BWR technical tips: The devil’s in the dirty details

March 20, 2018 § Leave a comment

I know it’s too late. “The hay is in the barn,” as G$ likes to say. However, you’re still signed up for the BWR, so rather than exhort you to train more, which won’t help, I’ve solicited some advice about the technical aspects of actually riding it.

As a matter of accuracy, the wider the tire, the better for the dirt sections. You can go faster in the dirt with 32mm tires than with 28mm or 25mm, as the skinnier tires don’t float like the wider ones and tend to dig down into the dirt, especially on very loose sand. The problem is that when you get to the road on the wider tires, the rolling resistance becomes an issue… for nearly 100 miles.

In other words, pick your poison. Is it a road ride that you need to be able to ride dirt on? Or is it a dirt ride connected by brief segments of pavement?

After two recon rides thus far for 2018, with many different kinds of riders and bikes, a few patterns have emerged which follow a hallowed trend. The rides start out quickly and everyone seems overly eager to hit it hard, which inevitably comes back to haunt them 50, 60, 80 miles in, when those same enthusiasts are bonking, cramping, seeking a fifth diaper change, or otherwise looking for a shortcut home.

The trick is pacing. Isn’t it always? Yet other things come into play, too. The more comfortable you are in the dirt sections, the more energy you can save for the road. If you are fighting your bike in the sand for extended periods of time, you are burning matches you will need later, matches without which the cigar will never ever get lit.

Eating and drinking are such a key factor, yet people still forget to eat or drink. This is a common phenomenon in racing and affects pros as well a beginners. By the time you’re hungry, you’re being eaten.

Worse, riders lose water bottles in the dirt and then they need to somehow find liquid along the way or make it on their hands and knees to the next anti-death aid station. Having properly functioning cages is something half the people don’t have. Also, people don’t eat or drink in the dirt sections, because… they can’t. Once through the initial couple of dirt sections, riders are now at Mile 26 and haven’t consumer much of anything, and are faced immediately with a 5-mile climb which has some really steep pitches. You put off drinking and then the dehydration leads to dessication and DNF. Waiting too long to eat or drink will have devastating impacts later on, so do both at regular intervals.

Riders also need to be prepared for flats and be ready to fix them on their own despite the event having roving mechanics on the dirt sections and many on-course support vehicles. As many as half the riders will flat, and as many as half will be flummoxed by the physics of tire removal. Another half will not have enough tubes. The final 50% will run out of CO2 cartridges, and the last half will take this as an omen from Dog that they should sag their way back to the start/finish for fresh beer and treats.

Proper gearing is different for everyone, but the BWR is not the time to slap on the 11-23 and “man up.” Many riders fail to have as big a rear cog as they are going to need, and it often means one that you could bake a pizza on. The problem is that when fresh it’s easier to muscle a bigger gear up a steep climb, but once fatigued, injured, starving, dehydrated, bonked, cramping, and delirious, we need more gearing or a motor to negotiate the 20% plus inclines. At the very end, Double Peak hits 23% at its steepest, offering the thrill of victory as you spin up it, or, as in 2017, the ignominy of having to dismount and walk their bikes up a road climb.

One other issue people aren’t prepared for is the fatigue of riding the dirt and braking a lot. Their arms and hands get tired, which can lead to further overall fatigue, or worse, they crash. When you’re considering equipment, if disc brakes are an option, go with them. They will greatly reduce brake fatigue on your hands and allow a much more precise application of braking. This results in less energy wasted getting back up to speed as well.

Lastly, those who are prepared to go it alone mentally and physically are the ones who will have the most rewarding ride, even if that simply means surviving. Being prepared for the last half of the ride going into a headwind is as much mental as it is physical, because you do so much strenuous climbing and dirt riding on the way out and then start descending back to Bandy Canyon, but it’s all into a headwind. Once at Sandy Bandy and every section thereafter until Double Peak is more or less into a headwind. Riders should seek to work with other riders for much of this and not be tempted to leave others behind or get left behind, because riding in a group can save enough matches to get you from the Oasis up the long final ascent to Double Peak.

The Zwartenberg a/k/a Black Canyon

It’s back, and it’s darker and longer than ever for Wafflers. This year it has a unique challenge, the Canyon King of the Canyon Challenge, sponsored by Canyon Bikes. This consists of two sectors’ worth of suffering and it’s basically the entire length of Black Canyon on the way out, which goes up, down, and then a long up. On the way back, once riders get to the bottom of the Sutherland Damberg descent, there is another segment that goes back up and then down the opposite way riders did it earlier in the day on Black Canyon. If a rider doesn’t do well here with pacing, they may not have what it takes to hit the second sector with the same bravado they hit the Canyon on the way out.

