Where have I heard this before?

October 8, 2015 § 27 Comments

Cruising the ‘Bag yesterday I ran across a strong statement about the superiority of handmade Italian carbon frames. The writer was pimping Cipo’s new brand, which has the amazing benefit of being 100% fully made completely in Italia, and it is all Italian. The writer went on to say “You can feel a substantial difference between hand made Italian and the Asian made stuff.” For a minute I wasn’t sure the subject was still bicycles.

But he brought me ’round when he said “Specialized, Trek, Cannondale — wish they could say that #notchinese.” Then things came hot and heavy and illiterate with this gem:

“… to say Taiwan isn’t part of China is like saying Texas isn’t part of the US, both think there independent but in reality there not. The point is about Quality and workmanship. Nobody way back in 1998 said were sending our production to Taiwan/China because the workmanship is better, it was to increase profits with cheap labor. I have a few Asian bikes other then my felt’s and they ride fine, I might be wrong but made in Taiwan was not much of a selling point… BTW- I’ve shot over 15,000 x-rays on all manufactures and there is a distinct difference in workmanship with the big box Asian brands the smaller Euro brands. I’m pretty sure I’ve x-rayed more carbon then any man alive and can tell the subtle difference between the quality & run of the mill brands.”

So while the author trumpeted the awesomeness of Italian racing frames, a market they once owned and now have a tiny sliver of an itsy bitsy percent, I was left to try and understand what the fuck he was talking about. And then I got it! I’d heard it all before! Just substitute “Asian stuff” (because Asia is one place with one nationality), “China,” “Taiwan,” and “run of the mill brands” with the word “Japanese” and we’ll go right back to the early 1980’s–without even needing a flux capacitor.

Once upon a time …

The Japanese entered the U.S. market with transistor radios, courtesy of Akio Morita and SONY. In a short while they destroyed the U.S. market, first with products that were as good and cheaper than ours, and later with products that were much better, more innovative, and more expensive. Remember the Walkman? The PlayStation? Bet you’ve never owned a Sylvania TV.

The little Asian people who were only good at copying and ripping off the smart white man quickly proved his equal, then his superior, in the entire field of electronics.

Then Honda and Toyota got in on the act. They first had an uphill struggle even finding people willing to sell their cars, and the first Japanese vehicles I saw in Texas were labeled “rice rockets,” “rice burners,” or simply “ricers.” By the way, these are all considered pejorative, racist terms. As with transistor radios, Americans quickly chose cheap, reliable, efficient quality over the shitbombs that ‘Mercan ingenuity flung from the anus of mighty Detroit. Remember Lee Iacocca’s “The K cars are here!”

Hahahahahaha! NO, THEY AREN’T.

So the Japanese first knocked down our electronics and motorcycle and automotive markets with competitive pricing and competitive quality, then eviscerated it with vastly superior, innovative products that carried a luxury premium while Chrysler has been sold around to foreign automakers like a rusty old Colnago on e-Bay. Toyota is now the largest automaker in the world, and the first two Nobel prizes doled out in 2015, for medicine and physics, went to Japanese scientists. That makes a tally of 24 for the “copycat” race, by the way.

What happened?

What happened is simple. White people couldn’t fathom that “Asians” were able to learn, imitate, improve, and innovate. So what if they invented gunpowder, the compass, and Hello Kitty? When the ugly reality of WE’RE NUMBER ONE became a mantle assumed by Japanese carmakers, (number two is now German, give or take a secret piece of exhaust software), the former masters of the universe drowned their beaten pride in “classic car shows” and automotive memorabilia that glorifies some of the worst, ugliest, and poorest performing vehicles ever made: The “muscle car.”

So it’s no surprise that we have people like the ‘Bag poster dissing on Asian bikes while he reps Cipo frames on the side, and that he thinks “China and Taiwan” are just like “Texas and America.” It’s no surprise because racism and prejudice run deep, and when your “inferiors” kick your ass, take your markets, and scoop up your Nobel prizes, the best that most people can do is namecall and rest on laurels that haven’t meant squat since the first major American bike manufacturers began producing in China and Taiwan.

