The way it’s supposed to be

October 13, 2014 § 19 Comments

Starting in September, people begin riding up to me and asking, “Are you doing ‘cross this year?”

“Yes,” I say. Then they kind of snicker and pedal off.

This year I delayed entering my first race until yesterday, reasoning that it would give me a bit of a breather and a chance to rest my legs and stomach after a road season in which I raced twice and drank hundreds of gallons of fermented electrolyte recovery drink. Also, prior to my season opener at the SPYclocross Series, I had hired a couple of coaches so that I could improve on my string of last place finishes from 2013.

My first coach, Rahsaan Bahati, gave me some excellent tactical advice: “Don’t be last.”

My second coach, Dan Cobley, gave me winning advice about the course: “Be sure to ride a race in between the beers.”

But the best advice came from my performance coach, Daniel Holloway. “Dude,” he said, “day before the race be sure to open up your legs.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Do enough brief intensity to stress the muscles, but don’t kill yourself.”

“I was thinking about pedaling down the bike path with Boozy on Saturday to stay fresh.”

“Bad idea,” said coach. “Rides with Boozy always end at the bottom of a ravine or on a bar stool, often both. Do the Donut instead.”

“The Donut? I always wreck myself on that stupid ride.”

“Exactly. This time, for the first time ever, sit in the pack and chill.”

“What if there’s a break?”

“Who cares? Let it roll up the road. Give it one hard effort, maybe two, on the Switchbacks then call it a day. You’re just trying to open up your legs so that they’re primed for Sunday.”

“What if Brad House is ahead of me?”

“Who?”

“Brad House.”

“Who’s he?”

“He’s the bulbous guy with flappy elbows and orange cat-fur earmuffs.”

“Okay. You can pass him. But that shouldn’t take much effort, right?

“Got it. Then what?”

“Then make sure that you get in a one-hour warm-up before your race starts. You’ll fly.”

The following day the race started as all 45+ ‘cross races do. It was a mad gallop of insane old people trying to kill themselves and each other in a cloud of dust, dirt, gravel, and grass clippings. The course had been laid out to take maximum advantage of the giant gopher holes, tree roots, and other obstacles.

Incredibly, I did not get dropped by the main field until the first five hundred yards, proving that Coach Holloway’s leg-opening exercise really did work. More incredibly, there were at least three riders behind me, something that has never happened in any race before; two of them were on bicycles.

The course included a couple of baseball diamonds, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to try and pick up a couple of points with my baseball bike as I rounded third and slid into home plate ahead of the tag, a chubby fellow covered with hair who was falling off his bicycle onto mine. Somehow I beat the tag, jumped up, and continued on.

When people ask me “What’s ‘cross like?” I ask them “Have you ever been in a car accident where the next day every joint and muscle and bone aches and your back is bent double and you can’t get out of bed? That’s how ‘cross feels after the first five minutes, only it gets lots worse.”

Soon I had fallen into a rhythm, as my leg muscles had opened up from the day before and my leg skin had opened up by the slide into home plate. As blood fell out of the wound I came to the first set of barricades just in time for my teammates, who were manning the SPY Optic booth, to provide me with copious quantities of fermented electrolyte replacement drink, without which I would certainly have come to my senses and quit.

Of course the key to riding well in cyclocross is to “not use your brakes.” This is one of those insane pieces of advice that only a fool would follow, akin to the MTB mantra of “speed is your friend.” No matter how hard I tried to not use my brakes, they were often the only thing standing between my face and various tree trunks, or my abdomen and the sharp steel poles on which the course markings were taped. And speed might have been my friend had I had any.

This race followed the typical ‘cross life cycle: Huge rush of adrenaline followed by massive effort followed by incredulity at not getting immediately dropped followed by getting dropped followed by falling off my bike followed by narrowly missing several trees followed by getting passed by Mr. Chubs followed by hearing the depressing sound of “four laps to go” when one lap hurts more than having a wooden stick bored into your ear followed by hopelessness followed by anger followed by despair followed by a small prayer that the previous race will lap you and terminate the race early.

However, just as things were looking pretty bleak and it seemed like all but three riders were going to finish ahead of me, I blazed across the finish line and dove straight under the team tent. As the other “finishers” chatted about the race I sprinted ahead of them in the second, most technical and challenging part of the race: The beer competition. One by one they dropped to the side, with various Bakersfield pretenders falling out of their beanbag chairs and others wandering off onto a horse path to get trampled.

