October 11, 2018 § 6 Comments
Every cyclist, at some time or other, breaks down and gets coffee at Starbucks. There are only so many hand-picked, fair trade, organic coffee shops with a simple drip for $15.99, and when you need a quick buzz or a place with a lot of chairs and don’t want to be surrounded by people reading Sartre and Hegel, well, it’s gonna be Starbucks.
I’ve noticed that in the morning SB is how people feed their kids. Mom/Dad will swoop in with the kids in tow, order coffee, a junk snack, and breakfast for the children. Some parents will sit down at a table and make it breakfast time, replete with conversations about school and the upcoming day. What about privacy and intimate conversations between parents and children? I guess those are off the table, literally.
That kind of makes sense in a twisted way. You get up late, you don’t know how to fry an egg, the clock is ticking, and by the time you’ve gotten your testicles plucked the traffic outside is piling up and the Starbucks is on the way to school drop-off because no kid walks or rides to school anymore.
What I’ve also noticed is that in the evening, the SB inside the grocery store is absolutely jammed, as is the sugar-and-salt buffet manned by Panda Excess. These are mostly teenagers, who are at the SB for dinner, and by dinner all I mean is “calories.” They are hungry, there is no one home, and they “eat” with a massive calorie bomb and maybe a doughy chemical food substitute. Maybe.
It’s not just Starbucks
Home cooking has long been in decline, if by home cooking you mean “I picked some ingredients up at the store, and through preparation at home converted them into a meal.” This is wildly different from “I picked some shit up at the store and microwaved it,” or “We got carry-out, dumped the shit out of the box onto a plate (or not) and ate at home watching TV.”
People don’t cook less because they have less time. They cook less because they are taught from infancy that prepared food is better in every way. Schools serve big brand fast food, and parents really and truly prefer to eat out. I still remember how my mom worshiped at the altar of Jack in the Box french fries, and how, to this day, the sight of a box of greasy fries warms my heart.
Like being able to do basic repairs on your bike, however unprofessionally, being able to do basic repairs in the kitchen has value, a lot more value than paying an international conglomerate to feed you. What if 90% of the time you took your bike to the shop to air up the tires because “I don’t have time to air up my tires at home.”
That’s where bike tech has been going for decades, in fact: Making things so complex that even basic maintenance has to be done outside the garage, or in my case, the bedroom. How many people can get a disc brake working again if they accidentally close the caliper while the wheel is off?
Boozy P., my ace mechanic, might laugh at the idea of me ever doing anything serious to my bike, but he did actually teach me how to take off the bars and pack it myself in a box for shipping. I only almost killed myself once by failing to properly tighten the headset as I rocketed down a cobbled descent outside Vienna. No death, no foul.
In other words, frying up an egg won’t kill you. It’s cheaper. You got time for it. The whole neighborhood won’t be sitting around listening, and even if you totally screw it up, unlike the loose headset, it won’t kill you.
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September 19, 2018 § 25 Comments
In late 2005 I started wearing a helmet every time I rode, and it wasn’t exactly by choice. Russell DeBarbieris and I would show up at the First Colony ride on Saturday in Fort Bend County, he with a temper and me without a helmet. And we would proceed to smash the ride.
I was new in Houston; although I grew up there I had lived and ridden elsewhere from 1982 on, so I didn’t know the crowd. They hated us because we didn’t do what they told us to, we didn’t let their designated leaders lead, and we smashed the ride into bits. Every time.
It was so much fun, except for the part that wasn’t.
Where’s your HELLLLMETTTTT?
They couldn’t drop us, and they couldn’t hang with us when we decided it was time to smash, but they could always say at the beginning of each ride, at the regroups, and at the brokedick end when Russell and I would be hanging around having our third cappuccino to watch them arrive in a shambles, “Where’s your HELLLLLMETTTT?”
At first it didn’t bother me. I’d never worn a helmet except in races, and after twenty-three seasons of racing and riding, I’d never been killed.
More than that, riding without a helmet felt completely different from riding with one. Not just different. Better. If you’ve never done a 100-mile ride in the heat with nothing but a jaunty cloth cap, don’t talk to me about how helmeted v. helmetless riding does or doesn’t feel. Because you don’t know.
