March 16, 2018 § 3 Comments

Justice continues to be meted out with a firm hand in the great sport of cycling. Cyril Fontayne, 43-year-old masters mechanical doper, was criminally convicted of misdemeanor attempted fraud and sentenced to sixty hours of community service. In addition to his criminal conviction and sentence, Fontayne was banned from competition for five years and ordered to pay fines and restitution of 89 euros.

Lance Armstrong: No fine, no criminal charges.

Alberto Contador: No fine, no criminal charges, allowed to come back and win the TdF.

Chris Froome: No fine, no criminal charges, no suspension. If found guilty of doping will still be allowed to keep all titles in between the time of the positive test and the finding of guilt, meaning if he wins the Tour and Giro in 2018, he will keep both titles if his case is not resolved before then.

Etc., etc., etc.



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Kicking and screaming

March 15, 2018 § 6 Comments

I get all kinds of email. Letters from Nigerian princes, potions that can make my parts young again, natty neckties and charming colognes, screaming discounts on Conti clinchers, you name it. Yesterday I was lucky enough to get this email from a friend:

“Every day I get a suggestion from FB to friend you, with a prompt that tells me how many mutual friends we have. And every day that number rises.  Today we’re up to 37. Apparently these people don’t know that this is the Seth who is only here to host a work-related Facebag presence.

“As I was cruising around the golf course yesterday I was thinking about how, as you have observed, people come into and depart from the local cycling scene. They also come into and depart from the somewhat similar cycling #socmed world. The entries into these worlds can be temporary or intermittent, or in some cases lifelong, like a really bad prison sentence.

“And these people’s presence can be loud, with lots of contributions, being outspoken, driving the front, posting lots of selfies from coffee rides, or quiet, sitting in, sucking wheel from the posts of others. Their contributions vary as their cycling or #socmed time and emotional illnesses ebb and flow. And of course some of these “contributions” are not positive, those who glorify unsafe riding, being a dick, racing triathlons. Thankfully you still pillory such people, such as Rider X, whom you described in a blog post a few months ago. I hope the defamation suit comes out okay.

“But there way more good eggs than rotten apples. EA Sports, BoozyP., the Chocolate Rocket, Mr. and Mrs. Hair, Manslaughter, Smasher, Wily Greek, Surfer Dan, G3, Shirtless Keith, The One And Only Michelle, the French Connections, Skier Girl; enough to fill a madhouse. They all show up on occasion for bike rides or #socmed rides, sometimes they are consistent, but they can be gone for months or years. For me, when they’re around, I like it. They add a lot to rides, two-wheeled as well as the rides made exclusively from 1’s and 0’s.

“In the #socmed cycling world, some show up and can add a lot, and it’s generally a positive influence. Like JZ. For some reason Team Lizard Collectors really pulls people in, where people are so suddenly and addictively a part of this scene that it’s almost like a drug. They feel accepted and part of a group, a group that has common interests (lizard collecting, chasing down teammates) and often they discover new interests such as Strava, riding in PV or along PCH, Strava, enjoying beautiful scenery, getting fitter, carbon, 100% carbon, pure carbon, Strava, and getting to hang out with Greg Leibert, or at least claim to. (Please don’t let Yasuko join Strava.)

“Team Lizard Collectors isn’t like a club of IT support employees or an AA group; there’s too much exertion involved, so people get excited about it and go whole hog. It’s a common pattern, and it’s generally not sustainable, like doing intervals past the age of 50. You can’t spend four hours a day doing rides and taking pictures from the lookout on Del Monte as well as from Yellow Vase, and then three hours more on Facebag uploading and liking and commenting and emojiing. We’ll call that a verb.

“Toss in hours spent hitting the gram and more hours working the Twitter and pretty soon you are flat out #socmed overtrained.