Black Canyon comes just after the second feed zone and a lovely respite along a freshly paved road. It is here riders will be confronted with The Zwartenberg—a decidedly dirty 3-mile ascent over washboards, sand and gravel, only made worse by the 2-mile descent after, which requires going down slower than you went going up. To make matters even worse (read: BETTER), at the bottom begins the longest, most big, black and beautiful climb of the day, eleven kilometers of the purest dirt. This climb will take many more than an hour to ascend. Good thing it’s a remarkably pristine place to feel completely alone. Sadly, riders will barely notice anything more than the few feet in front of them.

At the top, riders still have another happy 73 miles to go and the headwind will only get stronger after they reach the summit of this dark and demented segment. This lonely course feature adds the lovely touch of more dirt to the BWR in an emphatic and definitive drop of the guillotine’s blade, helping to make this year’s route dirtier than any before it.


This sector was introduced in 2017, with permission of SDRPT Park Ranger Dave Hekel, and it is one of the most interesting sectors of them all. It barely has any inclines but it has all sorts of rocks and challenges such that every body has to get off and run at some point.

It’s varied terrain runs parallel to Lake Hodges and follows along the western border until it becomes Twistenlemonberg, not to be confused with Lemontwistenberg, which some riders completed on the way out.

Hodgendam starts out after a pleasant but short asphalt section that riders enjoy after the rocky mayhem of Hodgesmeergate. Once on the Hodgendam, it’s easy to see why this is the most unique sector of the event. There are little bridges, banked turns, whoops and jumps. There are a series of tricky little ravines that many will choose to walk through, while some will ride, or try to. Eventually, all must get off and navigate the rocks as though it were a cyclocross race. Many will have to dismount several times along here. It’s okay. Walking is fun!

Once through all of the rockstacles, riders will pass Hernandez Hideaway and get on what really is the only true gravel road of the event, a roughly, and we mean roughly, 3-kilometer sector of big, rocky gravel. You’ll need to find the right line through here and stay on it because the gravel along here is brutal. The beauty of this sector will be lost on you, but if you were to take it all in there is the pristine serenity of the lake to the left and a wonderful woodland-like hill on the right that shouts the existence of Del Dios Hwy. It’s serene but the sound of your wheels grinding through the gravel will dominate your senses, unless thirst is considered a sense, because it’ll be hot with a headwind here.

Sandy Bandy

A signature sector with an augmentation for 2018, this deceivingly diabolical diversion, takes Wafflers and Wafers alike on an unseemly 6-kilometer excursion, eschewing the heavenly smooth and open road along Bandy Canyon. It parallels the beckoning smooth highway on a devilish dirt trail that is mostly, you guessed it, sand. Some would even say quicksand, and its depths will create more separation than the Bandy Weg climb that follows.

This sector is punctuated by a brief stint back on the road, but before that riders get to enjoy a soft single track with plenty of turns to slow everyone down. The initial part is kinda fun, really, if you like that kind of thing. There’s a headwind with the chance to slide out or hit a root and divert into a fence or a tree. Once through the first portion, the road feels weird on your tires, but not for long as the second, more challenging part begins. This section winds its way through a single path that’s usually home to horses.  Watch the land mines. It’s twisting and turning is only made worse by the unsuspecting deep sand pockets that can swallow riders whole if they take the wrong line. If you are a spectator, this is like hanging out at the final turn of the hometown crit, where all the crashes happen. Inevitably, riders will crash here, no matter how many times you warn them. When you do fall, make sure to wave your hand for one of the marshals to rescue you. Anyone caught trying to cut the course here will be left to the not-so-swift suffocation only quicksand can provide.

There is a third section on Sandy Bandy that ends with a difficult, rocky descent, before a turn up a nice kicker to the start of the Bandy Weg climb, but not until a forced dismount signals the next level of hell has been reached.


Aside from the above-mentioned challenges, the BWR is a piece of cake once you leave out the 100 or so more miles of brutal sand, dirt, rocks, wind, heat, and asphalt.

Prep well.

Get a good pair of bolt-ons. Bottle cages, I mean.

Remember to drink.

Remember to eat.

And for dog’s sake, leave the 23 at home.



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Santa Claus in March

March 19, 2018 § 5 Comments

I was sitting in the car trying to stay warm before the race began, wondering where our fearless leader G$ was. He always gets to races with plenty of time to warm up, but we had ten minutes to go and he was nowhere to be found.

Where he was, was racing madly across the frozen wastes of San Bernardino County, trying to make it to the race on time. He had whipped into a convenience store with all the time in the world to take care of his pre-race business, but clean heated bathrooms being clean heated bathrooms, and G$ being a man who likes to take his time, by the time he got through with the 400-yard roll of Charmin the race was about to begin.

