Tough as hell, Michelle

June 12, 2019 § 7 Comments

I was pretty bummed out after the Flog Ride last week to learn that Michelle was formally retiring from our Thursday morning beatdown. Anyone who did the ride with any regularity at all knew Michelle; she had been there from the very beginning. Along with Emily G., she was a woman who showed, week in and week out, that women are way tougher than men.

And like everyone who stuck to the Flog, she got better, stronger, faster.

Unlike everyone else, though, she did it with unstoppable good cheer. Whereas the rest of us were sour, sourer, sourest, Michelle took her weekly beating and always had time to laugh at the beginning and laugh in the middle and, most importantly, laugh at the end.

When the Flog started out, laughing was no easy matter because it was a six-lap, all-out race, and if you got shelled, you spent the better part of your pre-dawn Thursday … alone. And it was dark. And it was cold. To top the shit Sundae off with a cherry of misery, those early floggings served up people like Emerson Orante and Daniel Holloway, not to mention Chris Tregillis, full-on Wily Greek, Derek the Destroyer, on-form Hair, 800-watt PVDN Jon Davy, Eric A., and strongmen like Craig the Pilot, Canyon Bob, and Ugly Pedal Mike Hines. Every week delivered beatdown hash, guaranteed, with solid regulars like Crowbar, Shriver, G-Jit, and a slew of other riders.

So many South Bay riders have never even done the Flog once, so frightened are they of its intensity, its intervals, its sprints, its grimness.

None of that fazed Michelle. She’d finish in as good a mood as she began, something that no one on the Flog has ever been able to say but her. Michelle wasn’t satisfied with being satisfied, though, she spread the cheer at the legendary post-Flog coffee klatsch overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Golden Cove. She took photos. She cheered people. She had a “caboose” of riders who went at it fang and claw, but who were always friends when the ride hostilities ended.

But that, apparently, is history. She’ll be missed.

Hell, she already is.

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BMUFS

June 8, 2019 § 12 Comments

Bikes May Use Full Stream.


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The wheel

June 2, 2019 § 8 Comments

I was in a hurry. I pulled on my bibs, arm warmers, jersey, socks, vest, shoes, and gloves. I hurried out, greeted by a thick mist that turned to light drizzle, a drizzle that lasted the entire day.

We got to the start of the NOW Ride in Santa Monica. On Pacific Coast Highway, at ride’s begin, the group was huge. It had a bad feel. So many people, wet road, light rain.

The fast people immediately twisted the throttle and the speed began to pick up. I wasn’t really sure what to do. I didn’t want to be too far forward because it would be single file and hard, but I didn’t want to be very far back because people would become sketchier and sketchier as the speed picked up.

At that moment Rahsaan Bahati passed me, resolving my dilemma. I’d do whatever Rahsaan did, for this simple reason: He doesn’t make mistakes, and he is the smoothest rider I’ve ever seen. To say he is a smooth rider doesn’t really describe it, though. No matter how fast you are going, if you can stay on Rahsaan’s wheel, it’s as if you are going at half speed. His pedal strokes are so fluid that they look effortless, and he guides his bike by, through, into, and out of spaces so easily that you wonder why you can’t do it by yourself.

The reason you can’t do it by yourself is because Rahsaan thinks four or five steps ahead, whereas most riders, including me, think in briefer and briefer bursts the harder the effort and the tireder we become until we are simply staring at a wheel, hoping not to get dropped. Rahsaan separates the pain from the cognition, so that no matter how much pain, he is still seeing, computing, re-calibrating, predicting, and making choices on things that have not yet happened.

Among really great riders there is a separate group of amazingly smooth ones. After Rahsaan, the smoothest riders I’ve ever raced with are Gibby Hatton and Paul Che, in that order. Gibby was a professional keirin racer for over a decade, and sitting in the 50+ masters pack with him was simply astonishing. At least 50 pounds overweight, and completely unremarkable except for the rainbow stripes on his sleeve, he would ride an entire 60-minute CBR crit and pedal hardly at all. He’d just coast up, slide back, pedal twice, coast up, slide back, repeat.

Until the end, of course. That’s when he’d magically be third wheel and he’d kick it one time. No one was ever even close.

