Why were you going so slow?

May 23, 2015 § 19 Comments

Everything has to fall into place:

  • The Wily Greek was off to do the Mt. Hamilton Liver Rip-Out road race.
  • Destroyer had been off the bike for five weeks.
  • Frenchy #1 was MIA after the Torrance Crit manglefest.
  • Strava Jr. was taking time off after being run over.
  • The previous week had been graduation, so everyone was partied out.
  • I was fresh, having rested for three days.
  • I’m down 14 pounds from December.
  • I never took a pull.

When Frenchy #2 went, I followed but never came through.

When DudeChick went, I never even thought about coming through.

At the base of the Switchbacks Frenchy #2 blasted off.

Sausage, who had tried to prolong his time with the leaders by imitating my wheelsuckery, was immolated, instantly.

Each time I glued up to Frenchy #2’s wheel, he would rest, then attack again, harder. You can do that when you’re 22.

Halfway up the Switchbacks I looked back from my group of five and saw Sausage, a tiny speck of Speck, perfecting his power profile.

Frenchy #2 finally cracked after his seventh frenzied acceleration.

We were all gassed, and the goup slowed. Behind us the field was naught but splinters of shrapnel and spent shell casings.

Uglypedal towed me, DudeChick, and Destroyer up to the college.

Sausage got to within fifty yards, then stalled as if a giant artillery shell had flung itself down his throat.

For the first time all morning I punched it, gingerly, and shed Destroyer as Uglypedal raised the white flag.

I’ve never shed Destroyer before.

DudeChick came by. He weighs 120 lbs.

I compressed and hunkered onto his wheel.

I’ve never kept him company past the little wall leading up Crest, but I did today.

He unloaded the minenwerfers, the 5.9’s, the Maxims, the giant field guns, and finally the poison gas shells.

But I hung on because I knew that even though he is only 27 and I am 51, and neither one of us can sprunt, he can sprunt somewhat less than I can.

With 200m to go I took my second faceful of wind for the day and got to the top first.

On the descent I regained breath, vision, and the palpitations slowed.

In the parking lot at the college I waited for the inevitable adulation and recognition for this, the greatest ride of my life.

Sausage arrived much later, appearing from his distant time zone. “Dude,” he said. “Why were you guys going so slow?”

END

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The anticipation of absence makes the heart grow fonder

May 22, 2015 § 14 Comments

I don’t care what anyone says, 28 years of marriage is a long time in the dentist’s chair, and if you think things are still as fresh as they were 27.5 years ago, you are in the advanced stages of senility. We used to have a deal where Mrs. WM would put up with me for nine months and I with her, and then during the summer she would waltz back to Japan with the kids.

It was great for her. Going home meant someone else cooking, someone else cleaning, and someone else minding the Small Ones Who Choose Never To Mind. It also meant speaking her real language, and of course PARTEEEEEEEEEEEE, every single day. How do I know this? Because when we’d speak on the phone it went like this:

Me: How are things going?

Her: Okay.

Me: Just “okay”?

Her: Yes.

Me: I suppose you’re dying to come back already?

Her: Yes, very much. Too bad I have to wait onna twelve more weeks. So sadly.

And you know what? She always came back refreshed, ready for nine more months of drudgery and interminable tales about how Wanker McGee attacked, but I was ready for him and countered, and then Billy Bumfugg followed, and then we were away, but the field pulled us back, and then I went again but this time Wanker followed, then countered, and Smedley Offalnipple touched wheels and BAM! he went down, so Billy bunnyhopped Smedley’s skull, mostly, and then … I need to buy a new frame and some wheels, okay honey?

For me it was equally awesome. Much as I loved my wife, I really loved her when she was gone, and not just gone around the corner for a jug of milk. I’m talking nine thousand miles gone. Gone through a dozen time zones. Gone where toilet lids could stay up, pee could sprinkle on the rim, toothbrush caps could remain unscrewed, new life forms could mutate in the sink, farts could waft blissfully up through the covers, and underwear could be worn over and over and over and no one would ever say squat.

I could wake up, ride my bike all day, come home to a quiet hovel, go to floor for nine hours, and do it all over again.

