May 3, 2016 § 24 Comments
Sometimes you see things that you don’t think you saw until somebody comes up to you afterwards and says, “Did you see that?”
This happened on the Donut Ride a couple of weeks ago. We had come out of Lunada Bay pretty hard and it was strung out in a line, with clumps of wankage already getting pinched off and flushed out of the bump past the elementary school. I was gritting my teeth and sitting about sixth wheel up against the right-hand curb.
I heard the whoosh-whoosh of full carbon that I’m pretty sure was 100% carbon and it was whooshing good except it was whooshing on the wrong side, my right, where there wasn’t but a handlebar-width between me and the curb. I moved over a fraction and sure enough, through came a pair of handlebars as smooth as a Brazilian wax job and the dude’s body language was “There’s plenty of room, plenty of room” which there was but only in retrospect and only because he had skilZ with a capital “Suicide.”
He passed me easy as butter and then moved over to the left and I opened up some space for him to slot in but the guy in front of him had started drifting back and the guy on his left, whose rear wheel he was now overlapping, hadn’t budged so that his front wheel was boxed in on either side.
Dude could have pedaled less hard and drifted back so that his wheel was clear but there was a super narrow gap he’d wedged into already and he decided that where he wanted to be was more ahead rather than more behind so he reached out to the guy on his left and gave him a pretty violent hip-shove in the universal bikespeak of “Move the fuck over now.”
Problems with this move:
- I was behind him starting to dribble poop because when this went south I was going to go south along with it.
- He was pushing on the wrong hip.
Wrong Hip happened to be Frenchy the Axe, an MTB phenom who absolutely shreds on the climbs. Wrong Hip, who would be my second oldest kid age-wise, has always been nice to me and let me sit on his wheel when he’s blowing people’s knees out on the Donut Ride. He sets it at tempo and you’re going along encouraging yourself, “I can DO it, I can DO it, I can DO it,” and then suddenly it’s, “No, fuck this I’m done,” and then you’re spiraling backwards hoping your eyes will come into focus before you veer into oncoming traffic.
The whole thing unfolded in an amazing dance of daring. Wrong Hip felt the hard push but he didn’t do what I would have done, which is roll over like a servile cur and give up the space. Nah, this was the world famous Donut Ride where every foot is fought for like it was real estate between enemy trenches at Verdun. You want to be where I am? Then you better not push and you better not shove.
Wrong Hip never glanced back. Ever so casually he reached back and grabbed Pushy McPusher’s left brake hood with his fist. Now, when the dude in front of you has his fingers wrapped around your hood, you are officially fucked. It’s like having your nuts in a pair of eunuch pincers and a 300-lb. bruiser getting ready to stand on the handles.
There was a massive clenching of sphincters because everyone saw the move and what had led up to it and now the only question was how many dozen people were going to chew a few plugs of asphalt tabacco. Then the magic unfolded. Wrong Hip slung the brake hood backwards, but Pushy didn’t do what everyone else would have done, which is a sideways flip-launch.
Instead, anticipating the push, he leaned slightly left so that his entire bike slid back about two feet, clearing the two overlapped wheels. We adjusted as he moved back.
Wrong Hip never even bothered to see who the poor slob was that he’d just owned in fee simple. And as awesome as the hood-check was, Pushy’s cool acceptance of the rear-shove and his casual readjustment was (maybe) even more amazing. Unfortunately, the testosterone was about to spill over and I saw Pushy get out of the saddle as he prepared to have words with Wrong Hip, words, I was pretty sure, that would be hard to take back.
I grabbed his jersey. He jerked his head around. “Easy, pal,” I said, “it’s only the Donut Ride.”
He looked at me for a second before deciding not to punch me out. “Yeah,” he said. “Right.”
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April 27, 2016 § 47 Comments
I got a message from Scott S. the other day. He had heard about the collision from two weeks back in which South Bay cyclist Steve Shriver was run over on PCH, suffering catastrophic injuries. Coming hard on the heels of Jon Tansavadti’s death in March, as well as a rash of near misses in Long Beach, Scott was concerned.
“Anything we can learn from these tragedies?” he asked.
My answer was simple. “I don’t have the answer, Scott, but I can tell you this: What we’re doing now isn’t working.”
Then we talked about the gaping hole in our cycling experience, otherwise known as the utter lack of formal cycling education. Steve had been run over riding single file, up against the edge of a construction zone. Jon had been killed by a right-turning moving van.
