Flying the friendly skies

May 23, 2014 § 26 Comments

As we waited to board I looked at the 300-lb. hippo sucking on a 32-oz. Coke and stuffing the extra large fries and Big Mac down his throat and I knew that on this full flight to Philly I would be seated next to him. How did I know? This was my fate. He would require three seatbelt extenders and would piss into his barf bag. He would sweat on me and fart in my general direction. My only consolations were that I was on an airplane rather than a Conestoga wagon and that I wouldn’t be murdered by Indians.

They were small consolations.

Mrs. WM and I got separated as we boarded. It was Southwest’s free-for-all. She got a choice seat, somehow. I waded to the back, the last of the C-boarders, knowing that the only slot remaining would be next to the Human Big Mac.

Towards the tail I saw the last open seat. I hung my head in defeat, knowing what awaited, when what to my eyes should appear but a vacant middle seat next to a smoking hot, 20-something woman. I eased in. To the seat.

The plane took off. I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye. She had already glanced at me, and accurately sized me up: Old. Bearded. Skinny. Wrinkly. Likely to embark on a tale about “When I was a young man.” She pointedly looked out the window.

Once we were at cruising altitude and the captain had told us to take off our pants I removed the Southwest in-flight magazine. I flipped through it. It was stupid and filled with restaurants I’d never visit and casinos I was too broke to become even more broke at. Then I saw him. The man. The myth. The 35+ Masters studmuffins.

I saw Charon Smith.

There he was in a full-color ad, staring out at me from the page of a magazine that had more readers in a month than the New York Times. I don’t remember what he was hawking, some recovery juice or another, but there he was, massive arms flexed, Surf City team kit perfectly reproduced in a full-color ad, handsome face hidden behind the (lame) Oakley shades, and legs cut up better than a slice of tuna at a sushi shop.

I nudged Miss Hotness next to me. “See this guy?” I said, pointing at the ad.

“Yeah?”

“I know that dude.”

She perked up, taking in Charon’s studly arms and studly legs. “Really? How?”

It all happened so quickly! Here’s what I wanted to say:

Charon isn’t the team captain, he’s the general of the peloton. He has class, he’s humble in victory and congratulatory in defeat, he races clean, he trains hard, and every year he gets better and better and better. He’s admired by many, respected by all, and mentors new riders whether they’re on his team or not. He gives you a push when you’re gassed even if you’re on the other team, and he beats you fair and square. If everyone in the world were like Charon, the world would be a better place.

But instead, I said “I’m his coach.”

Now Miss Hotnesss was really interested. “Really? You’re a cycling coach?”

“Yeah. This guy is Charon Smith. He’s one of the top pros in Europe. It’s like being an F-1 driver, only cooler.”

Miss Hotness was really interested as she checked out Charon’s hunky arms and legs. “Wow. And you’re his coach?”

“Oh, sure. I discovered him when he was a teenager. He was a skinny little punk trying to gain weight in a gym. I used to be a bodybuilder.”

She looked at my narrow arms and narrower neck. “Really? You don’t look like one.”

“I lost all that weight. But I met Charon and taught him how to lift, how to put on muscle, and most importantly how to race his bike. He’s the fastest sprinter in Europe and the US. Hits 60 miles per hour. On his bike.”

Miss Hotpants was really ogling the photo. “That’s incredible.”

“Yep,” I said. “Taught him everything he knows.”

“I like to ride my bicycle,” she said shyly.

“Really? You live in Philly?”

“No, I live in LA. I’m just going to Philly to visit my parents.”

“Well, as a professional cycling coach I’d be glad to help you get to the next level. I’m not bragging, but Charon is going to be riding the Tour de France this year thanks to my coaching, and I’d be happy to, you know, show you a few tricks.”

“That would be awesome!” She was looking at me with a mixture of admiration and respect and trembling fear.

“Oh, it’s no big deal.”

“What’s your name?” she asked, almost timidly.

“David,” I said. “David Perez.”

“How can I get hold of you?”

“Friend me on Facebook. I’m the only David Perez in San Pedro.”

“Okay,” she said, glowing. “I will.”

 

You can’t get from there to here

April 2, 2014 § 23 Comments

I know a guy who broke his neck the second or third time he’d ever done a time trial. There he was, whizzing along, legs flooded with poison at the end of the race, and as he crossed into the finishing chute he clipped a cone. He wasn’t a great bike handler and the TT bike was twitchy as hell and he veered off towards the shoulder, which would have been fine except for the big Suburban parked right in front of his 32-mph face.

He veered some more, left the shoulder and hit deep, soft sand. The wheel sank and stopped and he flipped over the bars onto his head and neck. His brain damage was so severe that after recovering from a year’s worth of surgery and rehab, he decided to keep racing.

I know another guy who was on a group ride coming down Las Flores. One of the riders wasn’t very experienced. The new guy overcooked a turn and hit the guard wire on the left side of the road, which killed him. The guy who survived now lives in a strange place inside his head.

Then there was the dude who weighed 280 lbs., and one day a pal from college saw him on the street. “Good dog,” said the friend. “You look like shit. How’d you turn into such a fat slob?” The fat dude got all embarrassed, but the friend didn’t pay him any attention at all. “Meet me at my house tomorrow at 6:30.”

They went for a bike ride. The fat dude had to dismount after a mile. He couldn’t breathe. His legs were killing him. He ass hurt. He oozed sweat and bacon grease. Six months later the fat dude had lost 100 lbs. Eight months later he did his first Donut Ride. Ten months later he became a fixture on the NPR. Now he races his bike and is as fit and fast as anyone else his age. He thinks he’s twenty again, but he’s forty.

A certain guy who rides for the Bahati team is as big as a house. He’s all muscle — played football, basketball, lifted weights, you name it. But all the pounding and grinding and jumping wore out his joints. He never thought much of all those skinny guys pedaling around in their underwear, but one day he decided to get a bike for the exercise. He’s a lightning fast sprinter now and in the best shape of his life. He laughs when he thinks about contact sports. “Last race I crashed in was more contact than a NASCAR pile-up.”

