Turn left here

January 8, 2015 § 25 Comments

After a brutal two weeks of winter here in Los Angeles, where we had to wear booties, thick gloves, scarves, thermal beanies, a thick underlayer, armwarmers, short-sleeved jersey, insulated jacket, legwarmers, and plenty of embro, the 55-degree morning temperatures finally ended and summer returned. Surfer Dan and I decided to celebrate the end of the cold and bitter half-month of December/January by putting in some hard training.

Before we could train, though, we decided to hit the DK Donut Shop in Santa Monica, and figured we should grab a big cup of coffee at Philz, and then maybe pedal back home for a nap so that we could really chart out a super tough training regimen for February or March. As we pedaled down the bike path we ran into G$, who was going in the opposite direction. He was looking for partners to join him in his super tough interval workout, and so when he found out we were going to the donut shop he was all in.

“Intervals are hard, but intervals after donuts are even harder,” he said.

“Maybe so, but there’s something harder than donuts and intervals,” I replied.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Mountain biking.”

Money made a face. “I never could get the hang of that.”

“Me, either,” I agreed. “Everyone always tells me how fun it is, though.”

“Yeah, it’s a lot of fun, I guess, after it’s over.”

“Right?”

Surfer Dan was listening to us, because he’s a big MTB addict and is always trying to get me to go ride off-road with him, which I have occasionally done, invariably to my own detriment.

“The thing I could never wrap my head around was how they always say … ”

“‘…speed is your friend,'” I finished for him.

“Yeah. Speed really isn’t my friend. We haven’t spoken for years.”

“And all that crap about ‘don’t use your brakes.'”

“I know. If there’s one thing that screams ‘brakes’ it’s falling off a cliff at 40 headed straight for a log at the bottom of a minefield covered with jagged rocks.”

“Or what about that ‘don’t grip your bars so tightly’ stuff?” I laughed.

“Yeah. Like how are you supposed to not grip your bars in a death clench when physics are about to ram your face into a big stone?”

“Yep,” I agreed. “It’s a sport where you can find impending death easier than finding an accordion on an East LA radio station. But you know it wouldn’t be so bad if MTB just meant getting out on some wide and mostly flat fire road where you could pedal along and not have to drop off cliffs and avoid death every twelve seconds.”

“Uh-huh,” Money said.

“That’s what I hate about riding with Surfer. You start off on a nice fire road, no cars, birds chirping, and then he says, ‘Turn left here,’ and ‘here’ is a two-inch trail going down the face of a cliff. One minute you’re all happy and comfortable and having a good time and the next minute it’s nothing but screaming, furious terror, rage, and if-I-live-through-this-I’ll-kill-that-s.o.b.”

“I know,” said Money.

“It’s probably like how women feel when they’re having sex.”

There was a brief pause. “How do you figure?”

“Well, there they are having a good time, feeling all good and stuff and then the guy makes a hard left left turn down a narrow alley and she’s like ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and he’s like ‘Aw it won’t hurt’ and she’s like ‘Get that thing outta there’ and he’s like ‘Let’s just do it once and see how you like it’ and she’s like ‘No way’ and pretty soon everybody’s hollering and yelling and after it’s finished everybody’s all covered in sweat and kinda sore and wondering what the hell happened.”

It got really quiet then. “Uh, I think I better pass on coffee,” said Money. “I’m, uh, late for work.”

“Yeah,” said Surfer. “Me, uh, too.”

I got most of the way through my fourth donut before I realized that Surfer doesn’t even have a job.

END

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10 awesome cycling resolutions you can actually keep for 2015

January 7, 2015 § 58 Comments

Okay, now that you’ve ditched all those un-fun resolutions that you were never going to do anyway, we can focus on making 2015 the best year ever for your profamateur cycling career. There is at least one thing on this list you can do, guaranteed.

