It’s too expensive!!!!!!!

June 17, 2019 § 4 Comments

I love it when some wanker on a $6,000 bike and electronic drivetrain who’s wearing a $1k kit/shoe/helmet combo bitches about the entry fee for Phil’s Fondo, a gravel ride, or the BWR.

My next favorite whine is when someone poutily disses an organized ride with “Why would I pay to ride roads I can ride on for free?”

Let me help you out.

First of all, quit pretending it’s the money. If $150 were a dealbreaker for you, you’d never have bought the power meter, the Training Peaks, the Zwift subscription, Strava premium, or the Rapha merino wool armwarmers at $120 a pop. Right? It’s not the money.

Second of all, quit pretending that you’d normally ride these roads if they weren’t part of a gran fondo. No, you wouldn’t do Las Posas/Yerba Buena/Encinal on a single ride as in Phil’s Fondo, and no, you wouldn’t do Lemontwistenberg/Lake Hodges/Black Canyon/Questhaven/Double Peak as in the BWR.

You just wouldn’t.

So now that we’ve gotten these two issues out of the way, let’s look at why you absolutely should be participating in at least a couple of fondo-esque rides every single year.

  1. They get massive numbers of cyclists on the road, and that impacts motorists and rider safety. It’s one thing for cagers to see dribs and drabs of riders throughout the week, it’s another thing entirely to see thousands of them strung out over a course for the entire day. The inescapable message is that cyclists matter, they exist in numbers, and please watch out for them.
  2. Just because you’re such a badass #profamateur that you don’t need sag, a route, rest stops, mechanical help, or encouragement doesn’t mean everyone else is like you. In fact most fondos have a large contingent of riders for whom this is their first “big” ride, or it’s their first organized ride, or it’s their target ride for the entire year. When you support a fondo, you are supporting grass roots riding. Plus, as an expert #profamateur badass doing a fondo, you can actually help people who are less pro than you.
  3. In the case of Los Angeles, a cycling hotbed home to 15 million+ people, there are about five major gran fondos: Phil’s Fondo, Circle of Doom, Malibu GF, the Nosco Ride, and the LA River Ride. Los Angeles is a notoriously expensive place to organize bike events, and of course it’s exactly the place where such events are needed most. When you support these events, you are ensuring that they stay, and that they continue to provide local riders with the opportunity to participate without leaving home.
  4. Fondos are a great way for clubs to build ridership and provide participation in events without the club having to organize the event. It always pains me to see local fondos not supported with local club turnout; these are precisely the kind of event that clubs can turn into intramural competitions, training rides, or opportunities to mentor new riders … to say nothing of having a great time. Major Taylor Cycling and Cali Riderz regularly target the Palm Springs Century as a major club event on their calendar.
  5. USAC replacement. Many racers and ex-racers are no longer so thrilled with the state of USAC racing. Fondos offer you the opportunity to actually race in somewhat less formal circumstances, often with better competition, better routes, and a better vibe. And if you’re a masters doper, there’s hardly ever any testing!!

So take a look around and sign up for a fondo. My local pick is Phil’s Fondo, but my wife and daughter did the LA River Ride this year and loved it. Nosco is unique because it’s donation only (deadbeats can even pay zero!), and Circle of Doom is shorter than some of the others but bitterly hard. Outside LA, in my opinion the BWR wins hands down, but there are great options in Mammoth, Tehachapi, Big Bear, and Solvang, to name just a very few.

These rides are worth supporting, even if it means you have to wait until 2020 to get those ceramic bearings. Really.


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The cyclist next door

June 13, 2019 § 7 Comments

Evens Stievenart and a South Bay crit specialist who hasn’t ridden his bike for three years, Cat 3 David Perez, are going to attempt the two-man Race Across America this coming Saturday.

Whoa!

I read that a few times and somehow it didn’t add up. Prez is doing RAAM? Last I heard, he was beta-testing for Krispy Kreme’s newest line of ultra-chub, frosting-smeared tummy busters. I’ve never seen Prez pedal for more than an hour without a coffee break, a cigar, and a ribeye … WTF is he doing trying to ride his bike across America with a beast like Evens?

So I did some research, a lot of it, called my sources, checked Wikipedia, talked to Charon, read the race roster and press releases, and carefully combed through Evens’s FB feed and found out that I HAD MADE A MISTAKE. Glad I caught it before I put it in my blog.

