The beautiful people

August 24, 2013 § 28 Comments

When you bike, you meet people you otherwise would never meet. It’s enriching.

Hoofixerman appeared on the South Bay scene a year or so ago, riding an ancient “state of the art” aluminum frame with first generation handlebar shifters. He’s one of those dudes who used to ride a lot and then got married and had kids and gave birth to a mortgage and spent his spare time on his first love, some Italian chick named Ducati.

Then the kids got older, the mortgage shrank a bit, and the Italian chick started hinting that she was really into more kinky, dangerous stuff, and Hoofixerman gravitated back to the bicycle. It’s an old story: Formerly fit dude gets back into cycling and after a bit he picks up where he left off, kicking ass and taking names.

Cycling being cycling, and the arms race being the arms race, after a year or so he made a stealth upgrade, and one day Hoofixerman appeared on the New Pier Ride pedaling an all-black, all-carbon Giant TCR with deep dish wheels. A month or so into the new bike and he was  sticking his nose out into the wind, testing his legs with a few attacks, seeing how far off the leash he could go on those 52-year-old pegs with a swarm of hungry, pounding punks hot on his heels. Answer: Not very far.

The bike wants to live, too

One day Hoofixerman, who’s a blacksmith and shoes the horses of the rich and famous for a living, joined me for a trip up to north L.A. for a bike ride. Being old and afraid of death our conversation turned, of course, to the dangers of cycling. We talked about that ridiculous old notion of “calculated risk,” a comforting nostrum invented by people aware of the deadly potency of the bike + car traffic combination who want to stay immersed in the toxic stew but also have a clever explanation for why it “makes sense.”

Hoofixerman talked about motorcycles and about unlearning common sense when you’re moving fast on a motorbike, about unlearning the instinct to hit the brakes in a turn, about unlearning the fear reflex, and most of all about letting the physics of the two twirling gyroscopes do their thing — knowing when to inject yourself into the dance, and when not to interfere.

“Ya gotta remember,” he said, so casually that it was an iron fact, “the bike wants to live, too.”

My mind exploded with the concept. The bike is a living thing and it wants to make the turn just as badly as you do. It’s got the full panoply of physics at its disposal, and all you have to do is ride it and guide it without asking the iron horse to buck the laws of physics.

It may be an iron horse, but it’s still a horse, and the horse wants to live, too.

There was an elegance in Hoofixerman’s idea that made me happy every time I thought about it, turned it over, examined it. From every angle, it was pretty and smart and sound.

Little victories

Last Tuesday we hit the last stoplight on the last lap of the NPR before the turnaround. After the turnaround there are approximately three minutes and twenty seconds of hell that finish in a sprint.

Hoofixerman hit the gas when the light turned green, and the hundred-strong pack watched him roll away.

“He’s too old.”

“He’ll never make it.”

“Who’s he kidding? Does he think the new bike makes him younger?”

“He’s wearing the same funny helmet as Cobra Penis. No way.”

We got to the turnaround and, for the first time since the New Pier Ride was created, the entire pack was held up for thirty seconds by an endless stream of cars. Still, no problem. With enough horsepower to reel him in, the engines went to the front and started drilling it.

Everyone knew the rules. The NPR is governed by traffic and stoplights, and you have to take that into account when attacking or following an attack. If you escape and the chasers get hung up at the red lights, that’s their penalty for not risking all with the break. If your breakaway gets stuck at a light or by traffic, and you get brought back as a result … that’s the risk of taking a flyer.

The one thing you can never say on the NPR is this: “Yeah, I would have [ fill in awesome result here] if it hadn’t been for that light.”

We buried ourselves to bring him back, until there, a few hundred yards before the finish, he was, going full gas with only a few yards left to the end. We had him. His bid would end vainly, full of vanity, in vain.

And then he dug once more, hard and deep, with everything he had. The carbon frame and carbon wheels kicked ahead, leaping like a horse catching the bite of the spurs, and somehow, in front of the fastest finishers in LA County, he crossed the line first. He was so gassed he couldn’t even raise an arm. Everything left there on the road, he was the oldest guy to ever win the NPR. It was incomprehensible to everyone else, but not to me.

Because you know, the bike, it wanted to win, too.

