a second of it on a fuggin bicycle race?
No, that part got dropped in the gut bucket when they put Dave back together, so he had the memory and the love and the camaraderie and the sensations of having been buried deep in the bike delusion but he got sprung from the ICU free, free of the baggage, nothing left to show, nothing left to prove, hand up a bottle, help the boys get ready before the race but my time in the rack is done, son, it’s all you.
And he changed his name and I didn’t understand it until today, Dos Gatos.
He teamed up with a traveling pharmaceutical drug rep guitar player who he’d known in high school and drunk Pearl beer with in a rusted out Pinto, a dude I’ve never met but whose German name I can sure as hell pronounce and who I can tell you has a wife who I’ve also never met but is smoking hot and she’s gotten a million inviting looks from strangers if she’s gotten one and I’ve never even seen her, all I’ve ever seen is his mother-in-law, a hard drinking, chain smoking Midwestern woman who’s tough as a boot and tougher, who laughs and who loves from the bottom of her heart and so her daughter must, too, did I mention that the mother-in-law and I once got drunk together in a bar in Germany because that’s exactly how small the world is and it explains, nearly enough, how I learned that Dave the tough and gritty former bike racer made music with the drug hawker and who would have thought that under all that gritty bike racer and bad grammar there lay a musician?
Who would have thought that the people you know are such profound strangers?
Of course it was thanks to Facebag that I clicked on a link of photos of Dos Gatos, and boys, your Hollywood photo shoot was nice and all but when the link took me to the two music clips of your band and I hit “play” and heard sounds soulful and easy, good with who you are, okay with the broken pieces that got left out of the rebuild and the half-fixed ones that got put back in, feeling and warmth and a little frilly undergarment of pain and loss and hope for what wasn’t, what isn’t, what can’t be, but that maybe, after all, with a little bit of luck, just might be anyway, you know what I heard?
I heard the highway pouring beneath narrow wheels and the wind in my hair.
Give it a listen. I hope you’ll hear it, too.
March 10, 2014 § 23 Comments
Wankmeister stared, almost unseeing, at the big greasy leg of chicken that dripped enormous globs of grease onto his fingers and hands. With each mechanical thrust of the chicken leg into his mouth, the grease drizzled down into his beard and slowly congealed there until the whole thing looked matted and sticky as it shone repulsively in the burning afternoon sun.
He didn’t care.
At the next table over, two chatty ladies from Seattle were proudly detailing each pedal stroke of their successful assault on the Solvang metric century. They had already changed into matching orange tops and miniskirts, and seated across the way with legs slightly parted Wankmeister duly noted that the most animated of the two was full commando and completely shaven. “Holy shit!” whispered Squishy. “Check that out!”
Wankmeister didn’t care.
Big Bowles came cheerfully over with a foaming cup of Firestone I.P.A. and set it affectionately down in front of him, patting him on the back. “Take some of this, pal. You’ll feel better.” Wankmeister tilted the cup back until the holy liquid poured down his parched throat, but the magical reaction of fresh beer in dehydrated body never happened. All he tasted was bitter. Bowles was concerned. “You look awful.”
He didn’t care.
The sun kept beating down on his exposed neck as various South Bay riders trickled in. There was Gussy, happy and backslapping. There was Toronto and Mrs. Toronto, she pleased with her Metric 100 and he displeased with multiple tire blowouts and flats and various issues. There was Major Bob who looked like he hadn’t yet ridden a bike this day. And of course the contingent of FTR DS Jaeger, King Harold, Bull, Squishy, Checkerbutt, Luscious Lucious, Tub Top, sat around enjoying the day and the beer and their completion of the full hundred miles.
Wankmeister didn’t care about anything, and more melted rivulets of fat trickled down into his beard.
A baby dolphin hunt gone terribly wrong
Cycling, when done properly, is a series of poor decisions culminating in despair. Having paid the $90 entry fee for the Madera stage race, Wankmeister bailed the night before due to incomplete recovery from his bubonic plague and ovarian cyst. Overcome with guilt, he decided that rather than staying home and doing the Donut he would instead go to Solvang for the annual baby dolphin hunt.
In the beginning it had been glorious. Jaeger, Wanky, Bull, King Harold, and the Long Beach freddies had engaged in a wonderful morning of gaffing and filleting the baby Solvang dolphins by the hundreds. At one point DS Jaeger flatted. Imperiously handing his bike over to Tub Top to change the tire, he waded out into a field and happily pissed on the vegetables. Tub Top got his revenge by improperly seating the bead, which meant that despite the record-setting tire change DS Jaeger was soon enough standing on the side of the road wasting more of other people’s CO2 cartridges as he tried to do right the fifth time what he’d been too lazy to do right the first.
