Three great Christmas gifts to give yourself

December 18, 2017 Comments Off on Three great Christmas gifts to give yourself

Do you ride or do you cycle? Both? What’s the difference?

I consider riding to be using a bike for any purpose, whereas cycling is the fake science of trying to go as fast as you can without crashing. These two categories occurred to me the other day when I took Mrs. WM out for a bike ride on her new Fuji Supreme bicycle, whose salient characteristic to her was its color, baby blue.

Never mind the carefully chosen components. The bike was blue and that’s what mattered.

It quickly became obvious that we had different expectations. She expected fun, a little exercise, happy conversation, and bonding time with her spouse of thirty years; i.e. a bicycle ride. I expected what I always expect every time I get on my bike, whether alone or in a group: mayhem; i.e. cycling.

Most people enjoy riding their bike. I once did, I think. But now it is an exercise in death avoidance and it has been for many years. When I ride with a new person I am not concerned with whether they enjoy it, whether they get a good workout, whether they like me, or whether it encourages them to continue riding. I am only concerned about staying upright and not getting hit. That’s it.

Cycling, if you do it for very long, teaches you that no amount of fun or happy conversation compensates for falling on your face and fracturing your eye sockets. No super fun coffee ride is worth doing if you finish on the grill of a pickup truck. So when I go out with a new rider I am all business, which is absolutely no fun at all, and I like that because people who are having fun are not paying attention to the task of not getting killed. A little bit of wet blanket Wanky riding can be very salutary.

Can you have fun on a bike? Of course you can. But typically not with me.

Below are three things you can give yourself for Christmas that don’t cost anything.

  1. Keep your front wheel even with the person next to you. It sounds easy and it is, but only if you concentrate on it, and when you’re having fun, who wants to concentrate? Learn to do this (it can be mastered in a year or so) and your cycling experience will be much better. Mine will be awesome because I will not have to growl, “Quit half-wheeling me, dogdammit.”
  2. Ride bar to bar. You know how when you’re pedaling along and the other person seems to be over in the next county? That’s because one or both of you isn’t in very good control of your bike. Come together with only a couple of inches between your handlebars. It is scary and you might bump together, but if you’re mastered No. 1 above, you will soon master this in another year or so. You will go home with greatly improved bike handling and I won’t go home hoarse.
  3. Look ahead. Do you enjoy turning your head and gazing at your partner’s lovely profile? Is it important to shout directly into your partner’s ear? Do you enjoy staring at things along the road like houses, fancy cars, or Cooper’s hawks? Please stop doing that and look ahead. There is nothing off to the side that needs your attention. Virtually all the things that will knock you off your bike are coming up, ahead, in front. This means you need to quit looking at (better yet, toss) your trip computer, and survey what’s ahead, which, when I think about it, isn’t a bad metaphor for life.

Merry Christmas.



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Where has all the subcutaneous fat gone?

December 8, 2017 Comments Off on Where has all the subcutaneous fat gone?

I was riding with a friend the other day and we had started going up a hill. I got out of the saddle. “Hey!” said the friend. “You have a little vein there poking up in the bottom of your calf!”

I got really excited because my legs have the muscularity and vascularity of Velveeta. “Just one?” I asked.

The friend paused as I pushed down extra hard. “No, there may be a second tiny one next to it. Or maybe it’s a hair.”

Which kind of sums up what biking legs used to look like. Do you remember, like thirty or so years ago, when pretty much all the local people who were any good all looked the same? They were:

  • Skinny
  • Had little muscles
  • Had definition but nothing crazy
  • Didn’t have veiny legs that looked like Tokyo road maps

Other things about most good bike racers back then:

  • Pretty small upper bodies
  • Pencil-type necks
  • Looked like they might break if you dropped them

Of course there were always exceptions; people who had really crazy-cut legs and maybe the occasional rider who was veiny as all get-out, pros of course and of course some sprinters, and some track racers, and chunky riders who were simply tough and good, but basically bike racers weren’t very muscular or even athletic looking. Greg LeMond’s early racing photos looked like he was auditioning for the Reduced Lunch Program.