“But Wanky! You must have been miserable! She’s such a great cook! How did you survive without all that fresh bread?”

How did I survive? Let me tell you about something called Van Camp’s Pork & Beans and Spam and peanut butter and bananas and coffee and beer and eggs and salsa and tortilla chips. If you can’t live like a prince on that for three months, then you aren’t trying.

Did I miss the great home cooking? Of course! Did I miss it enough to want to go back to fartless nights under the covers and sitting down to piss? No way!!!!

Then, somehow, poverty went from being an abstraction to a concrete thing as the children grew, we ran out of hand-me-downs (the boys never liked having to wear their sister’s dresses anyway), and summer schedules became intractable. We ran out of money, we ran out of time, and we ran out of them simultaneously.

So, Mrs. WM stopped taking her refresher trips, which was hard on me, hard on her, and probably hardest of all on her seven or eight ex-high school boyfriends back in Japan. And along with our straitened situation, the spark and sizzle started to go out of our boring and totally predictable marriage. That dull lump of last week’s tasteless meatloaf we called marriage had lost the excitement and flair that it never had.

You can imagine how amazed I was when we both looked at each other and realized that for the first time in ten years her summer wasn’t going to be tied down by kids. The tickets were bought in a flash, and the minute that they cleared the four credit cards we had to cobble together to run the charge, the old meatloaf flared up a little. It was still cold leftovers, but with a little something extra.

Then, as each day passed and the day of departure neared, the cold meatloaf warmed up and the flavor returned. One morning as I stood there scrubbing a thick crust of cold bacon grease off the skillet, I thought of my sweetheart, still in bed and probably not even farting. A golden warmth spread throughout as I anticipated dropping her off at the airport and saying “See ya!” for a full fiscal quarter.

But before I brought her coffee in bed I got on the computer and did a quick cost comparison for a new frame, and maybe some wheels, too. She hadn’t even left, and I missed her already.

END

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The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 11: The bed battle

May 20, 2015 § 30 Comments

Rarely, very rarely, someone will ask me a serious question about fitness or training or racing. These are terrifying moments, aware as I am that of all the people with zero value to share on such topics, I am certainly the largest negative integer in that department.

This person asked me about getting a coach. Now, I have lots of friends who are coaches, but that number will be greatly reduced after today because here is what I told my friend:

Unless someone experienced in both fields has evaluated you and advised you that you can make more money riding your bicycle than you can getting an MBA, coaching is stupid. Why?

Because the basics behind cycling improvement haven’t changed in 100 years.

  1. Eat right
  2. Lose weight
  3. Ride more
  4. Ride with those who are better than you
  5. Race

Once you’ve done these five things, and it generally takes 5-10 years to reach the right balance, you can start seeking advice. The good news is that when you’ve spent a decade doing #4 and #5, your coaches will be the people you regularly ride and race with, and they will gladly share what they know as well as point out what they think you do well and where you can improve.

Training plans, power meters, heart rate monitors, coaches … get over it. It’s a scam designed to obfuscate the harsh realities of 1-5 above, and to take your eye off the Reality Ball, which says you are old and slow and will continue getting older and slower until you die, which will be incredibly soon relative to your expectations.

In fact, when it comes to speed, your best investments are aero, carbon, diet, and winning the battle of the bed. Aero speaks for itself. Get a Sausage-approved Aero Pro Fit p/b Daniel Holloway and you will go noticeably faster.

Get as much 100% carbon stuff that is full carbon and you will go faster still, especially if it’s aero carbon, as if there were any other kind.