This was the most important race of the century, the second 2018 edition of the Rosena Ranch Circuit Race, masters 55+ division (combined with the 60+), and the field was massive. I had given up on G$ and pushed my way through the pulsing, nervous throng, elbowing my way to the front. The six other riders in the race, three of whom were in my category, grudgingly let me through.

“Hope I make the top-ten,” one rider wisecracked.

“I got something for you after the race,” said my other teammate, Rob, who had fallen behind on his $2.99 blog subscription.

“I got something for you during the race,” said Hard Knocks with a snarl.

I knew it was going to be a tough, bitter day. As El Rey de San Bernardino, I had the record for most wins at the Rosena Ranch Circuit Race, and the citizens in the South Bay had been clamoring all year for me to bring the crown back home. Today’s race featured forty miles on the hilly course, with a howling 20-mph headwind in the finishing 500m. In order to beat the three other grandpas in my category, two of whom were on walkers, I’d need to ride the race of my life.

Cavalry to the rescue!

Just before they blew the whistle, G$ came sprunting to the line, a white tassel of Charmin stuck to the bottom of his cleat. I heaved a sigh of relief knowing that I’d have a teammate to help me in my bid to take home an unprecedented fourth win, as it had been G$ who had gifted me with my second Rosena Ranch victory back in 2015. I had no doubt that with a little begging and pleading, and a whole lot of luck, he might do it again.

The race began at about the pace you’d expect from a small group of timid old farts like us, only slower, and when we hit the howling wall of headwind, our slow hit the brakes and ratcheted us down to crawl.

I attacked from the front at a blazing 8 or 9 mph, but the field had its eyes on G$, knowing that as a member of Team Lizard Collectors it wouldn’t be long before he chased down his own teammate in the finest TLC tradition, dragging the field up to the breakaway.

I roared through the start/finish to cheers of “Go, Seth!” and “Are you fucking crazy?” and “Noooooooo!”

“What are they upset about?” I wondered. “This is easier than stealing dentures at a rest home.” For two laps I cruised, opening a bigger and bigger gap, and figuring that completing another eighteen 2-mile laps would be a cinch.

On the fourth lap it seemed like either the wind was stronger or I wasn’t quite as fresh. On the fifth it seemed like the hills were steeper or I was slower. At the turnaround I saw a streak of orange as G$ unleashed his patented “None Shall Follow” attack.

“This is awesome,” I thought. “Once G$ gets up here I can take a rest and beg for him to let me win while he does all the work. This solo shit is for the birds.”

Misery loves company

Rosena Ranch is an out-and-back course with two 180-degree turns, so you can see how much distance you have (or don’t have) twice a lap. My gap on the field had been pretty big, but imagine my surprise when I saw G$ had sprung free and was bringing Hard Knocks with him.

“WTF?” I wondered. “Hard Knocks is a fuggin’ sprunter and neither I nor G$ can sprunt for crap.”

A lap later and there were three of us. As they passed me in the howling headwind I thought I heard G$ say, “He’s going for first.”

“Of course he is,” I thought. “And of course you brought a sprinter up to the break. We’re the Lizard Collectors and chasing our teammates is what we DO!”

I sat on the back in disbelief as they did all the work. G$ of all people. The most selfless teammate alive. The guy who never brings company up to a break. The master solo bridge artist. And he dragged Hard Knocks up on this epic day when I was poised to set cycling history?

To make matters worse, Hard Knocks hit the stairstep climb on the backside of the course each lap with a vengeance, gapping us both out and seeming to get stronger every time. Ten laps in I couldn’t hold back my frustration any longer. I rolled up to G$. “He’s a sprinter, you know.”

“I know,” said G$.

“And you aren’t. And I’m not.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I know. I told you already.”

“I heard you. Why’d you bring a dude who’s going for first?”



“Hard Knocks?”

“Yeah. That’s what you said.”

G$ laughed. “No, man, you know I’d never do that. I said ‘He’s good for third.'”

Punchin’ the clock

As soon as I heard that, a huge rush of power filled my legs. All was not lost! In a fit of enthusiasm and desire to help I took really short pulls, all on the downhill tailwind section, making sure to hit the wind only when we came in view of the announcer’s stand.

“Look at Davidson!” the announcer roared. “He’s been off the front from the beginning and hasn’t gotten off! A monster! A machine! A true strong man of the peloton!”

No sooner were we out of sight than I’d sneak to the back just in time for Hard Knocks to hit the hard section, and later to batter into the headwind. He didn’t seem to care. “Dude’s not getting tired,” I thought. And then it dawned on me. We’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book. Hard Knocks, sneaking up to the break, was going to drive the pace, wear us out, lap the field, and then once we reconnected with the pack (is four riders a pack?), attack and solo for the win.