I poured it on into the beer turns, sprinting up the short and dusty beer climbs, dismounting and leaping over the beer barricades, and finally lapping the beer field. Thank goodness I’d taken Coach Holloway’s advice and in addition to opening up my legs, had opened up my gut as well.

Winning!

Winning!

END

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Take a bite

October 12, 2014 § 10 Comments

Every city in America has a Saturday morning Donut Ride, where a handful of riders beats up on everyone else, and everyone else marks “success” in terms of how far they got before getting kicked out the back.

Jack from Illinois (not his real name), always despised the Donut Ride for being a “preenfest.” He wasn’t wrong. Local racers who get “coached” and who are on a “program,” tend to avoid the ‘Nut because it adds little to your fitness but can subtract lots. And of course there is a huge contingent of riders, thousands actually, who wouldn’t be caught dead on the DR because they hate group rides, they don’t like aggressive pelotons, they are in it for relaxation, or [ fill in your reason here ].

To those folks, I say, “No problem. You do your thing, I’ll do mine.”

But there is another group of riders out there who really should be on the Donut Ride. I was dropping down the hill this morning to the start of the ride, and I passed a guy riding a very nice bike, wearing a very nice kit, and looking pretty darned fit. “On your way to the Donut?” I asked.

“Ha,” he answered. “I wish.”

“What do you mean?”

“That ride is too fast for me.”

“Come on, man, give it a try. You look like you could handle it. It’s not hard anyway, especially if you sit in.”

“I’ve seen that pack come by,” he said enviously. “Too fast for me.”

“Okay,” I shrugged, and went on, but I could tell how badly he wanted to give it a try and I felt sorry for him because he was going to spend the rest of his riding days wondering about something that really wasn’t worth wondering about.

If you’re one of those people who wonders what the local Saturday beatdown ride is like, you owe it to yourself to give it a chance. Even if you hate it, you’ll at least have the satisfaction of having tried. More likely, especially if you’re a fairly hopeless wanker, you’ll get your head staved in sometime around the first or second acceleration, and the thrill you get from first riding with, and then getting ejected from, the middle of the surging, bucking pack will leave you happier and more elated than you’ve been since you first lied to your wife about the cost of your Giant TCR with electronic drivetrain.

Here, then, is a compendium of what you’ll find out if you take the plunge, swallow your pounding heart, gird your quivering loins, and toe the Saturday group ride starting line:

  1. You will get faster every week.
  2. The wankers you used to struggle to keep up with in your normal group will no longer be able to hold your wheel.
  3. Racer-type hammerheads aren’t all assholes.
  4. Some of the things that differentiate great riders from hackers can be learned through observation.
  5. Competition makes you better.
  6. Cars steer clear of big groups.
  7. There’s no dishonor in trying.
  8. Your wife will mostly believe whatever version of the ride you tell her.
  9. You won’t be the slowest rider the group.
  10. If you’re the slowest rider in the group, one day you won’t be.
  11. The ride’s not as hard as you thought it would be.
  12. You’ll surprise yourself — in a good way.

See you next week!

END

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Andy Schleck announces retirement from quitting

October 10, 2014 § 15 Comments

The professional peloton was roiled by a news conference held by Andy Schleck, who announced  today that he was “retiring from quitting.”

“That’s it,” said Schleck, who was visibly distraught. “No more quitting for me. I’ve quit my last professional race. I never thought it would end like this, having to quit being a quitter, but that’s life. Sometimes you just have to quit doing what you love, which for me is, you know, quitting.”

Older brother Frank Schleck, who confuses orthographers by sometimes writing his name with an umlaut and sometimes not, stroked Andy’s head while the younger brother sat mournfully in Frank’s lap. “Even though Andy says he’s done with quitting, we’re holding out hope that maybe next year he’ll be able to stage a comeback and quit again.”

CitSB caught up with several current and former stars, all of whom reminisced about Andy’s uncanny ability to give up when the going got tough, and often when the going got merely uncomfortable, or, most spectacularly when the going hadn’t really even gone anywhere yet.