A local woman did triathlons. She was very good. Then she did a few bike races. She was even better. In 2008 I rode up Topanga Canyon with her and some other idiots and Rudy and Jack from Illinois (not his real name). Jack and Rudy rode away. She jumped around me and dragged me up the climb and back onto the wheels of the two leaders. I’d never been so completely thrashed before. In the intervening years she would occasionally ride the Donut and crush all but the very strongest men. Yesterday she helped her teammate Lauren Hall win one of the toughest pro road races in the world, Gent-Wevelgem.

At the Redlands Crit last year a guy was pushed into the barriers coming through the start/finish. He had been racing in SoCal for more than 30 years. The accident shattered his leg, ripped an artery open, punctured a lung, and almost killed him. Six months later he was still hobbling around with a cane. The trauma of the accident, the near-death experience in the ICU, and the long, painful recovery convinced him that he’d done his time in the saddle and that he’d sacrificed enough to the Bike Dog. He discovered a life off the bike. He saw family and friends he’d not seen for years even though he had been seeing them every day. He understood that the bike is no better or worse than any other drug or false idol, and he misses it only vaguely.

Then there were a thousand women who met a thousand men through cycling and they became lovers, briefly, if love can be brief. Which, of course, it cannot.

None of these people know how they got to be where they are, although they all seemed to start out on bicycles. The place they came from didn’t ever lead to their destination, which is perhaps precisely why they arrived.

 

Wankmeister cycling clinic #21: bike hating S/O’s

January 3, 2014 § 12 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

My wife hates cycling, and cyclists, and cycles. I get up and train at 4:00 AM so I can be be home at six, before she wakes up. She makes me feel so ashamed of my cycling, like when I masturbate under the sheets after she’s gone to sleep. What’s the solution?

In deepest shame,
Onan Ism

Dear Onan:

Masturbate on top of the sheets, while she’s awake.

One-handedly,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

My husband despises cycling and is terribly jealous of my bikie friends. He tongue lashes me when I get up early to ride, stalks my FB page, and makes nasty, snide comments about my bike buddies. If he’d only try it, he’d see how much fun it is! How can I convert him?

Sadly,
Mary Merry

Dear Mary:

He’s jealous because all he has is golf. You need to increase his jealousy to a fever pitch. Show him pictures of your bike buddies in their tight shorts with cruel outlines of their massive timber. Then show him fiery hot photos of your cycling girlfriends with their sexy butts and impressive cleavage. If this doesn’t work, dump him.

Catholically,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

My girlfriend is very unreasonable. Just because I race every weekend and train all the time doesn’t mean I don’t love her. She demands ridiculous shit, like, that we do a “date night” every Friday and stuff. How can I explain to her that “date night” is my recovery night so I can be ready for the big Saturday ride?

Frustratedly,
Pigsy Poppins

Dear Pigsy:

Wow! What a pushy bitch! Have you showed her GoPro videos of the ride? Does she understand that this is where reputations are made? FUCK HER! If you give in on this one, she’ll be asking you to take her out for her birthday, anniversary, etc. Madness. Time to move on.

Factually,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

Now that I’m happily married and my wife is pregnant, I’m starting to think about how to reorganize my life so that I give priority to my kid and family. I love cycling, but it seems more important that I invest my energies in my family. Plus, I can always come back to cycling later. What’s the right amount of riding for a new dad?

Responsibly,
Pater Familias

Dear Pater:

The most impressionable time of a child’s life is the first two years. So, you should be absent as much as possible to prevent the li’l booger from adopting your bad riding habits. Now is the time for big miles. Also, even though your wife will be upset at having to stay home and change poopy diapers while you’re quaffing lattes on the bricks and setting new Strava PR’s, it will make her stronger. Also, if you quit cycling now, thinking you’ll pick it up later, all of your competitors will gain valuable mileage and race experience. Think about it like this: Would you rather have children who say, “My dad was always there for me,” or kids who say, “My dad once podiumed in a 45+ crit.” Right?

Truthfully,
Wankmeister

The eyes have it

November 16, 2013 § 8 Comments

In a month and a half we’ll begin our third season of the SPY bicycling team. Lots of people wonder what it’s like to be an old creaky fellow with a leaky prostate and bad vision while riding for the premier old fellows racing team in California and therefore the galaxy. I’d sum it up like this:

Riding for SPY is fun.

In the first two years we  saw that there were other teams with better racers. We’ve never had the fastest  racers on our squad, but despite that our 45+ team was the winningest one in SoCal, our cyclocross masters teams are hands down the best, and our 35+ team, P/1/2 team and development riders mean that each year more and more people want to ride with us. Add into the mix that our women’s team, led by Jessica Cerra, is already primed to have a super year, and I think the reasons that people want to join the SPY cavalcade are simple : Swag and fun.

When you’re an old fellow, if you have any perspective at all, you realize that if your hobby is best measured in wins and losses, it’s probably no longer a hobby and has become what the rest of the world calls a “job.” You realize that as much as you’d like to win, even more than that you’d like to compete — and win — with people you actually like, doing things you actually enjoy, decked out in swag that makes you feel like you’re winning even when you place 78th.

SPY’s ethos is best described as having a happy disrespect for the usual way of looking at life. Put another way, “Beware of the usual!”

Living up to our mandate

We’re not told to go forth and win races, although we’re given plenty of leadership and racing and training opportunities to do so. What we are told is that once we put on the kit, we’re ambassadors for a brand. Not sales staff, or preachers, group thinkniks, but ambassadors, people who are here to deliver a message.

What message? This message.

1. Ride the front as much as you can on group rides, wherever you may train. Be a leader. Why? Because the usual way of doing things is to hide in the pack and show your face, if at all, at the coffee shop. The usual way of doing things is to use the work of others in order to benefit yourself. The unusual and irreverent way of doing things is to put your share of work into the group effort, and maybe even a little bit more than your share. If you’re too afraid of getting dropped or of not making the split, bite the bullet and … go to the front.

2. Take care of one another, and take care of others. The usual way of doing things is to only stop when you’re the one with the mechanical. This is your Sunday ride, right? You’ve waited all week for this, right? So if someone has a flat, well, that’s bike racing. The unusual and irreverent way of doing things is to recognize that there will be another Tuesday morning ride, and it’s probably not gonna kill you to help out a fellow cyclist. You’ll make a friend, you’ll energize the person you help to pass on the good karma, and you’ll go from being “all about me” to “serving others.”