Broken record

May 4, 2013 § 33 Comments

I hate to be the one to break your Strava bubble, but “PR” is an oxymoron. There’s no such thing as a “personal record,” any more than there’s a “personal Super Bowl victory” or a “personal presidential election.”

A record is a mark set by someone that at least two people have done. You know Chris Horner’s time up Mt. Palomar? That is a record. Eleven hundred people have done it and his time is the fastest. It’s a record time.

Even though when you climbed it on Tuesday two and a half hours slower than Chris and it was the fastest of your 67 attempts, it’s still not a personal record. It’s two and a half hours slower than the record. You can call it your personal best. You can call it your fastest time up Mt. Palomar. You can call it proof that your $2,000 power meter and $15,000 bike and $950/month personal coaching regimen are making you faster…but it still pegs you in about one thousandth place relative to the RECORD.

Nothing personal about it.

All cycling metrics point to one conclusion: You suck

Strava’s business model is simple: Provide data to wankers that shows they’re getting better. Since none of us is getting better, and in fact all of us are getting older and therefore worse, and since those of us who are improving quickly reach a plateau, there has to be a way to snake-oil us into thinking that we’re improving.

So Strava sells you a premium membership where you can join a smaller subset of records (65+ men with an inseam of less than 25″ who sleep on the left side of the bed), and thereby convert some of your meaningless “personal records” into something more meaningful: A higher spot on the age adjusted, inseam-length adjusted, side-of-the-bed adjusted leaderboard.

Unfortunately, even after adjusting yourself into 75th place, which is a huge jump from 1,000th, physics still mercilessly claws its way to the front. Your “progress” plateaus, and your ability to climb the flailerboard grinds to a halt. So it’s back to personal records, and chasing the illusion of improvement even though all the data point, or rather, scream deafeningly, to a wholly opposite conclusion: You not only suck, you suck more than you did on this segment last year. Introspective riders feel the icy hand of death tightening its grip around their throat if they look at the data too closely past about age forty.

Note to the Stravati: There’s a reason you prefer Strava to bike racing

I don’t vomit often, but when I do it’s usually after someone takes one of my KOM’s. I’ve only got seventeen of them left, and there’s not a single one that couldn’t be handily snapped up by any number of Stravati who live for that kind of thing.

It’s no defense, but I never tried to set a single one of those KOM’s, which is probably the reason they fall so easily. The handful of times I’ve gone out and tried to grab a KOM, I’ve failed, usually miserably. I use Strava for the same reason that I wear pants. It’s a social convention the lack of which would earn too much opprobrium. I also use it as a handy calorie counter. And finally, I use it for you. Just when you’re starting to think your performance is dropping, or you’re really not very good, you can click on my most recent ride and feel relief: There’s someone in your neighborhood who’s slower and an even bigger bicycle kook than you.

This, I believe, is a powerful source of inspiration for flailers and wankers throughout the South Bay. Through Strava, I keep them riding. It’s a social service, and you can thank me via PayPal.

What you can’t do is get away with the pleasant little self-deception that your KOM is as good as a bike race. You can’t even get away with the delusion that it’s as good as an old-fashioned group beatdown on the NPR.

You know why that is? Because it isn’t. Masturbating your way to the top of a leaderboard on Strava, when unaccompanied by ball-busting accomplishments on group rides or in real mass start races in which you have to actually pay an entry fee and pin on a number, are just that: Digital auto-titillation.

Believe it or don’t, I’m fine with that. Riding a bicycle is like consensual sex between adults: I not only approve of it, I’m wholly uninterested in your particular activities. I’m not a libertarian, I’m a “don’t give a fucktarian.” If you’re out pedaling your bicycle, in my book you’re winning.

If your riding is confined to setting Strava records without racing or group riding, though, you are wanking. Can we be clear about that? Good. Because last Thursday a new South bay cycling record was set. Not on Strava, where anonymous, zipless riders virtually compete  using all manner of tricks, traps, aids, pacers, run-ups, and “special assists” to set the record.

No, this Thursday record was set the old-fashioned way. Clubbers clubbed. Baby seals got their heads staved in. Pain was ladled out in buckets. And only the strong, the ornery, the mutton-headed, and the relentless survived.

