P[u]CK[e]RR Up!

January 29, 2013 § 20 Comments

The 2013 Poor College Kids Road Race started fast, downhill and into a crosswind. The bunch was nervous. Maybe eighty idiots rolled out; less than half would finish.

It was impossible to move up, so tightly were we packed together. Everyone felt feisty and strong and ready for the challenge at hand: Fifty-six miles of road racing in Santa Barbara County on rolling terrain with one moderate five or six-minute climb.

In the beginning, before we all hated one another so intensely, there was much pointing out of obstacles, especially the first triple set of road dots that caused lots of skittering and whoa-ing and rear wheel sliding. Then we roared through the first gravelly turn with a couple of riders going sideways but not falling down, and then the pace went full-gas into the tailwind which soon became another crosswind.

The next time someone says bike racing is “fun,” I will vomit on them personally.

We hid behind one another as much as possible until the climb approached. A mile or so out there was the familiar groaning and scraping and crunching and disharmony of Idiot A’s front wheel lurching into the rear derailleur of Idiot B and both grinding into a massive twisted morass of broken carbon frames and smashed wheels and curses and cries and blood and minced flesh and the ultimate terror (“Fuck, how’m I gonna ‘splain this to my wife?”) but the second I heard the first tiny little squeak presaging the crash I stomped on the pedals and shot ahead, never looking back to see who had fallen and caring only about saving myself.

We went up and over the climb, a few lumbering stragglers getting popped at this test-em-out, totally doable pace, and then went through the rollers and roared down into the start finish and began the second of four laps.

Thirty-six minutes.

It slices, it dices

On this second lap the pace ratcheted up so suddenly that we were all forced into the gutter, hiding from the crosswind but too stupid to form three or four echelons. We hated each other too much to form echelons. Better to force our rims up against the edge of catastrophe and batter into the sliver of slipstream than go wide, provide a full-lane echelon, and take turns.

Echelons are for wind-savvy Flandrians. Sun-soaked saps from SoCal just ride in the gutter and suffer like idiots, drooling blood and spit onto their bars and shrieking “Fuck this hurts fuck this hurts fuck when is this gonna end fuck I’m quitting after this lap fuck why doesn’t that asshole give me another inch of pavement fuck I hate bike racing!”

Through the gravelly turn again there “warn’t near as many as there was a while ago,” and some sadist at the front began pounding again so that by the time we hit the crosswind it was almost unendurable. A break of seven or eight pinched off and rolled up the road, the guttered peloton unable to chase because the break was riding in an echelon but the group was a single file pushed up against the yellow line, smashing the BOTS dots with bone-jarring contact bam-bam-bam-bam-fuckwhenisthisgonnaend-bam-bam-bam-bam-fuckgivemejustaninchyoubastard-bam-bam-bam-bam.

MMX, stuck in the front of the chase bus, launched to join SPY-Giant-RIDE teammate Alan Flores, who had already spent the first lap in a leg stretching solo attack and was now part of what would be the day’s winning move. MMX clawed his way across the gap, mashing and battering and forcing himself onto the tail of the break as we left-behinds regrouped, with the more adventurous pushing the pace until the break was all but caught.

Don’t sit up before the catch

Team Helen’s and the handful of other poor sods who’d worn themselves out on the BOTS dots because they were too selfish and mean and stupid to echelon and who now didn’t have anyone in the break, brought the pack to within perhaps fifty yards of the breakaway, then sat up without closing the gap. At that moment we hit the climb.

The break dangled, got even closer, then crested the climb and was gone.

We never saw them again. Greg Leibert from Big Orange, Benny Parks from Jessup Chevrolet, Flores and Marckx were all there, as well as Chris Hahn the loner, back from his exile in the land of mesothelioma fundraising to the only home he ever knew: Racing bikes for $50 and a water bottle prime, sucking wheels, screaming orders, riding randomly, surging, opening gaps, and infuriating his breakaway mates.

After one outburst, Flores finally rode up to him. “Dude,” he said. “Shut your fucking mouth and ride your goddamned bike. It’s a race, not a fucking debating contest.”

The third lap was more terrible for the left-behinds than the second, if such a thing could be, and it was. The left-behinds with no one in the break gnashed their teeth and ground their gears at the front, destroying the weak of spirit, the jiggly of flesh, and the spindly of leg. We tore down the crosswind section, again stupidly in the gutter, raced through the tailwind, then guttered out against the BOTS dots, bam-bam-bam-fuckthissucks-bam-bam-bam-givemeaninchyoucock-bam-bam-bam, too stupid and cruel and mean and stingy to follow King Harold’s lead as he tried in vain to show the idiots the palliative effects of forming an echelon.

Hell ends in one more lap

The fourth lap was the easiest, as the left behinds had nothing left, the sun was going down, a bitter cold was setting in, exhaustion, bonk, hopelessness, and the dull emptiness of a lost battle in which all was sacrificed for no good reason slowly sank in. Andy Jessup flailed up the last climb, dropping the left behinds briefly, only to be reeled in a mile from the finish. In the insane downhill leadout to the line, where grown men with jobs, families, assets, and social standing flew headfirst to the finish at 40 mph, risking everything for 8th place in a 45+ older gentlemen’s prostate contest, some wanker who had a lock on 26th got chopped and landed on his head.

