Birthday bike

December 23, 2015 § 14 Comments

Do you remember your first birthday bike? I got mine when I was five. I got my second one (purple with a banana seat, OF COURSE) when I was eight. I got my third one when I was twelve. It was a man’s bike, which is to say it was a ten-speed.

Guys had ten-speeds. The only legit guys who had BMX’s raced them, and they only raced on Redlines.

My ten-speed was a gray Murray. It was called a ten-speed because it had ten gears. Total. Every other bike I’d ever owned had one. I still remember hopping on it, wobbling down the driveway, and almost running into the giant oak tree because I tried to stop by backpedaling.

Ten-speeds didn’t backpedal brake.

My Murray had lazy brakes. Do you remember those? Levers that ran parallel and underneath the tops of the handlebars so that you could brake without putting your hands up on the hoods? They were super squishy, just like the handlebar brakes, and didn’t stop nearly as good as, say, an oak tree.

My brother’s birthday was on December 27, two days after mine, so we both got twin Murrays as Christmas-birthday combos. We were a Christmas shopping bargain for our parents, but bargains only in that respect.

Ian’s was the same color but bigger than mine, of course. By a couple of inches. “Your bike looks like a baby’s bike,” he said. “If I had to ride that baby bike I’d walk.”

There was nothing more contemptible than a 12-year-old walking because it meant your bike had been stolen and you were too poor to buy another one. It never meant that you couldn’t ride a bike. How come? Because there was no such thing as a boy in Texas who couldn’t ride a bike. It’s like saying you didn’t know how to spit or cuss.

When I was thirteen I started Seventh Grade at Jane Long Junior High. She was the Mother of Texas, a historical figure who had wrestled some coyotes and given birth “to the first white child” in Texas, as we were taught in our integrated classes. They cleaned it up long after I (barely) graduated by saying she gave birth to the first “English-speaking child” in Texas.

The principal of Jane Long, Mr. Thompson, was a real sonofabitch. He had been famous for beating the children with a big board. Rumor was that he had his spanking privileges revoked when he broke the spine of one of the kids from the Burnet-Bayland Orphanage across the way. Now all the spanking was done by Mr. Harsch. That was really his name.

The first day of school I rode my bike, and it was hot, August-in-Houston hot. There was a big cage made of 12-foot fence. You wheeled your bike in and you locked it with a big chain if you had any sense. I locked my Murray good.

After school I went out to the cage to get my bike. A big guy with thick fuzz on his upper lip was standing at the gate.

“You got your money?” he asked.

“What money?” I asked.

“Don’t nobody get their bike ‘less they pay rent.”

“How much is rent?”

“Fifty cents.”

“I never heard nothin’ about no bike rent.”

“You’re hearin’ it now.”

“What happens if I don’t pay?”

“You like your teeth?”

We stood there for a minute. I was scared and he was big but I didn’t have fifty cents and I lived five miles away and there was no way I could pay fifty cents a day anyway. My allowance was only seventy-five cents.

“You don’t want to hit me,” I said.

“Maybe I do,” he said.

“Nah, you really don’t.”

“What’s a skinny little Seventh Grader runt gonna do about it?”

“I ain’t gonna do nothin’ about it now,” I said.

“What are you gonna do later?”

My bluff being called, I got ready to fold and say goodbye to my bike when I suddenly remembered a story my Grandpa Jim had told me about how he had put an end to getting bullied at the Virginia Military Academy.

“I’m gonna go home and get my daddy’s pistol and come back and blow your goddamn brains out, that’s what.”

I had stuck my lower jaw out and I was trembling. I knew I looked crazy or terrified and hoped it was the former.

“I ain’t scared of your damn pistol,” he said. “My daddy’s got a bigger one anyhow. And I bet I’m a better shot.” But he stepped aside.

I unlocked my bike and rode it home. He never bothered me again.



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Bikes not bombs

November 16, 2015 § 33 Comments

Three days after the attacks in Paris most Americans have done all they will ever do: Shown their solidarity on social media with a cute French flag makeover.

