December 23, 2013 § 17 Comments
At first I thought it must be a mistake when I uploaded today’s ride, which you were on, and didn’t see your name along with the other guys. So then I did an athlete search and sure enough, there you were, “Monsterwatts” from Santa Monica. And in big white letters surrounded by an orange box it said “Follow.”
Dude, I’ve been following you for the last TWO YEARS. Every ride, every KOM, every top ten, every personal trophy, I was there poring over your data, giving you kudos, leaving clever comments about how you crushed it again, and just like that you’ve cut me off?
My first reaction was anger. Those two years I could have been following Sternstuff or Climbingmachine or that cute chick who sometimes rides with us. But I didn’t. I followed you. I spent hours on you, and I made it a point to be the first person to give you a kudo every ride for the last two years. Does that mean nothing now? Which department do I go to in order get my kudos back?
Then I was hurt, actually, more like “wounded to the core.” We had something special, you and I, and no matter what, that special something can never be taken away from me even if you’ve changed. Remember that secret forty-second KOM we had over off of Via del Monte? The first time I set it we even joked about what to name it. I said “Monster & Pookie,” and you thought that was cute, and even though you took it away from me the first day and shredded my record by fifteen seconds, it will always be the Monster & Pookie KOM.
You’ll be glad to know (or more likely, won’t even care) that I’ve wiped away the tears. I know you’ve moved on, even though you still follow me and I can’t follow you back. If I were vindictive I’d block you, but I’m not. What I am, is curious. What happened?
Did you find someone who follows you better? Someone who rides with a power meter AND a heart rate monitor? Or did you just get tired of me? Did you get tired of letting me inside, of sharing your watts and your bpm’s and your weight fluctuations? Maybe over the last year, as your FTP seems to have gone down by about five watts, you don’t want to face me anymore because you think I can’t really respect someone whose watts-to-kg is under 5.2? Maybe you think I’m not as into you because you lost those five KOM’s on the Swami’s ride?
Oh, and I found out through Towerofpower that you’re now letting him follow you. I’m sure he’s a total badass, but you’ll grow old in the tooth before he wakes up at 5:00 AM to review your ride data from the previous week. He’s fickle, too — and I’m not being jealous. You guys will swap WKO files for few months and then he’ll get bored with you and kick you to the curb. Maybe then you’ll realize that a follower like me doesn’t just grow on trees.
Whatever the reason for blocking me, I’ll never forget you. Munching on my bologna sandwich at work while I went over your rides, analyzing your suffer score, looking at how you stacked up against other people in your age and weight categories, sending you text messages and the occasional selfie of me and my bike … you’ve left a void that I may never be able to fill.
But as they say, life goes on. See you on the road.
December 20, 2013 § 25 Comments
In what is believed to be the first ever instance of an Internet cycling coach terminating a client who was paid up on his fees, Samuel Slopworthy ended his longstanding online coaching relationship with cyclist Waylon Tuppersmith today. According to Slopworthy, “Waylon just wasn’t any good. Mathematically, his chances of improving were, like, zero. That’s ‘zero’ with an infinity of zeroes after the decimal point.”
Tuppersmith, who had trained with Slopworthy since 2010, was flabbergasted by the termination notice. “I’m still trying to process it,” he admitted. “Sam and I go way back. I’d used CTS and Negacoach and a bunch of other online coaches, but none of them worked. With Sam I really felt like I was making progress. Aside from his monthly fee of $950, the SRM and WKO subscription, he wasn’t always upselling me gear and training camps and such. I’m really blown away.”
Slopworthy saw it differently. “We started off like every other client-coach. I told him that with some hard work and by following the training plan I’d cadged off Joe Friel, he’d soon be crushing the Saturday ride, he’d up his FTP 30-40%, you know, the usual empty promises you make to get people to cough up their credit card number and expiration date. But it just never happened. He was as slow after three years as the day he signed up. In good conscience, I just couldn’t keep bullshitting him.”
Wayne Atlas, an industry analyst whose expertise is online coaching, noted that this was truly unique. “The whole concept of online coaching is simple. Once you get ‘em on the hook, you keep ‘em on the hook. No one in his right mind fires a client whose credit card can still be charged at the end of the month. It’s cray-cray.” Asked if he thought this might be a new trend, Atlas shrugged. “Hard to say.”
Tuppersmith was desolate. “Sam had me doing intervals and big ring work on Tuesdays and Thursdays, tempo climbs on Wednesdays, a fast group ride on Saturday, and Zone 2 distance on Sundays, Mondays and Fridays super easy or completely off — I’d do that for two weeks, follow it with an easy week, and then repeat. I really could tell I was getting faster. Some days I was hanging onto the group ride all the way to the point where it started going fast.” When asked where the ride started getting fast, however, Tuppersmith admitted that it was “after about five minutes.”