Anyway, turns out that Evens is NOT doing RAAM with retired Cat 3 Dave Perez from Jersey, but rather with world class endurance athlete Jean-Luc Perez from France. However, Dave and Jean-Luc have a lot in common, for instance they have the same last name. They are both men. Both reside on Planet Earth. Etc.

But back to Evens and Prez II. They plan to break the two-person RAAM record of six days, ten hours, and 14 billion stabbing sensations of pain throughout the body + Shermer’s Neck. Each of them has followed a meticulous plan of air up tires, ride, eat, sleep, repeat, for many years. Both are talented and thrive on the impossible. You can watch some of their incredible exploits here or here.

However, I don’t want to cover any of that. I want to talk about Evens, who I know personally and have ridden close to for a few seconds on one or two occasions, like the time he had a flat and was sitting on a curb, or the time we ate dinner together. Based on this intimate, insider relationship, I can tell you this: Evens is different. Of course he has all the qualities of a world class cyclist. He is fast, he has endurance, he has won a bunch of big races and etc.

But he stands out for the one quality he lacks: The quality of being a snobby jerk. No one is friendlier or quicker with a smile than Evens. Whether you are a local hacker or a locally deluded Cat 3 or a brokedown old fellow with a leaky prostate, Evens treats you with the exact same degree of kindness, openness, and warmth that he treats everyone. This is one reason why those of us who live in the South Bay kind of take him for granted, because although familiarity doesn’t exactly breed contempt, it does kind of make you forget that he is probably the greatest cyclist you will ever ride with.

Whereas other people are like, “Oh my motherfuckinggodjesuschrist you know Evens Stievenart?” we are more like, “Hey, Evens!” as he pedals by ten miles an hour faster with a wave and a smile.

His decency doesn’t stop with his demeanor. It continues with his participation in local rides. Somehow Evens finds a way to incorporate completely worthless hackfests like NPR, Telo, and the Donut Ride into his training, often by stitching it into the middle of a 190-mile training day. Other times, like the unforgettable week before his assault on the 24 Hours of LeMans, he will invite the entire wankoton to join him on a training ride. That time, he rode for 12 hours straight, averaging 189 gigawatts as local riders took turns sitting on his wheel or taking a pull in the wind for 18 or 19 seconds before they exploded like marshmallows stuffed with dynamite.

Evens knows he’s special. Everyone does. But he has the world-class knack of making you feel that you’re special, like you somehow have a microscopic bit role in his movie, like the thing that you’re doing and the thing that he’s doing although completely different and unrelated, are actually similar. I’ve never seen a rider so good about whom people say so many unanimously good things.

Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been episodes, like the time someone got butthurt because Evens did something or other and it turned into a Facegag drama. There, too, Evens showed his class and his decency. Rather than whipping out the flamethrower, or challenging the wanker to a ride, he apologized for any misunderstanding and humbly went on his way, leaving miles and miles of shredded legs and crushed egos in his wake.

Because at the end of the day, not to mention the beginning and middle, Evens’s kindness and decency stop exactly at the point you want him to get off of his program and onto yours, i.e. slow down just a little bit. Evens doesn’t mind if you ride with him, with this caveat: You’re riding with him, he’s not riding with you. If you’re hankering for a 1-hour stop at Prospect Coffee in Ventura at the turnaround on a 165-mile ride, sorry. He breaks for ten minutes and then leaves. Hope you know the way home.

Racing with Evens reveals an equally ferocious side. He attacks to win, and once he’s off the front, the number of prisoners he takes is zero. There’s no such thing as losing with honor, or racing for second place. The commitment he brings to his training, he brings to racing. Yet for all that, even when at his most earnest, he never resorts to bullshit tactics, wheel chopping, cursing other racers, or wheelsuckery. He’ll win at most costs, but not at all.

I could say more nice things about him, but why? If you ride in the South Bay you’ll meet him, and the experience will far surpass anything written here. If you don’t ride in the South Bay and you’re hearing about him from this blog, you won’t possibly believe that a cyclist could be such a decent human being. As my high school music theory teacher Mr. Strickland used to say, “Consider the source.”