The one happy outcome of so many unplanned stops was that it allowed hundreds of baby dolphins to pass by the hunters with snide baby dolphin smirks, as if to say “You thought you were so fast, but who’s passing whom now?” Actually, none of them said “whom.” Baby dolphins don’t know how to use the objective case.
It was a happy outcome for the hunters because it simply meant that rather than a one-time dolphin slaughter, the brave predators were engaged in a catch-and-reclub program whereby the dolphins were caught, clubbed, released, and the clubbed again. By the time they reached the 60-mile-mark at Santa Maria, it looked like it would be a day for the record books. At least a thousand baby dolphins, countless “we can hang with this train” flailers, and even a pair of triathletes were clubbed, gaffed, gutted, and filleted.
Don’t count your baby dolphins before they’re gored
On the first set of rollers outside of Santa Maria, however, FTR DS Jaeger, forgetting all of the CO2 cartridges he had shamelessly borrowed, forgetting the quick wheel change he was given while he urinated in the field, and forgetting the camaraderie of the great sport of Solvang Century Ride Dolphin Clubbing, accelerated hard and kicked Bull out the back. Next to go, despite a last minute push from Checkerbutt, was Wanky. Then, a few miles later, Tub Top was clubbed. Shortly thereafter, Squishy got squished. One by one DS Jaeger disemboweled each of his friends, soloing in to the Solvang finishing tent and beer garden with no one in sight.
Last to finish were Bull and Wanky, the former tired, the latter barely able to stand.
“How was the ride?” a vaguely familiar person asked, but what was there to say, except this, and he was too tired to say it …
Nothing is as lonely and miserable as getting dropped by your “friends” 35 miles from beer, and then, over the course of the next miserable hour and a half, getting passed by slow people, old people, young people, male people, female people, triathlete people, tourists, first-timers, last-timers, riders on their last legs, riders getting their second wind, the strong, weak, rich, poor, handsome, ugly, lovely, pitted, proud, sympathetic, gloating, oblivious, in short, everyone and everything on two wheels. Finishing a ride such as this imparts no sense of accomplishment, no feeling of pride, no joy at a job well done but rather a profound sense of worthlessness and failure, a recognition that the icy hand of death is laid fast upon your balls and has begun its final squeeze, a grim glimpse into the near future where everyone is younger and stronger and your trajectory is moving from quickly downward to flatline, the beauty and nobility of the human spirit nothing more than a willful suspension of disbelief that got us through our youth and, now devoid of all magic, that we can angrily cast aside, or gently lay to rest as a sweet nothing no longer worthy of whispering in the ear of fate and no longer holding any power to deny or delay or even momentarily forget that rust never sleeps. Other than that, it was a great day, one of those moments in time where each passing hour erases a little more of the awfulness until in retrospect, like a terrible disease from which you only barely recovered to avoid death, the pain becomes blurred and forgotten except as a historical fact, and you have forgotten the sweat-encrusted, laboring grunts of the riders who suffered with you, the fiery burning in your feet from shoes that fit perfectly until mile 80, what felt like fiery shards of glass being shoved up your rectum from too many hours on a hard, narrow ass hatchet, the crackling and contorted neck, aching from holding the watermelon in a distended position for hours on end, the shivering stings of muscular cramps, the dull and primeval message of “You’re going to die soon” that comes from dehydration, and worst of all the frenzy of feeding and sugary faux hydration at the feeding stations that neither replenish nor hydrate but instead caulk your muscles in stiffness so that when you remount it’s worse than if you had never stopped, while all around friendly volunteers are telling you “good job” and offering you another stale chunk of p-b sandwich, or a quarter of a green banana as you hate them to their very bones for being cheerful and kind and even more because at the last way station, with its famished riders and the one or two geniuses who have conned their way into the ambulance and a free ride back to beer by claiming heat prostration, some well-meaning sadist says “Only 12 miles to go!” In your own little hell, of course the only thing worse than not knowing you only have 12 miles to go is knowing that you have exactly 12 miles to go because you know what a mile is and how long it takes, and twelve of them, stacked up like this at the end of five hours of unmitigated misery are unendurable to contemplate, let alone complete, it’s as if the dentist gently reminded you that after the root canal he would be operating on your brain with pliers and a screwdriver, but you continue slogging away because as much as you’d love to lie down in the road or, yes, call the Solvang taxi, there is something inexplicably stupid about people in trouble on bikes that makes them continue on for no good reason other than the best reason of all, which is that they are impervious to the normal operation of a rational mind.
