I have a heart condition

October 17, 2015 § 8 Comments


The first time I rode with Stryker was on the Palm Springs Century, a nasty, windy, hot, unpleasant slog through the desert in February that I’ve done my best to forget. We were seventy miles in and he said, “You know, I’ve got a heart condition.” I immediately eased up and let him sit on, afraid I’d kill the kindly old soul.

Five years later Major Bob called. “Hey, wanna go ride with the Long Beach Freds?”

“Are those the guys Stryker rides with?”


“Sure,” I said. “As long as it’s easy. The intergalactic Donut Ride championship and celebrity beatdown with Steve Tilford is tomorrow and I’ve been training for this since June. So I need to go real, real easy.”

“Come on. When the club name has ‘Freds’ in it, how hard do think it can be?”

“Good point.”

Major Bob picked me up at my apartment at 5:20 and we drove to Long Beach, which is only ten miles away as the crow flies. But unless you’re a crow you have to drive or ride over there, and it takes forever. We went through the pre-dawn haunts of Long Beach, past smoking piles of slag, cadmium, mercury, lead, cesium 137, and strontium 90.

“Breathe deep,” said Major Bob.

We passed a group of youths gathered around an elderly fellow with whom they joked and chatted as they robbed and beat him with a tire iron.

The ride began in the pitch black but everyone had a light. “Where does this ride go?” I asked Gil.


“Yeah, but I mean the ride. Where do you ride?”



“Is there an echo out here?” someone piped up.

PCH through Long Beach is clogged with cars, stoplights, trucks, glass, rocks, sand, manhole covers, open manholes, trenches, and smoking piles of slag, cadmium, mercury, lead, cesium 137, and strontium 90. “As long as we go easy,” I said.

Hegg laughed. “It’ll be plenty easy.” [Note to self: When Olympic gold medalist says it’ll be easy, he might mean something different from you and me.]

Shortly thereafter the speed increased to 30, with only a few of the 40-odd riders doing any work as the rest gasped and lunged for a wheel. By the time Lotts ran into an open manhole and exploded his tube with what sounded like a rifle shot, the group was in tatters, spattered in ones and twos for more than a mile.

I had taken exactly three pulls, and each time it had felt like the final 200 meters of an uphill sprint after a 100-mile road race that you did on your hands.

We regrouped and the insanity began again. It stopped briefly as we turned around and rode home, this time in a rotating paceline. The twelve riders of the forty who began the rotation while the others sat on dwindled to ten, then seven, then six, and then five. Each time he pulled through, Lotts would punch another person out the back.

Dutifully doing my turns until the remaining five riders all began breathing like winded water buffaloes, we came to a red light. One of the dudes looked at me angrily. “Quit pulling through like that! It’s too fast!”

I apologized for making him tired and slunk to the back, as the shards of the group rolled up to the light. First among them was Stryker. “Hey Seth!” he shouted. “Ease up. I have a heart condition, y’know!” Then he pounded off the line, dropped ten guys, and would have won the final sprunt to the bagels and cream cheese if he hadn’t flatted.

“Can you give me a hand?” he barked. “I have a heart condition.”

I did my best to put his wheel on backwards, but couldn’t. About this time a huge deluge arrived. A giant forklift that had been riding on the shoulder while its operator smoked a bong saw us changing the tire, hit the brakes, and watched in amusement as his 40-ton piece of equipment with bald tires began to go sideways. “Ever had a forty-foot forklift prong stuck up your butt?” asked Stryker.

“No,” I said.

“Me either. And thank dog we’re not gonna start today,” he said as the forklift came to a stop inches from our huddled pooping group.

At the coffee shop Major Bob and I were treated to a cup of Long Beach’s special blends; you could choose strontium or cesium flavor, depending on which half life you liked best. Now that no one had to actually pedal, the shit talking assumed epic proportions. “Next time you chop my wheel like that I’m putting a fucking bullet in your nuts,” said Lotts, which was his polite way of saying “don’t move over so quickly.”

Each person recounted a version of reality completely at odds with what we all had seen, but the stitched-together delusions gradually began to replace actuality. Instead of a hot burning in my thighs, raspy lungs, and the feeling that tomorrow I’d be lucky to get out of bed, I was beginning to recall an easy, pleasant spin with friends.

“We went easy today because of my heart condition,” said Stryker. “But come back on Wednesday and we’ll make sure you get a workout.”

I spit up a pair of ribs, hobbled back to the car, and went home. Freds, indeed.



