April 9, 2014 § 15 Comments
Cycling in the South Bay was privileged to receive a pre-release version of the new Garmin 1000, an addition to your arsenal of cycling equipment that is guaranteed to change the way you ride.
The Edge 1000® will help cyclists reach their goals with advanced segment capabilities so that riders can view start/finish point alerts, lose weight without going on painful diets, race themselves or the segment leader, and plan routes using the new “Beer Finder” segment function.
The Edge 1000 also offers instant uploads to social media, live tracking, on-the-go upload and download of data from Garmin Connect™, and advanced bike-specific navigation and mapping capabilities. The social media function comes with real-time Strava emoticons that display “You’re weak!”, “Baaaad-aaaasss!”, and “Nyahh-nyahh-nyah-nyah-nyaaaaaaahhh.”
“Exciting new features include a 12″ x 12″, 6-lb. high-resolution color touch screen display, advanced smartphone connectivity that allows riders to chat on the phone while riding, studio-quality headphones to screen out troublesome traffic sounds and irksome advice from the local knowitall, and challenging segment features that will take cyclists of any ability to the next level,” said Dan Bartel, Garmin vice president of worldwide sales. “The minute your ‘best effort’ fails to crack the top ten of any particular leaderboard, the Edge 1000 will automatically search for a leaderboard in which your time is in the top ten, and if there are none, will create a new category just for you. Let’s say your name is Bill Jones and your fifteen-minute best effort up a local climb puts you at, say, #1,879 on the leaderboard for a healthy, 35-year-old-man. The new Garmin 1000 will create a new category for 35-year-old men born under a certain sign whose last name is Jones. Boom. Top ten every time.”
Most exciting is the new Edge 1000′s ability to monitor the pulse of the outside world with incoming calls and text message alerts, as well as the feature most experts regard as the killer app function of the device. The AwesomeSauce function allows friends and family to follow races and training activities in real time. Says Bartel: “Intensive research showed that fewer and fewer people ride bikes to get away from it all, but rather to show their awesomeness to the world. Nothing shows you’re awesome more than the ability to respond to a half-dozen text messages while grinding out a gnarly interval.
“Same goes for letting friends and family follow your races and training activities,” Bartel continued. “In the old days — I’m talking pre-2010 here — most people rode for what focus groups kept calling ‘inner satisfaction.’ But our marketing department realized that what happens inside you can’t really be marketed, so we took that innate desire of cyclists to preen and navel-gaze, and turned it into something that would allow spouses and jealous girlfriends to find out what you’re doing every second of the day. With our proprietary ‘Arousal Alert’ and the PBF attachment strap (sold separately) the new Edge 1000 can also measure how attracted you are to the cyclists around you, which is cool, too. It also has a GrindR interface.”
Garmin’s R&D Department has surely hit one out of the park by allowing friends and family to follow riding activities in real time. According to Bartel, “Demographically we were seeing a lot of failed marriages and ruined relationships because the athlete would yak forever about his latest big accomplishment. With this feature, the stay-at-home mom or dad can be forced to follow the workout, then over dinner when the rider brags about dropping her nemesis, that bitchy little upstart who’s been taking all her KOM’s, the browbeaten househusband will be able to instantly pick up the conversation by saying something like, ‘Oh, I saw today where you were killing it on the Festersore Liquorstore segment. That li’l bitch will never get that one from you.’ We’re hoping to strike a blow for relational stability with this app.”
Integration with bicycle
This revolutionary computer also allows instant and easy data uploads through the Edge 1000’s Bluetooth® Smart wireless and Wi-Fi® capabilities. “Used to be, after a hard ride you’d stop at a coffee shop or a bar and talk about the ride. What matters now, however, is speed of upload, because even though you were the slowest in your group, by uploading first you can still get one of those coveted little Strava crowns. Talk and friendship is really overrated anyway,” added Bartel.
Like the Edge Touring, Edge 1000 comes with preloaded maps and points of interest, including parks and trails, emergency rooms, orthopedic surgeons, chiropractors, and brewpubs to help cyclists find their way. Working like a GPS navigator for a car with bike-specific features, Edge 1000 turns even the easiest outing into a navigation project similar to crossing the Straits of Magellan in winter in a rowboat. “You can’t have too much data,” says Bartel. “Wind speed, hour-by-hour weather updates, rotational speed of the earth, Jet Stream velocity, and tectonic movement in the Marianas Trench, as well as realtime Google Earth views of streets in hundred-meter segments … these are the things that make cycling fun.”