Slopworthy disagreed with his client’s optimistic analysis. “Some people are hopeless as athletes. I didn’t used to believe that, but I do now. No matter what we tried, he sucked, and we tried everything. I’d throw a bunch of stuff I read off Andy Coggan’s web site at him … zilch. We tried 20-minute threshold efforts … nothing. Sprint workouts, zip. He was kind of impressive, you know, the way he absolutely never improved in anything no matter what.”
Slopworthy, who has been coaching online clients since 2005, explained his training to become an online cycling coach. “I’d recently been let go at Mickey D’s, and I found out that you could read some books and then start taking clients. I like to think I’m one of the better online coaches out there.”
When asked if he cycled competitively, Slopworthy laughed. “Me? You kidding? I don’t even own a bike. I’m a coach.”
Tuppersmith, a database programmer who lives in Cincinnati, felt that Slopworthy’s credentials were impeccable. “He really had all the answers. When he put me on that gluten-free diet and got me on a yoga program, I knew he was the real deal. Gym workouts, strengthening my core, compression boots, altitude tent, legal supplements … This has really thrown me for a loop.”
Slopworthy saw it differently. “No matter what we tried, he sucked. The subscription level he had entitled him to ten emails and one live phone call per month. The emails I could kind of bullshit my way around, you know, ‘Good job, but work harder on the climbs,’ that kind of shit. It was the live calls that were killing me. He’d call up and like, what could I say? He flat fucking sucked. It was affecting my marriage. I’d lie awake the night before our scheduled call, trying to figure out how to tell him that he was making progress when all the parameters conclusively showed that he wasn’t. It was awful.”
However, Tuppersmith remains optimistic. “I really learned a lot from Sam. If I can find another online coach to run my credit card, I’m pretty sure I can upgrade to Cat 4 next year. It’s doable.”
December 17, 2013 § 13 Comments
Sometimes the things he says take a bit of decoding, and sometimes the things he says leave you scratching your head, but sometimes my pal G$ will let a pearl of wisdom drop that is practically Buddha-like in its wisdom. So you gotta be on your toes and you gotta be patient, sometimes extra, extra patient, because when one of those nuggets plops down if you’re fiddling with your Garmin or yapping about your last indoor training session, you’re gonna miss it.
We were coming back from a sedate little pedal up Mandeville Canyon, and we had hit a traffic light, I think it was on San Vicente. When it comes to traffic signals I am like a Republican mom who’s got a double tall chai mocha soy latte in one hand, an outgoing text message on her iPhone in the other, three squalling kids in the back seat, all while running five minutes late for li’l Becky’s ballet lesson.
In other words, my preferred mode of travel when riding alone is to blow through anything that doesn’t have a cop or oncoming traffic. Red lights are suggestions, and stop signs are bad ideas that won’t be adopted in this draft of the presentation.
As I’ve gotten older and more concerned about the opinions and terror of others, though, I pretty much stop at red lights when I’m with a group, and I’ll even slow way down for a stop sign. It freaks people out too much otherwise.
So we came to that ol’ stop light and put our feet down. G$ looked over at me and grinned. He’d been talking about pole vaulters and how they were put together different from other track and field elite athletes, especially when it came to beer and curfews and careful dieting — that is, pole vaulters apparently didn’t believe in either. I was concentrating as hard as I could, trying to remember what pole vaulters did, and trying to follow the details of the bus ride back in 1983 from Kansas down to El Paso in which the pole vaulters had caught a skunk and fed it beer and then let it loose in the opposing team’s locker room.
I was trying might and main to wrap my brain around how you “caught a skunk,” much less “fed it beer,” into a reality framework, and it wasn’t happening, when G$ let drop a nugget. “You know,” he said, apropos of nothing, which is his finest contextual context when it comes to nuggets. “Stopping is good.” Of course, we were stopped.
My brain ground to a halt. He might as well have said “Wife beating is good,” or “Heroin injected through the tip of your penis is good,” or “Bat sandwiches are good.”
“Dude!” my brain screamed, but didn’t say. “Stopping is TERRIBLE! Stopping is the OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE DO! Stopping is to biking what books are to Kanye West!” But instead I just looked at him kind of mutton-headed and said, “Huh?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I used to want to go all the time. But now? Stopping is good. Every time I stop it’s like, you know, good.”
“Aw, you know. It just feels good.”
We waited for the light to change while he picked up the story where the skunk and the other team’s star miler found one another, but I had tuned out because I was focusing on my leg, the one that was anchored to the ground and not pedaling my bike. Then I focused on my other leg, which was also not pedaling my bike. All of the pedaling juice that had backed up inside my veins from the trip up Mandeville ebbed away as we stood there doing nothing.
My heartbeat tailed off. Everything relaxed. I looked to the left and smiled at the Brentwood mom and her double latte.