Why Taiwanese carbon bikes are the best

Actually, they aren’t. That’s because there is no “best.” Bikes are made to do a variety of things, and no single manufacturer does all of those things better than every other manufacturer. The U.S. handmade bike industry is proof positive that small shops with skilled craftsmen can satisfy many thousands of customers. And steel is not only real, it is one of many materials, along with bamboo, that has proven its mettle in the real world of real biking.

But Taiwan is the indisputable center of carbon fiber bike manufacturing technology, and its base is built on the world’s best carbon fiber which, if you want to name names, is made by Toray Corp. … a Japanese company, not an Italian one.

People like the ‘Bag poster can point to crummy carbon bikes that come out of China and Taiwan, but so what? Crummy cars come out of Italy, crummy cars come out of Japan, crummy cell phones come out of China, and crummy everything comes out of the U.S.A. This only points to market segmentation, not to bad products at the top. As surely as some Chinese manufacturers make shitty bikes, others make world class ones.

Do you really think that Apple uses Foxconn because they make a bad product? And do you really think that top of the line Specialized, Felt, Giant, and Cannondale bikes are anything other than superlative? Because if you do, you’re going to have to come up with something more objective than “there is a distinct difference in the workmanship.” Please do share some of these 15,000 scans with us and compare apples to apples. And then show us how those “differences in workmanship” which you can only see with a flux capacitor x-ray MRI electron scanning microscope translate into performance, durability, comfort, or aesthetic differences.

And this is what gets the “Made in Italia” people’s goat: China and Taiwan (and before them Japan) entered “our” markets with products that had a high cost/quality compromise, and now dominate the market across all segments, from entry level to expert.

Nor is the story limited to bikes, cars, and electronics. Canon and Nikon are all there is in the world of cameras; everything else is a tiny little asterisk, and the Germans haven’t gotten over that, either.

Code word: Bigot

Using words like “Asian stuff” and conflating Taiwan and China is racist. Taiwanese speak a language that is unintelligible to speakers of standard Beijinghua; it’s called “Taiwanese.” Taiwan has a completely different political system, a radically different history, and a totally distinct economy from China. Just because the writer is too stupid, too lazy, and too prejudiced to know the difference between Taiwan and China doesn’t mean that Italian bikes are better. It just means that he is stupid, lazy, and prejudiced. Oh, and the Taiwanese use traditional kanji rather than the simplified ones introduced by the communists, so the writing is different, too.

In other words, not the same as “Texas and the USA.”

The market is screaming at you, glad you’re listening

Ultimately, the “Made in Italia” hard-on that Cipo’s bikes are using to try and get a tiny sliver of the U.S. racing market is a good thing. The customer, who’s apparently lots more discriminating than an x-ray, has told Italy that their bikes suck. People don’t want to pay a premium for something that’s inferior, or that is only marginally better for an astonishingly bigger cost, which is why the Italian bike making industry has dried up and mostly blown away. It’s why Campagnolo is now a niche product and it’s why Shimano and SRAM dominate.

But it’s disingenuous to take a technology that was perfected in “Asia” and whose products saturate the global bike frame market and claim that this is somehow Italian, even when the brand is Mario Cipollini, a guy who doesn’t make, has never made, and will never make a bike. Italy has given the world some great things, and forgetting bikes for a moment, has given us the most wonderful food known to man: Pasta.

Oh, sorry. That too was originally MADE IN CHINA.



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Unscientific bike racing survey results posted here!

October 7, 2015 § 13 Comments

A few months ago we did a SurveyMonkey questionnaire and got a whopping 634 responses.

The point behind the survey was to get some information that we could use to focus efforts in 2016, or at least to argue about. The methodology we used accorded with the Half-Assed Sampling Method developed by Reader’s Digest the year they predicted an overwhelming victory for Dewey over Truman.

The results are here; peruse them at your peril.

If anyone out there in Internet Land is a number cruncher, hit me up and I’ll provide you with the raw data so that you can tell us what it all really means, aside from GIGO.