Edge 1000 is compatible with ANT+™ sensors, NEWT+™ sensors, COELENTERATE+™ sensors, and ECOLI+™ sensors, including heart rate, speed, cadence, body weight, BMI, cholesterol count, and sensors that remind you to floss. Edge 1000 is also compatible with the new Edge RuggedMaxx, a compact and lightweight remote control that allows riders to easily control Edge without removing their hands from the handlebar, or, frankly, without knowing shit from Shinola as regards cycling. Compatible with Shimano Di2 electronic shifting systems, it can display current gear on the screen and is also compatible with ANT+ power meters including Vector™, Garmin’s unique pedal-based power meter that measures total power, left/right balance and cadence. There is little doubt that this new cycling computer will bring a level of expense and complexity to your “hobby” that no other add-on can bring for the low, low price of $699.99.
Never one to sit on past success, Garmin is already working on a newer, improved version. According to Bartel, “The next iteration will have a bicycle attachment that you can actually pedal.”
If you’ve been hurt in an accident click here for legal assistance.
April 8, 2014 § 18 Comments
Cycling in the South Bay was privileged to interview several top professionals after Fabian Cancellara split the lead group and won out of a four-up breakaway.
CitSB: How did the race unfold?
Sep Vanmarcke: I was with Cancellara over the Kwaremont and Paterberg, but in the end he destroyed the field and made us look like children. Belgian children. Stupid Belgian children.
CitSB: Any conclusions about the race?
Greg van Avermaet: All in all it was a more tactical race than the last two years, since changing the finish from Meerbeke to Oudenarde. I am very pleased with second place but it was very difficult to beat Cancellara due to him crushing us all like a bunch of bugs on the windscreen of a jet.
CitSB: You must be disappointed with seventh place?
Tom Boonen: Yes, of course, I was just two percent or so off. I believe I had a chance to beat Cancellara, but that was only in the warm-up around the bus.
CitSB: How would you evaluate the race?
Peter Sagan: Evaluate it? I got my ass whipped. You know how they say it in Slovakian? “Your eleventh finger is in the meat grinder.”
CitSB: What was going through your head as you approached the line in a 4-up breakaway with Cancellara?
Stijn Vandenbergh: “I’m totally screwed.” Something like that.
CitSB: You must have felt good about your early breakaway, taking the pressure off Greg for most of the race?
Taylor Phinney: If you think it feels good to have Cancellara annihilate an entire field when you’re one of the riders in the field, you’re a complete fool.
CitSB: What is Team Sky planning to improve on its top Ronde placing of 65th?
David Brailsford: We’ll do some more marginal gains away from the testers next year, that’s for sure. And wait for Cancellara to retire.
CitSB: It’s been 2008 since Italy won a monument. Why do you guys suck so bad?
Filippo Pozzato: I would like to point out that Cancellara comes from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.
CitSB: How does a guy with no teammates beat an entire field of 200 riders, including 30 riders from Omega-Pharma-Quickdope riding on their home turf?
Patrick Lefevere: Heads will roll, trust me. We do not race for second place. In fact lately we haven’t even been racing for tenth. Firings and public humiliation will continue until morale improves.
If you’ve been hurt in an accident click here for legal assistance.
April 7, 2014 § 20 Comments
It was fun knowing that I’d be doing a partial Belgian Waffle Ride recon with Pablo. “Wow,” I thought, “that’s commitment.”
Two days before the ride, I got the call that so often comes from people who, three weeks before a trip down to North County San Diego, are brimming with enthusiasm and commitment. “Uh, dude, I can’t make it,” he said.
“Yeah, sure.” I was used to it. The only thing I really cared about was the excuse, because I collect them.
“I think I got the sniffles,” he said.
“Sniffles. I been having a little runny nose and my poopies aren’t as firm as usual. I think I’m coming down with a very uncomfy case of the sniffles.”
“Okay,” I said. “Wouldn’t want you to have to wipe snot on your shirt sleeve during the ride. Heal up, pal.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I’ve got a big box of Puffy Luvvy tissues right next to my bed. Hopefully I can beat this thing.”
