The Greatest

October 21, 2019 § Leave a comment

Those who fail to remember their history are doomed to be bike racers.

Because bike racers, at least in the U.S., have zero knowledge of what went before them, to say nothing of the large public at large.

Did you know, for example, that the U.S.A.’s first world champion was an African-American bike racer named Marshall Taylor? Of course you did!

What you may not know is that Taylor’s bike, complete with original sew-up tires, was recently purchased by Hrach Gevrikyan. Hrach, in addition to running one of the finest bike stores in Southern California for decades, has also been a lifelong bicycle collector, so when the chance came to acquire Taylor’s “Pierce” bicycle, Hrach snapped it up and put it in his museum, Vintage Velo.

That’s right. Hrach has a museum, and on November 16 you can join the MVMNT Ride and pedal up to Pasadena to see the bike in person. I know I’ll be there.

The MVMNT Rides started two years ago when Ken Vinson got the idea that he was slow. This idea was confirmed every Tuesday/Thursday on the NPR. So Ken got to thinking, “If I’m slow, I bet a bunch of other people are, too!” Truer words were never thought.

As Ken looked around, he noticed that, fast or slow, cyclists had one thing in common: They didn’t talk much beyond saying, “How’s it going?” “Good, man, you?”

He also noticed that cyclists tend to do the same old rides over and over and over. The opportunities for experiencing new relationships and new communities were few.

As a result Ken created the MVMNT Rides. In addition to being slow, the rides take people all over L.A. at a leisurely pace and introduce them to parts of town they might otherwise not ride in at all, and the rides have been a huge success. It’s amazing how much people talk and laugh when they aren’t puking.

The next MVMNT Ride, on November 16, will be to see the Major Taylor racing bike acquired by Hrach and now installed in his museum. You can even learn your history beforehand by visiting the Major Taylor Association.

“The Pierce 28,” which is the name of the bike, was raced by Taylor in 1897, approximately five years before the invention of Strava. The Pierce 28, with its wooden rims, was designed, built, and given to Taylor by Burns Pierce, a close friend and competitor who was the son of George Pierce, a car manufacturer.

The ride departs in front of Sika’s in Leimert Park http://www.leimertparkvillage.org/venues—retail.html and follows a route to Sycamore Grove Park, where more riders can join the MVMNT. From there the ride goes through South Pasadena to Trader Joe’s, picks up more riders, and then proceeds to Velo Pasadena. For riders who are wondering how slow this ride is going to be, the answer is “you could probably jog it.”

From Leimert Park the entire ride is 42 miles, and should be completed in 72 days or less.

Please visit the MVMNT Ride page on Facebag and indicate that you’re going so that Hrach doesn’t suddenly have to accommodate 10,000 riders, which, because he’s one of the kindest people earth, he probably would.

See you there!

END


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The Pierce 28

The fed state

October 19, 2019 § 8 Comments

There I stood, pink smoothie in hand, alternating between freeze headaches and the pleasure of the cold drink on a hot day. The inside of the McDonald’s had been too cold, and after the glorious reward of a Big Mac, large fries, and DP, There was no better place to bask in the sun and slurp than outside the entrance, next to my bike.

I’d been pedaling for four hours and had earned that Big Mac. The sugar, the salt, the thick grease, the fake vegetables piled into the fake bread were so glorious, a sensation of lovely poison that few things will ever equal. Ravenous hunger slaked with fast food is the second best feeling there is.

As I stood there, a minivan pulled up from the drive thru window and stopped next to me instead of going straight and exiting onto arrow highway. I looked at the driver, who had her arm draped in the door, and her passenger. The lady’s forearm was larger than my thigh and her multi chin spilled onto the enormous pillow growing out of her chest.

Rolls hung off her forehead, and tiny eyes, deeply sunk, briefly took me in. She was about my age and her passenger, perhaps her mother, was equally covered in blankets and layers of natural insulation.

In short, typical McDonald’s customers.

I finished my smoothie and leaned over to unlock my bike. That’s when the front door to the McDonald’s opened and a worker staggered out carrying what can only be described as a modified McDonald’s garbage bag with a big plastic handle. It took both hands and she groaned under the weight of her load.

That’s when I understood what was going on. The lady had ordered so much food that it couldn’t be handed off through the drive thru window, windows that are basically big enough for a horse to walk through. Indeed, the bag was so large that the employee could barely get it into the open window, and it wasn’t helped by the lady’s huge arms.