Wankmeister looked at his vaguely familiar friend and didn’t say anything. With the grease in his beard and the sunburn and the haggard eyes, he didn’t have to.
March 9, 2014 § 44 Comments
I put the call out on Facebag to see if anyone had a starter bike, 54 cm or thereabouts, for my 16-year-old. We’d been talking and he had said, “I’d like to go riding with you sometime, Dad.”
Several friends reached out with various kind offers, but none kinder than Wankomodo. “I have a fairly nice bike I could let go for $500. It’s just sitting in the garage and I’d rather see it used than gathering dust.”
A couple of weeks went by and I finally got around to visiting to check out the bike. It was an immaculate S-Works Tarmac with Campy 10-speed, Ksyrium wheels, brand new Continentals, and Speedplay pedals. “If you want the compact chain rings and rear cogs I can throw them in for fifty bucks.”
That night I got home with the new bike and showed it to junior. He glanced at it. “That’s nice,” he said.
Some more weeks went by. I was busy, then sick, then he was at a track meet, and then finally our schedules meshed. “Let’s go for a ride on the bike path,” I said.
In the interim I’d yanked the Speedplays and replaced them with a pair of flat plastic pedals. This would be the only super bike in L.A. with “pedal” pedals.
“What should I wear?” he asked.
“T-shirt and shorts and sneakers should be perfect.”
“Okay. Who’d you borrow this bike from?”
“I didn’t borrow it. It’s yours.”
He looked at it differently.
Before we left I aired up my tires and then gave him the pump. He pushed and strained to get the gauge up to 100 psi. “This is hard!” he said. I had forgotten that not everyone is born knowing how to air up a tire as I watched him struggle with getting the pump head on the valve.
We loaded the bikes in the car and drove down to the Riviera. I parked on the flat section of Camino de Encanto and got his bike out. He put on his helmet. He hadn’t ridden a bicycle since he was eight. “How do I do this again?” he asked.
I’d forgotten that not everyone rides a bike everyday.
“Throw your leg over the top tube and set the pedal up like this … “
“What’s the top tube?” he asked.
I’d forgotten that not everyone knows what a top tube is.
“It’s this.” I walked over and showed him. Then I returned to the car to get my bike out. I heard some funny noises and looked back. He was weaving and barely staying upright.
“Keep pedaling,” I said casually, my heart in my mouth. I turned back to the car. He wasn’t a child anymore. I could not run to him, because he is now a child with the mind of a man. He passed by, smiling, still wobbling a bit. I smiled back as if it were the most normal thing in the world, as if I were not afraid.
“Stay to the right,” I added. He reached the stop sign, turned around, and came back. “Why don’t you do that a few more times to get used to it, then we can go.”
“Okay,” he smiled. “My ass hurts though.”
I grinned. “Welcome to bicycling.”
A small group of Serious Cyclists were going the other direction. The fattest one with the fanciest bike eyed our amateur get-up. “You’re going the wrong direction!” he smirked. “The hill is the other way! C’mon, don’t be weak!”
“Martin Howard would have laughed at that,” I said to myself with a smile.
The bike was a terrible fit because I hadn’t jammed the seat forward and put on a super short stem. It looked awfully uncomfortable; he was stretched out like a circus performer. But I didn’t say anything. He was riding, and he was riding with me.
We coasted down the street when suddenly I heard someone say, “Hey, Seth!” It was Marilyne, Craig, Lisa, Renee, and Carey, all returning from the Sunday Wheatgrass Ride. I was wearing shorts and a tee, and they summed up the situation instantly. We chatted and coasted down to the traffic circle. They all went very slowly, with my son tagging along on the back, uncertain and wobbling and me so afraid. He was in the road, the damned road, on the damned bike, anything could happen but I swallowed my fear.
“We’re going down to the bike path,” I said.
“See you!” they said, and rode off.
We went down the embankment and I was afraid again but I said nothing and showed nothing because he is no longer a child. Something happened and I heard a scraping noise. He got back on the bike and didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything either because there was nothing for me to say.