When Evens and Prez II roll out mid-day Saturday from Oceanside, they will have a full team of 16 people to assist them in their quest to be the fastest duo to ever cross the USA on bicycles. Evens’s amazing wife Karina, his biggest admirer Cooper, and his legion of South Bay cycling fans will all be hoping for a successful race, a safe ride, and maybe even a slightly tired Evens with whom we’ll be able to keep up with on his return.

A fella can dream, can’t he?


END

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Tough as hell, Michelle

June 12, 2019 § 7 Comments

I was pretty bummed out after the Flog Ride last week to learn that Michelle was formally retiring from our Thursday morning beatdown. Anyone who did the ride with any regularity at all knew Michelle; she had been there from the very beginning. Along with Emily G., she was a woman who showed, week in and week out, that women are way tougher than men.

And like everyone who stuck to the Flog, she got better, stronger, faster.

Unlike everyone else, though, she did it with unstoppable good cheer. Whereas the rest of us were sour, sourer, sourest, Michelle took her weekly beating and always had time to laugh at the beginning and laugh in the middle and, most importantly, laugh at the end.

When the Flog started out, laughing was no easy matter because it was a six-lap, all-out race, and if you got shelled, you spent the better part of your pre-dawn Thursday … alone. And it was dark. And it was cold. To top the shit Sundae off with a cherry of misery, those early floggings served up people like Emerson Orante and Daniel Holloway, not to mention Chris Tregillis, full-on Wily Greek, Derek the Destroyer, on-form Hair, 800-watt PVDN Jon Davy, Eric A., and strongmen like Craig the Pilot, Canyon Bob, and Ugly Pedal Mike Hines. Every week delivered beatdown hash, guaranteed, with solid regulars like Crowbar, Shriver, G-Jit, and a slew of other riders.

So many South Bay riders have never even done the Flog once, so frightened are they of its intensity, its intervals, its sprints, its grimness.

None of that fazed Michelle. She’d finish in as good a mood as she began, something that no one on the Flog has ever been able to say but her. Michelle wasn’t satisfied with being satisfied, though, she spread the cheer at the legendary post-Flog coffee klatsch overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Golden Cove. She took photos. She cheered people. She had a “caboose” of riders who went at it fang and claw, but who were always friends when the ride hostilities ended.

But that, apparently, is history. She’ll be missed.

Hell, she already is.

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Cyclists, start your engines!

June 10, 2019 § 14 Comments

If you have ever thought that there was more to bike racing than brainless, wide, right-hand turns in an industrial office park, being fleeced by the promoter and shrieked at by Donald Trump … you were right!

Velo Club LaGrange brought to life something that is almost impossible to imagine in SoCal, that is, a bike race with right AND left turns on THE SAME COURSE. Oh, but there was more, so much more.

Of course there was some history here. LaGrange for years put on the Brentwood Grand Prix, the best crit on the SoCal circuit, technical but not dangerous, great downtown setting that was spectator-friendly, lots of prize money, and most of all, fun.

It took year of wheeling and dealing for LaGrange’s Daddy Warbucks to hammer out a five-year agreement with Porsche USA to allow a bike race on Porsche’s brand new, crazy good driving/testing track. The pavement? Perfect. The shoulders? No unpadded light poles here to kill and maim unlucky riders. Instead, the course had wide grassy shoulders that were forgiving and safe and that, several times, allowed riders to avoid collisions, shoot off into the grass, then re-enter the course and chase back on.

The course? It was technical, fast, and challenging not simply to win, but for many, to finish. With sweeping turns and a short straightaway, moving took skill and, if you didn’t do it just right, it burned through many a match to boot. Forget the masters teams with ten riders lined up with one lap to go, neatly delivering their guy to the line.

This was a race where leadout trains were almost impossible to establish, and even if lined up, they were quickly broken up in the run-in to the line. But there’s more …

Instead of having Donald Trump howl and yowl silly nothings, there were measured, intelligent announcers who told you what was going on, and better yet, a high observation hill from which you could overlook the entire course and see every move, every attack, every mix-up, in realtime. With a pair of binoculars it would have been even better. What differentiated this crit from virtually all others in SoCal was the visual of an entire peloton in a single file for the entire race, as opposed to a giant blob of riders, 99% of whom were sitting in for the sprunt while a handful either drove the pace of tried to get away.

