Where have all the titans gone?

October 3, 2015 § 9 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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Popes on bikes

September 29, 2015 § 32 Comments


With the publicity surrounding his rock star tour to the USA, I’ve been wondering what the Pope thinks about bicycles.

Now don’t mistake me. I like this pope.

He seems like a good guy, and very un-Catholic for a Pope: Bringing down the hammer on the rich, extolling immigrants, championing the environment, and urging us to live up to our American ideals (funny, I thought we were already doing a pretty good job of hating foreigners, starting foreign wars, devouring the planet, and guns).

But what does the Pope think about bicycles? Turns out he talks a pretty solid line. In an informal audience given a couple of years ago, he criticized people seeking flashy new cars and talked about how happy it made him when he sees his personal secretary pedaling around on a bicycle.

Then a couple of days ago he was gifted with a bike from the City of Philadelphia.

As it turns out, like most PR, he talks a pretty good game but admits that for him, “cars are a necessity.” It’s kind of one of those “do as I say, not as I do” deals. Catholics will understand.

Still, there’s something really problematic about all this, and it’s sort of related to bicycles and the fact that the Pope says one thing but does another. Let’s imagine this:

A major corporation — say, Volkswagen — while it is manufacturing cars, puts in place a system whereby it also rapes several hundred thousand children. The assembly line is boring, so to spice things up the managers bring in young children and together with the the workers rape them over and over and over. And over and over.

In fact, the child raping becomes an ingrained and profound part of the corporate culture, and it’s such a popular pastime that even, or especially, guys in the head office partake in child raping from time to time. The children’s lives are predictably ruined. Occasionally a few children complain about getting raped to shit and having their lives destroyed but their complaints are either ignored, or hush money is paid, or the outed rapist gets shifted over to the assembly line in Mexico (where he rapes little Mexican kids).

Then, people get tired of the child raping and the big corporation is called to account. It pays out billions, apologizes, fires a few people, and makes a big deal about its new corporate culture. “Eco-Friendly Cars and No Child Raping!”

Then the company hires a new CEO and he’s all about eco-friendliness and being nice to children instead of raping them. And THEN the new CEO plans a tour of the USA. Would the President meet with him? Would he be invited to address Congress? Would millions throng the streets to welcome him?

Would he be given a new bike?

Widening the circle

September 28, 2015 § 22 Comments

The first time I cycled with my wife was in June, 1987. I’d been in Japan for five months and my mom had just shipped over my pink Tommasini. It was heaven, pedaling through Tochigi-ken, climbing the mountains around and behind Nikko, rolling through the rice paddies on the coastal plain towards the sea.

“Hey, honey,” I said one day, “let’s go for a bike ride!”

“Okay!” She loved to ride her bicycle and had commuted on it throughout high school. It was a cute little red mama-chari with fenders, a rack, a basket, a kickstand, and a wide padded seat.

“Let’s do an easy pedal,” I suggested. “Then if you decide you like it we can do more.” Everyone knows that “do more” is biker codespeak for “buy a really expensive race machine that you can hunch over on, strain your back and neck on, and ram a sharp hard saddle up your ass while you suffer for a few hours.”

She didn’t know that. “Okay!” she said, and even today I remember the happy, pretty smile.

I picked a course out to the prefectural driving license center that was almost totally flat except for a couple of hilly sections, and it was so short you wouldn’t have even needed legs. I was kind of bummed because I knew I wouldn’t get a workout doing a measly 25 miles, but it was worth it to spend time with my sweetie. Plus, once we got going I could kind of pick up the pace a tad so I’d at least break a sweat.

We got most of the way there before she began to really complain. When we got home four hours later she was livid and her parts were raw.

The next time we cycled together was in 2013. It had taken her a while to get over the earlier ride, I guess. We rode down the Strand from Rat Beach to Manhattan Beach on the Fourth of July. It was just us and twelve million other people.

Then in Germany this summer with my youngest son, straddling bicycles as we crossed the country, this occurred to me: Why had I failed so signally to share this thing that has given me such joy with those I love the most? Why has cycling always been a kind of hex that shoos away everyone in my family? Why haven’t I ever been able to widen the circle?