“I’ll never forget when he quit the 2014 Tour,” ruminated Alberto Contador fondly. “He really went out on a high note, quitting with me, and Froome, and a bunch of other riders. The tenacity he showed in giving up … I’ll never forget it.”

Shleck’s first pro contract was with Velo Roubaix when he signed under legendary director Cyrille Guimard. Guimard recalls the moment when he realized that Andy had what it took. “It was a sunny day, rare for northern France in early winter, and Andy had just joined us for his first pro training camp. We were, oh, fifteen kilometers into the ride and he sat up and abandoned.

“‘What’s wrong?’ I asked from the team car, and without missing a beat he said, and I’ll never forget it, ‘My knee is sore and I have a cold and I’m wearing the wrong base layer.’ He pulled over and quit and dared anyone to make him continue. That’s when I knew he was in a class of his own.”

Cadel Evans, who won the 2011 Tour by ripping the yellow jersey from Schleck’s back in the final time trial, was even more effuse. “Andy wasn’t just a quitter. He could crumple, fold, and give up even when he had a race sewn up. I’ll never forget taking 2:31 out of him in Grenoble, it was like winning a World Cup final by thirty points. He didn’t simply throw in the towel, he had a way of rolling over and dying that was truly epic. His ability to fling himself into an abyss of hopelessness and defeat was incredible.”

At the end of the press conference in his living room, after Frank had dabbed away Andy’s tears, the younger Schleck put on a brave face and smiled wanly for his fan. “Don’t give up on me,” he said to Darcy McIntosh, who had traveled all the way from the end of the block to lend her support. “I can quit this on my own.”

END

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Like a champion

October 9, 2014 § 21 Comments

When Manslaughter, Surfer, Pablo, and Boozy showed up for this morning’s Wednesday Waffle ride, we didn’t immediately notice the wanker sitting off to the side in his anonymous blue-and-black kit. As we pedaled off I saw him roll out with us.

“Daniel!” I said as I recognized him. “You coming with us?”

“Sure,” he said with a grin.

It’s not often that the best bike racer in America shows up for a mid-week flailfest designed primarily to see how much abuse a road bike can take in an MTB environment before the bike fails, the rider falls, or both. That’s “not often” as in “never.” But Daniel Holloway isn’t like other champions.

As we rode along the deadliest, most technical part of the ride — a pan-flat bike path with one flat right-turn into a parking lot — Surfer took the opportunity to show us some skilz, which involved him falling on his butt, scraping his elbow, bending his derailleur, and creating a location on the bike path that will henceforth be known forever as Cobley’s Corner.

Holloway was immediately behind him, and I couldn’t believe that he hadn’t also fallen down and run over Surfer’s aorta. “How’d you keep from running over his aorta?” I asked.

Holloway looked at me funny and said, “As we approached the turn I was looking at his front hub and it was going at a funny angle and then I realized that he was going sort of fast, and even though you couldn’t see any sand in the turn we were on the bike path, and the bike path is surrounded on both sides by beach sand, so I just eased up a bit so that when he started to fall I was able to go straight and not hit …”

“His aorta?” I asked.

“Um, yeah, sure,” said Holloway. “His aorta.” He looked over at Boozy and Manslaughter but they gave him that look that says “Don’t worry he always talks like that just ignore it and it will go away.”

Since Surfer, who’s pretty good at not falling off his bike and has great off road skills, had fallen off his bike in a corner that most four-year-olds could negotiate blind, the pressure was off for the rest of the day for the rest of us. Now we could fall off our bikes with abandon and not feel too badly about it.

I first met Holloway late last year when he was in SoCal getting in some work at the Carson velodrome before shipping out for the Euro 6-day season. He had shown up on the NPR wearing a Mike’s Bikes kit that was unusual except for the red-white-blue stripes sewn onto his sleeve.

“Who’s that wanker?” I wondered, along with, “wonder where on eBay he found those stripes and I wonder if I could buy a set for myself, too?”

It turns out that “that wanker” was the fastest guy in America, which is fine and all that. But what was unusual, aside from the fact that he kept showing up to ride with the flea-bitten common herd was the fact that after the rides he’d pedal over to CotKU and hang out. It was Phil Tinstman-esque … a guy who’s head and shoulders above everyone else but is humble, fun, and down to earth.