The harder that G$ and Hard Knocks rode, the more I helped by pulling from the back and soft pedaling the front during the tailwind downhill section. Sure enough, with four laps to go we caught the beaten and flayed geriatric remnants who were spinning along with one foot in the crypt.

“Here it comes,” I thought, as Hard Knocks took another monster pull up the hill.

Shovel in the coal

With one lap to go, Hard Knocks pulled so hard that the pack detritus thew down their walkers and gave up. G$ and I hung on for dear life. “This is embarrassing,” I thought, wondering how I’d explain getting third to my tiny grandson.

Just then Hard Knocks eased up. “You ready?” he asked.

“For what?” I said suspiciously.

“I said I had something for you during the race,” he said.

“I hope it’s a lead-out.”

“In fact, it is.”

“Try not to do one of the lead-outs where you ride me off your wheel, dude.”

G$ ramped it up and swung over as we hit the wind wall one last time. Hard Knocks shoveled on the coal until steam started coming from the top of his helmet, timing himself to detonate almost exactly a hundred yards before the line.

“Here comes Davidson!” the announcer roared. “He’s been pulling the entire race and is still so strong he’s devastating his breakmates in the sprunt!”

The crowd of seven cheered somewhat wildly. My wife snapped more pictures. I tried to raise my hands in victory but a huge gust of wind caught my front wheel, almost hurling me to the pavement and forcing me to abort my raised hand salute so that it was more like a mini-gesture of terror.

I didn’t care. #fakewin or not, #giftwin or not, #grampswin or not … I’d won.

Epilogue 1: G$, Yasuko, and I went to celebrate at Panera, where we ate #fakebread and broke down the key elements of the race where G$ had done all the work and I’d done nothing. After 40 miles of windy, hilly nothing I was trashed. G$ finished his #fakebread and headed back to the race, where he did his second race of the day, a 50-miler, hauling teammate G3 to victory in the 50+ (G3 is NOT G$; it’s complicated), hauling teammate Ryan Dorris to victory in the 45+, and getting second himself. Just another day in the life of Santa Claus.

Epilogue 2: Team Lizard Collectors distinguished itself and broke its long history of chasing down teammates. In G$’s second race, Attila the Hun blocked and refused to bring back his own team’s break. In the Cat 3’s, once Wall Street was up the road, Baby Seal rode the front and blocked for fifty miles, ensuring a glorious silver medal for Wall Street on this toughest of toughguy/toughgal courses.



Kind of amazing that for all that superb bike racing I didn’t win enough money to retire on! But you can help me afford a luxury retirement cardboard box with a subscription to Cycling in the South Bay! Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!



Japan bike travel tips

March 18, 2018 § 2 Comments

A non-cycling friend sent me an email the other day asking for Japan travel tips. I’ve also had people, cyclists, ask for similar advice, and I understand why. I lived there for ten years, I speak Japanese, I follow the Japanese news, my wife of thirty years is Japanese, and I’ve traveled there a bunch, not to mention having logged tens of thousands of miles in Tochigi, Ibaraki, Gunma, Fukushima, and Tokyo.

Unfortunately, I’m a terrible trip adviser. My data is, sadly, way out of date in a country that changes more quickly than any other. The last time I visited, in 2016, I barely recognized the city I’d lived in for a decade. And of course places to see, things to do, joints to eat at can be found with astounding accuracy on the Internet.

However, there are some aspects of Japan travel, whether on a bike or otherwise, that are immutable. They don’t have so much to do with logistics as they do with the essence of visiting Japan and, to some extent anywhere else. I can’t think of a more interesting country to visit, and here’s why.

