BWR: To tubeless or not to tubeless?

April 23, 2019 § Leave a comment

Hi, Wanky Dude!

I am doing my first ever Belgian Waffle Ride in a couple of weeks and am super excited about it. I like waffles and I like riding and Belgians are okay as long as they bathe occasionally, so this seems like the perfect ride for me.

Question–what kind of tires should I run? Thinking about switching to tubeless but I’m not sure it’s expensive, new wheelset and everything and I’m pretty handy changing a flat, so with your extensive BWR experience what do you recommend? Tubeless really seem to be the way to go here.

Tony Tipsnitch

Dear Tony:

Lots of first-time BWR-ers ask this question because it diverts from the real question, which is, “How much have you actually been training?” when we know the answer is “Hardly at all but I’ve been spending a lot of time on the chat forums and Amazon.”

Essentially for you it won’t matter what kind of tire you “run” because you are doomed to DNF and are in fact a pretty solid candidate to DNS. Tires don’t have anything to do with the Belgian Waffle Ride. They don’t matter at all.

Incredible as that may sound, let me give you a brief history of bicycle tires. They used to be made of leather before they were “improved” into iron. Yeah, you read that right. The first velocipedes had spoked wooden hoops covered with iron on the outside, and the roads, if they had any paving at all, were cobblestones. And the bikes weighed 70-80 pounds or more. And the cyclists rode them for a lot farther over lots harder ground than sunny San Diego in May.

Progress being progress, Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber, which allowed ingenious people who didn’t like having their bones shattered every time the pedals went ’round to put a thin solid layer of rubber around the steel wheel. Mind you, there was no air inside the rubber. It was just hard fucking rubber and miserable beyond words but quite a bit less miserable than steel. Migraines, yes, stress fractures, fewer.

During those days, when the penny-farthing was the only game in town and people rode hundreds, then thousands of miles on roads so horrible you can scarcely imagine, cyclists didn’t worry about their “tires.” What they worried about were “headers,” where you tumble off the front of the penny-farthing head-first and get a permanent brain injury or a spot of death.

Eventually John Dunlop came up with a bike tire in 1887 that was inflatable by using an inner tube. Everyone agreed then, and has agreed ever since, that a cushiony inner tube beats all hell out of iron tires and brain injuries.

My point is not that you are kind of a whiny, spoiled wuss for nattering about your tires, which you clearly are. My point is that the word “tire” is an abbreviation for the word “attire.” Yes, back in the day the “tire” attired the bare wheel. It was a kind of froofy dress-up thing, like guys with plucked eyebrows. Frivolous but hey you are in L.A. and so I guess it’s okay.

This is kind of the same thing with your question about what tire to attire your BWR wheels with. Since you are a froofy kind of person, I’d go with whatever is froofiest, which is probably tubeless, a thing that pairs well with chicken, Bearnaise sauce, and words like “brainless,” “gutless,” and my favorite for BWR first-timers, “hopeless.”

On the other hand, if you want to do the BWR in the spirit with which it was created, you should consider attiring your wheels with leather or iron. You will not get far but people will GTF out of your way when you come screaming down the Lake Hodges rock garden on leather tires. And when you hit Lemontwistenberg with those iron hoops you will not need to hop the curb because your tire will smash the cement into sand.

So to sum up, tubeless for froof, leather/iron for hard people.

Your call.



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Making cycling great again

April 20, 2019 § 9 Comments

A friend sent me this dreadful link to these dreadful tips designed to make me hate riding my bicycle. You would think that it’s hard to make someone hate riding a bicycle, but there is an entire industry built around it. The idea is that if you hate riding a bicycle while knowing it’s good for you, you will spend a lot of money trying to force yourself to ride, i.e. gear, coaches, magazine subscriptions, and etc. Lots of etc.

This is like the food industry, which has taken something awesome, food, made it dreadful, and then created the diet charlatindustry to help you not lose the weight so you can eat more of the dreadful food. Everyone wins except the one who was born every minute.

I have come up with a sure-fire list of ways to make you love riding your bike. Some of these tips are very edgy and will singe the eyebrows of the bicyclitally correct, but they work.

