Down in the alley

July 24, 2014 § 40 Comments

A new bobble has been added to the weekly Donut Ride, and I contemplated it as the wankers of the South Bay chewed me up and spit me out. It’s a short, steep, nasty little alleyway that comes after a long uphill slog followed by a fast downhill followed by a gradual climb followed by a very short wall.

The point behind the alley is to crush the spirits and impoverish the souls of those who, even at the outset of the group ride, are already broken.

The Donut Ride has evolved into an almost perfect group ride. It is so hard that to properly complete it you must cheat, cut the course, suck wheel, sneak ahead while everyone is regrouping, or all of the above. The climbs are so vicious that hordes of South Bay bicycle owners refuse to even show up. It drops people while they are still in bed.

In common with all great group rides, it crowns a winner who everyone can dispute, but not actually beat. “Wily Greek is a wheelsucker,” we mutter each time he deftly sprints away at the bottom of the Switchbacks. And like all group rides, great or not, you get to declare yourself the winner of something. “I was the first one to the Domes out of the fastest people who got dropped in the alley.” “I was the fastest climber out of the non-climbing sprinters who live in Long Beach.” Etc. It’s almost as good as Strava.

The Donut Ride also contains the race-within-the-race element that so many of us live for: the OTB flailer who nonetheless fights tooth and toenail to finish ahead of the other OTB flailer who said something rude to him on Facebook. Best of all, like all group rides it’s free, starts close to home, doesn’t require an entry fee or a license, and when done properly will effectively wreck any legitimate training plan or racing goal.

The ideal group ride, which the Donut is, will be intense enough to destroy your legs but not make you faster. It will be long enough to exhaust you but not long enough to build your endurance. It will force you to ride either too slow to build your engine, or so fast that you’ll need an entire week in order to recuperate. It will expose all of your weaknesses and develop none of your strengths. Best of all, if you are a Donut vainquer, your victories will translate into little more than DNF’s and barely-finished’s at legitimate stage races.

It is a cul-de-sac for performance, and crystal meth for the legs. Plus, it finishes near several brewpubs which open about the time the ride finishes.

But the hardest group ride in America … Where is it?

My default vote goes to my own backyard; yours probably does, too. After all, no kid is smarter or better looking than your own. The Donut Ride is about 50 miles long and boasts about 5,000 feet of climbing. It goes off every Saturday, with anywhere from 80 to 100 idiots lining up at the start in Redondo Beach in the summer … and less than a dozen making it to base of the Switchbacks-to-Crest climb thirty minutes later, after which the smashing begins in earnest.

But is it the hardest?

The Swami’s ride in Encinitas is horrifically hard and staffed with twisted mutants like Tinstman, Bordine, Marckx, and Thurlow, but it’s shorter (about 30 miles) and “only” has 3,500 feet of climbing. Then there’s the SPY Holiday Ride, a beatdown so vicious that if I make it up the first climb without getting shelled I consider it a total victory: 60 miles, 4,000 feet of climbing, and a 100+ field that is always stacked with state champions, national champions, and group ride champions who live just to dish it out on gang slugfests like this one. The ugliness is sharpened by competition for KOM and sprint awards given out post-ride in the form of BWR Ale brewed by the Lost Abbey.

But is it the hardest?

I don’t know. America is filled with group rides that go off every Saturday, Sunday, holiday, Tuesday, Thursday, and every other day that ends in “-day.”

