The anti-cyclist cyclist

November 14, 2014 § 58 Comments

It seemed pretty harmless. My fan sent me a private email and told me about a little bike-citation-trap that the LA Sheriff’s Department was running on PCH southbound. There is a shortcut that about seventy eleven billion riders take coming home on PCH, and it’s illegal because it requires you to go the wrong way down a one-lane, one-way street for about fifty feet before it becomes a two-lane, two-way street.

The reason that you break the law here is because you are tired and it’s the last 30 miles of your ride back to PV and if you go straight with your shot legs you have to “drag your wagon” as Miss Kentucky would say, all the way up Pepperdine Hill instead of sailing back to Malibu on a pancake flat, untrafficked road.

Problem is, the untrafficked road leads by Cher’s compound, and the trillionaires along the road, or at least one of them, doesn’t like it when bikers break the law to “sneak” onto “their” road. So, after getting a tip from my fan — the equivalent of someone telling you about a sobriety checkpoint — I went onto my Facebag lawyer page and gave the cycling planet a heads-up. “Don’t break the law here, and either go straight or walk your bike until the road becomes two-way.”

Pretty soon a maroon reared his ugly head, some wanker named Heath who is presumably a cyclist, and he made a couple of nasty comments about “lazy cyclists” and insinuating that the trillionaires were right to be angry at the scofflaws. I counter-posted once or twice and then deleted all of his comments, adhering to my new Facebag policy of “you gotta pay to play.”

In the past I would hunker down and engage in multi-day Facebag comment wars that were immensely entertaining to everyone but me. I realized the depth of my illness when, coming up for air, I realized that I had posted over 200 comments in a battle of the maroons between me and some wanker in upstate New York about whether or not his ‘cross skilz class would have prevented a crash. Yep. It was that weighty a topic. I engaged in this tweetle-beetle-battle-in-a-Facebag-bottle while visiting my elder son at college, ruining the weekend, and causing permanent emotional damage to the other maroon, who threatened legal action against me. (Note to reader: threatening lawyers with legal action is like threatening Bre’r Rabbit with the briar patch.)

However, it takes two maroons to have a tweetle beetle battle, and after reflection I realized that in this case I was the other one, and vowed not to do it anymore. So when Heath began tossing out the red meat I just tossed out the red delete and that was the end of it. Henceforth, I decided that if anyone wants to argue with me, they have to do it in my sandbox, here on the blog, where I not only make the rules but where I can edit everything they write or block them completely if I so choose. It’s not fair, just like life.

What struck me about Heath, though, is a common thread that runs through cycling in which cyclists themselves are extremely critical of other cyclists when it comes to obeying traffic laws. It’s a hall monitor complex, and it’s bizarre. I don’t condone scofflawing most of the time, but unless it’s egregious and puts someone else’s life at risk, I don’t much care about it, either. Cars break the laws all the time too, and when I’m motoring along and someone changes lanes without using a turn indicator (that actually happens), I don’t honk, or scream, or post a rant about it.

My motoring time is better spent driving defensively than it is screaming, cursing, flipping off, honking, or Facebagging about all the maroons out there who are trying to kill me.

Cycling is already dangerous enough without having to split my attention to whether or not someone runs a stop sign or goes the wrong way for 50 feet down Cher’s street. And in the battle between the scofflaws, it’s the motorist, not the cyclist, who is the overwhelming bad guy.

My buddy C. was dropping down Manhattan Boulevard a few days ago, traveling at the speed limit, and lawfully riding in the lane. A very busy and important manageress of a local MB optic shop came by, speeding, let out a blast on her horn, totally ignoring the new law that requires a passing motorist to give a cyclist 3-feet of clearance. C. got out of her way just in time to avoid being turned into pulp, and at the stoplight a few feet ahead, the one she had apparently been rushing to get to so she could stop, he thwacked on her window and yelled at her.

“I’m calling the police!” she screamed.

“Great,” he said. So they pulled over while she dialed 911. Unlike the LA police, where they don’t even bother to show up unless at least three shots have been fired and one person has been hit, the MB police aren’t quite as busy, and five minutes later a cop approached. To C.’s incredible joy and disbelief, it was a cop on a … bicycle. Finally, for once, justice was about to be done.