Paul Che, who cleverly quit racing to make money, was another guy who made the hardest thing on a bike, moving around in a pack, look like a child could do it. The handful of races I did with him, I’d try to follow as he floated through the field. He could go from 70th to 5th in a matter of seconds, hardly pedaling, slipping into spaces that didn’t even look like spaces, his hands not even on the hoods. Of course tailing him never lasted more than a few spots.

As good or better than anyone might be Daniel Holloway, but I don’t know because I’ve never been in a race with him. On training rides, though, he was another rider who seemed to move without really moving. One thing is sure, though. These magicians don’t touch, push, bump, bang or slam, although they can if they have to. 99.9% of their motion is premeditated and unopposed; you can’t stop someone you can’t see.

Rahsaan isn’t “next level.” He is “next next next level,” because his movement is based on extraordinary awareness of everything happening in front, in back, and on both sides even as all those elements change by the second. This awareness is backed by instantaneous reflexes–in full gas mode he suddenly lifted his whole bike over a gnarly manhole cover that I never even saw until I’d ridden over it. How had he even seen it, his view blocked by a dozen riders, much less reacted that quickly?

As I was enjoying the confidence of sitting on the magician’s wheel, he began to move up. I didn’t know why, but I knew he wasn’t doing it so that he could get a better view of the ocean. This is another characteristic of Rahsaan: Nothing is random. To the contrary, everything is carefully calculated beyond any description.

This is the biggest difference between magicians and hackers. The magicians act intentionally, whereas the hackers simply survive, until of course … they don’t.

The pace was now so blistering that the first twenty riders were in single file. As Rahsaan moved forward, so did I, amazed at how it just naturally “happened.” At about twelfth wheel, Rahsaan paused. Then with four pedal strokes he shot forward, always protected from the wind, to the position he’d been aiming for. I ran out of follow and was stuck.

My heart was pounding so hard and my breathing was so loud that I only vaguely heard the riders behind me, the gassed mob of hangers-on noisier than usual, then a funny cacophony, and then silence. I knew that silence. It meant that the snap had happened, the door had slammed shut, and I was the last one to squeak through.

The stake usually gets driven through my heart on the NOW Ride at Pepperdine Hill, about a hundred yards from the top, but the speed had been so high on the run-in to Cross Creek that I was utterly shot before we even began the 2-minute effort. I pushed towards the front to try and create some room to latch onto when the group swarmed by, but it was pointless. The riders who’d been driving the train were completely fresh, and when they stomped I shot backwards.

As I reversed by Rahsaan he said, “There was a crash back there. We should go back.”

I certainly wasn’t going forward, and we circled back. Soon enough I saw Foxy’s headlight; she’d been right behind the mayhem and had narrowly avoided a four-man blow-em-up that had thrown several riders into oncoming traffic which, by the grace of dog, there was none. Two ambulances carted away the injured.

The two of us continued on and climbed Deer Creek, then rode back to the South Bay. My bib shorts, which were way too short, looked ludicrous, like hotpants, riding way up to mid-thigh, exposing a huge white band above the tan line where my shorts usually stopped. Foxy snapped a photo, it looked so silly. I didn’t know if it had been the rain, but the shorts had rubbed me raw every which way, something that never happens.

114 miles and a bunch of elevation later, I got home cold, beat up, and shaky. I stripped off my black bibs with the black pad and realized why nothing had been right all day.

In a pack of a hundred riders no one noticed and no one said a word, not even the rider who’d been on my wheel for several hours, that I’d been wearing my shorts …

Inside out.

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Runnin’, gunnin’

May 30, 2019 § 1 Comment

We had a pretty good flogging this morning, but then again, the Flog Ride is always pretty good, and by “good” I mean “bad.”

Three new riders showed up, one a super nice guy named Lloyd, and two younger fast guys who were there to set the course on fire. They had that “Outta my way, wankers,” look; great whites showing up at a guppy tank.