The light turned green and off we went. At the next stop light it happened again; we stopped and it was good. It wasn’t an annoyance or an obstruction or a deliberate plan by the auto-industrial-military-Republican-anti-Obamacare-complex to force me to carry a gun, it was … good. Stopping was so good in fact that, once I’d left the group and couldn’t be observed by anyone who knew me, I stopped for a stop sign.
Then I began to ponder the Oracle of the South Bay and the deeper meaning of his utterance. “Stopping is good.”
What if it wasn’t just about cycling?
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December 15, 2013 § 58 Comments
As I was riding down the strand towards the pier in Hermosa Beach yesterday morning, I heard a huge commotion. There were a lot of people in front of me, so I had to crane my neck to the side to see what was going on. The shouting and cursing grew louder; by now I was only a hundred yards or less from the pier.
A bike was on its side and a rider was cursing someone at the top of his lungs. The cursee was beating a hasty treat with a young child in tow. He kept looking over his shoulder and shouting epithets at the cyclist, who I recognized as my friend Douggie. It was 7:45 and I had planned to flip it at the pier and head back to Redondo for the start of the Donut Ride.
“Are you okay, man?”
“I think so,” Douggie answered, shaking with rage. “That guy just took me out.”
The man had vanished from view, but I’d seen him clearly enough. He was in his late 40′s, about 5’10″, maybe 200 lbs., and he had a skateboard tucked under his arm. The little kid was wearing a bright red jacket.
“I was coming along the strand and that guy was standing at the edge of the pavement. We made eye contact, I must have been going ten miles an hour or so. Then he leaned over, set the skateboard down, and gently rolled it right in front of my bike as I passed. There was nothing I could do.”
“Wait a minute. The guy did that? Or the kid?”
“The guy. The kid was standing there. They saw the whole thing.” He pointed to a man and his son, who were slack-jawed.
“Really?” I asked them.
“Yeah. Just like he said. It was unbelievable.”
“Then let’s call the cops. That’s a felony battery.”
The Hermosa police were there in a few minutes, and a lifeguard had spotted the guy shouting at the little boy on the other side of the dunes. The two reappeared in a few minutes and the guy tried to get in his car and leave. The cop stopped him.
The skateboard tosser was foaming at the mouth, ranting and raving at Douggie. “You were outta control, man! Outta control!”
“Yeah, I was out of control after you knocked me down, you asshole!” Douggie shot back.
The cop shut the guy up, sat him down away from us, and interviewed Douggie and the witnesses. It turned out that the witness and his son were cyclists themselves and were from Colorado, here on a short holiday trip. Welcome to California, man.
The cop went over to the guy, who continued to shout and rave and scream at Douggie, who’s a particularly careful rider. “Look, pal,” the cop said as the crazy dude denied everything. “There are two witnesses and the victim whose stories match perfectly. They said they saw you intentionally knock that him down with your skateboard.”
“They’re lying!” he shouted.
Then the little boy broke into tears. “Just tell him the truth, dad,” the boy implored.
There were a few terrible seconds of silence. The crazy guy hung his head. “I did it,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
The cop came back over. “What do you want me to do?” he asked Doug. “I can arrest and charge him.”
We all looked at the sobbing little boy. There was something terribly wrong going on and everyone knew it, especially the cop. What was less clear was that arresting the guy would make things any better. Douggie shook his head. “No, officer, I don’t want to press charges. But could you explain to him that he can’t be going around knocking people down like that? Someone’s gonna get hurt.”
The cop nodded. “Okay.”
By this time they’d run board tosser’s driver license and nothing had come up. “I’m really sorry,” the guy said again. He and the little boy got into the beat-up Volvo and drove off.
Douggie and I missed the Donut and ended up doing our own ride. Our heads were spinning the entire way.
December 5, 2013 § 9 Comments
The next morning he woke up with that call of the wild, the raging, pounding urge to piss. Turner’s eyes flicked open and for a few brief, half-waking millimoments he tried to remember where he was and why he was sleeping on a couch and why he was covered in a strange blanket that smelled like a woman.
His brain quickly put the pieces together, but that brief uncertainty, happening as it did in a mostly dark room in a very strange place with very early sunlight filtering in through the blinds, deja-vued him back to the time he was thirteen and he’d taken a backpacking trip up into the San Cristobal mountains of southern Colorado.
They had gone from sea level in Texas to the thin Colorado air in a day and a half, driven the rental car up the rutted and rocky dirt roads as far as they could, unloaded their crap at the trail head, and set out at first light for a nine-mile hike up the Rainbow Trail. The incredible weight of the 40-pound canvas pack on his 90-pound frame, the unbelievable tilt of the trail, and the grinding mash of his not-quite-broken-in heavy leather hiking boots made the first hundred yards of that unforgettable death march almost unbearable.
