Yes, but was it sport?

January 5, 2017 § 49 Comments

Robert Marchand, age 105, and French of course, set a new hour record for centenarians, pedaling his bike about twelve miles in sixty minutes, a pace that, as one wag put it, “is about how fast you’d ride down to the bakery for a baguette.”

Many thousands hailed the feat, but at least one sour journalist called the new hour record, “good for him, absurd for us,” as he railed about the silliness of calling the spectacle of a 105-year-old man puttering around a velodrome sport, or anything other than a testament to the simple impressiveness of existing at such an advanced age. He compared the feat to a circus freak show, where people are gawked at not for what they’ve done, but for what they are.

And his point isn’t a bad one. Presumably the pool of riders over the age of 100 attempting the hour record, is, well, small. And the angry journalist continued with the pretty shrewd observation that the real fascination isn’t with the cycling “exploit,” it’s with Marchand’s longevity. Rather than questions about training, equipment, or the incredible mental fortitude one needs to tackle the hour record, everyone wanted to know not the secret to his sporting success but the secret to his long life. It’s as if the press conference were to ask Usain Bolt, after breaking a world record, about the secret to his beautiful teeth.

One physician broke down Marchand’s longevity thus: 30% genetic, and 70% willpower, courage, and “clean living.” That sounds like an extremely unscientific 70 percent to me. He also noted, and this is the key, that Marchand’s record wasn’t an absolute one, but rather age-graded. It wasn’t a statement about the capacity of a person on a bike, it was a statement about the capacity of a 105-year-old-man on a bike, a capacity that few will ever be able to challenge because hardly anyone will ever a) live to be that old and b) be able to ride a bike if they are.

It’s the ultimate master’s race, where you are categorized first by the condition of your prostate, and only once it’s adjudged to be sufficiently flappy and leaky, does one look at your actual performance on the bike.

And frankly, why stop with the hour record in cycling? All that Marchand needs to do now is get in the pool and freestyle 100 laps and he will be the world record holder for that, too, and he could also pick up the world titles in the 200, 400, 800, and 1,500 simply by making it to one end of the pool and back a few times. Track and field events are probably out of his range, as the running events are already populated with 105-year-old champions, but there is an entire Guinness Book of World Records that Marchand could rewrite simply by doing them. Oldest guy to eat ten donuts, oldest guy to drink four cups of coffee, oldest guy to walk and chew gum at the same time. He could become the most decorated, record-breaking human of all time, not because he was particularly good at anything, but simply because he existed.

But …

If you take away all of the circus-freak enthusiasts who are in denial about their own age, who think that “age is just a number” (so is the speed of light, by the way), and who are really fascinated by Marchand’s longevity rather than his cycling, and if you focus on the cycling aspect itself, it’s not without athletic merit.

First, though, a few parameters. Sport seems to have two components, the absolute and the relative. Absolute records are the gold standard for performance, in this case the greatest distance ridden by any human being ever in one hour on a velodrome. There are no centenarians in this category.

The other component is relative. Men versus women, juniors versus elite athletes, para-athletes verus non-para athletes, and of course the ultimate “everyone’s a winner” combo of age + gender categorizations, i.e. masters events. And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the relativity of closed universe sports, the best example of which is the World Series of Baseball which includes a single country.

Do these relative categorizations demean the legitimacy of an athletic accomplishment and deny it the category of sport? That depends. There’s a good argument to be made that if you’re the only person competing, it’s probably not as sporting as when you’re going against a field of a hundred competitors. And as you age, the pool gets smaller. Obviously. That’s why the idea of Marchand the oldest record holder in the 100 freestyle, Marchand the record holder donut eater, Marchand the record holder TV watcher doesn’t really sound that impressive.

On the other hand, the older you are, the harder it gets, and I’m not talking about your package. People who think that riding a bike at 80 isn’t a challenge simply don’t know anything about what it’s like to be 80. As you age everything gets harder, and more to the point, it gets a lot deadlier.