“I say you can’t do it, but some people apparently can. However, the candle, not very long to begin with, shrinks quickly, burned as it is with a blowtorch on both ends. So eventually people get to a more sustainable place, or at least they gyrate to a sine wave with lesser amplitude. And that wave may be a large amount of ride time with minimal #socmed, or less-to-hardly-any ride time with bagsfull of Facebag. Or neither. I mean, there are other things in life like family, work, hobbies, and other interests. I’ve been told this by people I trust, even though I googled “other interests” and frankly FOUND NOTHING THERE.

“So does that mean that you, Wanky, have found your right mix, with a healthy amount of riding and no #socmed? Maybe. Or maybe for now. But it can change. You are nothing if not predictably unpredictable. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In your case, you departed with a bang, a grand announcement and some pretty impressive blogfare, moralizing, chest-thumping, and grand pronouncifying. So does that make your return rather shameful? I hope not. I for one wouldn’t think any less of you if you were to have some #socmed presence, and let’s face it: Hardly anyone thinks anything of you to begin with, so what have you really lost? If a Wanky vanishes from Facegag and no one cares, did it really happen?

“Is it possible you could Facebag in a non-binary way, more measured, kind of the opposite from the way you ride, write, talk, travel, read … live? I don’t know. You’re a pretty big character, and you tend to throw yourself into things fully, even though it does sometimes seem that you don’t always recognize the difference between a swimming pool and a septic tank until it’s too late. But I don’t see you often, and I wish I saw you more. Maybe your “new old new Facegag” presence will give me a little bit more of the Wanky that I crave. I’m not really a stalker, but I think about you a lot. I think that’s what they called a friend way back when.

“My other point is the old “out of sight out of mind.” In the case of your blog, I fear that it is out of people’s minds if they don’t see you on #socmed.  Of course, you have the data, and are probably aware that with only seven readers, an additional three or four aren’t going to put you on the list of America’s billionaires. You know how many page views you’re getting. I hope. Of course, you also are intelligent, your blog notwithstanding, and you walk the walk as a cyclist, a racer, a lawyer, and an advocate. And your financial support of the local racing and cycling community is exceptional.

“So would some #socmed involvement for you be better than none? Maybe. Can it fit within the jet-setting life you live, hopping from one desolate hellhole and a cheap motel to the next, always flying coach? Maybe. You’re the best judge of that. But if you do flow back a bit into #socmed world, it might not be all bad. My $0.02, which you can add to my $2.99. And with that, it’s off to PV for some cycling.”



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No second chances

March 14, 2018 § 1 Comment

You always get another shot, right? That’s what I was thinking after finishing the 6:50 today, manhandled by lokalmotor Eric Anderson who, with the help of teammate Greg Lonergan, easily bested the five members of Team Lizard Collectors.

We had our trademark teammate chasedown stragety going full bore with half a lap on the Parkway remaining. I was stuck to Eric’s wheel like a dingleberry while Lonergan dangled at the back, gassed from the four-lap rotation.

Eric “Wall Street” Bruins jumped away, opening a nice gap, and the other Eric had no choice but to chase, or so he thought. Without warning, a lizard collector jumped, dragging Eric, the rest of the Collectors, and gassed Lonergan up to Wall Street. A couple of other fruitless lizard launches ensued, easily covered by Anderson.

With Wall Street, G$, Baby Seal, Surfer Dan, and I, it seemed like sensible tactics would have been to keep launching individual attacks and forcing Eric to cover, but we are Team Lizard Collectors, and we don’t do sensible. That’s when down-for-the-count Lonergan exploded up the side, opening such a big gap so quickly that he was going to win the imaginary sprunt for the #fakewin if someone didn’t chase him down. Note: That someone wasn’t going to be his teammate Eric, who clearly hadn’t graduated from Team Lizard Collectors’ tactical school of self-immolation.

A couple of hard efforts later and TLC had shut down Lonergan, but we were all tuckered out and Eric was fresh as milk from a cow’s teat. I did the pointless pull to the line, figuring that with three lizard collectors in our four-man group, surely someone would get second, and we did!