How do you evaluate their difficulty? The following criteria, for sure …

  1. Length. Should be more than 40 miles, less than 70. It has to be long enough not to simulate any race you’d actually do, but short enough that it can be completed before your wife goes completely apeshit at another wasted weekend on the bike. Also, it must be long enough so that you perform all chores and kid-activities with a glum face and lagging step.
  2. Elevation. Enough to make it hard, but not so much that the only champions weigh less than 130-lbs. Ideally, the elevation is spread throughout the ride rather than dumped at the end like the LA Holiday Ride, which is a joke. Having at least one 20-minute climb to obliterate the chubmeisters, the old people, the “just getting into the sport-ers,” and juniors is ideal.
  3. Number of riders. 30, minimum. Having somewhere to hide and suck wheel is crucial for a group ride. Too few people forces everyone to work, which reduces or eliminates the ability to name-call and point the finger after you get shelled.
  4. Wind. The more, the better. Wind is the great unequalizer, because it strips the skinny climbers of their watts/kg advantage and grinds them up into little rat pellets. Wind, preferably cold (although frying-pan hot furnace blasts are good, too), increases the chances of crashing and quitting.
  5. Elements. Freezing rain/brain-scalding heat/crushing humidity are always a plus. Especially in SoCal, where eternal sunshine cultivates softness, a good dose of terrible weather does wonders for separating the wheat from the cadavers.
  6. Pavement. Shitty road surfaces, hairball descents, off-camber paving, unannounced changes from tarmac to gravel … anything that will cause a flat or a crash or potentially crack your frame gets extra points.
  7. Quality of field. This is hard to evaluate, but generally, if the average age is “gets an annual prostate check,” then you’re playing with a worn out deck of cards. One good way to evaluate the field is financial stability. The more people living with girlfriends, out of cardboard boxes, sleeping on couches, the faster and more brutal the ride.

I’ve heard lots of stories about “our local group ride is the toughest,” and would like nothing better than to find out for myself. Is the real badass group ride yours? Post the info in a comment or shoot me an email, fsethd@gmail.com, with a link to the Strava segment if there is one. Extra points if the ride is so badass that it’s not even on Strava. It certainly won’t be any fun to go check it out in person, but it might assuage those late-night worries, i.e. “What am I going to write about tomorrow?”

Greek sandwich

May 22, 2014 § 27 Comments

It was a sunny, perfect day for the legendary South Bay Donut Ride. The fast riders preened and flexed, the somewhat aged fellows clenched their bowels and prayed for a miracle, and the no-hopers stood on the periphery like dorky kids in junior high school, hoping to be noticed but then again hoping not to be, either.

The Wily Greek surveyed the pitiful gaggle of third-class citizens. He’d had to make a tough choice. Go to Bakersfield and race against his peers in the tough, dreaded Vlees Huis Road Race, or stay close to home, wake up late, beat off and beat up on the pudgy geriatrics with leaky prostates? It was an easy choice.

The pack rolled out and the Wily Greek paid no attention to the surges, the glory pulls, and the half-legged efforts up Malaga Cove. As the pace quickened in earnest after exiting Lunada Bay, he deigned to take a leisurely pull. No matter. With a condescending glance he noted that many of the baby seals were already spilling blood and gray matter from their bludgeoned braincases. The gasping, wheezing, emphysema-like gurgles uttered by the old farts were almost amusing.

Almost.

The Wily Greek was still breathing through his nose, except for the occasional yawn.

By the time the peloton hit the punchy rollers of Portuguese Bend, many had already called it a day and were hurrying home to check Strava and lie to their wives about flatting. By the time they hit the bottom of the dreaded Switchbacks there remained but a small group of twenty survivors carved out of the 100-plus dreamers who had started out in Redondo Beach.

The Wily Greek loved this part of the ride. He started at the back and casually took in the grimaces of the sufferers. Some displayed heaving, dipping shoulders. Others, hunched over the bars like a dog mounting a cat, shivered and shook as oxygen debt demanded a repayment that they couldn’t afford. The leaky prostate riders who had hung on to that point began to drip, drizzle, and pop like the fasteners on their loaded diapers.

Of all the beautiful things about cycling, the Wily Greek appreciated this aspect the most: watching the lame, weak, sick, old, deluded, and infirm crate, crack, and give up. It was better than playing tackle football against kindergartners. It was better than winning a chess game in five moves. It was better than being the house in Vegas.

For the remainder of the ride, the Wily Greek toyed with his victims like a tomcat toys with a maimed mouse. Like a wife toys with a husband who has forgotten her birthday. Like a mortuary salesman toys with a bereaved family. It was a beautiful thing, voluptuous in its crass exercise of power by the strong over the weak.

As the Donut Ride regrouped for the final run-in to the Hawthorne sprunt and the Via Zumaya climb, the Wily Greek preened a bit more. It was so much fun watching the little guillotine addicts come pedaling up for another session under the blade.