Before they banned Russell and me from the ride, though, I had given in. It wasn’t just at the First Colony dorkothon that I got shouted at, it was everywhere. No one seemed to hesitate to ask me where my helmet was, and they were retort-proof. Blibby-blabby little people with their first pro bike and a whopping 5k on their legs felt completely confident asking me where my helmet was, even though they’d broken femurs, had concussions, lost teeth, shattered elbows, ripped off every shred of skin on one entire side of their body, busted both collarbones twice … didn’t matter cuz they wuz wearing a helmet.
Didn’t matter that I’d never broken anything and had virtually no road rash scars, didn’t matter that I could ride and they couldn’t, that I was a grown man and they weren’t, that I’d raised three kids and they were still living with mom and dad.
Didn’t fucking matter. Ever.
It wasn’t a question.
Peer pressure works. For a while.
So I caved and started wearing a helmet no matter what. Whereas in the past I had always worn one judiciously, i.e. “Am I racing?” “Do I have to?” “Am I alone?” “How long will I be surrounded by idiots?” I fell into the pattern of never leave home without it. The times I’ve fallen since then, I’d have had a helmet on anyway because it was either during a race, riding in/to/from a cluster like NPR or Donut, or that one time I practiced a wheelie on the back of my skull after separating from the group ride.
This past summer I was in Vienna and my buddy Damir had just brought over a bike for me. I was fresh off the bus from Bratislava and hankering to ride. Damir was lid-less and I rode sans helmet, too.
With the exception of the time my son Woodrow and I rode helmetless across Germany on cruiser bikes, this day was the first time since 2005 that I’d bothered to take note of the thousands of people not wearing helmets. Whether that was safe or not I might write about later, but you know what I noticed? Not one single person screamed “Where’s your HELLLLMETTTT?” as I passed.
No one cared. At all. For two weeks I rode without a helmet and there was enough IDGAF to start a Bank of No Fucks.
So back in LA I regressed to my pre-2005 ways. Wear a helmet when you think it might be gnarly, enjoy the breeze blowing through your hair the rest of the time, because at age 54, there are a whole bunch of people who have none. And you know what? No sooner did I appear on the streets of the South Bay than the catcalls started.
I wondered about that.
Where’s your DIIIIETTTTTT?
I wondered why people felt so free and easy screaming at me to wear a helmet. One particularly ill-mannered screecher advised me that it was because he was “concerned for my safety.”
I wondered how he would feel if the next time we saw each other on the bike I were to shout, “Where’s your DIIIIIETTTT!” and then explained that I was only concerned for his health due to the fatty buildup around his abdomen.
Or what if every time I saw a friend guzzling one beer too many, I were to shout, “Quit boozing!” and explained that I was only concerned for his liver, family, job, memory, heart, and happiness.
And why limit the screeching to people who drink too much and who carry around a few pounds too many? Why not start screaming at fellow cyclists when they pass, “Quit banging your buddy’s wife!” and “Get those herpes lesions cured!” and “Where’s your mortgage PAAYYYYMENNNNT?” and any other number of admonitions to show how much I care?
Then I could follow up the public berating by emailing links to articles about the perils of shacking up, the dangers of alcoholism, the risks of having a stressful job, the evils of not getting marriage counseling, the repercussions of credit card debt, and even better yet, do it on #socmed. What a nice way to show you care, and to show everyone else you care, right?
Of course the reason that I don’t do those things is because I just did them, here. And see? It doesn’t look very good. Berating people like a pompous jackass because you think you have the right to tell them what’s good for them is the mark of, well, a pompous jackass. If you’re so concerned about my health, where were you when I broke my hip? Where were you when I was a raging alcoholic? Answer a) You were busy. Answer b) You hadn’t started riding then. Answer c) Huh?
Not everyone is that way, though. A couple of people have ridden up to me and politely inquired, “Why no helmet?” and I’ve answered. We’ve had a pleasant and civil conversation and parted without me feeling like someone just asked “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”
The hypocrisy of helmet safety nuts
In addition to wondering where people get off screaming at me about my helmet, I’ve paid close attention to the thousands of people I’ve seen on the bike paths here since August, yes, thousands, and have noted that many don’t wear helmets. The e-bikers seem to be the least helmeted of all.
