November 15, 2011 § 17 Comments
We’ve all been there. We buy some tall, white socks because they look so sporty and clean, and because they match any cycling outfit, even those glow-in-a-black-hole yellow shoes that Perez was wearing on Sunday. If your legs are long and bony, tall white socks close some of the gap between sock cuff and the leg of the shorts, helping you look less like an Oxfam model and more like a normal person. If your legs are chunky and short, tall white socks give the lower part of your leg that muscled, powerful accent that looks so cool when you’re standing in your underwear bent over in a cycling pose with your ass to the mirror as you try to look over your shoulder to see how you look to other people and are of course suitably mortified by what you see.
The biggest benefit to crisp, clean, tall white socks, however, is that if you always wear them, people think you’ve got a zillion pairs because everyone knows that tall white socks quickly get too nasty to wear after one or two outings. If you have a zillion pairs, it implies that you’re fabulously wealthy, or that you’re sponsored, or that your wife doesn’t have to work outside the home, or that you can afford full-time domestic help. It shows that YOU don’t have to slave away, bent double over a bleach bottle trying to scrub out the grease and grime from yesterday’s slugfest in the mud.
If you insist on wearing tall white socks even in the nastiest weather, it reinforces all of the above. ‘Wow! Muffy has so many socks (and at $16.95 that adds up quick!) that she can just wear ‘em and toss ‘em.” That’s instant respect, especially if you’re wearing premium brands like Assos (means “asshole” in Swiss-Italian), or Rapha (means “uncertain sexual orientation”) in Rafanese.
What worked for the pros can work for you
Tall white socks are also proven to improve cycling performance. If you’re an adherent of the training methodologies espoused by Chris Carmichael, Andy Coggan, Michele Ferrari, or Voluptua the Tantric Sex Coach, you already understand what it takes to squeeze the most out of your body, so to speak. But the extra “winning” ingredient is always activated by tall white socks. Experts don’t know exactly why the tall white sock improves cycling performance, and posers like you and me frankly don’t care.
Don’t believe it? Eddy Merckx set his hour record wearing tall white socks, although admittedly they sagged a bit as elastic hadn’t been invented yet. In addition to huge quantities of EPO, corticosteroids, and blood doping, Lance Armstrong’s winning edge came from…you guessed it. Tall white socks. Alberto’s rapid rise from a low-level drug addict who bought blood doping products under his dog’s name from Eufemiano Fuentes to a world class doper and Tour winner who bought his doping products from Basque cattlemen was due to…tall white socks.
In our own little corner of the cycling world, Los Angeles County has a number of proud exponents of the tall white sock, none more widely known and admired than Knoll. Although rarely seen on rides longer than 45 yards, and although he has a permanent designated spot at the Peet’s in Santa Monica, the simple act of pulling on a pair of tall white socks turns him into a terrible terror of monstrous mountaineering. The photo at the left shows him battering his mates into submission even though this is his first ride since ’02, and immediately prior to jumping on his bike he had three bacon cheeseburgers and a plate of bleu cheese.
The dirty little secret
The reason so many cyclists begin with tall white socks but give up on them before realizing their full benefits has to do with filth. The socks get dirty rather quickly. Stuffed inside a nasty, moldy, stinky cycling shoe, or stretched up over a calf that’s been slathered in brownish/reddish embrocation, drizzled with sweat, and sprayed with an admixture of sand and sludge from the bike path will quickly scuzz out your socks. Just having to touch the nasty things after a ride is enough to make you want to throw them away. It’s like having a strip of toilet paper permanently attached to the heel of your shoe. A real buzzkill.
Tired after the Donut and desperate to eat enough food to counteract the health and weight-loss benefits of the ride, you toss the crud-covered socks into the hamper and viciously attack the peanut butter with a large wooden spoon. You leave the mouldering socks there until the next day, or perhaps the next week, giving the gunk on the socks time to fester and procreate in the steamy, fetid pile of damp undies, smelly t-shirts, yucked out yoga pants, and snot-encrusted cycling gloves. The sock scum multiplies, seeps into the merino/cotton/lycra fibers, and permanently stains the formerly proud, crisp, tall white sock.
When it’s time for laundry you toss them into the wash with a squirt of OxiClean, a dash of industrial strength detergent, a dab of Go-Jo, maybe a capful of turpentine, and a prayer. What comes out is a slightly off-color pair of socks that are no longer crisp and pretty and calling out to you, “Hey, stretch me over your well-turned ankles and supple calves,” but rather are whispering, “If you pedal quickly enough maybe no one will notice we’re not crisply white anymore.”
You wear them a few more times, including a morning or two when it’s wet or damp outside, and pretty soon they’ve turned a pale shade of gray. Before you realize it you’ve tossed them, or are using them to wipe your chain, and have replaced them with something black or navy that doesn’t show the filth. And guess what? You’ve achieved none of the fitness or envy benefits of your purchase.
As you sock, so shall you ride
After decades of having his wife scrub his tall white socks by hand, Wankmeister was recently handed a stack of papers by a process server titled, “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.” Under Attachment A, which listed the causes for the petition, Wankmeister noted the following:
1. Respondent pees on the toilet rim and never wipes it off.
2. Respondent makes yogurt and fruit for dessert but never throws away the banana peel, and instead dumps it into the disposal, which clogs, and causes the apartment maintenance man to charge us $75 dollars per visit.
3. Respondent farts all the time.
4. Respondent sleeps through date night movies.
5. Respondent always forgets our anniversary, but invariably remembers his own birthday with an expensive cycling-related purchase.
6. Respondent is tired all the time, except when it’s time to cycle, talk about cycling, blog about cycling, read cycling magazines, or check out Fuckdude’s latest video post on the “Tug-Toner.” Which was disgusting, by the way.