A few people will take things a step farther and forcefully argue their thoughtful opinions. “Bomb those fucking terrorist Arab motherfuckers back into the Stone Age,” is a common refrain. These folks seem not to realize that we’ve done exactly that, and that Stone Age people are remarkably resilient and persistent and inventive. The Stone Agers now have a new country, a fully functioning oil economy, access to international finance, and a modern global media empire with a message that is somewhat more successful in enlisting support than, say, “An Army of 1,” or “Free College Tuition and a $10,000 Signing Bonus and a $100,000 Death Payout for Your Parents.”

Me? I think it is pretty simple. When you start a war you have to finish it. And if you don’t finish it then you’re still at war. And if you’re still at war the other guy will keep killing your guys. And you’ll keep killing his. Etc.

So how do you finish a war? That too is pretty simple. Someone has to say, “Let’s stop fighting now,” and the other side has to agree. In the old days the guy who said “Let’s stop fighting now,” was the guy getting his ass kicked. He waved a white flag or his army dropped their shit and ran away and the generals signed papers that said “You kicked our butt good my bad how much do I owe you?”

Then people continued on until they got mad again, usually about having lost the previous war, and the whole thing recycled.

It is pretty clear that our new war has way too many parties to ever stop. Like whack-a-mole, Whack-a-Stone-Ager results in a new pissed off group popping up and picking up where the smeared remains of the last Stone Ager left off, usually because one of our planes mistakenly bombed their wedding or bombed their hospital or bombed their kindergarten or bombed their peaceful village.

Nowadays there’s not even anyone on the other side to sign anything, even if they wanted to stop fighting. In fact, there is no “other side.”

It’s just a bunch of mad people with guns, kind of like Texas, except that lots more people died at the hands of mad Americans with guns in 2013 than, say, died from anything ISIS ever did. Even though the 34,000 Americans shot to death by each other aren’t nearly as important as the 129 people shot in France over the weekend, the landscape is the same: The war is unending, there’s no one to make peace with, and random killing is something that is a sad fact of life, kind of like herpes.

The good news is that while people debate whether the best solution to war is to post something clever on Twitter or to bomb the people we’ve already bombed into the Neolithic back even farther, say to the Mesolithic or even the Upper Paleolithic, there is something fun and simple you can do for world peace:

Ride your fuggin’ bike and encourage everyone else to ride theirs, too.

Here are some Bicycle Peace Facts:

  1. No one ever invaded another country on a bike. Successfully, I mean.
  2. When you are riding a bike you feel happy instead of wanting to kill strangers. Unless you are racing.
  3. When given the choice, children will choose riding bikes over killing people.
  4. Children always prefer riding bikes with their parents rather than burying them.
  5. Regular bicycle exercise makes you fit, whereas being blown to bits by a cluster bomb does not.
  6. Fat generals and politicians on bikes are too out of breath to give commands like “Invade!” or “Kill!” or “Bomb them into the Stone Age!”
  7. When you put a terrorist on a bike, he will pedal madly for a while before he gets tired and thirsty, then bonks, then stops at a convenience store for some Gatorade and a piss, after which he sits down on the curb, hangs his head, gives up on the destination, and prepares for the trip home.
  8. You can’t be full aero with a suicide belt. Plus, they are too heavy and slow you down on the climbs.
  9. An entire nation can be terrified of getting shot at, but not at being ridden past.
  10. If you invite someone for a coffee ride, they will like you.



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One from the vaults

November 13, 2015 § 24 Comments

I received this most excellent email from Ira Schaffer on Wednesday, and had to share–with his permission of course!

Thank you for your great writing and thanks for helping me to stay connected to cycling in the South Bay!

I grew up in Palos Verdes and lived there from 1958 to 1976. One day in 1972 I walked from my house to the Peninsula Center, I was fourteen at the time, and noticed a bunch of commotion that was ununusal for an early Sunday morning around Hawthorne and Indian Peak.

