10 ways to get worse on a bike

August 31, 2016 § 22 Comments

There is a whole industry devoted to making you a better cyclist. Whether it’s coaching, tips from Bicycling Magazine, or tech web sites that tell you which component has how many extra milligrams of weight, everyone knows how to make you better.

Yet, you aren’t.

This is mostly because although there a billion ways to improve, the marginal gains for any one item are minuscule and the mental effort to do any one of them consistently is harder than doing five push-ups every morning. Sure, everyone knows that five push-ups only take a few seconds. So? The day I start my morning off with a push-up is the day I start my morning with a bullet in the forehead. My day begins with coffee, period, so GTF out of my way.

Unlike improvement tips, deprovement tips number only ten, and each one of them has a catastrophic effect on riding, and chances are you do most of them. If you never did a single improvement tip and cut out a mere one or two deprovement items, you’d probably win the Tour.

Here they are:

  1. Diets. Please stop dieting now. It doesn’t work. If you’re really overweight, dropping a few pounds might make you go faster, but you’ll be so weak and cranky and angry and hair-trigger-ready-to-kill (otherwise known as “hungry”) that you won’t be on your bike. You’ll be roaming the sample aisles at Costco with lust in your heart and there’s no fitness to be found there.
  2. Equipment. With the exception of carbon, the more bike stuff you have, the worse you ride. Take Shirtless Keith. He owns one old, rusted-out hybrid bike with fat tires. He has one chain ring (a 55). He rides in work boots. HE STILL STOMPS THE SHIT OUT OF 84.2% OF THE PEOPLE ON THE DONUT RIDE.
  3. Race clothing. Race clothing is aero but it shows your multiple tummy rolls and pinches tender places, which makes you not want to ride. You are never going to get better not riding.
  4. Riding. If you have to choose between riding and not riding, always choose the latter. Riding a lot will initially make you a better cyclist, then it will make you broke, then it will give you a weird physique, and finally you will only know people who talk about bicycle topics = LIFE FAIL. One day you’ll wake up and go, “This is dumb,” and quit riding completely, which will in turn really make you a bad rider. So mostly don’t ride if you want to ride better. Knoll rides to the guitar shop to pick up new strings once every six weeks and he does just fine, thank you.
  5. Coaches.
  6. Cyclocross. Do you know why they wear face masks and stuff when sparring? It’s to prevent getting beaten to shit so badly in practice that you can’t do the actual fight. Cyclocross is like sparring with brass knuckles and no protective gear. It will first make you tough, then unconscious, then a tube-feeder.
  7. Group rides. These are fun. So is heroin. Neither is banned by USADA because neither one makes you any good.
  8. Anything that comes in a big plastic tub. Magical elixirs that replace crucial fill-in-the-blanks operate on the proven scientific principle that there’s one born every minute.
  9. Crossfit, running, weights, stairs, anything that requires a membership or is trademarked. If you want to improve, get out there and ride your bike a little, then treat yourself to a Twinkie. Ignore everything else.
  10. Bed. That place you lie in? It’s killing your performance gains.
  11. Internet cycling blogs. If any of those clowns knew anything worth knowing, they wouldn’t be giving it away for free.

END

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What shall we do with a drunken sailor?

August 30, 2016 § 23 Comments

I sometimes run across drunk cyclists. Some of them are sober for life, some are in between drunks, and some of them are going to die drunk.

The sober drunks I don’t have much to say to. They have found their way and it was usually by wandering through a lonely forest along an unmarked, overgrown path where each blade of grass was a razor in camouflage. They don’t need any advice or support or companionship from me.

The drunk drunks I have even less to say to. They have also found their way and they don’t want to hear any atheist psalms. Plus, I’m a lousy preacher because I cuss too much and say reassuring things like, “We’re both going to be dead for a zillion billion years no matter how much we do or don’t imbibe.”

And extra plus, the most useless piece of advice is the one no one asked for.

A few days ago, though, I butted my head into someone else’s problems, unwanted and unasked for. This Terrible Drunk didn’t care what I thought but listened politely, the way words flow around a person’s outer being and elicit only a kind, understanding look, with the corners of the mouth slightly upturned, the eyes saying “Don’t try to intrude on my hell.”

I spoke a river for half an hour and never said a single dog-damned thing.