3. Represent SPY and its team sponsors in the same way that you’d want them to represent YOU. Success doesn’t mean a podium in an old fellows criterium. Success is the sum of a life predicated on our collective good deeds, leadership, and the vicious clubbing of baby seals (to whom we apologize in advance and posthumously).

4. As a bike racer, or more accurately, as an elderly fellow drowning in a delusional vat of swag and beer and navel gazing, when you race your victory isn’t what matter. What matters are  your actions and how they affect your team. What matters is whether you were ready to toil in anonymity and lay it all out there for the sake of a teammate.

5. Make people HAPPY. Collective groupings of old people racing bicycles isn’t a formula for happiness. Smiling and spreading positive energy is. So go forth and happify. Now.

From the touchy-feely to the hard facts

You probably expect me to praise SPY for all the usual reasons, but what are those “usual” reasons? And aren’t we supposed to beware of the usual? Rather, my affinity for the company, begun through personal friendship and swag, has transcended those two things to reach a level of discrimination I never thought I’d reach.

Because you see, I don’t really give a rat’s ass about bike products. Of course I love nice stuff when I can get it, but I’m not now and have never been a “bike guy.” I have one road bike and one ‘cross bike. One extra wheelset for the ‘cross bike. My road hoops are the same ones I train on and race on. For me, it’s always been about being lucky enough to cycle and to be part of a cycling community. The bike and the clothes and the parts are icing on the cake.

Of course, there’s one exception to that, and it’s the unusual exception of my eyes. I began wearing glasses at age 13, bout six or seven years after I first really needed them. My vision was so bad that I could only see movies from the front row. I’m still convinced that much of my early problems in school stemmed from an inability to see the chalkboard.

Having terrible vision has affected me throughout my life. I never learned to surf above kook level despite decades of trying. Why? Because I’m horribly uncoordinated and weak. But being unable to see the wave until it was breaking on my head didn’t help. Ball sports were always impossible, and even though I could see on a bike, my eyes were constantly irritated from the wind that incessantly screamed around the edges of my Laurent Fignon frames. Wearing superb prescription eyewear from SPY enabled me to win the Tour in 2011 and was directly responsible for the winning Powerball ticket that I bought down at the corner 7-11.

In actuality, my vision transformation on the bike thanks to SPY wasn’t accidental or the result of lottery-like luck. This eyewear is authentically bound to technical performance. The prescription glasses work in an incredibly demanding range of light and weather situations, including getting bounced on my head at 40 mph and remaining intact (the glasses, not the head).

This authenticity is so much more than, “The glasses work, dude.” It’s part of the background of the product, where and why it came into being, and what drives its evolution and subsequent iterations. Plus, SPY has never sponsored Lance.

The combination of “ride at the front” and “this shit works” forms the core of the proposition when you’re thinking about buying glasses. Do you want a product made by non-cyclists for cyclists and owned by a giant Italian conglomerate that also handles leather handbags, or do you want a product that’s made by cyclists who have to live with the shit they create, and who have to answer to the product’s utility in their own races and group rides?

Putting glasses on your nose … who knew it was so complicated? Well, it is, because when you wear SPY you’re choosing between Italian luxuory monolith or a variation on ZZ Topp: “That Little Old Performance Eyewear Company from Carlsbad.” Do things like happiness, irreverence, riding at the front, helping those who need it, and buying locally make a difference to you? If they do, maybe there’s something in this story for you.

The pros who ride SPY gear are chosen in order to transcend their stereotypes as “jocks” and tap into a multicultural lifestyle based on a love of outdoors activities. Us grizzled old dudes with leaky prostates believe in that transcendence, too.

As Lionel Ritchie said, “I’m lookin’ for a good time, goooooooood tiiyiyime.”

November 13, 2013 § 16 Comments

I met a kid yesterday at a cafe. “Hey, I know you,” he said. “I read your blog.”

“Really? That’s awesome! Thanks!” I replied.

“Yeah, it’s really funny. But you sure are one egotistical dude.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I sat down at his table and let him and his pal buy me a cheeseburger. After thinking about it, I’ve realized that he really misunderstood me. I’m not egotistical. I am, rather, narcissistic beyond belief, perhaps pathologically so. Okay, scratch the “perhaps.”

Still, there are limits. One of those limits has been shameless self-promotion of my book, “Cycling in the South Bay.”

I have promoted it as far as I comfortably can without my guilt at being so narcissistic getting so bad that I can’t sleep at night, like having a bad case of acid reflux. Fortunately, the moment my sense of shame and self-reserve kicked in, my friends came to the rescue in the form of Dave Wehrly.

“Seth,” he said. “I want to do a book-signing party for you on November 21st. You can read a selection from the book. I’ll organize everything. We’ll get wine so all the drunks will show up, and I’m friends with the folks who own {pages}, a bookstore in Manhattan Beach that has said they’ll be glad to host the event. What do you say?” (He didn’t really say that bit about the drunks. He didn’t need to.)

“That,” I said, “is awesome.”

Adding sauce to the awesomeness was Dean Patterson, 1970’s cycling hard man and 2000’s wine maker, who volunteered up the grapes of wrath for the event.

The economics of self-publishing

I can say this much: It’s economical.

There are historically some  off-the-chart bestsellers that were originally self-published. 50 Shades of Grey and the Gutenberg Bible come to mind. For the most part, self-publishing is a financial dead end, but so what? Life is a dead end too, and that doesn’t stop us from trying to live it to the fullest. Moreover, Manhattan Beach is lucky to have a real, live bookstore. You know, one of those places that sells books made of paper; a place where the owners have a stake in your reading interests. If you’re under the age of forty, never mind. You wouldn’t understand.

What this book signing is, is a celebration. It’s a celebration of what happens when friends get together and slosh down too much good wine, then stagger over to Shellback’s and try not to pass out under the table. It’s a celebration of what happens when men and women put on tight, sexy clothing, then ogle each other’s asses for hours, days, months, even years before breaking down in a sleazy bar and swapping underwear in the men’s room. It’s a celebration of delusional, over-inflated egos, of hard money poured into vanity bicycle gewgaws, and of adolescent impulses that were never outgrown.