“Don’t beat it too hard,” I advised, and hung up.
Riders susceptible to sniffles, soft stool, and diaper rash need not apply
I ended up riding down with Dan and Major Bob, two of the best riders I know. None of us had seen this year’s course, which was supposed to drastically differ from 2013 and 2012 in length, elevation, and difficulty. Especially difficulty. I got up at 4:00 AM and made the drive with foreboding. So many times I’ve wound up in the clutches of the sick fanatics in North County San Diego, and today would be no exception.
As we rolled out from RIDE Cyclery in Encinitas I took note of my fellow travelers, and the feeling of doom deepened. In addition to Cobley and Major Bob and MMX there were Tinstman, Stinger, Abate, Joshes A & G, Andy & Dandy, Tait, the Pilot, Canyon Bob, Boozy from the South Bay, and another dozen or so North County pit bulls. The only riders I was certain not to get dropped by were the secret triple agent from Germany, Jens Nerdenheimer, and Jeff Beeswax.
Thirty miles into the ride less than twenty riders remained. Nerdenheimer and Beeswax dropped me heavily as I struggled up Hidden Valley, preparing for a very long and very lonely and very cracked day in the saddle.
Three and done
What follows is a somewhat serious report on what awaits you in the 2014 SPY Belgian Waffle Ride, and some very serious advice about how to prepare for it, and some deadly serious advice about what you can expect. I made it through the first three dirt sections before cracking completely somewhere around Mile 28. Here’s how you (and I) can avoid that nasty fate on April 27. More importantly, what follows isn’t for the strongmen and women who are actually trying to finish first or with the fastest riders. It’s for the weak, the unprepared, and those who are way in over their head without even knowing it.
- Bring real food. Keep a couple of Harmony Bars for quick energy boosts, but make your main food arsenal solid food that will stick to your ribs. You will need substantive food throughout the ride. I brought three PB&J sandwiches on wheat bread that was denser than an imploding star, and even though Cobley ate one of them, it was the other two that got me through what ended up as morale-and-leg-shattering 85 miles that covered only three of the numerous dirt sections. As I learned in 2013, it’s a very bad idea to fall for the “yummy waffles” trap prior to riding. Do not eat 24 waffles beforehand, no matter how tempting.
- Run 25mm tires that are the beefiest you can find. Trying to descend the Lake Hodges Rock Garden on regular tires will leave you punctured at best, crashed out at worst. It’s not like last year, where we only came up the Lake Hodges trail; this year we do it both ways and the descent is hairy and fast. I had 38 mm tires and floated over the rocks, but suffered like a dog on the pavement. Phil, Jeff, and Jens were running ‘cross tires and that seemed like the ideal compromise between skinny road tires and super wide ones. Some riders will even be swapping bikes during the ride as it transitions from the first phase of heavy dirt to asphalt.
- Go out easy. I was panting hard before we hit the first dirt section. Every bullet you shoot early on will equate to twenty missing bullets as the ride progresses. Resist the temptation to keep up if your group is going faster than you are, especially on the first dirt sections. A hard effort here will leave you with nothing. This is so important in the beginning because you’re hit with three dirt sections right off the bat, one of which is brutal, the second of which is fast and technical, and the third of which is long and flat. This third section ends and you go immediately up the backside of Bandy Canyon, a super steep, twisting climb about a mile or so in length. Your legs won’t have recovered from the dirt when you hit the climb, and at the top you’ll be gassed only to now be faced with the incredibly long, steep, and arduous 5-mile, endless climb up Hiddn Valley. In other words, even if you take it easy you’re going to be cracked very early on. If you go out hot you’ll be whatever is worse than cracked, with most of the climbing and most of the really hard dirt riding in front of you.
- Whatever gearing you have, it isn’t enough. The first dirt section is a 3-mile climb very early in the ride. It is steep, endless, and will utterly wreck you without the right gearing. The final little kick is so steep that you can’t even think about getting out of the saddle, so if you lack the gears you are in trouble. I had a 36 in the front and a 25 on the rear, and will likely go up to a 28 or a 30 on game day.