The eyeglass lady had been speeding. She had passed C. illegally. She had broken the law prohibiting unnecessary use of the horn. She had illegally crossed the double yellow line to pass. More to the point, she admitted to all of it.

So of course, the bicycle cop on the bicycle (did I mention he was riding a bike?) began to berate … the cyclist. After hearing both sides of the story, he asked C. “Why didn’t you call me?”

“You mean while she was trying to kill me as I descended at the speed limit? Kind of whip my phone out of my jersey pocket and dial 911?”

“Well, it’s illegal to hit someone’s window like you admit to having done.”

“Right. And my reaction was in response to her assaulting me. So are you going to cite her for all the things she’s admitted doing?”

“It’s your word against hers.”

“Right, except she and I both agree that she was breaking the law.”

“Well, you should have called me.”

“Look,” said C., feeling very much as if he were living the Monty Python argument clinic or descending into tweetle-beetle-battle hell, “she called you and you’re here. What are you going to do about it?”

“It’s your word against hers,” said Deppity Doofus.

And that’s pretty much how it ended: The motorist, having admitted to a plethora of violations, one of them a moving violation, got to continue on while the Manhattan Beach bicycle cop (he was riding a bicycle) blamed the cyclist.

I thought about all this as I pondered Heath’s cyclist-hating comments and it made me think of Pogo. “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Can they sue me?

November 13, 2014 § 24 Comments

It’s a common question with a short answer: Yes.

Here’s the scenario: You come up with a new course and invite your friends to join you. It’s the classic “group ride” with no waiver, no rules, no controlled access to the course, no referees, no ambulance on stand-by, and no entry fee.

The guy who invites his buddies to the beatdown wants to know, of course, whether or not he can be sued if someone falls off his bicycle, gets hit by a car, or gets taken out by another wanker.

The easy answer of course is “YES.” Anyone can sue anyone for anything at any time. Pay the filing fee and it’s game on. But the real question is whether or not the plaintiff will win. And it all starts with something called assumption of the risk.

In California, if some wanker sues you because he fell off his bike during the Thursday morning beatdown ride that you mentioned on Facebook, your best defense is assumption of the risk. In common language, this means that if you’re dumb enough to do it, don’t come whining to the judge when you get hurt.

Technically, it’s more, well, technical. After your former best friend sues you, and you’ve become the defendant, you move for summary judgment on the basis of primary assumption of the risk. This is a fancy way of saying that you’re asking the court to kick the case out the door before it ever goes to trial because you can show that you owed no legal duty to the whining wanker to prevent the harm that he’s now complaining about.

If you can show that the wounded wanker expressly assumed the risk, then you have a complete defense to his negligence lawsuit. Of course, the group ride is exactly the scenario in which you won’t have a signed waiver, or even a speech advising everyone that they’re about to engage in something that may maim or kill them, so proving an express assumption of the risk may be contentious. One way you can protect yourself is by admonishing everyone at the start of the ride that they’re voluntarily assuming the risk of death or catastrophic injury. Another way, of course, is making people sign a waiver.

The rationale behind the assumption of risk defense is that you owe no duty of care to protect a plaintiff against the risks inherent in a particular competitive sport voluntarily played by the wanker, absent some reckless or intentional misconduct. For cycling, falling off your bicycle is unquestionably an inherent risk of riding in proximity to other wankers. The only thing that a defendant may not do is increase the risk of harm above that inherent in the sport. For example, tossing hand grenades into the peloton, or intentionally knocking someone off his bike to “teach him a lesson,” or pushing someone off a cliff on a descent.

The ordinary stupidity that most wankers exhibit on a group ride isn’t enough for the whining wanker to win his lawsuit. California courts have said that “[i]n some situations, the careless conduct of others is treated as an ‘inherent risk’ of a sport, thus barring recovery by the plaintiff.” So, when there are 85 knuckleheads on the NPR, many of whom still don’t know how to ride in a straight line, you can’t sue someone because you got knocked off your bike.

Whether the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies doesn’t have anything to do with whether the whining wanker behaved reasonably. It’s a question of law that depends on the nature of the sport or activity in question and on the parties’ general relationship to the activity. The overriding consideration in the application of primary assumption of risk is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the implicated activity and thereby alter its fundamental nature.