A wrestling shoving pushing match ensued where they thrust and crammed the bag in between the dash the breasts the arms the chins and the windshield so violently that I actually felt sorry for the dead meat inside the bag.

Of course it could have been accomplished with much less violence by simply opening the massive sliding door and setting the trash bag on the seat but then the patrons wouldn’t have been able to do what came next: shove their fists, and practically their faces, into the trash bag and begin strangling French fries, which they did with the gusto of prisoners breaking a fast.

The implications staggered me. The trash bag meant that this was a regular thing for countless customers. And it was 11:30 AM; there was no way this was their first meal of the day. And the contents had to have cost at least $70. And it’s wasn’t going to be their last meal of the day either, or even of the afternoon.

Our eyes meet ever so briefly, mine shocked, hers defiant. “What are you looking at, boy? Haven’t you ever seen someone eat a trash bag’s worth of junk food?”

When I recounted the story to Wily, he said, “You don’t just get like that. It takes years and years of hard work and tens of thousands of dollars. And you know something else? They have never been hungry.”

“How do you figure? They almost chewed their own fingers off getting those fries into the glory hole.”

“They have never exited the state off being fed. There is never a moment in their lives when their stomachs and intestines haven’t been filled, absolutely filled, with food. You can’t feel real hunger that way, only the psychological craving of the drug.”

“Can we change the name?” I asked.

“Of what?”

“California.”

“To what?”

“The State of Fed.”

END

Bikes can make you Belgian

October 18, 2019 § 2 Comments

We have given out the Belgian Award at our annual award ceremony for several years now. It has typically gone to the man or woman who evinced the kind of relentlessness, toughness, and big miles that bike racers associate with the one-day classics like Paris-Roubaix Tour of Flanders.

This year the award went to a guy named Gary Washington. Gary’s a new kind of Belgian in that he wasn’t chosen because he rode 20,000 miles a year through rain and sleet, or because he pounded for hundreds of miles across dirt and gravel in Dirty Kanza, but because he showed the kind of resilience, commitment, and desire to change his entire life by becoming a committed rider, which is probably the toughest thing of all.

Gary started riding five years ago, after more than thirty years had passed since he pedaled around as a kid on a Schwinn Varsity 10-speed.

He was talking with some friends at the race track when one of them, Gerald Bond, mentioned that he rode a bicycle. Like most non-cyclists, Gary laughed and kidded Gerald about his avocation. “Man, you’re in your 40’s and riding a bicycle? For real?”

But something about his friend’s cycling struck him, so a few months later, after a day at the track when the horses had been especially good to him, Gary went to Sports Authority and plunked down $200 on a Columbia mountain bike. After a little bit of practice, Gary took Gerald up on an invitation to “go for a pedal.”

And we all know what those “friendly invitations” mean …

The two friends rode together for a bit until Gerald decided it was go-time. “Come on,” he said, upping the pace suddenly and then easily riding away. After a long time Gerald slowed and let Gary catch up, exhausted and embarrassed and beat to hell, and at that moment Gary had the realization that so many of us have had at the hands of a “friendly” beatdown.

“NEVER AGAIN,” he said to himself.

Knowing that the only way he’d improve was through practice, Gary took up riding full bore. For the next one hundred consecutive weeks he logged a hundred miles minimum every single week, an astonishing feat of consistency and commitment for someone who had just taken up the sport. The fact that he did it on his $200 MTB showed even more clearly how dedicated he was, and his passion was evident to others–his buddy who’d gotten him into cycling was now suddenly too busy to go out and try to repeat the “friendly” invitation.

Soon another friend began pushing hard for Gary to get a road bike. This friend, Anthony Griffin, also encouraged him to join the local Cali Riderz club, which he did. “Best $1,800 I’ve ever spent,” is Gary’s verdict two years later.

“This sport/hobby has improved my life tremendously,” Gary says. “I used to get the flu between September and March anywhere from 2-3 times every year, but since I started riding I haven’t been sick with the flu in over five years. I used to be quiet and reserved, but I talk all the time now. I used to just go with the flow, but now I’m dedicated to inspiring and motivating others.”

It’s this last part that has taken on a bigger and bigger part of Gary’s life, because he knows that our communities are filled with people who are desperate to change their lives with exercise and better habits, they just don’t know how or where to begin.

“I used to ride to get myself better, but now I want to coach and mentor others so that they can improve and change their lifestyles, like my friends helped me change mine.”