- Underinflate your tires rather than overinflate them. The long horse track that we rode last year was firm yesterday due to the rain, but on the day of the ride it will be very sandy and very deep in places. Worse, on the return route we’ll be in a sandpit that goes along for more than five miles. Even after rain it was so soft that it looked like the sandbox on a playground. I didn’t ride it, but could see that there were countless areas where riders are going to get stuck and fall over.
- Shoes — I went with ‘cross shoes and Eggbeater pedals, but everyone else ran road cleats. If you have any questions about how you’ll do in soft, sandy, hilly conditions, go with the MTB configuration rather than road, as your cleats and pedals and shorts will fill with sand if you have to dismount.
- Don’t stop except for water and to pee. The course is so long (136 miles) and so arduous that you’ve got to keep pedaling. There will be endless temptations to get off and rest or catch your breath or buy another box of Puffy Luvvies for your sniffles or even kill yourself, but except for that last one, don’t give in.
- Remember that this isn’t a race except for a handful of riders. For the rest of us mere mortals it’s a hard day on the bike that you hope to finish in enough condition to be able to lay prostrate in the parking lot at the finish, choking on your own vomit.
- Many people have told me that they’ll just “find out what it’s like on the day of the ride” or “no sense knowing too much beforehand.” I think this is a grave mistake. Even if you just do a couple of the dirt sections, you’ll be much better prepared, especially in terms of deciding what equipment to use. And with regard to equipment, make sure it’s all in top running order. Do a trial run to get the kinks out and to find out what parts need adjustment or replacement.
- This combination of road-and-dirt, with the distance and hilly topography, make it unique. If you finish it, you’ll feel an incredible sense of accomplishment. If you don’t finish it, you’ll be impressed with yourself after the fact for even having tried.
Getting a tow home
As I was wandering around lost somewhere the eastern hell of San Diego County, grimly realizing that I’d be out for the rest of the day, and even more grimly regretting not having brought my phone and iMap, a rider came whizzing by. It was MMX. He’d had enough and turned around early.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
He grinned. “Three weeks of hard training and I’m tired. Hop on.”
The timing was perfect because I was at my most lost. He started mashing into the wind, then looked back. “This headwind we’ve been fighting all day?”
“We’ll be fighting it on the 27th, too.”
“We?” I said, tucked in on his wheel.
Back at Lake Hodges we stopped for water and ran across Jens and Jeff, who were as defeated and crushed as I was. They stared vacantly into the puddles of transmission oil at the service station. “Hey, guys,” said Jens to MMX. “We tried to help Seth but he was so tired and weak that he couldn’t come with us.”
I was finishing up a bottle of coke and my last PB&J sammich. The four of us got on the Lake Hodges dirt trail and stayed together until the water crossing, when I heard a lot of noise behind me and some pitiful cries for help. Then it got silent, and we never saw them again. “I tried to help them,” I said to MMX. “But they were so tired and weak they couldn’t come with me.”
On Del Dios Highway MMX put it in tractor beam mode, hammering the headwind downhill, then really hammering the uphill. I cursed my 38mm tires as he caught and dropped a small group with a dozen or so riders. Once he got tired he began going even faster.
It’s not simply that I didn’t take a pull, putting myself in the early running for a purple jersey … I couldn’t. In fact, it wasn’t until we were back at El Papagayo in Leucadia, surrounded by fish tacos and several foamy pints of Belching Beaver IPA that I was even able to speak.
An hour later Major Bob, Cobley, Craig, and Canyon Bob showed up, which was just in time for me to have a second order of lunch. I probably shouldn’t have had the garlic-and-black-bean soup since the ride home would be in a small enclosed space, but what can I say?
The minute I got home, my day that started at 4:00 AM continued with an evening engagement Chez Starvin’ Marvin, where he poured great quantities of his famous Belgian homemade brew into my glass and stuffed me with barbecue, taters, and banana cream pie. Sometime around midnight I flopped in bed.
Oh, and one other thing about the BWR I forgot to mention: The following day you’ll be looking for the monster truck with the giant studded tires. You know, the one that ran over every bone in your body out there on the course.
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April 4, 2014 § 27 Comments
I was coming home from a terrible encounter with the Palisades climb. One of my friends who’s been cycling for a couple of years was talking about one of the regular rides she does with a friend.
“So, the thing is that the ride leaves at nine but nobody shows up at nine except Peggy, and she’s, you know, ready to ride. At nine.”