What happened?

You go to a race now and lots of guys look like body builders, with razor-cut necks and forearms and biceps, and crazy-defined calves and thighs that look like they’re going to break out from under what appears to be translucent paper-thin skin, there’s so little fat underneath it. What’s weirder is that this phenomenon is most pronounced in masters races, the exact time of life when your body has less muscle mass and more fat, and where developing and keeping on big chunks of lean meat flies in the face of everything we know about biology.

I suppose the human body has evolved since 1984. Yeah, that’s it.


Photo of blobby calf © 2017 by Jay Yoshizumi, used with permission.



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Why you can’t train

December 6, 2017 Comments Off on Why you can’t train

Lots of people call the Wanky Hotline™ to get help with their bicycling problems. Below are the top five issues for which our offices receive requests:

  1. Where’s that creak/squeak/clank coming from?
  2. Is the higher number the faster gear?
  3. Is a kilometer longer than a mile?
  4. What is the best bike for me?
  5. Why can’t I train?

The answers to 1-4 are easy: 1) Your bottom bracket. 2) That depends. 3) Only in the Northern Hemisphere. 4) The one you can’t afford.

No. 5 is much more difficult. Rather, it’s easy to answer but lengthy to explain. The reason you can’t train is because you are not in control of your time. This very different from time management, a complex topic for which business gurus charge a lot of money to help you with, $3.00/mo. and up. It is also something I know little about.

Basically, time management is how you divvy up time according to fantasy-based work productivity applications like Outlook. For example, Outlook’s calendar allows you to organize your workday into important tasks, meetings, research, client calls, and etc., all of which you ignore until about 3:30 because you’re checking emails, texts, watching cat videos and arguing on Facebag with crazy people about various constitutional provisions that neither of you has ever actually read, much less understood.

Time control is a wholly different beast. Time control is where you grab time by the scrotum and make it your slave. Time control is predicate to time management. For example, let’s say you were a lion tamer for a circus and you wanted to manage the lion for the show (time management). It would be a terrible idea to simply scoop a lion off the jungle street and try to manage him, as he would claw your face off and eat you. First you would need to subdue the creature and stuff him into the parameters of the little cage. This is time control, taming the lion before teaching him to stand on a stool and roar.

For the time-crunched cyclist who has already been duped by Chris Carmichael and other time management gurus, you need to examine the three key battles to winning the time control war.

  1. The Pillow Battle.
  2. The Me-Time Battle.

Okay, that’s only two, but if you win these you’ve pretty much won the war.

The Pillow Battle begins when your alarm goes off and ends in a complete rout after you’ve hit snooze four times and then rush madly into the bathroom to get ready for work in such a way that it doesn’t look like you shaved with a bread knife or put on your makeup with a paint gun. Most people lose the Pillow Battle the first seventy years of their life until they are too old to sleep more than four hours at a time, by which time it is too late, literally and figuratively.

However, only by winning the Pillow Battle can you control the day. And worse, you pretty much have to pop out of bed no later than about 5:00 AM. Since you need seven hours of sleep, complex math indicates that you must be in bed no later than 10:00 PM, which is related to the Me-Time Battle, which I’ll explain later.

Anyway, there is no easy way to get up by five, so I can’t help you there. You just have to do it. I know it’s hard, but look at it like this: Once you’re dead you’ll never have to get up again, even on Mondays. And scientists believe that since the universe is at least 30 billion years old, the actual time you are going to be alive and struggling to get out of bed, assuming you live to be 80, is only .000000266666667 percent of the time your molecules will be around, so it’s really not all that much.

The Me-Time Battle is the other half of the war. You get home after a long day of Facebagging and checking emails (but not answering them), eat dinner, and then it’s eight or nine o’clock and you think, “This is me time, time for me. Time to relax and recover from all that hard Facebagging.”

So what do you do? Instead of getting ready for bed, which really consists of nothing more than feeling guilty about not brushing your teeth and putting on an old t-shirt, you prop up in front of the Tee Vee and pretty soon it’s 1:00 AM and you’re deep into the bowels of the Mesothelioma Lawyer Ad Campaign time slots. You crawl into bed and ain’t no fuggin’ way you’re getting out of bed at five.