The reconstituted group had about forty riders in it, including a large contingent of leaky prostates. Since the downhill section was so fast, the Greek couldn’t lose anyone. To the contrary, even some of the slowest and flabbiest were able to hang on to the speeding group.

This disgusted and offended him.

Sitting at the back he prepared the launch that would eat their lunch, an acceleration so rapid that he would rocket by and finish alone. At that very moment he heard a rumbling. With a quick look over his shoulder he saw the huge, lumbering truck, and just as quickly he violated the Rule of Rules: Thou shalt not draft a garbage truck.

The leaky prostates watched in amazement as the truck flew past with the Wily Greek tucked into its massive draft. As it shot past, however, the older, weaker, leakier, but still somewhat wiser old ones heard the terrible sloshing sound of hundreds of gallons of liquified, putrefied smegma that had been smushed by the compactor’s giant ram and then collected in the floor of the compactor.

The seeping, liquified filth that is squeezed from the compacted garbage load normally collects toward the front by virtue of a slanted floor, which prevents the goo from sloshing back out the hopper into which the trash is first collected for compacting. (I learned all this from Google).

Unhappily for the Wily Greek, when the truck went up the final, very steep little kicker in Portuguese Bend, the liquified ass-drippings drained back into the hopper and then, when the truck hit a bump, sloshed out in a giant wave onto his front wheel, legs, shorts, and chest.

As Al Jaffee would have said, “Yecccccchhh!”

The horror and shock that the Wily Greek felt, suddenly covered as he was in rotting slime, was nothing as compared to the hilarity and laughter that erupted from the wankoton. In a fury, the Wily Greek accelerated over the bump, intent on chasing down the garbage truck and giving them a tongue lashing for their errant smegma sloshing.

However, the truck was driven by garbagemen, union garbagemen at that, men who spent the day hoisting 200-lb., fully loaded trash cans up over their heads. They were men with tattoos, not cute dolphins surreptitiously marked on their calf where they couldn’t be seen by fellow lawyers and dentists, but big, nasty tattoos with pictures of female genitalia, dragons snorting fire, knives through skulls, and slogans like “Kill to Live” emblazoned on their arms, legs, chests, necks, and backs.

These were men with bad teeth.

And in short, they were not to be frightened by a slim, veiny waif riding a bicycle in his underwear.

At Abalone Cove, precisely at the point where the Wily Greek overtook the garbage truck, it slammed on the brakes and veered hard left. The fetid goop in the hopper sloshed again, but this time it poured out in a giant projectile vomit-arc directly into the Wily Greek’s face.

At that same precise moment the wankoton came by. Face dripping in shit, the Wily Greek did what any person would have done. He tossed his Barbie food. He tossed his electrolytes. He tossed his whey protein breakfast. He tossed his gluten-free, all natural, 250 kcal breakfast. He tossed everything down to the lining of his stomach.

Several riders thought briefly about stopping to render aid, but only briefly.

There are so many morals to this story. Take your pick.

 

 

Three cheers for the local boy

September 16, 2013 § 22 Comments

I was pedaling up Western Avenue with Rudy Napolitano on Saturday. I never pedal anywhere with Rudy except to the extent that he is a small speck receding, quickly, in the distance.

“What’s going on with you this weekend?”

“I’m leaving Sunday for Trento, Italy,” he said.

“Trento, Trento, Trento,” I thought to myself. The name rung a bell. “Vacation?” I asked. The road season had ended the week before at nationals in Bend, Oregon.

“Not exactly.”

“Visiting family?”

“No. Headed off to world’s with Mike Easter.”

“Worlds?” I asked. “World championships?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Like, rainbow jersey worlds?”

“Yep.”

“Where if you win you’re, like, the champion of the whole world?”

He looked over and grinned. “That one. For masters racers.”

“What’s the course?”

“It’s the same one they’re using for the UCI pro worlds. We do one lap. 110 k or thereabouts, with a 20k climb at the end.”

“You’re fuggin’ kidding me, right?”

Again, the grin. “No. For real.”

“Is it like masters nationals? Any wanker with a license and an entry fee can enter?”