Whoever Mike’s Bikes was, they had a guy who was making them look more than good. He wasn’t simply going above and beyond for the team that was paying his salary, he seemed to enjoy it. After meeting him I went home and bought twelve Mike’s Bikes jerseys, a Mike’s Bike multitool, four gallons of Mike’s Bikes chain and sex lube, and a gross of Mike’s Bikes spare tires. I was stoked.

In the times since we met that he’s ridden with us hackers, it has amazed me how he listens patiently to the sorry, delusional ramblings of 50-plus wankers and their pathetic pleas for coaching help. “So, Daniel, how can I get to the next level?”

“Which level is that?”

“You know, I want to go like Wiggins in a TT.”

Instead of saying “Consider purchasing a motorcycle,” he shares what he knows in amazing detail, and it doesn’t take long to figure out that he’s a hard-core advocate of clean cycling.

He’s also up for a crazy good time, as today’s ride showed. When we caught up to Manslaughter atop Sullivan Ridge, he was standing in front of a narrow chute that plunged off the side of the mountain to a place that resembled Horrible Injury, or maybe it was Certain Death. “Wanna try this little single track?” Manslaughter asked. “It’s called Joe Jr. Drop.”

“Where does it go?” I asked.

“Down to the old Nazi camp.”

“Sure,” I said. “Leaping off an unpaved cliff on a road bike into a Nazi camp. What could possibly go right?”

As I launched off the edge Manslaughter said, “Yo, Wanky. You might want to close the … “

I didn’t hear him, but soon figured out that he meant the little thingy on the side of the rear brake, which I always keep wide open and which now, on a steep, sandy, twisting trail wasn’t really slowing me down. At all. Fortunately, on MTB trails there are lots of things besides brakes to slow you down, and the one that worked quickest and most effectively for me was a big tree.

I fell off my bike, got up, and then braked again with a patented maneuver called, “I’m very afraid right now of falling so I’ll just fall down right here even though it’s straight and obstacle-free to get it over with.”

Also, who knew that road bikes didn’t work well on sandy, steep single track? Just before we reached the bottom, Manslaughter yelled back at us. “Hey, you’re almost done. But watch the last turn, it’s technical.”

Holloway, who was in front of me, took note of the danger, then fell off his bike and skidded down the last few feet on his shoulder, with his handlebar stabbing painfully into his knee. We sat on a rock wall and watched him take stock, pleased at having ruined the lucrative Euro 6-day season of America’s top rider without having done hardly any injury to ourselves. Apparently, though, he was going to live, although a giant, 4-inch, purple bruise-welt-charley-horse on his knee was growing larger by the second.

“If we call Life Flight,” I said, “you’ll at least set the KOM going back up.”

We rode through the old Nazi camp and over a trail filled with giant shards of razor shale, then climbed a twisty, steep wall back up to Sullivan Ridge, then rode to the ICBM site, then continued down the dirt trail until it dumped out at Mandeville. When we returned to Manhattan Beach we parked at Brewco and fought the recession with several well-timed beer purchases and plates of nachos.

Through it all, Holloway was good-natured, and didn’t seem bothered that we had ruined his career by taking him down a path that no sane person would have done on a road bike. He was a professional, friendly guy who exuded friendliness and goodwill.

Now that is a champion.

END

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But what about the chilllllldren?

October 8, 2014 § 56 Comments

I once knew a right-wing-whackjob from Clarendon, Texas, who ran the local paper. It was called the Clarendon Enterprise, and you might think that the name was a testament to the free market glory hole. However, when you went into Roger Estlack’s office, you noticed a giant poster of the spaceship that carried Kirk and Spock to parts unknown, including, presumably, Mr. Sulu’s. The Texas Panhandle’s most fervent supporter of conservatism was apparently inspired not by the U.S. Constitution but by the aliens. At least that’s the message I took back home.

Roger’s favorite target was any piece of legislation that was “for the children,” and nothing could get a good, old-fashioned boil of foam spewing out of his mouth quicker than a policy to protect “the children.” One time the Texas Ag Commissioner tried to regulate french fries in schools, pointing out that grease-soaked lard grenades were hardly good for developing little bodies.

Roger mercilessly ridiculed the Nanny State. “We survived drinking from garden hoses, we survived bikes without helmets, and we even survived french fries, so get your stinking government out of my kid’s life!” he railed, or something to that effect. He was a childless bachelor at the time.