… and …

It’s a celebration of the grit and the discomfort and the inner brokenness that we try to smooth out by spinning circles, by communing with each other, by being there in good times and bad, and by lifting each other up by the armpits, even if it’s just to get you out from the slop on the barroom floor.

The celebration, of course, only has meaning because we’ve all invested a little bit in each other, the investment of trusting someone enough to sit on their wheel, or pitying their frailty enough to drag them up a hill, or blowing off the group ride to lag back and help some numbnuts  change a flat that he never would have gotten if he hadn’t ridden the stupid fucking tire 4,000 miles past its expiration date.

Whatever your reason, if you’re part of the South Bay community, or you were, or you’d like to be, or you know someone who is, join us. You won’t regret, and neither will I.

The only thing that’s for sale are my morals

October 3, 2013 § 11 Comments

The phone’s been ringing off the hook, or rather, out of my pants since it’s not actually on a hook.

“Hey, Wanky, ol’ pal!” It was Darb Esuoh, a guy who I know, but try not to publicly acknowledge.

“Oh, hi Darb.”

“Pretty excited about those ol’ South Bay awards coming up tomorrow, heh, heh.”

“Yeah. It’s gonna be fun.”

“So, ah, like, who’s deciding these awards anyway? Is it a committee?”

“Committee? No. It’s me. Why?”

“Well, ol’ buddy, that’s great! Hey, great riding at nationals by the way!”

“38th place? Thanks, man.”

“Yeah, super stuff, there. So, like, is that 2013 Wanker Award for real or is it a joke?”

“Oh, you know me, Darb. It’s pretty much both.”

“So you’re really gonna name someone, you know, Wanker of the Year?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“It’s a fantastic idea, hilarious. So many fuggin’ wankers out here, y’know?”

“Yeah. All over the place.”

“Wankers, sheesh. I wish I had a nickel for every time I saw a wanker, har!”

“You’d be rich, dude.”

“Yeah, I know. Even when I was green I didn’t ride like these wankers nowadays, you know?”

“Right. Hey, you all healed up from that crash where you took out Tink and a couple other people in Portuguese Bend?”

“Aw, hell yeah. Good as gold. Thanks for asking, bro. Hey, by the way, I loved your blog post yesterday. Really touching. You’ve got a lot of talent, man. You’re our hidden gem. Just a matter of time before you hit the big time, you know?”

“You really think so? That’s an awfully nice thing to say.”

“Hell, everyone says it. You’re like Hemingway, only you don’t go around shooting elephants or yourself, which is awesome. Keeping it real, homie!”

“What?”

“Oh, just, you know, keeping it real. Love the way you keep it real, bro.”

“So, like, what’s up? I mean, you’ve never called me before.”

“Up? Nothing’s ‘up.’ Hashtag ‘justpals.’ You see that Justin Timberlake hashtag video? Raucous! Hashtag ‘funnyasshit.’ But that wanker award thing is hilarious as shit. I feel sorry for the poor schmo who gets that. I bet you had a hard time choosing. Hashtag ‘wankersbythesmillions.’ Har!”

“In fact, I did.”

“Fuggin’ wankers are everywhere. Did you, like, nominate people? Are there gonna be nominees and you choose from them, Oscars-type thing?”

“Oh, for sure.”

“Ha, ha, ha! That’s awesome! You’re awesome! Ha, ha, ha! Awesome! Hilarious!”

“Thanks.”

“Who are they?”

“You know, just the folks you’d expect.”

“Fuggin’ wankers. Hey, bro, just wanted you to know that if I’m nominated for Cyclist of the Year I probably will have to decline the award if, you know, I get picked.”

“Really? Why’s that?”

“Oh, hell, I been doing this for thirty years. Seven state titles, you know, that’s enough for me. I don’t have any more room in the trophy case! Har!”

“I bet. I didn’t know you had seven state titles. That’s cool.”

“It’s a record. No one has more. Real deal, bro.”

“Dang. Still, I don’t remember ever seeing your name as a state road champ.”

“Road? Oh, no, not road.”

“Or the TT? Or the TTT? Just drawing a blank. But maybe it was back in the day, you know, when you were racing against a young Thurlow Rogers, schooling that dude, eh?”

“My titles are all pretty recent. But they’re solid. Rock fuggin’ solid. The one my stoker and I won five years in a row is called the 90+ category and that’s because they add the ages of the captain and stoker averaging out to be 45+ years old each.”

“Five-time mixed tandem champ, huh? That’s badass. Was that the category that, like in 2011, had two entrants?”

“Yeah, but it was hard. Just you and the bike and your stoker and the clock.”

“Good stuff, Darb.”

“Oh, HELL yes. For tandem there’s also a 70+ and a 110+ category. My teammate and I also won that championship twice in the 140+.”

“Two or three other entrants, eh?”

“Oh yeah, but they were fast. The race of truth, man, the race of truth. Ya gotta go deep in to the pain cave to get all those state titles. Deep.”

“Well, hey, Darb, great talking with you. I gotta run now.”

“Yeah, of course you do, for sure. Say, don’t embarrass me with a Cyclist of the Year award, okay? I know seven state titles is more than most people can even dream of, but still … I gotta live with these folks. Especially the wankers! Har!”

“Yeah, Darb. Har. Catch you later, pal.”

Strava war

September 27, 2013 § 63 Comments

There is a Strava segment outside my apartment. I made it. Until a few days ago, only three people had ever ridden it, and two of those rides were before it became a segment.

Let’s get this straight. There is no reason for anyone to ride up the street, Ravenspur. It parallels Hawthorne and doesn’t go anywhere except to my apartment. It is steep as snot, but there are fifty dozen better climbs within a half-mile that can logically be incorporated into your ride. Among its other drawbacks, once you reach the end you have to make a left onto crazy-busy Hawthorne across four lanes of speeding traffic.

Why segmentize it? Because I don’t ride with a Garmin and I wanted to know how fast I could go up it. Oh, and to also sneak myself a little KOM-action, because I hardly have any left. “What the heck,” I thought. “No one ever rides up this street. It’ll be a nice little vanity-KOM that I can take out, polish, and caress for a few months, maybe longer.”

Uh-oh, looks like YOU SUCK!