All the way home I consoled myself with the thought that there would always be another chance. When I arrived, clattering along the walkway, I noticed a small but unnatural brown lump on the narrow branch of a small tree. The branch was hanging out directly over the fake stream that funnels leaves and junk through our complex.

I looked at the lump again, then stopped. Something atop the lump was moving. I walked closer. As the covering leaves above and the ones below resolved in my line of sight, I saw that it was no ordinary brown lump, but rather an extraordinarily tiny nest, and the moving items atop the nest were two baby hummingbirds, not more than a couple of days away from their first flight.

I’ve watched birds all my life but have never seen a hummingbird nest up close. The fledglings looked at me anxiously and fidgeted in their nest. That’s when I noticed the deep (for them) and treacherous (for them) stream. Pretty soon their mom would be unable to feed them and they’d have to launch from the nest.

In turns they would stand on the ledge of that tiny brown refuge, lined as it was with soft feathers, and flitter a few feet away, trying to master the extraordinary complexities of flight, landing, and return to the nest. A momentary miss and one or both would end up in the stream. I watched them for a long while, and they watched me.

Then I walked away, gutpunched, pondering nature’s lesson.

No second chances.



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Sunbeams in winter

March 13, 2018 § 5 Comments

It’s easy to get bummed out about the various obstacles life throws in our way. Even when it comes to riding a bike, an activity/lifestyle that’s supposed to be an antidote to the blues, sometimes it seems like everything’s conspiring against you. The weather, a sore tendon, a creaky back, and of course inadequate quantities of things that are 100% carbon and made of full carbon, exclusively carbon, that is.

I was kind of falling into that funk a couple of weeks ago. It was 5:00 AM and I was standing on the subway platform in Vienna, angsting about the flight that was going to be a very close call, dreading the all-day travel back home, the cramped economy seat, the jet lag, the crappy food, the bad coffee, the drooling seatmate, you know, the hard things in life.

It was subzero Fahrenheit even underground, and I’d had all I could take of the brutal Central European winter, all seven days of it. In a handful of days it had cracked me like a windshield behind a gravel truck.

Unusually, I’d overpacked and was schlepping back a couple of things that had served no purpose at all. One of those things was a super thin knit cap that had proven worse than useless against the bitter temperatures and blowing winds. I’d replaced it with a thick ski cap and was wearing it pulled as far down over my ears as it would go. My ears still stung.

The platform was mostly empty except for a handful of equally cold riders waiting for the train and a beggar in a wheelchair. He rolled from person to person, about half of whom reached into their pockets and handed him a couple of coins. Each time they doled out a 20-cent or 50-cent piece, he smiled broadly and said thank you.

Eventually he made his way over to me. “Sorry, man, I don’t have any small change,” I said, but before he rolled away I realized that I did in fact have a couple of small bills left. “Hang on a sec,” I said, fishing out my wallet. The smallest bill was five euros, about seven bucks. I handed him the blue note.

He looked up at me from down in his wheelchair as he took the money. “That’s incredibly generous of you,” he said. He was a young guy in his late 20’s. His teeth were brown, broken, and missing, and his face looked weathered, which, in this weather, was easy to understand. His legs were about twelve inches long each, shriveled little stubs.

“No problem,” I said. “Where are you going?”

“I’m down here early begging a bit. Thanks so much for the fiver; I’m good for a solid pack of smokes now. Maybe even head home, thanks to you.”

“You live near here?”

He laughed. “Not too far, about thirty minutes by train, then I have to roll for another ten minutes. Where are you from?”

“USA,” I said.

“Ah, yeah, right, I’d love to visit there someday. Whereabouts?”


“Oh, that’s cool. That’s the coolest! What do you do?”

“I’m a lawyer.”