As he lay writhing and screaming in agony, blood everywhere, bike parts scattered like a swap meet after a tornado, flopping and moaning and crying, I pulled over to help drag his carcass out of the way so that the heroes charging in for 30th and 31st, heads down, didn’t t-bone what was left of his battered and bleeding body.

In the final tally Benny Parks took overall prostate honors, followed by someone else, followed by Chris Hahn, who had committed all manner of sins against His Leibertness in terms of wheelsuckery and other assorted violations of the Code Of Honor Among Wankers, followed by His Leibertness, followed by somebody, followed by MMX, who had destroyed the little band of brothers with a fratricidal attack in the closing kilometers, followed by He Of The Iron Nutsack Alan Flores, then a dribble and a drabble, and finally a surging field sprunt win by Aron “Gaudy” Gadhia, nipping Big Steve Gregorios at the line, who, along with Dave Gonyer, won the award for Most Gigantic Mountain of Human Flesh to Make it Over that Fucking Climb Four Times with the Field.

Mongo just pawn in game of life

Mongo Pappe and I had driven up together; he’d done the race on his ‘cross bike and I’d done the race on bile and spittle and chunks of lung. Whereas Hatchitt and Taylor and Gonyer and King Harold and the other teammates had done yeoman’s work controlling the front, Mongo and I had skulked at the back, cursing the gutter and getting as tiny as we could and trying to park behind the biggest butt we could find.

We listened briefly while DS Hatchitt debriefed the team on our combined fledgling tactics. “Wankster,” he said. “Where the fuck were you? I thought you’d been dropped.”

“I was back there, uh, conserving.”

“Conserving for what? You should have been chasing the wankers who were trying to bridge.”

“Oh. Well, I uh, was…”

“The only time you stuck your nose out in the wind was when you dashed up the hill with KK and almost dragged him up to your own teammates in the damned break.”

“Well, I was, uh, trying to sort of be a, like, you know, a decoy.”

“It was stupid. Don’t do it again.”

“And Mongo!” said the DS.

“Yeah?” Mongo answered in his tiniest voice.

“What the fuck you doing riding back there with that slacker Wankmeister?”

“I was trying to, er, help, uh, the team, you know…”

“I do fucking know. You were shirking back there with Wanky sucking wheel on the fat guys while the rest of your mates were up here busting their balls. Next time follow the First Rule of the Peloton, okay?”

“Sure,” said Mongo. “Uh, what’s that?”

“If you’re anywhere near Wanky, YOU’RE FUCKING OFF!”

Before returning to the car. Mongo looked at me. “Was that race as much fun for you as it was for me?”

I looked around to make sure no one could hear. “Hell, yeah!”

We laughed, high-fived, and headed back to the hotel.

A Giant weekend

January 28, 2013 § 35 Comments

Tink came out of the gate hot at the P[u]CK[e]RR, won her first road race of 2013, and gave SPY Liv-Giant its first win of the year.

Which was nice.

Josh Alverson came out smoking the next day at the Meatball crit and won the Cat 3 wankfest in a 7-lap solo break.

Which was nice.

Cannonball Gadhia,  propelled into the final 500 meters by the SPY-Giant-RIDE blue train, was launched to victory in the old gentlemen’s tender prostate 45+ category of the Meatball crit.

Which was nice.

Erik the Red, Walshie, Stephen Davis, MMX, Alan Flores, Roald Dahl, Logan Fiedler, and Brian Zink all nailed down high finishing spots in PUCKERR and Meatball.

Which was nice.

And then, at the team meeting on Friday night, much swag was handed out to the liver-spotted and grizzled pro masters racers, each of whom received his new shades and fancy socks and knit caps and other cool goodies with sweaty, grasping palms.

Which was nicest of all, perhaps.

Unntil we sat down on Saturday night for a lecture from Perry Kramer about “Why Your Giant Bicycle is So Kick Ass.”

There is no “I” in TEAM

However, if you add an “e,” there’s most definitely an “Eat me.” And truth be told, for years and years and years, my attitude towards carbon bicycle frames has been just that: “Eat me.”

So when I learned that Giant would be the new gorilla sponsor for the team’s bicycles, I shrugged. “Great. Another nameless Taiwanese manufacturer with no soul, cranking out machine-made bikes at a rate of 1,000 per hour.”

Having ridden Specialized for the last four years, I’d given up on the Eurocentric, hand-crafted mythology that used to accompany bicycles when they were made from Columbus tubing, by hand, in some Italian or Belgian village. I’d accepted that the future of cycling was nameless, interchangeable, soulless, plastic knockoffs made by assembly line workers pushing “start” and “stop” buttons on the Carbon Frame Goop-a-tron: Lighter, faster, stiffer, more aerodynamic…but spiritually dead.

And after experiencing the superiority of the carbon frame over steel, I’d made peace with the trade-off. Carbon frame isn’t more soulful. But it is mo bettah.