The solution to the Me-Time Battle is to give up on the concept that some special part of the evening is “time for you.” That’s b.s.; evening time is bedtime, so put on that t-shirt, don’t brush your teeth, and go to bed. Now. If you do, you’ll be up at five, doing hill repeats or some other such nonsense by five-thirty, and slobbering asleep in your cubicle by ten.



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December 5, 2017 Comments Off on Marriageville

There comes a time, usually around the 30-year-mark or so, that every marriage is plunged into crisis. The partners wake up, stare at the ceiling, scrape some gunk out from under their toenails and wonder “Is this all there is?”

The answer of course is “Yes. If you’re lucky.”

No matter how many decades, how many children, how many hardships, or how much the couple has endured together, they often simply cannot go on. They sadly shake hands, or perhaps engage in a perfunctory embrace, shed a few tears, and walk away, sorrowfully yet briskly to a good lawyer who can help them take the other person to the cleaners.

However, some couples choose to make things worse, much worse, by getting into cycling. Per the old tandem adage, “Wherever your relationship is going, a tandem will get you there faster.” Mrs. WM and I decided that rather than trotting off to counseling she would start riding a bike.

As someone with a lot of experience in making cycling absolutely unbearable for beginners, this was right down my alley. “Now honey, don’t worry if it feels uncomfortable at first. We will take an easy route. You’ll get the hang of it in no time.”

Mrs. WM had ridden with me once before, back in April of 1987, when, after describing to her the glories and joys of pedaling a bike, and getting her all enthused, I took her for a little 60-mile jaunt across a modestly sized mountain range, me on my Tommasini racing bike, she on her single-speed Japanese high school commuter bike, or mama-chari. Thereafter we never rode together again, which was weird.

This time was going to be different. I had taken my daughter’s road bike, which had gears, and put flat pedals on it, and was all prepared to make it a fun and easy experience. We would start off on Hawthorne, go downhill gently to Crest, go up a small hill, then turn left up another small hill called Whitley-Collins. I figured it would be about twenty minutes, and the 16 percent grade up Whitley-Collins should be fine.

We did the ride and I was surprised at how well she did. True, there was a bit of huffing and puffing, but no walking. “How are you doing?” I asked fakishly.

She looked over. “I’m fine. Just a little slow.”

“You’re doing great,” I said, worried that she was a lot fitter than I had thought and that if she kept riding she would eventually be able to drop me. At the top of the hill we paused. “Well, that was fun. Good job. Time to go home,” I said.

“Is that all? I wanted to ride longer. This is great!”

My plans weren’t working out too well, so I sighed, knowing that it was going to take a little bit more effort to convince her that cycling really wasn’t her thing. “Let’s keep going, then,” I fake smiled.

We descended Via del Monte, climbed Via la Selva, popped out on PV Drive North, and headed for Silver Spur. I kept glancing back, but she seemed to be enjoying it despite my best efforts. Then we hit Silver Spur, which is a long, steep grind. At the hardest point I veered right and did my best Scott Dickson. “There’s a little shortcut over here.”

She followed, and soon we were at the base of Basswood, another little 14 percenter that goes on for a ways. “Are we riding up that?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Unless you’re too tired.”

“What if I’m too tired?”

“It only take a few minutes longer to walk.”

“I’m not walking,” she said, and charged ahead. She got off after a little while. “This is too steep for me.”

I looked at her for a minute. She was pouring sweat and breathing hard, but she wasn’t mad or unhappy. “Just catch your breath. You’ll be fine,” I said.

She caught it, and was. “Now what?” she asked as we crested the hill.

The next obstacle was Shorewood, another beastly steep hump between us and home. Or, we could go straight and do the easy way. We went straight, and ended up at the coffee shop. “Was it fun?” I asked.

“It was great! I loved it! And I think I need some shorts. I’m really sore. And a jersey. This t-shirt gets soaked too quickly. When can we ride again?”

“Soon,” I said. “Soon.”