  1. Ditch the helmet. There, I said it.
  2. Don’t record anything. No one cares or is impressed by how far you rode, least of all you. In fact, you are depressed by it because no matter how far you rode, SOMEONE RODE FARTHER. Let your activities vanish into the ether as soon as they are complete, residing only in your memory.
  3. Ride alone. You’ll be amazed at how much you see and hear when some jackanape isn’t prattling on about his w/kg ratio, complaining about [—], or shit-talking all your mutual friends.
  4. Post your ride and all the details on social media. Not.
  5. Ride with two good friends and ride real fuggin’ hard. Do a workout, the three of you, and make sure that when you’re done everyone is cross-eyed.
  6. Delete your weight log. If it’s paper, shred it. Then toss out your bathroom scales. Guess what? After four years of meticulous record keeping, I weigh 153 pounds. That’s it. Some days a tad more, some a tad less, but my average is 153 pounds and that’s what it’s always gonna be. Same for you. The daily weigh-in works if you are a hog prepping for slaughter, but otherwise it’s a silly and meaningless routine you’ll be happier without.
  7. Refuse to set goals. Goals are for winners, people who succeed, hard-chargers, and the sad fact is that in cycling you can’t win, can’t succeed, and can’t charge hard anywhere, at least not for long. Cycling is a long-term affliction that equates with happiness and peripheral health if you’re lucky, and that’s it. It doesn’t make you superman, doesn’t extend your life, doesn’t stop global warming, and isn’t the red badge of courage. Get. Over. It.
  8. Shave your face. Guys, why spend so much time honing and glossing your legs when your face looks like you just pulled it out of a sawdust bin? For fuxake, take three minutes and shave. It won’t help your cycling but it will help everyone who has to look at you.
  9. Fire your coach. And if you have to hire another one, make it your nice Auntie Maude who lives in Topeka and whose passion is baking brownies.
  10. Refuse to explore your motivations. Who cares why you ride, least of all you? Go out and ride and let your motivations be as whimsical as possible. “Today I’m riding in order to be a flounder.” “Today I’m riding to free the world’s microchips.” “Today I’m riding because pancakes.”
  11. Sneer at someone’s fancy bike or pretty clothing. Nothing takes the fun out of cycling like stuff. Cycling isn’t about stuff. It is about non-stuff. If that doesn’t make sense to you, you are clearly not yet a flounder.
  12. Aspire to mediocrity. Excellence goes before a fall. Mediocrity is safe, comfortable, predictable, not demanding, and well within your means. Embrace 13 mph average rides. They don’t mean you are a horrible person who should be executed, no matter what Bicycling Magazine et al say.
  13. Explain to an expert that you don’t care. Whether the advice sausage is telling you about gearing, braking, cornering, dieting, flubbering, or flummadiddling, tell him you do not GAF. Calmly and politely say in an enraged voice, “I am not listening. Please go die now.”
  14. When the going gets tough, acknowledge you are a cupcake. Why? Because everyone loves a cupcake. No one loves a saucer of nails and broken glass.
  15. Plan a group ride and don’t show up. This will rekindle your joy of sleeping in on a Saturday morning instead of rolling out bleary-eyed and grumpy to meet a bunch of smelly friends who haven’t shaved. Then you can ride after brunch. If it’s sunny.
  16. Flick off technology. Look someone in the eye who is recommending disk brakes and tell them to fuck off. “Disc brakes are stupid,” is the way to finish the conversation, preferably with no elaboration.
  17. Bail hard. Think about an awesome, challenging ride/race/event you’ve always wanted to train for, and then admit to yourself that it’s a horrible idea and you’d rather eat the Cookie Monster cupcake with the blue icing down at Becker’s. Plus it is cheaper.
  18. Focus on the past. You used to be young, attractive, and optimistic. Go back to that period in time and stay there.
  19. Sign up for a gym membership. Go the most expensive gym you can find, like Equinox, and sign up for the most expensive program they have, along with 6 months of daily personal training. Add in the nutritionist consult, blood workup, and full pre-workout evaluation. Then call the next day and cancel everything. It won’t cost a penny and you’ll have been the center of everyone’s attention for the better part of an entire day.
  20. Put your cycling last. Why angst about getting in your workout early? It can fuggin’ wait, and if it can’t? Too bad, so sad. Tomorrow, as she said, is another day.
  21. Punch someone in the face. Do it the minute they say, “You should race.” Then tell them, “You should see a dentist.”
  22. Decide not to color coordinate. You are not Elijah Shabazz, so don’t even try. It’s okay to wear gray with ochre and purple and yellow and green polka-dot sprinkles. Or an old t-shirt and flip-flops. Or better yet, let your inner Shirtless Keith rage.
  23. Explore your family tree. Ask yourself, “What would my great-grandfather say about this?” If your great-grandpa was like mine, you wouldn’t get past the word “diet” before he shot you.
  24. Quit buying into other people’s b.s. Do you like riding around the block and then eating a tub of ice cream? Then do it. Yes, this means you, Baby Seal.
  25. Write yourself messages. However, make them honest rather than fake-inspirational/motivational b.s. For example: “No one cares,” or my favorite, “Later.”
  26. Treat life like a meter that is almost out of time. In other words, don’t go murder yourself on a horrible cycling ordeal; order another round.
  27. Get up early. How early? So fuggin’ early that it’s almost the day before.
  28. Don’t sign the waiver. Anything that requires you to give away your rights is stupid and hates you. Refuse to do it. Instead, demand that they sign a waiver on your behalf and see how they like it.
  29. Never, ever, ever talk about your workouts. Not to your spouse, S/O, and dog forbid at work. It makes you look like a tool and it violates the cardinal rule of cycling, which is that the rest of the world hates you.
  30. Encourage your non-cycling friends to not get into cycling. They will thank you for it.
  31. Laugh at consistency. Go all in one week, then put away your bike for three years like Boozy P. and focus on surfing, beer, and motorcycles. Balance is for gymnasts, and with a gut like that, trust me, you ain’t no gymnast.
  32. Sit on the couch and read a book. It is safer, cheaper, will make you smarter, and help you sleep.