So you can imagine my chagrin when, four days ago, I got the dreaded message. “Uh-oh! Your KOM was recently devoured whole by Spencer! Enjoy the rest of the day, gnawing on your own liver!”

If it had been anyone else I would have felt sad, despondent, and very blue. This is because I’ve never retaken a lost KOM. But to have it taken away by Spencer, a dude with eight entire pages of KOM’s, was infinitely worse. Why? Because one of the best Strava riders in our neighborhood had targeted me and my piddly KOM. It was important enough for him to track my activities, drill down to my rides, and wrench the precious little KOM from my soft, chubby hands.

I’m sure the moment he took it, the elaborately programmed disco ball in his living room went off, the stereo began playing “We are the Champions” by Queen, and he threw on his ermine robes and tinsel crown as he paraded naked in front of the mirror.

My sad face transformed into one of violent rage, and I set out to reclaim what was rightfully mine.

The devil is in the details

One of the things that was going to make my retake so hard was the very nature of the street. Coming home from work I’m headed uphill, and have to turn left across two lanes of fast, oncoming traffic in order to begin the short but steep climb. This means that when I set the KOM, I did it from an extremely slow starting speed. Spencer’s time was twenty-two seconds, one second faster than mine, and I knew that in order to claw back two seconds over a .1-mile segment it would take everything I had.

As I approached the left hand turn I slowed, hoping for a break in traffic so that I wouldn’t have to unclip before hitting Ravenspur. Sure enough, the timing was good and I slid through. The bump is quite steep, so I had it in my 39 x 25 and instantly ramped it up to max rpm. By the time I hit the finish, I could barely see. I got off my bike and, unable to stand, had to lean on the top tube to keep from falling down.

But I smiled. “Take that, Spencer.”

Imagine my shock when I uploaded my iPhone data and saw that not only was Spencer still the owner of my own little personal front-door segment, but my hardest effort ever was a full second slower than my earlier best time of 23 seconds. Now the devastation was complete, and a part of me died that day. I wiped away the tears and ambled to the dinner table while my family consoled me.

“It’s okay, you don’t suck at everything!” said Mrs. Wankmeister.

“I’m proud of you, Dad, because you’re helping me learn through failure,” said my supportive 15-year-old.

The spirit of a warrior

The next day I woke grim and determined. The day flew by, and I hastened it by leaving the office an hour early. My legs felt light, strong, powerful, rested. I warmed up on the ride home, doing quick bursts on Anza and two steady efforts on Via Valmonte and Silver Spur.

When I moved into the left-hand turn lane, I was going a solid ten miles per hour. Magically, a breach appeared in the oncoming traffic. Perfectly geared in my 53 x 21, I launched up Ravenspur. This time there was no question. I raced to the top, collapsing as I had the day before, but secure in the knowledge that I’d reclaimed my KOM.

As I whipped out my iPhone I crowed to Mrs. Wankmeister. “Finally put ol’ Snotnose back where he belongs!” She had no idea what I was talking about, but nodded and smiled.

What happened next was too terrible for words, and I collapsed in a heap, sobbing. My “record time” was a full second slower than the day before, which was already a second slower than my all-time best. The better I rode, the slower I went. A couple of hours later, after I’d stopped crying, I called Derek the Destroyer. Through chokes and half-sobs I explained my problem.

“Dude,” he said. “You’re never gonna get that KOM back.”

“I’m not?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“These Strava geeks grab the segments strategically.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The two biggest factors are temperature and wind. Go back and look at the time of day he took it. It was in the morning, when it’s cooler. You’re always going up that thing at the end of the day, when it’s hot. What were you wearing today?”

“I had on my long-sleeve winter jersey from my morning commute into work. I was sweating like crazy.”

“Your body won’t produce the same wattage when it’s 80 degrees as it will when it’s 70, or 60, or 50.”

“You’re joking.”

“No, I’m not. That’s why you never see any of the Strava geeks take the hard climbs during a group ride. Do you actually know this guy?”

“I’ve never seen him, in fact.”

“It’s not that they’re stronger riders, it’s that they’re better Strava riders. Also, go back and look at your segment. Is there only one approach?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re coming at it uphill, right?”

“Yeah. It’s a ball-breaker.”

“Is it possible to hit it by coming down Hawthorne and turning right? You’d have a huge head of steam there, wouldn’t you?”

“Oh, come on. There’s no way Spencer would do that. It’s a completely different attempt, doing a standing start up a 13 percent grade versus hitting the climb after a 25 mph sweeping turn. Nobody’s a big enough wanker to coordinate temperature, wind, and a downhill just to rob me of my one silly KOM.”

Derek laughed. “If you say so.”

The terrible team of titans

I opened up Strava, unwilling to believe what I’d just heard, and there it was. Spencer had hit the Lungpopper segment on the Hawthorne downhill, after dropping off Highridge. A more evil, sneaky, dastardly, unsportsmanlike thing I couldn’t imagine.

This morning after the NPR I was rolling around the Hill with Manslaughter, the Destroyer, Jake, and Whatshisname. They were very curious about the segment. As we discussed the awfulness of the whole thing, a gleam appeared in Manslaughter’s eye. “Whattaya say we go and ‘pay Spencer a visit’?”

Soon enough we were charging up Via del Monte. When we turned left on Hawthorne and hit the downhill the speed ratcheted up. I signaled the turn and one by one we swooped through it, then jumped as hard as we could, scattered across the road.

When Spencer checks his email later today, he’s gonna have to go looking for six spare seconds, because that’s how many he now needs to climb back atop the leaderboard. The Destroyer, Jake, and Manslaughter are ahead of him, too. And my front-door segment KOM? It’s back where it belongs. And just in case you’re thinking about coming out and taking it away, I’ll tell you right now: I have a car, and I’m not afraid to use it.

Week in review

September 23, 2013 § 12 Comments

Lots has happened.