7. Respondent’s income is a joke.
8. Respondent’s bike cost more than the resale value of both our cars.
9. Respondent always falls asleep early, if you know what I mean.
10. Respondent makes me scrub his nasty fucking tall white cycling socks.
When Wankmeister got this shocking paperwork, he realized that his marriage of 24 years was on the brink, and only by making drastic and permanent changes to every aspect of his relationship would it survive. So Wanky took the high road, bit the bullet, and rolled out Wankmeister 2.0. That’s right. He told her she no longer had to wash the socks. Sometimes you have to give in to make your marriage work. And Wanky was willing to do that.
The 12-Step Method of Tall Sock Whitification
So here are Wankmeister’s Secrets for Tall Sock Whitification. With a little study you too can wear crisp, tall white socks no matter how nasty the weather. Your packmates will envy your sock-horn of plenty and invite you to all the coolest parties and apres-Pier Ride coffee klatches.
1. Don’t ever toss the socks in the hamper after a ride. Instead, rinse them in hot tap water.
2. Take out your special Japanese Magic Green Soap Bar of Death (not sold in stores).
3. Rub the affected areas with the Soap Bar of Death. The Soap Bar of Death is gentle enough to use without a welding mask. However, welding gloves are advised.
4. Squirt copious amounts of OxiClean on the affected areas.
5. Gently pour small amounts of bleach directly onto the stains, which have now been assaulted by successive layers of hot water, Green Soap Bar of Death, and OxiClean.
6. Take a shower.
7. Check FB and hits on your blog, if you have one.
8. Go back to the sink and scrub your socks by hand until the stains are gone.
9. Rinse in hot water.
10. Scrub some more.
11. Rinse out the sink so that there are no grease stains or chunks of dissolved flesh from the bleach and Soap Bar of Death to infuriate your wife.
12. Toss the socks in the laundry hamper, preferably wrapped in aluminum foil so they don’t dissolve the other fabrics they might come into contact with.
Well, there you have it. See you and your whitey, tighty, crispy, tall white socks out on the road!
November 14, 2011 § 2 Comments
I saw your defamatory, abusive, hateful, and offensive report on the traffic commission meeting held last week at PV Estates. People like you are the problem, and the only realistic solution is a bullet in the head at close range. I have worked as a design engineer for 45 years on some of the most difficult and complex problems in the history of aeronautics and rocketry. Although I have a home in Minnesota, I lease a home in RPV and cycle there six times a week. For all of your silly bravado, I’ve never seen you or heard of you before I came across this disgusting blog. As an aside, your post about “Cycling and Blowjobs” was one of the filthiest things I’ve ever read. You are clearly sick, have anger management issues, and need professional help.
Although it’s tempting to dismiss your ugly and illiterate rant as the ravings of a madman, it’s a fact that traffic in PVE needs to be calmed, and your shrill screams divert attention from a real and serious problem: bicycles. This past Saturday the infamous “Donut Ride” was charging hell-for-leather down Paseo del Mar at a dangerous and reckless speed estimated to be as high as 30mph. One of the city’s highly trained and expert patrolmen decided to pass this group of rabblerousers by swerving hard to the right, slamming on his brakes, and doing a 180-degree spinaround a few feet in front of the pack, just like he’d learned from watching Adam-12 reruns.
One of your foolish lawbreakers smacked into his cruiser, and another barely escaped injury, or better yet, death. The entire pack came to a complete halt, while backup support was called and the incident was thoroughly investigated so that the appropriate criminal charges can be levied against these uncalm abusers of PVE’s tranquility. This patrolman’s maneuver is the best way to calm traffic in PVE. And it works.
Wow. Thanks for sharing.
I saw your silly, completely useless, and downright degrading “review” on cycling glasses. Frauds like you are the problem, and the only realistic solution is a firing squad. I have worked as a neurosurgeon and particle physicist for 45 years, and headed the team that transplanted the entire brain of a PVE motorist into the head of an ant. Although I have a home in Minnesota, I lease a home in RPV and cycle there six times a week. For all of your inanity, I’ve never seen you or heard of you before I came across this despicable blog. As an aside, your post about “Cycling and Blowjobs” was one of the most outrageous and inappropriate things I’ve ever read.
One of the people who wasted a few precious seconds of his life responding to your drivel, a Mr. Dwayne Bairins, is to be commended for his level-headed and honest approach to dealing with your calumnies and specious arguments. If more such thoughtful people would challenge dolts like you, the world would be a better, safer, happier place. You are clearly sick, have anger management issues, and need professional help.
I’m still waiting to find out where Mr. Bairins attends his 6x weekly ride so that I can show up in my color-coordinated lycra outfit and holler “fuck,” “stupid,” “dumbass,” and “moron” a few times.
I saw your inaccurate, fawning, infantile, and downright obnoxious post on the supposedly “outstanding performances” of local bike racers. People like you are the problem, and the only realistic solution is a life sentence in solitary. I have worked as a securities lawyer for 45 years, and have handled some of the most complex and challenging litigation in the history of our courts. Although I have a home in Minnesota, I lease a home in RPV and cycle there six times a week. For all of your pointless blather, I’ve never seen you or heard of you before I came across this embarrassment of a blog. As an aside, your post about “Cycling and Blowjobs” was one of the most pornographic things I’ve ever read.
You should be advised that the people who are supposedly deserving of commendation for their cycling exploits are what the rest of the world calls “wankers.” Check the dictionary on that one. You’ll be surprised at how aptly it fits you and your ilk. You are clearly sick, have anger management issues, and need professional help.
I’m starting to think that you, Loopy, Bwayne, and Dwayne might be related. Just a hunch.
November 13, 2011 § 1 Comment
When old married guys ride together they always talk about, or at least mention sex. It may just be appreciation for a pretty woman on the strand, or the cute butt of a passing female cyclist, or the first thong of spring, or a discussion of boob jobs, or fond reminiscences about the days of pre-marriage when all we longed for was a sex partner who didn’t require a date, a movie, hard liquor, a concatenation of lies, or the awkwardness of looking at your bedmate the next day through hangover lenses. And when it comes to reminiscences, nothing brings a happier smile to the face of and old and grizzled biker than memories of blowjobs past.