Falling off a bicycle, for example, is something that you’ll bounce up from in your 20s, but that could easily kill you in your 80s, to say nothing of your 90s, or dog forbid, your 100s. Danger and risk are part of sport, aren’t they? And we admire people who do courageous things, don’t we? Well, Marchand takes his life in his hands every time he throws a leg over. One false move and he could well be dead. 105-year-olds don’t get second chances.

For the people who think that Marchand’s feat is anything but, how many activities do you engage in daily that, with a single misstep, could kill you?

This understanding of the rising risk for aging athletes brings us back full circle, which is to the biggest sport, the biggest competition of all, that is to say longevity. Your longevity, unlike your master’s mixed time trial for riders 65+, is matched against every human who has ever lived. Life is the ultimate competition, and once you crack a hundred you are in rarefied air. Once you crack 105 you are, statistically, not only among the super elite, you are literally days away from death.

People who make it that far are rarely paragons of physical fitness. My wife’s grandmother, at 101, is completely senile and can’t walk. Life grinds you down, and most people, statistically, get ground down to death before they ever hit 80, much less 105. Things break, shit stops functioning, small accidents become catastrophic injuries, things fall apart, cf. Chinua Achebe.

So here we have a guy who didn’t just make the ultimate selection of life, and make it to the incredible age of 105, but he also had enough on the ball to ride his bike for an hour around a velodrome, and lest we forget, on a bike with no brakes. How many people age 50 can do that?

But even if you still don’t buy that a guy competing against himself is sport, isn’t it refreshing that the news media can celebrate some old codger for having the gumption to get out there and ride around in circles for an hour? Doesn’t it make you smile, just a little bit, to see someone that old making so many other people feel good about life, and inspiring people to try harder no matter what their age?

Makes me smile, anyway, which means that his feat wasn’t just good for him, but it was good for me, too.

END

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10 hours

January 4, 2017 § 28 Comments

That’s my goal.

Not my resolution, my goal.

And it will be a hard one but that is okay. I like it hard.

A couple of weeks ago I was riding with a pro woman cyclist. “How much do you train these days?” I asked. I had known her when she took up cycling and logged huge miles.

“About eleven hours a week,” she said.

I waited for her to add the “just kidding” part. “Eleven hours?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “But they are eleven very hard, high quality hours.” And she began speaking Trainese, a language spoken by real athletes who ride bikes for a living. I understood none of it.

In other words, I know there is a lot more to it than eleven hours.

But here’s something else I know. Although I don’t track all my rides, I’m guessing that I spend about 15 hours on my bike each week. And you know what? That’s a lot of hours. I’ll tell you something else. Anything more than that and I cannot recover. More to the point: I’m not really even recovering from that.

Here is how I know I haven’t recovered:

  1. Tired.
  2. Can’t concentrate.
  3. Legs ache.

In the last three or four years I have accepted the grinding, relentless reality of time and slashed my riding back a lot, going from 12k to 10k to 8k miles annually. Each year has brought with it more rest. I’ve stayed at about the same level of mediocrity simply by riding less.

Fact is that my body, never fast, is getting ever slower. Fact is that I like to ride hard and my body can’t recover from it. Fact is that if a pro woman cyclist trains eleven hours a week, then fifteen hours for a leaky prostate, worn out old shoe like me is nutso.

Last week I did thirteen hours. Knowing I was shooting for ten made me try to squeeze out quality instead of logging saddle time. Riding four days instead of five or six meant I was more productive everywhere, not tired (much), and able to pound through my daily Practical Chinese Reader homework quickly and efficiently. I memorized the lesson vocabulary for “fraud, swindler, and leading man” and even got the tones right. It is pretty practical; I’m hoping there will soon be a lesson on porn.

It’s hard to look at all the monster hours and giga-miles that my friends throw up on Strava and not feel like I’m slacking, but I have to remember THEY’RE NOT ME.

My legs feel super and I can already tell I’m on course for another mediocre year with flashes of uncontrolled delusions. But at least I won’t be tired.