On the bike path we rode to the pier at Redondo Beach. The path was crowded with people. I had forgotten that not everyone easily weaves between hundreds of people on a crowded path and never worries about hitting them. “Hey Dad,” he said. “Can we stop for a second?”
We stopped. “This is stressful,” he said with a nervous smile.
I had forgotten that, too. “You’re doing great,” I said.
He remounted, smoother and faster and more confident than even ten minutes ago. We reached the pier. “Take a break?” I said. “This is the turnaround.”
He looked relieved. “Yeah.”
“How about some ice cream?”
Out came the big grin. “That would be great!”
It has been lifetimes since I rode my bike a couple of miles in shorts and tennis shoes with someone I loved and stopped and ate ice cream. Never, maybe.
We sat on the bench and watched the Jesus freaks and the tourists and the man with the battered guitar and the happy little kid dashing with his mom running after him out of breath and the ice cream tasted so good. “You ready?” I said after we were done.
“Sure!” He had the enthusiasm of ice cream, now.
We pedaled back without incident. Behind me, he talked about a book he was reading. It was as pretty a sound as any symphony.
We got to the ramp and he almost fell making the turn. Then he got off and walked to the top. I’d forgotten that not everyone rides a bike up steep hills for miles at a time. We remounted and made for the car. There was the little climb up Calle Miramar and then the more significant bump up Camino de Encanto.
He was puffing. I had forgotten that not everyone rolled up those two small hills without puffing.
We got to the car and loaded the bikes in.
“That was fun,” he said.
“Yes, it sure was,” I answered, thankful I hadn’t forgotten that you’re never too old for ice cream.
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March 8, 2014 § 41 Comments
People always ask me about bike stuff.
“What do you think of the new Slobotomy aero-helmet?”
“I hear that slightly wider tires are actually faster than the ultra-narrow profiles. Is that true?”
“How does the GoPro Super Narcissto 4 stack up agains the Garmin 24/7 MeMeMeMe?”
“Is a computerized bike fit as good as a hand job?”
Needless to say, I devote hours answering the person’s question, and they do the exact opposite, or, more commonly, nothing at all and instead go buy a large pizza.
Still, there are ways to really upgrade your ride, and they aren’t the ways you might think. I will list them here for you in order of the impact they will have on your riding experience.
- Make your next two purchases the best and brightest taillight you can find, and the best and brightest headlight you can find. Then, mount them on your bike and use them all the time, especially during the day. How it improves your ride: Cagers will not horribly maim or kill you and you will get home alive.
- Max out your uninsured motorist insurance. When you get hit by some idiot who doesn’t have enough insurance, or who has none at all, or who hits you and drives off, leaving you for dead, the only way you can pay for the damage is through the uninsured motorist coverage ON YOUR AUTOMOBILE LIABILITY INSURANCE POLICY. It’s cheap to max out your UM coverage, so do it now. $500k in coverage is not too much. How it improves your ride: 48% of LA-area collisions are hit-and-run, and you will, with maximum UM coverage, get compensation for your injuries and your destroyed bike.
- Enter an event you would normally never do. A century ride, an MTB race, a ‘cross race, the Eldo Crit, a charity ride, a Fredfest, Ciclavia, critical mass, certification at the Velo Sports Center, whatever it is, if it’s outside your normal riding band, do it. How it improves your ride: You’ll meet new people and get a new sense of appreciation for the fun that is cycling.
- Read a book that treats some aspect of the history of cycling. How it improves your ride: You’ll understand the incredible changes and challenges that have been overcome in order to allow you to effortlessly, electronically shift your way along the streets on a carbon fiber bike.
- Go into a local bike shop and buy something. How it improves your ride: The vast majority of people who own bike shops do it first and foremost because they love bikes. Supporting their passion supports yours as well.
- Proffer roadside assistance to someone. Even if you can no more change a flat than swap out a car’s transmission, take a second to pull over and see if the fellow cyclist on the side of the road needs help. Everyone appreciates consideration and concern, even if just means holding their bike or pulling the tube and cartridge out of their seat bag. How it helps your ride: Cycling is a community, and the good deeds you do to strangers will get paid forward.
- Say hello to someone you don’t know. Whether it’s your regular ride or whether you’re passing someone on the street, greet a stranger and exchange names. How it helps your ride: People remember being spoken to, especially when they’re new to a group, and it makes them feel good, and making others feel good will make you feel good, too.
- Get rid of five cycling-related things you no longer use or need. Most riders are awash in crap. Old shoes, old helmets, old wheel sets, even (especially) bikes. Slim down your possessions, especially if you can pass them on to someone who will actually use them. How it improves your ride: Makes space for you to buy newer, cooler crap.