  1. Remember & do. Think back about what it was that got you into cycling. Remember that awesome thing you experienced, whatever it was? Go out and do a ride like that.
  2. Put a name to that face. You know that wanker/wankette who you see on lots of the group rides but whose name you don’t know? Guess what — a person’s name is the most important and beautiful word in the world to her. Learn it. Say it. Remember it. Chances are that she will say your favorite word in the world back to you.
  3. Ride a bike with your S/O. Notice I said “ride a bike,” not “go cycling.” This means several things: No lycra. No bike that you can resell on Craigslist for more than $75. Sneakers or flip-flops. Max speed 11 mph. The ride must also have a point that has nothing to do with riding, i.e. coffee, ice cream, or your favorite S&M clothing shop.
  4. Pet a baby seal. Remember how you used to show up at your first group rides? Palms sweating. Chamois already anointed with a stray pellet of poop. No sleep the night before. Everyone looked like a top profamateur. Everyone knew everyone … except you. Next time you’re at a ride, find the baby seal and give it a pet. It will love you forever and may even follow you home.
  5. Share a secret tip. Oh, come on. You’ve got a bunch of them. So what if they don’t really work? Better yet, so what if they do? Pull aside your favorite wanker on the next ride and share the secret tip. One time Douggie even told me his secret chain-cleaning trick. I caught hell for putting it in the dishwasher, but it sure came out clean.
  6. Wave or say “hi.” On one of your 359 rides in 2015, pretend that one of them isn’t the most important training ride you’ve ever done, upon which your entire profamateur + Strava legacy will depend. Then, on that one ride, wave at someone. It can be anyone. Another rider, a pedestrian, a jogger, a cager, or one of the guys doing yardwork in PV. Yeah, they will smile and wave back because — newsflash! — they’re people, too! Then you can go back to your crucial training.
  7. Pick and give. Select five cycling items you haven’t used since ’79 (but not that wool jersey with the moth holes the size of Dallas and the green mold on the armpits). Put it on Craigslist or eBay for one cent. Someone will not only want it, they will actually use it. Done.
  8. Ride and de-load. Take a fantastic ride and refuse to upload it to Strava. Better yet, do the whole ride without a Garmin or iPhone ride app. I know that’s asking a lot …
  9. Learn your history. Buy a book about cycling and read it, preferably something that includes the words “Merckx” and “Roubaix.”
  10. Eat a cheeseburger. See? I told you there was one resolution on this list you could keep.

There you have it — a slew of wholesome cycling activities plus a cheeseburger. It’s gonna be a great year.

END

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Top 10 stupid cycling resolutions you can abandon now

January 6, 2015 § 31 Comments

Well, it’s January 6, which means that most of us have already shed the resolutions we never planned to live up to anyway. However, a few stubborn mules are still endeavoring to persevere in order that they can be one of the eight percent who are successful at keeping their resolution.

“Eight percent?” you’re thinking. “That’s almost one in ten! I’d go to Vegas with those odds!”

Yep, except that 55% of your co-Americans usually don’t even bother. Still, it’s Tuesday, which means you made it through the Monday after the extended Christmas – New Year holiday, which means that you might be thinking that anything is possible.

It isn’t. Especially with cycling. Below are the resolutions to go ahead and quit now.