One thing that’s never happened on the New Pier Ride

…is a successful four-lap breakaway. Dan Seivert and I once, on a cold, rainy, windy winter day in 2012 attacked on Vista del Mar and stayed away for four laps, but it wasn’t a real breakaway. We sneaked off three or four miles before the real ride began, there was zero horsepower in the field, and no one even knew we had attacked. Although we hurt like dogs and congratulated ourselves for the heroic effort, it was more a flailaway than a breakaway. Plus, no one cared. To the contrary, they tortured us with the worst torture known to a group ride breakaway: “You were off the front? If I’d known that I’d have chased.”

Last week, though, word went out that MMX was coming to town to do the NPR. This meant one thing: Merciless beatdown in the offing.

There were at least ten thousand baby seals at the Manhattan Beach Pier when the ride left at 6:40 AM. We hit the bottom of Pershing and it immediately strung out into the gutter and then snapped. The Westside seals were all lounging on the roadside atop the bump, because they’ve learned from repeated beatdowns that it’s better to jump in after the first hard effort than to try and jump in as the group comes by at the bottom of the little hill. Just as they were finishing their first bucket of raw mackerel, we came by like a whirlwind.

As we passed the parkway, Josh Alverson drilled it.

Then Peyton Cooke drilled it.

Then Johnny Walsh drilled it.

MMX, who had started at the back and worked his way up to the point, later noted that from the bottom of Pershing it was pure mayhem. Many of the baby seals were killed with that first single devastating blow to the head. Others, un-hit, were so stunned by the acceleration that they simply pulled over, unclipped, and skinned themselves.

Robert Efthimos reported that Thursday was his 128th time up World Way ramp, and it turned out to be his single highest average wattage ever for a lap on the NPR. He churned out those numbers stuck at the back of the herd after the break left.

After the ramp, Greg Leibert blasted away, stringing it out into a line of about 15 riders, with a small clump forming at about 16th wheel and turning into an amorphous lump into which 80 or 90 baby seals still cowered. After Greg swung over, MMX opened the throttle, dissolved the clump and turned the entire peloton into a single line with countless little blubbering seals who began snapping and popping like plastic rivets on a space shuttle.

We turned onto the parkway in full flight, with Johnny Walsh, Marco Cubillos, Josh, and “26” pounding the pedals. This is the point where after the initial surge, the front riders usually slowed down, or the neverpulls in back made their first and only real effort of the day to chase down the nascent break. Marco, John, Josh, and 26 kept going, and were soon joined by Greg, Jeff Bryant, Jay LaPlante, some dude from La Grange who was incinerated shortly thereafter, and one of the South Bay’s legendary purple card-carrying, neverpulling, wheelsuckers extraordinaire whose name shall not be mentioned.

MMX looked ahead from the pack as the break gained ground, surged, and bridged. Then he closed the door and threw away the key.

No break has ever stayed away on the NPR for all four laps. The course won’t allow it due to stoplights, the high tailwind speeds of the chasing field, and the relatively flat nature of the course.

We made the first turn and had a gap. Atop the bridge Jeff Bryant unleashed a monster pull, but then, over his head by the extreme effort, he and Greg were unable to latch onto the break as it accelerated at the next turnaround. Accounts differ, with some claiming a car pinched them, and others claiming they were too gassed to catch, but in any event the break didn’t feel like waiting, as there were already too many orange kits in the group. This meant the Greg/Jeff duo had to chase.

The pack was in a different time zone, which meant nothing as we’d just completed one lap and there was plenty of time for them to organize and chase in earnest. What we didn’t know is that they were already chasing in earnest, and the stoplight gods were smiling on us.

Having taken the initiative in trying to fend off the entire baby seal population of the South Bay, we were being rewarded with a string of green lights even as the baby seals were being punished with reds. Naturally, post-ride the baby seals that survived chalked everything up to the traffic signals rather than the sheet-snot that covered our faces and the haggard, beaten look of those who rode the break for the entire four laps.

Greg and Jeff, unable to reattach, finally hopped across the road and jumped in as we whizzed by. Greg then attacked us balls-out the remaining lap and a half. Ouch. Every time we brought him back another of our matchboxes was incinerated.

