The Pull

October 17, 2013 § 39 Comments

I get angry often, despite the beer, but then I remember:  Every person has to learn all of human history anew. So, here is an explanation of that most complicated, subtle, and elusive act of cycling, the pull. Commit this shit to memory, yo.

The pull is the essence of cycling. It reveals your character. It defines your ride. It makes you a person or a non-entity. It defines you. So here is what you need to know about the pull. What is it? When to do it? How to do it? Would you like fries with that?

  1. The Tri-Dork Pull: The Tri-Dork Pull is done at 35 mph until everyone on your wheel melts into a puddle of goo. To paraphrase Yoda, “There is no ‘why.’” There is no reason or rhyme to this pull; Tri-Dork pulls at the front, forever, because he can. Tactics don’t matter. Races don’t matter. Physics don’t matter. You sure as fug don’t matter. Whether it’s five miles or five days, the Tri-Dork Pull is the immaculate conception of pulling. It happens, purely, because it can. It is the Sir Edmund Hillary of pulls: “Because it is there. And because those behind you will quit.” The Tri-Dork Pull plots a declining IQ to infinity on the x-axis, and time on the front on the y-axis. Current practitioner: There is only one Tri-Dork.
  2. The Thurlow Pull: This pull is done to split the field, to crack the will of the feeble, to demonstrate physical and mental superiority over the herd. It is repeated and relentless. In the words of the Black Knight, “None shall pass.” And none ever do. This pull is only done by the truly cruel. It is knowing, conscious, and designed to ruin. Most often, it is employed on rides like the NPR and Swami’s in order to crush the barking seals and watch them choke on fresh sardines as the split rides away on Lap One. Current practitioners: Rudy, MMX, Ryan Dahl, Brian Zink, Phil Tinstman.
  3. The Racer Pull: This is calculated time on the front, just enough to make the wanker on your wheel spit up a lung, but not so hard that you can’t catch back on. Do this pull when you’ve been ordered to the front to keep the enemy’s balls in a vise, or when you’re in a break and trying to stay away, or when you’re on the NPR and you’ve been ordered to club a brace of seals before the World Way Ramp. Current practitioners: Josh Alverson, Eric Anderson, Dave Jaeger.
  4. The Fireman Pull: This is the most noble and complex and difficult pull of all, because it combines ability to go fast with ability to hurt with loyalty to the team in the face of certain extermination. This is the pull that drags a teammate across the infinite empty space to the break, and, once accomplished, you fall to the wayside like the spent undercarriage of a three-stage rocket. This pull is pain with a purpose, perfectly executed. The executioner is held in eternal awe by all who sit on his wheel. Current practitioners: John Wike, Greg Lonergan, Harry Martinez.
  5. The Self-Immolation Pull: This is the top o’ the heap in the world of wanker pulls. The self-immolator knows not why he pulls and blows, and cares not. He only grits his teeth into the wind, the rain, the muck, or the hopelessness of defeat, and makes those behind him wish they were having their livers gnawed out by cannibals. The self-immolator’s single goal is that someone out there hurt as badly as he hurts. Current practitioners: Bull Seivert, Dave Miller, James Cowan, Sven that Dude from Norway Who Has Thankfully Gone Home.