“Uh-huh?” I asked, wondering what the problem was.
“Yeah. She’s ready to ride, but other people aren’t ready until you know, sometimes fifteen or twenty after. It really irritates her.”
“What do you mean ‘aren’t ready to ride’? They’re still doing pilates warm-ups?”
“No, silly. They don’t get there until five or ten minutes after, or maybe somebody has to find a parking space because they drove down, or they’re finishing their coffee. That kind of thing. And it’s annoying to Peg because she’s been off the bike with that broken collarbone and everyone else is really fit and she’s like, hey, ‘I want to get my ride in. I want to ride.’”
“Still not sure I see the problem.”
“Well, what’s the etiquette? Is it okay to leave even though other people aren’t ready? Or they’re running late? That’s not really cool, is it?”
“No,” I said. “It’s definitely not cool. But so what? I stopped trying to be cool when I was thirteen.”
The thorny issue of departure times
It seemed easy at first. It’s Peg’s ride. She sets the time. If people aren’t there or aren’t ready or whatever, she leaves. It’s simple.
But of course it isn’t, and it’s complicated because Peg’s ride, like a whole lot of rides, aren’t set up right. And I discussed this with my friend.
“A ride needs two elements and two only.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“A start time and a leader. That’s it. The leader leaves at the start time. Everyone who’s late or who had to get the kids off to school or who had to check one more social media post chases. Or they ride alone. Or they start a different ride.”
“It is, until people get used to it. Then it’s the opposite of rude. It’s the kindest thing you can do for a fellow cyclist: tell them when you’re leaving and always leave at that time. It lets them plan. In fact, once you’ve drilled the time in over and over again, it becomes a self-starting thing that needs no repetition. Take the Wheatgrass Ride. It leaves at 8:05 whether Iron Mike is there or not. Or the NPR. 6:40 AM, right? If you show up at 6:41, you chase. Even the Donut … it leaves at 8:05. And remember those rides to the Rock? Six o’clock sharp. No one ever complained past the first two rides. You know why?”
“Because the people who can’t get to a bike ride on time stopped coming to that one. They slept in. So the only people left were the ones who knew how to set a clock and not hit ‘snooze.’”
“But it’s hard to get people to be punctual.”
“Why worry about other people? Set the time, tell your friends, and then go ride. What’s the worst that can happen? You have to ride by yourself? You’ll eventually attract people who are punctual like you, and instead of waiting around for twenty minutes you can do your ride and get on with your day.”
“I don’t know … “
“Oh, and one other thing.”
“If it’s your ride … “
“Don’t show up late.”
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April 3, 2014 § 41 Comments
I have greatly reduced my time on Facebag. I’m ashamed to admit it, but before I went lukewarm turkey, I was spending up to four hours a day on it. That’s four metric hours, and sometimes more. I told this to DJ, who’s an engineer. “Dude,” I said. “I’m spending four fuggin’ hours a day on Facebag. Metric hours, man.”
“Seth,” he said.
“Time isn’t a metric unit.”
“Oh,” I said, relieved that there wasn’t yet another aspect of the metric system that I was supposed to understand, but didn’t.
Nowadays I’m a lurker. I stalk the ‘bag for about thirty minutes a day or even less. I noticed for the first time that it’s pretty much the province of angry old people, new bicycles, and cats. With all of my new-found time, I began reading again.
I used to read voraciously, and it took a while to learn to read again because my brain was so wired to those little mini-jolts of excitement when something popped up on Facebag, or worse, on the Twitter. After a couple of weeks, though, I stopped expecting the pages on the book to light up with a notification or message or clever retort. My stack of books has piled high, and there’s an equally towering stack of unread ones.
I was talking with a friend about ratcheting down my Facebag activities, and he concurred. “I quit cold turkey three weeks ago,” he said.
“It made me so depressed. I’d see all those posts about how perfect everyone’s life is and how wonderful their kids are and what excellent relationships they all have and it made me feel like a piece of dung. It was either that, or posts about how they’d just experienced the worst day ever, or a photo from a bike crash with four teeth missing. So I quit.”
“How do you feel now?”
“Great! The only people I talk to now are, you know, real ones. And none of them are perfect. Not even a little bit.”