There’s something about the blowjob. It’s pretty much the gold standard of sexual pleasure among married men. Not because it feels better than anything else, but because it is truly a sign of wifely devotion. Every man who’s ever gotten one has said to himself at least once, “Dang, that sure is nasty. She either really loves me or she’s going the extra mile to make me happy.” Either that, or “I hope the charge code on my VISA doesn’t show up as ‘blowjob.'”
The blowjob, in a husband’s mind, is a proxy for a wife’s devotion, in the same way that a mortgage, a fat 401k, two nice cars, Hawai’i vacations, a big-ass rock, a kickass wedding, an Ivy League education for the kids, and never having to give another fucking blowjob as long as she lives is the gold standard in a wife’s mind when evaluating her spouse.
So there we were one morning, talking about blowjobs and their incredible scarcity in our marriages. “Yeah,” Grizzled said. “Last one I got was in ’03.”
“No shit?” We answered in unison, impressed with the recency.
“What did you have to do to get it?”
“Cabinets. A full set of walnut cabinetry, custom designed and hand-built in Sweden. $25k.”
One of the guys nodded. “$25,000 per blowjob? That sounds about right. Last time I got one was when we remodeled the kitchen with all Subzeroes.”
Finally I turned to Youngster, a guy who’s been riding with us for a long time but who has only been married for a couple of years. “You’re awfully quiet. When’s the last time you got one?”
He looked at me. “Yesterday.”
We opened our eyes wide in envy. “No shit?”
“Yeah. I get ‘em whenever I want ‘em.”
“You lying fucker.”
“I swear. It’s the truth.” Turns out that his sex life post-marriage hadn’t altered a whit.
“Just you wait,” Grizzled snorted.
“Wait for what?” Youngster asked.
Go blow yourself, honey
A few months later we were riding with Youngster. “Great news!” he said.
“What’s that, buddy?” I asked.
“Wife’s pregnant. We’re having a baby!”
“Dude, that’s fucking awesome. Congratulations!”
“Thanks, man. I’m so excited.”
Grizzled rode up next to him. “My condolences, pal.”
“For what? I want kids. I’m psyched.”
“Your blowjob-on-demand services just got terminated. You watch.”
For the next eight months we kept regular tabs on Youngster’s blowjobs. Every ride began with the question, and he answered every time with the smugness of the recently blown.
Then the baby came. We practically broke out in fisticuffs trying to be the first one to ask the question. He didn’t look me in the eye when I posed it. “Nah, she’s just had a kid, dude. That’s not on her mind right now.”
Grizzled laughed. “Not now, not ever, punk. Better start pricing out those walnut cabinets from Sweden.” We all laughed so fucking hard we almost ran into each other. Youngster was sour, but put on a brave face.
“You’re a bunch of cheapass stinky old turds who think that romance means a bad movie, some crappy cafe you’ve been going to since the Jurassic, and a bottle of $12 wine. That’s why you haven’t gotten a blowjob in thirty years.”
Of course we just laughed even harder.
She’s just really tired all the time
A few months into fatherhood, we no longer had the heart to keep funning with Youngster. The handwriting was on the wall. His wife really was tired all the time. She had gone back to work. He was waking up at 2 a.m., helping with the colicky baby, the shitty diapers, the demands of his job, and still trying to get in enough miles to be fit on the bike. It was obviously a stressful time, and reminding him that his blowjobs had dried up was, well, cruel. So we quit.
Of course every time I see Youngster I think about his wonderful family (two kids now), and all those blowjobs he’ll never get again. In addition to taking care of his wife and children he continues to train and race. He’s a little slower to laugh than he used to be, but he’s still one of the best people to be around, and still a monster on the bike.
I’ve seen lots of people get into cycling and become consumed with it. Not just young riders who go hard and burn out early, but older people who find in cycling a release from the stress of work, or a pathway to better health, or a forum for athletic competition, or just a place to throw away their excess cash. That all-encompassing, tingling, overwhelmingly pleasurable rush of cycling and everything related to it…that’s the blowjob.
As time goes on, though, things get complicated. Sound familiar? The bike starts to conflict with family time. The bike starts to conflict with necessary expenses. The bike also starts to reveal some ugly truths about you. You’ll never race for a pro team in Belgium. You’ll never win the KOM on the Switchbacks. You’ll never beat Meeker in any race, in any category. MMX will always beat you in ‘cross by multiple laps. G$’s times on Strava are not simply unreachable. They’re unimaginable.
It’s not about the blowjob
A lot of the new enthusiasts don’t make it past the first few years. Others adopt it as a permanent fiber of their lives. What’s the difference between them?
I think it’s the recognition that there’s a lot more to cycling than the blowjob. Although it’s awesome to feel the thrill of the bike moving through the wind, to be part of a smooth paceline, or to enjoy the friendship and camaraderie of the group ride, cycling over the long term involves a fair amount of slogging. Slogging along the same routes, slogging through shitty weather, slogging in the early hours in order to get the ride in before work, slogging in a group that’s not riding the way you want it to, slogging by yourself after getting spit out the back.
After a while it becomes a whole–the good and the bad, the boredom and the excitement, the hard work and the effortless “no chain” days. We also figure out a way to work it into our relationships so that there’s equilibrium, or we change the relationship because the bike is that important to us. Best of all, no matter how long we do it, there always seems to be a pleasant surprise when we least expect it.
I saw Youngster a couple of weeks ago, riding by himself. I u-turned and chased him down. “Hey, man,” I said.
He turned and looked at me, and, smiling slightly, said just one word. “Blowjob.”
See? Just when he least expected it. Just like on the bike.
November 12, 2011 § Leave a comment
Steve Carre has asked me to post a link to the Robert Hyndman Memorial Fund’s donation site.