  6. The Faux Pull: This pathetic effort is barely worthy of mention, except that its practitioners are far better than those human dregs who never even reach the front. The faux pull is a cheap, weak, worthless, infinitely fake “effort” at the front designed only to act as a placeholder while earning some kind of equally faux respect from those who actually pull the train. It is typically done 2-3 mph slower than the rider who swings over. Usually only happens after you’ve been shouted at, cursed, or repeatedly yelled at for doing #8 below. Current masters of the genre: Spivey, Wankmeister.
  7. The Glory Pull: This piece of shit effort only occurs when there’s a camera, video, or finish line somewhere in the offing. It consists of a feeble, fake, weak, worthless half-second at the front that is designed to garner a few clicks of the camera shutter and perhaps a photo by Danny Munson or Phil Beckman or Kristy Morrow. Current master practitioner: Brad House.
  8. The Gap Pull: This is possibly the lamest pull of all time. To do it properly you rotate up to the guy who is on the point, then, when he swings over, YOU swing over. This pusillanimous, sniveling, shitass pull puts the person behind you in the hellish position of having to pass two wankers to get to the point, weakens him, and costs you nothing other than the pride you were obviously never born with. You’d be ashamed, but you’re shameless. The only possible redeeming aspect of this awful pull is that, sitting second wheel on a fast ride, you’re at least doing more work than the wankers behind you. Current practitioners: Hockeystick, others.
  9. The Top 10 Pull: Now we’re getting down into the real shit-pit of wankerdom, and you know who you are. The Top 10 Pull is where you keep yourself in the top ten, usually ninth or tenth, and never move up in the rotation, constantly gapping out, swinging over to catch the wheel rotating back after a real rider has done a hard hit, then sneaking back up again. The benefit to this is that it keeps you out of the Freddy scrum, where tires rub, shoulders and bars bump, and clogstacles tump over at turnarounds and stop lights. It also gives you a pretty sweet draft and, depending on the ride, allows you to pedal with the good riders. The down side is that, done repeatedly, this tags you as one of the worst riders in the group — happy to live off the efforts of others, never willing to contribute, yet refusing to make room for those who are actually trying to move up in the line. Current practitioners: Multiple.
  10. The Glance Pull: Although this is usually a function of weakness, and therefore not worthy of much scorn, the glance pull is effected by swinging over to the edge of the pack (you’re in the middle), and glancing up the road to see who’s up front. You should be so far back that you can’t see, and this distance justifies your decision to slink back into the scrum, as it would be altogether too much work to pedal all the way up to the point and actually do some work. Current practitioners: Lots and lots.
  11. The Neverpull: The neverpull is practiced so much by so many that it requires little elaboration. What’s interesting is that people go for years and years never taking a pull. These welfare leeches are often the same folks who vote Republican and who can’t stand it when people in the real world get something for nothing. Yet they hide in the group, day in and day out, refusing to even try to share the work. They always have an excuse for shirking, but no one cares what it is. Current practitioners: Zillions.
  12. The FB Pull: If there’s anything lamer than the neverpull, and trust me, there isn’t, it’s the Facebag Pull. You execute this move when you’ve been caught out on video or when someone complains about your wheelsuckery on social media. Simply go to your keyboard and tell people how hard you pulled that one time on Lap Three.