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April 17, 2019 § 16 Comments

The life is being atomized out of us and there isn’t much we can do about it.

Atomization is my word for what happens when you spend most of your waking day in front of a screen. Any screen. It doesn’t have to do with a particular app, it has to do with the desktop, laptop, and mobile screens that glue our vision, and therefore our thoughts, onto 0s and 1s and away from reality.

There is an easy metric for how atomized your life has become, and it is the old-fashioned metric of time. How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen, for whatever reason? In my case, I’ve begun tracking it and can tell you definitively that my total iPhone screen time averages 42 minutes and my desktop/laptop screen time averages 5-6 hours a day.

But so what? What is atomization, why does it matter, and what does it have to do with bicycles?

By definition, from the millisecond that you begin looking at your screen, you stop interacting with people. This is of course the screen’s chief and overwhelming attraction. It doesn’t have stinky armpits or smelly breath, it doesn’t yell back or roll its eyes, it doesn’t accuse you of you loving it one day and a different screen the next, no, it strips away every trace of real human interaction replaces it with obedience. The screen does what you tell it to, which explains precisely why device malfunctions are among the most stressful things in life you will ever encounter–doubt me? Go on an iPhone help forum …

Less obvious is that the screen strips away the positive human interactions as well as the negative. There is no touch. There is no flood of oxytocin. There is no wave of good hormones that result from eye contact. There is no laughter and the effect that those sound waves have on your ears and mind. Perhaps most devastating to the strip-mining effect of the screen, there is no warmth, warmth, the effect of metabolism and homeostasis that differentiates lips from a stone.

What the screen provides instead of human interaction, that messy thing, is ersatz humanity: arguments you can always win, conflicts you can always walk away from, kudos that are always 100% positive, likes that are always happy, relationships that are always on your terms. With things like ideas and problems, the screen removes their humanity, too.

Time was, when you had a problem, say a word that you didn’t understand, you had to look it up. This required a dictionary, a whole new problem, and then the knowledge of how to use it, and then of course the frustration at not finding the word you were seeking. When it came to foreign languages, the problem was magnified because as we all know, the moment after you have looked up the meaning of a foreign word, you promptly forget it, especially at the beginning levels.

Solving a problem meant solving a bunch of problems, and they always involved interactions with other people. You had to go to a bookstore and talk to someone about dictionaries, for example. More human, in the process of learning a foreign language like Japanese, you were filled with frustration and a sense of failure that you had to overcome with determination. When I threw away my copy of Nelson’s Kanji Dictionary, the page edges were black from the thousands of times I had to flip through it to find a kanji, forget it, and find it a few seconds later.