“Everything received will help the family deal with their loss. Anything above and beyond will go toward an education fund that Robert has already set up for his nieces and nephews and a special family friend. Please forward the link to anyone who this may not have reached. This will help the family have one less thing to worry about at this time and will have an impact on those Roberto loved.”
November 11, 2011 § 16 Comments
I once managed a U.S. senate campaign, and it was there that I learned to hate democracy. As a concept, it’s great. But in practice, it seems like the only people who care enough to show up are the mean-spirited, crotchety, my-way-or-the-highway douchebags who believe that because they reached the age of 70 everything they think is a fact.
The city of Palos Verdes Estates, where I lived for four years as a renter, has its own pecking order. Here’s the complete ranking sheet that you need to have before you do anything in PVE, just so you know where you stand. The lower the number, the higher you rank.
1. People who bought and have lived in the same house for forty years or more.
3. People who bought and have lived in the same house for thirty years or more.
4. White people with a net worth of $50 million or more.
5. White people with a net worth of $10-$50 million.
6. White locals who surf at Lunada Bay.
7. White board members of Lunada Bay Little League and PEF.
8. White members of the PV Beach and Athletic Club.
9. White non-members of the PV Beach and Athletic Club on the 15-year waiting list who blow the members of the PV Beach and Athletic Club.
10. Anyone who was responsible for reducing property taxes.
11. Anyone who donates $20k or more to the PEF to make up for the shortfall in school revenue caused by the reduced property taxes.
If you’re not on this list, you don’t matter. However, there’s also a score sheet that the city uses to rank the degree to which you don’t matter. They use this when people impinge upon the city’s whiteness and try to alter the character of the community or the nature of its laws and regulations, by, for example, showing up at city council meetings and daring to speak. The lower the number, the more despicable you are.
11. Child rapists.
10. People whose skin isn’t really white and/or Jews.
9. Serial rapists and/or murderers.
8. Non-white people who apply for membership at the PV Beach and Athletic Club.
7. Non-local surfers.
6. Anyone from Rancho Palos Verdes.
5. Non-PVE residents who use its roads.
3. Non-owners of Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
Democracy in action
I showed up at the city’s traffic commission meeting, where they were soliciting public comment on the new “traffic calming measures” being touted by the city. Held conveniently on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. so that no one but the resident blue-hairs and the wealthy retirees could reasonably attend, the meeting room was packed. Out of the fifty or sixty people who had come to flex the tired, flabby, and grossly untoned muscle of local democracy, only four of us were cyclists.
The city’s engineer, Allan Rigg, who can be reached at email@example.com, presented a schematic diagram that showed the city’s innovative approach to calming traffic on Via del Monte. Once I saw the residents speak, I understood why they called it traffic “calming,” as the angry white people were furious and raging beyond belief at the deadly state of affairs in Palos Verdes Estates. They called me first to the lectern to deliver my three minutes’ worth of comments. My pitch was simple. I live in RPV (disgust so thick you could cut it with a fork). I love cycling on the Peninsula (contempt overlayered with revulsion). The changes the city makes to Via del Monte should take into account cyclists (snorting derision). A war hero suffered catastrophic injuries after installation of the traffic cushions (serves him right for riding a bike). Thanks for the hard work you’re all doing for the community (it’s our community and fuck you we don’t need your thanks you dirtbag RPV Democrat cycling Camry-driving renter).
Ve haf vays ov slowing you down
The engineer’s recommendations for calming the outraged traffic are so dangerous, stupid, and ludicrous that if he didn’t have the word “engineer” appended to his job title I would have thought it was a comedy routine. Unfortunately, here are the solutions to calm the angry, angry traffic on VDM:
1. Put up electronic signs so that speeders will know they’re speeding. These are effective because when someone is doing 90 in a 35 they can use the signs to calibrate the speedometer in their vehicle.
2. Add several zillion huge reflector dots all up and down the street, with a few million smack in the middle of the hairpin. These will ensure that any cyclist whose line drifts too far out will hit the bumps and be flung into oncoming traffic, and hopefully die or at least suffer permanent debilitating injurty.
3. [This one I didn’t really grasp, and have asked Mr. Rigg to send me the diagram.] Add differential levels to the edge of the road in the hairpin to “channel” the traffic. This will slow people down on the hairpin, and again, kill lots of cyclists.
The voices of disreason
The good citizens were then advised that the meeting was not being held to consider the existing traffic cushions, which are here to stay, so the meeting began and ended with the angry blue-hairs talking almost exclusively about the traffic cushions. With the exception of Dave Kramer, Brad House, and a Mr. Eastman, no one else had anything to say, intelligent or otherwise, about the proposed new measures. Below are excerpts of the rantings that will, in due course, support the commission’s recommendations to make VDM off-limits and/or a [greater] death trap to cyclists.
Eldora Snagbottom: I’ve lived on Via del Monte for 43 years and these traffic cushions hurt my hip which has been replaced and hurt the shocks on my car.
Evelyn Whackdoodle: I’ve lived on Via del Monte for 47 years. These speed calming cushions slow traffic for those of us with V8’s we should be able to go faster.
Samuel Ratslinger: Are we a third world city who can’t afford cops? Let’s get more cops. And we want more speed bumps to stop the speeders. Speeders are ruining this city. I moved here in 1963 and it’s changed for the worse, I can tell you.
Peony Pukesy: I oppose anything that interferes with parking on this street. I moved here in 1952 and parking is important. Everyone else needs to respect us and parking. We pay taxes.
Howeldella Smoots: Have we ever measured the speed of bikes? They’re faster than cars. Those bicyclers are crazy and dangerous I can’t hardly get my car out of the drive without one of them whizzing by at 60 miles an hour or faster. Can we arrest them? They are a big problem. I moved here in 1973 and it’s gotten worse every day. Every day.
Frederick Putz: The bumps are great and slow people down. The bumps push people off del Monte and that’s good. Why do they come here anyway? Why can’t we have more bumps? We need a big bump, I mean a big giant one that will rip the front end off a tank, something that blends in so it catches you unawares if you’re not going slow. Lose a few front ends and by God that’ll slow ‘em down. Moved here in ’69.