But the pounding, migraine-intensity headache from the altitude sickness and the constant vomiting had made him think he would die. If Candy Donner hadn’t dropped back to help him, maybe he would have.
“Here, dude,” Candy fired up and handed him a joint.
“What is it?”
“Medicine. You’ll thank me later.”
“It’s marijuana, right? Will it hurt me?”
“It will save you. Leads to heroin, though.”
The altitude sickness receded somewhat, replaced first by intense paranoia which was itself later overlain with profound, raging hunger. When they took their first break and Pops opened up the plastic tube of peanut butter, a fight almost broke out. All the kids were stoned and hungry and tired and out of sorts.
“This sucks,” said Benny Donner, who was a year older than Turner and who went on to distinguish himself by committing suicide at age eighteen, a blow from which his dad never recovered.
When they shouldered their packs, what had in the beginning felt impossibly heavy now felt as if it had grown to double the size in the short ten-minute break. Candy dropped back with some more weed, and in a fog of anger and sickness and paranoia (“They brought me up here to kill me,” etc.) and, eventually, more hunger, Turner crept up the trail.
That first day’s ordeal had begun at daybreak and ended just before nightfall, and the only way he’d gotten through it was Candy’s cornucopia of drugs. With several hours to go, and even the adults in survival mode, Candy had unleashed the psilocybin. “Just chew and swallow plenty of water. They’ll go down. Nasty as shit, but they’ll go.”
Turner madly crushed the dried up fungi, getting pieces of it stuck in his braces, the taste so awful and inedible and bitter and obviously poisonous that it was clearly going to be good, or at least better than now. ”I wonder if this is what a vagina tastes like?” he wondered. The mushrooms got him to the first base camp, where he flung down his pack.
“Fuck this, I hate backpacking, I hate Colorado, I hate mountains, and I hate … ” he trailed off, randomly slapping at the black clouds of delighted mosquitoes that swarmed about him, the mushrooms amplifying the personalities of each mosquito so that before slapping each one he had to consider its personality: Was it a bad mosquito?
Its family: By killing this insect am I depriving a hungry family of baby mosquitoes back at the nest of their father?
Mosquito nests: Do mosquitoes have nests?
And of course fucking: How do mosquitoes fuck? And how big are their penises?
“Turner, are you okay?” Pops had rolled him over onto his back with the toe of his hiking boot, and was now looking down at him, somewhat concerned.
“Do mosquitoes have nests?” he asked.
Pops, relieved that Turner was asking the kind of questions he usually asked, smiled. “Dinner will be ready in a few. Hang in there.”
“How big is a mosquito penis, Pops?” he asked, but Pops, who was also tired and hungry, was headed over to the campsite and didn’t hear him. Turner desperately wanted Pops to turn around, but he didn’t.
Turner did in fact “hang in there,” mostly, it seemed, by his neck. No food had ever tasted better than that awful freeze-dried beef stroganoff. They’d tried it in the backyard and no one would eat it, not even the dog. At the top of the Rainbow Trail and on the brink of collapse after fourteen hours of utter hell, it was the finest cuisine anyone had ever had.
As the drugs receded and the altitude sickness set back in, Candy had taken Turner down to the edge of the stream to wash the dishes, where even more mosquitoes awaited. The nine campers had licked their utensils absolutely clean, so rather than use the biodegradable soap in the icy cold water, the boys just dipped the pans and forks and spoons in the water and rubbed the grease around with their fingers.
“Aren’t we supposed to wash them?” asked Tuner.
“Fuck it, you think anyone will notice or care? Shit, you think the pioneers washed their dishes?” Candy then whipped out one of the steel fuel canisters that he’d sneaked from the campsite and started unscrewing the lid.
“When I pop off the top, just jam the spout under your nose and inhale, deep motherfucking inhale.” Turner did as he was told, the jolting stench of the kerosene coursing up into his head. “Again,” Candy commanded. “Poor man’s buzz. Now go to bed.”
Turner crawled into his sleeping bed with an awful, jagged kerosene high, but he went to sleep right away and he was the first one to wake the following morning. It was still, toasty warm inside his sleeping bag, the inert body of his brother next to him, the inside of the tent dripping with moisture, and the sound of birds outside, the headache gone. That half-moment between sleep and wakefulness, trying to piece together where he was and why, suspended in thought and time, safe in the warmth of the tent, it had been the most delicious moment of his life.
Until right now.
December 2, 2013 § 59 Comments
There’s a nearby bike shop called “Safety Cycle.” The name is weird unless you know the history of the shop and the history of the bicycle. The shop opened in Hollywood in the 1940′s, and its name referenced what we all recognize as the modern bicycle, a pedal-powered machine with two equally sized wheels.
The safety bicycle replaced the penny farthing, high-wheeler, or “ordinary” bicycle of the late 1800′s because it was safer. You still fell off your bike, but you didn’t fall from as high up, which meant that head injuries were fewer and less severe.
