April 15, 2016 § 27 Comments
After many a ride Filds and I would recap the myriad stupidities of the day, and he’d always conclude, “Yeah, common sense. It just ain’t that common.”
As much as it pains me to say nice things about my friends, Gary Cziko and Pete van Nuys put on a seminar last night for our club, Big Orange. They are instructors for Cycling Savvy, a bike educational program for dorks.
In this case, however, the dorks aren’t the usual objects of contempt. They aren’t the people with panniers, recumbents, floppy dickhider shorts, helmet mirrors, sandals, and fourteen daytime lights. The dorks targeted by Cycling Savvy include everyone who doesn’t understand proper lane positioning. This means you.
Most of what Cycling Savvy refers politely to as “the lycra crowd” and I impolitely refer to as “delusional underwear pedalers,” considers itself expert at cycling safety. The reasoning goes like this:
- I wear my underwear on my bike and pedal fast.
- I enter one crit a year to get free crap from my team so I can call myself a bike racer.
- I have twelve top-10’s on the Strava leaderboard for 45+ men over 250 lbs.
- My bike is expensive.
- I ride in big groups.
- I’ve never been killed.
Of course if you ride with the lycra crowd long enough you realize that in addition to being delusional, many of them are wholly incompetent at bicycle riding, even many riders who climb well, sprunt well, and time trail well. What’s worse than their incompetence is that their insistence on bad positioning is built on an amazing resistance to criticism, let alone change.
After all, they’re wearing their underwear and have never been killed plus they got 10 kudos yesterday so they know what they’re doing, right?
Cycling Savvy’s curriculum politely but firmly begins with the premise that no, just because you ride a bicycle you don’t necessarily know what you’re doing. In fact, given the ignorance of law enforcement, the prejudice of cagers, and the lack of formalized cycling instruction, the chance that you know what you’re doing is quite small, because all savvy cycling begins with lane positioning, and a casual glance at any cyclist on any road reveals that most cyclists hug the gutter or the door zone.
It was fascinating to watch the Big Orange board get educated, a board that is comprised of people who have 12 zillion miles under their belt, who are already pretty expert at lane positioning, and who have extraordinary experience navigating large groups of idiots through the congested streets of L.A. It reinforced how badly we of the Underwear Tribe are in desperate need of education.
Unfortunately, the course is three hours long, which means your ass will be bleeding by the time it wraps up, and that doesn’t include the parking lot and on-the-road components of the class. The curriculum also contains too much information for the typical bonehead who has been roped into the session hoping to get a tip or two about how not to get killed.
Yet Cziko and van Nuys did a phenomenal job of introducing us to the law, the science, the logic, and the practice of controlling the fuggin’ lane, in addition to re-emphasizing the fact that if you put twelve boxes of Cheez-its in front of five cyclists they will devour everything down to the crumbs even when they’re no longer hungry.
I just wish they’d call the course “Control the Fuggin’ Lane, Dumbass!” and I wish more people would get educated. The rear-and-fore-facing videos showing how traffic responds to proper lane control are viscerally demonstrative of Cycling Savvy’s other premise: The life you save will be YOURS. Learning all this from people who themselves have been cycling longer than most of us have been alive, and who are professional, educated, and smart, was an added bonus.
Ultimately, if you think you know how to ride on the road, the chances are good you don’t. Because common sense just ain’t that common.
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April 12, 2016 § 24 Comments
I have been spending more time birdwatching lately. You know, getting back to my roots because I am too damned old and tired all the time to be racing every weekend. Except last weekend, and next weekend. And there are some other races coming up, too, later on.
But anyway, I love being surrounded by nature because it is very peaceful. When riding I often scream like a lunatic, curse at complete strangers, and behave like a raging steroid pumped up on bicycles.
A couple of weeks ago I went out early to Madrona Marsh, in Torrance. It is 48 acres surrounded by chain-link fence set behind the largest shopping mall in America, the Del Amo Fashion Center, where people go to purchase things that by virtue of being in a giant mall cannot possibly be fashionable. The marsh is a tiny postage stamp, all that remains of the thousands of acres of wetlands that once provided incredible habitat for wildlife in the South Bay.