Helena Abercrombie: Why does the city let the concerns of fire trucks and emergency vehicles trump residents’ concerns about this awful dangerous traffic? Especially the bicyclers. They are the worst. We pay taxes and own property here. I’ve lived here 46 years.
Biff Huttbole: I drive VDM six times a day. There are other ways to do this other than speed bumps. I live here because it’s beautiful. I don’t want some new sign or speed bump blighting my beautiful street. Let’s get the cops involved. Ticket the hell out of everyone, especially the crazy bikers. Hand out $50,000 in tickets every day, full-on lockdown, SWAT team, paddywaggon, we’ll get those bastards and raise a heap of money to boot. Enforcement and punishment works! Haven’t these clowns ever heard of prison?
Suzanne Frumpwad: I don’t want a sign in front of my lawn. I’ve lived here for fifty years. These speed cushions aren’t cushions! They’re hard and they hurt! I’ve lived here fifty years. Cyclists are problems and they speed, run the stop signs, and if they hit a bump and take a whack to the head, maybe they’ll slow down next time! I know I would. I’ve lived here fifty years. Those bumps are discomfortable.
Being heard through the howls of the angry locals
The one useful thing I learned from attending the meeting, aside from the fact that no one gives a flying fuck about bicyclists except bicyclists, is that the traffic commission actually pays attention to letters and phone calls. Huge kudos to the cyclists who took the time off from work or from play in order to show up and say something. For those of you who ride VDM and who don’t want it made worse, please call the city clerk, Ms. Judy Smith, at (310) 378-0383 x2250. Tell her your name, where you live, and that you oppose the newly proposed traffic calming measures and you request that the city remove the speed cushions on Via del Monte. I know that it’s hard to pick up the phone, but get off FB for just a minute or two and give it a go. Thanks.
November 9, 2011 § 62 Comments
Robert Eugene Hyndman left this world on the morning of Saturday, November 5, 2011 courtesy of a powerful blow to the head. The slight rubber strips, only a few millimeters wide, that anchored his bike to the surface of the road and that anchored him to the world of the living, lost traction with the pavement. He was flung headlong into a metal guardwire, airlifted to the hospital, and died of his injuries.
Everyone familiar with the treacherous, technical, terrifying descent that is Las Flores Canyon thought the same thing, and we thought it in unison: “Could have been me.”
But you know what? It wasn’t.
Hearsay comes first
If the life and death of Robert Hyndman holds any interest for you, take a moment to read the following links to news reports and cycling blogs. They’re instructive. They’re moving. And they form the basis for what I’m about to write, which may not be comforting if the rough, rusty edge of reality frightens you as it does me.
After you’ve read all this, and if you’ve been able to digest it, it may be enough. In a lot of ways, there’s nothing more to add. In another way, though, some of the most important things have barely even been suggested, much less said. I’m going to try to say them. Don’t be surprised if I fail.
What about the facts?
None of the news reports or blog reports discusses the thing that every cyclist wants to know when they hear of a fatality: How did it happen? Hyndman’s accident is variously reported as “veering onto the wrong side of the road,” “losing control,” and “hitting a guardrail.” We know that’s bullshit because it explains nothing. Riders don’t veer onto the wrong side of the road unless something goes wrong. Cyclists don’t lose control unless some unexpected, external event disrupts them. What happened?
No one apparently saw the crash in enough detail to explain what happened, although one rider was behind him when he went down. In a conversation with one of the people who was on the ride, the closest I got to an explanation of what happened was this: Hyndman had gone into a previous turn too hot, and was cautioned by his brother, who has been cycling for thirty years. Although he wasn’t going particularly fast, as he rounded the next turn he locked the brakes and shot straight into the guardwire. He struck head first. There was, according to another person with whom I spoke, no equipment failure. Just a fast moving bike, a turn, and a guardrail.
The fact that there are no facts is instructive, because without them all we’re really doing is opining. But if the above account really is what happened, then we’ve got a scenario, and the unpleasant job of filling in that scenario with people, decisions, and consequences.
What is a Rapha “Gentlemen’s Ride”?
We’re told on their web site that a Rapha Gentlemen’s Ride is “…a ride that involves a little bit of bragging rights but it’s more about storytelling and local folklore. It’s competition but not to the exclusion of camaraderie and experience. The reality of course is that gentlemen’s riding is racing in a group. In fact, gentlemen’s riding should really be called what it is – gentlemen’s racing. Whatever the distance, whatever the route, a Gentlemen’s Ride is anything that isn’t a sanctioned race. It’s a way, in the middle of your Tuesday afternoon ride, to win a cyclo sportive, a brevet or town limit sign, even your local KOM. At the top of a climb, the group will reorganize, for on a Gentlemen’s Ride the group ends as it began, together. But along the way, when the ride is at its most challenging, the headwind at its most unobliging, all bets are off. That’s when the order of things remains to be decided. Again and again.”
I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear the word “gentlemen” I think of sleazy guys getting drunk, eating greasy snacks, and watching a stripper on a pole. When I hear the word “racing” I think of full-on, full-throttle, full-testosterone, full-bore risk taking. Crazy, batshit whacko crazy, nutfuck over-the-top risks that include death and horrific injury for the potential reward of a few dollars, maybe some category upgrade points, bragging rights, and the thrill of performing under intense pressure and fear.
The Rapha blurb confirms all of this, and does so proudly. “All bets are off.” “Anything that isn’t a sanctioned race.” Most telling of all? “That’s when the order of things remains to be decided.” Ah, of course. The pecking order. The holy and beloved ranking of dicks.
I’ve been on zillions of rides like these. They are fuck-the-loser, die-for-the-sprint-sign, last-one-down’s-a-fred, let-God-sort-‘em-out killfests. The only thing they are missing are an entry fee, a waiver, race insurance, enforced safety by licensed officials, field limits, on-hand emergency medical care, and, most importantly, riders roughly sorted by ability and experience.