On the final stretch, after berating Sir Neverpull for never coming through, MMX unleashed the leadout from Klubtown. Sir Neverpull, suddenly discovering that with the end in sight he wasn’t quite that tired after all, leaped just in time for his engine to blow and his legs to detach from his torso. Jay LaPlante sprunted around the MMX lead-out with Josh fixed on his wheel. Going too far out and in too small a gear, Jay settled for second after a doing yeoman’s work in the break.

We celebrated this, the first ever four-lap breakaway on the NPR, with coffee and sunshine.

And yes, it was a record.

Up the Hill, and down again

November 16, 2012 § 10 Comments

PV Bicycle Center is celebrating its fourth year atop the Palos Verdes Peninsula with, among other things, a hill climb featuring the legendary Switchbacks. The race goes off at 9:00 AM at the bottom of Palos Verdes Drive East. Victims meet at 8:45 AM to sign up and receive last rites at the parking inlet off Palos Verdes Drive South, just west of Palos Verdes Drive East. The first rider goes off at 9:00 AM and then successive riders leave at thirty second intervals. Category winners of the hill climb will receive a $50 gift certificate to the shop, and a supply of Athlete Octane.

At 10:00AM riders will regroup back at the shop for prizes, product demos by Marc Pro, free samples from vendors such as Athelete Octane, and for the chance to check out the shop’s 2012 clearance sale.

Guest of honor

This is all well and good, of course, but the real attraction to this event is that you’ll finally get to meet Craig Hummer. Craig is best known to Tour de France fans as the dude who provides color commentary with Bob Roll during the annual July extravaganza that is the Tour. However, here on the Hill, he’s known for something else: Not mixing with the proletariat.

Despite being a phenomenal athlete, the dude refuses to do the Pier Ride. Never shows up on the Donut. Avoids the Holiday and Wheatgrass rides like the plague. Instead, if you want to hang with Craig, you have to troll the Hill or Westchester Parkway long before sun-up, where he’s most likely to be found doing what he lives to do: Search out and destroy your Strava KOM’s.

Yep, this wanker likes to find an area KOM and then devote his life to claiming it. In fact, he used this stealth technique to steal one of my most-prized segments called “The Big One,” a segment I created and owned until it was discovered and ridden by another rider. In short, although Craig wouldn’t be caught dead riding with you, he’ll snatch and crush your Strava dreams under cover of darkness, and his coup stick of KOM’s dangles with numerous climbs around the peninsula.

Although I don’t have any intel on whether he’ll be hanging around after he blazes up the Switchbacks, chances are good that if you have a motorcycle or a net you can delay him long enough to get answers to your most burning TdF questions. I know I’ll be hanging around to find out when he’s going to show his stuff on the NPR.

New kits and a new set of teeth

October 17, 2012 § 6 Comments

I knew the NPR was going to be a smashfest this morning when, before we’d done half a lap on the Parkway, someone groused “We’re going as fast as if it were January.”

But this isn’t about Prez’s amazing jam 400m from the line, or about Erik the Red’s devastating smackdown in the sprunt, or about Davy Dawg’s pain-laced wind-up, or about USC John’s bitchslap pull up to the bridge on the last lap.

Nope. It’s about the clash of the new kits.

Bull and I had just dropped down off the Hill, joining with G$ and Mighty Mouse as we pedaled from Redondo to Manhattan Beach. Suddenly, from out of the darkness, Roadchamp appeared.

“Check it out!” he said, maw gaping like a bass going after a worm.

“Check what out?” I asked.

“Teeth, dude! I got teeth!”

Indeed he did. The half-year process of ripping out his corroded teeth and nailing posts into his jaw was now complete. Roadchamp would no longer talk or look like a biker from a Red State. But Roadchamp’s new teeth weren’t the only new thing on the NPR.

Young bucks from Trojan U. model their new StageOne kit

Once we were joined by the mob on Pershing, one thing stood out: The kids from USC were sporting their new kit, just as the ride’s regulars had unveiled their new NPR kits the week before. Although both were stylishly designed by Joe Yule, it became obvious after a few pedal strokes that it would be a contest of fashion on today’s ride.