END

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Little does it

January 2, 2017 § 49 Comments

There is a saying about beer, coffee, and whiskey: If you want it to be any good, make it in small batches.

Biking is kind of the same. On the one hand there are huge, mass-produced group rides, like the one on New Year’s Day that attracts hundreds of riders and takes a mostly flat, 100-mile, tailwind gallop down the coast. People ask me every year if I’m doing it, and they would get the same response if they were to ask me whether or not I’m planning to perform my own dental implant surgery.

The New Year’s Ride goes very fast, according to reports. You can apparently be sucked along at 30 mph for huge segments of the ride, and the massive turnout means that there are a lot of riders who enjoy four hours of getting sucked. I’m sure there is a fitness component in there somewhere, because the people at the front are flogging it and there are probably a bunch of people absolutely pinned just sitting in. But for most of the riders, I doubt this is so much a workout as it is a chance to go really fast without having to do much work while surrounded by hundreds of other cyclists.

Oh, and when the group hits a light changing from green to yellow to red, they all roll through at full speed.

And of course there are at least some riders doing the ride in FDM, Full Delusion Mode. I saw one wanker on Facebag post that you should do the ride if you’ve “ever wanted to know what it’s like to ride a stage in the Tour.” It says a lot about your level of ignorance if you think a 4-hour pedal with a tailwind on a flat highway with 400 idiots of vastly varying ability has anything remotely in common with the Tour, or even with a local SoCal Pro/1/2 crit.

So everything was going fine as the mob rushed through red stop lights and poured through miles and miles of areas where there are pedestrian crosswalks, an unbroken torrent of fast moving bikes with riders pinned at their physical and mental and bike skill limits, each rider carrying a whopping mass + velocity that, if it hit you while you were walking, was going to hurt you badly.

Up to now this whole thing is a poster child for every person who has ever said that cyclists are lawbreakers who endanger other road users. This isn’t about running a stop sign at 6:00 AM when there is no one else on the road. This isn’t about running a red light on the NPR where there are no pedestrians anywhere.

This is about a mob of riders turning the streets into a shooting gallery for anyone unfortunate enough to be on foot. When the crazies in Palos Verdes Estates rail and complain about the Donut Ride, this is the bogeyman they’re trying to pin us all with: Big ride takes over the street, breaks the law, and really hurts someone.

And it doesn’t do any good to point to all the motorists who do exactly that to cyclists day in and day out and get away with it, because it’s just like your mom told you: Two wrongs don’t make a right. Moreover, when you’re making a Bikes May Use Full Lane argument based on safety for vulnerable road users, and your mob is using the full lane in a way that endangers other vulnerable road users, you look like a real piece of shit.

[This section has been updated] But back to the story: Before the huge ride came through, a cyclist on a different ride, in front of the New Year’s Ride, hit a pedestrian, went down, and both were hurt. While the emergency vehicles were trying to reach the rider and the pedestrian, the main New Year’s Day mob was coming through, but many cyclists chose to run the light and jump in front of the fire trucks and ambulance, thereby blocking them from attending to the emergency. Re-read that. Not one cyclist or two cyclists. MANY CYCLISTS. A few riders, i.e. decent, normal people, had stopped and were trying to hold back the bike traffic so the paramedics could reach the two casualties.

Is this even real? People jumping in front of an ambulance to stay with a fast peloton? A person’s life mattering less than not getting dropped by a mob ride? Are you fucking kidding me?

The answer of course is “No.” This is completely believable behavior because I’ve been racing and riding for decades and have seen countless bad falls where the group simply keeps riding. “Sucks to be you” is often the motto, and although there are times I’ve kept riding when I’ve seen a crash and other people are stopping to help, I can’t begin to fathom what’s going on when riders actually interfere with rescue operations, or heighten risk to the rescuers by sprinting in front of them and blocking their ingress.