  1. “Lose weight so I can climb better.” It won’t help. You’re not a bad climber because you’re too fat, you’re a bad climber because you have tiny lungs, a tiny heart, weak legs, and the kind of mind that, when given a choice, will always choose a double cheeseburger over two more hard climbs. So enjoy the food.
  2. “Quit drinking so I can lose weight.” There’s only one reason to quit drinking, and that’s because it’s ruining your fuggin’ life. Quitting to lose weight is like amputating your arm in order to boost your ratio of watts per kilogram. It won’t work. Why? Because drinking doesn’t make you overweight, eating makes you overweight, and when you’re drunk you eat too much. “Aha!” you say. “So if I stop drinking I’ll eat less!” No. If you stop drinking all of the stress that you were trying to drive away with alcohol will descend upon your narrow shoulders like a herd of wildebeests, and the only way you will be able to cope with the stress is by eating. So, if you must quit drinking, do it because it’s your fourth DUI and you look terrible in orange.
  3. “Do more interval training.” Interval training plans are destined to fail because they hurt a lot and they make you tired. If you wanted to hurt a lot and be tired more you would stay at work longer and make more money. Also, if you quit doing the local group rides for interval training no one will admire your new outfit and fancy wheels because intervals, like practicing “Smoke on the Water,” has to be done alone.
  4. “Log more quality miles.” By this you probably mean you intend to ride at a slightly higher average pace with better riders. Nope, and nope. The better riders will string you along until you’re exhausted, then Tony Godzella will drop you somewhere along a puma-infested road. You’ll straggle home lots slower than if you’d just ridden with the usual gang of idiots, and you’ll miss the next four days of training hooked up to your recovery I.V. drip.
  5. “Race more.” Noooooo way. You’ll peak in Feb., and by early March your S/O will be carping about entry fees, broken frames, fractured bones, and time spent away from all that shrieking, plate-throwing, domestic bliss. By April you’ll be in off season mode.
  6. “Spend more time with the family.” Uh, whatever. Haven’t you ever noticed that you ride a bike because of your family?
  7. “Get my [husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend] into cycling.” This is a recipe for utter hell. Don’t even think about it unless you want to watch Mitzy tump over at the stop sign trying to get her foot out of the pedal, scrape her ankle, and blame you for the rest of your life because she now has an unsightly scar that looks tacky in a bikini. Plus, it will double your bike expenses. See #6 above.
  8. “Hammer less and enjoy the ride more.” Look. You know and I know that bicycling isn’t about enjoyment. It’s about pounding yourself into dogmeat, and hopefully dragging some other hapless sod through the meatgrinder while you’re at it. If dog had wanted us to smell the roses on our bikes he wouldn’t have placed our noses so close to the preceding rider’s bunghole.
  9. “Spend less time on Strava.” Puhleeeeze. You have the phone app. It’s on your laptop and desktop. You follow 700 people and know their data for the last two months. Quitting Strava makes kicking heroin look easier than spitting out sour milk. Strava is your life, and without it you wouldn’t know what to do. ‘Fess up. It’s okay. Only 11 steps to go.
  10. “Stop talking about cycling at the dinner table, and, well, everywhere.” You know why this is a bad idea? Go ahead and try it. You’ll find out that you have nothing else to talk about. You’ll sit there at the table or at the coffee shop mute and stupid as a triathlete. Instead of being seen as a one-dimensional cycling loser, you’ll be seen as a brainless nitwit. Small distinction, I know, but.

So, I know you’re really bummed out, but worry not. Tomorrow we’ll have a set of cycling resolutions you can actually keep. Stay tuned.

END

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Whoosh, whoosh, shirrrrrrrrr

January 3, 2015 § 51 Comments

I recently bought some carbon beer wheels. These are carbon bicycle wheels that were funded by the money I would have spent on the beer I no longer drink. In order for this math to work out, I would have needed to drink two cases of beer a week for the next 45 weeks, which was totally doable.

I have always wanted a set of full carbon wheels. My buddy Jon Davy is the boss at FastForward Wheels USA here in Torrance, and we ride together a lot and race on the same team. Once I made up my mind to buy the wheels from him, I decided to do some intensive research. “Hey, Jon,” I said, “do you think a set of full carbon wheels will make me go faster?”

Jon is a very honest guy, but we get along anyway. “Probably not,” he said.

“What if I were riding them in a wind tunnel?”

“Oh, then they would,” he said.

“How much does a wind tunnel cost?” I asked.

About 30 million euros, give or take a million.”

“I think I’ll just start with the wheels,” I said, figuring that the beer equivalent of a wind tunnel would be about 15,672 weeks at two cases of Racer 5 per week, or roughly 1,313 years, and therefore hard to justify to Mrs. WM, who was going to be pretty upset about the wheels anyway, let alone finding space on our balcony for the wind tunnel.

Anyway, I’ve had the wheels now for about a month and have ridden them every day. In order to really understand why carbon wheels are far, far superior to merely mortal bicycle wheels, you have to first learn a bit about computational fluid dynamics. This is about as much fun as chewing out your own fingernails and eating your thumbs. You also have to learn about aerodynamics concepts such as yaw, which is suspiciously similar to “yawn,” and the one will absolutely lead to the other.

I re-read the Wikipedia entry on yaw four or five times, then read it backwards, then turned the screen upside down, but still couldn’t understand it. Apparently yaw is fundamental to sailing, and before you can really understand a bicycle wheel’s aerodynamic properties you have to be a sailor, and I flunked the Cub Scout rope badge for bowlines, half-hitches, and square knots, so that ain’t gonna happen.

Fortunately, the fine folks at Bontrager have written a white paper on why their carbon wheels are the best ones in the world, which kind of sucks because I didn’t read it until after I’d bought the other brand. It’s pretty technical and if you think yaw and CFD and tared data and flow separation are hard to understand, that’s okay, because the conclusion of the whole 34-page mishmash can be boiled down to the photo on p. 30 where Fabian is putting the wood to some wanker from Quick-Step on the Oude Pekkerstommper climb in the Tour of Flanders, and if it’s good enough for Fabian it’s sure the fugg good enough for you and me.