My words must have been powerful, though, because no sooner had I finished delivering my fancy soliloquized philosophized rationalized Theory of Sobriety™, than Terrible Drunk went home and got terribly drunk. I thought about that and wondered if maybe I shouldn’t go to New York, invest my entire $500 savings, and tell the stock market to go down really, really low.

It was a good lesson for me. I may be sober, but you can’t teach sober. Some people are flat fucking out to find the bottom and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. Maybe the bottom is lying face-first in a pile of someone else’s puke on skid row in DTLA, or maybe the bottom is being dead, but the elevator’s going down lickety-split and it’s not stopping on my floor.

I suppose I should be happy that I was able to get off where I did, and I suppose I should accept the fact that everyone chooses, but it’s still sad to see, looking over my shoulder, walking quickly away, afraid of what I’ve seen.

END

180 degrees

August 28, 2016 § 44 Comments

It’s hard to admit you’re wrong.

It’s harder to apologize to the people you’ve wronged.

It’s hardest of all to affirmatively do something about it.

The last couple of weeks have seen a slew of attacks on cyclists. Mason Katz, a professional baseball player, used his Twitter account to attack people who ride bicycles and suggest that their mere existence made him contemplate harming them.

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Then there was the woman who I’ll just politely refer to as the Charlotte Nutjob. After assaulting a peaceful group of cyclists she was portrayed in the first news stories as a victim.

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At least one follow-up story confirmed that she’s actually an idiot. Maybe that makes some people feel better.

And then there was the San Diego Easy Reader story, peddling lies and absurd analyses from the Cato Institute trying to argue that bike planning is irrational and we should spend more time and money helping the poor beleaguered car industry.

 

All of this followed hot on the heels of stories in which Peter King, Sports Illustrated flunky, and his flunkette driver Jenny Vrentas, made a ha-ha-ho-ho joke about driving their cage in the bike lane on the way to a football game, which in turn was contemporaneous with a tweet by NFL Network analyst @HeathEvans 44, which highlighted the irrational rage that so many drivers feel at simply encountering an ordinary bicycle rider “clogging the street,” i.e. “riding lawfully.”

But then the story line changed.

One of my Big Orange club members, Delia Park, reached out to @HeathEvans44 and invited him to come apologize to our club before the Sunday ride. “Sure,” I thought. “Like he’s going to show up at 6:30 AM on  Sunday to get berated by a bunch of old farts in orange underwear.”

“Sure,” @HeathEvans44 responded. “I’d love to.”

“Believe it when I see it,” was my cynical thought.

Yesterday morning at the Center of the Known Universe a/k/a CotKU a/k/a the Manhattan Beach Pier Starbucks, @HeathEvans44 showed up as promised. Delia, Joann Zwagermann, Greg Leibert, Steve Utter, my youngest son Woodrow, and I were all there.

I had prepped my son about what to expect, prejudiced as I am. “The guy’s going to be some insincere asshat who’s been hassled on social media and probably by his employer to make this right. He’ll be condescending as shit.”

What we found was something so far away from that. @HeathEvans44 was, first and foremost, appalled that he’d tweeted something that condoned violence. He was more than apologetic. His voice, his manner, and his words evinced nothing but regret of the sincerest kind. You got the feeling that here was a guy who was gentle, kind, and who wanted to right a wrong. You know the old saying, “People make mistakes”? Well, they do. What they often don’t do, is apologize for them.

In addition to profoundly apologizing, Heath admitted to not having known the law. He asked forgiveness. He praised cycling as a sport, and he had obvious, unfeigned respect for the riders who were getting ready to roll forth for the day. He was an athlete who respected fitness and athleticism.

As if all that weren’t enough, he agreed that something further needed to be done to help educate the motoring public and to help counteract the gut reaction that many people have when they see a rider “in their way.” In our short pre-ride meeting there was no time to nail down specifics, but he shared his private cell phone and promised to work together with us to help get the word out.

Finally, he stood out at CotKU while iPhones snapped and popped. I’d had no idea that so many cyclists loved football. One rider asked him where he went to college. “Auburn,” he said.

“My daughter goes there,” said the rider, rolling up his sleeve to show an elaborate War Eagles tattoo. Football talk quickly ensured. Far from rushing away as soon as he could, he hung around to chat until the cyclists themselves clicked in and rolled out.

@HeathEvans44’s Twitter tag line is “Don’t dish if you can’t take it.” Pretty admirable to see someone turn a negative into a positive, and be adult enough to reverse course when the initial tack was just plain wrong. It’s a lesson we should all take to heart.