“Too cool!” he said. “You look like an ordinary guy with that shopping bag you’re carrying, but you must be a rich American lawyer, handing out fivers like that.”

“I am pretty rich, just not in money.”

“Oh, I know all about that,” he said. “Money can’t buy most things. But it can buy smokes!” Then he added, “Of all the places I’d like to go, I’d like to go to California most. Los Angeles, palm trees, beaches, pretty girls. It must be the coolest.”

He was dressed warmly, with thick pants, a heavy jacket, and a hood that covered his head. “It’s nice there,” I agreed, “but it’s nice here, too. Hey, you want a knit cap? It’s a surfer brand, not much use here in winter but maybe okay in spring or fall.” I dug into my shopping bag and pulled out the light green cap that my buddy Michael had given me a couple of years ago.

“Super cool!” he said, pushing back his hood and stretching the cap over his skull. “Do I look like a surfer now?” He was laughing.

“Yeah, about as much as I do.” He sat there for a minute, very satisfied, in no rush to go anywhere, and there was a comfortable silence between us. Finally I broke it. “What happened to your legs?” I asked.

“I got a cyst on my spine when I was tiny and when they cut it out my legs quit growing.”

“Man, that is tough,” I said.

He looked up at me and threw his sunbeam of a broken-toothed smile onto that cold Sunday morning train platform. “It’s not too bad,” he said. “There are so many people in this world who have it so much worse. I love Austria,” he said. “I think it’s the best country in the world.” Then he paused and looked at me, satisfied. “I consider myself a pretty lucky guy.”



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Fear factor

March 12, 2018 § 2 Comments

I am just as aware as the next racer of the rapidity with which things can go sideways in a bike race, and most of the time it doesn’t get to me. The race is the risk, the risk is the race.

So when I drove out to the Tour de Murrieta on Saturday in a lightly pelting rain, of course it didn’t simply cross my mind, but rather it parked there, the knowledge that wet races add a dimension of risk, a dimension of danger, a dimension of some other idiot sliding out and knocking me off my bike, a dimension of me picking a bad line and eating a tree trunk “and etcetera,” as Billy Stone would say.

We got there fresh on the heels of Bad Mom Day. You’ve had those occasionally, I bet. I’ve had them since I was born. Bad Mom Day usually begins with some unasked-for meeting or visit or encounter, full of smiles and happiness and maternal love, but within a few hours it degenerates into mean, nasty, brutish brawling, with the offended mother harumphing back to her Texas lair to brew up a new strategem for sewing discord, discontent, and emotional dsytrophy.

Bad Mom Days usually leave a thick residue of anger and resentment that bike racing either provides the perfect outlet for, or it provides the perfect opportunity for a bicycle falling off incident a/k/a BFOI.

Word on the street

We pulled up and parked. I got out in the rain and walked over to registration. On the way I saw Racer X, sopping wet, dismantling his bike and shoving it into the car. He was wearing bitchy pissedoff meanface. “How’d it go?” I asked.

“Fucking sucked.”

“How come?”

He pointed to a lovely fracture on the rear triangle. “$3,000.00 race entry fee, that’s how come.”

“You okay?” I asked, belatedly realizing that no bike racer is “okay” when he has a trashed full carbon frame that is all carbon and made of 100% carbon.

“Fuck no, I’m not okay,” he grumbled. I walked on.

A bit farther I ran into Daili Shang, the effervescent, full-gas Cat 4 woman who has had some great results in her first racing season. “How’d it go?” I asked.

She answered with a hug and a big smile. “Great except for my crash.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, but my shoulder really hurts. I’m going to get it x-rayed.”

“How’s the bike?”

“Fine, I think. I got back up, took my lap, and finished.”

“Damn, good job.”

She smiled and offered me a cup of coffee from the La Grange PX. I took it and ambled on. Next I ran into Chris DiMarchi, Phil Tinstman, and Superdave Koesel, who had finished racing a few minutes ago. These guys would have a hardened, steeljawed look at a baby shower; coming out of a rain-soaked, high-speed, shit-spewing crit they looked like cavemen ruminating on the skulls they just beat in with a club.