No quarter would be given as wearers of the new kits dared each other to outstyle the other. A flurry of NPR kit attacks came early, even as last-year’s-kit-wearers from Big Orange and SPY vainly tried to keep up with the torrid pace. With each powerful surge of the Euro-cool outfit, the pack got thinner.

On the second lap, after biding their time, the attractive USC kits made their move with a series of searing fashion attacks. John Tomlinson’s perfectly tailored fit, followed by Ben Rudolph’s snappy thigh panels, laid waste to the peloton. Even the USC wanker dude who always makes a valiant stab before getting clubbed like a baby seal was pushed far forward, almost to the front, by the natty design of his new outfit.

Sterno-O flails with the all-black get-up

Down from the goat shacks of New Mexico to enjoy some SoCal sunshine, Stern-O, the one and only Stern-O, the legendary Stern-O, the man, the myth, the goatshack refugee, Stern-O himself showed up for his inaugural NPR.

Twice, or in some cases three times the age of other riders, Stern-O immediately showed that even though he was older than the hills, older than dirt, older than DOS even, he wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out in the back. Pounding off the front a couple of times and never hesitating to test his legs in the wind, Stern-O embarrassed all the wankers who, after more than a year of NPR’s have never made it to the front one single time.

Unfortunately, his escapades were accomplished wearing an all-black kit, and this year’s cycling fashion ensemble, although heavy on the black, requires certain bright colors in order to really contend for the fashion sprunt.

The bitter fashion pace sheared away a chasing wankoton composed of riders wearing clothing from 2011, 2010, and the few hapless sods whose gloves and socks didn’t have the same logo. Phlegmy O’Donnell, who, in the morning rush, had put a Big Orange jersey over an SBW pair of bibs, was pushed into a curb and left for dead.

The one fashion design you never can beat

In the end, the NPR kits ruled the day, even though the official sprunt finish was taken by Erik in a very last-year SPY kit. Davy Dawg’s wind-up was greatly hampered by his last-season Ironfly ensemble, and Big Steve, fresh from major back surgery, simply couldn’t contend with the amazing design sensibilities expressed by the NPR kit.

Several riders could be seen banging their bars in frustration at the slowness of their clothing, and Gimpy Sloots went so far as to dial up his team’s designer after the finish. “Mostly black with a dash of color, you hear me, dogdammit!” he screamed into his dumbphone.

Even though the USC outfit rode strong, in the end all were vanquished by the one quality of the new NPR kits that blew away the field: Their incredible tummy and butt-slimming effect. Numerous NPR regulars who had heretofore been known as “Cadillac draft,” “Barn door,” “Vacuum party,” and “Dallas-sized Ass” appeared, simply by pulling on an NPR kit, to be svelte, narrow hipped, and 30 pounds lighter.

NPR riders who were already narrow across the gunwales looked Schleck-thin. Roadchamp was barred from donning an NPR kit because of the general fear that its slimming properties would make him disappear altogether.

Unfortunately, Joe has saved his most devastating fashion release for last: The 2013 SPY-Giant kit, recently modeled by MMX on Facebook. Possessing roughly double the thinning properties of the NPR kit, and splashed with just enough color to make it stand out in the crowd, this is the outfit that could lay fashion waste to the field for the entirety of 2013.

Tune in next Tuesday to find out how the Battle of the Bike Kits goes down!

We got your back!

September 28, 2012 § 11 Comments

The first time I heard the patrol car bleep his horn, we were headed towards the turn to begin the last lap on the NPR. “We’ll be seeing him again,” I thought.

Lap four played out in all its glory: Vapor leadout, Wike the Bike spanking all pretenders in the sprunt, and the Belize Bullet making a last minute acceleration from too far back. We reached the red stoplight at Pershing and the cruiser pulled up next to us. The cop was highly unhappy. “Who’s the leader of this ride?” he yelled.

Each of the seventy riders knew that the answer to this question was, “Write ME the ticket, officer.” So no one said anything.

“That’s okay,” I thought. “I’m surrounded by the crew. There’s nothing that one cop can do against this phalanx of mighty warriors.” So I hollered back at him. “I’m not the leader, but I’d be more than happy to talk with you.”

“Pull over there!” he ordered as the light turned green.