And oddly enough, no one is screaming at them as they pass. No one is berating them at stop lights, accosting them in cafes, and as far as I know, badgering them on the Internet. Why is that? Why do the least skilled, least experienced, highest-motorized riders get a free pass? Why aren’t all the do-gooders screaming at them?
The answer, aside from the fact that the average LA commuting e-biker has fists like hams, is that the do-gooders aren’t really do-gooders. They’ve never read any scientific literature about helmets. They know zero about the correlation between mandatory helmet usage and decreased ridership in nations like Australia. They don’t understand Chris Boardman’s point that a few deaths and head injuries are a small price to pay if the trade-off is increased ridership and an across-the-board drop in the lifestyle diseases whose societal burden vastly outweighs any increase in head trauma. They don’t understand that sometimes wearing helmets can cause riskier behavior, or that not all helmets protect against all types of impacts, or that helmet standards are not, and have never been, devised to protect the brain but rather to meet industry-written, wholly unscientific standards. It has never occurred to them that emphasizing rider responsibility is often nothing more than victim blaming, when the real transgressors are 2-ton steel cages and the distracted steerers operating them.
In short, they are oblivious to the fact that helmet usage is a vigorously debated subject with strong, data-driven arguments on both sides.
Their ignorance doesn’t explain why helmet Nazis are compelled to screech, though. I think it comes from an American road cycling culture that is often based on humiliating others. Whether it’s your clothing, your equipment, your hairy legs, your gender, or your color coordination, road cycling has always feasted on the insecurity of riders by telling them they are doing it wrong, whatever “it” is.
Helmet Nazis are another outgrowth of this insecure cyclist desire to humiliate others, a nasty urge codified by the Velominati and their ilk. I’ve never had an experienced cyclist, with one exception, yell at me regarding my helmet, and this particular person is famed for his nervous insecurity in all things. The rest of the time the yammering is coming from people who are still trying to figure out how to get through a turn without taking out half the field.
Here’s the thing: I encourage you to wear a helmet if you think it makes you safer. If you want to have a discussion or even a debate about helmets, I might engage if I am absolutely bored out of my skull and have nothing else to talk about and no way to escape. Otherwise, you might consider refraining from asking me where my helmet is.
Because if it’s not on my head, you can be pretty sure it’s at home.
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August 28, 2018 § 7 Comments
I started baking in November of last year. My first loaf was dense as a black hole. If you had dropped it on a toe you’d have been in the emergency room.
I ate it. (The bread, not the toe.)
Subsequent loaves were all over the map. Mostly edible, some inedible, all got eaten. Sourdough, I concluded, ain’t easy. As I baked and ate I really incorporated whole grain sourdough with various seeds not merely into my diet, but into my existence. Most days bread makes up 70% of my calories, or more.
Like anything you do daily, you learn more about it, and the more I baked sourdough the more I learned that I didn’t know, like Socrates.
One day I got into a text exchange with a friend who is also a baker, but who really is a baker as opposed to a #faker #dilettante. I was having problems getting out of the Frisbee stage, and the friend asked a bunch of questions. I made some marginal gains.
Then we went over to the friend’s house one day for tea and bread and a tutorial. It was all very depressing because the friend’s bread wasn’t simply better than mine, it was a different thing entirely. It’s like that moment when as a young adult, head filled with bicycle dreams, you finally ride with someone who truly has talent and legs.
You know immediately what is possible, and what isn’t, and my friend’s bread wasn’t possible. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was kind of grim to view and eat perfection.
I went home and struggled with the problem of wet dough, how to knead it without doing all kinds of terrible things to the little gluten babies, etc. The friend texted me some more advice and a YouTube link.
With a few more fails, I came out on the other side, which for me was far from perfection, but was instead a tasty, consistent loaf.
Off to the master
The next month I went to Austria and in Vienna I sampled a couple of world class bakeries that had previously impressed me so. They were horribly inferior to my friend’s bread.
And as I sampled, I realized something else: They were inferior to mine as well.
