Evasive action

July 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

I woke up in my hotel room in Cologne. Cologne is one of the most beautiful cities in the world because of its world-famous cathedral, which is known worldwide for its gorgeous beauty, which is known worldwide.

I know about the world famous beauty of the famed and beautiful Cologne cathedral because twenty-five years ago I had biked over from Bonn to watch the Cologne Six-Day. It was rainy and pitch black outside, and smoky and dim indoors. I was there until midnight and an old man chain smoking no-filters prattled endlessly into my ear. Every few minutes he would cough up a big yellow piece of phlegm or lung into his hand, inspect it, wipe it onto his handkerchief, and clap me on the back.

“Cologne,” he said, “is one of the most beautiful cities in the world!”

“Really?” I’d say as I tried to keep track of who was doing what, which in a six-day is kind of like trying to figure out who’s actually running Greece. It seemed like every time they rang a bell Etienne de Wilde would scamper out from the group and be first, but I still wasn’t sure, and after four hours all I really knew was that Cologne was one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

I pedaled home in the pitch black, rainy night and never went back but the old man did such good job that whenever I thought about Cologne thereafter, as I was doing this morning, I automatically knew it was the most beautiful city in the world.

Of course I had no intention of exploring the city and confirming it’s beauty. Why shatter an image that had held true my entire adult life? Instead this morning I had two major objectives:

  1. Buy bicycles so we could do a bicycle trip.
  2. Avoid MB Jens.

MB Jens had shown up  in the South Bay a week ago on vacation. He had lived in the South Bay for five years on assignment and during that time had made many lifelong friendships despite being a world-class skinflint.

For his vacation he had sent out several hundred form emails requesting a place to stay, a bicycle, plenty of food, transportation, and laundry service. All of his dear friends were busy whatever week he planned to be there except two, one with a bike and one with a bed and car and laundry service.

Before he left to return to Germany, he insisted we get together. “I will make the whole day free for you and your son. We can do big hammer ride on the bicycles.”

“We’ll be on department store bikes in jeans and my son isn’t a compote titmice cyclist.’

“That is okay. We will hammer for only eighty miles and make into strong young German man. I have all the week for you open. It is only that I cannot meet with you on the 16th. What day will you be in Koblenz?”

“The 16th.”

“That is too bad,” he said. “I will try to rearrange my schedule.”

I went down to the breakfast bar at our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express in Troisdorf. I was ravenous. Our flight had gotten in at midnight. The Cologne airport was gleaming and beautiful and modern; it was nothing like the shed crammed with smelly people it had been in 1989. We were whisked down to the rail station.

Woodrow figured out the timetable, cost, denomination, and departure track. I jammed the machine and broke it. “Why don’t we take a taxi?” He asked.

“We’ll save money. Plus, everything is close in Europe.”

“The train doesn’t come until one.”

“That can’t be right. In Europe the trains come every few minutes.”

We went down to the track and the train came at one. It was filled with drunk teenagers. We alit at Troisdorf, a tiny stop. There were no people or taxis.

“Oh, well, we can walk. How far can it be?”

Woodrow mapped it on my phone just before it died. “Three miles.”

We only got lost four or five times and were sound asleep by three-thirty.


No bull in Istanbul

July 11, 2015 § 12 Comments

The phone rang. It was Jan. We were a few hours from leaving. I had messaged him on Facegag an hour before.

“We’re coming to Bonn next week. Let’s get lunch.” I hadn’t seen Jan since 1990.

“Man!” He said. “I can’t believe it’s you! My house is your house. Stay as long as you want! When are you arriving?”
That was pure Jan. 

“Uh, I’m not sure.” That of course was pure me. “How’s Wednesday?”

“Perfect! Call me when you get to the station or wherever and I’ll come get you! Fantastic to hear your voice, old friend!”

Many hours later I was standing in front of the economy pooper with a bladder overburdened by ten cups of coffee. A woman ushered her young son in front of me. “He’ll be done in a jiffy!” She promised.

A few moments later he emerged and I dashed in. The boy, clearly preparing for a career as a gardener, had done a stand-up watering job of the entire compartment. I was in my socks and didn’t realize the state of affairs until I’d entered and the warm pee soaked into my heels.