We 70 badasses aren’t scared of no damn cop

I pulled into the turnout and dismounted, confidently approaching the policeman. Well, more deferentially than confidently. My father had always said that the only proper answer to a person in a bad mood with a badge, a gun, a pair of handcuffs, mace, a radio, a riot shotgun, and a fully armed partner on alert was “Yes, sir.”

“You guys can’t ride like that,” he said.

“Yes, sir. Like what, sir?”

“You’re spilling out from the far right lane and filling up the entire second lane as well. It blocks traffic and is incredibly dangerous.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Look, I totally respect what you all are doing out here. You’re in great shape, you’re doing a healthy workout, and it’s good. We have no problem with that. But when you block the entire road, someone’s going to get hurt.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, what’s your name?”

“Perez. Dave Perez.”

“Okay, Mr. Perez. What’s your phone number?”

“Ah, 867-5309. Area code 310.”

The cop looked at me funny. “I’ve heard that number before.”

“It’s, uh, common, sir.”

“I’m not going to cite you, but I’d appreciate it if you got the word out in your club that you can’t block both lanes.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ve talked to this group before. What’s the name of your club? South Bay something?”

“Wheelmen? No, we’re not a club. This is just an unorganized ride. It’s…”

“Look, I know you guys are a club and this is a club ride. Which club is it?”

“Yes, sir. But sir, we’re a bunch of different clubs.” I held up my SPY armwarmers. “I ride for club SPY. And all these other people,” I jerked my hand over my shoulder, “ride for various clubs. There are people from all over the U.S. and even the world, and even Australia, who join on this ride.”

I was thankful that Caveman James from Colorado had joined us today, as I could pull him out from the throng as proof that we weren’t just one big club ride but rather an amalgamation of unrelated idiots. Caveman had his best American Flyers’ Russian full facebeard and really did look like a foreigner, or a space alien, even.

The cop was scowling now. “Well, why’s everyone wearing the same outfit then?”

“Same outfit? There are at least a dozen different…” I turned around to start pointing out the different kits and teams who were represented on the ride, but stopped mid-sentence. The massive gang of supporters had melted away. No one but Sparkles, New Girl, Mr. and Mrs. Diego, Mel, Hines, and a couple of other wankers had stayed. The only team kits were Ironfly and…South Bay Wheelmen.

“Mr. Perez, those outfits clearly say South Bay Wheelmen.”

“Yes, sir. I can explain, sir.”

“I’m sure you can. Just like I can write a ticket.”

“Yes, sir.”

Mercy is the hallmark of justice

“But I’m not going to,” he continued. “I’d like you to get the word out. We want this to be safe just as much as you do. If it spreads out into a long line because you’re going fast, so be it. But when things bunch up and start blocking both lanes, we’re going to have to intervene.”

I couldn’t explain that he’d seen us just before the turnaround, and that with few exceptions we did a pretty good job of stopping for lights, stopping for oncoming cars, checking before we u-turn, and being safe except for the last 400 yards when people risk everything for the glory of winning the sprunt. So I just said, “Yes, sir.”

“And what’s with those socks?”

“These?”

“Yeah. Why the tall pink socks?”

“It’s ah, breast awareness, sir.”

“Excuse me?”

“Cancer, I mean. Breast cancer awareness. Think pink breast awareness,” I mumbled, blushing.

“Okey-dokey.” He shrugged. “You guys and gals be safe out there, okay?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“Now go catch up with your group. Have a good day, Mr. Perez.”

“Yes, sir!” We looked at each other, knowing full well that everyone was already back at CotKU quaffing their third latte and taking bets on who had gotten the ticket.

New Girl rode up, grinning. “Coffee’s on me, Wankster. Thanks for taking one for the team.”

“Oh, it was no big deal. He wasn’t going to give me a ticket.”

“How did you know that?”

“I’ve already gotten one ticket this year. That’s my limit. Now if this had happened in 2013, I’d never have stopped.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m buying your coffee anyway.”

And she did.

The great NPR bike path vs. alleyway controversy

September 26, 2012 § 10 Comments

It’s been simmering for months now.

One group of idiots wants to take the bike path. Another group of idiots wants to take the alleyway.

And today, it all boiled over.