Okay, just kidding. I can completely fathom it. Mobs, whether they’re on bikes, on foot, in motorcycle gangs, or at Trump rallies, behave the same. People use large numbers as cover for their own bad acts for the same reason that people are Internet trolls and stalkers: Anonymity. Bicyclists don’t have some Good Samaritan gene that makes them nobler than the carholes who harass and kill them in PV Estates and elsewhere. In fact, pedestrians on the beach paths will tell you that large groups of cyclists behave with exactly the same arrogance and disregard for the safety of vulnerable road users that cyclists complain about vis-a-vis cagers.

The nicest people in the world will behave like complete bastards when they think no one knows it’s them. Anonymity is the ultimate empowerment for cowardice and bad acts, and this is a classic example.

In any event, score one for the anti-cyclist crowd. If this kind of mob behavior is what we can expect when huge numbers of cyclists get together, then retributive, unfair, and illegal responses from cagers is what we’re going to get. More accurately, people who already hate cyclists and who have no intention of respecting our safety will use incidents like these to justify their own bad acts. You may not like it and you may think it’s unfair when a motorist tries to kill you, but ask yourself how much sympathy you’re going to get from the family of the poor guy who went out for a New Year’s Day walk along the beach and wound up in the ICU, and his treatment was delayed by a bunch of cyclists who “didn’t want to get dropped.”

Which brings me back to my point, which is that the bigger things get, the worse they get. Several hundred riders going pell-mell through stop lights and pedestrian crosswalks in heavily congested areas, or big groups of cyclists barreling full bore down beach paths also used by pedestrians is dangerous and it’s wrong.

Small groups where there’s a ride leader, an understanding about how the ride is going to be conducted, attention to the safety of others, and responsibility for taking charge when things go wrong are the only way that cyclists can rationally advocate for better behavior by motorists and for better protection by law enforcement. To cry about those who’ve been victimized and then turn around and obstruct aid to an injured pedestrian because you were “trying to keep up” is the worst kind of hypocrisy. Worse, it gives drivers a rationale to pay no attention to cyclists, even when the cyclist is obeying the law, riding in a small group and endangering no one, and it gives law enforcement a reason to continue to unfairly enforce traffic laws against cyclists while ignoring the more frequent and deadly transgressions of drivers.

Do I think you can ride fast and safely and legally in groups on public roads? Yes. Do I think you can do it in an unsanctioned, unpermitted, break-all-the-rules, devil-take-the-hindmost mob that prevents injured vulnerable road users from getting emergency assistance?

No.

No, I don’t.

END

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Happy Old Year

January 1, 2017 § 16 Comments

It’s a brand new year. Except it’s not. It’s more like a brand old year. The same old pig wearing a fresh coat of lipstick. January first is a day of promises, mostly broken ones, exaggerated ones, ones extracted against your will, ones that were made in haste and will be repented at leisure.

Nothing will happen in 2017 that hasn’t happened in some other year, and for everyone who shrieks, “Trump!” I give you Caligula.

2016, for all her faults and misdeeds, was a great year. I wish she would come hang out with me some more; we’d be the only two sober people at the party having an actual conversation while everyone else slobbers through an impenetrable fog of hard liquor and nonsense. There were some amazing bicycling milestones in 2016. We’re grateful she left us with them because they’re going to continue giving pleasure in this grand old new year.

Brad Wiggins’s completely legal, unsuspicious package of Fluimucil that might have been a “letter from his wife” led to his early retirement and an investigation by Parliament. This is a gift that will continue to give much laughter in 2017, especially as Brailsford and the whole bus full of liars continue to contradict each other and make the previously preposterous claims even funnier. Look for the Bradley Wiggins Grand Fondue any day now, managed by Thorfinn Sasquatch.

Mechanical doping, a/k/a motorsports, have thankfully killed the anachronistic activity of pedaling a stupid bicycle. With a power source on the bike, lots of electronics, and ever refined engineering, the bicycle officially became a motorbicycle. Now we can have the perfect excuse for every time we get dropped, and after the frustration reaches a certain point, can buy a motor for ourselves. It’s like the loss of privacy or the death of the First Amendment. No one really cares anymore as long as we have football on TV.