“Umm,” he said. “It’s a little different. You have to qualify.”

“How.?”

“They have a list of Grand Fondos that are qualifiers. They want to make sure you can handle Dolomite-type climbs. Grand Fondos are huge in Europe.”

“Dang. So which one did you qualify at?”

Again, the self-deprecating grin. “I didn’t, exactly.”

“So how did you qualify?”

“I got an invitation.”

The sound of my jaw hitting my top tube must have surprised him. “An invitation? Like the FB invitation I send out to my South Bay Year-End Drunkfest?”

“Yeah. Same deal.”

“Holy shit. What did it say?”

“Oh, you know, the usual. ‘We heard you were killing it every weekend on the Donut Ride and figured you could handle worlds.'” Now he was laughing. At me. A little bit. Maybe.

“So what’s the game plan?” I was already trying to figure out what my tattoo was going to say. “I rode the Donut with World Champion Rudy,” probably. The only question was whether I’d put it on my — or on my —.

“There’s a flat section where we might try to get away. It’s Europe, so the climbers are real climbers. Little dudes. 130 pounds, you know? They fly uphill. Maybe steal a march on the climbers and then have an advantage when we hit the climb.”

“And in between now and the race? What kind of training?”

“The hardest thing when you taper, you know, is not eating four bags of donuts and three pizzas every single day. Right?”

I didn’t say anything, having eaten four bags of donuts and two pizzas the day before despite not being on a taper. “Uh, right.” I thought about Mrs. WM’s daily freshly baked hot loaves of bread and the slabs of butter I slayed them with. “You gotta, uh, watch those calories.” My tummy jiggled a bit as we went over a bump.

“Yeah,” Rudy said. Then we hit Better Homes and he pedaled off, hopefully to a pizza-free taper, and even more hopefully, to a great race next weekend in Trento. When he wins, remember that it was me who gave him all that great advice about pizza and donuts. Right?

Wankmeister cycling clinic #19: Ride stronger now!

August 11, 2013 § 25 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

I have noticed that on big group rides like the Donut, I’m not nearly as fast as most of the others, even though my coach tells me I’m awesome, especially just after the monthly check clears. Even Prez beats me on the climbs. How can I go faster?

Befuddled,
Bimsy Bohunk

Dear Bimsy:

Please push down harder on the pedals.

Assuredly,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I was on the Donut Ride this morning and some dude came up to me who wasn’t, frankly, very nice. He said, “Yo, dude with the Arizona State Champion jersey. Did you win that or buy it at a fucking garage sale?” I was pretty insulted. I told him I’d won it this year. Then, even ruder, he said, “What did you championize, bro?” Championize? He was making fun of me. So I told him I was the Cat 5 state crit champ. That shut him up. So, two questions for you. 1) Who was that asshole? and 2) What’s a guy gotta do around here to get a little respect? They aren’t exactly handing these jerseys out on street corners, y’know?

Proudly,
Petey Puddinhead

Dear Petey:

1) That asshole was me. 2) At a minimum you’ll need to not get dropped by the women on the false flats.

Bearer of bad newsily,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I sure do hate the new Donut Ride route. It sux big greasy donkey hooters. It’s too much climbing and it was already too much climbing. You might as well call it the “Rudy and Stathis Ride.” Total bullshit. At a minimum we should have a no drop “B” ride that takes others’ abilities into account, where we can regroup every twenty minutes or so, etc.

Outragedly,
Patsy Poopsie

Dear Patsy:

There is a place were “B” rides are very fashionable, and where the weak, the sick, the elderly, the infirm, and the lame can ride at a friendly pace while discussing frame angles and wattage. It’s called “San Diego.”

Contemptuously,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I read all your stuff and do everything you say. I went on your kimchi diet and lost 75 pounds, getting me down to about 132 (I’m 6’4″). After a while I got really sick, all my skin fell off, I lost my job from the absences and the giant scabs, then my girlfriend of ten years left me because of those kimchi farts. Now I see that your “new thing” is donuts and beer. I’m really eager to take this plunge, but once bitten, shame on you, twice bitten, you shouldn’t be petting pit bulls, y’know? So what’s the straight skinny? Donuts and beer, is it legit?

