Falling butterfly

March 24, 2018 § 5 Comments

Bike crashes have one sound: Awful. You’ll be pedaling along, things are going great, and someone crosses a wheel, hooks a handlebar, or hits a pothole behind you and you hear a horrible grinding sound followed by a big smash followed by lots of Grade-A, USAC-Certified cursing, perhaps followed by or simultaneous with groans and cries of pain.

When all that 100% carbon which is full carbon and made of nothing but carbon twists and shouts, it makes your hair stand on end, your stomach churn, and it hits the panic button on every nerve you own.

Safety first!

On Thursday night I was having dinner at Destroyer’s, and after one craft water too many we got to talking about bike safety, specifically about how to teach safety to a complete newbie. I of course had Mrs. WM in mind.

“Relaxation is key,” Destroyer said. “You have to stay relaxed.”

“Pffft,” I said. “You gotta learn CC&E, per my blog post on this subject.”

“Hmmm …” he said. “Well, maybe.”

“CC&E works. Mrs. WM has a 100% safety rate following these Wanky-approved guidelines. Guaranteed.”

“I seem to remember once when you were following those rules and somehow fell off your bike onto your head at the Great Oct. 2013 NPR Group Bicycle Falling Off Incident,” he said.

“An aberration.”

“And the Matter Of The Broken Nutsack on Via del Monte,” he added.

“One off.”

“And that time you slid out in 2012 on the Wheatgrass turning right onto the Reservoir while demonstrating your newly acquired ‘cross skilz.”

“Accidents happen,” I replied.

“And didn’t you crash out your new Specialized Venge and get a concussion that time coming home from NPR when you hopped a curb on Beryl and slid out on an oil slick on the other side of the curb?”

“Who knew there was oil there?” I inquired. “Who?”

“Didn’t you even tell me about your crash at DPGP in 2008 when you fell on the straightaway and Matt Hahn broke his femur?”

“My femur was fine!” I said. “Anyway, aside from all that, my safety practices work.”

Cobley Corner

My wife and I left very early Friday for a coffee ride to Venice. It was wet and cloudy. We joined Michelle at the Pier and continued along the bike path.

After a bit we approached Cobley Corner, the treacherous patch of asphalt that connects the bike path with the parking lot that takes you to the frontage road by Dockweiler RV Park. Cobley Corner is the infamous sandy spot where Surfer Dan slid out during an off-road ride headed to the Santa Monica Mountains with Daniel Holloway, bending Surfer’s rear derailleur a little and bending his tender ego a lot. Sensitive to how he prides himself on his off-road skills, I made sure to name this pancake flat, completely harmless spot “Cobley Corner.” It is now a legend.

Michelle made the turn fine, as did I, though Cobley Corner was covered in wet sand. A few pedal strokes through the corner and I heard the quiet, almost imperceptible scratch of a pedal, then the equally quiet “thump” of carbon and meat on asphalt.

No scraping, no screaming, no grinding, no slamming. Just scratch and bump. “Fuck,” I thought, braking and getting off.

There lay Mrs. WM, splayed out in Cobley Corner like Surfer Dan himself. I hurried over and helped her up. “You okay, honey?” I asked.

“I think so,” she said.

We dusted her off and continued to the coffee shop. She had a few scrapes and bruises, but otherwise got through her baptism by carbon fine.

“I heard nothing!” Michelle later said. “She’s so tiny … falls as quietly as a butterfly!”

Flat pedals rocked

I have no doubt that Yasuko’s injuries were limited to a few scrapes due to the fact that she was wearing sneakers instead of cleats. Otherwise she would have slammed, due to her slow speed, straight down on her hip, which could have been catastrophic.

The night before at Destroyer’s we had talked about that very thing, and about how the impulsive/compulsive requirement that ALL SERIOUS CYCLISTS MUST AT ALL TIMES  WEAR CLEATS AND CLIP-IN PEDALS was stupid and dangerous for most, especially for beginners. As she fell, her foot came off the pedal and cushioned her fall significantly.

Flat pedals are something worth thinking about when someone you care about is getting into cycling, because even butterflies, if they land hard enough, get hurt.