Diet is trickier, but in a nutshell here are the basics:

  1. Toss the radical weight loss plan. 143 pounds is not good for a six foot frame, and constant ravenous hunger is an unhappy way to live, although it sure sharpens every single faculty.
  2. Make incremental changes. Shave a bit here and there, and mostly rein in dinner. If you’re a 3-plate eater, first go from 3 servings to 2, and then from 2 to 1. Even if it’s sometimes a big serving, shoot for a norm of “enough to make me feel full but not stuffed.”
  3. USE SMALLER PLATES.
  4. Eat at home more often and put everything on a plate, except ice cream, which goes in a bowl. A small one.
  5. Chop the legs off of your enabler. He/she is the person who asks you 10 times a day “Do you want … ?” or “Do you want to go out for … ?” Cure the enabler by saying “Yes, but since you asked me, I’ll pass.” The enabler will be very angry for a while and no sex, but when you’re shedding pounds who has the energy for that anyway? Don’t waste your time telling the enabler to quit asking, just let the enabler know that no matter what it is, if the enabler recommends it, you’re refusing no matter how hungry you are. Pretty soon you’ll be back in control of what you eat and when you eat it. Plus, what hungry human can say “No” ten times a day? I can’t even say it once.
  6. Read “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse. The protagonist’s only skills are “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.” These are incredible qualities to develop in cycling, and in life if you have one. (I don’t.) Keep in mind that while it’s not good to be ravenous all the time, it is good to endure a few pangs during the day. It’s not normal to always be full or to sate yourself every time you feel hungry. It’s like expecting to race well without ever training hard.

The biggest fitness obstacle, however, is the bed battle. Everyone can testify to the difficulty of twisting yourself out of the clutches of the warm sheets, especially when the only thing on offer is a guaranteed 60-minute beatdown on the Flog Ride, cf. Joseph Y.

The bed battle cannot be won with multiple alarms or with pre-percolating coffee timers, and it certainly can’t be won when the person next to you is warm and cuddly and not very interested in your morning bicycle ride. The bed battle can only be won the night before, by going to bed early, airing up your tires, laying out your superhero outfit, and promising a friend that you will meet him at a time certain.

There. That’s all I know, and most of it is wrong.

END

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The comeback Jackson

May 16, 2015 § 26 Comments

I have never made any money riding bicycles but I have sure lost a lot.

The worst ride I ever did was a coffee ride seven years ago with Chief and Caron. Mrs. WM had given me a brand new $20 bill for my allowance and it was burning a hole in my pocket. We were headed over to San Pedro and I was bragging about all the coffee and muffins I was going to buy them, because in Pedro a Jackson will get you a lot of muffins and when you’re with the Chief a lot is how many you’re going to need.

We were screaming down the descent at the end of Western before it had fallen off into the ocean and I reached into my back pocket for my cap. We got to the coffee shop and I made a big flourish. “This is all together,” I said.

Chief and Caron had been giving me shit the whole way there. “I’ll believe you have a fresh Jackson when I see it,” said Chief.

“Better make sure we take pictures so we can prove you actually paid for something,” added Caron.

I dug into my jersey pocket but the Jackson was gone. They laughed as hard as I turned red. “I really had one,” I said.

“Sure you did, pal. We believe you.” Then Chief sorted through his hundreds and pulled out a Jackson and paid. “Let’s go sit outside and you can tell us what that Jackson looked like.”

“I’m not sitting outside. I’m gonna go find that fucking Jackson.” Their laughter trailed as I raced away. I got back to Western, got off my bike, and walked the entire length of road and back again, twice. No Jackson. After half an hour I gave up and rode back. Chief and Caron laughed even harder.

“You find that Jackson?” Caron asked.

“Even if he had had one, which is a highly doubtful proposition, in the fine city of San Pedro it would have lay unclaimed for somewhere between 1 and 1.5 seconds.”

They have given me shit about that Jackson for seven years. Every time I see him, Chief asks if I’ve found that Jackson, and it makes me mad all over again. That coffee ride plain old sucked, and today’s did, too. It never rains in California except when it does, and today it did.

I put on the cape and leg warmers and booties and beanie and gloves and went out for three miserable hours. There wasn’t another bike or walker on the entire bike path from Redondo to Playa del Rey. My bike was covered in sludge and sand, and my hands and feet went numb. In El Segundo it dumped and my shoes filled up with water, cold water.

Before I moved to California and became weak I was a tough guy. Fields used to say that everyone can finish in the rain, but only the hard ones start in it. I always make a point of going out when it’s nasty because it happens so seldom. It takes me back to my roots of heat, cold, sun, wind, and rain.