- Ride to work one day a month. How it improves your ride: Once you begin commuting, odds are that you will do it more often. I went from 0 days a week to commuting almost every day. How it improves your ride: You’re riding more, of course. And bikers who cycle to work will tell you that the commute is the best part of their day.
- Go on a ride with a family member who isn’t a “cyclist.” Not a 25-mile hammerfest, just a fun 15 or 20-minute pedal. How it improves your ride: You can slowly trick them into riding if you do it in a way that is actually, you know, fun. And the family that rides together …
February 28, 2014 § 27 Comments
As Rudyard Kipling so famously wrote in his epic poem Gunga Din …
YOU may talk o’ gin an’ beer
When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere,
An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
But if it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ‘im that’s got it.
It’s been the nicest winter imaginable for riding a bicycle, so warm and sunny and pleasant that the news from Chicago and the East Coast and other weather-challenged climes seems almost unfair. Then I remember that Karma Bitch and Karma Bastard always have the last laugh. That’s always as in “always.”
This afternoon I got my first taste of what it means to experience earth’s warmest January since humans began keeping temperature records, when I read a brief little article about California’s drought and how it has caused the Russian River to essentially dry up. You see, even though bicycle riders love sunny, warm winter days, and even though it makes them happier than a stoner at Hempcon to be out pedaling when their Midwestern counterparts are chained to the trainer in a cellar, there is one thing that California bicycle riders love every bit as much as riding bicycles, even more, perhaps.
Beer. Because unlike the soldiers in Gunga Din, bikers don’t do their work on water. They do it on beer. Over ‘ere.
And they don’t just love any old beer, they love California beer. And the California beer they love more than any other liquid refreshement in the whole pantheon of malt, barley, hops, and yeast is the beer with names like Lagunitas, Pliny the Elder, and Racer 5. Each of these treasures shares at least one thing in common: They exist due to the rolling blue bounty of the Russian River, which in turn depends in large part on Lake Mendocino, which in turn will go dry this summer if California doesn’t get more rain in the next two weeks than it’s gotten all year. That would be “last year.” The river itself is barely gurgling in the middle of a “rainy” season barely worthy of the name, a time when it should be raging, roaring, and plunging with clear blue water.
The deluge predicted for the next few days, if it happens, won’t be more than a tiny Band-Aid on a gashed, gaping, open wound. We’re in negative water territory and a few days of hard rain won’t save us.
How will California’s bicyclists get their beer?
“Nothing ever happens until it happens to you,” or so goes the old saw.
What’s about to happen to California cyclists is this — they’re going to finally have an endless summer, and it’s not going to be pretty. Most of the state is naturally a desert anyway, and if the megadrought that’s already in the works comes to full force, the manmade greenery here will wither and blow away like dust. Car washes will shut down, pools will empty, and a lawn or two in Palos Verdes may actually go brown (a little bit, maybe).
But we can still ride our bikes, right?
You can’t ride your bike if there’s no West Coast IPA at the end of the trail. It’s not so much that you can’t, it’s more of a “Why would you?” kind of thing. Tens of thousands of California drinkers have a cycling problem, and without the beer, well, the drinkers just kind of go away. And you can forget your precious California wine. The 2014 vintage isn’t even a hope anymore.
Until now you’ve probably not given a second thought to your 30-minute showers, your weekly carwash, and those endless lawn-watering sessions where you also make sure the asphalt gets good and doused as well. I hope after reading this you’ve gotten religion.
Your beer depends on it.
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February 25, 2014 § 15 Comments
We were pedaling along the street, he and I, finishing an awesome day of bicycling awesomeness. “How’s your week looking?” I asked.
“Righteously snowalicious,” he answered.
“Dude,” he assured me. “I been skiing forty years. No worries.”
I wrinkled my brow. “Those bony legs of yours go up-and-down several hours a day, 300-plus days a year, and suddenly you’re gonna lock those old-man knees into ski bindings and race down double blacks like you were twenty-five and had nothing but naked coeds, a jacuzzi, and twelve bottles of vodka waiting for you at the end of the run?”
He laughed. “Wankster, you’re sounding like a very old woman. I’m going with my friggin’ family. Did you forget that my daughter is seven? That we’ll be doing bunny runs with her and and her friend that I could do blindfolded on one leg carrying a logging truck on my back? Dude!”