Thank goodness I had two pairs for the 21-day trip. I backed out and stood in front of the other one. I stood there for ten minutes, my teeth chattering, as groans followed by flushes came from behind the door. Eventually a rotund old fellow who had been in there long enough to finish a biography of Churchill emerged, looking very pleased with himself.

Inside it was clean except for the overpowering fumes, which had a bouquet of curry with hints of corn and undertones of dead goat.

We had begun our cross-Germany bicycle ride the old-fashioned way; walking. I saw a great teaching moment and seized it with both fangs. “Son,” I said to my 17-year-old as we walked down the hill with nothing but two small backpacks, “from time immemorial this is how mankind traveled.”

He looked at me funny. “Really? Uber?”
The arrival of the shiny white minivan spoiled the effect somewhat but I ignored it as we climbed in.

“This is my first day,” said the driver. “I’m from Armenia. Which airline?”

“Uh, Turkish Air,” I mumbled. It was very quiet the rest of the ride.

Aboard the plane and wedged tightly in the seat next to me was a woman going to Serbia, or Slovenia, or Srbrenica, and she was unhappy with the seat, the food, the service, and perhaps her neighbor. “Isn’t this terrible?” she asked. “I don’t know how I’ll survive thirteen hours in this trash compactor.”

I could only think about General William T. Sherman, when he hot reassigned from Ohio to Monterey, CA in 1848. His trip to the West Coast took two weeks …. to get to New York. Then it took another 220 days to sail around the tip of South America, where they had rough seas for “only” forty straight days. When they reached Monterey Bay their ship sank and all would have drowned had a boat not seen them and rowed out two miles to rescue them.

I looked at my neighbor. “Oh, it’s not so bad.”

We reached Istanbul and no one got their throat slit. As we sat in the steel prison chairs during our five-hour layover, I started thinking about our bike trip. “Hey, Woodrow,” I said.


“We’re gonna need some bikes.”

He sighed. “Ya think?”


The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 13: The sitting muscle

July 8, 2015 § 12 Comments

I don’t know if he ever really said it.


Rich Meeker is supposed to have said something like this: “Masters racers train too hard and ride too much.”

Now, then.

Please check in all nasty comments about Rich at the door to the Internet, or refer to one of my earlier posts and pile on there. Just because someone cheated doesn’t mean they aren’t smart about their sport.

For over 30 years people have been telling me variations of “You train too hard and ride too much,” to which I always politely smiled while thinking, “WTF do you know? Where were you on the Donut Ride?” Right, Elron?

Of course on race day those know-it-alls are on the podium and I’m DNF because “no legs today.”

Turns out, they knew a lot. Masters racers, apparently, train too hard and ride too much. “Oh, yeah?” I can hear you Wankophizing. “Too much for what?”

Too much to do well at races, that’s what.

“Well, who cares about racing?” I can hear you shout back.

“Only the people who pay entry fees and show up to race.” In other words, ME. And YOU.

Of course it doesn’t matter what people say to me. My mind is ten million impermeable layers of granite, especially when it comes to cycling. I know everything, and what I don’t know isn’t worth knowing.

“Yeah,” Fields once said, “but the problem is that what you know isn’t worth knowing either.”

Then one day a very helpful pro (“What does he know?”) suggested that masters racers train too hard and ride too much. I ignored him while nodding wisely in assent.

But something made me listen, even though it was a few weeks after the fact. My 51-year-old body, whose recovery slows each year like a tiny pebble rolling uphill through a massive pit of wet cement, refused one morning to do what I demanded of it.

“I wonder if I’m tired? I mean, like, permanently.” I thought about an old blues musician from New Orleans who, in his 80’s, was asked how he felt as he sat on the corner strumming his guitar. He considered the question briefly, and looked at the eager tourist who was desperate for the aged musician to utter some reaffirming words about a life fulfilled from singing the blues.

“I reckon,” the man said, “that I feel like an old worn out shoe.” Was I, too, becoming a Converse All-Star that had been to one hipster convention too many?