Perhaps more importantly, we quickly treated her scraped elbow with a pack of ice and the most crucial medicament of all, a freshly baked chocolate croissant served with cafe au lait.



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Hey, you, get offa my cloud

March 22, 2018 Comments Off on Hey, you, get offa my cloud

After writing about e-bikes I remembered that someone had once written me about allowing e-bikers to join a dino bike club. Unlike Sam Nunberg’s drunken inability to remember how to use the “search” function in Outlook, I easily found the email. Here’s what I said:

What follows are my personal opinions. I do not represent you or your club (indeed I don’t even know which club you’re in), and I haven’t done any legal research on this issue. If you are facing real or threatened litigation, you should retain legal counsel versed in non-profit law who can guide you on the proper steps to take. My comments below do not represent legal analysis and should not be relied upon to make any legal decisions. As a consequence, no attorney-client relationship is being created by the personal opinions expressed below, and you should have no expectation of confidentiality or privacy with regard to these communications as they are strictly personal and not based on any type of legal consultation or advice. As you say in your email, you are not seeking legal advice and are asking my personal opinion only.

In general, I think that a club is free to admit or deny membership based on whatever criteria it sets forth in its bylaws. That would include excluding e-bikes or motorized riders. I think that a club’s board could amend its bylaws to state that the organization exists to promote non-motorized, non e-bike, human-powered vehicular travel and that participation in group rides is limited to traditional, human-powered bicycles.

While you can’t stop people from hopping into your group rides since the roads are public, I think you are on pretty solid ground to limit your rides and membership to non-e-bike, non-motorized vehicles.

I think there are serious safety issues involved in mixing vehicle types. Speed and weight are the two most obvious ones, but I think there are fundamental problems concerning people on bike rides getting to compensate for their declining strength by using motors. Why not admit electric mopeds or small-displacement e-motorcycles? Why not admit high-powered wheelchairs, at least on flat roads?

If it were me, I would tell the e-bike riders to go form their own club and to ride with someone else. Failing that, I would leave the group or at least not participate in the mixed rides. I have enough problems staying upright without considering the additional parameters of mixed motorized vehicles posing as bicycles.

That said, e-bikes are an amazing innovation that have gotten tens of thousands of people on bikes. They also are mobility enhancing for older and disabled people. I support them and think they’re great, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before I ride with one in a mixed group.

No, my opinion hasn’t “evolved”

It drives me crazy when people say their opinions have evolved. They think that somehow the word “evolved” makes it look more reasoned than ‘fessing up to the truth, which is “I was a dumbass and wrong and now I have changed my mind.”

In other words, I was a dumbass and wrong and now I have changed my mind about these two paragraphs:

I think there are serious safety issues involved in mixing vehicle types. Speed and weight are the two most obvious ones, but I think there are fundamental problems concerning people on bike rides getting to compensate for their declining strength by using motors. Why not admit electric mopeds or small-displacement e-motorcycles? Why not admit high-powered wheelchairs, at least on flat roads?

If it were me, I would tell the e-bike riders to go form their own club and to ride with someone else. Failing that, I would leave the group or at least not participate in the mixed rides. I have enough problems staying upright without considering the additional parameters of mixed motorized vehicles posing as bicycles.

Group rides and e-wankers

The whole point behind the hammer ride is to measure testosterone as expressed by who gets dropped. The more people you drop the more you are #winning. The more you get dropped the more you are getting #trumped, i.e. being #pussygrabbed or #weeniegrabbed.

Mixing vehicle types might be a safety issue if one rider had a throttle and was goosing it mid-pack, but such assholes exist on dino bikes as well, riders who chop your wheel, execute dangerous gutter passes, or hook your bars. They are excoriated and ostracized, just as a misbehaving e-biker would be. Otherwise, e-wankers on hammer rides are just that, people who can’t make the bike go fast with their legs so they do it with a motor, convincing themselves that they really did put out the same effort as the 18-year-old with an ftp of 376 watts. This doesn’t make e-wankers dangerous or a “fundamental problem” on the hammer ride. It just makes them lame.