Okay, kids, any questions? No? Good. Class dismissed.

Broken record

May 4, 2013 § 33 Comments

I hate to be the one to break your Strava bubble, but “PR” is an oxymoron. There’s no such thing as a “personal record,” any more than there’s a “personal Super Bowl victory” or a “personal presidential election.”

A record is a mark set by someone that at least two people have done. You know Chris Horner’s time up Mt. Palomar? That is a record. Eleven hundred people have done it and his time is the fastest. It’s a record time.

Even though when you climbed it on Tuesday two and a half hours slower than Chris and it was the fastest of your 67 attempts, it’s still not a personal record. It’s two and a half hours slower than the record. You can call it your personal best. You can call it your fastest time up Mt. Palomar. You can call it proof that your $2,000 power meter and $15,000 bike and $950/month personal coaching regimen are making you faster…but it still pegs you in about one thousandth place relative to the RECORD.

Nothing personal about it.

All cycling metrics point to one conclusion: You suck

Strava’s business model is simple: Provide data to wankers that shows they’re getting better. Since none of us is getting better, and in fact all of us are getting older and therefore worse, and since those of us who are improving quickly reach a plateau, there has to be a way to snake-oil us into thinking that we’re improving.

So Strava sells you a premium membership where you can join a smaller subset of records (65+ men with an inseam of less than 25″ who sleep on the left side of the bed), and thereby convert some of your meaningless “personal records” into something more meaningful: A higher spot on the age adjusted, inseam-length adjusted, side-of-the-bed adjusted leaderboard.

Unfortunately, even after adjusting yourself into 75th place, which is a huge jump from 1,000th, physics still mercilessly claws its way to the front. Your “progress” plateaus, and your ability to climb the flailerboard grinds to a halt. So it’s back to personal records, and chasing the illusion of improvement even though all the data point, or rather, scream deafeningly, to a wholly opposite conclusion: You not only suck, you suck more than you did on this segment last year. Introspective riders feel the icy hand of death tightening its grip around their throat if they look at the data too closely past about age forty.

Note to the Stravati: There’s a reason you prefer Strava to bike racing

I don’t vomit often, but when I do it’s usually after someone takes one of my KOM’s. I’ve only got seventeen of them left, and there’s not a single one that couldn’t be handily snapped up by any number of Stravati who live for that kind of thing.

It’s no defense, but I never tried to set a single one of those KOM’s, which is probably the reason they fall so easily. The handful of times I’ve gone out and tried to grab a KOM, I’ve failed, usually miserably. I use Strava for the same reason that I wear pants. It’s a social convention the lack of which would earn too much opprobrium. I also use it as a handy calorie counter. And finally, I use it for you. Just when you’re starting to think your performance is dropping, or you’re really not very good, you can click on my most recent ride and feel relief: There’s someone in your neighborhood who’s slower and an even bigger bicycle kook than you.

This, I believe, is a powerful source of inspiration for flailers and wankers throughout the South Bay. Through Strava, I keep them riding. It’s a social service, and you can thank me via PayPal.

What you can’t do is get away with the pleasant little self-deception that your KOM is as good as a bike race. You can’t even get away with the delusion that it’s as good as an old-fashioned group beatdown on the NPR.

You know why that is? Because it isn’t. Masturbating your way to the top of a leaderboard on Strava, when unaccompanied by ball-busting accomplishments on group rides or in real mass start races in which you have to actually pay an entry fee and pin on a number, are just that: Digital auto-titillation.

Believe it or don’t, I’m fine with that. Riding a bicycle is like consensual sex between adults: I not only approve of it, I’m wholly uninterested in your particular activities. I’m not a libertarian, I’m a “don’t give a fucktarian.” If you’re out pedaling your bicycle, in my book you’re winning.

If your riding is confined to setting Strava records without racing or group riding, though, you are wanking. Can we be clear about that? Good. Because last Thursday a new South bay cycling record was set. Not on Strava, where anonymous, zipless riders virtually compete  using all manner of tricks, traps, aids, pacers, run-ups, and “special assists” to set the record.

No, this Thursday record was set the old-fashioned way. Clubbers clubbed. Baby seals got their heads staved in. Pain was ladled out in buckets. And only the strong, the ornery, the mutton-headed, and the relentless survived.

One thing that’s never happened on the New Pier Ride

…is a successful four-lap breakaway. Dan Seivert and I once, on a cold, rainy, windy winter day in 2012 attacked on Vista del Mar and stayed away for four laps, but it wasn’t a real breakaway. We sneaked off three or four miles before the real ride began, there was zero horsepower in the field, and no one even knew we had attacked. Although we hurt like dogs and congratulated ourselves for the heroic effort, it was more a flailaway than a breakaway. Plus, no one cared. To the contrary, they tortured us with the worst torture known to a group ride breakaway: “You were off the front? If I’d known that I’d have chased.”

Last week, though, word went out that MMX was coming to town to do the NPR. This meant one thing: Merciless beatdown in the offing.