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If you believe in karma …

October 6, 2015 § 16 Comments

Sometimes I ride my bicycle to run errands. I put on my hipster pants and black hipster socks and hipster shoes, slap on my flat pedals, shoulder my hipster bag, and pedal around to the various grocery stores trying to save a buck here on pork tenderloins, a dollar there on vine-ripened tomatoes, and a few cents on eggs.

[Note to shoppers: The Hanmi Korean Mart on Sepulveda and 235th has the cheapest fruits and vegetables and tofu.]

After picking up a lemon, a box of tofu, and a tomato, I rode down Sepulveda to the Marukai to grab a bottle of Bulldog sauce. As I swung into the driveway off Hawthorne, a very busy lady talking on her iPhone 6s Massive decided that rather than waiting for me to enter, she would pass me then slam on the brakes and get into the parking lot first.

I’m pretty sure she never really saw me despite my blinding rear light and bright orange helmet.

I slowed down and let her chop the shit out of me; she was obviously in a real hurry and had something important to do. She raced through the parking lot, nearly clocking an old lady loaded with groceries, and jammed her car, nose first, into one of the slots right in front of the grocery cart rack. A few seconds later I pedaled up and noted that after nearly killing me and speeding through the lot, heedless of pedestrians, she was now continuing her breezy chat and had no plans to get out of the car anytime soon.

So much for the big hurry.

Before I could nestle my bike against the return cart cage I had to first move a shopping cart that someone had been too lazy to place in the rack. Instead, they had pushed it against the outside of the cage, and the only thing keeping it from slipping down the slight gradient and into the parking lot was the front wheel, which had been lodged against one of the poles.

My bike in one hand and my backpack in the other, I gently moved the cart over, planning to first lock my bike and then properly return the cart. I turned my back for a second to clamp down the u-lock, and glanced over my shoulder in time to see the flying basket launch off the curb into the grill of the chatty lady’s black, shiny, brand new Mercedes. It made a horrific smashing sound and dented the shit out of her grill.

She jumped out of the car and I braced myself for the verbal attack, already calculating what it was going to cost me to replace the new grill on an S-class Mercedes. $50?

But the attack never came. The woman had been so engrossed in her conversation that she hadn’t seen me dislodge the cart. “Can you believe it?” she yelled. “Some stupid bitch left the cart out like that!”

“Oh, wow,” I said sympathetically. “Looks like it trashed your grill.”

She spun around, inspecting the damage. “Oh my god! This car is brand new! That stupid bitch! Did you see who left the cart here?”

“No, I sure didn’t.”

“I can’t believe people!” she yelled. “They don’t give a shit, you know that? They just don’t care at all! Careless irresponsible stupid assholes!”

I nodded in total agreement.

“My husband’s going to kill me,” she hissed. Then she grabbed the cart, jerked it back onto the curb, and rammed it back up against the outside of the cage, where, with the slightest jostle, it would again run amok into the lot and smash up someone else’s car. “You should have been paying attention! Why didn’t you stop it?”

“I’m really sorry, ma’am,” I said. “I was locking up my bike.”

She stared contemptuously at my rig and spun on her heel towards her car. “Roads are for cars!” she snapped. The cart came unhitched again and started for the curb. I grabbed it. “Here, ma’am,” I said. “Let me put this up for you.”

She slammed the car door, squealed out backwards, and drove off. I gently returned the cart to its proper place and gave it a loving pat.



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The best water I ever drank

October 5, 2015 § 20 Comments

I used to live in the northern part of the Texas Panhandle, up by the Canadian River breaks in the town of Miami, population 588, largest and only town in a county of more than a thousand square miles. The country was rugged and its beauty took getting used to, and I suppose some people never got used to it, including some of those who had lived there for generations.

The people were inward looking, they stuck together, they suffered strangers when it suited them, and there was no problem they couldn’t blame on the government or cure through prayer. Yet they had a hard humanity about them too, and would help you whether you deserved it or not because you were a person and they knew that sooner or later every human gets in a bind and needs a hand.