In fact, for years we’ve had the equivalent of an e-wanker on the Donut Ride, a dude who is very fit and fast who hops in mid-ride on one of the climbs and puts scores of people to the sword simply because he’s fresh. He isn’t a safety issue, he’s an ego issue who quickly deflates the carefully nurtured self-perceptions of all the people he passes. As long as your e-bike isn’t dragging a wagon or running handlebars that stick out to Houston, go ahead and hop in with your crazy delusions about fitness and speed.

Why is that okay? Because we’re all delusional in varying degrees and it doesn’t make sense to punish one group of whackos any more than another.

But what about the Flog?

Every Thursday morning there’s a fitness ride that leaves Malaga Cove at 6:35 AM, pointy-sharp. The point of the ride is to do intervals. It is a bastion of #profamateurism, delusion, and efforts so hard that they actually make people vomit.

What about on the Flog? What are we gonna do when some brokedown e-wanker shows up and wins all the sprunts? Dusts us up La Cuesta? Slaughters us on the golf course wall?

We are going to do the same thing we’d do if he or she were on a dino bike. Explain the course, explain the etiquette, explain the safety rules, and ride our fuggin’ bikes. Because not only are more bikes on the street a good thing, but my delusions are too old, too thick, and too impervious to be punctured by your electric motor.



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March 10, 2018 § 6 Comments

I used to know a carpenter in Texas named, perhaps not surprisingly, Joe Bob. Joe Bob had a lot of problems in life, but carpentry was not one of them. He weighed about 300 lbs., had heart disease, was divorced four times, had spent time in prison for child sexual assault, was a hardened alcoholic (“I ain’t a drunk ‘cuz I refuse to have a drink before five o’clock”), and lived in trailer on the southeast side of Austin when that was where poor people lived.

“Carpentry,” Joe Bob liked to say “ain’t hard. Long as everything is plumb, staight, and level, it’s gonna hold up good. Plumb, straight, and level. That’s pretty much all you gotta know.”

He made it sound simple, but if you’ve ever tried to get two pieces of wood to join so that they are plumb, straight, or level, much less all three, you know that there’s a reason good carpenters are called craftsmen, and great ones are called masters.


I have never been good at mentoring or coaching in general, and with regards to cycling I am pretty much a nega-mentor. My basic belief is that if you are new to cycling, that is a great time to quit. Every now and then someone will ask, directly or indirectly, for some bicycle coaching/mentoring, and my position is always the same: I don’t know enough to teach, and even if I did, I wouldn’t teach you.

No hard feelings, but IDGAF about your cycling progress. I learned everything on my own, the hard way, which is why I’m not very good at it, and the last thing I want to do is bother my ugly little head about your particular cycling goals. More importantly, or rather most importantly, I don’t want to be responsible for anything that happens to you on your bike which, by the way, you should sell.

Still, despite a lifetime of nega-coaching, I finally wound up with a student I couldn’t shake, my wife. And that’s when all of the nega-coaching had to go out the door, which I realized on our first terrifying bike ride together. It’s true I’m mostly ignorant and 100% not any good, but compared to someone just starting out, it turns out that I actually know a lot, and I realized this because every pedal stroke my brain was essentially screaming “OH FUCK! OH FUCK! OH FUCK!” as eight billion catastrophes were narrowly avoided and every terrible bicycling habit known to man put itself on full display.

To make things worse, she loved it. “That was so much fun!” she said as I went quietly into the bedroom and sobbed.

Breaking it down

As I lay dying, er, crying, I tried to figure out what in the world I was going to do. This was a person I loved who was now riding a bicycle at a somewhat-greater-than-spring-chicken point in her life, and doing it in an area with lots of elevation and lots of traffic. The things that needed fixing were endless. Who was going to fix them?

Not me, that’s for sure. On the other hand, neither would anyone else. If I threw her to the group ride sharks she’d learn all their bad habits, or more likely, have a severe bicycle falling off incident before she even had the chance to permanently ingrain horrible habits.

Clearly the job was getting tossed back in my lap, but that didn’t solve much. Where to start? Everything was wrong. What to fix? Everything was broken.