Frustration, anger, failure, and despair in human endeavors are ingredients, precursors if you will, to every sense of human success. I look back on that dictionary with grim pride, and the residue of knowledge that it left me with will stay deep within the crevices of my brain as long as I have memory. Do I really need to compare this with the experience of Google translate?

With Google translate, there is nothing there. You type, the answer pops up, you move on. You. Accomplished. Nothing. And how could you have? You put nothing into it. I’d amend GIGO to NINO. Nothing in, nothing out.

The screen atomizes you from the people you’d normally have to interact with, and the practical problems you’d normally confront, and leaves with you with the zipless fuck of interaction, both human and intellectual. And you can see the effect around you everywhere, every second of the day, in every corner of the earth. I know because the globe is a place I have traveled more than most people, and with the exception of the world’s poorest places, the screen is between the face of its denizens, separating it from their real-world human counterparts and their real-world problems.

Until you have stood on a subway in Chengdu or Kunming and watched an entire seated row of a hundred people staring passively at their screens, you have not seen the quantifiable effect of this atomization. No conversation, and hardly even any glances up save to confirm the subway stop. Reality has been shuttered, and a voyeur’s glance at their screens shows that their reality is just like yours: games, text messages, shopping, #socmed, videos. That’s it. That is their life. That is yours. The only possible thing more disturbing than watching a scene like this is watching a woman fiddle with her phone while her infant begs, implores, beseeches any interaction with mother, in vain.

Leaving aside the obvious social control that governments and corporations obtain by chaining citizens to their screens, this alt-reality is horrible for physical and mental health. It is horrible for physical health because most of the time the screen requires you to sit (more about Strava and its brethren later), and it is horrible for mental health because the screen isn’t perfect. There are still times when the non-screen world impinges and forces you to interact, only you are now doing it without all of the skills that used to go along with human interaction and problem solving. People have neither patience, verbal skills, or non-verbal skills to cope with the jagged edges of the screen and non-screen interface.

Look no farther than Facebook “political” arguments and how those people with the strongest Facebook views are often the most dysfunctional in actual human-to-human interactions. One friend, with whom I share very close political views, spends so much time ranting and browsing on Facebook that in person he is a non-stop cascade of blither-blather, endless talking, telling people how to ride, where to ride, which crack to watch out for, a compendium of inability to simply do what people used to do before the domination of the screen: shut up, watch, think, then choose your words carefully.

Another person, with whom I share no political views, is so addicted to the megaphone of #socmed that he literally thinks every post is about him, and if it’s negative he goes berserk. He too is a talker, a blabber, and someone whose screen time is obviously in the 10-hour range or more, especially if you include him in the average American’s statistics for TV time, which is of course screen time, too. Maybe 15+ hours a day?

Neither of these caricatures is what’s really important because most of us aren’t on the screen quite as much, yet our screen time is growing on an annual basis, and the difference isn’t as great in terms of atomization as you might think. The eggshell-thin ego that falls to pieces when it confronts dissonance in the real world, to say nothing of the screen world, is operating under the same principles that I do. Avoid, put your head under the covers, turn off the dissonance, change screens and go on to something more pleasant that doesn’t sound as shrill and smell as bad.

It’s no coincidence all this is being penned at 3:42 AM, in isolation, in front of a screen …

As atomization breaks apart our ability to tolerate human friction and reality friction, it enforces social control, corporatist consumption, and conservative economic and political thought. In this case conservative simply means “keeping the status quo.” You can’t have change when there is no mechanism for anything other than more of the same.

The timeline for screen atomization began with the movie screen in the early 1900’s, intensified with the TV screen in the 1950’s, hit critical mass with the desktop screen in the 1980’s, and reached its apogee with the iPhone. The next step is surely an implant that will allow you to be plugged into your screen without even needing the screen.

But for now, breaking apart people and forcing them into a honeycomb of isolation hurts us most in the areas where the social function is most important, and of course by that I mean cycling. What is more important to a cycling blog and a bike injury lawyer and a career weekend warrior than bicycling? Back in the day that never existed, #fakeracing was a communal activity with a hierarchy. If you wanted to do it you had to join the community and obey the social structure. Otherwise, you couldn’t do it. It made no sense to speak of racing your bike or doing a hard group ride without other people present, and in the same way that the opposite of love is indifference, the opposite of bike racing was the trainer or rollers.