Four days a week. At the tail end of 2016 I finally figured out that not only is more less, but a lot less is a lot more. I finished the year with only about four days and twelve hours of riding per week, and rode just as shabbily as I did when I rode 12,000 miles. Verdict: lots of time to do other stuff, and twelve hours of hard riding is about the right amount of misery.

SRAM e-Tap. This stuff works and is wildly expensive and worth every penny if you don’t really care that much about rent or health insurance. It’s a great way to further conflate athleticism, dedication, effort, and ability with purchasing power so that eventually they become one.

Mallorca. I went there last year, it was unspeakably awesome, and I’m going back this year. Motorbicycling is more fun in foreign countries with friendly people. If you’ve been hesitating on taking a big bike trip to a famous place, 2017 is the year to pull the trigger.

Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch and Robert Chapman. At the tail end of 2016 the Boys’ legal problems potentially got bumped up to a class action status, which will drive many of them into bankruptcy if the suit succeeds. In 2017, bizarro Robert Chapman will provide laughs and guffaws as he falls off his surfboard again, gets injured, and sits on the sidelines writing hate screeds about biker gangs as an anonymous Internet troll in his mom’s basement.

Palos Verdes Estates BMUFL signage. Last year was an amazing experience in how much a handful of PVE nutjobs hate bicycles, and how the city council does, too. In a couple of weeks we’ll be launching the first of our year-long educational campaigns, to get the BMUFL message to those Palos Verdes Estates residents who aren’t insane, which is almost all of them. More pizza and good times as we educate with our BMUFL and hand-made signage throughout the city.

Another booze-free 365.25 days. 2016 brought another year of clarity and daily hard choices: Sober or drunk? Bike or drink? Sober won out every single day, bringing with it some good, some bad, and a lot of appreciation for those who are fighting the fight, as everyone has always fought it, alone. The clear light of day can be awfully harsh, but it’s better than the thick fog of drunkenness and regret, at least for me, and maybe for you, too.

Success of others. I had friends and family get their Ph.D.’s, win big court cases, survive cancer, overcome family convulsions, kick ass in bike races, go from neophyte to hardass cyclist, get married, have kids, get great jobs, travel to Myanmar, segue from bike racing into the “real” world, publish books, get recording contracts, retire, become grandparents, lose religion, lose weight, become sober, become advocates, fall in love, start businesses, reach out to those in need, and leave the world, even if it’s just their tiny corner, better than when they found it.

And it’s that last part, leaving it better than when you found it, that’s the only New Year’s resolution that matters, or that ever has.

END

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What me hurry?

December 30, 2016 § 43 Comments

I was going to write about how you can improve your life by slowing down and taking time to do things yourself instead of writing a check or swiping a credit card and having someone else do it for you. Coffee, for instance.

I was going to write about how we’ve been cooking our own coffee and it’s not that big a deal and we save a bunch of money and buy our green beans in 30-lb. towsacks and etcetera.

I was going to write about how instead of buying juice at the store, where it doesn’t have any nutritional value and is overpriced and doesn’t taste very good, for a few hundred bucks you can buy something with a lawnmower engine strong enough to juice your old socks or your rock collection, not to mention fruit, and how a few extra minutes doing that instead of watching TV is relaxing and by the way you’ll quit cramping after long rides and experience a huge reduction in the stinkiness of your daily creation and etcetera.

But then I went to the post office for the first time in a long time, you know, the place where time stands still.

All this stuff about slowing down and taking time to do stuff yourself hit a nasty wall in the post office, because that is the place where time goes to die. If you have too much time on your hands, go to the post office, which is a time suck of such proportions as to make Strava and Facebag together look like productivity tools.

I stood in a line of fifteen people, with three clerks working the counter and I use the word “working” in its most elastic sense. I noticed that not only had time come to a halt but that no one in the post office was in a hurry, including the customers. Which led to an observation: No one who has anything going on in their lives goes to the post office.

Everyone was retired or a stay-at-homer or someone who simply wanted to find out what it felt like being dead.