In 2019 Gary is on track to rack up 7,500 miles, and it has been a major commitment on his end because he works evenings and even though that lets him ride in the day, it means he has to go from ride workout to work grind, a tough combo if there ever was one.

With hardman rides like Crystal Lake under his belt, and a 163-miler to San Juan Capistrano and back, he shows no sign of letting up. As with so many people transformed by the bike, Gary’s friends and family support him as well. But unlike riders who will tell you that the hardest part of cycling is increasing wattage or performance gains, for Gary the hardest thing is cycling is “To get others to start riding.”

“That’s the hardest part,” says, “but the part I enjoy the most.”

With mentors like Gerald Bonds, Anthony Griffin, Mike Thompson, Glen Banks, Mark Trumbach, Marty Blount, and countless others who have helped him on the way, Gary keeps pushing on to spread the gospel of the bike. That’s a Belgian tough guy, make no mistake.

END


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Carmaggeddon Day 21: Bike Lawyer

October 17, 2019 § 11 Comments

I sat on the hot asphalt atop the spillway, legs splayed, the fiery sun beating down while a dry wind blew dust over the caked salt that stained my t-shirt and pants. My jaws mechanically chewed dinner, the second of two ham sandwiches, while I intermittently sipped on a dwindling bottle of water.

I gazed out over the bike path that stretched along the L.A. River back towards home. “I’m almost there,” I told myself. “Only 30 miles to go. Or so.”

It wasn’t convincing because 20 of those last 30 miles would be straight into the headwind I’d been battling all day long, and the last five of those miles would involve 1,000 feet of climbing, and the last two of those miles would require getting up two short walls, Basswood and Shorewood, one of which pitched up to 18%. Ish.

So many lessons learned today …

For example, when you have a 130-mile commute and you insist on wearing bike commuter pants instead of cycling shorts, your undercarriage will become, ah, sore. WHO KNEW?

For example, 32-mm tubeless sand tires are great for flat avoidance, but that combined with a tall, heavy ‘cross bike they are poor for speed.

For example, a backpack with a 10-lb. lock and cable, plus food, extra water, paperwork, extra lights, and a jacket starts to weigh about 150 pounds after eight or so hours.

For example, it takes 12 hours to meet with a client and ride from Rancho Palos Verdes in L. A. to Rancho Cucamonga in Riverside County.

For example, in the morning it’s an uphill headwind the whole 65 miles there.

For example, in the late afternoon it’s a headwind the whole 65 miles home.

For example, there are long stretches where it is uphill both ways. Exhausted commuter cyclists will understand.

And yet there were so many amazing parts of the day, for example, hopping off your bike to meet a new bike client and earning the instant respect of a fellow cyclist that you were doing a 130-mile commute to meet with him. Or the quiet beauty of the river trail, passing kestrels as they perched in mid-hunt, watching a snowy egret dabble its yellow foot in the water, or seeing the glow of a gorgeous sunset as you make your way homeward.

The transitions were amazing, too, from elbow-to-bumper, brass-knuckled jockeying in morning rush hour traffic along Vermont to the peaceful hum of tires on the 30-miles of bike trail where it’s just you, your bike, and the other cyclists outside pedaling, same as you are. It was also reassuring to sit in 50 miles of traffic out and back on Arrow Highway and get honked at exactly once, and that by a motorist who may have even been honking friendly.

At times euphoric and moving effortlessly, at others tired and struggling to stay on top of the gear, the undulating ebb and flow in strength, motivation, confidence, and optimism cycled me through every sensation and emotion, and no emotion more intense than the weary satisfaction of pushing my bike over the threshold.

You can’t live without a car in Los Angeles.

You just can’t.

END


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The fake cave

October 16, 2019 § 15 Comments

For some reason cyclists have a variety of descriptors that purport to show how badass they are. “Pain cave” and “in the box” are two of the most common, along with “beast mode,” one of my faves.

However, I’ve noticed an inverse correlation between the use of such terms and the actual badassedness of the rider using them. In fact, the riders who truly do dwell in the “pain cave” never talk about it. They simply post up their ride and let the stats do the talking for them. Or, they don’t post anything at all … you just go with them on a ride and find out that what they’re doing is different from what you are doing.

To go along with truth in advertising laws, I’m recommending that cyclists start using the following phrases to indicate what their ride was really like so that co-workers, family members, and people standing in line at the convenience store won’t mistake them for anything more than what they are: Ordinary middle-aged men riding overpriced plastic toys in expensive underwear.