“How was it?” I asked.

They looked at me for a minute, mulling over the dumb question before answering. “Well,” said Chris, “80 psi. Tell everyone in your race 80 psi.”


“For sure. Guys running 100, 110, were bouncing all over the place, sliding on their asses like drunk ice skaters.”

“How’d you guys do?”

They pondered this second stupid question. “Phil let me win,” Dave said.

“I went with five to go,” Chris added. “They came by me solo on the last lap.”

“Any tips for the course?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Phil said. “On the corner where there’s the alternating brick and asphalt, make sure you stay on the little patch of brick and don’t roll over the asphalt or you’ll get introduced to Mr. Curb. And there’s a nasty grate you want to avoid.”

“Guys’ rear wheels were catching all kinds of air when they hit it,” Chris helpfully added, coloring in the picture of danger and mayhem that I’d already sketched out in full.

“Did you have any problems?” I asked Phil.

“No,” he said.

“How come?” I asked.

The quota for stupid questions had been reached. “I picked good lines,” was Phil’s response.

The more you know the less you go

About this time the women’s P/1/2/3 race was wrapping up, with Esther Walker twenty-five seconds up on the field, flying through the turns. The pack charged hard for the line with Shelby Reynolds easily taking the field sprint. None of the women seemed the least bit perturbed by the rain; just another day at the office, pal.

We drove over to the Sckubrats where I had a coffee and a #fakechicken sandwich. An hour later we returned to the course. It was still raining but now the P/1/2 men’s race was going off. I watched it for a few minutes. Single fucking file. Full fucking tilt through the turns. People hanging on for dear life. A bunch of riders already down, or out, or IDGAF and homeward bound.

Suddenly I felt afraid. Not concerned or mildly worried. Afraid.

I got back in the car. “What’s wrong?” Yasuko asked.

“Not today,” I said.



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The Calzone Crit

March 11, 2018 § 2 Comments

Surfer Dan lined up at the table, squaring off against Boozy P. and Smasher. Surfer was undefeated in ten consecutive food crits at Chez Davidson, having always left capable of eating more than he was served. Boozy P. was a Cat 2 eater and definite underdog, as his calzone sprints were going to be undermined by his propensity to beer dope, which took away valuable appetite and stomach space. Cat 4 racers Olive and Stanley were not considered a major threat.

The gun went off and Surfer came up on the inside on the appetizer laps, eating half a tub of hummus and slaughtering half a bag of helpless, mewing baby carrots. Boozy P., who was only on his fifth IPA ten minutes into the race, snagged an edamame prime as Surfer sat up to catch his breath and down another two bottles of San Pelligrino.

Olive and Stanley shuffled around at the back, spending the appetizer laps nosing around in the garbage can, dragging out paper towels sopped in olive oil and pieces of sausage, and staying generally unfocused on the race. Smasher opted to save his bullets for the calzone, and appeared unconcerned while Surfer polished off the hummus and the squalling carrot babies.

Suddenly the homemade calzone came out of the oven, next to a giant green salad with feta cheese and avocado, which appeared next to it on the table. Smasher attacked, hacking off a piece of calzone bigger than his head, and choking it down his gullet in two mighty swallows, one of which included a half-chew. Boozy P. sprinted hard for the end pieces and wolfed them down. Surfer followed Smasher’s attack, which had gapped out Boozy P., and countered Smasher by inhaling a double-slab.

The calzone’s homemade crust had been stuffed to popping with Italian sausage, pepperoni, ricotta, fresh mozzarella, grated parmesan, mushrooms, and basil. Stanley and Olive sniffed around the edges of the table, but were repeatedly denied by the Surfer/Smasher breakaway, and were unable to bridge up to Boozy P., who was stuck out in no-man’s land.