In other words, group rides involve riding proximately to unskilled idiots, lots of them. It is inherent that if you’re going to hammer your bike on a public road next to some bonehead, said bonehead may inadvertently chop your wheel, whack into you from behind, or barf onto your handlebars. The law says, “Tough shit.”

Generally, the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies in a “sports setting,” and an organized, noncompetitive, long-distance bicycle ride is one of those sports activities to which the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies. The case of Moser v. Ratinoff basically held that you can’t sue a fellow wanker who takes you out on a group ride when the person who knocked you off the bike was just an ordinary idiot. Remember when your mom told you that if you hang out with dope smokers you’ll be a pothead, too? Same deal.

There are a number of cases involving sports activities in which the court found a primary assumption of risk. Snow skiing, water skiing, ouch football, collegiate baseball, off-roading, skateboarding, golf, lifeguard training, tubing behind a motorboat, wrestling, gymnastics stunt during cheerleading, little league baseball, cattle roundup, sport fishing, ice skating, football practice drill, judo, rock climbing, river rafting, and sailing have all been found to be activities where the assumption of risk applies.

Now I know what you’re thinking, and I am, too: “GOLF IS NOT A SPORT.” But the judge says it is.

In some other recreational activities, courts have held that there was no primary assumption of risk. Boating passenger and recreational dancing cases in California allowed the whiny plaintiff’s case to proceed, but it’s my opinion that the embarrassment of having to admit that you’re a recreational dancer totally negated the value of any money awarded in the litigation.

Primary assumption of risk applies to competitive sports and to noncompetitive recreational activities as well, such as a ski boat driver towing a water skier. Like competitive sports, vigorous participation in noncompetitive sports would likely be chilled and the nature of the sport altered if liability were to be imposed for ordinary careless conduct. This has particular meaning for your informal group ride beatdown, which may not technically be a sporting race (especially given all the wheelsuckers who will cut the course).

An activity falls within the meaning of “sport” if the activity is done for enjoyment or thrill, requires physical exertion as well as elements of skill, and involves a challenge containing a potential risk of injury. So, not ballroom dancing, but yes, the Thursday ride. You can get whacked by a car. By a co-wanker. You can slide out on the wet spot on the descent on the golf course. Hit a peacock. Slam into the curb while ogling the hot chick in front of you. Thrill, physical exertion, and risk of injury are all present.

Although bicycle riding, like driving an automobile, can be a means of transportation, “organized, long-distance bicycle rides on public highways with large numbers of riders involve physical exertion and athletic risks not generally associated with automobile driving or individual bicycle riding on public streets or on bicycle lanes or paths. Bicycle rides of the nature engaged in by the parties here are activities done for enjoyment and a physical challenge․ In view of these considerations, the organized, long-distance, group bicycle ride qualifies as a ‘sport’ for purposes of the application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine.” The court in Moser basically said that big, organized group rides are a sport. Incredible, but true.

But before you get too happy, recall that you’re not allowed to do anything to increase the risks inherent in the activity. Although defendants do not have a duty to protect the plaintiff from risks inherent in the activity, they do have a duty not to increase the risk of harm beyond what is inherent in the activity. Analyzing the liability of other than co-participants requires defining “the risks inherent in the sport not only by virtue of the nature of the sport itself, but also by reference to the steps the sponsoring business entity reasonably should be obligated to take in order to minimize the risks without altering the nature of the sport.”

In other words, you can’t take the tackle out of tackle football, but neither can you let people play it with handguns.

But a defendant may not increase the likelihood of injury above that which is inherent, and conduct is not inherent in the sport if that conduct is “totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport [and] if the prohibition of that conduct would neither deter vigorous participation in the sport nor otherwise fundamentally alter the nature of the sport.” A participant injured in a sporting activity by another participant may recover from that coparticipant for intentional infliction of injury or tortious behavior “so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport” but not for mere negligence.