  1. Cupcake Mode. This is the mode you are always in. You crumble easily, you are prettily decorated, and you contain zero hard minerals.
  2. Candyass: Whenever you get the urge to say “badass,” say this in its place.
  3. In the Gentleness Cave. This is what happens the moment you feel any discomfort: You begin to pedal gently, or better yet, stop and have a Gu, check your text messages, snap a selfie.
  4. To smurf (v.): Use instead of the verb “suffer” to describe the slowing, cutesy pace you default to whenever the speed picks up, the road tilts up, it starts to sprinkle, or one of your gadgets begins beeping because you might eventually leave Zone 6.
  5. Quarter gas: Replaces “full gas,” a term you normally use to describe those efforts when you are being pummeled trying to keep up with some grandpa in floppy dickhiders and tennis shoes on the bike path.
  6. On the sofa: Cyclists who have never ridden a saddle with rivets love to say “on the rivet” to indicate how hard they were going, when instead their data shows they did a 22-mile pancake ride, took selfies, fiddled with their water bottles, and got a flat.
  7. Slob: Ersatz for “Clydesdale,” a word that obese and unfit riders use to describe their bad condition by making it sound like they are mighty draught animals doing heroic labor.
  8. With the wankers: You’ll often hear someone who got shelled hard and early from the group ride drag ass up to the regroup and say they were “in the grupetto,” as if the gaggle of quitters he was riding with are somehow analogous to the Tour riders who, after getting dropped on Mont Ventoux, band together to make the time cut.
  9. Tweezle: “We hammered” always means “we rode weakly in little gears.” Tweezle is the word.
  10. Slug season: Use this instead of “off season” because either a) You don’t race so the whole year is “off season,” b) You are “peaking” for a masters race in June and pretending that the remaining 11.5 months are part of a training plan, or c) Bacon.
  11. NSS: Tell people about your “Narcissist Strava Score” instead of your “Training Stress Score” because all that time on #socmed is, well, you know exactly what it is.

I’m sure there are lots more, feel free to add!

END


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Fear the Schier

October 15, 2019 § 4 Comments

The thing about cycling is that you never know what you’re going to get, besides an ass beating.

It was 5:30 AM, pointy-sharp. There was exactly one person with bad enough judgment to be waiting on the stoop of CotKU. “I heard there was a ride,” he said.

I peered into the backlight thrown out from the coffee shop. All I could make out was a shaggy beard, a shitty bike, hairy legs, and a friendly voice. If it had been lighter I would have instantly noticed the worn handlebar tape, the scuffed shoes, the not-so-clean chain, and all the components that shrieked “We are ridden.”

We picked up Marc Coralle and Todd at the bridge at exactly 5:50. By “picked up” I mean we kept on riding and they scrambled to catch up. Shaggy at least knew a few things, or at least one thing, which was the only thing worth knowing: Shut up and stay at the back.

Marc is a lying Frenchman, redundant, and funny af. He had been trash talking the ride on the ‘Bag and insisted that the first person up Deer Creek was going to get the other guy’s light.

“What do you mean ‘other’”? I’d asked. “Sounds like you think it’s just going to be you and me.”

“It’s just going to be you and me,” he said confidently. “And I like your light. I need a new one.”

The last and only other time we’d gone up Deer Creek, a 2.5-mile, 11% monster, I’d had to turn myself inside out to catch and drop him. That boded poorly for today because the prior week I’d had the advantage of knowing the climb.

Marc’s lying was exceptional. He pretended to be a new cyclist and to his credit had a bit of the Freddie in him. But the more you quizzed him about his background, the more you realized he knew his shit, something confirmed by even a casual glance at his legs. His dad had been a “serious amateur” in France who had won “16 pretty major races” and who was headed for a “professional team” before he made a “different career choice.”

In other words, Marc had grown up from earliest infancy in and around bike racing in Brittany, the home of Bernard Hinault, though Marc pretended to know nothing about it until you got him talking, which I had. “So did you ride much as a kid?”

“Oh, never, I mean just a little but never competitively or like racing or anything.”

“That’s funny, your dad being a top amateur and everything. In France.”

“Well we rode a little.”

“A little?”

“Yes, just a little. My first time out we were coming down a hill and he started sprinting me. We were almost at the finish and he slammed my bars hard and sent me off into the ditch.”

“Sounds about right.”

“I was scared and mad but you know what he said?”