Julie Cutts, who rides for La Grange, won two world masters championships this weekend, one in the time trial and the other in the road race. More about this at a later date, but suffice it to say that this is staggeringly, incredibly, amazingly fantastic news. Julie was joined in Trento, Italy by Rudy Napolitano, Mike Easter, and Tony Restuccia, who all raced in the men’s 35-39 world championship. Although everyone can appreciate Julie’s two victories, not everyone can appreciate the men’s results — 15th, 19th, and 60th. Let me be the first to say that these results are extraordinary. Out of 101 finishers, these three racers performed exceptionally on a global stage, on a brutal course that ended with a 20km climb, in the epicenter of world cycling. Simply being invited to the biggest stage for masters racers is a tremendous accomplishment. Finishing as strongly as these guys did is testament to their toughness, ability, and racing skill.

Cyclocross is here

The 2013-2014 cyclocross season kicks off in Southern California next Sunday, September 29, at the historical downtown LA state park. Dorothy Wong brings cyclocross back for another year, only it’s bigger, better, and promises even more participation and excitement. Even as road and track racing stagnate in the state and nationwide, ‘cross continues to grow. Why? Because it’s audience-friendly. Road and track focus on the athletes, and with the exception of blowout races like Tulsa Tough, it’s unheard of in SoCal to see a road race, circuit race, or crit that’s packed with spectators.

Cyclocross brings people in to watch. The courses are exciting and spectators can put their tents right next to the most thrilling parts of the course. The racers go slower and they come by much more often, and spectators are encouraged to cheer, heckle, and give questionable hand-ups. ‘Cross courses are “parky,” so kids can run around. After racing, the athletes are often found under the tents drinking beer, hanging out, and enjoying the rest of the day. What’s also interesting is that, as far as I know, there’s little or no prize money — and the racers could care less. They’re energized by screaming fans and a fun time, not the illusory professionalism that comes from getting a “paycheck” of $25 and a box of Clif bars.

More PCH tomfoolery

I did another couple of Sunday rides on PCH, taking the lane all the way out to Cross Creek and back. The criticism of this approach was initially massive by the local cycling community, or at least among the people with whom I ride.  Then, thanks to a video captured by a biker on Sunday, I saw an entire crew of “gutter bunnies,” 50 riders strong, taking the lane. So that’s awesome. One disappointment has been the almost complete absence of “take the lane” advocates, folks who are quite vocal about taking the lane and who spout lots of facts and figures regarding the  merits of this method, but who can’t be bothered to actually do it on PCH. Maybe you don’t believe in your method quite as much as you say?

My kingdom for a stem

On the way to the ride this morning I ran into Mike Barraclough, who was sidelined just past Malaga Cove with a flat tire, a short stem, and no stem extender. My wheels are box rim aluminum Open Pros and so they take any length stem, no matter how short, but when I went to the bike shop to get a new tube the only ones they had in stock were the 60mm. It turned out that this was just the right length, so we swapped his spare 52mm for my 60mm, and we got underway. Dave Kramer, also en route to the ride, had also stopped to help. Pressed for time, we took the most direct route from Redondo to Manhattan Beach, which is PCH, and we took it at full speed. Mike and Dave had breathing problems along the way, and we had to back it off a notch to stay together. Then, once we turned on Gould and dropped down to Valley, Dave and Mike blew a stop sign that had a police cruiser parked off to the side, waiting for speeders. This was our lucky morning, though — I put a foot down for the first time in recent memory, and the cop just watched us pedal away. When we got to the start of the ride, Mike and Dave looked like they were on the finishing leg of RAAM. Ron Peterson looked up and laughed. “You were supposed to exercise the horses, son, but instead you done broke ‘em!”

Can’t say enough about these shoes

I’ve been riding Bont shoes for about six months now. My first shoes were Detto Pietro. My second shoes were Marresi. My third shoes were the Sidi Revolution, the first shoe with a velcro strap. My fourth shoes were Duegi white patent leather track shoes with wooden soles … I used them on the road and almost died in them atop a high mountain pass in Japan, but that’s another story. My next shoes were Sidi, and I wore their various iterations for twenty years until two years ago I bought the Specialized S-Works under pressure from a local dealer. My feet eventually adapted to them, but the dials constantly wore out and it was frustrating and expensive to replace them. It also felt like a bit of planned obsolescence, so that I could keep spending money on the shoe. It rubbed me the wrong way.

I was given the Bont shoes as part of my team’s sponsorship package. Basically, they give me a bunch of world-class gear so that I can go place 57th in the local crits and DNF the occasional road race. I was skeptical about the Bont shoes because you have to put them in the oven. They are also flexible like well-cured concrete. And the road shoe looks a little boxcar-ish. Once I had cooked them and used them for a week, my feet molded perfectly to the interior of the shoe. Everyone loves to talk about their “stiff frame” and “stiff BB” and “stiff soles” and “stiff” whatever, but it’s a word I’ll use with care for the rest of my life after wearing the Bont.

So, how stiff are the Bont shoes? They are “sailor on shore leave” stiff. They are stiffer than a fused spine. Stiff like glass. When you push down on the pedals, the shoes are so stiff that, if your bottom bracket is sufficiently robust, the earth will flex on its axis before you’ll flex the soles on these beasts. The ‘cross version of the Bont Vaypor is just as good, with several modifications for the rigors of cyclocross. If you’re unhappy with the flexiness of your current shoes, consider the Bont.

Short news brief in summary and abbreviated form

July 6, 2013 § 8 Comments

I have been banging the drum here in L.A. for some time now regarding the great bicycle riding opportunities in North County San Diego. This is not because I want to encourage people to get to know others, have fun, and enjoy cycling. It is because I get vicarious pleasure out of seeing my friends and riding buddies suffer obliteration. Although riding in North County won’t make you faster, it will permanently devastate your self-esteem. So, as Knoll would say, “There’s that.”

I joined my first SPY Holiday Ride yesterday. The evening before we had a team celebration at RIDE Cyclery. MMX, Slim Jim, and Brent had stocked the deck with giant coolers filled with fresh growlers of beer from Lost Abbey. None of the growlers had fancy beer names like “Working Stiff” or “Take Five” or “North County Rough Road.” No, they just had percentages of alcohol content written on the caps with a Sharpie.

This was beer for people who were serious about drinking beer. The Lost Abbey figured out how to make the beer, and apparently it was your job to figure out what to call it. The next morning I awoke with a screaming, blinding, pounding, stomach-churning hangover from hell, so in the future I will call their beer Sbpsc Hfh. Add vowels as needed.