I mused. G3 was in the form of his life. He’d logged 48,203.23 miles over the winter, including noodling, intervals, big ring training, sprinting, and pelvic thrusting. He was loaded for bear this season, but everyone knows that fierce lateral knee movements are hell on old joints, and heller on the joints of old bike racers. Why would he jeopardize this incredible fitness for a mere family outing? Couldn’t he just swill beer by the hot tub and howl “Good job, honeys!” as his kid and wife came in from the slopes, covered in snow and frostbite?
And then something went “bump,” How that “bump” made us jump
The next time I talked to G3, he was in whatever state of depression is lower than the doldrums. “Where you been, man?” I haven’t seen you at the races yet this year.
“I been sick,” he said.
“With what? The plague? It’s been months since I saw you last.”
“Worse than the plague,” he said.
Apparently he had been lazily cruising down the triple-bunny run with his daughter and her friend. His mind was focused on the upcoming season opener at Boulevard, where he’d get to test his awesome form against the monsters of the Leaky Prostate Category. Somewhere between his imagined incredible attack on La Posta and his fantasy victory acceleration up Old Drugsmuggler Highway, he noticed that his daughter’s friend had dropped one of her ski poles.
“No prob, sweetie,” he said. “I got it.” Trailing behind the two girls, he squatted and reached down to pick up the pole, and he squatted low, real low, the kind of low that you better not try unless you’re a sixteen-year-old girl cheerleader with a minor in yoga. As he squatted, forty-five years of bone and gristle protested, and they protested with vigor.
G3’s day, week, month, and season were done. He folded like a mod pair of sunglasses, crumpled like a pinata, went down like a working girl. “Ohhhhh,” he moaned, not just at the savaging pain, but at the season and the fitness that went “poof” up into the clear winter air.
I did everything I could to perk him up, reminding him of how strong he’d be the latter part of the season, envying all the quality family time he must be having, and complimenting him on having learned the treachery and dangers of Old Fellow skiing without having actually pulled a Sonny Bono. Nothing worked.
You can’t have it all, American Express
A lot of people think that cycling is good for your health. I don’t. What’s good for your health is sitting on the couch, swilling beer, and taking brief walks outside when the weather is pleasant.
Getting run over by raging cagers, spilling downhill face-first on Las Flores at 45 mph, riding your IT bands/tendons/ligaments into permanent dysfunction, and enlarging your heart from ceaseless exercise don’t seem like much of a prescription for longevity. Worse, the more you ride the more invincible you think you are. “Hey, I can ride a hundred miles … bet I can totally manhandle those youngsters in a game of pick-up basketball.”
On the other hand, every time I stand around with a group of 40 or 50-something cyclists, I’m amazed at how completely different they look from the people I graduated from high school with, people who for the most part look at least a decade, if not two, older than they really are. The bikers are lither, they move more easily, and as long as you don’t look too carefully at the weatherbeaten lines in their faces, you’d be hard pressed to peg them at their real age.
Cycling makes you reach for more, sometimes for more than you probably should. It’s not a greedy reach, it’s the reach of “try.” And as long as you’re going to try, well, that means there’s also a chance that you’ll fail. Somehow the arms don’t reach out quite as far when you’re lying on the couch.
G3 may be down, but he’s not out. With 250 Big Orange acolytes restlessly awaiting his return … he’ll be back. Whether he’ll be back on the slopes again is another question entirely. Me? Have I ever shown you my jump shot?
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February 23, 2014 § 49 Comments
Los Angeles resident Sturgeon Palchewski expressed surprise yesterday at his daughter’s apparent lack of interest in cycling. Palchewski, a veteran cyclist of 27 years, was perplexed by his daughter Maribel’s reaction to his suggestion that they go out and “Do a few intervals before dinner.”
Maribel, age nine, was heard to say that she “Hates cycling worse than beets,” after which she began crying and ran to her room, slamming the door with what was reportedly a “horrific slam.”
Palchewski, who purchased a Pinarello kids’ road bike with Campy 11-speed electronic shifting for Maribel’s birthday earlier this month, couldn’t understand the child’s outburst. “She said she wanted a bike for her birthday so I got her a bike. We spent a week working on getting in and out of clipless pedals, oh sure there were the usual scrapes and scratches and bruises and she broke out a tooth, but she’s a fast learner and we were doing solid 20 – 30 milers in no time.”