Google 1 also made the trek over from the West Side, and the fast guys either didn’t know who he was or pretended. Wes and Denis were also there, hunting for points, as was Google 2, who showed up just as we were rolling out. Frenchie, Billy, Fisherman, Scotty, me, K-Vine, Canyon Bob, and a couple of other riders rounded out the chopping block. Ivan the Terrible was absent, noticeably, despite promising to show up and celebrate his Tuesday Telo win by smashing us again into pieces.

Kind of like the #fake #trainingrace Telo, the Flog Ride is good because it gets a good mix of riders, old brokedown flailers and sleek young racehorses. Google 1 and Google 2 are the latter, and from the gun it was strictly a battle to see who could finish closest to second place after Google 1.

The fast young fellers had the lead quickly removed from their pencils because Google 2 is a woman, and she blew past them every lap as if they were on pogo sticks and she was on a Ducati. Somehow their come, see, conquer plan didn’t quite work out, although they tried very hard, breathed a lot, gnashed their teeth, and pushed as hard on their little pedals as they could. Like a lot of floggers, they decided they were late for something and had to get back, because they somehow missed the final haul up La Cuesta, with its 143% gradient.

Denis rode crazy fast, as did Wes, but no one was fast enough to stick with Google 1 when he stood on the pedals. It’s impressive to ride with someone(s) who can strip you down to nothing without even seeming to try. Of all the things I like about road cycling, I like that aspect best.

We had a bunch of peacocks on the course spectating, which was fun on the wet hairpin, and by the time we finished, we were finished.


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Good legs, bad legs

May 29, 2019 § 5 Comments

It is pretty well known that racing on slightly tired legs is a sign of fitness. I’m not sure about that, but what I know is that racing on slightly tired legs makes me conservative. Sit in as much as possible, focus on positioning, and wait for someone else to make the decisive move … then follow if you can.

The only times that racing turns out well for me is when I race cautiously, and I’m only cautious when I’m tired, because getting dropped sucks.

The only race I do anymore is our Telo #fake #trainingrace because it is hard and uncategorized. You’re racing against young strong people as well as gimpy geezers, not simply doing a trinket dance apportioned among other 55-59 y/o leaky prostates where evbo gets a ribbon.

My legs felt great so I went out hard for the first half hour. Peter the Hungarian jumped in several laps after the race had begun, and threw in attack after attack. Wes, who has graduated from shellee to hammer, chased, attacked, and animated. It was funny to watch him take a monster pull, flick his elbow, and then get mad when no one pulled through.

Welcome to the front, Wes! It’s lonely up there!

The man to mark was Chatty Cathy, and sure enough, with about 20 minutes left he followed another attack by Peter, accompanied by Wes and Ivan the Terrible. Ivan got the win, with Peter, Wes, and Chatty Cathy filling up the invisible podium. Everyone hesitated at the decisive moment except me, because it’s not hesitating when you are too shot to follow. The break rolled.

A lap later the Left Behinds realized that they’d been left behind, and Hair kicked it hard and took a couple of riders with him, including Ram-Ram, who’d won the #fakerace NPR that morning and was in the lead for the Telo Shoe Giveaway powered by Bike Palace. That left the dregs chasing the chasers: Heavy D., Smasher, Boozy P., Lapped Dude, Brandon, Turbo Tom, and I.

When you’re more than a minute down and have no hope, there are two options: Parade & preen, or rotate your guts out.

I cast a vote for parade & preen, but was overridden by the others. Smasher and Heavy D. pounded, along with Brandon, who took one pull so hard into the headwind that he pulled himself right off the back. Lapped Dude sat in and enjoyed the scenery, such as it was.

The last fifteen minutes were pretty miserable, proving that you can still have a great time on the bike even when you are completely rancid pack meat. In the sprunt for eleventy-ninth place, Smasher yanked a pedal as he came around me, causing his foot to kick the chain off and then, as his other foot unclipped, causing his left heel to kick open the rear quick release. I tensed as I heard the horrible sounds off to my right and waited for the inevitable smash and skid of breaking carbon and thudding body parts, but in an act of magical bike handling, he stayed upright as I was soundly beaten by Lapped Dude.

I’d go so far as to say it was the most satisfying of my many, many eleventy-tenth finishes. All of which have happened with … good legs.