So I’m not able to comment on the FastForward wheels’ aerodynamic properties except to say that they accelerate quicker than late fees and interest on a no-background-check car loan, they hold momentum longer than an angry mother-in-law, they go uphill faster than a Sherpa on amphetamines, and they stop like a runaway locomotive going over a cliff with no brakes. Hopefully the engineering guys will get to work on that last part soon.

None of these performance benefits really mean anything to me, though. I was riding with 4-time national elite crit champion Daniel Holloway today. We were talking about racing. “Doesn’t matter how strong you are if you don’t know what to do at the end of the race,” he said.

I thought about that. Aside from being slow and not very good, it was an excellent summation of why no amount of technical performance will ever get me out of the mid-pack — the last five words I’ve ever thought at the end of any race ever are, “What do I do now?” and “Shiiiiiiiiiittt!”

On the other hand, my new FastForward wheels have completely revolutionized my cycling. First and most importantly, they are black and white, and my bike frame is black and white, so they match. I also got two free FFWD water bottles that have a cool shape, and are black and white with a little red highlight on the side. I am killing the bike fashion thanks to those wheels.

Second, my new FastForward wheelset, since it is full carbon (did I mention that it is full carbon?) it makes a cool whooshing noise. Full carbon wheels really do whoosh, and the deeper the profile the bigger the whoosh. The whoosh comes from the hollow wheel’s carbonized full carbon body with carbon — bigger body, bigger whoosh. Simply put, when you pass someone going whoosh they get completely unnerved. And if they pass you, you still sound cooler than they do because aluminum wheels don’t whoosh at all, if anything they whizz, like a little boy tinkling on the pavement. It is much more awesome to sound like an angry whooshing motherfugger about to bash someone’s skull in with a giant crowbar than to sound like a little kid with a tiny pizzle whizzing in the street.

How excellent is whooshing? When you get dropped, instead of berating yourself for being a fat, lazy slug, you can listen to the whooshing wheels and how cool you sound. I’m not kidding.

Third, even though the brakes on a full carbon wheelset don’t actually stop or even slow down the wheel, the space age technology of the brake pads, a combination of darmstadtium, a transition metal, and ununoctium, a noble gas, makes the coolest shirrrrr sound ever when you squeeze the brake levers. When you are riding with a bunch of other cool people with full carbon wheels and you all hit the carbon brakes together it’s shirrrrr, shirrrrr, shirrrr, and then you stomp on the gas and it’s whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. You don’t even have to talk to each other any more, that’s how cool it sounds.

In other words, there you are, tricked out in an all black-and-white rig with black-and-white wheels and a black-and-white-and-red-highlight water bottle, whooshing along like crazy, then going shirrrrrr when an SUV pulls out in front of you just before you go splaaaaat and graaaaack through the rear windshield. It’s a fuggin’ bike symphony.

So I rate this product twelve stars out of, like, four. You should get some, too, and tell Jon that Wanky sent ya.

END

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Used with permission

January 2, 2015 § 16 Comments

Everyone loves to rip open a letter and find money in it. This particular letter had $40 cash, which was awesome. I will get a couple of cases of craft water with that money and paint the town beige. Better than money, though, is a letter with money accompanied by a great piece of writing. This friend has recently vanquished cancer and has a pretty full plate, though thankfully that’s one less item on his menu. I got permission to reprint his letter, below.

Seth,

I was going to hand this cash to you in early December but one thing in my life got in the way of another and suddenly I was off the bike for a bit. Actually, I was going to hand you $36 and tell you that it was for 2015 in advance and that you owed me 12 cents. It was going to be super funny. We were going to laugh. At least I was going to, anyway.

But then you sent up that FB post about the guy who handed you $40 and thanked you and it was so touching. Not only had he beaten me to the punch, but he had done it with class. He rounded up and let you keep the change. Following that, no way was my cheapskate humor going to be funny. Then they really started pouring in. And I gave up.

Then you announced you were quitting beer.

I thought, “Here’s my chance!” I would roll up to you, hand you the money and say, “Now that I know you’re not going to blow this on beer … ” and it was going to be super duper hilarious, particularly coming from me, and we were going to laugh. At least I was going to, anyway.