I walked up to the corner and at that moment a huge pack of racing cyclists came screaming down Hawthorne and made the turn onto Indian Peak at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour! It turned out to be an Olympic qualifying road race, won by John Howard.

I watched in amazement and knew that I wanted to do the same thing. I began to ride my bike everywhere and joined a local club, the Lomita Bicycle Peddalers, run by Bob Roach in Lomita. His son Tim Roach, one of the top track coaches in American today, was my best friend at Rolling Hills High School. I trained in the hills of PV in the 70’s along with the few other cyclists like Paul Deem, and raced whenever I could.

Back then, as it is now, SoCal was known mostly for crits. I traveled to Encino twice a week to hone my bike handling skills, with Bob Roach usually driving us until Tim and I got our driving licenses, and we raced on Saturday nights at the velodrome and on Sunday. I raced crits mostly, and “competed” as a Junior against guys like the Whitehead brothers, Dave and Mark and of course Gibby Hatton, who had just won the Junior World Championships. The fields on crit raceday for juniors, which was a category aged 14-18, typically had 75-100 racers, and events like the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix drew up to 125 entrants for the Junior field alone.

I raced through the early 80’s and won the Junior State Road Championship in 1976. I attended UCLA and lived with a guy that worked at a shop and with whom I raced. The shop was on Wilshire and called, appropriately enough, Wilshire West Bicycle Shop.

Since the shop was in West LA, the clientele included a bunch of “movie folks.” One day a producer or director or other important person walked into the shop and asked my roommate if he knew anyone who could help a couple of actors learn the ins and outs of how to ride a bike. My roommate agreed. For the next month, Dennis Christopher and Hart Bochner of Breaking Away met us at our apartment in Santa Monica and we helped teach them some of the “ins and outs” of riding. They invited us to continue the training in Indiana, but I would have had to drop out of school, something I didn’t even consider.

I have great memories of riding and racing my bike in Palos Verdes and your writing helps me to connect. My folks still live in PV (89 years old) and I still ride a bit. I raced masters a few years ago in SoCal. I recently moved to the Bay Area and enjoy the riding up here as well. Thanks for your writing and thanks for helping me stay connected.

Ira Schaffer

[Note from Wanky: Actually, Ira, it is we who should thank you for sharing this great piece of SoCal cycling history and, most especially, for your $2.99 monthly subscription! A round of craft water for everyone!]



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The right way

November 4, 2015 § 20 Comments

The path of truth is straight, but lined with razors and thorns.

Reading about George Hincapie got me thinking about Steve Tilford. You couldn’t pick two people who are more different. One is quiet, dishonest, and makes his living on the back of ill-gotten gains that he earned through a career of cheating.

The other is garrulous, honest, and makes his living by playing fair and giving it his all. I’ve been meaning to do a write-up of Steve’s visit to the South Bay a few weeks ago, when he flew in from Kansas to give the keynote speech at the 3rd Annual South Bay Cycling Awards.

Copyright Phil Beckman, PB Creative. Used with permission.

Copyright Phil Beckman, PB Creative. Used with permission.

But I haven’t been able to do it because each time I sat down to type, the job seemed too immense. This evening it seems even more impossible, and not just because there’s a pot of Cajun beans and pork bubbling on the stove, infusing the room with a smell that screams “Eat me now!” without pause.

Big job or not, here goes.

Steve flew out and we met him at the Hotel Shade in Manhattan Beach. I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve ridden with lots of pros and cycling icons, and for the most part they are really disappointing in terms of personality. Something about endless miles seems to make the top tier of riders mute, or stupid, or bland, or some tasteless combination of all three.

Not Steve. From the minute we started pedaling, he was talking. Friendly, funny, and more stories than you could ever remember. Riding next to him was like leaping off into a bottomless pool of anecdotes and cycling history. If we had been expecting a bitter old curmudgeon, we would have been sadly surprised. As Steve said, “I’m not anti-doping, I’m pro-cycling. And that means I reject cheating in all its forms.”