To top it off, there was no extortion in the finishing area, where the promoter charged outrageous fees for clubs to set up their tents. Have a tent? Set it up, bro. No problem!

This event, with its five-year guarantee, will swell to mammoth proportions in the coming years because it delivers so much more than the hack offerings synonymous with many other crits. When racers have a convenient and safe venue, a challenging race course, the cachet of a major brand, the backing of one of the country’s oldest and most respected bike clubs, deep prize lists that put real money in riders’ pockets, respect for the participants and the spectators, great announcing, and a welcoming vibe, racers will sign up.

And … they did!

The women’s pro field boasted two UCI pros coming off the Tour of California, Krista Doebel-Hickock and Amber Neben. The other women’s fields had deep turnout as well, and to top it off, the promoters made junior racing a centerpiece rather than an afterthought.

Of course none of this happened by waving a magic wand. Porsche was initially far from certain that opening up its facility to a bunch of bike racers was going to be a good idea, but the marketing certainly made sense: A percentage of riders on nice bikes are also in the market for luxury cars, and what better way to show them what Porsche has to offer?

One of the funniest objections was Porsche’s initial concern that the bike tires could potentially damage its pristine, multi-million dollar test track. At first blush it sounds silly. How could a bike tire do what a car tire can’t? But then I thought about it like this: What would I do if a bunch of bike racers came up and asked to use my multi-million dollar facility with the blithe assurance that “It’ll be fine, dude, trust me.”

I’d run, that’s what.

But after analysis and discussion, the scales tilted in favor of the bike tires, and then it simply boiled down to this: Could the bike racers show up and not make total jackasses of themselves? Turns out they not only could … but they did.

A more polite, respectful, rule-following crowd I have never seen. Not a scrap of litter, not a single broken rule (don’t walk out onto the track or past the barriers), and no James Doyle-type antics. The consequence was bitterly hard racing and what I hope were enough sales leads to make Porsche think that there may be the basis for solid synergy between bikes and Porsche.

Huge kudos to everyone on VC LaGrange who pulled it off, from the negotiators, to the board that supported the race, to the volunteers who manned the event, and to the LaGrange racers, who, from the looks of it, outnumbered every other club on a day when clubs were out in force.

Here’s to 2020.

________________________________

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BMUFS

June 8, 2019 § 12 Comments

Bikes May Use Full Stream.


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So, um, what’s your plan?

June 5, 2019 Comments Off on So, um, what’s your plan?

That’s what I was thinking forty minutes into Telo. There were four other riders in the break: Julien Bourdevaire, who had sat on the front for 30 minutes and ridden most of the field out of the race. Peter the Hungry, who was either sitting in for dear life or planning a vicious attack. Chatty Cathy, whose game plan is always Hammer and See What Sticks, and Aaron.

Aaron.

Aaron.

Aaron.

That name kept bouncing around in my head, because with him in the split, there was no method to me winning. He was gonna win.

The small fry had already tossed themselves into the wood chipper, most notably Ivan the Terrible, reduced for the day to Ivan the Droppable. He’d correctly id’d Julien as the wheel to sit, and at the 30-minute mark when Julien drifted to the back had rolled up beside me and nudged me off of Jules’s wheel in the first turn.

“You should have just asked,” I thought, but no worries. I’m not committed enough to fight for a wheel, and it gives 20-something beginners a sense of satisfaction to push the old and infirm out of the way. I’m a giver.

Plus, I was laughing to myself. “Let’s see how well you like Jules’s wheel in about two minutes.” Because after decimating the field, Julien was taking a breather before doing what I predicted was going to be something really painful.

It had been an eventful Telo so far. About fifteen minutes into the race, the chain whip in the middle of the turn that we kept running over finally flipped up and into Emmy’s front wheel, exploding it with a massive bang. It’s easy to blame motorists for throwing trash onto the street, but it was hard to come up with an explanation of how a motorist in an office park would have dropped a chain whip.

Couldn’t have been a cyclist.

Two riders had gone up the road, and when we hit the tailwind, sure enough, Julien launched. Ivan the Droppable, who was perfectly positioned to follow the perfectly telegraphed move, opened up a huge gap as Jules sprinted away. I was on Ivan’s wheel, laughing as he desperately tried to close the widening gap. When he blew, I came around, then hit my own mini-wall.