Wanky’s Japan Travel Tips

  1. The difference between an adventure and a tragedy is the outcome. Travel to Japan, if you let it, can be a great adventure by which I mean a place where you can sally forth on various expeditions and have no idea of the outcome. The corollary is that you can plot out every step, research every restaurant, and simply spend your time there seeing and doing what you thought you would see and do. I’m not judging, but if you want an adventure you can’t know the ending.
  2. Dispense with fear for your physical safety. Although you could probably get mugged or murdered if you put together a really thorough plan, people in Japan are simply not going to fuck with you. You’re safe. Relax.
  3. Dispense with your fear of getting ripped off. They won’t steal your wallet, give you change in fake currency, jack up the price because you aren’t Japanese, or cheat you on the exchange rate. In general, prices are reasonable for the good/service provided, and no one is going to bargain with you about it.
  4. Observe first, judge later … if ever. Things in Japan are different. That’s why you’re going there, remember? I know that you don’t put mayonnaise and pineapple on your pizza back in Des Moines, but you know what? They don’t put strawberries on their sushi, either.
  5. Embrace the confusion. At home you’re in command, in charge, in control. In Japan you may still be in command, but of what? Instead of treating a wrong train as an obstacle, use it as a chance to get off and learn about the place you’re now in that you didn’t intend to be. Do you really HAVE to be anywhere? If so, maybe you’re doing it wrong.
  6. Ask. Many people may be frightened by you or ignore, but many will not. Your best memories will be the people you meet and your interactions with them. I will never forget the kind man who, on January 15, 1987, as I stood lost and bewildered in Tokyo Station, bought my train ticket for me on the Chuo Line and gave me patient instructions on how to find Kichijoji.
  7. It should only go to about 5. Even though your U.S.A. voice goes to 11, however loud you’re talking, it’s too loud. Speak softly, carry no stick, and then speak even more softly.
  8. Count to ten. You know all that time you’ve spent on the Internet searching out flights and accommodations, and reconnoitering the lay of the land? Take an hour out of your life and learn to count to ten in Japanese. Then tack on ten expressions and swear on pain of death that you will use them no matter how stupid, awkward, and inept you sound. “Thank you,” “Please,” “I’m sorry,” “Excuse me,” “You’re welcome,” “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” “Good evening,” “I like it,” and “Yes, it’s okay,” sound beautiful no matter how awful your pronunciation. And when you bring that handful of phrases with you to Japan, you’re bringing something else as well: Respect.
  9. Location, location, location. Travel is all about movement, which is all about direction, which is ultimately about knowing where you are. Understand three things about Japan and your trip will be so much better: 1) Where Japan is relative to other Asian nations. 2) Where your city is relative to other Japanese cities. 3) Where your accommodations are relative to the city/town you’re staying in.
  10. Ride yer fuggin’ bike. Japan is bike friendly, motorists are respectful, and some cities offer bike share rentals that can be rented through your smartphone. So … enjoy!



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I hate your e-bike

March 17, 2018 § 16 Comments

Yep, I said it. I hate your e-bike. I would love to take it out behind the shed and shoot it, dismember it, and throw all the parts into a customized, one-off, e-bike shredder. Do you know how happy it would make me to hear the sound of that lithium battery getting ground into a million little pieces?

Real happy. Real, real happy.

My wife and I were on the S&M bike path yesterday morning. It was about 8:00 AM and bitterly, bitterly cold for Los Angeles, probably 54 or maybe even 55 bone-freezing degrees. As we approached Admiralty, a really happy, helmetless, zippily commuting dude whizzed past. It was galling as I glared at his fat rear hub.

There I was, all dressed up in my finest bicycling underwear clown suit, daintily pedaling my 100% carbon bike while introducing my duly impressed wife into the mysteries of #profamateur cycling, and some jerk on a 60-pound bike owned me like Muhammed Ali in the 8th Round of the Rumble in the Jungle. My hatred knew no bounds until, of course, we got back up on the bike bath and began overtaking him.

He had eased off the gas considerably, perhaps to save battery power, and as we prepared to pass him he veered over onto us, looking only just as he veered, then jerking his behemoth bike back over to the right. But did he apologize? Oh no, not he. He was having too much fun on his dogdamned e-bike. “I know your pain,” he said as we passed.

“If you really knew my pain,” I thought, “you’d shoot yourself.”

The evil of the e-bike

Much has been written about these scourges, technological monsters that give everyone and anyone the power to go fast with no skills, no training, no protection, as they mix it up with non-powered bicycle traffic. People claim they are dangerous but the reason I hate them is simple: They are an affront to my swollen and sensitive ego.

I’ve spent a lifetime developing this level of grumpy snobbishness about bicycling, and in one fell swoop the e-bike has deflated my ego balloon with the flip of a pedal-assisted switch. They’ve made me so paranoid that my first look now isn’t to see whether the overtaking bicycle (there didn’t used to be any!) is Dura-Ace, SRAM, or Campy, but whether the huge, ugly battery is in the hub or the down tube. And those rolling, fat-tire abortions that go as fast as a Tarmac? It’s all I can do not to break down and cry when they pass.

And let’s make no bones about it. E-bikes are cheating because they break the fundamental rule of cycling, stated so eloquently by Thomas Beller in the New Yorker: “The momentum you give is the momentum you get.” There is something horribly wrong, Beller notes, about the e-bike rider who hadn’t worked to go that fast and who, after he braked or came to a stop, wouldn’t have to do a lick of work to pick up speed again.

Call it whatever you want and point to whatever benefits you want, but it’s cheating. Cheating who? I don’t know. Cheating what? Don’t know that, either. But I knows me a cheater when I sees one.