It would be easy to blame the next day’s dismal ride performance on the hangover were it not for the fact that I have never done a hard ride in North County that didn’t either kick me out the back or reduce me to a whimpering puddle of drained legs and melted ego.

Why you should do this ride

1. There is no “B” ride. It is uncompromising. You will suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, be kicked out the back, and forced to find your way home alone or in the company of other lost damned souls. How many things do you do in life that are uncompromising? That demand everything of you and guarantee nothing but defeat? (Don’t answer this if you’ve been married for more than five years.) That bring out the best in you even when your best is a pathetic, sniveling NOTHING? So, you should do this ride because it replicates, in the tiniest of ways, your natteringly, immeasurably insignificant place in the universe.

2. You are a chickenshit. Yes, you. You, who hide behind wheels, always take the short route home, sandbag in the easiest categories, or “compete” by “racing” exclusively against Strava and your own “personal records.” Thing is, you don’t have to just be a chickenshit. You can go on this ride and be a smashed chickenshit and earn the contempt of the august men and powerful women on the SPY Holiday Ride who will crush you like an eggshell beneath the wheel of an Antonov An-225.

3. There is order in the court. Unlike the Manhattan Beach Holiday Ride, in which 300 freds and 50 solid riders usurp the roadways of coastal L.A. in a mad, undisciplined dash to Mandeville Canyon, the SPY Holiday Ride is ordered. Yesterday about 175 riders went two-by-two for the first five miles, a sick single file for the next four, and all-hell-breaking-loose at the nine-mile mark when the peloton shattered at the base of the San Diegueno climb.

4. Prizes galore. Yesterday an entire case of The Lost Abbey’s BWR Bad-Ass Ale was awarded to the sado-masochist who spent the most time on the front. Unsurprisingly, the winner was Phil Tinstman. KOM winners got cool SPY sunglasses. OTB-wankers got as many servings of ridicule and contempt as they could swallow.

5. Natural selection. This ride rather quickly separated the wheat from the chaff, and you eventually rode with the category of your true ability. Once the pain train hit Lake Hodges, those who had pulled early, blew early. Those who had sucked wheel in hopes that a miracle would get them up the punishing rollers had to re-evaluate their faith. Those who had saved so they could punish finally “Let the Dogs Out.”

6. Variable terrain. The terrain in North County is different from much of SoCal, and punishing. It doesn’t feature many long climbs, but it continually throws rollers in your path no matter which direction you go. These variations wear you down, break your will to live, and leave you looking for a quaint coffee shop with yummy pastries, or failing that, a Starbucks, or failing that, a house with a garden hose. But there are none.

7. Heatstroke. Once you leave the coast it gets A-fucking hot. The poorly hydrated crack, crumple, and cave. The lucky ones die.

8. Benign indifference. Although close two hundred riders started, only a tiny handful finished with the lead group. The rest were ground beneath the wheel, or, as Hesse would say, “Unterm Rad.” This is of course how the universe views you: With benign indifference. Many people go to Sedona or buy crystals or use Feng Shui to align themselves with the universe’s forces when really all they need to do to discover their true quotient of universal meaninglessness is go get their balls stomped on the SPY Holiday Ride.

9. Free salt for wound-rubbing. Post-ride, one wanker said “We normally ride a bit faster going up to the first climb, but we had a pretty gentle roll over there today.” This was the section where I pulled my fucking brains out, drove the pace like a madman, then cracked and split open at the bottom of the first climb only to learn that it had been a tad on the slow side. Sorry bastard motherfuckers.

10. Lots of awesome Strava KOM’s. The SPY Holiday Ride is a great chance for you to bag some prestigious KOM’s, kind of like “The lottery is a great chance for you to get rich.” Only, the chance for you is zero.

11. Regrouping. The SPY Holiday Ride regroups a couple of times, although neither time is for your benefit. It is to allow the baby seals to rejoin so they can be re-clubbed and re-skinned. And you will be.

12. Race simulation. The pace was very much like a tough road race with a series of difficult sections, each of which caused destruction at the back of the pack. Unlike real road races, however, where you can conveniently categorize yourself according to age and gender, this ride forced you to match matches against monsters like Thurlow, Full Gas Tinstman, MMX and the SPY Train, Brett Clare, and a handful of very strong wheelsuckers who never took a pull but attacked and attacked hard.

13. Fireworks. Although illegal due to the dry conditions and high temperatures, the ride offered constant explosive detonations that occurered when riders like Zink, Hatchitt, David A., Stinger, and Tait lit the fuses of Those Who Shall Not Be Named For Now and watched as they snapped, crackled, fizzled, and popped with a whimper.

14. Del Dios KOM. This bad boy has over 6,500 riders on Strava, but yesterday Full Gas Phil whomped the snot out of the record time and set a blistering new pace of 12:38. You should do this so you can be like me, who gave it everything he had and got 98th place. 98th.

15. The 130-lb. Exemption. After the first pitch the road flattened out and this was where, if you were still there (you weren’t), various hardmen went to the front. Then some dude hit the jets, even though he had never taken one pull the whole day. His reasoning? “I don’t have to pull, dude, I’m only only 130 pounds.” So take notice: Anyone 130-lbs. or less need not bring along so much as a shred of self-respect.

16. Watch Brett sprint. On the return there was a sprint into Rancho Santa Fe. Those hoping to pass Brett, Full Gas, Thurlow, MMX, Josh, etc. brought mopeds.

17. Pity the fools. The 3 Witches ascent had the next sprint at the top, featuring three risers that topped out with a nasty sprint. For the first two witches, a couple of wankers from SDBC set tempo with Thurlow, Full Gas, and MMX sitting behind. For the third and final witch, Thurlow pulled and dropped the fools, with Full Gas Phil taking the sprint, MMX next and followed by Thurlow. Everyone else was shelled here. You were, too. Oh, wait, no you weren’t — you were shelled like an hour ago.

18. Visionary delusions. After a few more merciless beatdowns, sprunt points, and complete draining of all bodily adeonsine triphosphate, the handful of remaining riders “remarked what a great ride it had been.” Uh, sure. Whatever. Bunch of fucking liars.