So I turned to the place that has never helped me solve any problem, ever, the Internet. I googled “What do beginning cyclists need to know?” and what I came up with felt like throwing your hook into the bay and hauling out an old tire, followed by a tin can, followed by a car battery, followed by a corpse.

For example, this genius defines mission critical things as making friends, visiting bike shops, and fixing flats. These d-bags tell you it’s all about the gear, with a few throwaway links to riding in traffic. Naturally, Bicycling.com has a list of completely useless suggestions that will do zip to keep you alive or, more importantly, to make you a better bicycle rider.

The list of stupid things that won’t help is endless, which makes sense because hardly anyone knows how to ride a bike well. So how could they possible tell anyone else how to do it? This led me to the key question of “What is riding well?” I had to think about it a lot, and here’s what I came up with.

For a beginner, riding well means not getting hurt. Pretty much the same thing for a pro, now that you think about it. In fact, that’s all I cared about with regard to my wife. I didn’t care how well she climbed, descended, what gear she had, or how she looked. I just wanted her to not get hurt. Even distilling that bit of sound sense took a lot of effort. But how to do it?

The problem with teaching anyone anything on a bike

… is that there is too much going on. They are having fun. They are chatting. Looking around. Flubbing with their gears. Swerving hither and yon. Fiddling with their computer. Trying unclip before they crash onto their side at the next light and take you out with them.

It seemed like the first obstacle to learning anything was fun and chatting. Biking looks so easy when you are watching experienced riders ride and talk, but the people who are good are also seeing a lot of other things, and beneath the chatter is a very focused attention on what’s happening on the road. The newbie chatterer’s brain sees nothing, understands nothing, and is happily gabbing until “Whoa! Where did that red light/pothole/dump truck come from?” Smash, sirens, huge ER bill, rod in femur.

In other words, the predicate for learning on a bike seems to be that you have to take it seriously. As much as I hate that word related to cycling, when it comes to staying alive, serious attentiveness is way more important than anything else, and you can’t be attentive as a beginner with your mouth gaping like a fish as you talk a mile a minute. Once the ground rule of “NO FUN” was established, things got a lot easier. Sure, there were a million things going on at any given moment, but staying alive and unhurt could be reduced to a few simple elements.


Like Joe Bob, who could sum up carpentry as plumb, straight, and level, I summed up biking for my wife as “Close, cadence, and even.” These three things would keep her alive and they would, once mastered, make her a better bike rider than 99% of the cyclists out there.

Close. Have you ever noticed how most people on bicycles wander all over the roadway, like grazing goats going in whatever direction the grass happens to be? That’s because they don’t know how to ride in a straight line. The quickest way to get your shit tamed and start riding in a straight line is to ride close to someone else. Really close. Bar-to-bar close.

If you can’t ride close, you can’t control the fine movements of your bike that often make the difference between hitting or avoiding something that will knock you down. Bar-to-bar riding also forces you to ride straight, the single most important aspect of proper bike handling. If you are a few centimeters away from someone’s bars and you don’t ride straight, you will hit them.

Proximity also accustoms you to contact and teaches you how to deal with bumps and how not to freak out simply because someone’s shoulder or bars touched yours. It also begins teaching you the lifesaving skill of how to put your bike exactly where you want it. So many riders with decades of riding under their belt are clumsy, jerky, and astonishingly poor at actually guiding their bike–a big reason that they fall down. Nor can they navigate in narrow spaces. The closer you ride the straighter and more steady your shit will get.

Cadence. Beginning cyclists have no idea which gear to use, or how to shift in anticipation of a gradient, coming to a stop, or going downhill, or even how to maintain a proper cadence on flat ground. This cluelessness comes at a cost, because the wrong gears makes everything worse, whether that means leaving from a dead stop in your 53 x 11, or whether it means trying to shift out of your big ring on a sudden 15% grade, only to throw your chain and clump over on your side, possible breaking a hip, elbow, shoulder, or toenail.

Riding at the right cadence is everything, but what is “right”? Well, in my nega-mentor scenario, it’s pretty simple. “Pedal like I’m pedaling.” You have an open book in front of you that is always turned to the right page with regard to cadence. Pay attention to it and imitate it. Once you’re watching the person in the right cadence, it takes all the guesswork out of it and you learn which gear to use and you learn to shift before things happen, rather than when it’s too late.