The answer is simple, and as I’ve looked at my friends, I’ve realized I’m not alone. I’ve always presented cycling as something that only an insane person would want to do. Arduous. Time consuming. Expensive. Combative. Dangerous. Populated by other, equally insane people clad in weird and ugly clothing that shows your tummy and haunches in the most unflattering of ways.

Who the hell WOULD want to do it?

So I came back from Germany and set about a stealth plan to get Mrs. WM back on a bicycle. The key was to never mention cycling. Instead I offered to take her out to breakfast.

“Oh, that would be great!” She loves chatting and breakfast. “When?”

“How’s next Sunday?”

“Perfect! Where are we going?”

“Let’s go over to Java Man in Hermosa. You’ll love it. We can ride our bikes there.”

She looked suspicious. “I don’t have a bike.”

“You can use Cassady’s.”

“I can’t pedal back home up the hill.”

“We’ll drive down to Rat Beach and pedal from there.”

“I’m not going to wear those stupid bicycle clothes with the big maxi pad seat.”

“Me, either. Shorts and a t-shirt.”

She brightened. “Okay.”

At Java Man, Manslaughter, Hair, and Emily were waiting for us, dressed like normal people. We chatted and ate and laughed for over an hour, and no one mentioned bicycles or cycling or, dog forbid, bicycle racing. It was one of the best Sundays of my life.

“That was fun!” she said as we pedaled home on the bike path. “Can we do it again?”



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The horror

September 27, 2015 § 16 Comments

Every Saturday morning the best riders in the South Bay assemble to contest the legendary Donut Ride. They are young, they are shaven, they are tiny, they climb very fast. And they are wearing their finest clown underwear, except for Wily, who showed up this morning in culottes and a tank top.

Ostensibly the goal of the Donut Ride is to be the first rider to reach the radar domes. But roiling beneath the stated objective is a deeper, more fundamental objective, one driven by horror and terror and the fear of humiliation: Don’t get beaten by the creaky old wanker with hairy legs.

No one has ever said it to me directly, but they don’t have to. Being ridden off my wheel is the most demoralizing thing that can ever happen to a cyclist because it means you really aren’t very good, and it can destroy the future dreams of an aspiring young athlete. Therefore, it is with especial relish that I target the young, the bright, and the upcoming.

For them it is lose-lose. No possible excuse can make up for getting stomped by a wrinkled prune who is old enough to be the father of most, the grandfather of many, and almost the great-grandfather of one or two. “It’s the off season,” “I’m going easy today,” “My coach told me to keep it in Zone 3,” … at the end of the day getting whipped by a senior citizen on a challenging climb is simply a deal-ender.

For me of course it is win-win. As soon as I’m shelled I can chalk it up to biology. “I’m almost 52, he’s 25. I was lucky to stick around for as long as I did.”

And of course by simply hanging around and hanging around, once in an incredibly rare while I actually pick off one of the targets on my list. I still remember and savor the day a couple of years ago when I caught and dropped Wily. The afterglow from that is as strong and fresh and warm as peeing in the shower.

And who can forget the time (singular) that I shelled Ponytail, a 25-year-old climbing phenom with the draft of a knitting needle? And how the wonderfulness of the victory was punctuated by his comment that he thought I was in my 20’s, and how crestfallen he was to learn I had an AARP card.

Then of course there was the time I scampered away and beat Derek the Destroyer, an accomplishment so drenched in fantasticity that I didn’t ride for a month afterwards. In my checklist there is even a mark next to Tony Manzella’s name. One mark, one time, to be savored each night with incense before I go to bed. That’s kind of my scorecard, after about 450 Donut Rides, with an asterisk for the time in 2008 that Rudy dragged me up to the Domes on my steel Eddy Merckx and intentionally didn’t drop me.

One of the unstated rules every week is “Drop Wanky.” I’ve seen guys take years off their lives rather than have me beat them. I’ve seen riders spent, dead, and ready for the retort when, looking back and seeing me, they come back to life like the undead and sprint away from the embarrassment of getting wankied.