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“J.P.” means “Just Pound”

November 27, 2017 Comments Off on “J.P.” means “Just Pound”

We had just finished the second climb on the Donut Ride up to the radar domes; J.P. had descended in disgust. I pulled up next to him at the water fountain, pretty pleased with myself. “Good riding,” I said.

He didn’t look at me. “How come you never took a pull?”

“Because I was trying to beat you. And I did.”

He looked up from filling his bottle. “I thought we were friends.”

“Is that what you were thinking the first time up, when you sat on my wheel while I pulled you up to the college, then attacked and dropped me on Crest?”

” … ”

“Or is it what you were thinking just now with me on your wheel, over-and-undering me all the way up to try and shell me?”

He grinned. “Aw, man, just having a little fun.”

“Yeah, the kind of fun that comes from beating my ass like a dusty carpet with a steel rug beater.”

“You could have come through at least once.”

“And given you the rest you needed to deliver another carpet beating.”

He started laughing. “I gotta do my best, man, I’m an old man, man.”

“Yep, and so do I, and so am I.”

“We’re still friends, right?”

“Only after the pedaling stops.” I was laughing, too.

J.P. pretends to be a nice guy, and off the bike he is, but stick a helmet and glasses on him and he is all business, the business of Beat Your Ass, LLC. And that’s the best thing about cycling, or one of the best. You give it everything you have to squash someone you actually like, and regardless of the outcome, after it finishes you are still friends, or at least on speaking terms even if it takes a year or so.

J.P. is fifty-eight in dog years, and he is no ballerina, which makes his exploits on the Donut even more impressive. His favorite tool for prying your lungs and heart loose from your legs is the ol’ over-and-under. It’s a tried and true method for dislodging wheel sucks on a climb, but it has its risks if you lack the legs to pull it off.

The over-and-under works like this: You have the wheel suck, usually several of them, and they are waiting for you to tow them until you tire so they can attack and drop you. These are usually your best friends, of course, and the outcome of their strategem, if successful, is horrible as you’ve essentially been ganged up on by your buddies and kicked to the curb like a dried piece of dung. Like I said, best friends.

With the ol’ over-and-under, while you’re still fresh, you do a hard jump and force the worthless wheelsucks to close the gap. Everyone’s heart rate shoots through the roof, including yours. Once they bridge, you stay on the gas for a few more pedal strokes so that everyone is good and gassed. That is the “over.”

Next, you ease off, way off. If they come by you to pull, then you grab the wheel and now you’re the one resting while someone else is doing all the work. If no one pulls through, (and if it’s me, I never will) then you keep decelerating until you’re at a nice, comfy recovery pace. You continue for a bit until everyone else has also gotten out of the red and they’re starting to think, “Hey, this isn’t so horrible. I can make it.” This is the “under.”

Next, you repeat the over.

Then, the under.

Then, the over.

Then, the under.

Then, the over.

Pretty soon you will be by yourself, either because you rode everyone off your wheel or because you blew yourself up with all that overing, including the part where you overestimated your ability to do them there repeated accelerations.

Generally, J.P. uses the ol’ over-and-under to great effect, especially on me, but yesterday I wasn’t having any of it, particularly after the rug beating he’d given me on the first climb, and because we are closely enough matched that I can usually hang on, especially if it’s the second climb. Another famed practitioner of the ol’ O-and-U is G$, who loves to take you up to 500 watts and back down to 50 watts until he’s done with you, which is quickly.

Of course when you’re the wheelsuck, the O-and-U also drains you mentally because you’re stuck there waiting for the piano to fall on your little toe, at the mercy of the front rider, not knowing when the Boesendorfer concert grand will come crashing down but knowing it will, your precious mental energy dissipating by the second as you await the preordained. So, like I was saying.


Good times.

So much fun.

Uh, yeah.



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“No comment.”

November 21, 2017 Comments Off on “No comment.”

I was going to make a list of the great things that have happened since kicking #socmed to the curb and returning to my real and rather strange life as opposed to drowning in the fake and manicured lives of others on Facebag, Stravver, and the Twitter.