This meant that you had deal with assholes, and if you happened to be an asshole, people had to deal with me. I mean, you. Dealing with assholes is the single most important aspect of human interaction, because assholes are everywhere and, what’s harder, everyone has one, which is another way of saying that even your best friend can turn into a jerk when the ride is long enough, it’s hot enough outside, the #fakewin is within your grasp, or when bonk sets in. No one wondered about what to do with the rider who behaved poorly or who was unpleasant to be around. You tried to drop him, you gave him a talking to, rarely you exchanged blows, but in the end you just dealt with it.

“Just dealt with it” may be one of the most complex sentences in English, because dealing with non-screen reality brings to bear the entirety of your physical and mental capacities, spanning the ladder’s rungs from fisticuffs to reverse psychology and intimidation. Fast forward forty years, and who has to deal with anything anymore on the bike? In the South Bay, you can #fakerace without people because of Strava, Zwift, and their progeny. The screen lets you strip away the danger of a bad wheel, the unpleasantness of a ride martinet, the #sadface of getting shelled, the frustration of a flat tire, and the disappointment of the group taking a route you’d rather avoid.

In place of these non-screen problems, the screen lets you tailor every ride so that it’s perfect, time efficient, and best of all, it lets you fiddle with the inputs so that you can have much better screen results than you ever would if you had to race yer fuggin’ bike. Stripped from the equation is also the community. There is no impulsion to join a ride, and certainly no requirement to put up with an annoying rider’s blather. Fuck him, I’m outta here … but to where? The screen, of course, or maybe to a solo ride that I can post on Strava and have my real friends recognize as an awesome effort from the comfort of their couch. You might think that kudo is the same as a fist-bump after a 100%, all-in effort to win the group ride #fakerace, but you’d be wrong. The fist-bump is real, skin on skin, smile meeting smile, glittering eye meeting eye, hormones, raw humanity in all its glory.

The kudo? It’s a click. And onto the next one.

None of this is my imagination. Cycling in the South Bay used to be a community of cyclists, that is, really strange people who found community on a bike. Now it is an atomized collection of agendas, people who own bicycles but, more than that, people who own ideas about how they should appear on a screen. This means more than making sure that the jaw angle is right, that the zits are scrubbed, the boobs properly positioned or the gut sucked in. What it really means is that people whose ideas used to get squelched instantly due to their inability to keep up now have an outsized presence and opinions that others follow.

A great example is the non-climber. In #fakerace #oldskool cycling, you had to be able to climb. Period. This was as much a part of cycling as a bicycle. If you wanted to be authoritative and not brushed off, you had to be able to climb, and by climb I mean “hang with the leaders at least for a while.” Better yet, be the leader. Singular. The only way you could overcome your inability to go uphill fast was to win races, and since lots of races were flat crits, there were always non-climbers–guys who got shelled on the group ride immediately–who were able to win on the flats in sanctioned events. Those riders, and there were never many of them, had cred and a voice, and you listened to them.

Otherwise, you’d better be able to climb or be prepared to shut up, sit in, and wait until you got dropped.

The screen has enabled people who cannot climb or win races to garner a voice in what cycling is supposed to be about. They have a voice at the table despite lacking anything approaching vocal cords, and cycling has changed as a result. It’s no different from politics, where people with loud #socmed opinions now have representation for extreme views once shunned, and it’s no different from any of the other arenas where community used to define norms, but where now the norms are set by the people least competent, least experienced, and least knowledgeable.

So what we are left with as a cycling landscape in the South Bay is a tiny handful of outsized voices backed by zero ability–they can’t climb and they can’t win races–but the screen has magnified their impact, indeed has given them an impact, that the old social structure would have immediately, and brutally dispensed with. It’s a reverse meritocracy where the best are told what to do by the worst. You can’t shut someone up on a climb because they’re never on the ride. You can’t close them down in a race because they either don’t race or aren’t trying to win. The contest occurs on the screen, and you know what? They aren’t simply winning.

They’ve won.



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April 14, 2019 § 2 Comments

It is hard to keep going.

The road doesn’t always seem like it’s going to end.

And when it does, the finish may be … not good.