It’s amazing how quickly time goes by when you’re looking at critters, exactly the opposite of how slowly time goes by when you’re on the fucking rivet going up the Switchbacks and some young punk is plucking the skin off your balls with a ball-peen hammer.
Anyway, it was really quiet except for the bird racket. Then across the slough I saw this dude dressed up like he was heading out on an expedition up the Congo. No joke, he was wearing full green camo, heavy utility vest, giant floppy adventurer camo hat, hip waders, and was carrying a giant pole that he stuck down in front as he walked as if he were navigating a giant crevasse field at Base Camp 12 of Chomulungma.
Keep in mind that the slough that feeds the pond is about ten feet wide and the water is about a foot deep, with lots of tall grass along the edge which is perfect dragonfly habitat; the bugs crawl up out of the water and onto the grass to shed their skin and spread their wings.
So I watched Dora the Explorer walk off the path and into the slough. I was about a hundred feet away. “Hey!” I yelled. He looked up quizzically, his massive waders crushing entire sections of fragile grass. “Yeah, you, you dumb bastard!” I shouted.
“Me?” he asked.
I walked over to the edge of the path. “What the fuck are you doing out there in the slough?”
“I’m, uh, researching,” he said.
I looked at his Amazonian explorer get-up and noted that he had a cheapo pair of $50 non-carbon field glasses dangling from his neck, binoculars that you couldn’t have examined your own navel with, much less a bird or a butterfly. “Like fuck you are,” I said. “Get your sorry fucking ass out of the slough, for fuck’s sake.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Why? You’re CRUSHING THE FUCKING DRAGONFLY HABITAT, you stupid sonofabitch. Does the slough look like a fucking walkway?”
“I suppose you’re right,” he said, backtracking.
“You’re damned straight I’m right. Stay on the fucking path. If every jackanape in a clown suit who came here tromped through the fucking slough with those rubber snowshoes the whole damned place would be mashed flatter than a fucking pancake!”
Dora walked off, rather briskly.
I sank back into my quiet reverie, happy to have finally found such a peaceful activity devoid of all conflict and anger.
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April 6, 2016 § 41 Comments
I paid little attention to the faux exploits of Dan Bilzerian as he pedaled his way to a cool million or so in a bet about whether or not he could ride from Las Vegas to Hollywood in 48 hours. But I did pay attention to the controversy it generated in my little corner of the universe, because shortly after winning the bet Bilzerian posted a Facegag video with this charming bit of literature:
Two things stand out:
- Hates gays.
- Hates cycling.
So he’s probably not going to be someone I invite to my next Gay Men’s Fitness Ride. But what bothered me wasn’t this painfully short dude trying to make up for it with daddy’s money and a bushy beard, but it was that people in my cycling community got their teeth caught in their zippers over it.
Bilzerian allegedly spent upwards of $60k at local bike shop Helen’s in Santa Monica and another bundle on the coaching services of Nate Loyal. Then, after the ride he stuck a fork in their eyes by laughing at our “fake” sport, pocketing a ton of money, and merrily skipping back to his stock-in-trade of misogyny, small penis machismo, and Instagram blather.
This pissed off some other Westsiders, one of whom is named Tony. He was not, shall we say, amused, and a host of other cyclists were enraged at the insults that Shorty sprayed on our sport like a fire extinguisher filled with shit. Bilzerian had succeeded in doing what he apparently does best: Playing to his audience (non-cycling misogynistic gay-hating couch potatoes) and showing the middle finger to everyone else. Oh, and picking up a cool million.
So first things first, and you’re not gonna like it. This was an impressive athletic accomplishment. I don’t care if he drafted. I don’t care if he had 7-time-Tour-de-Doper Lance Armstrong offering coaching advice. I don’t care if he rode a recumbent.
What matters is that an avowed non-cyclist pedaled from Vegas to Hollywood in 48 hours. It’s a long ass way and most Americans, let alone the congenital sloths who make up Bilzerian’s fan base, couldn’t do it if their clogged arteries depended on it.
But it gets better. The dude proved that you don’t have to be very fit or very athletic or very ANYTHING to ride your bike hundreds of miles. If you have the desire, motivation, and money, you can do it, and better yet, you don’t even need the money. Anyone mildly desirous of getting in shape and having fun can, with a bit of preparation and commitment, ride a bike incredible lengths and achieve amazing stuff.