When I got to Malaga Cove I had to decide whether to take the easy way home up Via del Monte or to do the Cove wall, Paseo del Mar, and Lunada Bay. “Fuggit,” I said and took the right-hander down to the bottom of the wall. When I got to Lunada Bay I had another choice, the easier Donut route or the steep and nasty alley. I hooked right for the alley.

My rear wheel was skipping and I was really cold and miserable and wondering why I hadn’t made the beeline climb home. What the hell was wrong with me?

I popped out of the alley and something caught my eye. It was green and wet and half-folded over in the gutter.

I jumped off my bike and picked it up, then I did a little dance before tucking it safely into my jersey. I grinned all the way home and even threw in the gnarly Monaco climb instead of taking the easier ascent up Hawthorne. I got my payment for doing the hard ride the hard way. The comeback Jackson.

END

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A hundred or so down

May 15, 2015 § 42 Comments

Nothing is less inspiring the tales of already-skinny people about how they got skinnier. What inspires us are the people who came to cycling as way to deal with major health problems, and through cycling overcame them. One of those people is a South Bay regular, Dan K.

Below is his story, mostly in his own words, with a dab here and there of mine:

I was 250 lbs and in trouble. Every December, my doctor said the same thing. Cholesterol, high. Blood pressure, high. Fatty liver disease, just around the bend. And if you think it’s terrible having your kids say, “Dad died from a heart attack,” imagine them saying “Dad died of fatty liver disease.”

My doc would tell me I could carry on and get ready for a lifetime regimen of drugs, or make a change. I’d dutifully hop on the elliptical trainer, lose a few pounds, and then with Christmas and the New Year come roaring back to “normal.”

By 2011 I’d injured my back and had constant sciatic pain. I could hardly sleep. I also had periodic blinding pain in my side. I made a special trip to the doctor, got some codeine and PT, and went back to functioning with a legal Rx drug dependency. But I realized after three months that this was no way to live the rest of my life. So I finally decided, truly decided, to change.

I’m an engineer so I started with the numbers, and that’s ultimately where I finished. I knew that the most important thing was not what I weighed today (can’t change that) or what I will weigh tomorrow (can’t really change that), but the trend line, i.e. what I will weigh next week or next month. Next month is something I can change. Incremental changes today could push the trend line of my weight and of my health in a positive direction. I knew I wouldn’t be healthy next month, but I knew I could be healthier.

I also realized that willpower is a finite resource, but it’s also like a muscle. In order to improve it, you have to stress your willpower towards the point of failure. The muscle and the will become stronger, but only if you exercise them.

Next, I challenged myself. I set a goal to start swimming for at least 30 minutes a day, every day, and to avoid eating junk and highly refined foods. The first day in the pool was a challenge. I don’t think I did more than seven laps. It was awful. But I came back the next morning and did eight. Within a few weeks, I was swimming farther and longer.

What’s key is that I didn’t turn myself around overnight. This was no 30-day success story.

Did I go swimming every day? No.

Did I eat healthy food every day? No.

Did I move in a positive direction more days than not? ABSOLUTELY. This was crucial because my goal was to move the trend, not to reach some magical end-point. In a sense, I made my objective goal—exercise every day–harder than my real goal, which was to simply move the trend line.

When I saw the doctor six weeks after staring my “new” life in mid-December of 2011, things were better. I was down to, um, 235 lbs. BP was down a bit.  Liver was still chubby, but perhaps not as fatty. Yet I was still on the wrong side of the healthy line and I was still in pain. So the doctor renewed my prescriptions and encouraged me. More importantly, I was able to encourage myself because I had entered the magical positive feedback loop. I could see that the trend line was heading in the right direction, and I wanted to keep it up.

My first bike ride on August 14, 2012, on a crappy old mountain bike, was 4.5 miles in 30 minutes over some “hills” near home. I think my heart rate must have been 190, and I thought I was going die. But I went out again on the 16th and cracked out nine whole miles. That Sunday I rode to the Strand and up to the end of Manhattan for a whopping 16 miles. I was slow but I was having fun. By the middle of the September I had made it to Ballona Creek, then Venice, then Santa Monica by October.

A year later my body was in a better place. My weight was 220. My liver enzymes were “good.” My cholesterol was normal, my back pain was gone, and I was off the prescription drugs.