As crazy at it sounds, certain aspects of these rides typify the best and most appealing side of competitive cycling. They are fun. They are challenging. They test your physical and mental limits. And since the competition is all in your head, everyone’s a winner, whether your goal is finishing, hanging, or taking the city limit sign. Everybody gets a ribbon, a pecker check, and a rehash at Peet’s. Other aspects? Not so much.
So what was the ride really like?
Steve, the co-owner of BikeEffect and organizer of the ride, started a ride several years ago when he worked at Cynergy. As a boy with four sisters, he was always sensitive to women customers who would come in, buy a bike, and leave the shop with that “Now what?” look. So he began a ride that focused on skills. No hammering, no one gets dropped, everyone learns how to call out objects in the road, basic group etiquette, look out for each other and don’t go beyond your abilities.
On the morning of the ride, Steve went over with the group that everyone had to obey the rules of the road. The ethos of the ride was that “Gentlemen know when to go hard and when to go easy. You don’t need to go off the front and pull crazy hard all the time. Mellow and easy are okay; know when to go.”
The group stayed together and was mellow all the way to Topanga. Up Topanga it broke up due to the varying ability levels, but not balls out, and the same measured pace happened up Old Topanga. On the backside of Old Topanga a La Grange rider fell on what no one would call anything other than an easy and non-technical descent. She’s an experienced rider and racer but nonetheless hit the pavement, ending up with a solid hip bruise but otherwise okay.
The ride went up Mulholland and Stunt, got stretched out, and regrouped at the top of Stunt. The group was looking out for each other and at the top of Stunt it was confirmed that everyone knew the route. Some riders chose Fernwood, perhaps because Las Flores was too hairy. Yet the point also has to be made that once you’re at Stunt, unless you have a helicopter or a car, your choices back down to PCH are limited to Las Flores, Tuna, Fernwood, and Malibu Canyon. Las Flores and Tuna are tough. Fernwood is easier, but with more traffic. Malibu Canyon has lots of high speed traffic and the tunnel.
In any event, this ride wasn’t a hammerfest, and although there wasn’t a detailed description of the descent, it provided more support than the average group ride.
Who chose the course?
We learn that Steve, the co-owner of Bike Effect, chose the course. But we learn more than that. We learn that according to him, in hindsight it was a poor choice. Most importantly, we learn that Steve holds himself accountable for this choice and will carry the guilt of that with him for the rest of his days. A stream of friends, of fellow cyclists, and of the victim’s own brother seek to divest Steve of this responsibility. Robert died doing what he loved. Shit happens. Don’t blame yourself. The route wasn’t a problem. It’s senseless. You can’t carry this awesome burden. And of course, “Be careful out there.”
Far from trying to relieve Steve from responsibility, I applaud him for taking it. By holding himself accountable, by taking responsibility, he has shown the mettle of a man and of a leader. By placing the blame on his own shoulders, he has given others traumatized by this horrible accident a focal point, and by taking on the burden he has lessened the burden of others. He has also put to rest, as the man who organized the ride, the suggestion that it was a good course or a suitable one. It wasn’t. Why? Because someone died on it. End of analysis.
This of course is what leaders do, and it separates them from sheep. People who organize bike rides, who sell and promote the healthful and happy benefits of cycling, must, if they are to be people of integrity, acknowledge the other side of cycling as well. It’s the side of cycling that we have uppermost in our minds when we ride, but we shunt off into a corner of our brain and pray it never happens. The collisions, the spills, the catastrophic encounters with cars–these things are just as real, and just as likely to happen, as the camaraderie, strength, and wellness that comes from pushing the pedals. If you cycle, you are going to crash. No exceptions.
I for one am impressed and humbled at Steve’s leadership. It was his ride. His shop. His course. His buddies. He was going to own it if the ride ended as planned, and he manned up and owned it when it claimed a life. Those who would cheapen his courage by deflecting the mantle he’s elected to wear do no favors to him, to those who are grieving, or to the memory of the dead.
What were the mechanics of the accident?
If our scenario is accurate, Robert crashed because he went too fast around a turn and didn’t know how to correct without locking up his brakes. Never locked it up in a turn? Then you’ve never spent any time at all going downhill.
Robert’s brother Carl says that he had only been cycling for a couple of years, although he describes him as a licensed USCF racer. Carl also mentions that Robert had ridden many roads that are harder and more difficult than Las Flores. Patrick Brady says that Robert had “considerable skill,” but in the same breath admits he never knew or rode with him. Patrick is a friend, but I’ve never heard him praise the skills of a novice cyclist he’s never ridden with. To the contrary: Patrick is well known for keeping his distance, particularly on descents, from people in whom he doesn’t have complete confidence. He’s not necessarily a snob, he’s just been in too many situations where the less skilled make life dangerous for the skilled.
I checked USA Cycling’s web site and found no results for Robert. And although I’ll get to the difficulty of Las Flores later, for the moment let’s assume that Robert really was an avid and experienced cyclist with 2-3 years under his belt, including a lot of challenging terrain. Let’s also assume that he did have considerable skills, but with the caveat that there are only so many descending skills that a man in his late 40’s can pick up in his first three years of cycling.
We all know that descending is a skill that takes years and years of practice to become good at. Many cyclists never become comfortable going downhill, even after decades of practice. We also know that at age 51, Robert had only been learning to descend for three years at the most. Like so many other skills, the reactions and coordination required to descend are harder to learn the older you get. Even in the best case scenario, we have a talented novice making a run down a steep and twisty course.