Since 1893, the last year that the deadly high-wheelers were last mass produced, safety in cycling has made marginal progress at best. Yes, we have helmets, lights, better brakes, better tires, and reflective material, but the culture in road cycling is still one that rejects safety, even holds it in contempt.
Spare me your tales of speed
I dislike talking about motor sports. The occasional moto rider or car enthusiast will pop up in the peloton, and before long it’s one endless bore-a-thon about the dangers, thrills, complexity, and awesomeness of high speeds while strapped to the back of an internal combustion rocket.
I get that motor sports are faster than bikes. I get that it take a lot more balls to go 130 on two wheels than it does to go 30. And I get that you are a general badass in that awesome sport. Now, please shut the fuck up and show me that you can make it to the top of a tiny hill without getting hopelessly dropped, because, you know, we’re on bicycles now. They’re not as awesome as things that say “Ducati,” I know, but if motor sports are so friggin’ cool, why are you out here? Getting dropped? Before we’ve even accelerated?
This is all shorthand for confessing my impatience with moto heads, until something happened the other day when I was pedaling, very slowly, with a moto head who was telling me for the fifteenth time about his 150 mph crash at the Fontana track in which he only broke two fingers.
“You sure got lucky,” I said, also for the fifteenth time, trying out of politeness not to tell him that if he ever said the word “moto” again I would sprint away, never to return.
“Nah,” he said. “Luck didn’t have anything to do with it.”
Now he had my attention. “What did? I suppose you’re the second coming of Evel Knievel and Bob Hannah?”
Sometimes it pays to listen
Moto Dude laughed. “Hell, no. I’m just your ordinary moto dude. You know what saved me? It’s the safety culture in motor sports. I look at cycling and am blown away by you guys. It’s deadlier going 30 on a bike than it is going 60 on a moto. And it’s because the cycling culture is so macho. It’s stupid.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Look at your clothing. What would it take to put a Kevlar pad in the hip of every pair of shorts, or a tailbone protector, or Kevlar-padded elbows and wrists? In moto, the rule is that what you’re wearing when you walk out the door is what you’re going to be wearing when you crash. You think that Lycra is gonna protect your hip from shattering?”
He had a point. After my big crash a month or so ago, I had gone online and ordered a full set of MTB protective gear, including elbow and wrist pads, and a crash belt that had hip and tailbone pads. The problem was that the gear was too heavy and bulky for road riding. Also, because the hip and tailbone pads weren’t sewn into my bibs, they didn’t stay in place and rubbed the hell out of my legs. They were also hot. Worst of all, they made my butt look big.
MTB and death
MTB riders have always been light years ahead of roadies. Take, for example, their long tradition of getting stoned after races. They also have a healthy regard for safety, with full facemask helmets and protective gear, especially for downhill, that is so good that some moto riders use the pads because they are lighter and work better than motorcycle gear. MTB riders didn’t grow up thinking that a head-on-stone or hip-on-tree trunk collision earned you any style or macho points, so they’ve always been receptive to doing things better. Who wants to finish a fun day on the trails breathing through a tube on life support?
What’s our excuse? Road racers fought hardshell helmets hammer and tong just so they could look cool. I was at the vanguard of the stupid train in 1986 when hardshells were mandated by the USCF, and got suspended for 30 days due to my nasty letters complaining about my “right” to bash my brains in while bike racing.
Still, going back to Moto Guy’s point, what is our excuse? I’d buy shorts with a Kevlar hip pad, and I’d buy sleeves/arm warmers that had elbow and wrist protection, not to mention socks that had a narrow insert around the ankle. As more and more crazies in cars get physical with us for riding our bikes (check out the nutjob comments on my blog post from a couple of days ago, when a guy proudly insinuates that he’ll hit anyone who’s riding “illegally”), it seems like there’s even more of a need and a market for road gear that emphasizes protection more than stylish British gentlemen’s “fashion.”
Moto Dude’s right
As he lectured me on what a bunch of macho dumbasses we are, Moto Dude also confessed that motor sports used to be similarly stupid. “Not to mention hockey,” I added.
“Yeah. But you know what happened? There used to be a mentality of ‘If you crash and get killed, it’s because you suck.’”
I thought about my epic FB war with a goofball from Schenectady whose thesis had been that very thing: You crash on a bike because you’re not very good at riding it.
“Then,” continued Moto Dude “the sport lost a couple of its very best racers, guys at the top of their game. Kind of hard to argue that the reigning world champions don’t know how to ride, right? So people started looking at the equipment. Same thing for F1 and Nascar. And they found out that there were places where, with a few modifications, you could go from racing in a death trap to racing in a car that could crash and burn at 150 and you’d walk away. They figured out for moto that lightweight protective gear saved lives and prevented horrific injuries.”