Some people keep pushing while others fall by the wayside. It’s not a matter of superiority. Often it is simply a matter of being unable to quit. Always, it is a kind of perverse doggedness, seen by some as an attribute, by others as a foul curse.

The slog started in 2012, in an industrial parking lot in Carlsbad, California. How it finished and all that stuff, who started, who quit, who purple-carded, that has all been catalogued somewhere and mostly forgotten.

But in 2019 the slog continues, still rolling out from an industrial parking lot, but now accompanied by well over a thousand riders and the extraordinary infrastructure and planning that it takes to launch the annual Belgian Waffle Ride. Most people rightly think that the ride is the slog. Those who have completed it know that “slog” understates it by orders of magnitude. Those who have won it stay mostly silent. The beating speaks for itself.

The bigger slog, though, is the focus, dedication, and sense of purpose that have driven the ride’s progenitor, Michael Marckx, to keep pounding on. Because the moment each year’s production ends, the next year’s begins.

The gran fondo world is a competitive one. Iconic rides such as Levi’s Gran Fondo once sold all 7,000 spots in a matter of hours. Today that same ride is not much larger than most others, and smaller than many.

The Belgian Waffle Ride, however, continues to attract, year in and year out, well over a thousand riders–and more than the numbers, the breadth and the depth of the event continue to grow. Tour de France riders, current professional road racers, international caliber ‘cross racers, and local talent of the highest order fill out the fast end of the BWR’s ranks every single year.

Why? Because the BWR’s course, which changes every year, can’t simply be cobbled together by looking at a map and “going out and doing it.” It’s a ride where an overarching plan backed with coordination by local, county, and state agencies is the backbone upon which the event is hung.

People who want to combine the speed of road riding with the rough-and-tumble battery of sand, rocks, and lots of dirt know that this is the only ride in America where you can get all of that plus well over 12,000 feet of climbing in a marked, supported, turnkey adventure. And it really is an adventure in the true sense of the word: You have no idea how it’s going to end.

This is all by design, because the one thing that Michael has hewed closely to in every single edition of the BWR is that it will be like no other day you spend on the bike, even if you do it every single year. The difficulty, the changing course, and the variations in your own preparation will leave you spent–hopefully intact, but you do sign a waiver.

Slogging your way through eight years of vision to consistently produce a better event is its own kind of mania, especially when you consider that the BWR is executed by a tiny handful of people supported by a vast staff of volunteers. Leaving aside the difficulties of obtaining permits, some of which in past years came through on the eve of the event, and forgetting the vagaries of weather which can be catastrophic, putting together something of this scope means dealing with an infinity of details, not to mention personalities.

Why the singular focus? I’ve never asked Michael, but I’ve ridden with him enough to know that the BWR reflects his approach to cycling. Don’t take the easy way. Don’t tap out when it’s grim. Do your part.

The BWR is as far from the easy way as you can get. Tapping out is of course up to you. And when the ride fractures into grupettos early on, some will do their part and some will sit in for as long as they can. Yet the DNA of the ride is one of a slog, some fast, some less so, and some riders wrapping it up long after the sun has set.

After years of watching the BWR issue forth and then issue forth again, I can also say that it reflects Michael’s obsession with quality. It’s not enough to have a good ride where things mostly go right. The ideal is almost like one of Plato’s forms, an idealization of “ride” in which reality partakes of the ideal to obtain its identity.

Each year is a new attempt to reach perfection, to deliver something better, harder, more challenging, yet still more satisfying than the thing that went before. The willingness to slog is more common than we recognize and the annual BWR roster proves it. But the willingness to slog coupled with the drive to slog in perfection … that is a rare, rare thing, and it’s the ethos of this ride.



Two items

April 11, 2019 § 9 Comments

Into the blustery headwind we were walking to the train station. The building has had a few facelifts but still sports the steel, green, and off-white colors. We passed a tiny wooden shop with five or six teapots in the small window. “I need a teapot,” Yasuko said.

We went in. The brown teapot she wanted was $40. “How much is that one?” I asked the shop lady, pointing to an identical teapot in a different display case with wooden edges and sparkling clear glass.

“$600,” she said.

“We’ll stick with Mr. Four Thousand Yen,” I said.

The tea shop was old. It had analog scales, the ancient kind with a counterbalance, and was made of metal, heavy metal. The floor was tatami, worn, and raised more than a foot off the concrete slab.