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Noah’s flood

May 27, 2019 § 15 Comments

I have ridden in bad weather before, but never like yesterday.

The forecast called for solid rain beginning at 5:00 AM, coinciding perfectly with our planned roll-out time for the 170-mile odyssey from PV to Ventura and back. I’d prepared thoroughly. Thick undershirt. Arm warmers. Tights. Jersey. Long-sleeved jersey. Booties. Raincoat. Rubber dish gloves to keep my hands dry.

“There is no such thing as bad weather,” I repeated to myself bravely, “only poor clothing choices.”

Armed with exactly the right clothes I was ready, except that I wasn’t.

By the time I’d descended to PV Drive North I was soaked. The rainproof raincoat was neither, and ice water penetrated into my feet. It was 50 degrees, minus ten for wind chill and wet chill.

Baby Seal and Foxy were waiting for me, similarly drenched. We didn’t say anything, and miserably set off. The plan was to do a three-person rotation, each rider taking five-minute pulls. There were hardly any cars and zero cyclists. The rain pounded.

Soon, which is to say not soon enough, we reached Santa Monica and ran into Arkansas Traveler. He had on a light vest and a shower cap, shorts, and booties. The shower cap was a precious touch but he was still completely wet. He smiled sourly through the paste of his hangover and hopped on behind.

We passed Topanga Canyon on PCH, the road empty, and that’s when the rain really began to come down. All the SoCal riders tucked safely in bed or enjoying Zwift were #winning, and we were #losing. Each of us considered how lame it is to ride in the teeth of a bad weather forecast, when with a bit of common sense you could be warm and dry.

A couple of miles later we passed a guy named Greg. He hopped on. He was shivering from the cold and wet, and we worried whether we’d need to call his wife or EMS or Uber or all three.

After a little more than four hours of rotating we reached Ventura. Greg had stopped at an iHOP to call home for a lift, and Arkansas Traveler was no longer talking. I tried to revive everyone’s spirits by reciting Chaucer, but the only one I know is the Miller’s Tale, which is all about a giant flood. No one listened to anything except the spatter of rooster tails.

In Ventura we got some coffee and watched while the rain made everything that had happened up til then look like a mere drizzle. Sheet rain was slanting sideways, so hard they had canceled the Mountains to Coast Ventura Marathon. Runners stood huddled under eaves as the streets turned into rivers. The lonely chairs outside the coffee shop were barely visible through the raging rain.

Deluge

We got back on our bikes and began the long rotation home. On PCH huge mudslides were sending banks of earth cascading onto the shoulder, and one large boulder the size of a small house had blocked three of the four lanes by Las Posas.

“This is so stupid,” said Baby Seal. “We should have stayed home.”

Arkansas Traveler crashed in a stream of debris by Neptune’s Net, so we carried him to the porch of the restaurant and left him there. Visibility had plunged to about ten feet and in places the water came up to our hubs. People say that SoCal riders are weak and afraid of riding in bad weather, but this was the day that proved how sometimes it’s better to be cautious than foolhardy.

Baby Seal’s eTap short-circuited while he was stuck in the big chain ring, and Foxy bent her rear derailleur when a stone got caught in her chain and was jerked through the pulley wheel housing. We knew we would never defy the weather forecast again.

A long time later we reached Manhattan Beach, which was inundated. CotKU had flooded and sandbag crews were working feverishly to keep the south blocks of Manhattan Ave. from washing off into the ocean. We stopped at Becker’s Bakery for a sandwich and coffee, but the rain was coming down so hard, and the skies were so black, that we decided to continue on.

Big hands. Dry hands.

After forever we got back to PV Drive North. Baby Seal loaded his bike and Foxy’s into the car and I tried to ride up Silver Spur, but the fire department had closed it off due to a giant mudslide that had washed an entire house onto the street.

I went back to Baby Seal’s car and bummed a ride home.

“Never doing this again,” we agreed.

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How the Telo was won

May 15, 2019 § 11 Comments

Yesterday was only my second Telo of 2019. I had been placed under a temporary ban and gag order due to the fact that I had been spotted not wearing my helmet in bed, in the shower, in the car, and occasionally on my bicycle.