We pedaled along together for a while, neither one of us saying anything.
Then I remembered the other reason I disliked arguing with moto heads. It’s because they’re pretty much always right.
November 30, 2013 § 56 Comments
Ten ways you make the group ride bad:
- You refuse to share the work. You sit in the entire ride, or most of the entire ride. The one or two time you go to the front, your efforts are feeble, and they end quickly. You are so afraid of getting dropped, getting tired, or feeling pain that you leave all of the work to others.
- You show up late. The ride leaves at 8:00, but you know it never really leaves until 8:10 at the earliest, so you fiddle with your saddle bag or your Garmin or decide that now is a great time to replace your cleats. Then you text the gang that you’re running ten minutes late.
- You don’t have a spare tube or a spare CO2 cartridge or a pump. Someone else will have one if you need it.
- You don’t say hello to newcomers unless they look fitter and faster than you. You especially don’t say hello to “dorks” because, you know, we’re still in junior high.
- You still haven’t learned how to ride in a straight line.
- You constantly drop your head to read your wattage, cadence, mph, kilojoules, distance, average speed, normalized power, heart rate, leaderboard status, etc.
- You overlap wheels then swerve when the guy in front moves over on you. For bonus points, you curse at him.
- You carefully avoid holes and detritus that the riders in front of you point out, but you don’t bother to point them out to the people behind you.
- You pass people at high speeds on the inside of tight downhill turns just because it’s “fun.”
- You don’t stop when people crash or flat.
Ten ways you make the group ride fun:
- You make sure your tires are in good shape, you carry a spare, a way to air it up, and something extra for the person who doesn’t.
- You drop off the back — miss the whole ride, even — when someone’s in trouble or needs help.
- You ride at the front.
- You greet newcomers and try to remember their names.
- You call shit out.
- You chastise people in private, not in front of the whole group.
- You show up on time.
- You understand the difference between group rides and training.
- You give the strugglers and stragglers a push from time to time.
- You put the group’s safety before your ego.
November 26, 2013 § 11 Comments
Whenever I get bummed out about all the douchebaggery in Old Foks Racing a/k/a “masters,” I think about the shadow riders. The shadow riders, you know, they perk me up.
They are the men and women who ride in the shadows of the d-bags. They often don’t race, or if they do, it’s occasional, and whenever they show up on a ride — if they show up on a ride — they remind you what legs, lungs, and unfettered ferocity mean on a bike. The shadow riders didn’t get the “fast riders are assholes” memo. They smile and go hard and beat you up the hill because they’re just plain old faster.
Craig Hummer is one of my favorite shadow riders. He doesn’t race at all. In between his crazy-busy schedule as a national TV sports commentator, he throws on a light, rolls out at 5:00 AM, and charges around the PV Peninsula.
The first time I met Craig, I didn’t even meet him. We were going up to the Domes and he was going down. “That’s Craig Hummer,” someone said.
“Craig Hummer. The TdF announcer.”
“Whatever.” I didn’t have a TV and wasn’t interested in people who talked about the Tour de France.
“He’ll rip your fucking legs off.”
Now … I was interested. I looked him up on Strava, and he had some mythical times on some mythical segments. “Ah, so what. Anyone can chalk up times on Strava.” So I thought.
A few years later I did my first ride with Craig. He ripped my legs off, which was bad, but he crushed my fragile ego, which was worse. All the way up VdM he was chatting. All the way to the Domes he was gabbing. I never got a word in edgewise, not because he talked too much, but because I was coughing up a kidney.
Wanting to make sure it wasn’t a mistake, I rode with him again, this time with Tri-Dork and Ol’ Scabies, who is 70 going on 95. Ol’ Scabies rode better at 70 than I ride at 49, and it was only through the combined half-wheeling of Tri-Dork and Craig that we shed him. If I can ride 1/10 as well as Ol’ Scabies when I’m his age, I’ll surrender my AARP card and take up Elite road racing.
Craig dusted my broom again, hairy legs and all, chatting the whole way like we were at a quilting bee. Then he honored me by saying he looked forward to our next ride. The sun was up by then, but it was only 7:30 AM. The next time we talked, by message, he was jetting his way to NYC, out of the shadows and into the limelight.
Damn ugly jersey dude
The first time I got ground up into gristle and pooped out the back by Tony Manzella, he was wearing a terribly ugly jersey emblazoned with the names of famous bike racers. He had come down to the South Bay to sample the Donut Ride, and the bite he took was big enough to eat the whole damn thing.
Tony was obviously too big to climb well, so when he dropped the whole fuggin’ wankoton and soloed to the college, the problem was simply that he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be able to do what he did. Fucker.
The handful of times we rode Mandeville together on the Holiday Ride, my goal was simple: Stay with Tony until I gave birth to a small vomitus. Then quit. Each time I achieved this goal.