According to his brother Carl, Robert was an enthusiastic yet cautious rider. Putting all these anecdotes together, it seems to me that he was a solid rider but perhaps much less than an expert descender. This photo of Robert that indicates, simply from the setup of his frame, that the chance is quite low that he was an expert or even a very skilled downhiller. This bike is set up with a spaced, high handlebar, and is not optimally set up for a tricky descent. Indeed, it suggests that he may have had back pain or that there is something about the lower, more tucked position of a racing/descending profile that was either uncomfortable, unnatural, or simply unappealing to him. His weight would have been on his rear wheel, and his raised shoulders would have further pushed his weight on the back, rather than distributing his weight evenly along the line from seat to bars. The even distribution is crucial in tough descents, because it allows you to make minute corrections as the road changes simply by slightly moving. When the weigh is poorly distributed, corrections require bigger, more radical movements. His center of gravity would have been high as well. This photo and a WAG from one of the people on the ride put him as perhaps six feet tall and about 170 pounds.
Anybody out there know what happens when a larger guy raises his center of gravity and also shifts his weight onto his back wheel when doing a steep descent? Exactly. You lock the rear wheel when you try to correct after hitting a turn too hot. This sounds like what happened to Robert, and it suggests that he wasn’t prepared for the descent, even though he looks slim and fit in this undated photo.
This is hardly a swipe at Robert. Expert descending is almost always the result of a witches’ brew of skill and brains and balls and falls and reactions and lots and lots of miles and racing and testing and practicing and training and group rides and comparing notes and pushing envelopes and course memory and tires and ambient humidity and road temperature and frame setup and instinct and the ability to see, just a tiny bit, around blind corners, which is another way of saying “luck.”
The chances are good that Robert was out of his league in the sense that at the time he crashed he didn’t know the road, that the bike got going too fast, that he didn’t have the skills or experience or setup to bring it back under control, and that his difficulties happened in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time.
How tough is the Las Flores descent?
I have to take issue with the description of this road given by Robert’s brother. He says “The terrain wasn’t unusual, too risky or unfamiliar. We had ridden this kind of terrain and far harder many times before.” Yet we know this was Robert’s first time down Las Flores, therefore it was, by definition, completely unfamiliar. More than simply unfamiliar, for a first-timer, regardless of skill, Las Flores is an alien deathscape laden with traps and tricks. Even the statement that they had ridden “this kind of terrain and far harder many times before” speaks volumes about their skills. Every descent is different, and no skilled descender assumes that a downhill even one road away is similar to the current one.
In my experience there’s no such thing as “far harder” than Las Flores. I’ve ridden in Colorado, in Europe, and throughout the mountains of Japan, and after thirty years of going up and going down, I’ve run across a handful of descents as beastly as this one. There are descents that are harder in that they are longer, or they have tighter turns, or they are on narrower roads, or because it’s your first time down. But “far harder” than Las Flores? It is a white-knuckle descent no matter how many times you go down it, and it demands all your ability every single time. No exceptions.
Various people have posted or blogged that Las Flores is pretty ordinary for a descent, or that they go down it all the time and it’s NBD, or have suggested that there was nothing questionable or unsuitable about this downhill. That’s crazy.
My best descent on Las Flores is 29.6 mph, good enough for 11th place on Strava, and I can tell you that even at much slower speeds it’s always dicey. The first hard right turn before you drop off into the trees is off camber, incredibly tight, and comes after a series of gentler turns with a short, straight drop that instantly ramps up your speed. It’s a shocker and a hard corner to handle every single time.
The twists en route to Hume are treacherous because the road is spiked with debris, with steep ramps, more off camber turns, insufficient room for oncoming traffic, narrow lanes, and speed, speed, speed. When you get to PCH and touch your rims after a Las Flores descent they are so hot they burn your fingers. I’ve seen good riders who know the descent intimately spill it on this downhill.
Patrick Brady’s blog describes it as “a challenging descent.” He also points out that the previous ride descended Tuna, an even harder descent, without incident. Patrick is one of the best descenders in the Santa Monica Mountains. He knows every inch of the pavement of every single descent. He gives descending lessons at local bike shops. It took me three years of assiduous practice just to get where I could keep him in sight on descents like Las Flores.
If it’s “challenging” for Patrick, that means one thing and one thing only to novices, or first-timers: It’s dangerous as hell.
So I don’t believe that Robert was in his element. To the contrary, I believe that he was out of it. All of us have been there before, and will be there again. It’s no disgrace and no dishonor to be sliding sideways on Las Flores Canyon Road. But is that really all it was? Tough road, inexperienced rider, and some bad luck?
Risk v. Danger, or bad judgment?
The most cogent apology put forth for what happened is this: First, by calling the ride “too dangerous” we dishonor a skilled cyclist. Second, we denigrate a spectacular land formation and discourage people from enjoying what it has to offer.
The first apology I’ve tried to deal with above. Robert wasn’t skilled enough to handle this tricky descent, and it’s no dishonor to point out that he got in over his head, even though eyewitness accounts have him descending with caution, and even though he’s described as a careful guy. That’s of little consequence, though, because we’ve all gotten in trouble going downhill at one time or another. The second apology doesn’t work, either. No one is suggesting that Las Flores be off limits, or that novice riders shouldn’t have a go. My suggestion is something different, and not dissimilar to the Speedbloggen post: before we rope new riders into new and challenging terrain on big group rides where they are left to sink or swim, we have an obligation to educate, hand hold, and care for them. Who among us does that? Who among us did that for Robert?
And even if Robert was warned, and knew what he was doing, and was just a victim of bad luck, the fact that he’s dead means that we need to look at the bigger picture, i.e., what happens when someone new shows up on YOUR ride?
The old ways no longer work
In 1982, when I joined my first group ride, I was the new face. Singular. The Freewheeling group rides in Austin on Saturday and Sunday had a new rider every year or so, maybe two in a big year. Everyone else was a veteran. There was no shortage of advice. I was treated like a newbie wanker, but I was also educated. Cycling was a fringe activity and it grew slowly. New faces were easily spotted and dealt with and absorbed. People took the time to tell me what was coming up and what to expect, which was generally an ass beating.