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The root of all evil is not enough money

October 16, 2015 § 35 Comments

People wonder why masters racers have hijacked SoCal amateur bike racing, as shown by the incredible explosion of anger over the burning question of the day:

  1. Should masters categories be 35/45/55? OR
  2. Should masters categories be 40/50/60?

Wrinkly trinket-hungry cyclists went ballistic over this life-or-death issue and forced the opaque, shifty-eyed, self-serving SCNCA board to hold an emergency late night telephone conference, reverse their earlier vote, and then come up with a new vote that satisfied the angriest of the old people who, by the way, were angry indeed.

So now bike racing has been saved. Horrible declines in participation, non-attendance by anyone other than angry S/O’s and resentful children, fewer races, and a smaller pie to squabble over are all going to be remedied because the needs of several hundred greedy trinket hunters have been shifted down five years. Riiiiiiight.

Showing how inane the whole thing is, one upset fellow posted that since he’s going to soon be thirty, “WHAT ABOUT ME?” This perspective perfectly defines the modern masters racer: The unfairness of it all! 30-year-olds having to race with 20-somethings! Pretty soon the 12-year-olds will be outraged that they’re racing with the thirteen-ers, and so on down to swaddling diaper pre-racers.

None of this is surprising because the only thing on offer in bicycle racing nowadays is  the faux glory of a few seconds on an ugly podium, hands raised in a stupid salute, a quick posting of the photo on ‘Bag and ‘Gram, and a 5,000-lb. bag of entitlement.

No one’s fighting for money because there is none. The best racer in America, Daniel Holloway, goes from year to year without any long term security even though he wins more big races in a season than any other elite US pro will win their entire career. What would Rahsaan Bahati’s pro career have looked like if he’d made six figures as a bike racer? Why is Hilton Clarke looking for work?

If there were money on offer for actual bike racers, cycling would be a different game. People who could make a living at bike racing would throw the dice and try it as a career, the pool of athletes would grow, and the ripple effect of more races, more spectators, more sponsors, more fans, and more junior racers would grow the sport. It would take several years, but a million dollars on offer in prize money each year in SoCal would turn the region into a global center of cycling.

“A million dollars????” I can hear the screeching laughter now. What a ridiculous idea! What an absurd amount of money? For prizes that go to actual BIKE RACERS? ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY?

Yes, but that will never happen of course. The people who have a million dollars to invest aren’t about to put it into the checking accounts of cardboard box-dwelling bike racers because it’s not an investment, at least in the sense that they’ll ever get their money back. It’s more of a Bernie Madoff type investment, and they’d rather have a new beautiful second home, a new airplane, a new boat, or a new investment vehicle that will turn the million into multiples of a million. And no group of ten affluent cyclists would dream of kicking in $100k each to revolutionize the sport. It’s not for a shortage of dollars, though, you can be sure of that. We ride with stock brokers, real estate moguls, millionaire lawyers, independently wealthy businessmen, super rich doctors, and a variety of people for whom a hundred thousand bucks would mean absolutely nothing at all to their big picture or even their small one.

As a case in point, the suckers who dumped $19 million into the USA Pro Challenge wound up with the same raw assholes of everyone else who tries to fund the sport through the well oiled USAC graft machine. The money goes everywhere except to the one place that matters most: The hands of the men and women who turn the pedals. As soon as you pump money into an event or a team, it gets hoovered up immediately by everyone except the riders, who are expected to ride for free or close to it, and be damned glad of it.

The sad thing is that the donor/investor always has good intentions; he wants the sport to prosper. But as long as the employees who make the show happen are starved, insecure, broke, living at home, and paying for health insurance through Medi-Cal, it never ever will. There may be a sucker born every minute, but they play the lottery or go to Vegas. Hardly anyone is a big enough gambler to stake a career on bikes.

And why should donors pour money into the sport they profess to love? What has cycling as an organized activity ever done for anybody? Because of USA Cycling’s pervasive and long-term support of doping, cheating, and shunting rider funds to programs run from Colorado Springs, the governing body is toothless, stupid, greedy, lazy, and mean. It hates grass roots wankers with big bellies (the guys who fill the lower ranks and pay the salaries in ‘Springs), and it thumbs its nose at any pretend racer who doesn’t hit “the right numbers.”

And that’s why Strava is so devastating. It provides competition and it provides value; USAC provides limited competition, and does so at ridiculous cost with zero financial reward. Our recent survey showed that, surprise, people are afraid of crashing. No fucking shit? You mean people are afraid of falling off their bike at 30 and getting their balls run over by ten other riders? Who’d be afraid of that? Worst that can happen is that you die, dude. Man up.