The bike rides up there were the loneliest I have ever done. The minimal distance was 25 miles, a big square from Miami south up the big hill, out of the breaks and onto the plains, then after six ramrod straight miles a left, then after another six straight miles another left, and then you’d drop back down into the breaks and make another left onto the highway, and it was six miles back to town.

It was lonely out there and not just because in twenty-five miles you’d see one car, sometimes less. There were a handful of old barns stuck out on the plains, collapsing wooden ghosts moored to the earth, reminders of things that had begun big and gradually been worn into defeat by time and money and the wind.

And nothing was lonelier than that prairie wind. It rarely blew less than twenty miles an hour, and big winds of thirty or forty weren’t rare; those were the days that you just stayed indoors. By yourself, the occasional hawk seated high on a utility pole, the ferocious wind trying to blow you to a standstill, no cars, no people, pushing the pedals as hard as you could to make it to the turn where you’d at least have a vicious crosswind rather than a headwind … those were hard and lonely rides.

For variety it only got worse. You could cut over to Old Mobeetie and come back via Canadian, a solid seventy miles of solitude, or you could go north through the breaks and circle back through Pampa for a similar distance that was slower because of the hills. I often believed that nothing good ever came out of any of those rides. No good friendships, no good experiences, no good memories, nothing but wind and heat, or wind and biting cold, numb slogs that gave nothing, left nothing, meant nothing.

One hot summer day before I left to do the Pampa loop the first time, my neighbor rolled down the window in his air-conditioned pickup. “It’s too hot for that,” he said.

“You’re probably right.”

“And you ain’t got near enough water.”

“I have two bottles,” I replied, pointing to the bike.

“I got eyes, but you ain’t getting to Pampa on no two water bottles, and there ain’t a drop in between here and there.”

“Have a good day, Clyde,” I said.

He nodded and rolled up the window; I rode off.

Twenty-five miles in I was out of water and it was over a hundred degrees. I hit a sublime level of thirst, desert thirst. I passed a stock tank with cattle crowded around it and thought about trekking the two hundred yards into the field, but it would be filled with goatheads, the water wouldn’t be potable, and the bulls might gore me.

I pedaled on, ten miles to go before I hit the outskirts of Pampa. The wind was hot and relentless and in my face, sucking me completely and terminally dry. Not a car passed, not a truck, and nothing but fields.

After forever I saw a farm house. It was at the end of a drive that was itself about a quarter mile long. I pedaled down it, caked in dust and dirt and my tongue swollen like a giant bone-dry pickle. There was a truck at the end of the drive, so I dismounted and knocked on the door.

An old boy opened it and looked through the screen as if every afternoon a cyclist stopped by out here in a part of the world where I’d never even seen another bicycle. “Yes?” he asked.

“Could I get some water from your hose?”

“I suppose so,” he said.

I walked over to the side of the house where the green hose was perfectly coiled. I turned on the tap and out spurted a jet of boiling hot water. I let the hot water run out and waited a few seconds until it turned from hot to ice cold. Then I turned the nozzle into my mouth and drank from it, deeply.

No draught of water ever tasted that good before. Or since.



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Where have all the titans gone?

October 3, 2015 § 18 Comments

I showed up for the fancy trial lawyers’ mixer in Santa Monica lathered up in sweat. Apparently no one else had ridden a bicycle for 22 miles to get there, and adding to the sweat and smell were my jeans and button-down shirt in the sea of $2,000 black and blue Italian suits.

I sidled up to a table, my tiny plate piled high with beef empanadas, guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream.

“You know, you can always go back for seconds,” said the large man next to me, who had daintily placed a single empanada on his plate.

“You go through enough buffets with bike racers and learn pretty quick to get it all the first time through,” I said.

He didn’t understand that, but he understood the splat of bright red sauce that came shooting out the end of my empanada and forming the world’s finest Rorschach test on the front of my shirt. Everyone else tried to look away in embarrassment, not for me, but for being at my table.

I was midway through a massive chew. “This shit is so good,” I said, mouth full and open as I gazed at the Rorschach, “that I’m going to take some of it home with me.”

No one laughed.