[EDIT: The original post neglected to mention that this would not have happened without the work of Joann Zwagermann, who helped spotlight the problem and who relentlessly engaged. It also omitted to recognize the work that Matt Miller, also of Big Orange, did to make sure that our efforts were positive, peaceful, and dedicated to rapprochement rather than acrimony and recrimination. Thank you to all.]

END

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Lighten up, dummy

August 28, 2016 § 48 Comments

Dear Wife of Cyclist:

Your husband is a dummy. Not a bleeding idiot or a complete maroon, but a dummy. That’s actually a good thing because dummy is repairable. Dummy can be taught. To be sure, he can’t be taught much, but a few simple tricks are within his feeble mental range.

And this trick will keep him alive.

Wife, I’m writing you because he has read this lecture a bunch of times but it hasn’t sunk in because after scanning the first couple of paragraphs and seeing that he’s not mentioned, he goes back to http://www.allcarbonstuff.carbon.com. This inability to focus is related to that thick layer of concrete surrounding the somewhat smooth cerebral cortex which in turn covers his pea-sized brain.

Wife, here’s what happened yesterday, and it’s the same thing that happens every day. I showed up for a bike ride and I was the only one with headlights and taillights. That probably doesn’t mean a lot to you because it was, you know, daytime, and we know that no one ever gets hit during the day.

But consider this: Among the countless cyclists I’ve represented for being hit by cars, only two were ever hit while Christmas treed. That’s right. Except for two people, all the others were hit while riding without lights.

That’s an ersatz stat, I know. Personal experience. Anecdotal. But it is common knowledge that most bikers get hit because the cager doesn’t see them. And you know what? It’s a lot easier to be seen when you’re riding a Christmas tree. Please don’t send me links to lit-up riders who’ve been hit and killed. This is a question of probability. Just like you’re more likely to smash into something when drunk, you’re more likely to get creamed when the cager doesn’t see you until the last second, i.e. the moment your head is coming through the windshield.

If your hubby drank a fifth of bourbon and then asked for his car keys, would you let him drive? If he loaded his 2nd Amendment Accident Device and suggested that the family sit down for a fun game of Russian roulette, would you agree?

But that’s what happens on practically every ride I’m on. Your husband shows up without lights. What’s worse, he gives me shit for having them.

What’s worsty-worst, when pressed he admits he actually owns lights!

“I use them when I ride to work,” he proudly but stupidly says.

“I use them when it’s dark,” he explains, even though he only rides during the day and even though he ignores the fact that dusk and dawn are notoriously dangerous times to be cycling.

Why is your husband such a dummy? It’s simple. He doesn’t ride with lights at all times for these reasons:

  1. He is cheap. He’d rather buy $2,000 wheels for the races he’s never going to do than spend $500 on something that will keep him unmaimed, alive, and able to waste the day watching football.
  2. He is lazy. Lights require charging. He can barely keep gas in the car. How’s a dummy like that supposed to keep a front AND back light powered for bike rides? He’s almost always late to the ride anyway, scurrying around like a crazy person trying to find the other matching armwarmer and skidmark-free chamois.
  3. He is a sheep. The people he admires and fears don’t ride Christmas trees. Why should he?
  4. He is an aero nut. Lights aren’t aero.
  5. He is a weight weenie. Lights add precious grams and he’s already pouring out his water bottles at the base of all the climbs.
  6. He is vain and lights look goofy. (Remind him that feeding tubes and wheelchairs are even less fashionable.)
  7. He is a dummy. Dummies would always rather pay a lot more later than a little bit now.

Wife, can you help me in this endeavor? Before Dummy leaves the house can you please say, “Hey, Dummy, where are your lights?”

When he retorts with “It’s daytime,” tell him to either lighten up or he’s not going.

Better yet, the night before can you please say, “Hey, Dummy, are your lights charged?”

Best, can you please put your foot down and refuse to let him out the door unlit? He may be smelly, talk too much about bikes, be inconsiderate, drink a bit too much, be occasionally impecunious, etc., but he’s your dummy and he deserves to live. More importantly, you deserve to not have to spend the next year rehabbing him out of a fucking wheelchair and teaching him how to walk again and not having to carry his turds out of the bedroom on a tray.