Having someone whose cadence you can imitate also allows the rider to quit thinking about gears/gear ratios and other complex topics, and dumbs it down to monkey see, monkey do. If you’re the one being imitated, it also saves you from the horror of having to explain what gear ratios are, why they matter, and how to use them. My instruction is “Are your legs moving as fast as mine? Yes? You’re in the right gear. No? Change gears.” Being in the right gear maximizes your ability to maneuver and steer, and greatly affects your stability on the bike and therefore safety. If you don’t have someone you can ride with who knows how to pedal, you’re screwed. Sorry.

Even. Good riding is attentive riding, and the one thing that will help your attentiveness more than any other is learning to ride with your front wheel exactly even with the person next to. Expressed as a negative, don’t half-wheel. It takes huge concentration for beginners to ride even wheeled, and combined with close riding quickly teaches you almost everything you need to know about controlling your bike.

The majority of supposedly skilled racers I know are unfamiliar with half-wheeling. For a new cyclist, learning to keep your front wheel even with your partner’s will further straighten you out and keep you from wobbling. In other words, closeness and even wheels make you ride straight. Of course riding in a straight line is calculus for most people who ride; they can’t do it because they don’t know how and because no one has told them, or wants to take the time to be constantly telling them that they are veering around like a boat in a typhoon with a broken rudder.

All together, now!

These combined three things are incredibly simple but take extraordinary concentration to do every moment you’re riding until you get used to it, which is why most people simply can’t do it. When you forget about fun, about convo, about enjoyment, and you focus solely on avoiding death and injury, these three skills work wonders. There are other things as well, but that raises another problem. New riders are overloaded with information, tips, advice, and suggestions. New riders can’t prioritize and don’t know which ones are mission critical (riding close), and which ones are almost but not quite as important (matchy-matchy socks).

Giving a new rider three simple things to master, things which are simple to understand but which take lots of practice, is the best and most important way to teach critical skills without falling into the boiling cauldron of Internet new rider tips. Even if you disagree with these three items (which would make you wrong), solid riding skills are based on mastery of bike control and movement with and around other riders. Although there are many other things that you could also teach, any new rider has his hands absolutely full mastering even a single skill.

In a few short weeks my wife has learned to ride bar-to-bar, ride even-wheeled, and has figured out by slavish imitation what the right cadence for various conditions feels like. I’m still a nega-coach and am actively discouraging new clients, but at the end of the day I want her, and you, to get home safely. After a few years it would also be cool if you enjoyed it, too.

As we leaky prostate racers say at the end of every race when some whippersnapper asks us how we did, the answer is the same for a new rider as it is for a grizzled, sour, wrinkled, sag-bottomed veteran: “If you go home with all the skin you came with, you won.”



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10 habits of highly successful cyclists

March 8, 2018 § 1 Comment

You know that rider who always kicks your butt, and mostly everyone else’s? That crazy skilled, amazingly fast, deadly efficient two-wheeled assassin who always seems to be in the mix or at the top of every ride, every climb, every ride? Well, she didn’t get that way eating donuts for lunch. She followed some rules and turned those rules into habits. Here they are. Follow ’em and you will be the top dog, too.