We can argue all day about where they were and where they should have been, but we can’t argue about this: Neither rider had ever taken a formal bike education course–one, with more than 30 years of experience, the other, with less than twelve months.
Perhaps education isn’t the answer, but it sure seems like a great place to start. Moreover, whether education can save any one person is less important than the grim recognition that collectively the cycling community spends way more time on gear and clothing and equipment than it does on education. We encourage people to ride, help them select a fancy bike and a cool kit, and throw them to the wolves.
“Would you come ride with us next Wednesday and talk about this?” Scott asked.
“Sure,” I said. “What time?”
“We roll at 6:00 AM sharp.”
I gulped because that meant a 4:50 roll-out from PV, and there was only one other person in all of Los Angeles crazy enough to get up at 4:30 so he could meet me at 5:15 and pedal through the bowels of the nation’s biggest port at daybreak to ride with the Long Beach Freddies.
In short, this was a job for Major Bob, the grumpiest guy with the biggest heart in all of cycling. “Can you squire me to the Freddie ride on Wednesday?”
“Sure,” Bob said when I explained the misssion. He didn’t mention that on Sunday he’d be doing the 145-mile Belgian Waffle Ride, and that on Tuesday he’d knock out a cool 90 doing the NPR beatdown and a legstretcher up the 6-mile Mandeville climb.
At 5:15 sharp he was there at the corner of Vermont and Anaheim and Gaffey and PV Drive, and a happening place it was.
I was apprehensive about proposing education to the Freddies because despite their name they ride with some of the best people in cycling. Tony Cruz is one of the Freddies, as well as Olympic gold medalist Steve Hegg and Rio aspirant Nate Koch, and their fast Fridays are, well, fast. Very fast. One of the walls in cycling has always been between the fast people in lycra and the slow people with mirrors. Needless to say the one don’t always take kindly to advice from the other.
Problem is that the mirror dorks are the ones who have actually studied riding in traffic from a perspective more sophisticated than “bunnyhop the curb, flip off the asshole driver, and keep going.” Going to the Freddies and pitching a dork session was, I feared, going to be a hard sell.
It was anything but. Unlike most clubs, which operate with multiple levels of decision making atop glacial epochs of implementation, the Freddies have a “Fuck it, let’s go,” attitude. They politely listened to my speech.
“So where should we start?” Scott asked after I finished.
“Maybe four or five of you should take the Cycling Savvy Dorkcycle and Autopsy Avoidance Course like we did at Big Orange, see if it works for you, and then think about encouraging some of the other members to do it.”
“Nah,” said Scott. “We’re in, all of us.”
I blinked. “All of you?”
Bill H., not known for his lengthy speeches, stood up. “This is important and we need to do it. We’re in.”
So as far as I know, the guys down in Long Beach are the nation’s first speed club to take formal cycling education as seriously as they take their clothing. Which is, frankly, incredible, and which, if it prevents even one collision or saves even one life is worth it a million times over.
I’m humbled and awed.
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April 25, 2016 § 8 Comments
I carry around my over-stuffed suitcase of non-courage, zippers broken and shit spilling out, handles frayed, two of the casters broken and the other two wobbling frenetically in opposite directions, only to find that it’s too big to be checked, or that there’s an extra cargo charge of $250, or that the best memories inside have fractured in transit into microtiny carbon splinters, or that the TSA has stolen my prized participant ribbons, or that upon reaching my destination the bag has been shipped to Malaysia on a Dutch flight that can no longer be found but is certainly somewhere over, or more likely in, the Indian Ocean.
The suitcase of non-courage is heavy, too heavy for a mortal to lug, and is so mixed with history and life and regret and misremembrance of things past that I wonder why I continue to drag it around from ride to ride, from race to race, from overwrought faux Grand Fondue to overwrought Faux Fondue.
This is precisely where I found myself on Saturday, another wasted weekend spent in search of that which by definition you will never find, and it was exactly at the nadir of the whole experience that the chaff fell away and the kernel lay, revealed.
I’d been relegated to the sidelines, which was fine, because after completing the first four BWR’s I was done abusing myself for the sake of someone else. The exhaustion and wreckage visited upon man and equipment alike by the Belgian Waffle Ride was nowhere more evidenced than in its effect on the ride’s founder, Michael Marckx, who had finally cobbled together the Dual Divinity: A ride so hard that he was afraid to do it, and a companion easier, shorter, flatter ride that he could actually win. It made me happy to see my friend, after so many years of teeth-gnashing defeats and failures, finally declare himself victor of his own event.