Although he himself has never raced, Palchewski felt that it made sense to start his daughter doing junior racing as quickly as possible. “First of all, there are only three or four girls in the junior 9 – 11 field, so her chances of standing on the podium were huge. Huge. Second, and most importantly, in order to win you have to be able to suffer, and I mean suffer like an effing dog. That’s something you learn early, like those Belgian hardmen in the 60’s and 70’s who just came straight off the farm, you know, tough guys for whom a 300 km race in the rain and muck over cobbles was a hella lot easier than building brick fences and shoveling horseshit all day.”
Palchewski’s wife Tambrina was less convinced. “I think she just wanted, you know, a bike bike. Something she could pedal around with her friends. She was kind of surprised on her birthday, actually. You know what she said to Sturgeon when she saw the Pinarello thing? She said, ‘Daddy, I said I wanted a bicycle!'”
Along with the new bicycle, Palchewski also helped his daughter open a Strava account, and made sure the bicycle was equipped with an SRM power meter and Garmin computer. “Cycling now is data driven,” says Palchewski. “The days when you could just pedal on the cobbles all day and ride your way on to the Belgian national team, those days are gone.”
When asked his strategy for rekindling his daughter’s enthusiasm for riding a bicycle, Palchewski did not hesitate. “I think it’s the intervals before dinner that are getting to her. Maybe we’ll just focus on long miles with a steady diet of hard climbs, throw in a few jumps, duke it out for the city limit signs. Get her into some hard charging pacelines with the guys, you know? Kids develop grit when they’re on the rivet, get kicked out the back, and have to solo for a couple of hours. Maybe some windy days too, eh?”
At press time Maribel had slashed the tires of her new bicycle with a pair of scissors and was engrossed in her Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse set.
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February 14, 2014 § 47 Comments
The typical bike team sponsorship cycle goes something like this:
- Dude who owns company also bikes, gets into racing.
- Dude joins a club, gets asked to sponsor the team.
- Dude kicks in some money, gets his company’s name on the jersey.
- After a few years, Dude loses interest in racing.
- Sponsorship ends.
The only sponsors who stick around local racing for the long haul tend to be those with a day-to-day stake in the bike business. Bike shops, the mainstay of team sponsorship, also come and go, however. Their trajectory looks like this:
- Shop sponsors team.
- Riders all swarm to team “deal” from the shop.
- Shop runs the numbers at year’s end, learns that it is losing all its profit margin on team sales but not making those margins up in new business steered to the shop as a result of the team.
- Shop pulls the plug.
As an Of Counsel attorney for CalBikeLaw, we actively sponsor a variety of racing and cycling events. What’s interesting to me is looking at the way bike racers view sponsorships and comparing it to the way that sponsors view their investment.
It’s not about winning
I have yet to hear a sponsor say, “My sponsorship is dependent on race results.” I’ve never even heard a sponsor mention it. Yet the thing that racers can’t talk enough about — these are the guys and and gals who wear the clothes and represent the product — is their race results.
I get it, of course. Men and women who orient their lives around bike racing are filled with excitement and pride when they win a race. But do sponsors really care? Most don’t, and they don’t care for a lot of reasons. First off is because only a handful of people actually win the local races. Second, the “big win” is only big to the winner. Outside the niche-within-a-microfissure of amateur bike racing, few people know, fewer people care, and fewer still remember. Third, winning a bike race and tying your product to an industrial park crit victory is unlikely to bring you any new business.
So what matters for a sponsor?
Well, it’s pretty simple. Most sponsors who spend money on bike racing teams understand that it’s not going to have the ROI of an ad spend on, say, a winning NASCAR driver. Instead, they look at it in more general terms. “Do more people know about my business?”
Given the way that bike racers “promote” their sponsors, the answer is a resounding “No.”
Word of mouth is king
When it’s all said and done, word of mouth is what sponsors are paying for. Did the sponsor’s investment in your team increase the number of people who know about their product or service? Yes? Then it’s a success. No? Then they probably won’t be around to subsidize your hobby next year.
Posting long encomiums about your great victory, along with blow-by-blow accounts of how you muscled through the pain and up the climb and out of the pain cave and onto the podium thanks to #sponsorsnamehere is not what most sponsors look for. They look for something much more basic and under the radar. They want to know that when you’re on the group ride, you’re talking about their product. They want to see comments and posts and tweets that mention the day-to-day value of their service. They want to hear that YOU are telling OTHER PEOPLE about what they sell.