I tried to ride my bike that morning and did so, without vigor. And from that point on I started exercising my sitting muscle. Throughout the race season, which in California runs from January 1 to about December 31, I have only ridden hard once, maximum twice, during the week, to wit:

  • Monday: Nothing or easy pedal
  • Tuesday: One 5-minute effort on the NPR or full gas 1-hour effort
  • Wednesday: Coffee cruise
  • Thursday: 60-minute full-gas Flog Ride, or 60-minute easy pedal depending on what I did on Tuesday
  • Friday: Coffee cruise
  • Saturday: Race or Donut with full sprinkles and choco pain glaze
  • Sunday: Easy Wheatgrass cruise

My results are as follows:

  • Still feel like racing in June, as opposed to weakening in Feb., cratering in Mar., and giving up after the BWR in April.
  • Legs feel fresh
  • Reduced reliance on Chinese doping products
  • A baby’s handful of good race results, i.e. a single top-50 and no crashes

They say less is more, which is definitely not true for money or penis length. But for masters racing, ol’ Meeker the Beaker may have known what he was talking about.



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Peewee’s big adventure

July 6, 2015 § 34 Comments

When my wife, daughter, and I arrived in Bonn, Germany, in August 1989, the country was divided into two nations, one democratic and capitalist, the other autocratic and socialist. A few months later the Berlin Wall had fallen and the socialist regime in the DDR had collapsed. By the time we left, in June 1990, Germany was a few short weeks away from formal reunification.

I returned in 1995 for a brief visit that was marked mostly by herding my small children and trying to avoid death on the autobahn in my rental Dodge Neon, whose maximum speed, fully loaded, was barely 60 mph. We visited our friends the Mekkis and were only in Germany for a few days. I noticed little and remember less.

Last year I visited my eldest son in Berlin, another brief, five-day trip. I was blown away. While living in Bonn-Bad Godesberg I had never been to Berlin. The night the wall came down, my friend Jan Volek and I drove to the border crossing at Hildesheim, entered East Germany, and got caught up in one of the most famous traffic jams of all time: a several hundred kilometer “stau” all the way to Berlin. We were running out of gas and he had exams the next morning, so we became the first people in history to go from East Germany to West with our car in reverse on the autobahn through the military checkpoint without stopping or being shot at.

Since my visit last summer I’ve been planning another trip to Germany. This will be a bike trip. My youngest son, who is seventeen, will accompany me to Cologne, where we will buy a pair of department store bikes and pedal across the country to Berlin. It should be about 800 miles if we don’t make too many wrong turns and if we don’t have to take too much evasive action to avoid our German stalker, Jens the Biker from Manhattan Beach.

I should add that my son doesn’t hardly ever ride a bike. Also, being able to count to ten and ask the age of one’s wife, I consider myself to be rather bilingual.

I like to travel light, so here is what I’m taking for the 21-day trip, including the clothes I will be wearing.

  1. Small backpack
  2. Pants: 2 pair, one long, one short
  3. Underwear: 2 pair
  4. Socks: 2 pair
  5. Bike multi-tool that I don’t know how to use: 1
  6. Tire lever: 1
  7. Shoes: 1 pair of sneakers
  8. Shirts: 2, one long-sleeve, one short
  9. Belt: 1
  10. Rain cape: 1
  11. Toothbrush: 1
  12. Dental floss: 1 roll
  13. Toothpaste: 1 tube
  14. Passport
  15. Credit card: 2
  16. Cash: $500 Euros
  17. Hat: 1 SPY trucker gimme cap
  18. Pen: 1
  19. Notebook: 1
  20. Phone: iPhone 4, badly scratched but still has cool orange SPY sticker on it
  21. Book: 1, Undetermined
  22. Eyeglasses: 1 pair SPY Rx
  23. Sunglasses: I pair SPY Rx

Since we don’t know how far we’ll get each a day or where we’ll end up, we’ve decided to use Air B&B. Our first night is a really cool place in the corner of a Vietnamese student’s apartment for $11. After that we will look for more reasonably priced accommodations.

I think that should cover it. Istanbul, here we come. Glad my eldest son is staying home and manning the fort to shoot and kill potential thieves intent on stealing my other two pair of undershorts.



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Pass me another serving of grenades, please

July 5, 2015 § 13 Comments

We overtook the Team Helen’s/Santa Monica BMW guys on Ocean and I noticed that in the midst of their stylish blue-white-red kits there was an orange helmet. The rider was rail thin and wearing an Optum kit. I checked his top tube and it said “Phil Gaimon.”

So I knew that the 2015 July 4th Holiday Ride was going to be hard.

Me about to show this wanker how to ride a bike.

Me about to show this wanker how to ride a bike. Photo courtesy of South Bay Baby Seal.