Surrounded by us, the clueless clods of the South Bay, Steve never missed a beat, never looked down his nose at anybody, and politely followed the etiquette of the ride–an etiquette that ended with him stomping the collective dicks of some of SoCal’s strongest riders. Smiling, game for a hard ride, happy to cruise, he made us all feel like champions even though the real champion was he.

It’s impressive to watch great athletes do their thing, but the beauty of cycling is that you can sometimes participate, however briefly, in the performance. Finishing a hundred yards back from Steve the first time up to the Domes and right behind him the second time was better than any masters race, even though he was obviously going at quarter-throttle. Later in the ride, when he pulled out the stops going up Via Zumaya, no one could hold his wheel. No one. And where we were all wrecked after the ride, he had coffee and then went out for another “easy” 30 miles.

But his athletic performance was nothing compared to his keynote speech at our award ceremony. He literally graced us with his presence, speaking with conviction, with passion, with honesty, and with hail-fellow-well-met good cheer that turned a special night into an unforgettable one. Sincere, funny, and happy to hang out with the crowd after speaking and knock back a few beers … this is what every champion should be, but hardly any of them are.

The path of truth may be a hard one, but seeing people like Steve Tilford should give everyone hope and inspiration that it’s not simply a path we can take, but one that we should.

The best water I ever drank

October 5, 2015 § 20 Comments

I used to live in the northern part of the Texas Panhandle, up by the Canadian River breaks in the town of Miami, population 588, largest and only town in a county of more than a thousand square miles. The country was rugged and its beauty took getting used to, and I suppose some people never got used to it, including some of those who had lived there for generations.

The people were inward looking, they stuck together, they suffered strangers when it suited them, and there was no problem they couldn’t blame on the government or cure through prayer. Yet they had a hard humanity about them too, and would help you whether you deserved it or not because you were a person and they knew that sooner or later every human gets in a bind and needs a hand.

The bike rides up there were the loneliest I have ever done. The minimal distance was 25 miles, a big square from Miami south up the big hill, out of the breaks and onto the plains, then after six ramrod straight miles a left, then after another six straight miles another left, and then you’d drop back down into the breaks and make another left onto the highway, and it was six miles back to town.

It was lonely out there and not just because in twenty-five miles you’d see one car, sometimes less. There were a handful of old barns stuck out on the plains, collapsing wooden ghosts moored to the earth, reminders of things that had begun big and gradually been worn into defeat by time and money and the wind.

And nothing was lonelier than that prairie wind. It rarely blew less than twenty miles an hour, and big winds of thirty or forty weren’t rare; those were the days that you just stayed indoors. By yourself, the occasional hawk seated high on a utility pole, the ferocious wind trying to blow you to a standstill, no cars, no people, pushing the pedals as hard as you could to make it to the turn where you’d at least have a vicious crosswind rather than a headwind … those were hard and lonely rides.

For variety it only got worse. You could cut over to Old Mobeetie and come back via Canadian, a solid seventy miles of solitude, or you could go north through the breaks and circle back through Pampa for a similar distance that was slower because of the hills. I often believed that nothing good ever came out of any of those rides. No good friendships, no good experiences, no good memories, nothing but wind and heat, or wind and biting cold, numb slogs that gave nothing, left nothing, meant nothing.

One hot summer day before I left to do the Pampa loop the first time, my neighbor rolled down the window in his air-conditioned pickup. “It’s too hot for that,” he said.

“You’re probably right.”

“And you ain’t got near enough water.”

“I have two bottles,” I replied, pointing to the bike.

“I got eyes, but you ain’t getting to Pampa on no two water bottles, and there ain’t a drop in between here and there.”

“Have a good day, Clyde,” I said.

He nodded and rolled up the window; I rode off.

Twenty-five miles in I was out of water and it was over a hundred degrees. I hit a sublime level of thirst, desert thirst. I passed a stock tank with cattle crowded around it and thought about trekking the two hundred yards into the field, but it would be filled with goatheads, the water wouldn’t be potable, and the bulls might gore me.