By choking development, ignoring obvious problems, and by creating a culture that makes any potential investor loathe them, USAC is now having the rotten, digested fruits of its corrupt labor shoved down its throat in the form of lower numbers, lower license revenue, lower salaries for the staff who grew up living on Lance and who are now finding out that in addition to being petty and greedy, the masters racers now calling the shot are all that’s left and they happen to be the cheapest most cantankerous bastards alive. I know I am.

And now the new godfather of USAC has declared that the organization will never hire another doper, but he’s silent about what really matters: How is he going to put money into the hands of the people who race bikes? How is he going to make any rational person want to take a chance on the sport? No answers there, sorry.

So it’s left to a handful of leathernecked race promoters to develop a profitable system with no support, no investment, no safety net, and no incentive to hang onto the few races we do have. The reward from USAC? Paying more fees, of course. Bet you didn’t know that the bigger your prize list, the more the promoter pays USAC, did you?

The other reward is having their paying customers, the cranky and greedy and perennially dissatisfied old farts, clamor and complain when races are set up that don’t revolve around them. Young racers are filled with loathing at the actions of us, their elders, and they either smarten up and go back to school (always the best choice, by the way), or they wait to age-grade up and become the overlords.

Sane parents on the sidelines shake their heads in disbelief and encourage their children to chase his dreams anywhere but in cycling. All of the junior summits and SCNCA board deliberations and age category machinations won’t mean shit until there’s enough money in the sport for athletes to make a living at it. Until then the economic engine will be retail sales of high-end bikes to mid-40-ish people who can afford them, and as long as that demographic powers the engine, USAC and race promoters will do as they’re told.

This bankrupt policy is why so few new riders are coming up. The day’s not far off when the fight over how to split the tiny little masters pie will be a fight over who’s going to promote the three races left on the calendar.

Half of any given masters race has people who make their living through “the industry.” We know where they stand on age categories. What about the same level of activism, backed with money, when it comes to putting dollars into the hands of the young men and women who actually have something called a future?


The guy who always points things out

October 14, 2015 § 26 Comments

People basically don’t give a shit.

Our apartment was built back in 1873 and there are no individual water meters for the units. So the total water bill gets divvied up and is reflected in the rent. And since no one person’s water usage can make much of an impact on the overall amount, and since you don’t get a monthly water bill there’s no incentive to conserve water unless you’re instinctively a cheap ass, which I am.

Because California is in a mild drought about six months ago I bought a $5 waterproof five-minute hourglass with a little suction thingy that sticks to the shower wall. It’s amazing how quickly five minutes in the shower go by, hardly enough time to scrape the crusty places and rinse the sand out of my ears.

Then one morning I was riding with Geriatric Jedi-in-Training, and we got to talking about saving water. “Well,” said G-JiT, “you oughta try a Navy shower.”

At first I thought he was inviting me to something obscene. “Thanks, man, but I don’t swing that way.”

“No, no,” he said. “It’s where you switch the water on for a few seconds to get wet, switch it off, lather up, rinse, repeat. That way you’re not dumping gallons of hot water on your head just for the fun of it.”

So I tried the Navy shower and now that’s all I do, and lately I’ve not even been using the hot water. So it drives me insane when I get up in the morning at 4:30 and do walking laps around the complex, because that’s when they run the sprinklers and about half of them point out on the sidewalk. The conservation effect of my tiny little 30-second showers are all completely negated for the month in the first minute of a single morning’s sprinkling.

I was telling this story to the guy who always points. It was after this morning’s NPR, where I scored a glorious victory, attacking with two laps to go, shelling the breakawanker who refused to pull and dropping the other one before going on to a solo win. Later, allegations of cheating, course cutting, and general skulduggery were leveled against me, and of course I denied them all.

The guy who always points is the only person in the peloton who always points. You can be whizzing along at 30, teeth grazing the stem, and he will always point out the crack, the pothole, the broken glass, the magnolia seed cone, or the dead body in the road.

“People are selfish and stupid beyond any comprehension,” I said, complaining about my selfish apartment complex management and its wasteful ways.

“Yes,” he agreed. “They are.”

“And they don’t give a shit.”

“No,” he agreed. “They don’t.”

On cue a woman darted out in front of us in her car without bothering to stop at the stop sign I was preparing to blow. Then another woman almost clocked us as she gabbed on her cell phone and sipped coffee.

“What the hell is going on?” I asked. “People are crazy. They don’t care if they kill you, and if they’re like the mob at the Dallas Cowboys game, they do care if they kill you, and then they kill you.”

“Yep,” said the guy who always points. “They sure do.”