The sliding doors were glass, in wooden frames, and the cold poured in. A giant dimpled iron kettle simmered over red-hot coals. I wondered how the open indoor flame got past the fire department.

The shop lady might have been ninety and her hair was up in a bun, pinned with an elaborately carved wooden barrette in the shape of an ibis. She wore a plain kimono, indigo and white, with tiny blue cherry blossoms and blue cranes embroidered throughout. Her tabi were spotless, hurt-your-eyes white.

I looked in amazement at the big wooden tea crates in the shop; you never see those anymore. Some of them were ancient, all marked with the kanji for “tea.” Disposable hadn’t been invented there yet.

Before she took our money she made us each a cup of green tea. First she poured the hot water into the cups to cool it down. Then she poured the water back into the teapot and brewed the tea. Her teapot was brown, like ours, but not $40, and engraven on its sides was a motif of tall bamboo and a mountain and a river.

Each cup was swirled brown and white with a slightly rough finish. The cup fit my hand, and the rough made no slip. She sat the cups on cherrywood coasters. We sipped the perfect tea, which smelled like tradition. The orange coals and massive gray kettle threw off heat to beat back the cold as the wind rattled the doors, and we simultaneously warmed on the inside, too.

The teapot got carefully wrapped in a green gift box that had a design of tiny frogs and water lilies sublimated throughout. The box fit the teapot to perfection. “I’m sorry the box doesn’t quite fit,” the lady said.

“I’ve passed by here a hundred times but didn’t know it was a tea shop,” I said.

“We opened in 1890,” she smiled.

The other item I got there was the past.



Spring, un-sprung

April 10, 2019 § 9 Comments

It was chilly when I got here. Then it got warmer, then short-sleeves. Next it got cool and then up in the mountains, freezing. Down here it went back to chilly.

All the while things were greening, imperceptibly in a lot of places. Spring isn’t simply an explosion, it’s also a coiling and you have to look closely to see the signs, pre-budding, the quivering in the earth.

Up in the mountains it might as well have been the dead of winter except it wasn’t, not by a long shot. It was coiling there, too. Tensing.

Lower down there were the smallest of green splashes, or maybe bulging buds that didn’t even yet have a tint to the outside husk yet. Still lower the early blooming mountain cherries were doing their flash in the pan thing. On the flat lands, amidst the paddies, everything was brown again, the brown of tilled and manured dirt getting ready for flooding. But the yards had green, there were shotgun yellow blossoms everywhere, bamboo shoots poking up, and the the uncoiling had begun there with a snap.

Finally on the last ride day it all retracted, the contract rescinded, canceled. A pelting rain bombarded the rooftop at dawn and you didn’t need to stick your nose outside to know it was freezing rain, hovering on the edge of snow.

As Fields used to say, it takes a hard fucker to ride in the cold rain, but a harder fucker still to start in it. Fields still inspires me, not because I’ve acquired any of his mythical hardness, but because whenever I’m waffling on a shitty day I think about the scorn he would have heaped on my head for staying indoors and “riding the trainer.”

“You’ll never get better,” he used to say, “being happy.”

The plan was to ride out to the world’s course, do a loop, go up over the pass, and hurry home. It would take a touch under two hours, I was tired and ready for this twelve days in the dentist’s chair to end.

I had brought neoprene booties, a rain jacket, a crazy warm winter riding jacket, and my knit wool cap from Vienna, but the weak link in the armor was my rather thin pair of gloves. My non-waterproof ones.

This was the morning I decided to explore a new route to Shinrin Park, so it ended up being longer with a bunch of wrong turns stuck out in the rice fields. Halfway there I was frozen. My fingers went numb. All I could think about was the 7-11 at the entrance to the park; the idea of doing the world’s course was discarded, madness.

I got there and went in, dripping pools of ice water everywhere. I drank a cup of coffee. My hands hurt so badly, first the pain of being numb followed by the pain of the blood slowly coming back. I lingered for twenty minutes until I thought I could make it back home before my hands froze over again and rendered my brakes useless.

Outside, the rain had turned to snow, big thick flakes that stung and melted and dripped down into my booties. My toes froze. A bus tailgated me as I hauled ass taking the lane, oncoming traffic spraying me with the dirty frozen bathwater pooling on the surface.