19. Horrific inland heat. The weather got hotter as the ride went inland. The heat sucked the life out of the weak, the lame, and the too-many-Lost-Abbey-brews-the-night-before. I staggered into a convenience store in Del Mar and doused my head in water, then lay on the cool pavement and hoped for a gurney or for someone to run over me. No one did.

20. Making great friends. After Zink flatted I was miserably stuck on his wheel for 30 miles while he “repaid” my assistance with the tire change by dragging me up hill, down dale, periodically dropping me, sitting up and waiting, towing me for a while, dropping me again, and generally making my life a living hell while trying to help me out. Note to self: Don’t ever stop to help Zink change a flat.

Ride facts:

– 60 miles with 3800 feet of climbing

– 4 sprint waypoints, and the KOM at Del Dios

– Held every national holiday. Next one will be on Labor day.

– Ride size: 100-200, depending on weather and time of year

Why Los Angeles is way better than San Diego

May 11, 2013 § 27 Comments

It’s really simple: We have the best early morning weekday rides. San Diego doesn’t.

What is a “best” early morning weekday ride? It’s one that begins around 6:30 AM, has a huge regular turnout, and rips your legs off.

“Oh, no!” I can hear you wailing. “We have the awesome Tuesday-Thursday ride! It’s hilly and it shreds the field!”

First of all, our ride is better because yours doesn’t even have a cool name. That’s because you’re too dumb to think one up. All that supposed surfer-cyclist-artiste creativity in North County and the best you can do is two names of the week? Sad.

Second, our ride is better because your ride has such a tiny turnout. Five semi-fast guys showing up with a hangover and pulling out each others’ teeth with rusty pliers does not a legendary bike ride make. Maybe it’s the early hour and you wike your wittle warm bwankie. Maybe it’s the lack of a swollen pack of baby seals among which the weak can cower and hide ’til the moment of reckoning. Maybe it’s the fact that the vast majority of bicyclists in North County ride Trek. But most likely, it’s the fact that your riders just aren’t that good.

Third, our ride is better because we have Rahsaan Bahati, Suze Sonye, Greg “32” Leibert, Eric Anderson, and Cory Williams as regulars. Who do you have? That dude with the full purple bodysuit and the bad smell, that’s who.

Fourth, our ride is better simply because of the riders that you have and we don’t. Leaving aside for the moment that none of your guys have even halfway decent nicknames, let me list a few rotten limbs in the pile of  deadwood that makes up your “ride”:

Stefanovich–Comes north to do our NPR, returns home a shell of his former self, which was a shell to begin with.
Crazy Legs–The name kind of says it all, eh? Along with him, “Sketch,” “Skitters,” “Twitch,” and “Jerky”…
Andy McClooney–The best rider to never come north and get his serving of NPR humble pie.
Number 2–Pyeeeeeewwwwh!
Celo Pacific Wheelsuckers–This is a club developed around the riding “strategy” of “do nothing until the end, then do even less.”
Los Ranchos Suckeros–Every yummy pie has filler, but these sandbaggers don’t even taste good when you chew them up and spit them out.
Velo (barely) Hangers-on–Close relatives of NPR baby seals who think “towards the front” is synonymous with “at the front.” It isn’t.
Swami’s B, C, and D Riders–It’s the alphabet soup of lowly categorized wankers. Their best ones make the first ejecta from the first acceleration on the Saturday ride. Their worst ones don’t even have bicycles.
Nytro trigeeks–They don’t always look and ride like idiots, but the 99.9% of the time when they do, they’re so far behind that no one knows or cares.
The Wolf Pack Up-and-Leavers–Last to the fight, first to the feast.

Fifth, our ride is better because we brag about  it. If it weren’t for my amazing powers of investigative journalism, I wouldn’t even know your ride existed. If you don’t brag about it, it must not be any good.

Sixth, our ride is better because we have a cool FB page. Do you? Of course not. Without a cool FB page your ride can never be more than sucky. Sorry.

Seventh, our ride is waaaaay better because Robert Efthimos and Cory Williams video everything and then post cool movies of wankers like Jay “Manslaughter” LaPlante trying to murder his buddies. Then we get to spend the entire workday on FB chatting about it. What do you poor slobs do? You go to work and work, that’s what.

Eighth, our ride is better because we actively make fun of people who wear Oakley. SPY is how we roll, yo.

Ninth, our ride is better because we have that cute Asian chick who’s always jogging down the alley as we roll out. Who do you have? That furry dude who lives in the shopping cart behind the Starbucks.

Tenth, our ride is better because we have a ride kit. That’s right. Our ride is so pimpin’ that we have a kit with our cool ride’s name on it and lots of clever “in” jokes emblazoned on it by Joe Yule. Our ride is beautifully tanned Argentine leather. Yours is naugahyde.

Eleventh, we have Joe Yule. You have that dude who lives in his mom’s garage and builds web sites with Dreamweaver.

Twelfth, we have CotKU. You probably don’t even know what that is. Sad.

Finally, after our awesome ride, which is always awesome and so much better than yours, we get to sit around at CotKU, drink coffee, and watch Dave Perez do interesting things dressed up in purple and yellow. What do you have? A bunch of really serious MRI dudes dressed up in electric green  baby dwarf artichoke outfits. Hint: You can’t be serious if you are a dude in a baby dwarf artichoke suit. A clown, perhaps, but not a serious dude.

The day of reckoning

Although I’ve already reached my conclusions, invented my facts, and printed my story, I thought I would at least do you the favor of coming down to the next Tuesday ride to confirm that your ride is a complete sham and pose fest. I have no doubt about what I’ll find: A handful of scraggly, half-shaved riders, tummies hanging out of their undersized stretch pants while they suck down a gallon of pre-ride sugar goop pretending that their “ride” is a ride.

Please also be advised that I will be showing up fully primed and prepared to teach each of you the meaning of the word “beatdown.” Although I don’t expect to break a sweat, you should expect to suffer a calamitous clubbing. This is what LA is all about: Schooling the noobs in the south about how to ride their bicycles. After that I will give the survivors a surfing lesson, beginning with “How not to purl every time” and then followed by a video showing you the difference between a rideable wave, a closeout, and whitewash. Not that it will help.

See you soon, and bring your moped. You’re gonna need it.

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