“And you can’t change them. For every person who does the right thing, there’s a thousand who text and drive and like the Dallas Cowboys.”

The guy who always points pointed out some glass. I moved over. “But you,” I said, “you’re different. You’re always pointing shit out no matter what.”

“Yep,” he said. “I am.”

“And it’s because of you that about twelve billion idiots have avoided crashing or flats or both.”

“Yep,” he said. “They have.”

“So why do you do it? Other people don’t point shit out, even the ones whose asses you save by pointing shit out.”

“Seth,” he said, as he pointed out a nasty crack that I narrowly avoided. “We’re all in this together.”



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Wankmeister cycling clinic #29: What’s the best off season training plan?

October 13, 2015 § 4 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

What’s the best off season training plan? Our season here in Podunkeyville ends in October. I want to be primed and ready to go for the Cat 4’s next year!

Petey Puddintame

Dear Petey:

Hobby bicyclists like you and me have two seasons, a “ride slow” season and a “ride slower” season. There is no “off.”


Dear Wankmeister:

My Internet coach says I should be doing three-week blocks of training with a one-week rest period. This will allow me to build, recover, and eventually win the Internet. What do you think?

Sammy Strava

Dear Sammy:

There are three parts to maximizing cycling performance: Training, recovery, and strategy. Imagine a pie chart and each one of those segments is a sliver of delicious blueberry pie, and on top of the pie is a huge slab of vanilla ice cream. So what do you do? You plop your ass into a chair and eat the whole fuggin’ pie at one sitting. You’ll feel kind of sick as you shovel that last forkful of mostly melted ice cream and goopy blueberry filling and scraps of light, buttery pie crust that have become soggy but somehow even more awesome. Yum.


Dear Wankmeister:

I saw a group of wankers hammering the Donut on Saturday, racing in the 105-degree October heat as if it were the state championships in Bakersville. Then there’s this other group of fools who are doing the Man Tour’s 500-miles-in-five-days beatdown from San Jose to LA. Throw in the nutjobs doing the Circle of Doom, Tour of Tucson, and the Nosco Death March. What’s up with those idiots? Don’t they know it’s the off season?

Danny Dandruff

Dear Danny:

We are all following the training regimen of our YouTube coach, Bazza Barnes. You should consider it, too.




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Junior gearing

October 12, 2015 § 17 Comments

The sad, dysfunctional fact about USA Cycling in general, and SCNCA in particular, is that they have failed at their mission to build racing participation for so many years that today no one expects anything less than complete failure. Excuses, finger pointing, and the status quo have become hallmarks of our local racing association, and we have fewer races, declining numbers, and the terrible race turnout to prove it.

On the one hand that’s a great thing. Dedicating your youth to bike racing is like dedicating it to meth without the thrill of a prison sentence and the reward of several coat hanger tattoos on your butt. On the other hand it’s terrible, because in some remote galactic parallax of red-shifted wormholes, bike racing is a good thing. Don’t ask me to locate it on a map or in any known episode of Star Trek.

The latest full blown collapse of representation, transparency, honesty, and democracy came (fortunately) in the one arena of bike racing that is the most meaningless of all: Masters racing. To make a long and boring story into a short and boring one, I would explain it thusly:

Old people got angry about trinket distribution. They are still angry.

The more interesting question for me is not how/when/and at what age the wrinklebags can compete for trinkets, but rather this: How can we lure more unsuspecting kids into bike racing? Everyone can identify the problems and no one knows the answer, except by the process of exclusion, to wit:


So, to help get the junior gears rolling–and it’s a small start–I’m going to donate a monthly Best SoCal Junior Girl Racer award in the amount of $200.00 cash, and a matching award for the best SoCal Junior Boy Racer, courtesy of the $2.99/month subscriptions that come in via this blog. It feels better using the money that way than on the beer I’ve quit drinking.

You can nominate your racer (so far there are a whopping total of two, proving that it’s harder to give away money than you think) by going to my law firm’s Facebook page and adding your nomination as a comment to the post announcing the awards, which is pinned to the top of the page. Include as much detail as you want; the more you include the easier it will make the decision. And yes, self nominations are fine!



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Flappy happy

October 10, 2015 § 14 Comments

Some things make you smile. Big.

On Thursday morning it was pitch black as I rolled down PV Drive North to the start of the Flog Ride. Just before making the left turn to go up Via Campesina my headlight caught the edge of a pink t-shirt flapping in the wind. The rider blended into the dark better than any owl. She had no headlight, no taillight, was wearing black tights and riding a black bike. Did I mention it was pitch black outside?