Then I found myself sitting in a large auditorium full of people watching a live Christmas show put on by a church. My wife and kids were there and we were there with another family, some good friends of ours. My wife takes the kids to church with them. I always never go.

In the middle of White Christmas, my friend leaned over and whispered, “You know, you have to show up once in a while and give thanks for what you have.”

As the fake snow continued to fall, I thought of the shanty towns and hopeless village children I had seen when I was in East Africa. They have a good day when they don’t step on a land mine. I thought of the equivalent of $120 I had given our driver, Rai, at the end of our trip to Bali and the fact that it had literally changed his life, essentially freeing him from the oppressive cab system there. It was more money than he could ever have saved in his lifetime.

When I thought about them, I realized that being thankful for what I have is the same as being thankful that I am not like them. It felt terrible.

I struggled with the weight of that thought until yesterday when I decided that it is okay to be thankful that I am able to help others.

I thought of that time when I was trying to help my daughter and the other special needs kids. Then I remembered how just a few words from you, some written and some spoken, had helped me make her life and theirs better.

And I thought of you and remembered the time in my early twenties when I quit drinking for over a year, just because I felt like it. I had lost most of my friends at the time because of it. But I learned that the ones that don’t allow you to grow are the ones you don’t need and the ones that don’t judge you are the ones you keep.

Thank you for everything.

If I can help, let me know.

END

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The oldest New Year’s story of all

January 1, 2015 § 54 Comments

When I saw my friend lying on the pavement, unmoving, and a massive smash in the side of the SUV that had just hit him, I went into a kind of shock. It wasn’t the shock of inaction, it was the shock of unconscious action. We got the distraught driver out of the roadway, hovered over Michael until the EMS arrived, and directed traffic so that one disaster didn’t become two.

As it happened, the terrible physical injuries that my friend sustained were only part of the problem. As he lay on the pavement wondering whether he would live or die, the recurrent thought that ripped to the surface of his consciousness was, oddly, this: “I’ve got to quit my job.”

The accident happened five years ago. We had been in the saddle all day, and on the final climb up Old Topanga from Seven-Minute, Michael had ridden away from the group. I was perhaps a minute back. When he finished the descent of Old Topanga and made the right by the post office, the driver, who hadn’t checked before exiting the parking lot, hit him full on, much of the impact being absorbed by Michael’s helmet and skull.

Over the course of the next year the story followed a familiar line. The cyclist began rehabilitation, and learned that as a result of the trauma to his brain there were certain levels of functioning he would never regain. The lawyers were called in, of which I was one, and the driver’s insurance coverage proved adequate. He was one of those people who took insurance seriously, and had paid for a policy that was big enough to cover big damages.

The story followed its predictable course. The cyclist went on with his life, forever changed, and the driver went on with his. But as it sometimes happens, the ordinary story took a detour onto the road less traveled. One day while sitting at my computer an email popped up from the driver, a man named Eddie-with-a-Central-European-last-name-of-some-kind. Five years after the accident he had written to thank me for the way I had treated him and spoken to him at the accident site — that was a first. Defendants never show appreciation for the lawyers who are lined up to sue them.

Even more unusually, Eddie wrote to say how badly he felt and continued to feel about having caused the accident. This was striking. As the guy who sues drivers, I have always assumed that once the insurance money pays out, the offending driver flushes the whole thing from his memory. I’ve seen too many angry, cruel, and hateful drivers to think that they care about the damage they cause. In fact, at a recent accident scene the offending driver badgered the cop about whether “She could go now,” and never bothered to ask about the condition of the person she had hit and left lying inert on the pavement.

So I forwarded Eddie’s email to Michael. He too was impressed and not a little moved. Neither of us had expected to ever hear from the driver again. A few more months went by and Michael copied me on a letter he had sent to Eddie. It was as heartfelt as the letter he had received.

Crazily, this terrible accident had pushed Michael over the edge with regard to his personal life, and he shared all this with Eddie of the odd last name. The job he hated, the march into misery that was laid out for him, and the awful personal and family consequences that go along with such unhappiness had revealed themselves to be unbearable. Somehow, with the accident as the trigger, he found the courage to jettison the bad job and all it brought with it. Something about death, injury, recovery, and the stripping away of the inconsequential from the consequent had brought him to that point of transformation.