Real people, indeed
In tandem with my cancellation of the Twitter, Strava, and Linked-In, and my Napoleon-at-the-gates-of-Moscow retreat from Facebag, I started riding with my youngest son, who’s sixteen. We ride on Sundays. Our first ride was from RAT Beach to the ice cream shop on the Redondo Pier and back. Our second ride was to the frappucino spigot at the Sckubrats in Hermosa and back to RAT Beach. The third week we tackled something big: we rode from Pregnant Point down Paseo del Mar, up the Lunada Bay bump onto PV Drive, and from there to the frappucino spigot at the Golden Cove Sckubrats. Then we returned to Pregnant Point and called it a day with a solid 10-mile ride.
I would like to tell you that my youngest son is a natural-born cyclist. After all, he’s been around it all his life. I’d like to tell you that he has the perfect build for a road racer — he’s compact, lean, and has long legs. I’d like to lay out our plans for an all-out assault on cycledom as he learns the ropes.
But you see, it’s not really like that, even though he does have the perfect build. First of all, I’m a terrible coach. What the hell do I know about cycling anyway? And I don’t care how people ride as long as they don’t fall down or get picked off by a car. Truthfully, he’s not really a natural, which makes sense, because neither am I. And he’s not one of those kids who loves to compete. I’m pretty sure that if you showed him your jugular, he’d want to know what it was connected to … he wants to be a doctor, not the Cannibal or a forcat de la route.
In a way it’s depressing to think I have a child who is interested in something that might result in a job, as if he’s repudiated the Davidson family history. But I will adapt.
On that ten-miler day we took our first breather just where the road rises up from the Lunada Bay vista. Then we pedaled, with mucho effort, up to PV Drive. Rest Stop Number Two. Then we gritted our teeth and made it to the Starbucks. Mucho mas tiempo was spent drinking frapps and gazing at the ocean and talking about science. I also learned that in mid-1800′s Italy there was no right-wing reactionary party, and that the nation’s unification involved moderates, liberals, and anarchists.
What other people care about isn’t always what you care about
We pedaled back to Pregnant Point, and the next day he said that his legs were “real sore.” I thought about that.
The following week we did the same route, but instead of stopping at Golden Cove we continued along PV Drive to the top of the hill just before you descend to the glass church. We turned around there and fought a stiff headwind for two long miles all the way back to the frappucinos, which tasted better than good. Did I mention that the frappucinos tasted good?
As we sat there I remembered riding along the seawall in Galveston with my dad and my brother. No one ever coached me or told me how to ride, probably because no one knew any more than I did. The only advice I ever got, in fact, was to “Watch out!” when I stopped paying attention one day and rode off the 15-foot seawall onto the granite boulders below. It’s miraculous that I wasn’t killed, if you believe in miracles. Otherwise, I was just another dumb-lucky little kid.
My son and I drove home from Pregnant Point, still talking about Italy in the 1800′s. We had a big dinner, which tasted as good as one of those dinners you have after a 100-mile beatdown with the fast riders. The beer I washed it down with tasted special as well. We both went to bed early and I slept a deep, uninterrupted, profound, and satisfied sleep. I’m hoping that maybe he did, too.
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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.
April 1, 2014 § 21 Comments
On the last day of the San Dimas Stage Race I hurried to the line. The ref read our last rites, blew the whistle, and off we went, careening through six turns, a modest incline, and a screaming downhill that dumped into a 90-degree turn onto the finishing stretch.
My goal was simple: earn another DNC crown to go with the string of them I’d won in every crit now since the Dana Point Grand Prix in 2008, when a lummox clipped one of the steel barriers on the left and started a pachinko cascade of bikes, wheels, screaming idiots, and soft-cartilage-and-bone smearing along the pavement at 30 mph. “DNC,” by the way, stands for Did Not Crash.
Downtown San Dimas was an idyllic place to race. The start/finish was packed with spectators. The town was charming. The weather was perfect. Nothing could possibly go wrong, and in fact nothing did until the last turn on the last lap, when things not only went wrong, they went horribly wrong while slinging ass downhill at 40 mph some dude on the BonkBreaker team took the hard right hander a bit too hard and wound up splaying himself against the barricades, crashing out Steve Klasna in a great glorious finale of crunching, smashing, cursing, and opprobrium.