  1. Choose great genes. Successful cyclists have excellent genes that give them long legs relative to the length of their torso, a strong heart, and strong lungs. Winning cycling genes also include an ectomorphic makeup, and the ability to make huge adaptations at the mitochondrial level. If you want to smash, make sure you choose good genes; bypass the ones for donut addiction, pain aversion, sloth, and good mental health.
  2. Avoid distractions. Wannabe riders are easily distracted by children, spouses, significant others, jobs, intellectual interests, music, art, friendship, relaxation, travel, and a whole host of activities that will absolutely ruin your training plan. Ditch that shit now and focus on what matters.
  3. Invest wisely. Traditional financial planning eschews spending lots of money on quickly depreciating assets made of carbon, and instead suggests that wise investors should spend money on things likely to accrue value, such as real estate. That is #fakenews. Going fast mean plunging every last cent into carbon everything that begins depreciating the moment you wipe your drool off it in the bike shop.
  4. Eat to win. Nutritionists know that we spend about 38,000 hours over our lifetime eating and drinking, or approximately four entire years. Strong cyclists know that about 36,000 of those hours are spent eating donuts, so they focus on avoiding junk food and instead consuming only specially prepared citrus-flavored energy drinks instead.
  5. Stick to the plan. Freddie McFredsters are easily derailed from coach’s training plan by cold, rain, sleet, snow, hurricanes, typhoon, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and sleep apnea. Successful cyclists always follow the plan, no matter how stupid it is, for example, 20 minute repeats of ANYTHING.
  6. Sleep like a pro. The best cyclists sleep like a boss. This means going to bed early, waking up late, napping frequently, calling in sick as often as possible, collecting Social Security disability and unemployment benefits, and knowing when to be awake (while riding) and when to be sawing logs (most of the rest of the day).
  7. Dress for success. Most cycling success begins with appearance. Studies in the wind tunnel show that proper aero equipment worn at all times, for example, speed suits on coffee cruises, telegraphs that you are there to win 100% of the time. If you belong to a club or team with the word “serious” in it, or are required to sign anti-doping pledges for your hobby race club, chances are good you live on the podium.
  8. Dope, obviously. Nothing strikes fear into the heart of your fellow coffee cruisemates more than the sudden appearance of 2% body fat in a 55 year-old gentleman, or sustained 6 w/kg efforts from a Cat 4 rider. Secrecy, vague allusions to “special preparations,” and attributing your success to oatmeal and raisins lets everyone know you’re on the program. The winning one, that is.
  9. Cardboard. Nothing will make you ride better more quickly than getting kicked out by your girlfriend and having to live in a cardboard box, especially in winter, in Chicago. Mean streets make mean competitors.
  10. Coaching. There used to be a time when good riders imitated others, raced a lot, gleaned information they could from more experienced athletes, and improved through trial and error. Success today comes from the barrel of an Internet coach, someone who can provide you with detailed physiological, psychological, and scientific training regimens that take all the speculation, and therefore fun, out of racing yer fuggin’ bike. Because if you were in it for fun, you wouldn’t be in it.



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Speed multiplier

February 13, 2018 § 15 Comments

Do people get hurt worse now than they used to?

My memory was faulty even when it was perfect, but I don’t remember people falling off their bikes and getting hurt as much as they do now. There was a guy one time who I didn’t know back in ’85 who was getting chased by a dog up around Georgetown, and he fell off and hit his head and died. That was considered a pretty legit injury back then, dying.

People talked about it a lot and about how when your number was up, well, better go ahead and make arrangements at the funeral parlor. There was a lot of fatalism. There was also a lot of helmet bashing, because the guy had been wearing a Bell Biker. Remember those? They were the size of a small motor home, and weighed like one, too. Everyone nodded grimly about how helmets were worthless and whatnot.

But people still didn’t seem to get hurt like they do now, and no one wore a helmet. Broken hips weren’t simply a rarity; I’d never heard of it happening. People had bicycle falling off incidents all the time in races, in fact bike racing was a euphemism for that, and they almost always hopped back on and finished the race. Road rash was pretty much the worst thing you could get, that and a badly busted ego.

And training rides were mostly injury free, even though a lot of the guys I rode with were always stoned. Or maybe it’s because they were stoned, I don’t know. Some wanker would fall off his bike and take down another couple of idiots, there would be some cussing and finger pointing, and we would continue on.

Nowadays it isn’t that way. I couldn’t list all the people who have suffered serious injuries if I tried, and those are the people I personally know. Broken humerus, broken hip, broken neck, broken spine, closed head injury, broken hand, severed digit, broken knee, facial fracture, death, catastrophic brain injury, paralysis … the list is endless, and I don’t think it’s just because I’m a lot older and have therefore ridden a lot more miles and seen a lot more falls, or just because my job is “bike injury lawyer,” although those are surely factors.