The gathering storm

If you hate e-bikes, well, you have a problem. The problem is that they are experiencing astounding growth in China and Europe, and astonishingly, even here in the United States of Lazy and Fat. According to a #fakenews story at CNN, one e-bike executive claims that “This is the beginning of a multi-year shift away from regular pedal to electric bikes. When people first jump on an ebike, their face lights up. It’s exciting and joyful in a way that you don’t get from a regular bike.”

What he means is “You get to whizz around and look like a cyclist and go faster than a cyclist, but without having to sweat or strain or show up for work looking like you’ve run a half-marathon in a plastic suit.”

In this vein of boosterism, the article goes on to quote another e-bike CEO who also happens to have a snarling dog in the fight, saying “There’s tremendous opportunity to get a generation of people for whom suffering isn’t their thing. E-bike riders get the enjoyable part of cycling without the massive suffering of climbing huge hills.”

Translation: “Get everything, do nothing.” Everything, I’d add, except the feeling of accomplishment.

These guys are blunt, but the numbers are blunter. Sales of e-bikes in Holland and Germany are up by 8-9%, sales of dinosaurs are down 5%. E-bikes are 30% of the market in the Netherlands, a country similar to Holland in many ways. China of course leads the way in use, sales, and production, as it is the global leader in everything these days. And you will notice if you have eyes anywhere in your head that there are now e-bike stores peppering Santa Monica, not to mention the local bike shops that stock a big inventory of e-bikes alongside their dinosaurs. Guess which models are saving their bottom line?

How can you get fit doing nothing?

I’ve never ridden an e-bike, and I never will, until I do. While waiting for that to happen, I have to rely on the statements of others. Here are some of my faves:

“You don’t feel like you’re pedaling at all.”

“It’s incredibly easy.”

“When you hit a hill you don’t have to pedal any harder.”

“It’s effortless.”

This goes against everything I know, which is that if you desire the benefits that come from physical fitness you have to dedicate your life, monk-like, to the enslavement of interval workouts, of grueling, all-day slug-fests in the mountains, of horrible rides in the freezing rain (slush if you can afford it), and more than anything else you have to punish yourself like a Spartan. Physical fitness is misery and isn’t it beautiful?

This assumption, that fitness only comes through great unhappiness, dedication to a silly sport, and wanton purchases of instantantly depreciating assets, has never been seriously challenged, by which I mean I’ve never taken the time to research it. However, in my hatred of e-bikes, I scoured around and found that other, more objective people have in fact asked the question “Do all those idiots who look like idiots riding those idiot bikes actually get any health benefit from it?”

And the heretical answer is yes, they do. People for Bikes links to a study on its web site that examines this question, albeit in slightly more academic terms than mine. It notes that the most recent study of this question looked at cycling and e-bike riding in Norway and found that e-bike riders, while spending less time and effort than on dino bikes, still get moderate physical activity from it. The researchers define and quantify the phrase “moderate physical activity,” if you’re into such things as facts (I’m not); this phrase is kind of a holy grail in the world of public health because people who get sufficient moderate physical activity 150 minutes a week obtain significant, life-altering health benefits.

The study also notes that many researchers have explored and concluded that “the impacts of active transportation modes,” i.e. getting off your fat ass, have a big effect on physical health. Active transportation modes such as walking, cycling, and, gulp, e-biking, are associated with reduced obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Using active transportation modes for even part of a commute is associated with engaging in other physical activities for exercise and recreation (shocking).

Furthermore, the study notes that involvement in active commuting reduces the risk of all-cause mortality and increases the number of years lived without cardiovascular disease. Even smokers benefit, as higher levels of activity result in more years of life expectancy as well as more years of life without disability. The study reports that among a prospective cohort study of adults in living near Copenhagen, active transportation to work via cycling was associated with a 40% decreased risk of mortality, even after controlling for other sources of aerobic physical activity.

To all of this I would say, and I think you would agree, that death, disease, and crippling disability are a small price to pay for not having to ride a heavy motorized bike, happily, helmetless, in flip-flops, with a pair of equally floppy and comfortable dickhider cotton shorts. However, the news gets worse.

The study showed that compared to a real bicycle, although e-bikes average 28% to 32% less energy expenditure, the amount of energy expended easily qualifies as moderate physical activity, ushering in the short and long-term health benefits that all developed countries so desperately need, especially Texas. About 56% of the study guinea pigs rated the e-bike as “very enjoyable,” compared to only 31% of the conventional bicycle trials. Most ominous for the future of the carbon-underwear crowd, only 6% of respondents rated the e-bike trip unenjoyable or very unenjoyable, in contrast with 19% for conventional bicycling.

Another study shows similar results. E-bikes make sedentary people fitter, and speeds aren’t especially high, averaging 12 mph.

In sum, and I hate sums, plotzing around in your comfy dickhiders on a fat-tire, motorized #fakebike will make you fitter, healthier, and, if you believe in quality of life (I don’t), happier.