Of course, once Roger got married and had kids, he never again ridiculed children or measures for their protection as far as I ever saw, but that’s a different story. He probably drives his kids to school and fearfully checks out the school playground to make sure the equipment there is safe.

At the other end of the spectrum from Roger there are the bike helmet nannies, people who go absolutely berserk when someone shows up without a helmet, as I did last Sunday on a big ride commemorating the death of a local cyclist. The day before I’d come close to passing out from heatstroke, and rather than head out to the frying pan of West LA and Mulholland Drive with my helmet in place I chose to do what I did almost every day of my life from 1982 until 2005: I hopped on my bike and pedaled happily away without a helmet.

My history with helmets is a checkered one. I opposed the hardshell helmet rule when the USCF passed it in 1985 or 1986, and got suspended for a few months after writing a very rude and offensive letter to cycling officialdom stating my displeasure. What can I say? I was dumb. I reluctantly wore helmets in races, and refused to wear one anywhere else.

It was only in 2005, when I started riding in Houston and people on the local group ride became virulently hostile and physically threatening that I caved in and started wearing a helmet. My refusal to wear one was worse than making some kind of personal statement. They took it as a person attack on them, something that threatened their safety. (Huh?) Unhelmeted I was called an “asshole,” a “fucking idiot,” a “crazy bastard,” and was insulted as well.

No matter how much I hated helmets, I hated being yelled at incessantly and eventually gave in to peer pressure at least during group rides. Little by little it became a habit until one day, October 25, 2013, I fell off my bicycle at 40 mph and landed square on my head. I can’t say that the helmet saved my life, but it certainly saved me from certain brain damage. More, I mean.

Although there is pretty good science that says current helmet designs can cause as much damage as they can prevent injury, the existence of MIPS technology seems to finally have turned a corner and created a helmet that can protect from direct, straight-line force injuries, and can also protect from low impact rotational brain trauma, the primary cause of concussions. In other words, with the right helmet you’re pretty much safer with it than without it.

But it’s a funny word, “safer,” because you certainly give up a few things when you strap on a lid. Descending Mulholland  without a helmet at 40 with a gaggle of idiots as you leap chugholes and bounce off of loose rocks, you will — I promise — ride as if your life depended on every pedal stroke. Vulnerability begets care, and up to a point care is the best safety precaution ever invented. Second, when you click the chinstrap you give up some simple sensory pleasures. Most people will never know the feeling of having the wind in their hair. At 40. Going downhill. On a bike.

And they’ll be poorer for it.

But the biggest tradeoff is this: When you choose safety, you give up the benefits that come from taking risk and surviving it. This is no small thing, especially in the world of bicycling, where at its outset you are climbing aboard a 15-lb. piece of plastic and navigating narrow spaces with cars and trucks. And as Arik Kadosh never tires of pointing out, you’re doing it with protective gear that is the functional equivalent of underwear.

If someone is truly concerned about safety as their guiding star, why would they ride bikes on the road in a group? The answer is that safety really isn’t the primary factor, or, more likely, safety is a big factor and in general riding a bike is pretty darn safe whether you’re helmeted or not.

The elephant in the room vis-a-vis safety isn’t just the basic risk of bike v. car, though. It’s also the risk that I call “equipment choice.” Several of the people who berated me for my failure to wear a helmet were riding on bicycle wheels made for 120-lb. Tour climbers. I’d contend that a 190-lb. rider bombing down Latigo or Mulholland or any other long, fast descent in the LA hills on a fiery hot day while seated atop an ultralight pair of carbon tubulars is taking a much bigger risk than I did riding without a helmet. My 32-spoke aluminum box-rim Mavic OpenPro clinchers with lightly worn 25 mm tires are, in that regard at least, a much bigger commitment to safety than the big boys and big girls riding ultralight race wheels.

And then, when you talk about bike safety, the two safest things you can do are 1) ride with a bright headlight and tail light at all times, and 2) take lane instead of cowering in the gutter. So it struck me as funny that people who don’t really maximize their own safety would find my helmet-less attire so offensive, ostensibly because of the danger.