Not because I had the skill or technique, certainly not the experience, but because my friend had shared with me a secret to baking and many other things, which is that the goal is to make something that YOU like. Back home I cooked loaf after loaf. Each was pretty much the same, and far from the ideal loaf that my friend bakes, seemingly with her eyes shut. But the mix of rye, wheat, organic white, and some seeds, done just the way I like it, was far more than good enough.
Bread, the bike, life … perfection isn’t an abstraction, it’s the thing that’s right for you.
Thank you, friend.
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August 26, 2018 § 9 Comments
Once upon a time there was a mythical epoch in cycling called Back in the Day.
BITD everything was halcyon and good. Bikes were steel therefore real, rims were aluminum, tars were called sew-up because they were sewed up, people rode for the pure love of sport, no one ever doped, there were no computers or Stravver, a cell phone was called a mobile phone and weighed thirty pounds, and custom clothing meant your pants had a leather chamois that chafed your parts into blistering, oozing sores which you hardly minded, or, after 100,000 miles, transformed your undercarriage into a tough leathery hide suitable for making boots.
BITD the people were all Hard Men, especially the women, century meant a hundred Imperial miles, fondo was spelled with a “ue” at the end instead of an “o” and meant “melted cheese,” and everyone all the time rode in the harshest of conditions on primitive equipment which they enjoyed, cherished, and knew how to rebuild from the forge up. Helmets were worn by astronauts and it was more important to have a jaunty cotton cap than a full set of functioning brains.
And wool. BITD everyone wore wool, like sheep, only more colorful.
But what made BITD riders truly different from the spoiled, whiny brats of today was the food. BITD people ate real food. It had common names like “banana” (50 miles or less), and “peanut butter sammich” (50 miles or more). There were other kinds of food, but you ate them at dinner seated in a chair with your family. Inside your water bottle was a special elixir that always combined, exactly, two hydrogen atoms for every oxygen atom. When it was all gone you filled it from a spigot or a hose.
It is true that there were convenience stores but they were inconvenient stores, never located anywhere near that point of 20 miles past your last drop of water and swallow of banana, i.e. “bonk.” When you had a 50-mile ride or longer, you packed your own food, that, is, a peanut butter sammich. Some people tried fancy things like rice crackers because they were on a cyclist diet, but they never did that more than once or twice because of bonk.
BITD people bonked all the fuggin’ time. Bonk was like the curse of the Hope diamond, following you around waiting to smite you dead the minute you miscalculated and ran out of sammich.
Some people carried large pieces of fruit like apples but never more than once or twice because of weight, the round bulge that pushed against your back, the difficulty of swallowing, and the unbearable painfulness of ridicule. BITD ride food was a careful and primary consideration. There was nothing you could scoop a handful of at the bike shop and jam into your water-bottle-shaped toolkit because no one had invented a water-bottle-shaped toolkit, second, and no one had invented Barbie food, first.
No one ever offered you any food when you bonked because that smushed up, sweat soaked, stinking lump of sammich was going to get them home, not you, and why should they be the one who bonked just because you were a poor planner? In the late phase of BITD was invented the granola bar, a revolution and the first true Barbie food but one that never caught on too much because it was expensive, about twenty cents a bar, for which you could make six PB sammiches, so why would you spend more to get less?
BITD, less didn’t only mean money although that is mostly what it did mean. BITD, less also referred to “not worth a shit.” The granola bar was less than the PB sammich because it evaporated in the metabolic furnace of your gut like straw in a steel smelter, whereas the pb sammich stayed around like a 200-lb. sandbag in the bottom of your outdoor burger grill. Why would you spend more money to get less energy?
That’s easy. BITD, you wouldn’t.
Enter the Barbie
I don’t know when Barbie food was invented, the proper kind that comes in a squeeze tube, jolts you for fifteen minutes, then leaves you on a jagged crying breakdown like a cruel ex-girlfriend who sends you photos of her and her new guy, but one day there wasn’t any Barbie food and the next day everyone was sucking it up with less thought and more eagerness than Internet news.
But I do remember who named it “Barbie food.”