The way home was downhill and direct, no more wayfinding today.

My hands could barely unzip my booties; red, wrinkled claws, the ugly bony fingers of a chattering old man. For the second time today the blood hacked its painful path back into my fingers. I staggered into the bathroom and sank up to my neck in a steaming tub.

There is a perfect symmetry between misery and comfort as it relates to cycling. The more extreme the one, the more intense the other.



The B Ride

April 9, 2019 § 14 Comments

Or, “We had to destroy the ride to save it.”

Thanks to the input and advice from one of the most respected Cat 3 riders in the South Bay, and building on his desire to champion all the B riders out there, I’ve come up with an expanded list of B rides that will all be added to the SoCal group ride calendar, effective immediately.

Telo B Ride: Formerly the toughest, full gas, all out, only-the-strong-survive beatdown training crit around, there will now be a B Telo to encourage riders and help them in their quest to become faster by racing slower. The course will have a diaper changing station, a massage table, a selfie podium to take photos on so you can post to #facegag and #instabrag showing that you were there, whether or not you were actually “there.” B Race Director Karpitt Bagger will debrief finishers with the latest in Connecticut Cat 3 racing stragety.

Donut B Ride: Riders who end up every Saturday #sadface because they #gotdropped can now start five minutes later under the tutelage of Sir Big Boy, the new Donut B Ride Leader. The B Ride will have all of the same climbs but will go at a regulated pace, with a designated encourager and “B Ride Champion-er” to call out helpful advice for stragglers. Cadence, gear selection, and recommended speeds will be broadcast via PA from the sag wagon. Atop each of the climbs there will be a #facegag and #instabrag podium where finishers can snap selfies and post to #socmed in #realtime.

NOW B Ride: Tired of getting shelled at 35 mph on PCH? The NOW B Ride has a speed cap of 21 mph; riders who exceed this speed on PCH, with or without a tailwind, will received a certificate of admonishment and not be allowed to stand on the B Ride traveling selfie podium. Ride Boss Friendly McAngry will sing out appropriate cadences to the tune of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” Riders will climb Pepperdine Hill together, max w/kg output will be 1.4. Riders unable to meet this w/kg threshold to finish with the group will be provided electric bicycles for the climb. The group will stop at the top so that riders can snap selfies on the B Ride #travelingpodium. A #socmed advisor will be on hand to help get the best chin and drippy sweat angle.

Nichols B Ride: Gosh it sucks getting flayed on the wall on Nichols Canyon Drive!!! The new B Ride will offer a cable tow allowing all riders to summit together. From his motorcycle Ride Marshal Big Daddy Dumpling will encourage all B riders to give solid efforts and work hard to achieve their own personal best. A special kudo prize will be given to the rider who uploads first to Strava.

Flog B Ride: Science shows that too much pain too early in the morning is bad for your work productivity. The new Flog B Ride will be one lap instead of six, starting at 7:45. La Cuesta will be deleted as it tends to hurt too many feelings. The B Ride #travelingpodium will be available at Malaga Cove for B riders to snap selfies; doing the one lap is optional. Selfie Director Lumpy Muppet will help with appropriate hashtag placement.

Wheatgrass B Ride: Follow-up surveys show that riders who get blasted out the back up Stathisridge are #sadface and #unappreciative at post-ride coffee. The new Wheatgrass B Ride, led by Ride Martinet Talky McFacebook, will omit Stathisridge, Better Homes, and De Luna and will have regroups at: top of the Reservoir, top of Marymount, bottom of Switchbacks, base of Glass Church, top of Glass Church, base of Hawthorne Sprint, middle of Hawthorne Sprint, and end of Hawthorne Sprint. Climbs up Hawthorne, Monaco, and Whitley Collins will be replaced by a ride in the sag wagon and a team shot on the B Ride #travelingpodium.

NPR B Ride: This ride is simply too dangerous for B egos, who tend to crash out on the rocky potholes and jagged edges of actual competition. The B Ride will have a speed cap and, led by Ride Fuhrer Our Dear Leader, the NPR B Ride will have especial hop-in-wanker corridors that allow droppees to safely shuttle over to the other side of the Parkway and hop back in with the main group, until re-dropped. The B Ride #travelingpodium will be available along with free gels and an electronic signboard showing where you would have placed if you had been really going for it.