PS: I also tried that nose breathing thing you were raving about and now I get bad nosebleeds all the time and that Prez dude still drops me on all the climbs.

Fanboyishly,
Freddy Fapper

Dear Freddy:

Donuts and beer are the bomb, but they only work when you’ve done a 6-month kimchi purge, which you have. So you’re good to go. You should augment the donuts and beer with butter or with foods that are deep fried, like bubblegum or, best of all, deep fried butter. They’re working on a new recipe for deep fried frying oil, so when they get the right mix of mercury and cadmium to stabilize the frying oil to allow it to be fried, you can add that to your power mix. Trust me on this.

Digestively,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

We read your blog from time to time out here in southern Illinois, and everyone pretty much agrees you’re a douchebag farty-fuck. Just wanted you to know that.

Disseminatingly,
Mailliw Enots

Dear Mailliw:

I understand that of the two actual bike racers you have in that part of your fine state, one of them spends all his free time in California, and the other has recently retired due to chronic tenderness of the loins.

Sympathetically,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I was so friggin’ stoked to finally get to do the Donut Ride this morning and ride with that Prez dude! He is the bomb! And he is stylish and cuts a pretty swashbuckling figure! Then better yet (as if it could get any better!!) he talked to me!!!!!!!!!! I was asking him training questions and he totally gave me the scoop!!! I was like, “What’s with the 54 x 11 all the time?” Know what he said? “Power training!” Friggin’ rad!! Everyone sure was powering by him!!! And I was like, “What about nutrition?” and he was like “Muscle Milk plus Muscle OJ plus Muscle Water plus Sweaty Excrescence of Skunk Testicle, it’s the bomb!” Then I was like, “Fashion tips?” and he was like “White and black are your base colors; use purple and pink and gangrene yellow for the accents. Match your kits with custom socks and gloves that also go with your eyeliner.” Eyeliner! How rad is that???

Stokedly,
Mabel Lene

Dear Mabel:

So glad you hooked up with The Man! He’s been in therapy for the last year since his forced upgrade, but has finally come out of his shell and is gearing up for 2014. You might want to avoid following his wheel too closely, though, or mentioning the words “Charon” or “Smith.” He gets pretty agitated.

Experiencedly,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

Down and dirty: Is Froome really on the juice?

Quicklily,
Mumsy Muckracker

Dear Mumsy:

Does the Pope like an all-boys choir?

Cynically,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I’m perfectly happy with my nickname. I love it, in fact, and really appreciate all the time and effort you took to bestow it on me. My fiancee loves it, my co-workers love it (they Googled me last week), and all my teammates think it’s super. I love it so much I’d never think of asking for a new one, ’cause I’ve heard that only results in getting a really BAD nickname, unlike the cool one I really love and want to keep. Anyway (good riding on the Donut and other rides, btw, you’re killing it, you’re a beast and a monster [PS: props on the TV announcing gig, you ROCKED it], I know you’re going to kill it at nationals), so, I just wanted you know how much I love the blog and my nickname. Awesome stuff, good times! (Fist bump, bro!!). My fiancee’s mom is coming into town for the wedding here in a few weeks, and she was Googling me too, and she saw my nickname and was like WTF? I told her how cool it is and that it really means you respect the hell out of me but she’s from an Asian culture and she just didn’t “get” it, you know? There’s no way I’d ever give up my nickname, not even for her. Still, she got to complaining to my fiancee (who LOVES the nicky, as I said), and it’s become something of an “issue” here right before we get married. So, this is a long way of saying that — and this is NOT for me — could you get me a nickname that uses the word “cobra” or “stingray” or “lethal” and we’ll just use it until the MIL goes home, and we’re through with the wedding and things have settled in? You rock, buddy!

Reverentially,
“Sausage”

Dear Sausage:

Done, my friend. Henceforth you are “Cobra Penis.” See you on the road, and give my best to your mother in-law.

Snakily,
Wankmeister

This change is hard

July 13, 2013 § 16 Comments

The world-famous Donut Ride, despised by Jack from Illinois (not his real name) as a preening wankfest, derided by MMX as a one-trick pony that boils down to a single power climb on the Switchbacks, and loved by Wankmeister for both those reasons, has entered a new era. It happened thus.