That was Dan Seivert, a/k/a “Bull.” We were slogging along PCH one day, a hundred miles into a ride whose end was nowhere in sight.
“Fuck, I am hungry,” he said.
I reached into my back pocket and handed him a gel.
Bull shook his head. “Dude,” he said, “that Barbie food ain’t gonna do the trick.”
Shortly thereafter he bonked, and because he was a good friend I ate the gel and left him.
When I got home I went into my drawer and threw away all my Barbie food. It was like throwing away two hundred dollars, me, a guy who has never thrown away a dime except for that one time I bought a Felt whose front was aluminum and whose rear triangle was carbon. I still remember the sight of it bouncing along the shoulder of the freeway as I tossed it out going 85.
That probably makes me a litterbug. It probably also means that if we’re on a long ride and you run out of food, you can ask for a bite of my pb sammich. But you aren’t going to get any.
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August 14, 2018 § 23 Comments
It is crazy how expensive bikes are. When you add up all the stuff, it can set you back $5k or more just to get started. What a ripoff!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Heart valve replacement: $170,000
Heart bypass surgery: $123,000
Diabetic medical care: $9,601 per year (multiply times 10, 15, or 20!)
Hypertension: $2,000 per year
Atherosclerosis treatment: $12,888 per year
Erectile dysfunction: $1,727.75 annually ($69.11 per pill x 25 sessions per year)
Drug/Alcohol rehab: $1,000 (outpatient detox), $6,000 – $60,000 (inpatient rehab), $5,000 – $10,000 (outpatient rehab), $4,700/year (medications)
Insomnia-related costs: $1,431 – $1,510 per year
Depression treatment: $8,000 per year
Sedentary lifestyle: $1,437 per year
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May 22, 2018 § 16 Comments
I have a friend named Nancy. She rides bikes. She is a super friendly lady. Nancy always smiles at you, compliments you, has something nice to say. Weirder still, it’s sincere.
Occasionally I will do a bike seminar with her and her friends and she always finds some way to thank me. Sometimes it’s a coffee card, sometimes it’s a treat at a coffee shop, and most recently it was a gift card to an Italian cafe that specializes in … coffee.
Nancy knows what I like.
Down at the grass roots
Thing is, Nancy knows what everyone likes, and what everyone likes is a good word. It’s funny how a good word here and a good word there can make good things happen. For instance, if I asked you to name the biggest bike club in Los Angeles you might say it was Velo Club La Grange, or Team Lizard Collectors, or Beach Cities Cycling Club, or Team Gargantua, but you would be wrong.
The honkingest bike club in Los Angeles is almost certainly the PV Bike Chicks, with over 900 members. I’ve totally made up the statement that they’re the biggest, but you have to admit, 900 is massive.
How did it get that way? I’m sure I don’t know. But part of it has to do with the vibe that Nancy is famous for. It’s the vibe of inclusiveness and friendliness. In fact, all of the PV Bike Chicks I’ve ever met are that way. Chicks on bikes just want to have fun, apparently.
I’ve noticed something else about my friend Nancy. She’s always trying to figure out how to help local businesses get a toehold.
How can I help?
Remember Steve Bowen, the wonderful man who ran the PV Bicycle Center? Nancy was an ardent supporter of his. The new bike shop over on Deep Valley that opened up a little while ago? Nancy makes sure everyone knows about it. The little cafe next to the PV Ranch Market? Yep, Nancy makes sure to patronize it and introduce other folks to it, along with the other businesses there.
So when she gave me a $25 gift card to a new coffee shop called Caffe Tre Venezie that has opened up on PCH and Madison, we went over to check it out. As you might expect, the moment we showed the owner our gift card, he smiled broadly. “You must be friends of Nancy!”
Alessandro is Italian, and his cappuccino is sublime. The gelato, equally so. There was even a dude hunched over an Italian textbook, practicing phrases with Alessandro in between customers. The coffee and gelato were great, but the vibe was even better. And of course it always feels good to thumb your nose at Starbucks.
Being there made me think about how powerful one person can be when she’s out there trying to do good, saying good things about people, supporting their businesses, doing what she can to make the hard work of entrepreneurship just a little bit easier.
What if everyone were that way?
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