More astonishingly than the corpses standing in line were the corpses at the counter. The PO is deathly silent so everyone can hear everything, and the one thing that was obvious is that everyone at the post office, despite decades of tenure, was doing each job with each customer for the very first time. It’s as if you were standing in line at Von’s and each time a customer’s shit came over the scanner the checker-person got a big happy smile and said, “Well, what have we here? Some bananas!”

I kept waiting for someone to scream, “It’s a fucking letter! Put a stamp on it and take my money and get me the fuck out of here!”

But no. The kind PO employee was not to be rushed, and exhibited genuine interest in each transaction. “Now, where is this letter going to?”

IT’S ON THE FUCKING ENVELOPE, YOU TENURED FUCKER!

“Oh, well, let’s weigh it and see what the postage is,” the kind employee said. Because in the history of letters no one has ever come in and needed a first-class stamp for a letter of undetermined weight.

If it were me, all contented coffee-roasting and self-juicing mindfulness murdered under the ugly boot heel of raging impatience, I would have screamed to the customers: “Hey, you fuckers! Dump your shit into this box!” Then I would have weighed it with a machine (I’m pretty sure they have weighing machines somewhere in the post office), slapped on the tariff, and been done by 9:00 AM.

But no. The line continued to snake and each tenured person enjoyed the careful consideration of each mailing problem presented by each customer as if it were a complex physics problem trying to synch the extra second per year due to Earth’s variable revolution speed around the sun with the atomic clock and the space station.

Finally my turn came. I had a huge problem, one that, like stamps, my lady had never encountered before. “Well hello, sir? How are you today?”

I’M A RAGINGLY LIVID MANIAC WHO WOULD EAT YOUR HEAD IF I COULD AFTER SHOOTING YOU DEAD EXCEPT I BELIEVE IN GUN CONTROL AND DON’T LIKE TO EAT HAIR SPRAY.

“Oh, you need a package?” She gazed at the slip for the package that had not been delivered the day before because, I guess, there were too many stairs to climb at our complex and the tenured employee figured, “Fuck it, they can come get this shit.”

I fully expected her to get up and go get my package. The long line, which now stretched to Torrance, watched the transaction. The giantess gazed three counter spots down. “Suzy? You getting packages?”

Suzy lifted her head from the luscious oats she’d been munching, thoughtfully chewed her cud, and nodded. “Yeesssss,” she mooed.

“Would you get his?”

“Yeesssss,” Suzy mooed again.

I briskly strode to Suzy’s counter, but not briskly enough. A spry Korean woman, seeing the open slot, jumped out and dashed up ahead of me. “Yeessss?” Suzy asked.

“This letter to mail Kentucky,” the woman said.

Suzy gazed at the envelope. “Well, let’s see where it’s going,” she said.

“Kentucky,” said the spry old lady.

“Looks like it’s going to Kentucky,” Suzy confirmed, showing off her ability to decipher the written English language. I thought about calling the Foxworthys and having them come out and hand-deliver the thing, as it would probably be quicker, but then realized they only accept payment in good bourbon.

“Whatta postage?” asked the lady.

“Let’s see what the postage is,” Suzy said as my hand trembled with my package pickup ticket.

Suzy carefully weighed the letter, but there was  problem! It already had some stamps on it. The Korean lady had gone through her drawer and randomly stuck on whatever was on the bottom, in between the old lipstick and the replacement pencil leads. “Looks like we’re going to need some more stamps,” said Suzy.

And there it was! Another new problem never before encountered by Suzy! A letter with insufficient postage! If only there were a solution!

By now time had ceased all relativity and simply stopped. Nothing moved anywhere on earth. Time had gone from a slow drip to a gummed up sewer pipe. Shit was going nowhere. I remembered having read “The Day That Time Stood Still” by H.G. Wells, and wondered when everything would go flying off the surface of the Earth, like when your bike suddenly stops and you don’t.