For that Bilzerian deserves credit. He’s the ultimate Fred and he did it his way. What’s not to like?
Now that you mention it, a couple of things, for example, he’s a homophobic misogynist who beat self-important cyclists at their own game.
Can I back up a sec?
Bilzerian didn’t beat anyone except another gambler. He didn’t win a bike race. He didn’t pin on a number. He didn’t contest an event with multiple entrants under a set of rules. He sure as fuck didn’t line up at San Dimas. He bet some other dude some money and won and claimed to have mastered the sport of cycling, which according to him isn’t even a real sport. I won a game of flag football against some little kids, proving that the NFL is a joke.
And the people who helped him on his way? Well, they got paid for it, and apparently they were paid pretty well. If Bilzerian had come to me after getting run over by a truck I wouldn’t have turned down his case just because he’s a douchebag.
The only thing this guy did that bothers me at all is this: He created a division among good people where none needs to be. Tony was right to take a stand and criticize the guy’s misogyny and hatred of gays and he was right to scorn Bilzerian’s claim that he has somehow exposed cycling as a non-sport. But Helen’s and Nate were also right to take the money and do the job. If every bike fitter and bike shop had to police the politics of their customers before providing their service, there would be few bike shops and even fewer bike fitters. In fact, providing services based on the customer’s sexual orientation is exactly what the states of North Carolina and Mississippi have just done, and it’s not turning out well for anyone.
The wasted part is that Bilzerian was introduced to the nicest bunch of people and invited to be part of a global fraternity. We are men, women, and children of every persuasion, ethnicity, nationality, and political belief. We ride for fun, for work, and for transportation. And for the most part we prefer riding to not, and are happy to see new people share in our passion.
Small Dan Bilzerian couldn’t see, or wasn’t interested in the gift. And instead of politely handing it back with a “No, thanks,” he urinated on it, then dumped it on the dinner table.
That’s too bad, but not for us. The gift is eternal and easily washed off, re-wrapped, and passed back on to your friend, your spouse, your child, your grandchild, or the neighborhood kid.
And if he ever gets tired of being a professional douche, he’ll find that the gift is all cleaned up, ready, and waiting for Dan Bilzerian, too.
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March 29, 2016 § 34 Comments
Another example of how Specialized doesn’t get it. Women are cyclists and customers, not sex objects. Of course tucked away at a trade show in Berlin, maybe Specialized thought they could do their thing under the radar. Talk about a company that represents the worst in cycling. I guess if you can’t sell your bikes because they’re good, rip a page from Budweiser and sell it because you think your customers might be dumb enough to think that buying one will get you laid. By a Playboy Bunny. Right.
What I thought was a goodnight kiss to my echo chamber turned out to be anything but. One poster defended the two models by saying that it was the German subsidiary who made the decision, implying that Specialized’s HQ in the liberal, equal-rights supporting Republic of NorCal would never have done such a thing. The same person also pooh-poohed the problem by saying that other companies in the same situation have done worse, then threw down the old Litmus Test for Social Commentary: If you’ve ever [—–] before, you have no right to comment on [—–].
His defensive reaction was not out of place. One person happily commented on how he loves “tits,” another about how he loves gazing at attractive women, one about “Uptight Yanks” (he’s an American), and the old standby whenever we’re criticizing Specialized, “Cannondale does it, too.”
The women who joined the conversation mostly had in depth, thoughtful, and strong opinions on the matter, like this one, but who cares about them? I got some mansplainin’ to do, so STFU.
And my mansplanation begins with this: I’ve done and said sexist things before, I’ve purchased products from sexist companies with sexist marketing campaigns, and if I had to make a list of times that my dick has overridden my brain it would be a very long one. So you can call me a failed feminist or a hypocrite or a bored late-night blogger or whatever else makes it easy for you to discount my criticism of Specialized. But even though (you think) that chops off my credibility at the knees when it comes to making this argument, it doesn’t take away the argument itself, which is this:
Whether it’s Peter Sagan groping the woman on the podium, whether it’s the practice of having women on the podium, whether it’s unequal prize lists, whether it’s events of unequal duration, whether it’s advertising that shows sexy women on bikes who are obviously not bike racers versus men on bikes who obviously are, whether it’s Specialized’s sexist product marketing and sales, whether it’s unequal team sponsorship, whether it’s unequal junior rider development, and whether it’s unequal support at the local, state, and national level, cycling is doing a poor job of providing equal opportunity and equal respect for women.