I celebrated, bought a road bike, and started going farther and faster. Eventually I found Seth’s blog and started riding in PV. In February 2013 I pedaled out to where one of my aunts lives, and made it halfway up Hawthorne Blvd. I thought I was going to die, and got a ride home. A week later I sucked it up, made it around the peninsula, up and over the Switchbacks (13:48) all the while thinking the climb would never end. I’d occasionally see a mini-peloton go by and I’d try to latch on, though I always seemed to blow up in 15 seconds.  But I was getting stronger.

In July of 2013 I was down fifty pounds to a “svelte” 200. I gutted up and took the plunge, telling myself “It’s time for NPR!” I still remember getting blown off the back on Vista del Mar during the neutral rollout. The next time I blew up on Pershing Hill, the first earnest surge of the ride. A week later I got axed on Pershing proper. Then, I played roman candle on the overpass, followed by exploding a week later on Lap 1.

The whole time people helped and encouraged me. Manslaughter would yell at me to pedal hard and get back on. The Wily Greek pushed me physically as I was coming unhitched, numerous times. Eventually I stuck on the whole NPR from tip to tail. You can talk about climbing the highest mountain all you want. For me, toughing out that ride from start to finish was huge … and I did it!

For the next 18 months I stabilized around 195, gaining muscle mass and losing fat. I ran a marathon, rode some centuries, and did some epic climbs. I’ve gone from that to a current weight of about 175, and in addition to the NPR I also do the Flog Ride, and even completed the 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride.

How would I sum it up?

  1. Lie to yourself. Set a goal harder than what you need to achieve so you have some room to screw up.
  2. Set an exercise schedule and a calorie budget and follow it, accepting imperfection in all things!
  3. Follow the weekly-monthly-annual trend, not the daily fluctuation.
  4. Mix endurance rides with beatdowns like the NPR, Flog Ride, or Donut.
  5. Ride with wankers who are faster and stronger than you!
  6. Accept that everything hurts the first time, but that each time you do the same thing it gets a little easier. Or perhaps you just go a little faster, which is even better.
  7. Use free resources out there! Check out the “Hacker Diet,” a free e-book and an engineer’s guide to weight loss, and MyFitnessPal, which can help you know how many calories you’re downing at a sitting.
  8. Do what you enjoy! If you hate the activity you will quit.
  9. Start slowly!
  10. Find a peer group. Most cyclist types are nut jobs and love new people to hang out with, partly because more people means a higher probability someone will show up for the ride, and partly because they’ll enjoy breaking your legs.
  11. Real results will take a while.
  12. Changes occur inside before the things that everyone sees on the outside!

END

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The tired radicals

May 10, 2015 § 38 Comments

On Saturday morning I rolled up to the Manhattan Beach Pier and was pleasantly surprised to find a large group of riders who had made the 6:30 AM commitment to pedal north for a couple of hours, take the full lane on Pacific Coast Highway, and then lodge an informal protest at Malibu City Hall regarding the illegal ticketing of cyclists on PCH.

By the time we arrived we had added another ten riders or so, and a handful had only ridden part of the way. The pre-ride publicity was pushed by Greg Seyranian of Big Orange, and I got a lot of help from Mario Obejas at the Beach Cities Cycling Club, as he invited me to come speak to the group about our protest and included ride information in the club’s newsletter. I also greatly appreciated the efforts of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, who sent their president from San Diego, Jim Baross, and his henchman from San Clemente, Pete van Nuys.

Don Ward of Wolfpack Hustle also put the word out on Facebook and Twitter, and a random and incomplete list of people who showed up includes Dan Kroboth, Steven Thorpe, Robert Cisneros, David Huntsman, Mikki Ozawa, Tamar Toister, Debbie Sullivan, Michael Barraclough, Pete van Nuys, Gary Cziko, Jim Baross, Eric Richardson, Bob Kellogg, Peter Richardson, Connie Perez, Alx Bns, Mark Jacobs, Don Young, and Les Borean.