Tony’s the guy who decides to race ‘cross, shows up, does the most competitive races and places in the top four his first race. Then the top two. Etcetera. He’s the guy you fucking hate, except, you can’t possibly hate someone that good, that honest, that friendly, that fair, and that willing to take a pull. Then, to really make you feel like a POS, he’s the guy who can chat you with you before the ride about … art.
Tony’s a shadow rider par excellence. He loves to ride, but his integrity and decency and perspective show you, by example, that the master’s racing scene doesn’t have to be what it is. There are people out there who have that rarest thing of all, common sense, common decency, perspective.
So what if he ground me up and spit me out on Seven Minute Canyon? So what?
November 19, 2013 § 60 Comments
I used to see him every time I took the bike path in Hermosa Beach. If you took the path all the way to the end, you had to dismount and go up the stairs, so the goal was to stay on the path as long as possible, then take a right up one of the little walkways which would put you on the street. That way, you could keep pedaling.
The last possible point of departure was a walkway marked by a big hedge, and he was always there. It didn’t matter how early, and let me tell you, sometimes I made early look positively lie-abed. Five-thirty, six, it didn’t matter.
He was always there.
And he was always drunk.
Not a little drunk, not getting-warmed-up drunk, but drunk. He’d be standing, leaning actually, against the wall that separates the beach from the bike path, and he would be sauced, even though you knew he’d only been up for an hour or so.
His face was drunk ruddy, and his eyes were sad beyond belief. I’d always grin at him and say, “Morning,” and even though he never answered he always nodded this sad, dying nod.
“That dude,” I thought every single time, “is drinking himself to death.” And he was.
What were his demons? What made him so sad? What had he lost, so precious that he wanted to exit this world in a poisoned trance?
Maybe his wife of thirty years had left him, or maybe he’d lost his job, or maybe he was from the Midwest and had come here to drink and drown, to finish up his days on the golden shore. Whatever it was, my pal Rex, who often rode with me in the morning, thought it was something much worse than sad.
“That’s all fucked up,” Rex said on The Morning.
“Yeah,” I said. It was on The Morning that we made our habitual turn and the dying man was leaning on the wall, sauced, and he nodded to us, but next to him was a bike. A beach cruiser with a nasty patina of rust and of course a coozy holder. “Dude’s got a fuggin bike,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Rex. “It’s my old cruiser.”
“You know that dude?”
“No. But I talked to him one morning. He lives a few blocks away and he can barely make it on foot down to the strand. So I gave him the cruiser. Might as well make his last days easier.”
“What’s his story?”
“No clue. But he’s racing to the grave.”
One morning, about two weeks after The Morning, the guy was gone. A solid year of seeing him leaning against the wall, and I knew that the poison had taken its course. This is how life is. Relentless and without pity. I’d never even stopped to ask his name.
Later that year I was in Santa Monica, a long way to the north. I stopped in for breakfast at a cafe. My waiter handed me a menu. “Coffee?” he said with a smile.
He was an older guy, but smiling broadly, and I recognized him. It was Dying Dude. “Sure,” I said. When he came back to the table, I said, “Recognize me?”
“I used to see you every morning on the bike path down in Hermosa.”
He lit up. “Oh, yeah, I remember you. Your buddy is the guy who gave me the bike.”
“You were drinking some hard stuff, man. I don’t think I ever saw you sober.”
He laughed. “I came within a day or two of dying. That bike your friend gave me, it saved my life.”
“Yeah. I started riding it to the strand, and then one morning I just kept riding it, all the way to the end of the bike path, must have been twenty or thirty miles.”
“Yep. I was so exhausted and thrashed when I got to the end of the path that I just lay down for about six hours. Then I pedaled back to Hermosa. I haven’t had a drink since. Got a job at this cafe … commute every day on the bike path.”
He laughed. “No shit.”
I ate my breakfast and got ready to ride back home to PV. The old cruiser was locked to a parking meter out in front of the cafe. I nodded to it, and grinned.
November 18, 2013 § 8 Comments
Ryan Dahl: Relentless pulverizer of the master’s 35+ SoCal ‘Cross season in 2013. It’s been amazing to watch him leap away from the field in the first few kilometers and then basically ride solo for the rest of the race. It’s been not quite as amazing to have him lap me halfway through the events we’ve done together.
Ella Johnson: Stood on top of the podium in both of the only ‘cross races she’s ever done. Plainly taking after her dad, and even though her super human strength is without peer in her age class, the most awesome thing was the way she cheered me every single lap. Dad & Mom have brought this little girl up right!
Carey Downs: Anyone can pay an entry fee and drag his ass around a ‘cross course for 45 minutes, but Carey’s the only guy in SoCal who can follow it up with a four-star barbecue clinic. Although beer is strictly forbidden and never consumed at ‘cross races, he also complements his feasts with a collection of Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, and Stone IPA bottles that are filled with, uh, water. Supporting Oscars to Marilyne, Jeff, Todd, Will, Arik & Craig.