I’ve had people tell me that women only race bikes because they’re “looking for a guy.” I’ve been criticized for offering equal prize money when I’ve put up cash primes because “women’s fields are smaller.” I’ve seen guys on group rides aggressively push women who “dared” to contest the sprunt. And I’ve heard every possible criticism of women as participants, from casual riding to big-day racing.
With an environment this gnarly, it’s unfair to pretend that Specialized’s sexism stands out. If anything, their sexism is pretty ordinary. If you want to find a company that really doubles down on sexist marketing and the objectification of women you need to look at the company founded by Anthony Sinyard, the son of Mike Sinyard, who is the founder and owner of Specialized.
Anthony, in his 30’s and not what we’d call a super successful dude, has invested in a venture called Supacaz. Supacaz makes handlebar tape, and has taken Specialized’s sex-symbol sales approach and doubled down, then tripled down.
The apple didn’t simply fail to fall far from the tree, it never even hit the ground.
Of course none of this is really surprising, as noted by another poster on my thread, a woman who wasn’t shy about slapping down the justifications offered up for Specialized’s playboy bunnies as a “mistake of the German subsidiary.”
Studies have shown that sex doesn’t sell. Many, many, many studies. What selling sex does, however, is allow the dumbasses in marketing to go home at 5pm and stop thinking about how to market a shitty product with very little appeal. And THAT is why people use sex to sell. They use sex to sell objects because they’re lazy motherfuckers with no big-picture thought patterns, no understanding of sport sustainability and zero respect for the gender they’re so apathetically objectifying and dehumanizing. Marketing departments use sex to sell stuff because they have little respect for themselves and absolutely no respect for their audience; there is no art, no creativity, no meaningful engagement. And why should there be? When so much of their audience stands up and defends such useless existence, that means that Specialized (and Maxxis and 661 and Colnago and Sidi) don’t have to. They have mindless consumer drones who will do the PR for them.
Of course, when you get right down to it, I blame Lance. Because at the very moment in time that Amgen is offering better and longer women’s events, at the very time that European classics are offering more comparable women’s races with rumblings of equal prize money, at the very time that women are becoming a bigger and bigger part of cycling and its fastest growing segment, Ol’ Yeller teams up with a sexist blowhard gambler to time-trial from Vegas to Hollywood. That what cycling’s biggest story is for the non-cycling public.
Specialized, it looks like you’re going to have to up your game, by which I don’t mean succumb to more of the sex-sells-bikes myth. People who own Specialized bikes, and companies who compete against them, recognize that Specialized makes good bikes. It beggars belief that anyone who’s making a purchasing decision says to herself, “Hmmmm, Tarmac or EVO Super Six? I guess I’ll go with the Tarmac because, bunnies.”
Nor do I believe that Specialized’s focus groups show a customer base longing for “more images of scantily clad women to go with my bike.” What they want on the road is a better product, and if they also want something better in bed, well, they’re not going to get it from a full carbon frame, even if it’s 100% full carbon.
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March 14, 2016 § 69 Comments
The recent death of Jonathan Tansavatdi, a local South Bay cyclist and member of my club, Big Orange, has again brutally emphasized the vulnerability of cyclists. Although the cause and mechanics of the collision that took his life remain unknown at this point, it got me to thinking about our collective responsibility as a cycling club.
In other words, what is the obligation of every cycling club with regard to teaching bike safety?
This seems like it has an easy answer. Clubs encourage people to ride. They encourage people to join. And at least our club really encourages people to race their bikes. In addition to that encouragement, any club worthy of the name provides structure to make all those things happen.
Our club provides group ride activities throughout the week, and we have the best grass roots club racing program in America, a program that focuses on getting members to sign up as Cat 5 men and Cat 4 women and race their bikes.