The day before the ride I got a call from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The lieutenant and I spent close to an hour talking about cycling on PCH. Although the department understands the right of cyclists to control the lane when there are debris or other hazards that make riding as far to the right as practicable unsafe, the bone of contention continues to be what constitutes a substandard width lane, because it is this exception to the FTR law that cyclists use to get away from the fog line and out into the full lane on PCH.

Our position has always been that the statute, CVC 21202(a) is plain. It defines a substandard width lane as one in which a bike and a car cannot travel safely side by side. Some of the sheriff’s deputies believe that on PCH this is a matter of judgment and interpretation, whereas regular cyclists who simply want to follow the law insist that it’s no more subject to interpretation than the rules governing stopping at traffic lights.

Simple math shows beyond any reasonable dispute that the substandard width exception applies on PCH. Why? Because nowhere on the stretch from Santa Monica to the Ventura County Line do the lanes exceed 11 feet in width, 12 at the absolute most. The width of a cyclist, when you add in one foot for variation of the line of travel, is about 4 feet. California law now requires cars to pass bikes with a minimum 3-foot buffer. This puts the effective width of the cyclist at about 7 feet. The width of a car or truck, including its mirrors, is at least 6 feet.

6 + 7 = 13, and 13 > 12. In words, a 12-foot lane isn’t wide enough to accommodate 13 feet of bike and car. And of course along many sections of PCH, the lanes are only barely 10 feet wide.

We took the lane as soon as we exited onto PCH at Chautauqua, and the entire morning we saw only two squad cars, neither of which paid us any attention whatsoever. It’s my opinion that the upper management at the sheriff’s department agrees with our interpretation of the law, but I also think there are deputies on the line who simply don’t accept the right of cyclists to take the lane no matter what the law says. They see a group of riders who aren’t cowering in the gutter and think, “That can’t be legal.” But during our ride we got nothing but courtesy from the law, which was kind of the point: The ride was staged as a protest against a ticket issued to a Big Orange rider several months ago for failing to ride in the bike lane, and at the time there were no bike lanes on PCH.

At Temescal Canyon we took a break, waited for the West Side riders to show up, and tweeted/facebagged our protest ride info to the Lost Hills Substation, the City of Malibu, and the CHP.

The entire ride from Temescal to Cross Creek, about six miles, we got honked at exactly once and were chopped exactly once — by an asshole on a motorcycle, no less. I always find it hilarious and pathetic when the second-most vulnerable users on the road treat us with aggression and hatred.

Although getting our message across to law enforcement and to the City of Malibu was the main purpose of the ride, as it turns out the real impact of this type of cycling is the message it sends to cagers. Hundreds of motorists were educated this morning about the rights of cyclists to take the lane on PCH–it was a lesson worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in radio spots or TV ads. Forcing drivers to see cyclists in the lane and accept the reality that as with a slow moving bus or cement mixer you have to slow down, put on your blinker, change lanes, and pass on the left, are the most important results of this type of activity.

Which leads to a couple of other observations: First, of the couple of hundred cyclists we saw on PCH that morning, none was in the lane, all were huddled in the gutter. Several times we even had riders catch up to us, sit on for a few minutes, and then come racing around on the left, only to dive back into the gutter. Whereas law enforcement seems to be coming around to our point of view, judging from the cyclists on PCH, most riders prefer to be entirely out of the roadway. This is where the actions of large groups like La Grange, Big Orange, and semi-organized rides such as NOW and Kettle need to continue pounding home the message that the lane is legal and it’s safe. In fact, when I did the NOW ride a few weeks ago it was amazing to see the entire 70-person peloton crammed up onto the shoulder.

The most extreme example of the cower mentality was on the BWR a few weeks ago, when riders refused to take the lane even when protected by a police-escorted, full rolling enclosure. Old habits die hard.

On the other hand, you can’t force people to do what they don’t feel comfortable doing, and the main point is that riders who understand that they’re safer in the lane now have a pretty strong reason to take it without too much fear of harassment. Even as I’m writing this the California Highway Patrol from West Valley tweeted to say that they agreed cyclists can ride in the lane as long as they’re not impeding traffic.