Mobility and social justice

As you might expect, rich white guys hate e-bikes, not because e-bikes are bad, but because a subversive element of society uses them to do things like survive. Ground zero for rich white guys is Rich White Guyville, a/k/a the West End of Manhattan, where a horrible person clearly modeled after Palos Verdes Estates’s own Robert Lewis Chapman, has begun a campaign to stamp out the crime of speeding e-bikes. With his bald head and background in finance, he even looks like Chapman.

A very well written article in The Outline by Aaron Gordon points out that in the urban setting, e-bikes are a means of survival for predominantly poor, predominantly first generation Latinos and Asians (from the countries of Latin and Asia, I suppose) who use them to get through grueling 16-hour days as food delivery couriers. It makes sense that the people who are rich enough to order take-out would want to eliminate the means of transportation used by the working poor who bring them their Chinese food.

This brings up a very telling point, made by Gordon, which is that the horror of e-bikes is a white rich person’s problem: The Chapmans of the world scream that e-bikes are unsafe, but refuse to implement safety regulations or infrastructure, CERTAINLY NOT HERE. And when you think about it, that’s how the rich, spoiled, and entitled assholes of the world stop regular bikes, too, by protesting against the bike lanes, multimodal funding, road diets, and anything else that infringes on their right to do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want in their cars.

The foamy flecks of racism and oppression that drip from the lips of Mayor King in PVE are the same flavor of vitriol spewed in both Manhattans–Beach and NY. The corollary to PVE-Robert Chapman nimbyism is, of course scapegoating like they do in China, where, according to the New York Times, the boundless spawn of e-bikes and their clash with cars is a function of the explosion of the purchase of online goods and services. I’m sure you may have noticed, what with your Amazon Prime account and all, that once that shit is ordered it then has to be delivered. And by “delivered” I mean “Right fucking now, please.”

As in China, you may also have noticed that it’s not the Silicon Valley overlords who do the delivering. That’s left to the impoverished, here and in China, where the poorest of the poor migrate to the city, buy an e-bike, and drive it all day long to do do slave-wage fulfillment for Alibaba. And in an unsurprising non-twist of the predictable, it turns out that the real reason people in China have problems with e-bikes is because the e-bikes clog the sidewalks as a result of the cars that have clogged all the bike lanes.

In China, like LA and NYC, there is way too much of something for traffic and therefore society to function well. And It’s not bikes.

The Times quotes an e-bike courier in China as saying “We’re just scapegoats. They always say that electric bikes are the road killers, but the cars are the real killers.” And with that the courier makes the most powerful point of all: Cars in Los Angeles are associated with unspeakably greater numbers of deaths, injuries, illnesses, and social problems like traffic and poverty than all the e-bikes in the world put together.

Scapegoating, nimbyism, and villifying a viable, cheap, and safe mode of transportation as a destroyer of society. Where have I heard that before? I know! At the last Palos Verdes Estates city council meeting I attended where they shot down a few safety signs for bicycles, that’s where. From East to West, the tactics are the same and propagated by the same horrible people.

And what it really points out is that the conflict with e-bikes is a rich-poor conflict on another level as well: The collision of the transportationists and the recreationists. An e-bike is heaven for one, and hell for a small but vocal subset of the other, like me.

Move over, cars

For recreationists, the nub is simple: E-bikes give you free momentum, and cheating is cheating. With an e-bike you’re not as tired as you would be on a bicycle, just as with a bicycle you’re not as tired as you would be walking, and just as with walking you’re not as tired as you would be slithering on your belly. I bet there were hate blogs from a rich vocal subset of the gastropods when slugs evolved limbs. “Those damned slugs don’t have to work nearly as hard to get to the rotting pile of flesh as I did when I was a kid!”

For transportationists, though, it’s simpler. To sum up an article in Outside Magazine about e-MTB’s, e-bikes are new technology, they’re not going anywhere, so get used to it. People who use e-bikes to get from point A to point B, rather than those who cycle to make a social statement, show their superiority, improve their standing on Strava leaderboards, or to collect carbon, have bought into the e-bike not as an alternative to dinosaur bicycles, but as an alternative to cars.

This is breathtaking when you think about it. Every commuter and deliveryperson on an e-bike is a replacement for a car. If Robert Chapman drove to work instead of hunkering down all day in front of his computer trolling the Daily Breeze, he’d get down on his knees and blow kisses to every e-bike on the road simply because even he would be smart enough to understand that fewer cars means less traffic means faster commute time for HIM.