G3: “Okay, we’re taking a survey. What do folks think of the current Donut route?”

Unison: “It blows.”

G3: “Okay, then.”

Problems with the Donut

A careful analysis revealed the following Donut flaws:

  1. Too much stopping.
  2. Too much wanking.
  3. Too much wheelsucking.
  4. Not enough climbing.
  5. Not enough sprunting.

The Donut’s route has changed numerous times during its illustrious history of more than thirty years. The Oldnut, which went through San Pedro and culminated in a sprunt at the Korean Bell, was a favorite until laziness took over, with large numbers of riders unable to handle the additional fifteen miles of riding. The Korean Bell sprunt was also rendered problematic when that entire side of San Pedro suffered a massive landslide and fell into the ocean.

Even the hardmen of the South Bay rebelled at having to clamber down a cliff, swim four miles, then remount for the finale.

Spicing up the Donut’s honey hole

The new route, instead of stopping at Marymount College and giving everyone a chance to flex and eye one another’s sweaty legs, continues up Crest to the radar domes. The addition of ten minutes’ hard climbing on top of the soften-em-up power climb on the Switchbacks has already changed the dynamic of the ride.

No longer do crazypants riders dash madly away at Trump National, hoping to eke out a sneakaway win on the Switchbacks. Now, the pace stays steady and measured as riders are ground up and and spit out in ones and twos all the way up the Switchbacks, with the final wreckage occurring on the first ramp going up to the radar domes. No longer does a massive attack at the bottom of the Switchbacks blow apart the group.

After some brief preening at the domes and a bit of reciprocal jocksniffing, the ride then descends all the way to PV Drive North and turns right into San Pedro. The descent, rather than being a completely insane dash to the death, is “neutral,” which means that everyone still goes full-on crazypants, but no one is allowed to claim victory.

Putting in some more climbing feet

The group takes PV Drive to Western and goes right, which remains neutral due to the deadly nature of riding a bicycle through the heart of San Pedro, where aggro soccer moms are going full-throttle in their SUV’s to finish picking up supplies at Wal-Mart before game time. At Miraleste the group turns right, the guillotine blade is again dropped, and the survivors climb up Miraleste, go left at Better Homes, and climb back up the Domes.

Whereas the old Donut route played heavily in favor of climbers, the new route is designed to eliminate all but the tiniest, most anorexic of riders. Participants still carrying around a few extra pounds from last Christmas can expect an outcome even more hopeless than usual. After regrouping at the domes, the ride continues back down PV South to Via Zumaya, where the sprunters can finally get revenge on the climbers by going straight home.

Full Donut Ride participants will, after ascending Via Zumaya, have earned their wings, not to mention a fistful of KOM’s. Critics note that the new Donut Ride has even less sprunting than the old one, which had none.

As the new organizers like to point out, all of whom are diminutive, veiny, twig-legged climbers, “Tough shit.”

Break out the wire scrub brush

May 12, 2013 § 14 Comments

…because that’s what it’s gonna take to clean these shorts after the pre-ride this morning.

Characters
Chatty Casey
Gang Boss Buell
Crabs Caron
Wankmeister

The Ride
Saturday AM “Daddy Ride”
Meets at Kelly’s Corner, climbs up from the reservoir conversationally, climbs Better Homes conversationally, climbs the Domes conversationally, ramps it up at the Glass Church, sprunts at Hawthorne, finishes with a cup of coffee at Golden Cove Starbucks just in time to watch the Donut Ride come sailing by.

The Adventure
Crabs tows us up the Glass Church hill, hairy legs pounding. I take an easy pull once we’re over the top, saving my legs for the beatdown that’s up next when I join the World Famous Donut Ride. Casey drags us up the first bump past Terranea. Gang Boss takes over and accelerates on the short descent, then begins to stall as we come up the second bump right before the sprunt.