In the group ride context, you can’t intentionally take someone out, but you can apparently be a wanker. Certain activities have been held not to be inherent in a sport and thus not subject to the primary assumption of risk doctrine. For example, drinking alcoholic beverages is not an activity inherent in the sport of skiing. So if you’re showing up for the 6:30 AM ride completely soused, and you accidentally push a pal into oncoming traffic, expect a lawsuit.

But what about cyclocross, which ordinarily can’t be properly done without beer? The Supreme Court of California has yet to rule on such a thorny issue.

Going too fast, making sharp turns, not taking certain precautions, or proceeding beyond one’s abilities are actions held not to be totally outside the range of ordinary activities involved in those sports. The analogies derived from the risks in other sports suggest that one cyclist riding alongside another cyclist and swerving into the latter is a risk that is inherent in a long-distance, recreational group bicycle ride.

I’d argue that it’s inherent in your local group beatdown, too, but to be safe you should take the time to mention it.

So what does it all mean? In general, people who participate in informal group rides appear to be protected in California by the doctrine of assumption of the risk. This doesn’t mean you won’t get sued, it just means you have a fairly solid leg to stand on when you have to defend.

*Key cases: Knight v. Jewitt, Moser v. Ratinoff, Amezcua v. Los Angeles Harley-Davidson.

Disclaimer: This isn’t legal advice for you or your case or your upcoming ride. It’s general legal advice. No attorney-client relationship has been created between us without a signed retainer agreement.

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The ones who persevere

November 12, 2014 § 4 Comments

I respect people who’ve volunteered — yeah, volunteered — to work for the government, whether in its war corps, its Peace Corps, or its bureaucratic corps. The USA only works when good people enter the machinery and help it run smoother, cheaper, smarter, better.

In a broader sense, whether they’re working for the Air Force or the company that makes Air Jordan, I admire people who persevere. I was privileged to be part of Major Bob Frank’s retirement ceremony on Monday night. Bob served as a major, unrelated to Major Major Major Major, in the USAF. The only mistakes he made in his 20-year career were having an open mic at his retirement ceremony, and letting me speak.

Through a befuddled haze in which we drank every single bottle of IPA at the VFW Post in Redondo Beach (note to self: drinking all the beer in a VFW post indicates a drinking problem), it was a wonderful evening where Major Bob’s cycling friends could show their support for him by drinking the military attendees under the table. We are skinny, but we have a bigger substance abuse problem than they do.

The next morning, let’s just say that the 6:30 AM ride from Malaga Cove was “sparsely” attended, as in “three people showed up.” Bull, Dan K. and I rolled out at 6:30 sharp.

Dan K. is one of those people who has been transformed by cycling. He’s shed 60 or 70 pounds over the last couple of years. “I’ll ride along with you guys until I get dropped,” he said.

“Don’t worry,” said Bull. “It won’t be one of those rides.”

I wondered what he was talking about. With Bull it’s always one of those rides; he’s the guy who goes until he blows, recovers, and goes again. And again. And again. We descended and then climbed the Malaga wall back up to PV Drive. My legs were stone cold, and Bull pushed the pace. Dan K. kept the pace and Bull fell off. We regrouped and reloaded at the top, and Bull came pounding by again.

Going up the short climb at Lunada Bay, Dan K. punched it and Bull and I got kind of dizzy. Then we climbed the alleyway, fractured again, and regrouped in time to drop down by the seaside and climb the Millionaire’s Wall back up to Hawthorne and PV Drive. This time there was more fracturing than a North Dakota oil well, and with big gaps. Bull rolled up. We could see Dan K. toiling away behind us. We didn’t hammer, but we didn’t exactly wait for him, either.

He latched back on.

In Portuguese Bend things broke up again, and Dan K. caught up to us at the light on the other side of the Switchbacks. My legs ached; Bull’s did, too. Dan K. might have been tired, but he didn’t show it. We separated again, and Dan K. caught us again, this time in Redondo Beach, completing what was essentially a 1:15 time trial, and a very hilly one at that.

“Good job, man,” I said, gassed.

“Thanks for letting me tag along,” he said, not appearing to be very tired.

Funny thing, perseverance.

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Passing it on

November 11, 2014 § 26 Comments

One of the old-timers was complaining about one of the newcomers. “When’s he gonna learn how to ride a fuggin’ bike?”