In Germany and the Netherlands, of course, they’re already there. Can you say double-digit growth in sales? E-bikes are not viewed as MAMIL ego killers, but as the entry point into electric mobility, and that includes electric cars. E-bikes are simply a practical transportation option in countries where traffic, costs, and pollution from cars have consequences. With electric-assist bicycles, the Times piece notes, “If you run out of power in an electric car, you have a problem. With a bike, you can still pedal.”

None of this even begins to touch on the very real issue of mobility for the elderly. I noted on my bike trip across Germany several years ago that a huge number of riders on the Rhine bike path between Cologne and Koblenz were old people, many of whom could never have gotten out and ridden on a dino bike.

E-bikes solve another awful problem for transportationists, especially in Europe. Riders sweat less. If you’ve ever been on a Berlin or Paris subway in the summertime, you know what this means. E-bikes are single-handedly taking a stand against stinky European B.O. Can someone give those e-bike folks a Nobel Prize, please?

Another social good is that in some industries, such as the German post office, it saves an aging workforce as older employees can work for longer, no small benefit in a country where the birth rate continues to decline and far-right Nazi parties further restrict the entry of young immigrants.

And the high margins on e-bikes have saved more than one bike shop, as inventories suggest. But is this a Pyrrhic victory, like saving the local bakery so it can sell Wonder Bread? I don’t know. But I do know that there is a cultural conflict that the e-bikers are going to win. Make that, “have already won.”

You probably cheat on your dino bike, too

What is the difference between an e-bike and a dino bike? Most people in my crowd of snobby carbonites would say, “An electric motor, dummy.”

To which I’d ask them to explain the workings of their drivetrain, because if they are running Di2 or eTap, guess what? They’ve already motorized the dino. And for those who don’t think that motorized drivetrains make a difference, all I can say, the e-bike advocates, is that you’ve obviously never used one. So yes, you’re already cheating if you have Di2 or eTap, and there’s a real solid argument out there that you’re also probably cheating if you have a power meter, Garmin, Strava, GPS, or a heart rate monitor, simply because all of those items invoke electrical power to improve performance, efficiency, and speed.

Just like, you know, the e-bike that we all hate.

But there’s more. Every single e-bike increases the total number of bikes on the road, and study after study shows that the single most important factor in traffic safety for bikes is just that, having more bikes on the road, which is why they have that little thang called “Critical Mass.”

And apart from the transportational logic behind e-bikes, their riders have an emotional ace in the hole that trumps dino bikes easily.

It’s the ace of looking like you’re riding a bike without doing a fucking thing. As Gordon puts it in the Outline article, “The most obvious benefit to the e-bike is the way it handles hills. I traced my old commute which begins with a fairly sizable slope. Usually I am a little winded when I get to the top on my single speed, but I maintained 14 miles per hour pedaling on the e-bike without having to exert any additional effort. I e-biked more than 50 miles that day without breaking a sweat. Except for the one close call, it was 50 miles of pure urban transportation bliss.”

To which I’d respond: Did you puke? Did you moan? Did you have to sleep four hours in the middle of the day and eat a pizza? No? Then maybe you didn’t bike after all. You did something, maybe, but you sure AF didn’t bike.

Henry Grabar, in this fluff piece on Slate, accidentally nails it: “But it’s not the top speed that really differentiates the experience; it’s the speed with which you get there and the ease of maintaining it. It feels like you have superhuman strength, and that’s how people look at you, too (with a mixture of envy and anxiety).” Even the transportationists can relate to the free momentum buzz they get from an e-bike. It’s one of the rare places where the work of getting somewhere is actually fun.

Grabar goes on to poetically note that “Bicycles are the sharks of transportation, virtually unevolved through a century of technological upheaval in automobiles and airplanes.” I love that because it’s true. We are the sharks, simple and elegant, fierce and feared. But we are quickly being replaced by the more efficient and specialized bony fishes, and the e-bike happens to be the piranha.

For now the ungainly, ugly, stupid hubs, the nausea-inducing, hideously ugly down tubes, and the rat’s nest of wires stuck on like a blind drunk person set loose with a can of Silly String scream “FREDDIE!” every time I see an e-bike. But in ten years, tiny internal down tube motors with internal aero wiring will deliver huge watts, slim beauty, and a stake through the heart of traditional cyclist egos. Fortunately, I’ll be 64 and in the market for my first such bike. Hopefully they will also be made of carbon.

And if you believe the Internet, which I unquestioningly do, the future is already here: For less than $800 you can pop an electrical wheel into the front fork of your killer carbon machine and climb like the TdF pro you never were.

And the best part? Strava will never, ever know.



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March 16, 2018 § 3 Comments

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

Lance Armstrong: No fine, no criminal charges.

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

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

Etc., etc., etc.



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Kicking and screaming

March 15, 2018 § 6 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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No second chances

March 14, 2018 § 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No second chances.



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