With that resolution came a huge transition that almost exactly mirrored his recovery. He left the shit job and lunged for a fleeting opportunity, the opportunity of a lifetime to turn around a struggling company in a field that was tied to his biggest passion, bikes. This and myriad other details he wrote to Eddie. It was a personal counterpunch of thanks to a guy who had stepped out on a limb to offer an apology far above and beyond what the law or social norms require.

Wrapped up in those thanks from Michael to Eddie, however, was something much more profound and transformative. It was the acceptance of the apology and the bestowal of forgiveness. An apology is a terrible thing because it puts the one who apologizes at the mercy of the person who is wronged, and in order for the apology to live it must be accepted. That’s a tall order for anyone, especially someone who’s been terribly injured by another.

In order for the apology to thrive, and to give strength and courage and shared humanity to both parties, it must also be accompanied by forgiveness. This is hard to bestow, because withholding forgiveness gives us negative power over the wrongdoer. It is the sweet hole of negativity, the happy cage of glinting, sharp-edged vengefulness that we all possess and are loath to relinquish, even when relinquishing is the right thing to do.

Michael’s letter did more than accept and forgive. It let Eddie know that good things can come from bad ones and it went one step further — it expressed gratitude for the positive change in his life and it assured Eddie that, however terrible the accident, it was something that Eddie could lay aside and no longer feel badly about.

When Michael accepted the apology and forgave Eddie, an even more amazing thing happened. First, Eddie suggested that Michael go down to the bike shop of his choice and pick out $5,000 worth of bike, courtesy of Eddie. Next, the fabric of Eddie’s own personal integrity revealed itself at a much deeper level. He wrote that he had suffered so terribly from the knowledge that he had hurt an innocent person that he sank into depression. He agonized over it on a daily basis for years, tortured by what he had done, even though it had been unintentional.

In fact, his unhappiness was so profound that he told the officers on the scene that if he had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident he would have deserved death. Here was someone with a moral conscience so sharp that it cut me simply to read his confessions of guilt. This was a guy who felt, and felt profoundly, the pain of others. This was a guy whose worst nightmare was harming someone else, and who would carry tremendous guilt for this accident a long, long time.

I thought about that and compared it with the drivers who carelessly kill cyclists, the cagers who destroy someone’s life and then fight might and main to blame the cyclist, the motorists who drink, drive, kill, and don’t even bother to stop.

Where had Eddie’s decency come from? What had transpired through his upbringing, through time, to cause him to elevate the horrible cost of harm to an innocent person to the level of a mortal sin? What sense of honor, of honesty, of human decency, of acute sensitivity could have made him so powerfully averse to harming the innocent?

What made him a big enough man to accept responsibility, offer apology, beg forgiveness, and carry around such heavy guilt for an accident that most people would have written off long ago as an unlucky day, even when the person he hit forgave him fully and without reservation?

Well, it turns out that we are more, much more than the product of our current lives. It turns out that the things that preceded us, the history of our families and our forebears, are never really past. Justice and injustice, right and wrong, good and evil are not recreated every day at birth, they are ancient lineages that those before you partook in and passed on.

Eddie’s mother was an Auschwitz survivor from Hungary.

END

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Big group death

December 30, 2014 § 46 Comments

Some things hit really close to home, and this is one of them. Herman Shum, a 40-year-old high school principal, joined the House of Pain ride last Saturday that leaves out of Danville, CA. The group had somewhere between fifty and seventy riders. the riders were tightly packed across the single lane, and surging to position for a sprint.

rider left the pavement, and in hopping back from the shoulder he caused a crash. Three riders went down. Herman crossed the center line in the mayhem and was killed by an oncoming water utility truck.

Danville is several hundred miles away from Southern California, but it might as well be right next door. Every national holiday we have the Holiday Ride here in the South Bay, but unlike the “HOP” ride, our ride doesn’t have dozens of riders, it has hundreds. We cram onto the roads and race our way to Mandeville Canyon, where what’s left of the battered field — a “mere” 150 or so riders — surges to the fore as each rider jockeys for position on the incredibly narrow, two-lane residential road.