Those days are dead and gone. Most big rides have numerous riders with three years’ experience or less. There’s no trail boss. There’s no cadre of surly, weathered, hardened, experienced bastards who’ll shout instructions or pull you over. To the contrary: the old hands either split the field and ride off on their own, or they hide from the new crowds. The old guard rides form in the wee hours, the riders trade emails among themselves, and they avoid the big groups like the plague because so few of the new cyclists know anything about cycling. It’s elitist and snobbery, but if you like riding with people whose abilities you know and trust, there’s little other choice.
And on their precious Saturdays and Sundays, the old school doesn’t particularly want to spend its time giving riding lessons. They want to ride, talk, and enjoy themselves.
With the swell of interest in the sport, it’s utterly common to see beginners in LA County with $8,000 rigs. They have the accoutrements of speed but they don’t have the intimate knowledge of the route or the skills to match the rig. And there will be thousands and thousands more of them before there are less. We can’t expect them to learn by assimilation or by trial-and-error, unless we’re comfortable with an ongoing roll call of the dead and catastrophically injured.
How we all failed Robert Hyndman
As the Speedbloggen post points out, riding is fun, but at its core it’s pretty serious business. It’s serious because the potential for injury and death is great when things go wrong. Even as we try to get more people involved in this thing that consumes so many of our waking hours, we forget that the responsibility for bringing people into the circle is an awesome one. In this sense, Steve is a man among men for being the grown-up in the room when we reflect on what happened.
In another sense, though, Steve’s got no responsibility for what happened. Nor does Robert, his brother, Rapha, or Las Flores Canyon Road. We cyclists have created and encouraged a group ride culture of speed and competition without first doing the basics: checking with the new faces, explaining to first-timers the details of the ride, posting information ahead of time so that people know what to expect, and most of all, letting everyone know that it’s okay to be the last one down the hill.
We get so caught up in the unsanctioned racing of the group ride that we leave newcomers to figure it out the way we did: by getting shelled, by sliding out in the corner, or by hanging on through God’s grace and the sheer luck of the dumb. With so many people on the road, and so many cars, and so many new faces, this approach no longer works. The old hands and the good descenders know that the most dangerous place on a hairy descent is proximity to a poor descender–we shoot off ahead and leave them to their own devices. Several of my friends who were on that ride admit to doing just that.
Each one of us can honor Robert by taking note of the guy or the gal we’ve not seen before and sharing what we know with them. Whether they’re new to the sport or just new to the neighborhood, it’s time we did what others did for us back in the day: reach out, share, include. Knowledge in this case isn’t power. It’s the difference between life and death.
My heart goes out to Robert’s family, to his friends, to those who were with him on the ride, and to Steve. Nothing will change what happened or really make sense of it, but thanks to Robert Hyndman, maybe we can be better riders, and much more importantly, be better people as well.
November 7, 2011 § 2 Comments
There is a meeting of the Palos Verdes Estates Traffic Safety Committee on Wednesday November 9 at 4:00pm at PVE City Hall. The first item on the agenda is traffic calming on Via del Monte. See the agenda at http://www.pvestates.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=953. Wankmeister will be there and he hopes you will be also. It is important that cyclists are heard to demand that they take us into account in any plans for changes to that roadway. We need to insist that they remove the deadly speed “cushions” near the bottom of the hill. One cyclist has already been seriously injured, and we need to convince them to remove the cushions before another catastrophic accident occurs.
If you can attend the meeting and wish to speak please arrive a few minutes early and fill out a speaker’s slip. You will want to check the box to speak about the item on the agenda “Traffic Calming on Via del Monte.” At the appropriate time your name will be called and you will have three minutes to speak. Those three minutes go by very quickly so think carefully about what you want to say.
Here is a suggested “comment” if you want to attend but don’t have time to organize your thoughts, or if you get nervous speaking in public. Practice it a few times and you’ll win the whole council over in three short minutes:
“Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to comment on traffic calming on Via del Monte. As a cyclist, I fully support calm traffic. Perhaps we could begin by shooting all of the irate, over-caffeinated, asshole motorists who buzz us, scream at us, and smash into us as we legally try to use the roadways. An effective alternative method for calming traffic is by making the crazy fuckers trying to kill us wear straighjackets, and then dosing them up with huge quantities of sedatives. A small, padded cell would also, I believe, have a calming effect on the nutjob motorists who lurk along the roadways of Palos Verdes Estates.
“It has come to my addition that this fine city, in its laudable attempt to calm traffic, has installed traffic cushions at the bottom of Via del Monte. I learned about this one morning several months ago, as I descended VDM in the wee hours. Although I had a light and am very familiar with the road, you can imagine my surprise when I hit the brand new speed cushions, which were ‘fresh’ and therefore had no warning signs or reflective striping, at the modest pace of 15mph. I did a somersault, trashed my $7,000 carbon frame, and got an exciting trip to the trauma center at UCLA Harbor where they bored a hole in my skull and drained the fluid that had accumulated from the bruised and bleeding surface of my brain.
“Unfortunately, this did not calm me down at all. In fact, it made me mad as hell. What the fuck were you people thinking? I mean aside from the obvious ‘Let’s kill a few cyclists to let them know we hate them and don’t want them here.’ More importantly, aside from killing and injuring cyclists, who came up with the name ‘cushion’? I have a cushion on my sofa and a couple on my bed. They are soft, pliable, and greatly assist my ass from getting sore when I sit, and they help me fall asleep quickly. I have also been known to prop them under my girlfriend’s butt in order to achieve a more satisfying angle. These fucking things on VDM don’t seem to serve any practical effect other than bashing my head against the asphalt. Maybe ‘bash’ is the new ‘cushion.’ But as far as I’m concerned they suck.
“Finally, I’d like to tell all the fine residents of PV who think their shit doesn’t stink—it does. And the sooner you rip these stupid fucking cushions up and start coming down as hard on motorists as you do on cyclists, the better. Thank you.”
P.S. “When’s the last time an irate cyclist ever ran over a motorist?”