So the question remains. What are we as racing clubs doing with regard to teaching bike safety? As with most cycling clubs, only a minority of our members actually race. Even big profamateur masters squads like Surf City and Monster Media have more actual riders than they do members who show up and race every weekend.
With the exception of on-the-job safety training, where ride leaders and allegedly experienced riders give out tips to the newcomers, I’ve yet to hear of a club that has formalized program to teach rider safety in conjunction with a requirement that all riders complete a safety course before they are allowed to join.
This is weird because:
- Most cyclists suck at safety.
- Although cycling is safe, when shit goes sideways you can die or be catastrophically injured.
- There is already a fantastic educational course called Cycling Savvy that every single bike club in America can afford to have conduct classes.
The reticence to teaching cycling safety, at least among racing clubs, is that the Cycling Savvy teachers are complete dorks. They are the guys with helmet mirrors, flappy arm sleeves, uncool bikes, hairy legs and teeth, and of course none of them race. So there is a huge bias on the part of the cool kids (think junior high insecurity and vanity without the excuse of youth) against sitting down and getting schooled by people whose business it is to stay alive in traffic. It’s crazy to think that one group of dorks riding around in their underwear look down at another group of dorks riding around in their underwear, but Ah, Bartleby, ah humanity!
The benefits to instituting a club licensing program are massive. First, it tells every single person thinking about joining that nothing matters to us more than your life. Second, it tells every single person thinking about joining that we don’t care how many races you’ve won, how many watts you put out, or how many imaginary trinkets you have stored on your imaginary Strava cupboard, THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU KNOW HOW TO RIDE SAFELY IN TRAFFIC. Think velodrome certification: They don’t care how good you think you are. Until you’ve proven you can ride on a banked track without gears or brakes, you’re not allowed to play in the sandbox.
Finally, of course, certification and licensing would begin to disseminate the life preserving skills we all need as vulnerable riders in traffic. It makes us advocates for smart riding and maybe, just maybe, decreases the number of memorial rides even by one.
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March 1, 2016 § 36 Comments
When you get hit by a car you get hurt. The easiest injuries to take account of are physical. Broken bones, contusions, blood, and lots of pain let you know when you’ve injured your body.
But whether you get hit by a car or fall down in the middle of a crit, you almost always wind up with another kind of injury that is much harder to evaluate, diagnose, and treat. It’s the mental trauma that accompanies the physical injury.
Formally recognized as post traumatic stress disorder, as cyclists we’re all familiar with it in different guises. Here are a few:
–Fear of descending after a downhill spill.
–Fear of riding near others after you’ve fallen in a group.
–Anxiety about the proximity of cars after you’ve been hit by an auto.
–Anxiety about your tires/wheels/frame after you’ve fallen because of an equipment failure.
For many cyclists, these fears can be much more debilitating than the bones and torn skin that eventually heal. The joy and freedom of cycling, for many riders, vanishes forever after they’ve been clocked by a car and carted off to the ER in an ambulance.
I was so terrified the first time I descended the road on which I’d cracked my pelvis that I shook. That’s a road I’ve descended hundreds of times, but the first time after my fall it was a fearful new world.
One friend who took a nasty spill found her heart racing at 172bpm seven months after the injury … as she drove to the shop to get her bike repaired.
Whether you got hit by a car or slid out in a turn, these anxieties can completely ruin cycling for you. Along with that, you can lose much more than fitness. When the healthy lifestyle that often accompanies cycling is replaced by sedentary behavior, it can have a ripple affect that upsets work, family relationships, and the fundamental building block of your existence, your health.
From a legal perspective, this type of injury is compensable. A cager who whacks you and breaks your leg and bike is also on the hook for the resulting fear and anxiety that he has now brought into your life, especially when your PTSD wreaks havoc in your home and with your work.
But whether your trauma was caused by a motorist or your own bad judgment, your behavior should be the same. Fear and anxiety about riding should be treated by a licensed healthcare professional. “Get back on the horse” is the ultimate goal, but there are therapeutic ways to get there that are safe, healthy, and effective.
So if you find yourself unable to pedal after your physical injuries have healed due to anxiety or fear, get help.