“What?”

“If you want to win a bike race you better be ready to kill your own mother.”

“Not to mention your son.”

“Exactly.”

So inexperienced Marc only knew about sprinting, ditches, and competition to the death, and after getting worked over the prior week I knew that this morning would be more of the same.

Todd and Marc took turns sitting with me on the front while Shaggy, whose real name is Michael Schier, sat at the back. At Trancas Todd realized he had a very important 10:00 Saturday morning appointment he had to get back to.

“Shaggy is sandbagging,” Marc advised, an interesting insight from someone who knows nothing about cycling. “When we hit Deer Creek he will leave you like a stranger drowning in a bog.”

We hit Deer Creek and in fact, that is what happened, only Marc left with him. As they zoomed by I noticed that Shaggy had a gear combo just about perfect for the climb, maybe a 32 on the front and a 28 on the back. I don’t think his cadence ever dropped below 80.

About a quarter of the way up I saw Michael shake Marc loose.

I went as hard as I could which wasn’t nearly hard enough, but it was nonetheless a happy moment to watch Marc hand over his light to Shaggy, who didn’t even have a headlight but instead had been riding in the pitch dark with a tiny white blinky strapped to his handlebars.

On the way back we suffered like dogs.

END


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Up in smoke

October 14, 2019 § 6 Comments

The great awful horriblemendous smoke storm wildfire season of October 11, 2019, will never be forgotten. By me, anyway.

A big fire broke out Friday in the San Fernando Valley, which is like saying it broke out in Utah.

Fires, if you have ever heard of global warming, are now a permanent fixture on earth and especially in Southern California in October. (Note to John Candy Trumpers and people whose environmental statement is a Lamborghini: They are going to worsen.)

Where there is wildfire, there is smoke, and where there is smoke and cycling, there is bad air quality, which is why on Friday afternoon my phone started to rattle non-stop. People who I rarely if ever ride with began bombarding me with air quality maps and texts to watch out, be careful, consider not going north. One friend showed his commitment to clean lungs by riding all day Saturday with a facemask.

Another friend, in a blue panic, wondered if I were truly crazy enough to stick with my mad, suicidal plan to ride north on Saturday. I affirmed that I was.

Unsurprisingly, at 5:30 AM when I drifted over to CotKU, there was only one person waiting. I knew this had nothing to do with the air quality and everything to do with:

  1. 5:30 AM.
  2. Deer Creek, the hardest climb in the Santa Monica Mountains, which was on the menu.

Several riders had already sent 5:00 AM panicky smoke-alert-so-can’t-ride texts disguising, or trying to disguise, the real message: It’s-too-hard-a-ride-so-gonna-breathe-the-bad-air-elsewhere-going-slower.

Because if you live in LA and cycle, and if air quality is a real concern of yours, you don’t cycle. One rider texted me to say he wasn’t going north because it “seemed unhealthy.” I thought about all the hotshot crews out fighting the actual fires and wondered if it seemed unhealthy to them, too. It turns out that if you are a wildfire firefighter, and you are right there in the thickest of the thick smoke, especially in the smoke after what’s called “initial attack,” your risk of heart and lung disease + cancer goes up about 25%, more if you do it for more than ten years.

Sounds like a great reason to abandon your plans to go ride up Deer Creek, especially since you weren’t planning on doing it anyway.

But there’s a problem. If you cycle here, you cycle in America’s most polluted air, and that has nothing to do with a localized wildfire over in the San Fernando Valley. How bad is the air in Los Angeles? It’s so bad that the only way to feel good about it is to remember that even though it’s the worst air in America, it’s less worse than it was in the 70’s. “Less worse.” But not by all that much.

Oh, and something else. The horrific air quality here that is shortening your lifespan every breath you take isn’t caused by burning trees and brush. It’s caused by your car. Yes, yours. I’m talking to you. Your car, not San Fernando’s wildfire, is fucking it up. So rather than sending out alerts about air quality, why not quit driving? Or take the bus?

Answer: Because few cyclists here care anything about air quality, and by “care” I mean “do something about it” and by “do something about it” I mean “drive less.”

On the day in question that I was repeatedly warned of the hazards to my health, I followed up with those who had warned me, and learned that they’d ridden anyway, just not north. Instead, they’d ridden south, where I live, and where, due to prevailing winds, the stink was actually worse. The coast road all along Malibu and the climb up Deer Creek was marked with some of the bluest skies I’ve seen all year.

END


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