The strange pull of cycling

November 19, 2014 § 20 Comments

I first saw the old elephant about three years ago. He was gray-headed and busting out at the seams as we flew past him on the Donut Ride. He’d gotten a good ten-minute head start but we overhauled him long before the first big climb. He huffed and puffed and mashed for about ten pedal strokes, trying to hang on before he was blown out the back.

As we passed him someone said, “Good job, Bill,” and then we were gone.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s Backintheday Bill,” the other rider said as he filled me in on Bill’s career as a top local pro and general two-wheeled wrecking ball.

“He looks terrible,” I said. “He’s gotta weigh over 250.”

“Yeah, I haven’t seen him in fifteen years, maybe more. His race weight was 140.” From that Saturday on I saw Bill every weekend and always said hello when we passed. Over time he stopped taking head starts and began rolling out with the group. And he was getting smaller.

At the beginning of the year I noticed that he was sticking with us up the first hard surge, and although he was still a pretty big fella, he was certainly under 200, and his kits didn’t look like they were about to unravel and kill someone with the force of the exploding seams. Now he’s visibly getting thinner by the month, and sticks with a much younger grupetto all the way over the first big climb. All of his kits are new because the old ones flat out don’t fit anymore.

Bill’s one of many, many riders who come and go and then come back. They leave for all the right reasons — racing is dumb, cycling is costly, pedaling is dangerous. Some leave for all the wrong reasons, too. My buddy J.C. had found Miss Right through cycling.

“Can you imagine anything better?” he had said. “A girlfriend who loves to bike?”

I didn’t say anything, because I could imagine a lot of things better, like a girlfriend who loves to cook, who earns seven figures, and who loves you to bike while she perfects her home brewing recipe. But I didn’t say anything except “Nope.”

They married and six months later she quit cycling. Then six more months later she told him to quit cycling. Then six more months later he was single again, and back, of course, on his bike.

Some dudes quit for spiritual enlightenment, like The Buddha. Tony used to be one of the most feared racers in SoCal. Then he started growing a big bushy beard, and worse, reading books, long books with hard words. They ruined him, of course, and one day he announced on Facebag that he was “done.” Now he’s a Buddhist adept, spreading love instead of dishing out the pain, but mark my words, he’ll be back. As nice as it is to make the world a better place, it’s even nicer to watch people crumble.

Sometimes when a guy sells his bikes and is “done” you’re kind of glad, but other times it’s a sinking feeling of genuine loss, like when Todd quit coming to the rides, then sold his bike, then vanished from view. Everybody loved Todd. He never had a bad word to say, he was one of the funniest guys alive, and he was always up for a beer. If you had a problem he’d give you the shirt off your back, even if what you really needed was a pair of trousers.

But as a cyclist, he was the guy who made your ride fun. You know how when someone pedals up and everyone kind of moans inwardly, as in “Why’d that buzzkill show up?” Todd was the opposite. Punctual-departure-Nazis would sit around for ten, fifteen minutes, gladly waiting for him even though he was always late and didn’t show up despite blood pacts the night before about “being there no matter what.” Todd was the brightest jewel in the crown of South Bay cycling fun, and then one day he was gone except for the occasional post on Facebag, which always made me sad.

Then yesterday Fireman texted me a photo. “Just finished our ride,” the message said, and next to the words was a picture of him and Todd draining a fermented recovery drink. There was a huge smile on Todd’s face, and I bet it was mostly from being back on his bike.

But his smile wasn’t nearly as big as mine.

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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.”

Facebike

September 23, 2014 § 8 Comments

One day I was pedaling home from the NPR and I saw Scrum, a buddy. “Hey, man, I tried to message you on Facebag but couldn’t find you anymore.”

“Yeah,” Scrum said. “I deleted my account.”

“How come?”

“Every time I got on there it depressed the shit out of me. Everyone has a perfect life except me, it seems.”

“Oh, that’s just PR bullshit. People only put up what they want you to see. You know, happy stuff. They still get cancer and get fired and take Prozac like everyone else.”

“At least they can fake it. Anyway, I’m a lot happier now. Back to my old self. Best thing I ever did.”

Facebag, of course, has its problems, one of which is its moniker, “social media.” When I was a kid there was one phone in the house, we got our news from newspapers, and the only way you could socialize was by being around other humans. Talking to the cat never qualified as social. Instead, it often meant having to talk to Mrs. Wint, our nosy neighbor, who would run over to the house every time someone got divorced, pregnant, busted for smoking weed, kicked out of school, or caught screwing a non-spouse.

Social, in other words, meant having to suffer through her bad breath, stupid ideas, repetitive stories, receding gums, and un-bra’ed, floppy breasts in order to get to the good stuff. It was like shelling pecans. You had to peel away the bad part with quite a bit of effort to get to the meat.

Social is the one thing that Facebag is not because you don’t have to endure the physical irritants of your “friends” that you would have to put up with if you really were face-to-face, instead of screen-to-screen. When they bore you, or share their racist rants, you simply hide their feed. Most unsocial of all, you and only you get to pick the moment of interaction. In the old days you pretty much had to deal with Mrs. Wint whenever you ran into her, which was all the time. If you were social, you stopped to talk. If not, you waved and kept going. Quickly.

How many people do you know on Facebag who, when you run into them, are completely different from their profile? The friendly Facebagger who’s an obnoxious ass. The tough-talking badass who’s a pussycat. In the old days, Mrs. Wint was always Mrs. Wint.