I think the reason people get hurt more, and get hurt more badly, is because they go faster than they used to. And I think the main reason they go faster than they used to is because of equipment.

The biggest speed multiplier is of course wheels. Used to be, the only fast wheels were aluminum-rim tubulars, and the only people who had them were racers. Even those wheels weren’t that fast; thirty-six spoke, box rim, metal wheels were standard “race wheels,” with “blazing fast” wheels having 32 or 28 spokes. Those wheels were slow. Heavy and slow and soft.

The bikes were heavy and mushy and there weren’t a whole lot of gears, and what also slowed you down was the fact that you couldn’t magically change gears with the flick of an index shifter. In sum, bikes go a lot faster today than they used to; 2-3 miles per hour, easy, probably closer to 5-6. I remember when, if you averaged 18 mph on a training ride you pretty much had to be scraped off the saddle with a spatula. People average 20 now without even batting an eye, to say nothing of 23, 24, and up.

Just look at what aero has done to triathlon, and how many tri-dorks get hurt in training and racing. You may think that riding by yourself is as safe as it gets, but I know one idiot who bought a fancy TT bike, went down to Fiesta Island, and broke his neck because he lost control in the start/finish area. The bikes go crazy fast, and the combination of fast wheels, low profile, narrow bars, twitchy front end, and basement-level IQ means that the risk for falling is higher than it used to be.

And the speeds may not sound like much, but when your average speed is around 16 or 17, and it goes up to 23 (or 27-28 if you’re on a TT bike), the potential for crashing jumps exponentially. The decrease in reaction time isn’t linear, and the same goes for the impact when your meatbag comes off the bicycle and slams onto the asphalt. Falling at 17 is nothing like falling at 28; just ask Fiesta Island Brokeneck. And of course top ends are higher because those light bikes with fast wheels can easily hit the low 30’s. Throw in a tailwind and a light downhill grade and you’re in the mid-high 30’s as a Cat 5.

The low 30’s … remember those? Those used to be the finishing speeds of people who won real bike races. Now it just means you were mid-pack. And some middle-aged dude on a crazy light, crazy fast bike pedaling like mad on the weekend ride can hit those speeds almost as easily as he can hit the pavement, with catastrophic results.

There are probably other force multipliers, such as the false sense of security people get from helmets, the number of people who get into cycling with no previous riding background, older and frailer riders, more cars on the roads, and the omnipresent quotient of dumbfuckery among the general human population, but it seems to me that the faster you go, the harder you’re gonna fall.



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Hard lean

February 11, 2018 § 5 Comments

It’s funny how you can remember certain things very clearly. I don’t know how many times I have gone fast around a corner in my life, but I bet it’s a bunch. Of all the times, though, there is one turn I remember more than any other.

It was around Christmastime in 1989. I was living in Bad Godesberg with my wife and daughter, at the Studentenwohnheim Rheinallee. Most days before school I would hop on my blue Eddy Merckx, drop down to the river and go up the bike path a couple of miles to the bridge at Hochkreuz. From there I’d cross over and ride in the hills along the river for an hour or two, then cross back over and come home.

In winter it was always good riding. Wet, cold, and lots of cobbled, stony roads that zigged up, zagged down, and never had any traffic. One of the places I always ended up was on a dead end called Adriansberg, in  Königswinter. It was a brute climb and ended in gravel for the last couple of hundred yards. From there I’d drop back over to Dollendorfer Street and bomb full bore back into  Königswinter.

There was one huge hook turn, a right-hander, and this was decades before Strava so I never knew how fast it was, but it was fast, screamingly fast, all-in fast, so fast that you made yourself small, leaned, leaned, leaned, leaned, and then popped back up like a cork, zooming on back to the Rhine and safety and home. I did that descent so many times that I kind of forgot how fast it was. Of course I’d see it, set up for it, lean into it, and get a little thrill, but then continue on with my ride … special but not that special.

Anyway, this particular December my good friend Jeff Fields had come to visit, and he’d brought his bike. Do you know what kind of friend brings his bike to ride with you in winter in Germany? A good friend, that’s what kind. Jeff was also a real, real good bike handler. I had never seen him fall, or even come close to falling. He had nerves of steel.