In the old days, people learned to ride a bike through shouting and blunt curse trauma. Nowadays there are a few curmudgeons who still wield the lashing tongue as a method of instruction, but we are dwindling, and for good reason. For one, it’s a lousy method. For another, you get tired of hollering because the exponentially increasing number of new riders makes it impossible to holler at all of them.

Plus, no one pays attention. You’re just a grouchy old sourpuss with a hangover.

The Aged One grumbled a little more. “Fuggin’ punk pulls some of the stupidest shit on a bike I’ve ever seen. Whatever happened to ‘Show up, shape up, and shut up’,” he asked.

“Those days are gone,” I said.

“It’s a damned shame. We’ve all gotten too soft and considerate of the next guy’s feelings, even when he’s pulling some douchey move that could kill you.”

I wasn’t so sure. The good old days had their bad old side, too, and part of the bad side was a culture of exclusion. In order to be one of the gang, I seem to remember, you had to get yelled at a lot. The masochists and those who aspired to positions of sadism could stick it out, but many’s the happy cycling enthusiast who shrugged and walked away after getting screamed at or belittled.

The kinder, gentler pedagogy is visible in real life, too. A friend was telling me about his son, who had walked on to a Division 1 basketball team. After two years on the team the son sat down with his father. “Dad,” he said, “I’m thinking about quitting the team.”

This came as a pretty big shock to the dad, who had been at his son’s side for the entirety of his basketball career. “Why?” he asked.

“If I work even harder than I’ve been working for the next two years, and if the stars align, there’s a very, very small chance that I’ll see a few minutes of playing time. The guys I’m competing with are for the most part future players in the NBA. I’m good enough to be on the team, but I’m not that caliber. It’s a huge amount of work and I’m not sure I want to do it anymore, especially when I look at what it takes away from my studies. I mean, the real reason I wanted to go to college was to get an education.”

This of course is the point where the Old School Father would have given his son a talking to, something along the lines of “Quit being a fuggin’ candyass, dogdammit. Get out there and bust your ass, and don’t talk to me about quitting until your eligibility is up.” He would have loaded the speech up with some guilt and shame as well. “Do you know how disappointed your mother will be?” etc., etc.

But my friend, you know, instead of the reflexive harangue that I’ve seen parents use when their kids quit Little League, much less a Division 1 basketball career, he took a different tack, passing on what he’d learned over a lifetime of living and parenting to his child. “Don’t make any rash decisions,” he said, “but consider it carefully, and if you’re ready to walk away from it, then walk away.”

A couple of weeks later his son came into his study. “I’ve been thinking about what you said, dad, and I’m ready to quit. And also, dad … “

“Yes?”

“Thanks for loving me enough to let me do what I have to do.”

All this rattled through my mind as the Aged One finished his complaint about the newcomer. “Well,” I said to him, “look at it like this. You’ve got more experience than anyone else out here, right?”

“I suppose so.”

“And he’s still pretty ignorant, right?”

“You can say that again.”

“Well, what’s the use of our superior wisdom and experience if we don’t know how to pass on what we’ve learned?”

He nodded and was silent for a few minutes as we finished our coffee. Just then, newcomer rolled up, smiling the smile of the young, the strong, and the just-finished-a-killer-ride. He went into the coffee shop, got a cup and came back out.

The Aged One made some space for him to sit down. “Hey, man,” he said with a friendly smile. “Could I talk to you about something?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

I couldn’t stick around, work being work, so I got on my bike and rode off. But a week later I saw the two of them riding side by side, chatting animatedly, punctuating their conversation with laughs. The newcomer was also riding a very, very, very straight line.

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Cross face

November 10, 2014 § 5 Comments

It’s always a good idea to pre-ride the course if you can. I sneaked onto the dirt climb and liked it. It was long and not too steep, sure to wear people out who had to do six laps around the 1.7-mile circuit. I came to a whoopty, and rolled down and up the far side with no problem. Then there came a second whoopty, deeper and steeper. “No problem,” I confidently grinned to myself just as the front wheel smashed against the far side and came within inches of pitching me head-first into the wall.

A nice red blob oozed out of my ankle as I came out the other side, hands shaking from the nearly catastrophic falling-off-bicycle-incident.