Of course none of this is to encourage people to ride without helmets. People should analyze risk and act accordingly, which means, overwhelmingly, that people should wear helmets. But in some cases, the danger and the thrill and the freedom that come from being out on the edge add meaning and pleasure to your life in a way that safety, by definition, cannot. Even if riding helmetless for a single afternoon is a pretty low-risk act, having people behave as if it’s like jumping the Snake River Canyon seated behind Evel Knievel makes it ten times more exciting than it would otherwise be. Where else can you get the thrill of feeling like the lead gangster in the Hell’s Angels as a 50-year old guy with a droopy bosom and saggy tummy except by riding around on a bicycle in your underwear without a helmet?

“That Wanky … he’s a fucking idiot … and that’s daaaaaaaangerous!!!” Yes to the one, not necessarily to the other.

There is profound fun to be had doing things that other people call suicidal and dangerous, especially when, like last Sunday, it’s probably neither. Whether you’re salmoning up Tuna Canyon or heating your rims on the Las Flores descent, though, danger is sometimes its own reward, a reward much sweeter than anything you’ll get on the bike path. The thrill of danger is more than a nutty person’s weird behavior. A maxim from one of the oldest, deadliest professions says, with great wisdom, “Safe harbors make poor sailors.”

In other words, there’s a balance between doing things that may kill you and learning from the risk, and being a fraidy cat who starts and squawks every time he hears a mouse fart. It’s why people who race bikes in mass start events have generally better bike handling skills than the freddie in the recumbent who never deviates from the bike path. Not that one’s better than the other, except, when it comes to bike skills, one of them probably is. It doesn’t mean the better bike handler will live longer or have fewer crashes or make more money or have more fun, but it does mean that if you want better skills you have be put in challenging and, yes, dangerous situations.

So is riding helmetless a good way to improve your bike skills? Uh, no.

But the same impulse that lets you say “Oh, fuck it,” and pedal without a lid may be the same impulse that lets you line up and do a race, or try a challenging downhill course, or have a go at a job opening you would have never considered otherwise. Risk, danger, failure, disappointment, injury, and death can be really bad outcomes, but sometimes the only way to claw your way to the other side where you’re awaited by comfort, success, satisfaction, health, and vigorous living involves doing things that, taken by themselves, are ostensibly stupid and unnecessarily risky.

One good friend wrote to say that he didn’t want to start a debate when he saw me without a helmet, but his concern was purely selfish. He wanted me around because he liked me.

I assured him that this wasn’t a new retro-retro-protest movement, and I didn’t intend to repeat my bad behavior any time soon. I’d even been wrong about the weather that day; it never got particularly hot. But at the same time, after being scolded by so many well-meaning people, I did feel like I’d dodged a bullet, cheated death, somehow done something a little bit daring and wild.

You know, like when we rode bikes as children, and riding without a helmet wasn’t considered dangerous, it was just considered being a kid. And no one ever considered that kind of bike safety … for the chillllldren.

END

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South Bay form report: He’s such a Dahl

October 7, 2014 § 12 Comments

Now that the ‘cross season is underway, we need to take a moment to do a sack check of who’s doing what to whom.

  1. The ‘cross stage is set for October 12, when the first SPY Cyclocross beatdown of 2014 will take place in Chino, which promises to be blistering hot, challenging, and the best excuse we’ve had all year to hang out with friends and drink copious quantities of liquid sandwiches. The SPY Cyclocross series is sanctioned by USA Cycling, which means that riders can earn points that let them stage towards the front of the field at nationals, rather than having to sink down to their necks in the mud and muck of 155th place at the starting line.
  2. You can’t talk about cyclocross in SoCal without talking about Ryan Dahl. He’ll be on hand at the SPY race in Chino, ready to dole out a major serving of whup-ass to anyone in the 35+ A category. He’ll be joined by David MacNeal and Garnet Vertican, two cyclocrossers who have been on exceptionally good form. However well any of these wankers do, I plan to drink them under the flyover afterwards.
  3. Talk of cyclocross naturally leads to conversations of insanity, poor judgment, and the 2015 most-likely-to-die-on-a-bike award. This, in turn, leads to discussions about the recent KOM set by the Wily Greek on Tuna Canyon. For those who aren’t “in the know,” Tuna Canyon is a very long, exceedingly steep death-climb in the Santa Monica Mountains that can only be climbed on a narrow, twisting road while salmoning. Half the achievement is doing the climb, the other half is not getting splatted by terrified motorists in full sphincter-clench mode who see bicyclists going the wrong way up the one-way road. Anyway, it’s a legendary climb and Wily has carved his initials on that particular mule’s behind.
  4. Local South Bay wanker Carey Downs a/k/a Tumbleweed pulled off his first ‘cross win of the year last weekend in Long Beach, beating a field of dead people in the 55+ category. He received the much sought after Long Beach victory cup, a chalice filled with mercury, cadmium, and a choice selection of other minerals found in the local water supply.
  5. No South Bay form report would be complete without an update on the status of Prez, recently returned from a grueling work schedule just in time to miss all the races and begin training for the high point of his year: The off-season of 2014. He’s already begun gym workouts, track sessions, and 140-mile fatburner days in the big ring, and judging from the 347.9 donuts he was carrying in his skinsuit when I saw him on Sunday, he’ll need every one of those miles and then some. Of course it has been a sad and boring year on the local group rides without Prez to run into the occasional parked car, but his return will keep everyone on their toes. Welcome back!!