People couldn’t leave because all the other tables were full; they were those standing tables without chairs, but the large dainty eater finally went back for seconds and another guy took his place. He didn’t seem to care about my Rorschach. We got to talking and immediately hit it off. His name was Adam Miller. A few years older than me, he was from Chicago, and when he found out that I’d attended the first desegregated school in Galveston, Booker T. Washington Elementary in 1968, he said this. “Your parents sound like they were rather liberal.”

“They were,” I said. “And are.”

“And the apple?” he asked. “Did it fall far from the tree.”

“Yes, it did,” I replied. “Two or three whole millimeters.”

He smiled, and told me about his father, Jay Miller, a giant in the 60’s who was the head of the Illinois ACLU until 2000. A person who knew him well said this: “He thought that our constitution wasn’t worth the paper it was written on unless it protected every American, rich or poor, black or white, Latino or Caucasian, male or female.”

Then he told me about his amazing mother, Joyce Miller, the first woman elected to the board of the AFL-CIO. On the issue of women’s difficulty getting admitted to the building trades, she summed things up thus: “Employers will say that no real woman wants to work in overalls. The truth is that no real woman wants to starve.”

Then I told him about my dad, a West Texas fundamentalist Baptist born on a cattle ranch outside of Alpine who found atheism in college about the time he also discovered the issue around which his life would be built–civil rights. The Austin stand-ins that desegregated the drag on Guadalupe took him on a path to a civil rights career that included testimony before Congress, expert testimony in voting rights cases that earned a citation by the Supreme Court in the City of Mobile single-member district case, and an unwavering, lifelong support for the underdog.

Adam and I looked at each other for a minute, oblivious to the suits and the dainty plates. “Where,” I asked, “have all the titans gone?”

He nodded. “Where, indeed?”



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USADA bans Washington, Oregon, and California for doping violations

October 2, 2015 § 30 Comments

With the scourge of doping threatening to ruin our sport, USADA has finally gotten serious about the problem. Swooping in at this year’s Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, the drug testers snared a competitor who tested positive for cannabinoid metabolites, a/k/a marijuana, dope, pot, weed, Mary Jane, ganja, bomb, blunt, zambi, jive stick, juja, khayf, kickstick, kilter, yeh, twist, atshitshi, babysitter, bobo bush, fu, greeter, Indian hay, instaga, Jefferson Airplane, hot stick, and yerba.

Cycling in the South Bay sat down with new USA Cycling chief Derek Bouchard-Hall to talk about the new emphasis on clean competition.

CitSB: So, barely on the job for a month and you’ve already made a strong anti-doping statement?

DBH: Yep.

CitSB: Care to elaborate?

DBH: We’ve got a zero tolerance policy for drugs. Starting today.

CitSB: And you’re going after pot smokers?

DBH: Absolutely.

CitSB: Why?

DBH: Have you ever seen “Reefer Madness“? Marijuana is destroying our country. It has been proven to make people insane.

CitSB: Right. But this is amateur bike racing we’re talking about. Everyone involved is already insane.

DBH: Exactly. And it’s because of all the marijuana they consume.

CitSB: What about its performance enhancing effects?

DBH: It’s been proven that a single puff on a marijuana cigarette adds 320 watts to your top end.

CitSB: It has?

DBH: That’s not all. It aids breathing, recovery, clear thinking, dieting, makes you extremely aggressive, defeats procrastination, and makes you extremely goal-oriented and organized. The performance benefits are undeniable.

CitSB: Okay. So where are the enforcement efforts going to be greatest?

DBH: Given our limited dollars for drug testing, we’re going to focus on Cat 3/4 women.

CitSB: Why?

DBH: Women are statistically more likely than men to cheat.

CitSB: On their husbands?

DBH: No, doping. Lance got his first can of testosterone from a woman bodybuilder.

CitSB: Can of testosterone?

DBH: Yes. He started with cans of Deca-Durabolin and before you know it he’s bonging up on EPO and finally mainlining marijuana leaves. It all starts with the women.

CitSB: Gotcha. So, crack down on Cat 3/4 women pot smokers. Anything else?