Part of taking back my mind has also meant disabling the comments on my world infamous blog, the one you’re reading right now. Countless readers have emailed to ask about the fact that they can no longer comment. To each of these three concerned citizens I have said something like, “It was taking up too much time and it was too distracting.”

They have asked if it’s a temporary thing or if it’s permanent.


And they’ve said that reading the comments was half the fun of the blog, to which I can only say (to non-subscribers), “Losing half of $0.00 is still zero,” (and to my $2.99 subscribers) “You’re only getting ripped off $1.4950 a month, which isn’t too bad when you compare it to a venti pumpkin spice latte.”

Also, over the lifetime of this blog there have been exactly 35,608 comments posted, and since I’ve been pretty faithful responding to each one, well, that’s a lot of time. Let me rephrase that: It’s a colossal amount of time. The hashtag for that would be #enough. Even more time has been lost deleting spam and emptying all of the unread troll posts from trash, orphan bytes that have easily tripled or quadrupled the number of comments that actually made it through the filters.

One person was curious enough about this change to reach out and say, “Let’s go for a ride,” one of those funny instances where ditching virtual reality led immediately to real reality. It was a friend who I don’t see very often, a real friend, someone who I’d not hesitate to ask a favor from and who I’d not hesitate to help. We met up this morning at Malaga Cove and did a few loops around the golf course, during which time we talked about the #socmed plague, about how much was #enough, about whether #socmed killed people or people killed people, and about the Latigo hillclimb.

This conversation was nothing like any conversation I’ve ever had on #socmed. It involved sound waves, reflected and refracted light that revealed the changing contours of a real human, the faint scent of sweat, and the touch of a fist bump. My friend said a few things I disagreed with but after responding I couldn’t delete anything I said, and I couldn’t unfollow the parts of what he said that I didn’t like. Since it was just us, I didn’t think it was appropriate to share the conversation with anyone, even my wife, something made easier by the absence of a “share” button. We didn’t take any pictures of each other, and although no promises were made and no particularly intimate secrets were exchanged, I’m pretty sure the conversation and its contents will remain private, the way mundane things between friends used to always be, and therefore, through privacy, they became a strand that strengthened the bond of friendship. No matter what Facebook says, friendship isn’t strengthened by publicity, it’s destroyed by it.

The things we said to each other weren’t linked to any other platforms. They weren’t copied and pasted, and no third party was able to record and store those things we talked about for purposes of determining our future purchasing decisions. During the conversation no one popped in and asked us to buy something, and none of our other friends dropped by to unload upon us a news story about something we felt strongly about. Most peacefully, there wasn’t an endless string of side conversations between other friends that we had to listen to while carrying on our own. There was a kind of freedom in knowing that after the ride there wasn’t going to be anything to review, analyze, compare, dissect, kudo, or critique.

And when our conversation finished, there was silence, which, I once read somewhere, is golden.



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Pumpkin spice

November 19, 2017 Comments Off on Pumpkin spice

Every fall, Starbucks pumps out its seasonal offering of pumpkin spice latte. It sounds great and rings in the autumn excesses of too much sugar, too much food, too much booze, and too many prescription medications, but when you think about it, it doesn’t really sound all that great.

Who eats pumpkin? It’s a giant, orange, nasty veggie-fruity thing that stinks and doesn’t taste very good. Pumpkin salad? Pumpkin soup? Pumpkin steak? Pumpkin burger? Ahhh … no, thanks.

Still, you order one anyway because it looks and feels like fall and it’s extra points in your quest to get a free fifty cent drink for every $150 dollars you spend, and you’re usually doing okay until about halfway through, when you start to get queasy from the pure sugar that is 100% sugar and all the completely sugary sugar that fills half the cup, but you keep slurping away, mixing in the whipped cream sugar with the rest of the sugar, until somehow you get to the bottom of the cup, and there it is: A nasty, orange-brown slurry of toxic sludge that suddenly you can’t believe you ate. You stare at it, grossed out, then maybe you fiddle with the end of your straw and suck down a few drops, which are plain old nasty, like drinking the dregs from the sippy cup of a two-year-old who has a bad cold.