This of course is the price of trying to win bicycle races. You must take chances. Those chances will not always pan out. When they do not, you will pay with skin and gristle and purple scars that you can point to years later, grotesquely, as you pull up your pant cuff and itemize the scars to queasy-looking coworkers at the water cooler. This is generally a day or two prior to the time you get your termination notice, assuming you have a job, which of course as a self-respecting masters pro bike racer, you don’t.
You know you’re in trouble when the liberal arts major is calling you out for your bad math
I knew that by skulking in the rear, sitting up long before the sprunt, and letting Troy Huerta madly dash by to beat me for 46th place, I would almost certainly earn another DNC crown, and I did. What caught me unawares was the announcement “One lap to go!” and the Pavlovian shark attack that ensued when they rang the bell lap.
It caught me by surprise because I checked my watch and noted that they had rung the bell at about 32 minutes into the race, meaning that we finished our 40-minute event in about 34 minutes. Nor was it the first time that a masters race had been shorted. In fact, it’s a tradition at virtually all SoCal crits to hear the bell lap five minutes shy, sometimes more, of the scheduled forty or forty-five minute race.
The rationale, of course, is that it’s better to end the race a few minutes early than a few minutes late — better for the promoter, that is. The inanity of a 35-minute crit for the 45+ racers (and incredibly, for the 35+ racers as well) was shown on the course itself. With a star-studded field of truly great racers, the peloton averaged over 28 mph for the entire race. The 35′s averaged over 29. In other words, it wasn’t a bike race. It was a drag race.
Forget tactics. The strongmen kept the foot on the gas for the entire time, ramped up a lead out train at the end, and awarded the spoils to the flat-out fastest guy in the field. In our race that was Bill Harris. In the 35′s it was Charon Smith.
And although those two guys can win any crit of any length, it greatly diminishes the racing element of the event when it’s set up to be so short that there isn’t even a mathematical possibility of a breakaway. Why not just make it two laps? Thirty-five minutes isn’t long enough to make a dent in the big engines, and it’s not long enough to create the pauses that lead to attacks, breakaways, and the thrill of, you know, tactical bike racing.
Don’t blame the promoters, they voted for McGovern
Of course the real illness is the proliferation of categories. Promoters only have a limited amount of time to close off downtown or to occupy an office park. Many crits have as many eleven categories, without even providing kiddy races or junior racing events. Dana Point in 2014 has thirteen events beginning at 7:50 … and no junior races, either. The Cat 5′s and the 30+ 4/5′s race an absurd — yes, absurd — twenty minutes.
The attraction of multiple categories for promoters is maximal entry fees. The attraction for the bicycle riders is the illusory hope of a trinket. The victim is the sporting event itself, where the spectators are virtually guaranteed to witness a mass gallop finish every single time. Is that fun to watch? Hell, yes! Who doesn’t want to watch Charon out-kick a hundred guys in the last 200 yards so that it looks like a greyhound racing a bunch of pet rocks?
But we don’t need to stand around baking our brains in the hot sun to watch an outcome that will be the same whether the race lasts forty minutes or four.
Also … don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining. Unless it’s also raining.
When the flyer advertises a 40-minute or 50-minute race, then the promoter should run a race for the advertised length, the same as when a gas station advertises gas for 4.15 a gallon: it means a gallon, not 3.75 quarts.
If, because I’m old and slow, I only deserve forty minutes of competition, don’t short me on my lousy forty minutes unless you’re prepared to welcome me back to the registration table and refund my money. Five minutes hacked out of a 40-minute race is 12.5%, and for a $35 entry fee, that’s $4.37 that just got lifted out of my back pocket. In real terms, that’s half a six-pack of Racer 5 IPA.
Of course the simplest solution is the worst one. Make the races longer and decrease the number of events. Maybe the sport would be more exciting if my precious 50+ category and all the other sandbagger categories got axed, leaving us with longer, more exciting events for six or seven categories of genuinely fast people who had the legs to race a technical crit like San Dimas or Dana Point for an hour or more. Maybe lengthier, tougher courses would produce, better, tougher racers.
Or maybe not. Maybe without a 30+4/5, a 50+, or a 65+ category the sport would just dry up and blow away. You know, like it has in Europe.
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