The far side of the course had been designed to take into account each of my many inner fears. The first was a long patch of soft, downhill sand chopped in half by a gravel pit. I sailed over it, wildly veering from tape to tape but staying upright. Then the course took a hard right through a deep sand trench that dropped you off into a thick layer of mud. Beyond the mud lay the lakeshore, where a wrong turn would result in a bath. I thought about the warning signs posted alongside the lake: “No fishing! Fish Contain Mercury and Heavy Metals!”

After the mud trap there was a soft, nasty sand pit that went on for a hundred yards or so followed by two small barriers where sadists with cameras gleefully awaited my arrival. Over the barriers, you could remount if you were in your XXXXS gear, or push through more knee-deep sand to firmer ground. Oh, and there was a flyover.

Some people get nervous before races because they don’t know what awaits them. I never get nervous before a ‘cross race because I know exactly what awaits. Pain, a few bad turns, and then a solo slog in last place for 45 minutes. As I stood at the start line thinking about exactly where my first difficulty would separate me from the herd, a weird thing happened during call-ups.

“Seth Davidson,” the ref said. I looked around to see who else in the 45+ A ‘cross race could possibly be named “Seth Davidson.” No one ventured up to the front row, so I shambled up, proving that merely by appearing on race day and pinning on number miracles can happen. Whoever was behind me was going to have a serious clogstacle to overcome.

The race started and I quickly gravitated to the back, then the far back, then off the back. At the sandy barriers I’d caught the tail of the main field, which mostly consisted of a giant sausage squeezed into a too-tiny patch of lycra. The giant sausage waddled over the barriers and I hopped past him, which is where my problems began.

I tried to get back on my bike but the sand was too soft to pedal, which kind of made sense since I’d parked in the deepest section of the sand trap rather than over on the edge, where it was firmer. After providing several dozen amusing photo ops for the camera folks, most of whom have by now posted clever and amusing memes on Facebook such as “Exhorts Others to Race: Stands Forlorn in Sand,” I made the bike move. By this time the peloton had relocated to a different county. I was about to get depressed until I powered by the SPY support team headed by Tait, which had already prepared a can of quality beer for me as a hand-up.

On the hill I overtook giant sausage, who appeared close to bursting out of his skin. For a very long time I rode by myself, with sad-faced onlookers viewing me with pity, or contempt, or both. Even my friends were too embarrassed to shout,with the exception of the SPY Beer Squad. With each partial can of high octane fermented recovery drink, I felt better and better, or at least less and less fearful. Each time I came through the mud and sand and gravel pit I picked up a few seconds until another hapless sod, someone so slow and inept and devoid of ability came within my sights. We traded pulls until the barriers, at which time I heard a whirring sound.

Glancing back it was Phil Tinstman, who had started two minutes earlier in the 35+ race and had now lapped me on a 2-mile course in less than forty minutes. The beautiful thing about this was that getting lapped meant that I’d have one less lap to ride around this course from hell.

After the race I staggered over to the SPY tent, where Sam Ames was washing away huge clots of blot mixed with gravel and sand by pouring cold beer over the open wound. “That’s a waste of good blood,” I said. Then, collapsing into the beanbag chair, Todd Parks wandered over and blamed me for his terrible start. “I thought you were going to take me out!” he said.

“The fact that you were behind me speaks for itself,” I said.

Phil, who didn’t look like he’d ridden his bike yet en route to his state title, chatted with some of his peers, not that he has any. “Once I had a big enough gap, I pulled the plug,” he said. “No sense in killing myself before the pro race.”

I thought about that as a kind of reverse strategy, you know, pulling the plug once everyone had ridden off to Mexico, and saving myself for the beer competition afterwards. “It’s an old Paolinetti tactic,” Phil added. “It’s okay if you win by just enough.”

“Hmmm,” I thought, “there’s wisdom there. Maybe if you’re losing, it’s okay if you lose by a few laps, too, rather than immolate yourself to only lose by, say, a few minutes.” Then I thought about giant sausage dude and how he’d cunningly sat up once I passed him. “Wise, wise man.”

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The day I beat Dave Jaeger

November 9, 2014 § 26 Comments

I know what you’re going to say. “He’s even older than you are.”