When I dropped back into reality, Suzy and the Korean woman were disputing the amount of added postage. Suzy argued for $1.41 extra. Korean lady argued for $1.21 extra. Everyone in the line watched to see who would be right, but being married to a Japanese lady for a thousand years I knew who was going to win the battle of the pennies, and it wasn’t going to be Suzy.

Suzy, however, said she would try it with a different calculator, as if that were the problem. “Excuse me,” I said. “Can I just pay the extra twenty cents? And can you please get my package?”

Everyone would have paused at this egregious breach of protocol, not to mention the profane suggestion that twenty cents was an inconsequential sum of money, but they couldn’t pause because everything had already paused. We were stuck on pause forever. We were in the post office.

Suddenly, each ticking second being murdered in the post office begged for mercy. I forgot my mindfulness, my package, my quality of life sermon via slowing down and living for the moment and doing things yourself.

I got the hell out. Whatever was in the package, even if it was Bradley Wiggins’ Fluimucil, it could wait.

END

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The incredible heaviness of other people’s training

December 28, 2016 § 37 Comments

I used to have a friend in real life who vanished from Facebag one day. “Yo, dude,” I said. “What happened?”

“I couldn’t stand all the happy people.”

“What do you mean?”

“Everyone was surrounded by a loving family in a beautiful home with a new bike and a cute dog. My life felt like shit.”

“It did?”

“Oh hell yeah. I was like ‘There’s no way that all 1,500 of my Facebag friends are that happy.’ You know? Divorce and suicide and drunkenness and jail and cheating on each other and debt and getting fired and loneliness and you know, reality. But even though I personally would see a friend at AA, there he’d be smiling on Facebag as if he weren’t on the knife edge of suicide and collapse.”

“People want to be happy.”

“I get it. But it made me feel like a loser. So I’m out.”

“And?”

“I feel great. No more time spent looking at other people’s happiness. I can focus on my own miserable fucking life and how to make it better.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. So for someone on Facebag it may not mean a lot when I get through Christmas without having a screaming match with my parents, but for me that’s progress. Feels great. My success is mine. Don’t have to compare it to some dude’s Ferrari that his wife bought him for the holidays so he can drive the fucking twins to Harvard en route to cashing in their billion-dollar winning lottery ticket.”

After that, every time I ran into Friend, he really was happier, and each time I asked him if he missed social media.

“Oh sure,” he’d say. “Like I miss having my big toe gnawed off by a pit bull with rabies.”

So I recently joined my club’s Strava page. On Strava I don’t follow anyone because I only use it to keep track of mileage. I don’t ride with a Garmin or a power meter or a heart/jock strap, don’t know how fast I’m going, how far I am from home, or when I’m getting back. I don’t give a fuck how far anyone else has ridden or how many KOMs they’ve harvested or how many miles they rode this week or month or year. Why not? Because crappy though it may be, my training plan has remained the same over decades:

  1. A little > nothing
  2. Ride with people when you can
  3. Go hard

As you’d expect, the results haven’t been spectacular, except in the one simple metric that matters, i.e. I’ve kept riding all my adult life, with almost zero interruptions. As people I used to ride with and race with have fallen off the radar screen and gone over to the dark side of Cheesecake Factory, unlimited servings of alcohol, or even triathlons, I’ve kept plodding away. Without any goals, without any targets to hit or to miss, and with nothing but the pleasure of riding a bike to keep me going combined with congenital meanness, it’s kind of worked. I’m hardly the last man standing, but many have come and gone and I’m still at it. Wish I had a nickel for every cycling enthusiast who was going to keep riding until he died and quit after five years with a quiver of bikes, a closet full of kits, and a garage turned into a professional indoor training space-cum-mechanic’s lab.

In other words, just plodding the fuck along, immune to the awesomeness of everyone else, works for me.

So when I joined the Big Orange Club Strava page I got a huge shock. Like, I suck. Not just the usual “Oh well, I suck,” that I accepted long ago, but the “Man, you are probably the worst cyclist in history and should donate your bike to an underprivileged fixie rider.”