Robin Kaminsky: Spends her weekdays putting people back together in the ER, spends her weekends ripping them apart again in ‘cross. Robin typically races three events per day. Do I need so say anything more? Oh, maybe I do. She wins most of them.
Brian Zink: Named after an element in the periodic table, Zink the cyclist has an amazing similarity to the history of zinc the metal. When Italian doctor Luigi Galvani discovered in 1780 that connecting the spinal cord of a freshly dissected frog to an iron rail attached by a brass hook caused the frog’s leg to twitch, he discovered properties that led to the process of galvanization of metal and to the discovery of the galvanic electrical cell, which in turn led to the first battery, or the Voltaic pile. Zink lived up to his family history of dissecting live animals when I stopped to “help” him after he had flatted on the Holiday Ride. I’d been shelled and he was standing at the road side. Grateful for the chance to get off my bike and moan, I “helped” him change his tire by handing him his spare tube. Once he changed it, he returned the favor by dragging me all the way back to Encinitas … at 32 mph. It was like being dissected alive while having an ox gore you in the groin while pulling you with a chain behind a dump truck while going over an unpaved road filled with exposed tree roots and land mines. The ride concluded with what felt like being beaten by galvanized steel, in a nod to the history of galvanization through the use of zinc. Thanks, Zink.
Prez: Doesn’t get any sweeter than a lead out by a speedy sprinter. Returning from the Wheatgrass today, Prez hauled me up the final bump before the Hawthorne sprint and deposited me 300 yards from the imaginary victory sign. So what if it was just the two of us?
That Cop on PV Drive North: When I blew through the stop sign, saw the cop at the last minute, locked up the brakes, skidded out into the intersection, hung my head, shamefully pedaled BACK to the stop sign, stopped, and put my foot down, I knew the only possible thing that could happen was a ticket. Instead, the cop shook his head in disgust and kept going. Winning!
Alan Hill: Amazing conversation about Sean Kelly’s autobiography and “grit.” Real, true, honest to goodness grit. Not that plastic fakey shit they get out of a syringe or a can or a volcano or Rapha catalog or Velominati web site and prance around as if they were really bike racers. No, not that shit. Grit.
Erik Johnson: Some people ride well, some people think well, few people do both. Zen Master + Yoda Adept + Cap’n Bill Flog ‘n Guzzle, Erik had some words of wisdom about the journey vs. the result. I’ll tell you what he said, but I’ll need your credit card first.
The Hillbilly Cooperative: Founding members Sherri Foxworthy, Marvin & Mea Cambell assembled at Chez Davidson to discuss pubic shaving prior to brain surgery, how hillbilly teenagers used to occupy themselves before the Internet and cell phones (let’s just say nature took not only its course, but several unnatural deviations as well), the relative complexity and severity of various laws pertaining to the transport of various things across state lines, and what happens when you mix fine home-made beer with good wine and lasagna. Hint: what happens requires large quantities of oily food the next morning.
Dave Wehrly: Made South Bay cycling history by hiring an artist to body-paint a model in an NPR kit as a promotion for our upcoming book signing and wine bottle draining event. When I was in San Diego on Sunday I had countless people sing the praises of the artwork and admire the beauty of the model. My dad even called up and asked, “What was that girl wearing? It sure was skin tight.”
Phil Tinstman: Explained how the lateral trochantric medial laryngectomy in his foot, which had happened in the Tour of Vietnam, was going to require surgery. But in the meantime he just figured he’d keep racing on it. Dayum!
Chris Gregory: In sympathetic coordination with Phil, she decided to do a 60-mile North County ride despite having torn the bipolar arachnoid process in her knee. Halfway through the ride the pain got so excruciatingly bad she had to return to camp with only 30 miles for the day. Fortunately, her medical background taught her to treat the injury with the two giant Lost Abbey taps in the parking lot at SPY headquarters.
Dandy Andy: Perhaps jealous of Phil’s ankle and Chris’s knee, on Lap 3 of today’s ‘cross race Dandy charged into a tree root with his head and severely strained the subnominal orbital disc that protects the Achilles heel from getting twisted into the appendix. The result was a terribly sprained foot, which was bad, and a self-diagnosis of two weeks off the bike, which meant that he is damned to gain 200 pounds in the next fourteen days. Say a little prayer for him, and be sure to drop off some chocolate bon-bons.
Greg Seyranian: After G$ received a bogus ticket for legally leading the Big Orange club ride in the lane on PCH, Greg took the sheriff’s “advice” and did the ride today with all 70 riders riding in the lane … single file. It showed the utter ridiculousness of the sheriff’s illegal order. Hopefully, change will come soon, in the form of Deputy Doofus learning how to properly apply the law.