In the event that he really doesn’t own any lights, make the next birthday the equivalent of receiving socks and a tie. Buy for him:

  1. The Diablo headlight, made by Exposure.
  2. The Serfas Orion taillight, made by Serfas.

Lights work, honey. So help a brother out, willya?

END

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Old marines never die, they just dig in

August 27, 2016 § 4 Comments

I haven’t done Eldo in several years because it’s too far away in Los Angeles County miles. A Los Angeles County mile is unrelated to the standard English measurement of 5,280 feet. An LAC mile is measured not in distance but by the hour of the day.

For example, a Texas Panhandle Mile measured between Pampa and Canadian (this unit is kind of like West Texas Intermediate Crude, the world yardstick for oil), which is also 5,280 feet (the mile, not the oil), takes roughly one minute if you are traveling 60 miles per hour. There is some math here but I can’t explain it. Ask your father.

However, the same “mile” in Los Angeles County, although theoretically the same distance as a Texas Panhandle mile, changes drastically based on the hour of the day. An LA County mile between Palos Verdes and Long Beach on Tuesday around 5:00 PM has a time value of about 10 minutes rather than one.

I can’t explain that math either but I can explain this: I haven’t done Eldo in Long Beach in years because even though it’s only 20 minutes away measured in standard Texas Panhandle miles, it take about 300 years in LA County miles. Plus, here in the South Bay every Tuesday at exactly the same time we have the Telo crit which, I’m real sorry to inform you, is a lot fucking harder than Eldo. You can laugh all you want, but that just means you’ve never done both.

Eldo has gone through some changes in ownership, but what has continued without interruption is a first-rate bike race that stretches back decades. The difference in the new management and the old management is that unlike old management, there’s no screaming and cursing and hollering and berating, and more importantly it’s a USAC-sanctioned race where you can get upgrade points and huge bragging rights, and most importantly it attracts some of the best crit racers in SoCal like Charon Smith and Dave Koesel, and most-most importantly it has categories for Cat 4’s who can have their own forum for massive braggage and victory salutage and Facebag postage. Cf. Ivan Fernandez.

But most-most-most importantly, the Eldo Under New Management has, for the last three years, provided a forum for the development of junior bike racers, for which we have two people to thank.

One of them is Gil Dodson, a very old marine who is old enough to be your grandfather’s grandfather. He’s so old that when he takes off his helmet you wonder if he remembers the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But then he puts his helmet back on and drops about half the riders who are one-fifth of his age and you STFU. Gil’s foxhole buddy has been Steve Hegg, gold and silver medalist at the 1984 Olympics and current holder of the Genuinely Nicest Guy in Long Beach Award.

Gil has poured money into Eldo by paying for every single junior rider’s entry fee for three years and ending each season with a free bike frame giveaway to the junior at the top of the standings. It’s been a huge investment and it has paid huge dividends. Eldo provides the only regular venue for young riders to compete, earn upgrade points, and sharpen their skills before being tossed into the shark pit. Thanks to Gil, or rather no thanks to Gil, we now have a crop of young riders who show up at other group rides and smash their elders with glee.

The other person who has made Eldo a success is David Wehrly. Like Gil, he has provided significant financial support, without which the race simply couldn’t continue. Unlike Gil, Dave is so far in the background that you might think he’s with the Israel cyber ops NSO Group. But like all of the good works that David does, although he himself may be deep cover, the results and the beneficiaries are out in the open for all to see.

I’d better stop here. This is starting to sound way too happy.

END

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The date is October 22

August 23, 2016 § 14 Comments

That’s on a Saturday. At 6:00 PM. In the brewhouse at Strand Brewing Co.

Which is in Torrance.

In California.

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After that night at Naja’s where we stormed the bar during the Worthless Series, hung up Toronto’s spray-painted bedsheet and declared victory, we never thought there would be a second one. And then after the second one where the bar manager ripped us off and filled “our” patio with Ohio State and LSU fans and “someone” showed up with a 7-foot inflatable, uh, sausage (which was later seen dancing down the otherwise respectable streets of Manhattan Beach), we knew there would never be a third. Finally, after the inaugural South Bay Hall of Fame and star inductions of Tony Cruz, Nelson Vails, Marilyn Sonye, and Ted Ernst, we knew we’d never be able to top it.

And what do you know?

Now it’s Number Four.