You may be wrong (but you may be right)

When Perry stood up to make his presentation, I was ready to let the words flow into the right ear and out of the left one, making minimal contact with the thinking organ in between. The only tingle of curiosity I had was this: Would he explain why my Giant TCX ‘cross bike rode so well?

Although I’m a complete clod when it comes to bikes and the way they perform, and my ignorance is trumped only by my cluelessness of why they perform the way they do, from the first time I rode my TCX I’d been blown away by the way it handled. Of course, I chalked it up to the fact that I’d never raced or ridden a ‘cross bike before, and this was just how ‘cross bikes rode.

What piqued my curiosity, though, was the fact that when I’d had to put road wheels on the TCX and use it for road riding while my Venge was having its radiator replaced and its water pump serviced, the Giant ‘cross bike had handled better and climbed better than the Specialized road unit. What was that all about?

We are the sum of our prejudices

It turns out that I’m not simply dumb about bike handling and performance characteristics and why bike frames are the way they are. From the beginning of the slide show I found out that I knew even less than I’d already thought I didn’t know, which was everything.

For example, I thought you made a carbon bike frame the same way you make a toy set for a Happy Meal, by pouring a bunch of carbon fiber goop into a mold. The mold cools, you slap on a decal and some wheels, and boom! There’s your new Specializedgianttrekwillierscannondalepinarello carbon bike.

I’ll spare you the technical details, mostly because I don’t understand them, but there’s no big Goop-a-tron at the Giant factory, with little people pouring in buckets of goop into a cauldron and stirring it with goop sticks until it’s ready for molding. Here’s the shocking fact about how Giant bikes are made: By hand.

More precisely, by 32 pairs of hands, as sixteen is the number of people involved in the meticulous, piece-by-piece construction of each bike. The bikes are painstakingly built over a mold sort of like those horrendous, smelly, ugly, badly painted papier-mache things you had to do in 3rd Grade art class. Strips of carbon fiber are placed in a specific order over the mold, then hardened with resin which is heated and pressed in an oven.

The secret to the way a carbon bike rides lies in the shape of the mold, the type of carbon fiber used, the size of the fiber strips, the number of the fiber strips, the order in which the strips are placed onto the mold, and most importantly, the “secret sauce,” or proprietary resin mixture that bonds and later hardens the carbon fiber.

Changing any of these variables changes the way the bike behaves. The best combination, or the design + technique, is what makes a carbon frame world class or a spongy piece of bubble gum.

The reason my TCX handles so well

After listening to Perry’s awesome explanation and being imbued with extensive tech specs and production process explanations, I can sum it up like this: “The TCX rides so well because it’s fuckin’ bitchin’ rad and badass.”

Hopefully, once I get on the Giant TCR road frame, I’ll have an equally sophisticated explanation for it, assuming it rides as well as my TCX.

Changing perceptions

In addition to learning that there was no Goop-a-tron, and no slave labor pouring carbon into a cauldron, I learned why Giant has flown under my radar screen for so many years despite being one of the biggest manufacturers in the world for composite frames, and being the only large manufacturer that controls the entire production process from weaving the carbon fiber to slapping the decal on the finished product.

I had heard countless times that Giant made the frames for Cannondale, Trek, and numerous other big name brands. “Why would they do that for other brands unless the other brands had some kind of superior design that Giant couldn’t equal? Aren’t they using the other dudes’ designs in their bikes? And if so, why buy a bike with Giant on it, when it’s a knock-off of someone else’s superior work?”

Kind of like my Goop-a-tron thinking, this had it back asswards at best, completely wrong at worst. Giant does make bikes for other frame makers according to the specs of those makers.

But it makes its own bikes according to its own top-secret, proprietary specs because Giant’s secret sauce and lay-up processes are better. It sounds kind of like a sex manual, you know, secret sauce and lay-ups, but it isn’t.

The result of all this is simple:

Giants are lighter (which doesn’t mean squat to me, and sounds kind of funny when you put it like that).

Giants are stiffer (which means they climb better, which explains why my TCX goes uphill better than my Venge).

Giants have less flex in the bottom bracket (which, with the stiffer frame, means they track better, which explains the feeling of being on rails, which I like muy mucho a lot takusan viel hen hao).

What this means for you, the consumer

Actually, it doesn’t mean anything. Whether your bike is made of steel or bamboo or carbon fiber (as long as it’s not one of those horrible stomping bike-running monstrosities that combine the worst things about cycling with the worst things about running), as long as you’re riding it and enjoying it, that’s all that matters. Giant, Midget, Specialized, Generalized…whatever.

The guys who are great athletes and who get paid to ride bike brands were winning before that sponsorship and they’ll be winning when they change teams. The bike doesn’t make the rider, or even the ride. It’s just the catalyst, because, you know, the ride is inside you.

However, if you’re going to buy a new bike, and if you’ve never considered Giant as being among the top tier of the very best hand made bikes ever built, you’re doing a disservice to the dollar you’re about to spend and a disservice to your legs. You can also be assured–take it from the Wankmeister–that there’s no Goop-a-tron. Never was. Never will be.

Now get out there and go to the front.

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