I pedaled on, ten miles to go before I hit the outskirts of Pampa. The wind was hot and relentless and in my face, sucking me completely and terminally dry. Not a car passed, not a truck, and nothing but fields.

After forever I saw a farm house. It was at the end of a drive that was itself about a quarter mile long. I pedaled down it, caked in dust and dirt and my tongue swollen like a giant bone-dry pickle. There was a truck at the end of the drive, so I dismounted and knocked on the door.

An old boy opened it and looked through the screen as if every afternoon a cyclist stopped by out here in a part of the world where I’d never even seen another bicycle. “Yes?” he asked.

“Could I get some water from your hose?”

“I suppose so,” he said.

I walked over to the side of the house where the green hose was perfectly coiled. I turned on the tap and out spurted a jet of boiling hot water. I let the hot water run out and waited a few seconds until it turned from hot to ice cold. Then I turned the nozzle into my mouth and drank from it, deeply.

No draught of water ever tasted that good before. Or since.



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It takes a village (idiot)

August 29, 2015 § 10 Comments


The South Bay Cycling Awards are fast approaching, and a number of questions are begging to be answered.

Question: Where do I vote?

Who said anything about voting?

Question: What are the rules for selection of finalists?

All questions regarding all procedures can be found by clicking on this link, which takes you to the South Bay Cycling Awards Rule Book.

Question: There were, like, a zillion nominees. Are they all contenders for a Wanky in their category?

No. Three finalists have been selected from each category.

Question: How will we find out who the finalists are?

Check your mailbox every three hours. Notifications were mailed out today.

Question: I am pretty sure I am a finalist and am going to win but I have my second cousin’s wedding in Lancaster that’s on the same day as the awards. I’ll still get my Wanky, right?


Question: By riding 30,000 feet up Scheuren Rd. today in 17:45:56 hours, is Head Down James going to get some special kind of award?

That depends on what you mean by “award.”

Question: I heard that there is a secret committee comprised of Brauch, Martin, and Spivey. What kind of bullshit is that?

Complete, fresh, stinking, steaming bullshit. With flies on top.

Question: I crashed all year plus I’m the best male racer and the most fun to ride with and I’m a great advocate. There’s not a limit to how many Wankys I can win, is there?

One Wanky per wanker.

Question: That’s total bullshit. Where is that in the rules?

In the Rule Book.

Question: I told all my friends and club members and FB friends and Twitterati to email you votes for me and my club and tell you cool shit about me so I can win, plus I’ve been giving you hints and making suggestions to you on rides and on Facebag. Does that help or hurt my chances?

A billion times zero is still zero.

Question: Who’s paying for all this?

Have you ever wondered who’s responsible for all those Nigerian prince emails?

Question: Will there be food?

There will be food trucks, with a $5 discount for the first 500 guests.

Question: Will there be beer?

At the Strand Brewing Co.’s new 34,000 square-foot brewery? No, definitely not.

Question: Who is Steve Tilford, why is he the guest speaker, and why should I give a shit?

He is a curmudgeon, Eddy Merckx was busy, Google him.

Question: I’m not a bike racer. Can I still come?


Question: I hate bicycles and drive everywhere but I like beer. Can I still come?

Yes. But you might want to Uber home.

Question: I heard there is also going to a South Bay Cycling Hall of Fame. WTF is that?

Ask Brauch. It was his idea.

Question: Who’s going to be inducted into the Hall?

Nelson Vails, Marilyn Sonye, Ted Ernst, and Tony Cruz.

Question: Who are those wankers?


Question: Is Martin making those incredible, bad-ass horseshit trophies again?

They are horseshoes, not horseshit. And yes, they’re bad-ass, and yes, he’s making them again.

Question: I heard there was going to be a really crazy, off-the-hook trophy for the Crashtacular Fred trophy. Is that true?

Let’s just say, “J. Marvin Campbell” and that should answer your question.

Question: Can I get one of those cool Wanky Awards t-shirts designed by Joe Yule?


Question: Can I get one for free because we’re pals?


Question: What is a fucking jar?

You’ll find out on October 17.