The Fourth Annual South Bay Cycling Awards, a/k/a the “Wankies” is coming to a brewery near you. As usual, we’ll offend the shit out of three or four people. And we’ll make a dozen or so people pinkly happy when they waltz off the stage with their Wanky Award. A couple hundred others will vaguely remember having had a good time and not being arrested, all in the same night.

In any event, this is THE event. Seals will be clubbed. Wankers will be anointed. Friends will get to see each other for the first time since last year with clothes on. All grudges will be checked in at the door except for one or two I’ve been nursing and which are now full-fledged and able to eat on their own.

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As usual it will be free. We’ll celebrate another year of not being @heathevans44, of not being @si_peterking, of not being @jennyvrentas, and mostly of not doing this …

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… and calling it fun. (Yes, that’s the lovely physique of @heathevans44, dude who wants to run over cyclists in his car. Can you say ‘roid rage?)

This year the South Bay Cycling Awards will also serve as the launching pad for the SCNCA’s various racing honors. So after we’ve handed out all the Wanky Awards and all the SCNCA prizes, everyone will literally have gotten a ribbon. There will be no losers.

Except for @heathevans44.

See you there!

END

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Greek salad

August 20, 2016 § 29 Comments

I miss Stathis the Wily Greek, and I’m not the only one.

Stathis was like a roman candle. He rose quickly, surpassed everyone, blew up, and then moved on to something else. As strong as he was as a rider, he was a terrible racer, at least to the extent that his results never really aligned with his prodigious physical strength.

I still remember a photo from the Nosco Ride a couple of years ago. Stathis was cresting Deer Creek ahead of some of America’s top pros. He made everything look easy, especially the uphill stuff. By the time he was breathing hard or struggling, you had long been shelled and kicked to the curb.

The best thing about Stathis was the way he took the fun out of it for everyone else. Cycling, unlike running, has a massive delusional component. You can endlessly manipulate the goal posts to feel good about the fact that you suck. This is in fact the business model of Strava.

Not with Stathis. With him, you always sucked. My second-fondest memory of riding a bicycle happened with Stathis. He had dropped the entire Donut Ride and had attacked me at the bottom of Crest. I’d hung on.

We got about a hundred yards past the wall and he drove over to the double yellow line, cutting off any hope of staying out of the crosswind. He looked back and saw I was still there and attacked. I struggled onto his rear wheel. He looked back and attacked again.

It was a look of amusement mixed with contempt. No quarter, no mercy, no adjustment for our age disparity, no respect for effort, just an icy calculation of “Now.”

It was the most deliberate, cool, piercing jettison job I’d ever experienced. He easily rode away. At the top of the radar domes he nodded, barely acknowledging that I was on a bike, and proceeded to crush the rest of the ride.

I savored that flaying for over a year. It’s rare that someone who is both a friend and a cyclist will destroy you so casually and so intentionally. If he’d been a Greek warrior he would have been Achilles.

And Stathis did that to everyone. One friend confided that he had given up the Flog Ride because there was, mathematically, no chance of ever beating Stathis. When the Wily Greek showed up, dreams took flight, the way investments in penny stocks take flight. Away. Forever.

This angered a lot of people because we cyclists cherish our delusions, kind of like Costco shoppers who think they’re superior to Wal-Mart because their conglomerate pays a higher hourly wage to its slaves or because their luxury eyeglass brands are 15% cheaper than at Lenscrafters, as if Wal-Mart, Costco, and Luxottica aren’t different versions of the same terrible thing.

Stathis didn’t allow you those delusions, and for me, reality, always obscured, enhances life the clearer it gets. Embrace death. Embrace the absence of an afterlife. Embrace crazy. Embrace the fact that you will never be good enough to even see Stathis finish. Embrace suckage.

My best day on a bike also involved Stathis, because I beat him on the same stretch of climb about a year later. Maybe he was sick, or tired, or more likely, he wasn’t even awake. Didn’t matter. By destroying and tattering my illusions hundreds of times, my one tiny “first” meant everything. It was stripped of everything except fact. I savor it still.

Now that Stathis has taken up something else, I’ve been riding up to the top of his cul-de-sac street, which I now know is the steepest and longest climb on the peninsula. I keep hoping that one day I’ll get to the end of the road and see him putting on his running shoes or oiling his pogo stick or adjusting the harness on his hang glider, but I never do.

But that’s the benefit of having good memories. They stick around long after the person who gifted them.

END

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