It turns out that Gaimon, who’s one of the nicest people around, showed up to help the Helen’s guys retake their Mandeville KOM, formerly owned by local legend Tony Manzella and recently usurped by Nick Brandt-Sorenson, the infamous masters racer who received a two-year suspension after testing positive for naughty substances at masters nationals in Bend, Oregon in 2011, where he won both road and the crit titles and then de-won them after the pee-pee test.

To my way of thinking, Strava KOM’s are the one place that doping and dopers should be encouraged, since the whole compete-on-Strava thing is a totally bogus shit show to begin with, but whatever … my immediate problem was figuring out how a 51-year-old freddie would stay in the same county as the top pro road racer in the country.

The short answer, of course, is “ain’t gonna happen,” and it didn’t. But when we turned onto Mandeville Canyon Road for the 6-mile, 16-minute climb, it sure seemed like it might. Then Phil went to the front and five seconds later the dream died stillborn.

I was behind Frenchy the Younger, seven bikes back. In the rear I could hear the pounding and mashing of the massive fredoton which included well over 200 idiots like me who thought that we were really going to get a chance to ride against Phil Gaimon.

The Mandeville Canyon climb is very gradual, and never starts to hurt until the halfway point. We hadn’t finished the first quarter mile and over a hundred riders had evaporated into a mist of seized muscles and irreparably ruined (until tomorrow) egos. My legs hurt in that first quarter mile the way they usually hurt in the last.

After the white picket fence that marks the halfway point, U23 Hagens-Berman pro and Eagle Scout Diego Binatena leaped away from what was now a group of less than ten people.  Phil took a breath, never bothering to get off the hoods, and gradually increased his effort by ten watts every thirty seconds. Diego returned to the fold and a couple of other riders popped like the gas-inflated stomach of a decomposing corpse that’s stuck with a shovel.

Now Phil had Diego, Matt Cuttler, me, Matt Wikstrom, Tony Manzella, and Stathis Sakellariadis on his wheel. All but Tony and Matt were young enough to be my kids, and all, including Tony, were just getting warmed up. The massive noise and carnage earlier in the ride had been replaced by the eerily quiet sound of spinning chains and labored breathing, which turned out to be mine.

With about half a mile to go Matt started to come off Diego’s wheel. “I’m done,” he muttered.

“Close the fucking gap!” I croaked, and miraculously, he lunged and did.

Shortly thereafter we both cracked. Tony, Matt, and Stathis came streaking past to close the yawning gap I generously handed them. Matt and I pedaled together briefly until I had to leave him in order to get caught up on some important reading material. When I hit the final wall, Phil had sat and was lazily pedaling. He had towed the group, I later learned, for the entire fifteen minutes at something around 430 watts.

Of course I sprunted by him and shouted, “Quitter!” as I beat the remnants of the softly charging fredoton, led by Derek B. and G$. Diego, Stathis, Matt, and Tony were finishing the business section of the Times when I arrived.

“Beat” of course is meaningless when all you do is finish ahead of someone, because the true tale of the tape is on the KOM leaderboard, where the computer gets to decide who’s the fastest of them all. Poor Phil Gaimon never had a chance against ol’ Strava.



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PV Shitmaker

July 4, 2015 § 24 Comments

Occasionally people sidle up to me on rides and say, “Listen to this.” So I listen. Of course what they really want is for me to blog about it, so I invariably don’t, unless of course I do. Yesterday was a double whammy. On the one hand you had the Alto Velo bicycle riding club in Richfolksville, CA, suing the Alto Velo Seasucker bicycle riding club in Wankerville, NC, for trademark infringement.

I was all prepped since it had to do with law and stuff, until Wily tipped me off on the new Garmin 520. “DC Rainmaker has a write-up on it. And you won’t believe what it does.”

“What does it do?”

“It shows Strava segments in real time so you can ‘race’ other Strava wankers who are still in bed waiting for a more favorable wind, less rain, or better air pressure.”

“Wow,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Wily. “Just think of all the people who are about to die.”

“How do you figure?”

“Are you kidding? Face glued to the stem while your Garmin eggs you on to your top-10 in the 55+ men’s age group between 210 and 218.6 pounds? Just as you nail down the 32-second Festersore segment, out pulls a garbage truck and wham! KOC.”


“King of the Cemetery, dude.”