A few hard accelerations later and the group is whittled down to perhaps twenty riders who are still filling the whole lane, heads down, wheels inches apart, bars, bodies, and brains, on the limit for the better part of the 18-minute climb. Oncoming traffic, folks pulling out from their driveways, livid passing vehicles crossing the center line at 50 while showering us with curses … I’ve seen all that and more, including the time that the peloton almost ran over a woman pushing an infant in a pram.

I stopped doing our Holiday Ride a few years ago because the ride from Manhattan Beach to San Vicente Boulevard in Brentwood had become absolutely batshit crazy. People who cannot ride a bike were mixed in with people who shouldn’t ride a bike who were mixed in with people who were trying to stay away from everyone else who were mixed in with hotshot racers drilling it at the front at 30. There is a crash almost every time, and worse — one time a knucklehead slammed on his brakes, got off his bike, and walked across the reflective dots in the pavement. Fortunately there were only about a hundred stomping maroons charging up his sphincter at the time. I’m pretty sure he always wanted a carbon enema. Campy, of course.

The HOP ride in Danville comes with a warning, and it’s the kind of warning that is going to soon become the focal point for the attorney who represents Mr. Shum’s family in the wrongful death/negligence lawsuit that will likely be filed. Here it is, from the NorCal Cycling News web site:

House of Pain (HOP)

  • Where: Peet’s Coffee Danville
  • When: Saturday Mornings
  • 8:45 HOP Line
  • 9:00 HOP Media
  • 9:15 HOP The Original HOP

“The Lowdown: There are three versions of the House of Pain (HOP) ride.  HOP, HOP Medium, and HOP Lite.  All three of them leave Peet’s in Danville on Saturday morning.  HOP – full on race ride (emphasis mine), no waiting for the weak or people with flats.  No regroups. HOP Lite – steady pace.  No attacking and there are a couple of regroups. HOP Medium – In between HOP and HOP Medium.”

The killer language? “Full on race ride.”

A lawyer’s going to want to know exactly what that means, and I suppose I could explain it to him: It’s an informal road ride where, at certain points, the riders go to their absolute max in an attempt to crack everyone else. In a “full on race ride” there are a handful of riders who are doling out the pain, and everyone else is trying to hang on. Race rides are filled with testosterone and speed, but they’re not filled with insurance, race permits, course marshals, officials, ambulances, or waivers.

The lawyer will have more questions. Who put on this ride? Who wrote this language? Who manages the (now defunct) Facebook page? And most importantly, “Who has the fuggin’ money, because that’s the person who’s in the wrong.”

But I’m not going to write about the legal merits of such a lawsuit, or the lack thereof. What I am going to write about is the concept of the “full on race ride.” These things are a part of cycling, and they entail risk. Actually, “risk” is a bad word. It’s too neutral. These rides entail death and permanent, horrific injury.

I participate in them, most notably the Thursday morning beatdown ride and the Saturday morning Donut Ride here in the South Bay. I also travel a few times a year down to San Diego to join their Holiday Ride — perversely, because in the past it has been harder and more grueling than the one we have here.

At some point, though, we’re going to have to think more carefully about the size and composition of these beatdown events. Although they are for the most part harmless, all it takes is one unlucky confluence of factors and suddenly someone’s dead. One avenue that I’ve taken is avoiding the mass events that are “race rides.” As one very experienced friend pointed out about bike racing, “The more crowded the field, the more crashes. Period.”

That’s true for “race rides” too. Three hundred idiots, as are likely to show up at Manhattan Beach on January 1, are more dangerous than 25 riders showing up at 6:35 AM at Malaga Cove.

In addition to group size, there’s another factor, the ease of the ride. The South Bay Holiday Ride is a true wankfest, where anyone with reasonable fitness can hang on for a huge chunk of the ride. The roaring, swelling, swaying pack of idiots tears through Santa Monica, a dense urban landscape clogged with cagers, pedestrians, and tourists like a cloud of locusts.

Not so with the Donut Ride. By the ten minute mark many have been dropped. By the thirty minute mark the group is fractured, and those who remain are riding single file. Once the climb starts at 35 minutes, and for the rest of the day, it’s a pretty small group, and with only a few small route changes the group could be split to pieces even earlier.

That’s not to say that these rides don’t have the potential for accidents, but maybe we’ve reached an era where bigger really isn’t better, at least for the “race ride” or the “beatdown event.” Maybe a little discretion will go a long way to avoiding the kind of accident that led to Herman’s senseless and needless death last Saturday. Maybe.

END

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