“That guy hasn’t won a race in years.”

“DJ? He still rides?”

And, of course, “Who?”

Yeah, well, whatever. We all have benchmarks, and Dave is one of mine. “The day I beat Dave Jaeger up a climb,” I have often said, “is the day I will quit cycling.” I’ve made that promise to myself because it’s something that will never occur.

“Never say never!” chirp the Pollyannas. “Ya gotta show up to win!” Oh, horseshit. There are some people you’ll never beat, and it’s not because you don’t train enough or have the right equipment or the right dietitian or whatever, it’s because they are faster than you. That’s Dave. He’s faster than me when he hasn’t been training for a year and I’ve been on the EPO Diet.

He’s faster than me in races. In training. He’s even faster than me getting out of bed, I just know it.

I used to do an early morning Saturday training ride with him but I quit doing it for the same reason I quit buying lottery tickets. There was no chance of winning.

It’s no big deal to me that he’s richer, better looking, has an uber-hot wife, and wonderful kids. That stuff counts for zip. All I ever cared about is beating Dave Jaeger on a climb. He has beaten me every year for the last six years on the French Toast Ride, cruising up Balcom Canyon in his big ring, putting minutes on me even when I hit the climb with a several-hundred-yard head start. He has beaten me so many times on the Donut Ride that on the few times a year that he bothers to show up I immediately call it my “off week.”

Worst of all, when everyone else beats me everywhere else I get to smile and say, “Yeah, but I’m 50,” even when the other guy is 49. Not with Dave. He races 55+ starting in 2016. He’s waaaay older than I am. And worser than the worst, he’s always nice about it. “Good job, wanker,” he’ll always say after putting a few football fields in between me and my dignity. And he’ll mean it.

Yesterday was going to be more of the same. The Donut Ride started slowly, thanks to the absences of Smasher and Ollie. Manny Fresh did a pointless attack on the downhill, and SBBaby Seal rolled away only to make the fatal mistake of turning down the alley. No one followed and he wasn’t seen again.

Once we hit Portuguese Bend the pace picked up, but not too much. We had some Belgian dude named Jan riding with us, and just the word “Belgian” was enough to make most of us shart in our shorts. Even the Wily Greek was eyeing him.

Jaeger always gets irritated when people go slow, and this day was no exception. “What are you wankers doing, holding hands?” he asked. I nodded. He shook his head and attacked off the front, from the front. The last time I saw him do that was at the Lake Castaic Road Race. In fact, the situation had been identical.

“Did you wankers show up to hold hands or race your bikes?” he had asked.

“Hold hands, hopefully,” I had peeped.

That time too he had shaken his head, punched it, and soloed for 47 miles to victory. It was my only top-ten road placing of the year, but that’s just because everyone from #11 on down quit.

DJ rolled away from the Donut. We lollygagged some more until we hit the bottom of the Switchbacks. There are usually a half-dozen wankers left by this point, as the repeated accelerations have shaken the dingleberries out of the weeds, but today we were still thirty or forty strong. There was a feeling of joy in the air as the larger specimens enjoyed being with the lead group at the bottom of the climb, a point at which they were usually alone, defeated, struggling, and swearing off pork rinds at least for the next hour.

The Wily Greek leaped away. Chatty Cathy followed. Davy followed. Destroyer followed. I followed. With a few pedal strokes I glanced back and the wankoton had evaporated. Then as Wily punched it again, I evaporated. After clawing my way back we went around a couple more turns on the Switchbacks and Wily surged again, taking Destroyer with him.

Chatty Cathy pulled for a while then cracked. I passed him and continued on to the wall. Up ahead I could see Wily Greek and DJ, who had hooked up, with Destroyer in No Man’s Land. Jaeger then came unhitched, and I passed him on the wall.

Please re-read that a few dozen times. “I passed him on the wall.”

Yep, that actually happened. Wankmeister passed David Jaeger on a climb.

Somehow I got onto Destroyer’s rear wheel, “somehow” meaning “he let me.” Then he towed me to the flat spot.  Then I towed him for six or seven feet to allow him to recover before swinging over to let him share some more of the work. Then, a quarter mile before the end, with Wily dangling out in front doing his nails and wondering why no one was riding up to him, I spied a shadow on my wheel.