In short, you feel terrible. Sugar bombed, 1,200 calories into the red (it’s only 8:00 AM), and, if you’re feeling really guilty you look up the ingredients on the Internet and learn what you already knew. There isn’t even any pumpkin in it, anyway.


Fact is, we have a little seasonal offering like that right here in L.A. It’s called the Dogtown Ride. It’s a special product only sold in fall. You get tagged on Facebag by Tony Manzella, the ride’s progenitor, or you get a private text message if you’re not ‘bagging it anymore, and at 8:00 AM at Dogtown Coffee in Santa Monica the fastest cyclists in L.A. show up to do some early season polishing, and you’re gonna be the whetstone.

Like the pumpkin spice latte, I felt a vague attraction to this seasonal offering, even though I’ve done it before and knew that nothing good ever comes from it. I met up at the appointed hour, thankfully getting there an hour earlier so that I could enjoy what truly is the phenomenal brewing of Dogtown Coffee (no pumpkin spice latte there, folks), and so that I could let my stomach settle.

In small groups the riders appeared, each one possessed of the same silly delusion, that they would be able to hold the pace with Tony, Head Down James, Thomas Rennier, Eric B., bearded British dude, ex-cross country champ-turned-tridork, Kate V., Katie D., or any of the other people who were absolutely going to ride away, see ya. I exited Dogtown and paid homage to Tony and his dad, Rich, and noted that Tony had removed his Garmin. I didn’t know if this was his message that he is no longer into data, or a suggestion that he wasn’t going to go that hard, a feint designed to fool us pack fodder into a few moments of satisfaction.

I chatted with Elijah, who was now on his third team in three years, with Casey, with Patrick Barrett, with Josh, with Joe Pugliese, and with a couple of other riders as we pedaled through Santa Monica. It was sunny, beautiful, warm, and promised to be a horrible day on the bike.

The first climb, Bienveneda Avenue, might be a misspelling of the Spanish word “bienvenida,” which means “welcome.” Like the pumpkin spice missing the pumpkin, there was no welcome in Bienveneda, only the shock and awe as clumps of eager cyclists dashed past me, dangled in front for a bit, and then exploded, spectacularly, on the horribly steep climb. I plodded to the top, where the leaders had already finished checking into #socmed and were ready for the next fake ingredient of this foul-tasting fall seasonal “fun” ride.

Next on the ingredient list was Palisades Drive, much longer and much less steep until you got to the last part, which was just as long as just as steep. The Santa Monica/BMW riders shelled the entire field. I hung on for a bit before getting dropped, then got caught by Eric Bruins, who towed me the rest of the way up. Dave Holland, Michael Penta, Chuck Huang, Christina Oi, Tony Sells, David Mack, and countless others reached the top with the done look of a steak left on the grill overnight.

By now the full effect of the pumpkin spice was hitting our digestive tracts, which meant it was perfect timing to descend Palisades at 50+ mph, replete with riders squatting on their top tubes, massive chugholes blowing tires off the rim, Ferraris coming by in the Number One lane at 80, and everyone behaving as if a head-first fall onto the pavement would be “just a scratch.” We reached PCH and Tony, along with the Santa Monica zombies, beat the pedals all the way to Pepperdine Hill. Even tucked onto a wheel I was in pain. Many riders decided that they’d had enough and went home.

Like a fool, I continued.

We charged up Malibu Canyon Road, where hairy English dude dropped everyone, then created a small group of leaders. The rest of us clumped together on the windy, endless climb, wishing it would either end or finish or conclude or terminate, but it didn’t. I took one last pull, and although I failed to bridge, I did manage to ride everyone in the group off my wheel except four others, who, when I swung over, charged past.

One by one I got caught by everyone I had dropped, and was dropped myself; just me and the dregs in the bottom of the pumpkin spice cup, wondering why I’d eaten so much orange vomit. A few hours later I got home, depleted, cramped, and thoroughly looking forward to the next one. After all, Dogtown Ride only comes around a couple of times a year. And who’d want to miss out on that?



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