Aaron came around me, bridged to Julien, and they were poised to join Peter the Hungry and Chatty Cathy. I grunted, put in an ugly effort, and latched on. Ivan was back in Gardena somewhere.

Our five-man group rotated easily away from the shards and pieces of the chasers, but still I kept thinking … “Aaron.”

Because as things stood, I was going to get fifth, and since I was showcasing my new Bahati kit, that wasn’t going to be enough. As is always the case at Telo, if Aaron is with the leaders at the finish, he’s going to win. Coming around him is about as success-proof a plan as coming around Charon Smith.

So I attacked with seven laps to go.

Unfortunately, several lapped riders fell in with the chasers, who also slowed, allowing Ivan & Co. to claw back on. This gave me a bit more distance, but it also meant that it was a matter of time before they started chasing in earnest, and nine riders against one old, slow, fading grandpa was a foreordained outcome.

Still, with five to go I had a gap. With four to go, a gap. With three, with two, and finally with one to go, I had a gap. The impossible looked like it was going to happen, except that each time I glanced back I could see Ivan, Wes, Brandon, and Chatty Cathy throwing everything they had into the chase.

Did they not understand that they were with Aaron? What did they think was going to happen in the sprint if they reeled me back? Why, instead of trying to bridge, were the motorheads working together to catch me in order to set up Aaron for the win?

All of these questions were duly explained afterwards by Baby Seal. Caught and shelled with half a lap to go, I was despondent. “Look, Wanky, there are three types of riders in the chase. The first are the ones who are just happy to be there. They may be lapped, or they may have lucked into it, but they don’t care about anything other than being where they are. The happyheads are irrelevant and ignored.

“The second ones are the swivelheads. They simply hammer and follow every move, without thinking about why, about the composition of the group, or about the finish. They are the ones that Aaron is playing like a banjo, using them up as they pointlessly squander their watts in the waning moments of the symphony. They include ‘teammates’ who chase, lapped riders who rested for ten minutes and now have a few more efforts to throw down, as well as arch-enemies whose idea of a win is seeing you lose. Bottom line, they are Aaron’s bitches, they just don’t know it, and probably never will.

“The third ones are the winners. Julien is back there laughing. He likes you and isn’t going to chase. But Aaron? He’s there to win. And he did.”

“What about me? Which type am I?”

“You,” he said, “are the hopeless flailer who sets everything up for Aaron. Either you stay in the break and help power him to the finish, or you launch, inducing your ‘teammates’ and the other swivelheads to chase you down, thereby giving Aaron a bunch of corpses to gently step over in the last 400 yards.”

“But why don’t the other riders calculate that as long as Aaron is there, they lose? Why don’t they attack him until one of them gets away?”

Baby Seal shrugged. “Calculate? It’s Telo.”


END

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The wheel

June 2, 2019 § 8 Comments

I was in a hurry. I pulled on my bibs, arm warmers, jersey, socks, vest, shoes, and gloves. I hurried out, greeted by a thick mist that turned to light drizzle, a drizzle that lasted the entire day.

We got to the start of the NOW Ride in Santa Monica. On Pacific Coast Highway, at ride’s begin, the group was huge. It had a bad feel. So many people, wet road, light rain.

The fast people immediately twisted the throttle and the speed began to pick up. I wasn’t really sure what to do. I didn’t want to be too far forward because it would be single file and hard, but I didn’t want to be very far back because people would become sketchier and sketchier as the speed picked up.

At that moment Rahsaan Bahati passed me, resolving my dilemma. I’d do whatever Rahsaan did, for this simple reason: He doesn’t make mistakes, and he is the smoothest rider I’ve ever seen. To say he is a smooth rider doesn’t really describe it, though. No matter how fast you are going, if you can stay on Rahsaan’s wheel, it’s as if you are going at half speed. His pedal strokes are so fluid that they look effortless, and he guides his bike by, through, into, and out of spaces so easily that you wonder why you can’t do it by yourself.

The reason you can’t do it by yourself is because Rahsaan thinks four or five steps ahead, whereas most riders, including me, think in briefer and briefer bursts the harder the effort and the tireder we become until we are simply staring at a wheel, hoping not to get dropped. Rahsaan separates the pain from the cognition, so that no matter how much pain, he is still seeing, computing, re-calibrating, predicting, and making choices on things that have not yet happened.