February 24, 2016 § 34 Comments
The first time I did the Old Pier Ride on a December day in 2006, I got yelled at by Stern-O. My crime? Daring to be a new face contesting the sprunt on a steel Masi while wearing a wool jersey.
On my first few Donut Rides I was yelled at and pushed around, and was only able to create breathing room by riding some of the worst-behaved people off my wheel. The only way you could get people to lay off was by beating them down.
Those few short years ago road riding in LA was like it still is in many places. Cliquish, hostile, and full-to-overflowing with self-important preeners.
Nowadays LA is not that way, even though other parts of SoCal and NorCal are still rife with faux elitism. Guys like Rahsaan Bahati, Robert Efthimos, Greg Leibert, and especially Greg Seyranian have created an environment where inclusiveness is the norm. New faces like David Wells, and old ones like Gerald Iacono and Michael Norris have kept up a steady drumbeat that welcomes new faces.
Eventually the most offensive snobs relocated to faraway climes, or took to riding by themselves in tiny groups at odd hours where they come into contact with hardly anyone, or they’ve simply quit riding.
This environment has attracted a lot of people to the old group rides. The NPR now easily starts with 70 or 80 riders. There’s often shouting and sometimes a bit of jostling, but it tends to be based on actual riding behavior rather than to establish a pecking order.
One of the guys who started showing up one day was named Francis, but one look at him and you pretty much knew that:
- You weren’t the first person who’d thought about saying, “Lighten up, Francis.”
- He’d beaten up lots tougher guys than you for lots smaller infractions than that.
In a universe where bikers are the underdog and the police are the enemy, Francis was like that overgrown guy in the movie with beard stubble and a knife who shows up in the 7th Grade classroom after riding his motorcycle to school and befriends the twiggly dork getting bullied by the bad guys. Turns out that Francis was a homicide detective and beneath his tough, flinty-eyed exterior there lay a hardened, unflinching, barefisted interior.
This was amazing because suddenly when the group got pulled over by a cop responding to a call from an irate PV housewife who’d been slowed down four seconds on her way to Starbucks, instead of getting a lecture, four back-up squad cars, and tickets all ’round, Francis and the cop would have a conversation and that would be it.
It was also amazing because we now had a cop who backed us up when bad things happened. It’s a funny feeling to think that when some cager in a pickup buzzes you and flips you off and then gets it into his head to escalate the situation that he’s going to find out he’s grabbed the red-hot poker with both hands by the wrong end.
Of course, what are the chances that a hard-bitten homicide cop would even be named Francis, let alone also be a cyclist, and a good one, at that? One in several billion. So in an effort to let him know how much he was appreciated, I made an especial effort to give him as much shit as possible, which, to his credit, he always returned in rather unequal quantities.
But back to the NPR …
In tandem with the large size of the ride, the police whose jurisdiction is LAX International Airport have their own Wellness Department, which focuses on health initiatives for employees and for the broader community. After a particularly bad car-bike collision on Westchester Parkway, which abuts the airport’s runways, the officer in charge of Wellness decided to get involved.
This guy’s name is Officer Sur, and with the department’s backing he now escorts the group on Tuesdays. He drives an SUV patrol car with large magnetic signs that say “3 Feet Please!” indicating the minimum legal passing space a motorist must give a cyclist.
He assists with intersection control when we make the u-turns on the Parkway, and also helps control traffic at lights when the lights are changing and only half the peloton has made it through. Officer Sur even came to our 6:40 AM liftoff at the Manhattan Beach Pier and gave a talk about rider safety and police involvement with things like the NPR.
From the time that he has been escorting the ride, we have gotten noticeably less (as in zero) buzzing or harassment by cagers. So in addition to the lottery-like odds of having one guardian angel in the form of a homicide detective named Francis, we wound up with an even more improbable scenario: Having two policemen who ride and who look out for others on bikes.
So I was talking to Officer Sur after the NPR, and telling him about Francis.
“Francis?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Pretty weird, huh? I mean, what are the chances of having a cop named Francis who’s not only involved in cycling but who’s also kind of a guardian angel?”
Officer Sur looked at me to see if I was pulling his leg. “Pretty long odds,” he said. “Because that’s my first name, too.”
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