Advocates for the bike path

The bike path has everything going for it. It allows for a slow and measured pace out to the dickstomping grounds of Westchester Parkway. It provides panoramic views of the beauty that is Santa Monica Bay, with Malibu, the mountain peaks, blue skies, and gently breaking waves as a backdrop. It meanders. It is devoid of angry drivers seeking to start their day with a bit of fresh cyclist roadkill. It’s traditional, and it lets you start your day, whether winter, spring, summer, or fall, with a crisp reminder of all that is good and lovely and wonderful about Southern California. If there’s a swell working at El Porto, you may even get to see one of Dan-O’s Danc surfboards shredding the glassy face of a tidy little beach break.

Advocates for the alleyway

The alleyway has nothing going for it. It’s ugly. Cars dart out of garages and cross streets with only inches to spare. Gnarly drainage culverts whack your rims every few hundred yards. The landscape is a gloomy ass-end of homes and condos, blotting out the sky, the sun, the ocean, and the early morning thongage. The occasional pack of grim-face runners will swoop by, looking like runners everywhere look: miserable and in pain.

Like a cheap whore, the alleyway is fast, boneshaking, and gets straight down to the business of going from the Pier to the beatdown in the shortest possible time. At the end of the alleyway, there’s a short jaunt over to Vista del Mar, where the peloton picks up a mashing head of steam, blasts down Mt. Chevron hill, and pounds it hard all the way to the Pershing death launch.

Why would anyone choose the alleyway?

First, because people are sheep, and they will follow where led, even, and especially, to the slaughter. Second, the bike path is often strewn with sand, which creates ickyness inside the links of $250 Campy chains and fancy Chris King freehubs. Third, although the drowsy morning commuters lurching forth pose certain hazards, the bike path features large numbers of the dreaded pathalete, a species of biker/runner/rollerblader/walker/stroller pusher/surfer/skateboarder/razorer who careens along the narrow strip of asphalt, often threatening to bash head-on into the rolling peloton.

Of course, the bike path is luxuriously wondrous for viewing if you’re on the point, but everyone else (except Hockeystick, who’s always got his head turned sideways) has to focus intently on not crashing due to slowing, extremely tight quarters, and the numerous turns that are studded with sand.

But the biggest strike against the bike path is that it’s pleasant and leisurely, so when the nasty reality of the Pershing bump appears, numerous wankers find their kneecaps blown off by the sudden hard surge.

When the voice of the South Bay speaks

…you listen. And this morning, G$ began the ride thus: “Assembled wankers! Today we ride the bike path! It is spoken!”

No one’s voice has the strength of G$’s, and when he pointed his bike down the path, all but six of the massed riders followed. I headed for the alleyway with SBW Eric, Patricia, Canyon Bob, Jens, Pistol Pete, and one or two others. I wasn’t trying to make a statement, I was trying to fuel a controversy. There’s a difference.

By the time we reached Dockweiler, we could see over onto the bike path from Vista del Mar, and the wankoton was far ahead. Eric and I rolled steady, trying to make up ground, and apparently we succeeded, attested to by his deep gasps and the strings of snot trailing along my upper lip and around my neck. At the Pershing launch site, Canyon Bob sprunted up the hill. Bucks and a handful of others saw us coming and wrongly assumed we were the main group.

Canyon Bob kept mashing, I clung to his wheel, and by World Way ramp at LAX we had a flailaway group that included Chris Stewart, Dan Luzier, Chris Cooke, and four or five others who all died an untimely death by the time we dropped down back onto Pershing. At the turn onto Westchester there were just four of us. The main peloton was far behind and apparently not willing to chase. After a while Dan crawled into the gutter and rolled up in a fetal position. We soldiered on.

One for the record books

Of the many incredible benefits of doing a clusterfuck like the NPR, none surpasses this: If you flail, you can blame it on the lights or on the speeding peloton working together to rein in your heroicism. If you prevail, you can chalk it up to your general greatness and wonderfulability on the bike. Conversely, if you’re in the pack and someone escapes, you can blame it on the lights you had to stop at, or the traffic you had to wait for at the turnarounds, or on the unwillingness of the dawdling peloton to work together to rein in those OTF wankers.

In short, there’s a plausible excuse for everyone, and you can always tell your wife how awesome you were and how everyone else sucked.