Among really great riders there is a separate group of amazingly smooth ones. After Rahsaan, the smoothest riders I’ve ever raced with are Gibby Hatton and Paul Che, in that order. Gibby was a professional keirin racer for over a decade, and sitting in the 50+ masters pack with him was simply astonishing. At least 50 pounds overweight, and completely unremarkable except for the rainbow stripes on his sleeve, he would ride an entire 60-minute CBR crit and pedal hardly at all. He’d just coast up, slide back, pedal twice, coast up, slide back, repeat.

Until the end, of course. That’s when he’d magically be third wheel and he’d kick it one time. No one was ever even close.

Paul Che, who cleverly quit racing to make money, was another guy who made the hardest thing on a bike, moving around in a pack, look like a child could do it. The handful of races I did with him, I’d try to follow as he floated through the field. He could go from 70th to 5th in a matter of seconds, hardly pedaling, slipping into spaces that didn’t even look like spaces, his hands not even on the hoods. Of course tailing him never lasted more than a few spots.

As good or better than anyone might be Daniel Holloway, but I don’t know because I’ve never been in a race with him. On training rides, though, he was another rider who seemed to move without really moving. One thing is sure, though. These magicians don’t touch, push, bump, bang or slam, although they can if they have to. 99.9% of their motion is premeditated and unopposed; you can’t stop someone you can’t see.

Rahsaan isn’t “next level.” He is “next next next level,” because his movement is based on extraordinary awareness of everything happening in front, in back, and on both sides even as all those elements change by the second. This awareness is backed by instantaneous reflexes–in full gas mode he suddenly lifted his whole bike over a gnarly manhole cover that I never even saw until I’d ridden over it. How had he even seen it, his view blocked by a dozen riders, much less reacted that quickly?

As I was enjoying the confidence of sitting on the magician’s wheel, he began to move up. I didn’t know why, but I knew he wasn’t doing it so that he could get a better view of the ocean. This is another characteristic of Rahsaan: Nothing is random. To the contrary, everything is carefully calculated beyond any description.

This is the biggest difference between magicians and hackers. The magicians act intentionally, whereas the hackers simply survive, until of course … they don’t.

The pace was now so blistering that the first twenty riders were in single file. As Rahsaan moved forward, so did I, amazed at how it just naturally “happened.” At about twelfth wheel, Rahsaan paused. Then with four pedal strokes he shot forward, always protected from the wind, to the position he’d been aiming for. I ran out of follow and was stuck.

My heart was pounding so hard and my breathing was so loud that I only vaguely heard the riders behind me, the gassed mob of hangers-on noisier than usual, then a funny cacophony, and then silence. I knew that silence. It meant that the snap had happened, the door had slammed shut, and I was the last one to squeak through.

The stake usually gets driven through my heart on the NOW Ride at Pepperdine Hill, about a hundred yards from the top, but the speed had been so high on the run-in to Cross Creek that I was utterly shot before we even began the 2-minute effort. I pushed towards the front to try and create some room to latch onto when the group swarmed by, but it was pointless. The riders who’d been driving the train were completely fresh, and when they stomped I shot backwards.

As I reversed by Rahsaan he said, “There was a crash back there. We should go back.”

I certainly wasn’t going forward, and we circled back. Soon enough I saw Foxy’s headlight; she’d been right behind the mayhem and had narrowly avoided a four-man blow-em-up that had thrown several riders into oncoming traffic which, by the grace of dog, there was none. Two ambulances carted away the injured.

The two of us continued on and climbed Deer Creek, then rode back to the South Bay. My bib shorts, which were way too short, looked ludicrous, like hotpants, riding way up to mid-thigh, exposing a huge white band above the tan line where my shorts usually stopped. Foxy snapped a photo, it looked so silly. I didn’t know if it had been the rain, but the shorts had rubbed me raw every which way, something that never happens.

114 miles and a bunch of elevation later, I got home cold, beat up, and shaky. I stripped off my black bibs with the black pad and realized why nothing had been right all day.

In a pack of a hundred riders no one noticed and no one said a word, not even the rider who’d been on my wheel for several hours, that I’d been wearing my shorts …

Inside out.

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