Like quitting big-hopped beer, I’ve never been able to stay away from Facebag. The two times I deleted my account, I returned within months. With the help of Scrum’s sage advice, though, I’ve been able to make some very positive changes. I log in when I get up and spend no more than five minutes on it. I don’t endlessly scroll through my feed. I never click “like,” and rarely comment on anything. I post occasional things about gun violence to satisfy my twin needs of tweaking my gun-nut friends and doing a bit of Internet advocacy. At the end of each month I go back and delete most of the stuff from the previous month. I subscribe to a Sunday newspaper and read books instead of cat postings and self-congratulatory photos of third place at the Olde Bumfucke Crit and Shamefest.

But most of all, I’ve tried to get out of my shell and socialize on Facebike. Facebike is that two-wheeled thing that leans up against the wall in my bedroom. It lets me get next to friends, or behind their sweaty butts, and chat with them. Yesterday Derek and Aaron and I rode out to Latigo, and a good portion of it involved an old-fashioned political argument.

Remember those? When people exchanged heated opinions in person and then somehow had to come off the passion of the moment and the differing ideas and still be friends afterwards? When you couldn’t just end an argument the Facebag way — comparing someone to Hitler and deleting all their comments? Besides, after a hundred hard miles, who wants to argue anyway? And how can you argue when you’re begging for their last gel?

Facebag is still one of the world’s greatest bulletin boards, and that’s how I use it now. But when’s the last time you called someone “social” who spends hours a day staring at a bulletin board?

END

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The most epic FB Tweetle Beetle paddle-battle ever

October 28, 2013 § 26 Comments

I sat in my hotel room as the warm glow of victory, or something, washed over me. I had just vanquished my foe in the longest running Facebag comment war ever. He had ignominiously ceded the field with the cowardly claim that I was a stalker, a harasser, and that he had therefore reported me to the “proper authorities.”

I couldn’t help laughing at his silly subterfuge as I savored my victory. Sure, it had lopped 27 hours off my family vacation. Sure, my wife was livid. “How come you onna Facebag alla time?”

Sure, my son who we had come to visit was disappointed that every few seconds I would blurt out “You cocksucker! Take this!” And then furiously pound the iPhone’s keyboard, cursing and spitting and rending my breast.

Sure, we got kicked out of a couple of restaurants. And three bars. And a coffee shop. But at the end of the paddle battle, only one Tweetle Beetle was the winner. Me.

The congratulatory messages poured in. “You are the best Tweetle Beetle ever.”

“You own Facebag.”

“That was such an epic paddle battle.”

“Are you off your meds?”

“We are very worried about you.”

Etc.

In other words, I was really happy, until I heard the knock on my hotel door.

Two burly men in blue uniforms and badges stood there. “Yes?” I said.

“Facebag police,” said the bigger one.

“What?”

“Violation of terms of service, paragraph 37, section 34(a), page 987. May we come in?”

Without waiting for an answer, they pushed by me. “What’s going on? What are you talking about?”

“You’ve been reported by a user for violating the terms of service I just cited.”

“Who’s ever read those? What did I do?”

“Don’t play stupid. You broke the rule against being mean to cyclocross race promoters from Schenectady.”

“This is a joke, right? I had no idea he was from Schenectady. I made that up!”

The nicer of the two cops sat me on the edge of the bed. “Look, we’ve read the entire thread. Just confess and we’ll put in a good word on your behalf to Mr. Zuckerberg.”

“But I didn’t do anything! He said I was a crashtacular fred and that I should take his skills classes. I called him a newt and a salamander. What’s the big deal? These little Tweetle Beetle paddle-battles happen all the time. It’s Facebag, for fugg’s sake.”

The bad cop grabbed me. “Look, asshole. That wasn’t your ordinary paddle-battle!”

“It wasn’t?”

“No, wise guy, it wasn’t!”

“What was it, then?”

They both shouted in unison: “It was a Tweetle Beetle paddle-battle in a muddle in a bottle!”

The room became still as death. “Oh,” I said meekly.

“See?” said the bad cop. “Shit got real enough for ya now?”

The good cop put his arm around my shoulder as I softly sobbed. “It’s okay. Just sign this confession. We’ll both tell Mark you cooperated.”

“But all I did was go over his race resume on Cycling USA and point out what a wanker he was.”

“I know,” said the good cop as he dabbed at my tears.

“And I just said that for a coach he seemed kind of thin on credentials.”

“It’s okay, pal. Sign here.”

“And he called me a fucktard and said I was whacko and called Mrs. WM a ‘mail-order bride.'”

The bad cop was reviewing the comments. “Quit trying to make yourself out as harmless. Says right here you made fun of his second place finish in a road race.”

“There were only six entries!”

“And over here you made fun of all his DNF’s.”

“But he’s a ‘cross expert. Shouldn’t he at least be able to finish?”

The nice cop looked up. “This wouldn’t have been so bad if you hadn’t involved Dr. Knoll.”

“Dr. Knoll?” asked the bad guy. “The stinky foot doctor?”

“That’s Dr. Scholl. Dr. Knoll is the shrink for cyclists. He only gets involved when it’s serious. Or when someone pays. Or when he’s really bored.”

“Look, pal,” said the bad cop. “You signing or not? We ain’t got all day.”

I sighed and took the pen. It was a short confession: “I, Wanky, do hereby admit to having made fun of a cyclocross promoter from Schenectady such that it became a Tweetle Beetle paddle-battle in a muddle in a bottle. I henceforth promise to never do this again. A second violation will result in revocation of my Facebag license and loss of all paddle-battle bottle muddle KOM’s on Strava.”

I signed, and they left. After a few minutes I checked Facebag. “Wankmeister is a douchey crashtacular fred who needs to take my skills class,” read the item in the newsfeed. The writer was a cyclocross promoter in Scranton. My pulse quickening, I opened up and began reading the terms of service.

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