I went home and looked up the DC Rainmaker’s review, which is here. I skimmed it, since ol’ DC has a bad case of graphorrhea, and only noted the following, which came after a lengthy explanation of all the computer fiddle-faddle you have to set up in order to race Strava avatars while you train: “With all the prep work taken care of we head out for a ride.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I ride in the morning when time is tight and “prep work” generally involves unloading a pair of corn-studded bowl breakers, wolfing down a cup of boiling coffee, airing up the tires, and making sure my arm warmers match.

So now you’re telling a guy who’s lucky to make it out the door without a couple of skid marks in his shorts and TP stuck to his cleat that he has to pre-load a fuggin’ Garmin (which he doesn’t own) so that he can race an absent stranger while he trains? And isn’t “race while you train” one of them oxymoron things, like “driving while you walk”?

The whole thing makes my head hurt because it is the next ripple in the new wave, which is to further divorce humans from each other and wed them more tightly to their computers. I mean, we have a ride that leaves at 6:35 AM pointy sharp every Thursday that is so fucking hard it will make your gallbladder pop out your eyes. The people who do it aren’t looking at their fuggin’ Garmin, they’re either cross-eyed or staring at the wheel in front praying it doesn’t speed up, or they’re dry heaving or seeing big black spots or lying in the ditch. Oh, and generally they are very familiar with race podiums.

And of the hundreds of serious bikers in the South Bay, there’s never more than a dozen who show up, and why should they? With the new Garmin 520 they can compete in comfortable privacy against 0’s and 1’s; mostly 0’s.



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The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 12: The will muscle

July 3, 2015 § 12 Comments

The biggest muscle in the old fellow cyclist’s body is not the buttock or the jaw despite the close proximity of the two. No, the biggest muscle is the will muscle, or rather, it is potentially the biggest muscle. Typically the will muscle in cyclists is poorly developed and dwarfed by the beer muscle, the descending muscle (located in the abdomen), and the Strava muscle.

However, in order to reach your fullest potential and perhaps break the top-40 in an October upgrade crit, you will first need to enter a race with thirty or fewer riders. Failing that, you will need to work on your will muscle.

The will muscle’s most basic failure-to-flex typically occurs on rainy, cold, overcast, humid, hot, snowy, or windy mornings. By failing to flex the will muscle when there are four raindrops on your window you will remain in bed. This initial flex is more important than all other flexes of the day.

Like any muscle, the will muscle requires constant use to build and to avoid atrophy. It also requires fuel. Unlike the beer muscle, which is fed on beer, and the descending muscle, which grows on giant tins of Danish butter cookies, the will muscle only grows when nourished by positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement such as showing up on the Flog Ride and getting shelled in the first hundred yards will cause the will muscle to shrivel.

The will muscle can also be wrecked from overuse, like a normal muscle in Crossfit. The will muscle can only do one major exercise at a time, and some exercises require all of the muscle, such as giving up drinking, waking up before noon, or learning the names (middle ones too!) of your children.

In other words, there is never enough will muscle go around, so if you’re going to quit boozing, or quit wenching, or start learning Sanscrit, you can pretty much write off any other goal or activity that requires significant use of the will muscle. Remember the old American Express ad, “You can have it all!”? Well, they lied. You can’t.

The will muscle, even when highly developed, eventually fatigues and gives out when overused or when asked to do the impossible. It will also fail when you give it too big a task before properly conditioning it, like when I used to lift weights.

When I used to lift weights I went straight to the huge, massive stuff. After loading up the bar with 95 pounds of solid steel and lowering it from the little holder thingies onto my chest, I had that funny thing happen when the weight is sitting on your chest crushing your heart and you can’t lift it off, and you make that funny choking screaming noise and hope someone is watching, which they were, and if it hadn’t been for that junior high school girl who ran over and lifted it up with one hand (she was a beast) I wouldn’t be here today.

Your will muscle is the same way. Don’t ask it to do the massive 95-lb. bench press (quitting booze, etc.) before you have conditioned it with easier tasks (switching to decaf, actually listening to your spouse, not calling your boss “asshole”). In other words, work up to the big stuff.

Finally, don’t fall for the performance-enhancing stuff to make your will hypertrophic. Everyone hates an iron-willed teetotaling machine with a six-pack and a seven-figure salary.

So, start small and build up your will muscle with baby steps, such as, for example, by finding a really useful blog on the Internet that has a very affordable subscription price, say on the order of $2.99 per month, and subscribe to it.



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