Just as it looked like the two-man break was going to stick, Boozy P. made a superhuman effort by stuffing his entire salad into his face with his fist, and making it across to the break. Olive and Stanley couldn’t follow his wheel, no matter how hard Stan thought about the taquitos he’d stolen off the table at the 2014 Davidson Taquito Crit in an unforgettable come from behind victory.

In the twinkling of an eye, a calzone the size of a small paper shredder had vanished. The last piece went into Boozy P.’s mouth. As the competitors eyed one another, out of the oven popped calzone number two, and Boozy P., now on his tenth IPA, suddenly found himself in difficulty despite digging deeply into his suitcase of courage, which was unfortunately filled only with dead soldiers and bottle caps.

Surfer attacked first, shearing off a calzone slab resembling the calving of an Antarctic glacier. The gap was big, but Smasher smashed the calzone with his fist, squirting copious piles of cheese and meat and crust onto his plate. In one deft move he had seen Surfer’s calzone and raised him a double slab.

Coming into the final lap both riders were cross-eyed and queasy as the cheese and meat took its ugly toll. Huge rivers of sweat poured off their faces. Everyone stank of olive oil. Surfer and Smasher began playing cat and mouse with each other, nibbling on salad, sipping on water and baby carrots, and throwing cagey edamame moves with their elbows as they jockeyed for position.

But lo! As the two experienced pros locked onto the last piece of calzone, preparing for the final lunge to the line, Stanley somehow managed to come across the gap! While Surfer and Smasher eyed each other, Stan made his patented table-grab, snatched the last piece of calzone off the table and took home the spoils, scoring another daring win for the South Bay’s champion chihuahua!

Afterwards, Stan went out onto the balcony and pooped in satisfaction.

#winning #won



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March 10, 2018 § 6 Comments

I used to know a carpenter in Texas named, perhaps not surprisingly, Joe Bob. Joe Bob had a lot of problems in life, but carpentry was not one of them. He weighed about 300 lbs., had heart disease, was divorced four times, had spent time in prison for child sexual assault, was a hardened alcoholic (“I ain’t a drunk ‘cuz I refuse to have a drink before five o’clock”), and lived in trailer on the southeast side of Austin when that was where poor people lived.

“Carpentry,” Joe Bob liked to say “ain’t hard. Long as everything is plumb, staight, and level, it’s gonna hold up good. Plumb, straight, and level. That’s pretty much all you gotta know.”

He made it sound simple, but if you’ve ever tried to get two pieces of wood to join so that they are plumb, straight, or level, much less all three, you know that there’s a reason good carpenters are called craftsmen, and great ones are called masters.


I have never been good at mentoring or coaching in general, and with regards to cycling I am pretty much a nega-mentor. My basic belief is that if you are new to cycling, that is a great time to quit. Every now and then someone will ask, directly or indirectly, for some bicycle coaching/mentoring, and my position is always the same: I don’t know enough to teach, and even if I did, I wouldn’t teach you.

No hard feelings, but IDGAF about your cycling progress. I learned everything on my own, the hard way, which is why I’m not very good at it, and the last thing I want to do is bother my ugly little head about your particular cycling goals. More importantly, or rather most importantly, I don’t want to be responsible for anything that happens to you on your bike which, by the way, you should sell.

Still, despite a lifetime of nega-coaching, I finally wound up with a student I couldn’t shake, my wife. And that’s when all of the nega-coaching had to go out the door, which I realized on our first terrifying bike ride together. It’s true I’m mostly ignorant and 100% not any good, but compared to someone just starting out, it turns out that I actually know a lot, and I realized this because every pedal stroke my brain was essentially screaming “OH FUCK! OH FUCK! OH FUCK!” as eight billion catastrophes were narrowly avoided and every terrible bicycling habit known to man put itself on full display.

To make things worse, she loved it. “That was so much fun!” she said as I went quietly into the bedroom and sobbed.