But more than the happiness of seeing Michael hoist himself on the shoulders of the myriad volunteers, friends, and admirers who had come together to make the BWR happen, I saw something else, something that penetrated, at least for a few moments, the hardened shell of skepticism that coats what remains of my battered and tattered old suitcase.
It was the incredible happiness of my friends and comrades at Big Orange cycling who launched into the event with full abandon and reaped the confidence and success that comes from lining up and finishing such a monstrously difficult ride. For the first time in my five years of struggle with this terrible day in North County San Diego, I stood at the finish line cleaned and scrubbed and utterly un-tired and un-hungry, watching in awe as my friends pedaled squares past the big banner, their faces as drained and beaten as any historic shower-stall photo from Paris-Roubaix.
Covered in dirt, many of them sported torn-apart clothing, shattered equipment, bloody limbs, and a kind of disbelief that they had managed to ever get back. One friend collapsed on a table, unable to even remove his helmet. I’ve never seen anyone collapse on a tiny round bar table, standing.
But as each rider revived, some after spending twelve hours battling a course that was simply designed to punish, and as they ate, then drank, then plunged their faces madly into the mounds of ice cream-covered-waffles, smiles began to play and the stories began to roll out.
Stories of fellow riders who simply dismounted and quit. Riders who were carted off in an ambulance. Equipment failures of every variety. Mental failures, physical collapse, “the wall” of endurance, pushing beyond, far beyond, anything they’d done before, and conquering this beast of a ride with sheer desire to complete a ride that the ride’s founder himself didn’t dare to attempt.
Although my suitcase of skepticism no longer has room for flowery praise of the “resilience of the human spirit,” the grandpa in me appears to have room for nothing else. These friends have accomplished something–what they’ve accomplished is unique for each of them, and its significance will really only reveal itself over a rather long period of time. Thanks for letting me sit on the sidelines and cheer you on.
Big O Riders (If I’ve left off your name or last name please add it in a comment!)
Stella de la Vega
Big O Cheerleaders
Big O Saints: These two guys spent the day in Dan’s Jeep covering the route and fixing bikes, providing medical aid, getting injured riders back to their hotels, and serving as roving rangers to protect and serve.
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April 24, 2016 § 22 Comments
April 23, 2016 § 15 Comments
Does anyone besides me remember the Tour de Louisiana from 1984? There was a 5-mile TT, a 60-mile RR, and a crit in Baton Rouge. It rained like a bastard the last day and we all slid out over and over in the crit, picked up our bikes, and kept on riding. I did it with teammates Jimbo Martin and Kevin Callaway the Good.
What I remember more than the racing and the nasty hotel with the wet spots on the sheets was this dude in the road race. He was about twenty, long black hair, and stuffed chock-full of rage. From the moment the road race started until we dropped him with about twenty miles to go he did nothing but yell, shove, threaten, and curse.
“Get out of my way, you dick!” and “Move over you asshole!” and “Watch what the fuck you’re doing, cuntface!” and more, many more, each oath emphasized with a threat about how if you didn’t like it then get off your fucking bike right there and he would whip your fucking ass. “Get off your bike now !” he was heard shrieking when the final acceleration came that dropped him for good.
This was the first time I’d heard so many threats of physical violence in a bike race, as if the violence of falling off your bicycle and breaking your head wasn’t enough, but it sure wasn’t the last. Over the years I’ve seen so many angry, underwear-clad Little Lord Fauntleroys get into raging whup-ass-talking-contests that it hardly even gets my attention anymore.
Of course the best is when the pixie-armed combatants are old fellows, promising to rain death and destruction with their mighty fists on the object of their contumely. Leaky prostate slap fighting is high comedy of the highest sort.
Still, a few weeks ago I heard some youngsters threatening to murder one another with their fists so I thought I would repeat some words of wisdom for those riders out there, decrepit and sprightly alike, who think that because the are Sprint Beasts or Climbing Machines or TT Assassins that they are tough guys.
- Bicyclists are not tough guys, especially when they are wearing colorful underwear to highlight their shaved legs.
- Tough guys make their way in the world with their fists, not with heart rate monitors and glucose replacement drinks.