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Those who forget the past are generally maroons

April 25, 2015 § 39 Comments

Today is supposed to be a happy day, as 800+ bicycle riders try to come up with reasonable-sounding excuses as to why they can’t actually participate in tomorrow’s Belgian Waffle Ride despite having paid the $136 entry fee, purchased $3,402.71 in new cycling equipment, and retained the services of a professional coach.

But for me, even though I’m going down to San Diego in an hour or so to help mark the course and pick up my number, it’s not really all that happy. I can’t stop thinking about the refugees from Syria and Somalia who are drowning as they try to cross the Mediterranean from Libya in dinghies, rubber rafts, and leaky vessels, all in order to reach Western Europe.

Consider this:

The US State Department in Washington, and refugee agencies were all aware of the situation.

[The owners of the boats] knew even before the [boats] sailed that its passengers might have trouble disembarking in [Europe].

The voyage[s] of the [refugees] attracted a great deal of media attention. Right-wing [European] newspapers deplored its impending arrival and demanded that the government cease admitting [the] refugees. Indeed, the passengers became victims of bitter infighting within the government [s].

Many [Europeans] resented the relatively large number of refugees whom the government had already admitted into the country, because they appeared to be competitors for scarce jobs. Hostility toward immigrants fueled both [anti-Mulsim sentiment] and xenophobia.

This is not an edited clip from a newspaper describing the refugee crisis in Europe. It’s an edited clip taken directly from the online story on the website of the U.S. Holocaust Museum about the voyage of the St. Louis, a German ship filled with Jewish refugees who in 1939 were refused entry to Cuba and to the United States as they fled Hitler’s campaign to exterminate European Jewry, a campaign whose earnestness was shown to all who cared to look in the Kristallnacht attacks of 1938.

Most oblivious to the historical implications of denying entry to refugees are the Australians, who have advised the EU to deal with refugee boats the same way that they do, by simply telling would-be immigrants that they will never set foot on Australian shores, that they will be turned away by military vessels, that no aid will be given, and that if their boats are not seaworthy, they will drown under the watchful eye of the Australian coast guard.

Australia touts the effectiveness of the program. Before implementation, over 1,200 people drowned trying to reach the continent. Today no one dies at sea because the PR campaign has effectively discouraged people from trying. Instead, refugees flee to New Guinea, Cambodia, and other places where the Australian government pays those governments to take in refugees. The governmental payees pocket the money and let the refugees try to “find a better life” in the squalor and poverty of some of the world’s worst slums. “There is lots of work in Cambodia,” one Aussie official was quoted as saying.

But at least the refugees aren’t dirtying up the streets of Sydney, stealing the jobs of white Australians and contributing to crime and unemployment. As in America, white Australians are apparently falling all over themselves to do the brutal, back breaking jobs typically done by immigrants.

As I was doing a BWR prep ride with a small group a couple of months ago, I chatted with a fellow rider about the failure of Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would have given amnesty to undocumented immigrant children brought to this country by their parents and who, through no fault of their own, quite literally live in the shadows.

“Well,” he said, “those kids … that was me.”

“What?” I stared in disbelief.

“Yeah. I didn’t have a green card until I was eighteen. I lived my entire childhood as an illegal, and it wasn’t until the amnesty of 1986 that I stopped living in daily fear of arrest and deportation.”

There we were, riding bikes, getting ready for the ultimate expression of privileged, middle aged faux athleticism, chatting about wives, kids, and the “travails” of white-collar jobs. We were both productive members of society–sort of–,responsible husbands and fathers–sort–of, and the beneficiaries of limitless opportunity, but one of us could only have gotten where he was by the stroke of a legislative pen.

And here we’re about to go ride our bikes again as thousands of others are about to embark on a deadly venture across the open sea, ruled by cut-throats, smugglers, and gangs, risking starvation, disease, and death because every one of those outcomes is better than what awaits them if they remain at home.

The Belgian Waffle Ride is about to happen with its supposed hardness, toughness, and difficulty … indeed.



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