Breaking it down

As I lay dying, er, crying, I tried to figure out what in the world I was going to do. This was a person I loved who was now riding a bicycle at a somewhat-greater-than-spring-chicken point in her life, and doing it in an area with lots of elevation and lots of traffic. The things that needed fixing were endless. Who was going to fix them?

Not me, that’s for sure. On the other hand, neither would anyone else. If I threw her to the group ride sharks she’d learn all their bad habits, or more likely, have a severe bicycle falling off incident before she even had the chance to permanently ingrain horrible habits.

Clearly the job was getting tossed back in my lap, but that didn’t solve much. Where to start? Everything was wrong. What to fix? Everything was broken.

So I turned to the place that has never helped me solve any problem, ever, the Internet. I googled “What do beginning cyclists need to know?” and what I came up with felt like throwing your hook into the bay and hauling out an old tire, followed by a tin can, followed by a car battery, followed by a corpse.

For example, this genius defines mission critical things as making friends, visiting bike shops, and fixing flats. These d-bags tell you it’s all about the gear, with a few throwaway links to riding in traffic. Naturally, Bicycling.com has a list of completely useless suggestions that will do zip to keep you alive or, more importantly, to make you a better bicycle rider.

The list of stupid things that won’t help is endless, which makes sense because hardly anyone knows how to ride a bike well. So how could they possible tell anyone else how to do it? This led me to the key question of “What is riding well?” I had to think about it a lot, and here’s what I came up with.

For a beginner, riding well means not getting hurt. Pretty much the same thing for a pro, now that you think about it. In fact, that’s all I cared about with regard to my wife. I didn’t care how well she climbed, descended, what gear she had, or how she looked. I just wanted her to not get hurt. Even distilling that bit of sound sense took a lot of effort. But how to do it?

The problem with teaching anyone anything on a bike

… is that there is too much going on. They are having fun. They are chatting. Looking around. Flubbing with their gears. Swerving hither and yon. Fiddling with their computer. Trying unclip before they crash onto their side at the next light and take you out with them.

It seemed like the first obstacle to learning anything was fun and chatting. Biking looks so easy when you are watching experienced riders ride and talk, but the people who are good are also seeing a lot of other things, and beneath the chatter is a very focused attention on what’s happening on the road. The newbie chatterer’s brain sees nothing, understands nothing, and is happily gabbing until “Whoa! Where did that red light/pothole/dump truck come from?” Smash, sirens, huge ER bill, rod in femur.

In other words, the predicate for learning on a bike seems to be that you have to take it seriously. As much as I hate that word related to cycling, when it comes to staying alive, serious attentiveness is way more important than anything else, and you can’t be attentive as a beginner with your mouth gaping like a fish as you talk a mile a minute. Once the ground rule of “NO FUN” was established, things got a lot easier. Sure, there were a million things going on at any given moment, but staying alive and unhurt could be reduced to a few simple elements.


Like Joe Bob, who could sum up carpentry as plumb, straight, and level, I summed up biking for my wife as “Close, cadence, and even.” These three things would keep her alive and they would, once mastered, make her a better bike rider than 99% of the cyclists out there.

Close. Have you ever noticed how most people on bicycles wander all over the roadway, like grazing goats going in whatever direction the grass happens to be? That’s because they don’t know how to ride in a straight line. The quickest way to get your shit tamed and start riding in a straight line is to ride close to someone else. Really close. Bar-to-bar close.

If you can’t ride close, you can’t control the fine movements of your bike that often make the difference between hitting or avoiding something that will knock you down. Bar-to-bar riding also forces you to ride straight, the single most important aspect of proper bike handling. If you are a few centimeters away from someone’s bars and you don’t ride straight, you will hit them.