PS: Don’t miss any of the races in the SPYclocross Series — details below.

SPYclocross Series

SPYclocross Series

The details matter

October 6, 2014 § 9 Comments

I rode out to the memorial ride this morning for Stuart Press. He was 39, and left behind a one-year-old son, wife, grieving mother, and devastated cycling community after fighting a brief battle with brain cancer.

I never met Stu.

Well over three hundred riders massed at the start of this Sunday’s legendary west L.A. Nichols Ride, which had been dedicated to him. Like me, many of the riders had never met him.

One block up from the start there is a Starbucks, and riders crowded into the small store to get a snack and a cup of coffee. They had come from all over, with the Surf City team fielding six riders from as far away as Orange County and Long Beach. Starbucks is a natural place to start a ride from, simply because so many cyclists enjoy a quick jolt before they start pedaling in earnest.

But you don’t start the Nichols Ride at Starbucks. Founded by Raymond Fouquet, the oldest and most venerable ride in L.A., the La Grange ride, always began at Raymond’s restaurant. That restaurant, long gone, is now the site of an anonymous west L.A. office building. A few years ago the tradition of starting at the former site of Raymond’s restaurant began to erode, just because it was easier to roll out from the Starbucks.

The old guard saw what was happening, and quietly put the word out: Get your coffee wherever you want, but the La Grange ride starts where Raymond’s restaurant used to be. The new folks got the message.

Why should anyone care? It’s only one block. And why start from an antiseptic office block when you could start from a food-and-coffee-infused eatery?

The answer of course is that details matter, because history is in the details, and our present is constructed on the building blocks of the past, and our future will be built based on how we conduct ourselves now. This is another way of saying that sentiments matter. Because Raymond Fouquet was beloved, and because the things he began changed people’s lives, and because those he affected felt love for him, the sentiments surrounding something as simple as the starting point of a bike ride have meaning. By honoring the past we are honoring the sentiments of the past, and we are allowing those sentiments of love to stay alive and empower us, even though the people themselves are dead.

It’s through the details that we cheat time, and cheat death.

If you ride bikes, and if you write about bikes, you will become familiar with death. People fall, get hit, get sick, get old, and then they’re not around anymore, forever. But in our cycling community, those losses are keenly felt. Riders we used to laugh with, race against, talk trash about, and count on are people who have made us what we are, for better or worse, and almost always for better. When they die, it hits us so much harder than the passing of a distant relative in a distant place, or a celebrity on the screen.

When Stuart died, we all gasped and said, “That could have been me.”

We hit the lower slopes of Nichols Canyon. The only other time I had done this ride, three years ago, KP and Surfer Dan had exploded the massive field and gone on to “win” the ride. It was a searing exercise in endless pain and abject terror as we shot through red lights, bounced over chugholes, and flailed our way to the breathless finish.

Not today. We climbed slowly and densely bunched. We descended quickly but carefully. We ended in Brentwood still filled with adrenaline and excess energy, a huge group of hundreds that had done anything but “leave it all on the road.” Along the way we talked about Stu, we talked about our own mortality, and we gave thanks, each in our own way, for simply being allowed the gift of life.

The details of where we started, where we finished, and what we did in between to honor the life of a good man, those details, like the details of Stuart’s life, mattered.

END

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