Jeff had raced in Belgium and knew what he was in for, so we suited up and rolled out in that light freezing drizzle. “Any fool can ride home in a cold rain,” Jeff always liked to say, “but it takes a hard bastard to start out in it.”

We crossed the river and began doing the climbs in the Siebengebirge, the beautiful expanse of hills on the far side of the Rhine. When we got to Adriansberg, we were pretty done, but we raced up it anyway. As we headed home, gathering speed down Dollendorfer Street, I rolled in front of Jeff. “I know the route,” I said. He nodded.

In a flash the turn was there, and we were absolutely flying. I’d done it a hundred times before, in harder rain and worse weather than this. Unusually, there was traffic in the other direction, so it crossed my mind, fleetingly, that this would be a bad day to lay it down and slide into the oncoming travel lane.

The turn reared up in front of me but I wasn’t scared. My tires were glued on well, they had plenty of tread, I was running them slightly underinflated to make them stickier, and when the g’s began to pull I  leaned against their tug, the bike pushing farther and farther and farther, the road getting closer and closer and closer, until it popped back up, just like it always did, squirting me out of the apex like the world’s most well-lubed watermelon seed.

A minute later Jeff caught up to me. He grabbed my jersey. “Hey,” he said.

I looked and he was absolutely white, a hue I’d never seen on his face before. “Yeah?”

“That turn,” he said. “I thought you were going down. No way you were going to hold that.”

“Oh, that? I do it all the time.”

He shook his head and let go. “Never seen anything like that in my life.”

A lot of things went through my head just then, not least of which being that Jeff had trained and raced with some of the world’s best. Suddenly I started shaking from fear, but it was too late, I’d already won.



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“No drop” ride

February 10, 2018 § 1 Comment

Some of my friends over on the West Side sent me an invitation to a “no drop” ride going off this morning, Saturday, Feb. 10, and asked me to let others know they are welcome. Others, you are welcome.

Here are the details: Join the 2018 Subaru Santa Monica Racing powered by Alfa team for a fun day out on the bike! We will be meeting at Subaru Santa Monica at 7:30 AM. Subaru Santa Monica will be providing complimentary pastries and coffee. This is a no drop ride, and we will be riding out to Trancas and back on PCH, approximately 45 miles round trip.

I would dearly love to attend this ride but it runs afoul of a couple of items. First, I’m still recovering from the “Influence,” and by the time I pedal out to Santa Monica and back it’s going to already be forty miles. Instead of that I will probably go pedal around the hill on our local Donut Ride. If that doesn’t cure me of my bad case of the Influence, I don’t know what will.

In case you’re wondering what the Influence is, it’s the English translation of “influenza.” A long time ago they thought that the flu was caused due to the influence of astrological signs, whereas now they think it is caused by the influence of pigs and birds and things, which is why I like science. It really clears things up. (Factoid: There are half a million flu viruses in every flu sneeze!)

The second reason I can’t in good conscience do this no drop ride is because I don’t ever do no drop rides. They are generally a colossal lie even on the best of days, and they are something that doesn’t sit very well with me.

The basic idea behind no drop rides is that people will ride together, chat, and have fun. I remember doing a ride like that once. People did ride together, and they did chat, and they did have fun until some people started riding faster than other people and pretty soon it was a drop ride, the only difference being that folks who’d been lured out on the pretext of a no drop ride found themselves alone, off the back, 80 miles from home and even farther from fun than when they had started. Plus, when they got back to the barn all the beer was gone.

Still, I know the Subaru Santa Monica Racing folks pretty well and if they say it’s a no drop ride, I’m inclined to believe them about two or three percent, which is way more than when other bike racers call a no drop ride. The reason I think they may actually pull off a no drop ride is because their sponsor appears to be involved, which is generally the only thing that will ever make a bike racer not drop you when she can.

But even if it does turn out to be a drop ride, the weather forecast is sunny and warm, so if you haven’t figured out what to do this morning, now you have a plan. And no matter what your fitness is, if you get there early enough you won’t get dropped before coffee and pastries.




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About Cycling in the South Bay: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.


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