It’s not that hard, but it’s really hard. Sharing the benefits of your sponsored products with other people will keep your sponsors happy. Sharing your awesomeness and incredible wattage on the Big Climb … not so much. By helping the people who help your team, everyone wins. So as the ad says, “Just do it.”
February 13, 2014 § 6 Comments
On Monday morning my inbox broke from the email deluge. Then on Tuesday the volume doubled. Today it finally tapered off and I’ve been able to read through all 34,872,011.92 emails regarding the catastrophic meltdown of Prez at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre crit in Brea. Here’s a sampling of the anger:
“U suck WM. Prez wuz yer number one Wanky Training Plan ™ rider and he DNF’ed. FUKKKK UUUU!!”
“Wanky Training Plan is a fraud and a sham. Prez couldn’t even finish the Brea crit using your fakish training plan. I want my money back once I pay you.”
“Sad days all around for us WTP ™ adherents. We heard through the grapevine that Prez got shitcanned at the local Sunday crit using your training plan. Huge loss of confidence in your advice, Wanky.”
“Dear Mr. Wankmeister: This is your formal notification of a class action lawsuit filed against you as a result of your fraudulent Wanky Training Plan ™ and its utter failure to get Prez across the finish line, much less a victory in a recent bicycle race. Blah, blah, blah.”
“Heartbroken. Prez DNF. Wanky Training Plan ™ a failure. There is no Dog.”
“Whats next Wanky or should I say Bernie Made-off, as in ‘made off with all my money’? Your a crook and the Wanky Training Plan ™ is a faik. Going back to Elron Peterson and his one-legged drills. Look stupid I may, and broke it may make me, but defeat with honor.”
“Yo, Wanky! I saw Prez sobbing in the gutter after NPR yesterday. Claimed the WTP ™ has made him SLOWER. WEAKER. LAZIER. FATTER. WTF?”
I can explain
First of all, it’s true. After following the Wanky Training Plan ™ religiously, plus 2,500 hours in the gym, plus $8,762.09 spent on a special spin bike coach, plus an entire season dedicated to becoming the anchor in the SCC lead out train, Prez did in fact get shitcanned in the final laps of the race when the brutes on SCC brought it up to 35 mph and held it until the end, when Inkjet and Loverboy closed the deal in first and second place.
It’s also true that Prez not only followed the WTP ™, but he got a custom Wanky tattoo on his special place so that he could remind himself how dedicated he was to the plan. And it’s also true that he paid the Wanky Foundation (a non-profit group dedicated to helping wankers overcome their fear of doing hard road races) $75,000 for a signed diploma from the Wanky Institute and a collectible pair of Wanky’s old underwear from back in the glory days.
The reason that he came unglued, quit, gave up, threw in the towel, and failed to finish the race had nothing to do with the Wanky Training Plan ™, a scientific system developed in conjunction with research from the Harvard labs, Olympic racing data, tea leaves, astrology, and input from Crazy Betsy the Psychic Reader.
No, the reason Prez abandoned, backed down, bailed out, bowed out, buckled under, capitulated, caved, chickened out, collapsed, cried uncle, folded, pulled out, stopped, and surrendered was because he forgot to take his Wanky Toughness Pills ™ before the race.
What’s a Wanky Toughness Pill ™ ?
Elite members of the Wanky Training Plan ™ who have been diagnosed as having Low Toughness by a medical professional, psychotherapist, or playground bully are eligible to receive one bottle of Wanky Toughness Pills ™ to treat their Low – T.
When a racer follows all of the steps in the training plan but is still unable to hang in when the going gets tough due to his emotional frailty, he is put on a special regimen of raw kale and toughness pills. The Low – T is then ameliorated, turning the former milquetoast into a badass leg breaking pain drinking nail eating muddafugga.
Without divulging patient confidentiality, Prez suffered from extremely Low – T. His T was so low that he couldn’t even take a pull on the NPR, kind of a threshold level of mental weakness that only a few baby seals are capable of de-spiring to. In sum, he received a double dosage of Wanky Toughness Pills ™ designed to remedy his habitual characteristic of “When the going gets tough, I get another frozen daiquiri.”
After the race we spoke and he admitted that he’d forgotten to take his toughness pills. However, he also said that in order to make up for this week’s epic collapse he had taken the whole bottle, eaten four pounds of raw kale, and was going to show up for UCLA Punchbowl to show “those skinny little fuggheads how it’s done.”
So before you go clamoring for a refund, watch for race results. You’ll see who’s been taking their toughness pills, and who hasn’t.