A final point was recognizing that despite all of the advocacy and fundraising by the numerous bicycling organizations in Southern California, the most effective thing you can do is to get a group together and take the lane. All the emails and fundraising campaigns in the world don’t speak as loudly as 25 riders legally riding in the lane.

Related to that there’s this issue: Getting riders to commit to a Saturday or Sunday of cycling advocacy is tough because the weather’s nice, the early morning roads are relatively empty, and would you rather get in your workout with your pals … or try to change the world with a little two-wheeled advocacy? Most people will choose the former, but for those who took the time to make themselves seen and heard on PCH, thank YOU!

END

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Letter to a buddy

May 5, 2015 § 36 Comments

Hey, Buddy

Very bummed to hear about your fall. The worst thing about crashing is that it makes you think about crashing. However, there’s a cure. “Get back on the horse” isn’t just an old adage.

I was even more bummed to know you’re questioning the whole cycling endeavor. I ride my bike fully cognizant of the risks and I embrace them. Those risks – death and catastrophic injury – are definitely worth it because the alternative is … what? Golf?

Pedaling lazily down the bike path isn’t my thing, and from what I’ve seen, it’s not yours, either. Our mutual friend’s terror-stricken approach to bicycles (only rides by himself, restricts his cycling to ITT’s on the track) is an equally unacceptable compromise.

In fact, I ride and race precisely because there is an element of danger to it. It is the danger that crowds out complacency and boredom. I’ve had some hard falls too; we all have. Track crash in 2010, head splat on the NPR in Oct. 2013, splat on the back of my skull doing a wheelie in 2014 up Ganado (cracked the helmet and got a “little” concussion), falls in ‘cross races in 2012, ‘13, and ‘14, and a high speed crash on the BWR two weeks ago that miraculously didn’t deliver me to the ER.

That doesn’t even begin to count the thousands of close calls with motorists and the thousands of close calls I’ve had in packs over the years, nor does it include the race crashes and road accidents I’ve had in the 30 years prior to 2010.

I get where you’re coming from about avoiding the dangerous stuff, but the problem with limiting yourself to safe rides is that there’s no such thing. You can only pick less and less congested,  less amped-up situations, and the problem with that is that your skill level quickly deteriorates to the level of whatever your average ride happens to be. I’m not an especially good bike handler, so I need the challenging scenarios to stay sharp, or rather to slow the inevitable rate of decline.

One guy I know in his late 80’s only cycles on the bike path because his hearing, vision, and reaction time aren’t good enough to handle riding in traffic. I’m not there yet, and neither are you.

Cycling for me is more than an outlet. It is a source of connection to social, political, philosophical, economic, and personal journeys, 99% of which have nothing to do with cycling. It is a switch or conduit and one that is well worth the risk. It has helped me in my struggle with alcoholism and keeps my nose to the grindstone with regard to work. It’s been a passport and an instant friendship potion.

That said, I don’t descend the local weekend slugfests with others, certainly not with groups. Some riders are crazy, or bad, or simply unable to control their bikes at the high speeds at which they insist on descending. I’ll go somewhere else rather than be anywhere near people who are truly hazardous. Certain riders are going to harm you if you give them a chance.

You ride intelligently and with a high level of awareness, and as you know, the more you ride, the more you will fall down. Isolation is no savior; our other mutual buddy who’s the ultimate road hermit still had that terrible accident on the track a couple of years back that put him in the ICU.

I’m not encouraging you to keep riding, but I’m not discouraging you, either. Riding seems to have a very important place in your life, and if the only thing you have is a broken bike, some rash, and soreness, then HTFU. The bike is replaceable. You’re not a crash magnet, so don’t let one event overshadow all else. We know plenty of cyclists who have had catastrophic accidents and they keep on pedaling because the alternative is so very unattractive.

I also get the thing with your family and their wish that you dial it back. As for your kids, unfortunately it’s not their decision to make, and parents who live for their kids don’t, in my opinion, make very impressive role models. Moreover, your life is much more endangered by sitting behind the wheel of your car than it is by riding your bike, and even if it weren’t, quality matters.

Glad the worst you got were some bumps, road rash, busted equipment, and a splash of self-doubt. But unless I’m missing something … get back on the horse.

Seth

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