There were at least ten thousand baby seals at the Manhattan Beach Pier when the ride left at 6:40 AM. We hit the bottom of Pershing and it immediately strung out into the gutter and then snapped. The Westside seals were all lounging on the roadside atop the bump, because they’ve learned from repeated beatdowns that it’s better to jump in after the first hard effort than to try and jump in as the group comes by at the bottom of the little hill. Just as they were finishing their first bucket of raw mackerel, we came by like a whirlwind.

As we passed the parkway, Josh Alverson drilled it.

Then Peyton Cooke drilled it.

Then Johnny Walsh drilled it.

MMX, who had started at the back and worked his way up to the point, later noted that from the bottom of Pershing it was pure mayhem. Many of the baby seals were killed with that first single devastating blow to the head. Others, un-hit, were so stunned by the acceleration that they simply pulled over, unclipped, and skinned themselves.

Robert Efthimos reported that Thursday was his 128th time up World Way ramp, and it turned out to be his single highest average wattage ever for a lap on the NPR. He churned out those numbers stuck at the back of the herd after the break left.

After the ramp, Greg Leibert blasted away, stringing it out into a line of about 15 riders, with a small clump forming at about 16th wheel and turning into an amorphous lump into which 80 or 90 baby seals still cowered. After Greg swung over, MMX opened the throttle, dissolved the clump and turned the entire peloton into a single line with countless little blubbering seals who began snapping and popping like plastic rivets on a space shuttle.

We turned onto the parkway in full flight, with Johnny Walsh, Marco Cubillos, Josh, and “26″ pounding the pedals. This is the point where after the initial surge, the front riders usually slowed down, or the neverpulls in back made their first and only real effort of the day to chase down the nascent break. Marco, John, Josh, and 26 kept going, and were soon joined by Greg, Jeff Bryant, Jay LaPlante, some dude from La Grange who was incinerated shortly thereafter, and one of the South Bay’s legendary purple card-carrying, neverpulling, wheelsuckers extraordinaire whose name shall not be mentioned.

MMX looked ahead from the pack as the break gained ground, surged, and bridged. Then he closed the door and threw away the key.

No break has ever stayed away on the NPR for all four laps. The course won’t allow it due to stoplights, the high tailwind speeds of the chasing field, and the relatively flat nature of the course.

We made the first turn and had a gap. Atop the bridge Jeff Bryant unleashed a monster pull, but then, over his head by the extreme effort, he and Greg were unable to latch onto the break as it accelerated at the next turnaround. Accounts differ, with some claiming a car pinched them, and others claiming they were too gassed to catch, but in any event the break didn’t feel like waiting, as there were already too many orange kits in the group. This meant the Greg/Jeff duo had to chase.

The pack was in a different time zone, which meant nothing as we’d just completed one lap and there was plenty of time for them to organize and chase in earnest. What we didn’t know is that they were already chasing in earnest, and the stoplight gods were smiling on us.

Having taken the initiative in trying to fend off the entire baby seal population of the South Bay, we were being rewarded with a string of green lights even as the baby seals were being punished with reds. Naturally, post-ride the baby seals that survived chalked everything up to the traffic signals rather than the sheet-snot that covered our faces and the haggard, beaten look of those who rode the break for the entire four laps.

Greg and Jeff, unable to reattach, finally hopped across the road and jumped in as we whizzed by. Greg then attacked us balls-out the remaining lap and a half. Ouch. Every time we brought him back another of our matchboxes was incinerated.

On the final stretch, after berating Sir Neverpull for never coming through, MMX unleashed the leadout from Klubtown. Sir Neverpull, suddenly discovering that with the end in sight he wasn’t quite that tired after all, leaped just in time for his engine to blow and his legs to detach from his torso. Jay LaPlante sprunted around the MMX lead-out with Josh fixed on his wheel. Going too far out and in too small a gear, Jay settled for second after a doing yeoman’s work in the break.

We celebrated this, the first ever four-lap breakaway on the NPR, with coffee and sunshine.

And yes, it was a record.

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