DBH: Yes. We’ve prepared provisional bans for all of Washington, Oregon, California, New York, and Austin. There are some very bad marijuana addicts in Austin. Tom somebody, Jack I think is the other guy’s name, and Phil.

CitSB: Tom, Jack, and Phil?

DBH: Yes. But the jig is up. And we’re going to ban them for life.

CitSB: I notice you left Colorado off the list.

DBH: Yes, I did.

CitSB: Any particular reason?

DBH: We’ve done an informal survey here at the office. Colorado has some of the lowest marijuana injection and addiction rates in the country, as well as the strictest marijuana laws in the nation with the stiffest penalties.

CitSB: Ah, who gave you that info?

DBH: Oh, my staff. All of them.

CitSB: Uh-huh. Well, good luck.

DBH: Thank you.



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1k to go

September 30, 2015 § 30 Comments

This isn’t going to end well, Head Down James I’ve got, no problem, he’ll flog himself and explode like a can of tomato paste in the microwave and he’ll be happy with the flogging and last place because he initiated, rode, and drove the break, that guy’s head is made of concrete which is why he’s so loved you can pour words over his head like a bucket of water but not a one will ever sink in and there’s no hope with Davy he goes on the list of “never beaten” and “never even held his wheel when he kicks” and no fuggin’ wonder he’s the masters national kilo champ and he hasn’t taken a single pull since bridging and he’s licking his chops the real problem is Sausage he also goes on the “never beaten never even close” list he’s got a ferocious kick and worse than that he’s smart but at least I’m on his wheel and not vice versa nine hundred to go and boom there goes Head Down James launching off Davy’s wheel now it’s Sausage, me, and Davy and Head Down James is opening a nice little gap but he won’t be able to sustain it on this riser but whoa now Sausage is on the front and he’s slowed way down he’s not chasing his teammate except it’s LaGrange so he eventually will and plus Sausage is no dummy he’ll never in a million years sprunt from the front I get it these wankers are waiting for me to close the gap yeah, perfect, I close, Head Down blows, and Davy beats Sausage or maybe Sausage gets real lucky and beats Davy but anyway I’ll be left dangling fuck it I’ve never won out of a break ever ever ever not in thirty years and now I’m stuck with two sprinters eight hundred to go Head Down’s gap isn’t growing his speed will crater any minute but Sausage is going so slow it won’t matter and Head Down will take the win this is maddening I’ve ridden the break the last two laps exactly like Daniel said don’t be the strongest guy in the break make sure we don’t get caught but don’t be the stud still the math isn’t here one slow old hairy legged guy never beats a kilo champ and a sprinter seven hundred to go well I’m not chasing that fucker isn’t that what Derek said sometimes you just have to be content with someone else winning because if you go it’s not gonna be you and he also said patience and holding back at the end is the hardest but you have to wait for the other guy to flinch six hundred to go I can see Davy’s shadow and Sausage just went up a gear so he’s ready for the jump better upshift too and he thinks it’s gonna be me but he knows it might also be Davy boom there’s the sound of Davy’s whole bike groaning under 1800 watts five hundred to go shit here comes Davy off my wheel shit Sausage was totally ready shit this hurts shit they’re pulling away shit go go go shit I’ve got Sausage’s back wheel oh man this hurts but is Sausage gonna get Davy’s wheel three hundred to go shit he got Davy boom Head Down’s blown we’re passing him like a bullet train passing a tree now Davy’s fading no way oh yes way he’s been conventioning at Eurobike and Interbike and hasn’t been training of course two hundred to go boom there goes Sausage but closing to Davy has hurt him he doesn’t have his usual kick go now attack his rear wheel and shear off into the wind at the last minute oh man one hundred to go there’s the finishing tree Sausage is staring over in disbelief with the you need to pee-in-a-cup look now I’m flying past him damn this is sweet should I raise my arms hell yes but it’s just the stupid NPR yeah but everyone’s looking so rub their noses in it arms up and don’t fred out and crash oh that feels good just keep them up, fingers spread, palms out, forever.



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