- Cage fighters, bare-knuckled boxers, knife fighters, and people who kill other equally armed people in hand-to-hand combat are tough guys, especially when they finish the job with a bayonet. Everyone else is not a tough guy.
- Cycling is a tough sport but that doesn’t make you a tough guy (see exhaustive list above), in the same way that using a hi-tech cell phone doesn’t make you a hi-tech person.
- Cycling isn’t nearly as tough as marathoning, RAAM-ing, free climbing, or ultra-off road running. But those people aren’t tough guys either.
- Even if you get off your bike and “settle it right fucking now, like men” you are still not a tough guy. You are wearing cleats on the bottom of dancing shoes that are often painted bright red or hi-viz yellow. This means you are as tough as Fred Astaire, only not nearly so because he could carry a woman over his head and danced professionally until he was almost 90, whereas you can’t even help your wife with the trunk-full of groceries and the last time you had to dance at a wedding you crushed her big toe so badly that she walked with a limp for a month.
- The toughest guy in the peloton wouldn’t last a half-second in a fight with anyone who fights for a living or even as a serious hobby. You would get the shit beaten out of you like this guy did, minus the cheering crowd and the backflips.
- Even if you go to the mat, beating up another praying mantis in a skinsuit doesn’t make you a tough guy, it makes you a bug-squasher.
- Look at your arms. Now shut up.
- If you like to settle arguments with fisticuffs, why are you bicycling in your undies? Has no one explained to you that the winner is the one who rides the fastest?
- Nowadays everyone has a video camera, and you’re about to become a YouTube sensation for all the wrong reasons. END
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April 20, 2016 § 34 Comments
It’s illegal to bicycle while drunk in California. You might think it’s a slap on the wrist but as a misdemeanor it will show up as a criminal conviction on your record. Ouch. It also makes you subject to the provisions of CVC 13202.5, which relates to suspension of your driving license.
There are lots of great reasons not to cycle while drunk, and most of those reasons are because although immensely fun and the source of hilarious stories and the occasional Darwin Award, drunkenness rarely ends well. Still, the enhancement of CWFU to the general experience of riding is without parallel, at least until you get run over and killed.
The first time I ever CWFU I was fourteen or so. It was in 8th Grade. There was a guy in my homeroom class named Greg Choban, who was about six feet tall, which meant that in relative terms he was, like, twelve feet tall, and who had failed 8th Grade and now had to repeat it. Greg was a loner who always wore a big cowboy hat before and after school. He was quiet and standoffish, and no one ever fucked with him because he was so big, and now that he had failed 8th Grade, he was older, too, further making us all afraid of him.
His locker was next to mine and we’d occasionally talk, super briefly. He had a baritone voice and raging beard stubble and towered over me, especially when he put that cowboy hat on. One day, out of the blue, as we were collecting our books to go home, he said, “Hey, man, you doing anything after school?”
“No,” I said.
“Why don’t you come over and check out my treehouse?”
I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “Okay.” Mostly I was afraid to say “No.” Treehouses, everyone knew, were for little kids, a few planks nailed to the side of a tree, some plywood in between the branches, and, like, that had stopped being fun in elementary school. The thought of going to play in a treehouse with Wilt Chamberlain was weird, to put it mildly.
We rode our bikes over to his house. His Dad was home, a very old guy, older than old, so ancient he might have even been fifty, sitting in the living room watching TV, which was weird because in 1976 or 1977 there was nothing on TV at three in the afternoon. I’d never met anyone whose father was unemployed, and all the drunks in my family didn’t start getting lubed up until 5:00 or 6:00 PM.
“Hey, John,” said Greg.
I froze. I’d never heard someone call his dad by his first name. The ancient fellow nodded and sipped some more of his Schlitz. I still remember how immaculate the living room was.
We went out the back door. “Where’s your mom?” I asked.
“Oh,” I said.
In the backyard stood a massive oak tree. Indeed, it had wooden steps nailed to its trunk, but there looked like a zillion of them and they went way, way up. Far above my head I could see the bottom of the treehouse, which looked like a small house. So much for plywood planks. Greg disappeared into the foliage.
I followed, soon swallowed by the boughs and leaves. You had to enter through a trap door in the bottom, which I did. When my head went through the floor I looked around, mesmerized. The treehouse had carpet and windows and its walls had incredible black light posters. On the floor were large velour red and purple pillows.