I didn’t need to look back, because there was only one rider yesterday who had the legs to chase down Destroyer on a climb, and the outline of the head meant that it was Jaeger. My glorious victory, the one time I was going to actually beat the best bike racer, nicest guy, richest man, dude with the hottest wife … it all crumbled in an instant.

The only hope I had, and it was a slim one, was cunning. Destroyer swung over and I took a massive 180-watt pull. DJ came through like a bull. I went to the back and recovered from my 180-watt effort. We rounded the bend. The imaginary finish line was in sight. Wily, who had arrived slightly before, had finished the finance section of the Times and was halfway through “A History of Modern Computing in Twelve Volumes.” I dropped back a few feet and took a run at Destroyer’s rear wheel.

Destroyer laughed at the tiny acceleration and easily sprunted away, but to me, he was small game, tiny fish, he was nuttin’. As I passed the imaginary finish line I heard that familiar voice on my right-hand shoulder. “Good job, wanker.”

“Best ride of my life,” I said.

He laughed. “Oh, I’m sure you’ve passed me before.”

“I’m sure I haven’t.”

November 8, 2014, the day I beat Dave Jaeger on a climb.’

The artist told me to keep the ink out of the sun for two weeks, which will be hard because it’s on my forehead in 36-point Courier and kind of winds down over my ears and neck, and yes, tattoos hurt a bit, and yes, it’s my first one, but this one is worth it.

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Water the roots

November 8, 2014 § 6 Comments

This post is directed only to people in Southern California who meet one of the following requirements:

  1. You have a racing license.
  2. You have a fancy road bike, in which fancy > $1,500.
  3. You have a cyclocross bike.
  4. You have at least one Strava KOM.
  5. You troll Facebook on Sunday afternoon to find out the local race results.
  6. You follow professional race results.
  7. You have a power meter.
  8. You know what “WKO+” is.
  9. You like to “mix it up” on group rides.
  10. You have recurring fantasies of riding Merckx off your wheel high in the Alps, with your sixth consecutive Tour victory on the line.

If any of the above applies to you, please take note that on Sunday you will have 2 (two) opportunities (Möglichkeiten) to actualize your inner Walter Mitty in an actual bike race. These 2 (two) opportunities (Möglichkeiten) are outlined in detail below.

Möglichkeit A: Udo SPYclocross

In Memory of Udo Heinz

In Memory of Udo Heinz

This race has everything. If you’ve never raced cyclocross before, or if you haven’t yet gotten your feet wet this season, no race on the calendar is better than this one. In addition to fantastic organization, a challenging course, and the state’s best competition, Lake Hodges is a bottle’s throw from some of the best breweries in America. Cyclocross, because it’s bike racing, is hard. But it’s also fun — there are actual crowds, they actually cheer for (or at) you, and the only attitude is the attitude of “let’s have fun, and let’s race.”

Udo Heinz, to whom the race is dedicated, was struck and killed by a bus on Camp Pendleton almost two years ago. Udo was the epitome of a good rider. He tirelessly worked to organize and execute the best ‘cross races on the calendar, he was a safe and considerate cyclist who always looked out for the other guy, and he was the kind of person to whom others turned for help and advice.

If you have never raced ‘cross before, make November 9, 2014, your first race. It won’t be your last.

Möglichkeit B: SPY Upgrade Crit p/b CBR & Chris Lotts & Vera!

Come out and race!

Come out and race!

So let’s say that you don’t have a ‘cross bike or don’t know anyone who has one, which, frankly, is complete bullshit. But let’s say that we accept your bullshit because we’re friends and that’s what friends do. I know for a fact that you want to race your bike, deep down you really do — and there’s no safer, better place to do it than in one of Chris & Vera’s upgrade races. The race will go off on time. Bullshit dangerous riding will not be tolerated. Winners and near-winners will be glorified on a podium, and you will have the satisfaction of having actually raced your bike.

Well, there’s actually a third option for Sunday: Pull on your fancy riding outfit, wheel out your fancy racing bicycle, and pal around with your buddies at the coffee shop talking about how you wish there were more race opportunities in SoCal. See you there. At the race!

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