Crabs, smelling a blow-from-behind sprunt victory, comes out of the saddle and lunges down on the left pedal, all 195 pounds of butter, beef, fine wine, cheap beer, hot dogs, french fries, pecan logs, pizza, sausage, banana pie, ice cream, and peanut butter concentrating on the tiny contact point on his antique cleat. Unbeknownst to Crabs, I’ve been filing my nails and checking the want ads as he and his trusty trio have been doing all the work. Prez-like I look up, note the oncoming sprunt effort, and prepare to easily take the candy from the baby and pop it in my mouth with bike lengths to spare.

At that instant, Crabs’s left foot pops out of the pedal, and his bike crazy-dances in wild discontrol over to the left, the exact place that I’m about to come around. Time becomes extremely relative as I watch the slamming door of his rear wheel move backwards, derailleur and all, and over into my spokes. I see my face, Prez-like, splattering on the pavement. I see my brain, Prez-like, swelling up into a giant bruised grapefruit. I see my attorney drafting the lawsuit against the city of RPV for negligently paving the street in such a way as to make Crabs want to sprunt and thereby crashing me out. I definitely see Slowplay Pedals as a defendant for the negligent design of a cleat and pedal that Crabs has only been riding for fifteen years. I see the long line of speakers at my funeral, each one mumbling words of praise like, “We’re sort of going to miss that wanker, maybe.”

And then I see the impossible: Crabs follows the boneheaded move of the day with a move of parallel boneheadedness…his worn cleats and shredded Slowplay pedals pop his foot out of the right pedal as well. His butt, nuts, and pubic bone slam against the top tube and drive his bike radically to the right, away from my spokes and straight towards the curb at 35+.

The Redemption

This is the point in a bike crash where you and I close our eyes and await the impact. In this case it’s just past the pullout on the right, so he’s going over the bars, onto the gravel, and into the cliff wall. The collision will be severe, and you and I simply clench our teeth, mutter a few religious phrases and hope that Dog hasn’t noticed the lifetime of atheism and religion-bashing, and prepare to instantaneously meet the deductible on our health insurance policy.

Not Crabs.

Nuts crushed, gut impaled on the stem, and both gout-plagued feet sailing free in the wind, he looks away from the place he doesn’t want to go (Hades) and looks towards the place he does want to go (the road). His right foot hits the gravel and he jerks the bike away from the curb just before impact, trailing his left foot like a rudder, throwing up a shower of sand, gravel, and dirt with the right. No longer a player in the drama and merely a spectator, I watch with approval as he somehow avoids death. Gang Boss is looking over his shoulder, mouth agape, and Chatty Casey has for once stopped talking.

Crabs clips back in. Chatty regains his breath. “That was the most awesome save I’ve ever seen!”

“That was the stupidest move I’ve ever seen in my entire life since Tuesday,” I added.

“I suppose it’s time to replace the pedals,” Crabs suggested.

“Yes,” I agreed, “it is.”

What you’re really made of

May 7, 2013 § 27 Comments

It is part of our bicycling delusion that we are made of the qualities we reveal “on the bike.” The power meter tells you that you’re a badass (the opposite of which is what? A goodass?) Showing up for the NPR when it’s raining toxic sludge in 40-mph sideways sheets proves that you’re a tough guy, whether or not you’re even a guy. Hanging onto Rudy Napolitano’s wheel for the first 50 yards of his acceleration on the Switchbacks makes you a fighter.

That’s who you are, right? Watt pumper, road tough, and a competitor.

Bicycling may or may not reveal character, but it sure is replete with characters. And the character of those characters, in my experience, is most often revealed not on the bike, but off it.

The cast of characters

G3: I still don’t know what “G3″ stands for, and I’ve been riding with this wanker for years.

Stathis the Wily Greek: Only smiles for money.

Little Sammy Snubbins: Baby seal pup who loves to ride his bike.

Stitchface: Cat 4 adventurer who’s already gotten 100 sutures in his face this year.

Anonymous Steve: Generic bicycle rider whose chief characteristic was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Cast of Dozens: Amalgamated Idiots, Inc., a/k/a Usual Donut Ride Crew.

The route

Portuguese Bend is a hallowed part of the Donut Ride. It connects Palos Verdes Estates (a fancy enclave whose denizens’ shit doesn’t stink) with the Switchbacks, the epic 8-minute climb that punctuates this weekly beatdown.