Plus, I was keeping a low profile because The Bike Palace has placed a bounty on Telo’s head, offering an amazing pair of brand-new, $500 Specialized shoes to the rider who completes the most NPR-Telo doubles this year. That ends up being at least a hundred miles every Tuesday, and from the moment that Baby Seal announced the bounty, hordes of riders had been showing up to make sure they clocked their attendance. In other words, however hard Telo was, it had become way harder.

My Telo reticence had also been heightened by my one and only participation a few weeks ago, where the shock to my system was so great that I fell sick the following day and wound up in bed for six straight days.

However, my fan club, led by none other than Heavy D., had been bombarding my inbox with encouraging emails like this one:

Yo, Wanky! I know we have gotten crossways in the past but you are an awesome dude, a great bike racer, and a super addition to every ride. Please let’s let bygones be bygones. We need you at Telo!

As if that weren’t enough to melt any heart, even one as hard as mine, I started getting anonymous bouquets of flowers and cold deliveries from the Cheesecake Factory. Each delivery had a note like this:

Yo, Wanky! You are the heart and soul of the South Bay. Without you, we are nothing. I know that I have trashed the shit out of you for being a helmetless wanker, a complete jerk, an asshole deluxe, and the worst human being on earth since Satan, but on reflection I was wrong and you are a super guy. Please come back to Telo! I will work for you to get you the VEEEEE!

With love like that, how could I refuse?

So Baby Seal and Foxy and I suited up and pedaled over to Telo for another fun session of happiness and love. Imagine my surprise when Heavy D. was waiting for me with ANOTHER bouquet and cheesecake! “Dude,” he said, “I’m your one-man wrecking crew. Sit tight!”

With that, Heavy D. lit the matchbox with a flamethrower, set the throttle at 4,000 gigawatts, and proceeded to shred the entire field. I hung on as best I could, gritting my teeth in pain, sure that we were approaching my physical limit of 20 mph. As Heavy D. swung over, the attacks began in earnest. Gagging on my liver I couldn’t respond, but not to worry! Heavy D. sprinted up to each and every break, clawing them back to the field one after another as I sat safely in the back, refusing to do a lick of work, licking my wounds, and trying to find the little switch that turns on my electric downtube motor.

Suddenly a huge move came up the side, the decisive split, and I wasn’t there! But Heavy D. was! “C’mon, Wanky!” he said, grabbing my shorts by the hip and flinging me up into the break. With this heroic effort he gapped himself out, but with this sacrifice he guaranteed that I, too weak to do it on my own, had made it up to the escapees.

After a series of huge accelerations, Peter the Hungarian flicked me through, but none of my drugs had kicked in yet so I waited a bit. This was the key point in the race! The pack saw us leave and organized a bitter chase! But!!!!

Heavy D. clogged the lane, disrupted the rotation, and threw so many monkey wrenches into the chase that they were unable to get organized and bring us back. I heard his voice echo off the sides of the buildings, “Go Wanky! I GOT YOUR BACK!”

Peter swung over and Evens Stievenart attacked. At just that moment all the drugs and electric motors kicked in and somehow I managed to grab his wheel. For forty minutes he towed me around like a tin can hitched to the bumper of a newlywed station wagon.

Heavy D. patrolled the back, making sure no one bridged until, sure that our break would stick, he pulled out of the race to give someone else a chance to win the field sprint. I hung onto Evens’s wheel, barely, but with the help of a small bungee cord it worked out.

As I crossed the line for a glorious almost-Telo victory, who should be standing there to cheer me loudest but Heavy D.? I got off my bike totally winded as he hugged me, slapped my back, covered me in kisses, gave me a $25 gift card to the Cheesecake Factory, and offered to carry me home on his back.

For the podium picture he spent fifteen minutes getting the photo angle away from my weak chin and bad tooth, and then immediately posted everything on twelve social media platforms along with endorsements of Donald Trump, #maketelogreatagain, #buildthewall, and #impeachcongress. I am still going through all the kudos, likes, attaboys, and attagirls resulting from his outpouring of praise at my accomplishment.

But truth be known: I owe it all to him!

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Cooper rounding out the podium in 4th place. Paws NOT raised!

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