Proximity also accustoms you to contact and teaches you how to deal with bumps and how not to freak out simply because someone’s shoulder or bars touched yours. It also begins teaching you the lifesaving skill of how to put your bike exactly where you want it. So many riders with decades of riding under their belt are clumsy, jerky, and astonishingly poor at actually guiding their bike–a big reason that they fall down. Nor can they navigate in narrow spaces. The closer you ride the straighter and more steady your shit will get.

Cadence. Beginning cyclists have no idea which gear to use, or how to shift in anticipation of a gradient, coming to a stop, or going downhill, or even how to maintain a proper cadence on flat ground. This cluelessness comes at a cost, because the wrong gears makes everything worse, whether that means leaving from a dead stop in your 53 x 11, or whether it means trying to shift out of your big ring on a sudden 15% grade, only to throw your chain and clump over on your side, possible breaking a hip, elbow, shoulder, or toenail.

Riding at the right cadence is everything, but what is “right”? Well, in my nega-mentor scenario, it’s pretty simple. “Pedal like I’m pedaling.” You have an open book in front of you that is always turned to the right page with regard to cadence. Pay attention to it and imitate it. Once you’re watching the person in the right cadence, it takes all the guesswork out of it and you learn which gear to use and you learn to shift before things happen, rather than when it’s too late.

Having someone whose cadence you can imitate also allows the rider to quit thinking about gears/gear ratios and other complex topics, and dumbs it down to monkey see, monkey do. If you’re the one being imitated, it also saves you from the horror of having to explain what gear ratios are, why they matter, and how to use them. My instruction is “Are your legs moving as fast as mine? Yes? You’re in the right gear. No? Change gears.” Being in the right gear maximizes your ability to maneuver and steer, and greatly affects your stability on the bike and therefore safety. If you don’t have someone you can ride with who knows how to pedal, you’re screwed. Sorry.

Even. Good riding is attentive riding, and the one thing that will help your attentiveness more than any other is learning to ride with your front wheel exactly even with the person next to. Expressed as a negative, don’t half-wheel. It takes huge concentration for beginners to ride even wheeled, and combined with close riding quickly teaches you almost everything you need to know about controlling your bike.

The majority of supposedly skilled racers I know are unfamiliar with half-wheeling. For a new cyclist, learning to keep your front wheel even with your partner’s will further straighten you out and keep you from wobbling. In other words, closeness and even wheels make you ride straight. Of course riding in a straight line is calculus for most people who ride; they can’t do it because they don’t know how and because no one has told them, or wants to take the time to be constantly telling them that they are veering around like a boat in a typhoon with a broken rudder.

All together, now!

These combined three things are incredibly simple but take extraordinary concentration to do every moment you’re riding until you get used to it, which is why most people simply can’t do it. When you forget about fun, about convo, about enjoyment, and you focus solely on avoiding death and injury, these three skills work wonders. There are other things as well, but that raises another problem. New riders are overloaded with information, tips, advice, and suggestions. New riders can’t prioritize and don’t know which ones are mission critical (riding close), and which ones are almost but not quite as important (matchy-matchy socks).

Giving a new rider three simple things to master, things which are simple to understand but which take lots of practice, is the best and most important way to teach critical skills without falling into the boiling cauldron of Internet new rider tips. Even if you disagree with these three items (which would make you wrong), solid riding skills are based on mastery of bike control and movement with and around other riders. Although there are many other things that you could also teach, any new rider has his hands absolutely full mastering even a single skill.

In a few short weeks my wife has learned to ride bar-to-bar, ride even-wheeled, and has figured out by slavish imitation what the right cadence for various conditions feels like. I’m still a nega-coach and am actively discouraging new clients, but at the end of the day I want her, and you, to get home safely. After a few years it would also be cool if you enjoyed it, too.

As we leaky prostate racers say at the end of every race when some whippersnapper asks us how we did, the answer is the same for a new rider as it is for a grizzled, sour, wrinkled, sag-bottomed veteran: “If you go home with all the skin you came with, you won.”



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