Portuguese Bend is so geologically unstable that a permanent road crew is assigned to the 2-mile stretch of twisting roads, which shift and crack daily. The instability is such that sewer lines are placed above ground and  re-paving the entire roadway is done multiple times each year. The crews make weekly repairs to gaping crevasses that open up overnight as this side of the slope slides relentlessly into the sea.

With steep ups and downs, cracks that appear suddenly, narrow lanes, speeding traffic, and a long downhill from the Switchbacks, of course it’s the perfect place for the weekly gaggle of idiots to charge through the area at speeds exceeding 40 mph.

What could possibly go wrong?

The delicately choreographed Dance of the Club-footed Oafs

Cold logic, or even cool reason, don’t live in a peloton (“peloton” is French for “speeding gaggle of imbeciles.”) When you drop off the Switchbacks it’s a straight plunge several miles long to the bottom of Portuguese Bend. You wind up tightly bent into a densely packed anthill of carbon and meat and wires and metal, crammed into a tiny bike lane with livid pickups passing on the left three inches from your bars, your nose jammed up the next rider’s rear end, your front wheel an inch out of the next rider’s spokes, the busted and uneven and pockmarked road rattling your wheels and your frame and your legs and the tiny pea inside your skull but instead of sitting up and braking and letting the crazies dash off to their doom you bury yourself into the heart of the swarming beehive where there’s no escape hatch and the slightest waver will slam you to the pavement or worse catapult you off your bike into the oncoming traffic where Suzie Q whose shit doesn’t stink will mow you down in her Range Rover while talking on her cell phone and sipping a latte, as she’s wholly untrained to avoid catapulting bicycles flying across the road onto her grill which is pretty much what happens in the next instant when Little Sammy Snubbins, tucked deep in the hive at tenth wheel, hits a crack and, because he’s Little Sammy Snubbins and still on the lower part of the learning curve is rocketing along the jarring bumpy roads with his hands loosely gripping the bars instead of clenching them like his life depends on it which in fact it does and the crack that he smacks full-on with his front wheel jolts his left hand off the bars and his right hand steers him t-bone style into the side of Stitchface who, at 40 mph, is hit by Generic Steve full force in the rear, taco-ing Stitchface’s rear wheel and tossing him into the air like a rag doll and hurling his bike and him into oncoming traffic but actually against all odds Suzie Q WAS expecting a flying bike and Raggedy Andy biker to come sailing airborne over into her lane from thirty feet away and she locks up the ABS and doesn’t squash Stitchface like a bug or even hit him but down goes Generic Steve and down goes Little Sammy Snubbins and the Dance of the Club-footed Oafs goes from being a sort of delicately clumsy waltz to a screeching, screaming, clattering, skittering, pandemonic mishmash of smoking rubber and hands filled with maximum brake and, miracle of miracles, no one else chews the asphalt and Little Sammy Snubbins only breaks his bike and Generic Steve barely gets a scratch and Stitchface peels his body off from the pavement and declares himself unhurt even after the shock wears off.

Unfortunately, someone has to be the grown-up

So for the moment the bicycling is over. Everyone stops; well, almost everyone. There are a handful for whom getting in their miles is more important than stopping to see if Stitchface has been gored to death or to find out if Little Sammy Snubbins needs mouth-to-brain resuscitation, and…

…there is no “and.”

It’s now, off the bike not on it, that character is revealed.

The character is revealed of G3 who swings back, gets the riders off the road, orders others to control the traffic, and swiftly calls the rescue wagon with Nurse Jeanette and Nurse Ava to come and haul back the broken bikes and thankfully unbroken bodies.

The character is revealed of Stathis the Wily Greek, who despite his stone-faced demeanor is one of the first to dismount and leap to the aid of the fallen, though he was on Generic Steve’s wheel and narrowly avoided catastrophe himself.

The character is revealed of numerous other riders whose first and only impulse was to stop and help.

And the character is revealed of those who couldn’t have cared less.

The little drama plays out again, reminding us that it’s not about the bike, it’s about what happens on the bike, and what happens off it. The unsophisticated and uninitiated might even go so far as to call it “life.”

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