Greg was already seated, his back leaned against the wall, smiling. Even though it was in the high 90’s outside and humid as only the Houston swamp can be, it was cool and pleasant up in the tree, where a light breeze played through the open windows. His treehouse was a hundred times cooler than my bedroom. “Like it?” he said.
“Wow, this is amazing.”
“Settle in,” he said, and put a record on the turntable. It took a few seconds for me to realize that his treehouse had electricity. He showed me the album cover. “Like this?” It was Foghat.
I nodded. “Cool.” I noticed that there was a string suspended from the ceiling, and on the end of the string was a small plastic skull, about the size of a Hackysack, which was still years away from coming to the backwater of Houston. Seated where I was on the velour cushions, the plastic skull was about eye level. As the treehouse gently creaked from the occasional breeze that swayed the giant oak limbs, the skull moved like a pendulum ever so slightly.
Greg pulled out his water pipe. The bowl was massive, and he filled it. The acrid smell of burning leaves filled the tiny space and we took turns, each pull on the pipe causing the water to jump and gurgle and roar. After a long time it was dark outside, pitch fucking black.The only light was the fire from the bowl, and eventually that went out too, and we were in total blackness.
“Kind of dark up here,” Greg said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Better turn on the lights then,” he said, and flipped a switch. In the corners of the ceiling were four small black lights, and when they came on the psychedelic effect of the Hendrix poster, the Jefferson Airplane poster, the Robin Trower poster, and the Zeppelin poster was overwhelming, profoundly stoned as I already was. It took what seemed like hours for my eyes to go over the intricacies of each poster, getting lost in the curlicues and the hair and the guitar strings.
“Hey, man,” Greg said.
“Check this out.” He leaned forward to the dangling skull and grabbed it, pulling it back toward him. Then he let go and it came flying towards my face. He had measured the string so that the skull would get within an inch or so of your head before swinging back, but I didn’t know that.
All I knew was that I was being attacked by a flying skull, and as I violently jerked back my head cracked against the wall of the treehouse. Greg erupted in laughter, then he convulsed, then he fell over. “Oh, man,” he said, “that was the best one ever.”
My eyes were pinned to the swinging skull, stoned-terrified, praying that it would just stop swinging and not devour my face. Robin Trower was singing this, I think, from (what else?) Victims of the Fury.
I’m not sure how, but I stumbled down the ladder in the dark. The last thing I heard Greg say was, “Hey, man, it’s cool, it’s cool!”
I hurried through his house where his dad was still seated in front of the television, a pile of empty cans at his feet. My bike was leaning against the bushes. I jumped on it and rode crazily, drunkenly home, and I never went back. I still think about that lonely giant up there in that treehouse with the swinging skull.
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April 18, 2016 § 21 Comments
When someone gets hurt from a bike fall or from a collision, it’s natural to want to know how they’re doing. However, well-meaning inquiries can impose a huge burden on the family members who may not have any information to share, especially when the extent of injuries is unknown. It’s incredibly stressful to be asked over and over about your loved one’s condition when the doctors haven’t even debriefed you on status, or when your loved one is battling for his life.
Moreover, family members may not want to share, especially with people who they may not even know. A terribly injured loved one is a huge psychological trauma. The last thing the family needs to also deal with are “How’s Bill doing?” text inquiries.
If you really care about the injured person and the family, consider the following.
- How close are you to the injured person? Super, super, super close? No? Then stand down.
- How close are you to the injured person’s family? Never met them? Then stand down.
- Do you have anything to offer besides prayers and “thinking of you” type support? No? Then stand down.
- Do you know they have a specific unmet need, and that you’re the person to fill it? Then consider reaching out, but not directly to the family.
- Have you been asked to do something by the family? No? Then stand down.
- Don’t post information on Facebook unless the family has asked you to.
- A lot of the time the family will have a very close friend who is with them at the hospital. If you know that person, contact him or her regarding hospital visits or other questions you may have, and spare the family the task of responding to countless questions.
- Remember that in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic incident, the hospital and the closest family members/friends are usually taking care of the necessities. The tough part is after discharge, when your friend begins what is often a long and painful path to recovery. This is when visits, phone calls, your friendship and help can greatly ameliorate the brutal and plodding work of returning to normal.
These guidelines aren’t perfect, and there are always exceptions. But it will never ever hurt to really ask yourself twice, and then a third time, before you hit “send.”