She had earphones in so I didn’t say anything as I turned and started up the golf course climb. Halfway up I heard the sound of tires and glanced off to my left. She was charging past me, full gas, long legs spinning the hell out of those pedals. I’d planned on an easy warm-up but she passed with such authority that I couldn’t let it go.

I picked up the pace a bit, sitting about ten yards back. Pretty soon I was breathing hard and not closing any ground. “Ah hell,” I thought. “I don’t want to chase anyway.”

At the right-hander she went straight and I turned right, summited, and started the descent. Then I heard those wheels again. This time she bombed by, buried in the darkness, gone before I could see much more than the flapping edge of her shirt. “She’s gonna die,” I thought.

At the 180-degree turn she’d slowed down, a lot, and since I had a light I easily went by, going straight and starting the long climb up Via del Monte. Pretty soon I heard those tires again. But I had some momentum and matched her pace as she pulled alongside me, covered in sweat.

“Hi, there!” I said.

She pulled out her earphones. “What?”

“Hi, there!”

“Oh. Hi!”

“Where are you headed in such a hurry? You’re fast,” I said.

“I’m just doing a 45-minute ride before I have to work.”

“You’ve got talent,” I said. “I can see that in the dark.”

She laughed, embarrassed. “I just finished my first Ironman and am kind of new to cycling.”

“There are people who are real old to cycling who couldn’t keep up with you.”

She smiled again and we chatted going up to the stop sign, where I pulled over and gave her my card. “Hit me up if you ever want to go ride with some cyclists. You’ll get mansplained to death, but you’ll get faster and better. And it might even be fun.”

“Thank you!” she said. “I’d love that!”

That evening I got home and had an email waiting, an email filled with the enthusiasm and excitement and joy of a young person discovering that she can ride fast, and that there are other people out there just like her.

Grinning at my keyboard, I tapped out a reply.



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Where have all the titans gone?

October 3, 2015 § 18 Comments

I showed up for the fancy trial lawyers’ mixer in Santa Monica lathered up in sweat. Apparently no one else had ridden a bicycle for 22 miles to get there, and adding to the sweat and smell were my jeans and button-down shirt in the sea of $2,000 black and blue Italian suits.

I sidled up to a table, my tiny plate piled high with beef empanadas, guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream.

“You know, you can always go back for seconds,” said the large man next to me, who had daintily placed a single empanada on his plate.

“You go through enough buffets with bike racers and learn pretty quick to get it all the first time through,” I said.

He didn’t understand that, but he understood the splat of bright red sauce that came shooting out the end of my empanada and forming the world’s finest Rorschach test on the front of my shirt. Everyone else tried to look away in embarrassment, not for me, but for being at my table.

I was midway through a massive chew. “This shit is so good,” I said, mouth full and open as I gazed at the Rorschach, “that I’m going to take some of it home with me.”

No one laughed.

People couldn’t leave because all the other tables were full; they were those standing tables without chairs, but the large dainty eater finally went back for seconds and another guy took his place. He didn’t seem to care about my Rorschach. We got to talking and immediately hit it off. His name was Adam Miller. A few years older than me, he was from Chicago, and when he found out that I’d attended the first desegregated school in Galveston, Booker T. Washington Elementary in 1968, he said this. “Your parents sound like they were rather liberal.”

“They were,” I said. “And are.”

“And the apple?” he asked. “Did it fall far from the tree.”

“Yes, it did,” I replied. “Two or three whole millimeters.”

He smiled, and told me about his father, Jay Miller, a giant in the 60’s who was the head of the Illinois ACLU until 2000. A person who knew him well said this: “He thought that our constitution wasn’t worth the paper it was written on unless it protected every American, rich or poor, black or white, Latino or Caucasian, male or female.”

Then he told me about his amazing mother, Joyce Miller, the first woman elected to the board of the AFL-CIO. On the issue of women’s difficulty getting admitted to the building trades, she summed things up thus: “Employers will say that no real woman wants to work in overalls. The truth is that no real woman wants to starve.”

Then I told him about my dad, a West Texas fundamentalist Baptist born on a cattle ranch outside of Alpine who found atheism in college about the time he also discovered the issue around which his life would be built–civil rights. The Austin stand-ins that desegregated the drag on Guadalupe took him on a path to a civil rights career that included testimony before Congress, expert testimony in voting rights cases that earned a citation by the Supreme Court in the City of Mobile single-member district case, and an unwavering, lifelong support for the underdog.

Adam and I looked at each other for a minute, oblivious to the suits and the dainty plates. “Where,” I asked, “have all the titans gone?”

He nodded. “Where, indeed?”



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