The reason I suck so bad is that the club’s leader board is astounding. People ride 300+ miles a week and climb more hills than a Sherpa. It used to be satisfying to knock out 150 or 190 miles and think “Great week! Way to rock it, Wanky!” but no more. That won’t even get you up to the middle of the club scatter graph. Dude, if all you got is 200 miles a week, YOU SUCK and why are you hanging out with us?

At least that’s how it felt. And the following rationalizations, by the way, don’t work.

  1. My rides are quality, not quantity.
  2. Most of the people ahead of me on the leader board don’t race.
  3. Miles don’t equal speed.
  4. I dropped him and him and him and him and her and her and her last week and wasn’t even pedaling hard.

Those rationalizations don’t work for the same reason that my buddy’s observations about the imperfect lives of his Facebag friends didn’t work. When you see more miles and more climbing, it automatically makes you feel slower and less fit and more like a worthless slug. What’s worse, looking at some college kid with 389 miles makes me want to compete, even though it’s that very type of obsessive competition that I have never done and the avoidance of which that has allowed me to keep pedaling my bike for 35 whole years.

In fact, I even had it summed up in a little aphorism: “If you ride to achieve you’ll eventually quit. If you ride for fun you’ll ride for life.”

The huge challenge with cycling, especially as you get decrepit and your wife gives you birthday cards that gently make fun of your erectile dysfunction, is forcing yourself to roll out–not out of the house, out of bed. Once that battle is won, a fierce life-and-death struggle that begins and for most people ends with the gravitational pull of the warm pillow, everything else takes care of itself. But when you think that you’re already behind the 8-ball on Wednesday morning because you’ve only got 51 miles for the week and the club leaderboard has a dozen people already knocking on 150, it makes you want to give in to the siren song of “sleep more, ride later.”

The later, of course, never comes.

The other problem is that our club’s Strava leaderboard seems to feature people who are at completely different points in their cycling lives from me. Maybe they’re new or new-ish riders who are still on fire for all things bicycling. Maybe they have a coach. Maybe they are in their 40’s and doing their first athletic activity since high school. Maybe they’re trying to upgrade in 2017. Maybe they have one of those things, what are they called? Oh, yeah, goals. I’ve heard of those!

Whatever they’re up to, they’re doing something different from me, which is struggling simply to keep riding because nothing looks fresh and rosy and pink and fluffed when it’s in its fourth decade. I’m not fired up by having big miles or lots of climbing or racing or the Donut Ride or anything. My fire was doused in ice water years ago and all that’s left now is a 53-year-old bag of skin trying to slow the inevitable skid off the edge into the abyss.

Sure, I get fired up when I’m finally on the bike and pedaling, but that’s like saying I feel good when I win the lottery. Any fool can be happy when he’s doing something fun. But the trick is to get fired up beforehand, because without that you never make it out the door, and igniting the spark at 5:00 AM when you’re only seven years younger than a dead Princess Leia, two years younger than a dead Prince, the same age as a dead George Michael, two years older than a dead Michael Jackson, and eighteen years older than a dead Mozart, striking the flint is harder than you think.

And since the club leaderboard makes the battle with the pillow exponentially harder than it already is, I finally succumbed and hit the “leave” button on the club leaderboard. No offense, but I feel better already.

END

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10 Steps to better cycling in 2017

December 26, 2016 § 20 Comments

These will make you better.

  1. Take a pull.
  2. Stop half-wheeling.
  3. Show up on time.
  4. Call shit out.
  5. Keep your head up.
  6. Climb more.
  7. Compliment someone.
  8. Intervene when someone’s being a dick to a new rider.
  9. Ride early.
  10. Quit comparing your stats.
  11. Eat more fruit and nuts.
  12. Give up a wheel.
  13. Give someone a push.
  14. Buy someone coffee.
  15. Wave at a cyclist.
  16. Wave at a cager.
  17. Introduce yourself.
  18. Ask a Fred to join your club.
  19. Ride just a little > No ride at all.
  20. Shop at an LBS.

END

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