Today saw the first time in the history of the NPR that a breakaway stayed away for the entire four laps around the Parkway. The victors chalked it up to their speed, their ability to work together (as Jack from Illinois [not his real name] would say), their canny sense of timing, their hardness into the wind, their incredible ability to endure pain that would destroy mere mortals, and their fancy bicycling outfits.

Grumpy wankers in the peloton saw it differently, as this menu of comments suggests:

Prez: You were off the front the whole time? I thought you had a flat and got dropped.

Black Sheep Squadron: You didn’t win the NPR, dude, you cheated by taking a shorter route.

Hoss: No one bothered to chase. Didn’t you see us soft-pedaling and laughing at you each time you passed on the other side of the Parkway?

Stathis the Wily Greek: We let you have it.

Ol’ Bollix: Dude, you sneaked away on Vista del Mar and hammered before anyone even knew you were gone. Then you ran all the red lights except one, and you only stopped there because of the cop car. Finally, it’s the fuggin’ off season and the only people on the point were the schmoes who use this as their one chance all year to go to the front. What a fuggin’ joke. You guys are a sneaky bunch of cheatbag wanktards.

As I said, there’s a plausible excuse for everyone. Which begs the question, now that the wankoton has seen that a well-timed, well-placed, well-stoplighted breakaway can p*wn the group, when faced with the choice of bike path vs. alleyway on Thursday…

…which one will it be?

The family, Jules

September 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

I still remember when she appeared for her first NPR, standing over her bike as the riders appeared one after another, gradually crowding the deck of the Manhattan Beach Pier. “Hi,” I said. “What’s your name?”

“Juliana.”

“Hey, Juliana. Welcome to the Pier Ride. Where are you from?” She had that not-from-around-here accent that we Americans automatically label British, even though it could be Irish, South African, Ozzie, or Lithuanian.

Jules was of the VeggieMite variety. “I’m from Australia,” she said with a nice smile. And we were all smitten.

“Things kind of pick up once we hit this little up ramp on a street called Pershing. You might want to be towards the front in case it’s fast, so even though you drop back you won’t come off.”

“Okay!” she said.

A true troupe of gentlemen

With several new acquaintances watching out for her, the moment we hit Pershing it was every last soul for himself. The last time I saw her she was rocketing backwards at Warp 12. Like a hungry pack of marauding wolves, the peloton raced away. I saw her a couple of times on the Parkway with a small grupetto or by herself, banging it out against the wind. I would have dropped back to help, but, well, no, actually I wouldn’t have. And didn’t.

Welcome to Americuh. Fuck, yeah!

It was unfortunate that she, a triathlete, had shown up in the middle of race season when the NPR pace was high and the testosterone was discharging at full spigot. After the fireworks, though, she rejoined the group on Vista del Mar, and you never saw so many elbows get thrown and wheels get bumped as the guys who had just dropped her now fought to ride beside or behind her.

Junkyard eventually won the spot of honor when he was introduced as “The dude who designs all the kits for Garmin and SpiderTech.”

Before long we were all quaffing coffee at the Center of the Known Universe, and the great impression she’d made on the Pier amplified itself ten thousand fold.

Getting down to business

Far from being put off by the NPR beatdown, she continued to show up and stick it out, often getting spit out the back early on, sometimes hanging in until the end. She had guts and determination, but more importantly, she had other fish to fry: Jules hadn’t come to Los Angeles to ride around in circles with a bunch of prostate-weakened geezers, she’d come to train so that she could race.

Before her stint in California was up, she nailed 16th overall at the Ironman World Championships 70.3 in Vegas, and smashed in the door for a silver medal in her division in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. We’re absolutely certain that it was all because of those mornings on the Parkway…um, right.

More than just another bone-crushing pair of legs

Jules won people over wherever she went. With the LA County lifeguards, with the runners, with the swimmers, and of course with the bikers, she was a hit for her friendly demeanor, her unassuming good nature, and her uncommon presence of mind that would have been impressive in anyone, much less a 24 year-old on her first solo visit to the Golden State.

When her three-month sojourn in Southern California ended, she finished things up in that most California of ways: Getting to witness an arrest and detention at LAX. Americuh! Hell yeah!

Hope you come back soon, kid. ‘Cause you’re family now, Jules!

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