But for the last three years there has been a very rare bird I’ve been trying to tick off my list, a kind of California Clapper Rail that has been elusive, cagey, and hell bent on thwarting me. He has beaten me in every possible configuration, and has beaten me when I’m riding my best and he’s riding his worst. And he’s always done it by generous margins. No bike throws, no last-second surges, just a smooth swing of the executioner’s axe and bam, he’s gone and I’m tied up in knots going backwards.

I’d go so far as to say he’s sworn a blood oath and it looks like this: That repulsive old faker will never finish anywhere near me.

And I never have, until today, of course.

Julien had sandblasted the pack of about twenty that still remained at the bottom of the Switchbacks into a small group of seven. My quarry had attacked hard just before we hit the wall on Crest, headed to the radar domes. Julien pulled him back and only Wily, Ponytail, Strava Junior, my quarry, and I remained.

Julien turned the screws and I popped. Strava Junior must have come off before then, because I was alone as my quarry and the three others pedaled away. Just before the turn to flat spot there was another flurry of attacks, and my quarry blew. He was within range. I pulled him back then came around him hard, listening for the telltale signs of having someone on my wheel. It was dead silent.

When I finished, the only three riders ahead were all younger than my children.

I hurried home and made a tick mark on my checklist. Then I logged onto eBay and put everything up for sale, because that’s as good as it’s ever going to get.



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If the shoe fits, wear it

September 26, 2015 § 13 Comments


For almost three years now I have ridden with Bont Vaypors. Aside from the bad spelling, they had some amazing qualities that led me to put them on my feet.

  1. They were free.
  2. They didn’t cost anything.
  3. Tensile strength of 130,000 MPa’s.

Of course there was a down side or two. As Alan Flores said, “Dude, when I got those things I took one look and put them on eBay. What a joke.”

Or as Joe Yule said, “I had a pair once, briefly.”

“How briefly?” I asked.

“As long as it took for me to look at them, put them back in the box, and put them on eBay.”

So here were the negatives:

  1. Hideously ugly.
  2. Incredibly painful.
  3. Tensile strength of 130,000 MPa’s.

Doing a cost benefit analysis ($0 cost versus 130,000 MPa benefit), I kept them, trained in them, and raced with them. Over the years they bruised my toes so badly that my nails all blackened, withered, and eventually fell off, but unlike the leaves of New England lovely maples, they never grew back.

How stiff were these shoes? It was like setting your foot in wet concrete, curing it for six months, and then trying to wiggle your toes. When you pushed on the pedals, the only energy transfer loss was from the tendons that snapped and the ligaments that tore as these flexless beasts conducted muscle directly to ball of foot to pedal.

I loved those Bonts because they had such a fearsome reputation for pain and discomfort that anyone who saw you still wearing a pair after more than forty miles became afraid, very afraid. There is no pain like foot pain and if you can endure the 138-mile BWR on Bont concrete specials you can endure anything, even accounting. Best of all, Josh A. always wore his while walking his two Chihuahuas, Stanley and Olive.

It’s an awesome shoe that lets you maintain an 2015 race winning percentage of 100% and clack around the neighborhood picking up mini-puppy poop.

After a while I think the Bonts actually bent the bones in my foot because my toes, which once were narrow, straight, slim and rather lovely, became twisted, blackened stumps that snaked over one another like a bad root system. I occasionally thought about replacing them, but not seriously because, hey, free.

Then one day I happened into Bike Effect and Steve Carre insisted on measuring my feet. I know, I know. “Well,” he said, “your right foot is a full size bigger than your left.”

“It is?”


“What does that mean?”

“It means that if your cycling shoe fits your left foot it’s probably horribly painful for your right, but if it fits your right foot then your left foot has enough extra space to open up a lemonade stand.”

That thought haunted me for a few months until, plagued by sneaky Internet algorithms that registered my ONE search for Shimano shoes and then showered every single page I visited for the next twelve weeks with ads for Shimano shoes (even http://www.skankytoe.com), I caved to the relentless marketing and bought a pair of fancy new Shimano R-somethings for $150.00. Stylish, sleek, lightweight, they looked comfortable in a way that the Bont torture chambers never had.

I was so excited when I went out for this morning’s ride with my new shoes. They didn’t hurt, but they didn’t fit worth a crap either. I wore them anyway because hey, paid for.




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