Whoosh, whoosh, shirrrrrrrrr

January 3, 2015 § 51 Comments

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

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

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

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

“Oh, then they would,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Used with permission

January 2, 2015 § 16 Comments

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


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

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

Then you announced you were quitting beer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for everything.

If I can help, let me know.



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The oldest New Year’s story of all

January 1, 2015 § 54 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eddie’s mother was an Auschwitz survivor from Hungary.



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Big group death

December 30, 2014 § 46 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

House of Pain (HOP)

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

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

The killer language? “Full on race ride.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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The unbearable heaviness of bad reporting

December 27, 2014 § 36 Comments

Coryn Rivera is America’s cycling star. Barely 22 years old, she is the reigning elite women’s crit champion. She holds sixty-eight national titles on the road, track, and in ‘cross. In 2014 she won virtually every major race she entered. Next year she has her sights set on pro success as a road racer to match her reputation as the country’s undisputed dominatrix of pro sprint finishes.

What’s more, there’s little reason to doubt that she will achieve it. In addition to a national road title as a junior, she also took a bronze medal in the road race at junior world’s. She scored sixth this year on the Champs-Elysees at La Course by Le Tour de France and won the young rider’s category. The only women to finish ahead of her were the best veteran pro roadies on the planet.

If Coryn were a man, she would be splashed all over VeloNews. Her every move would be religiously recorded on the Internet, and we’d be reading full-length feature interviews about every aspect of her life. In short, she would be like Taylor Phinney, with this difference: Phinney has nowhere near her talent.

Two years older than Rivera, Phinney may well one day win a world time trial medal. If the stars align, if he regains his health, and if he has a world-class team dedicated to delivering him and him alone to the line, he could even bring home a monument on the order of Roubaix, much less likely a win at Flanders. Otherwise, Phinney is a tremendous time trialist who’s simply too big physically to be a superstar in the hillier classics or the big tours. The days when a giant like George Hincapie could win a mountain stage of the Tour ended with his pathetic doping confession and the collapse of the Drugstrong Era.

What Phinney has, of course, is a pedigree, and it’s a pedigree that has provided him with the best connections imaginable in the world of cycling. His mother, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, is one of the best American woman road racers of all time. Her resume boasts Olympic gold in ’84, with silver and bronze medals at the world road championships in ’77 and ’81, along with twelve national cycling titles, countless wins in US road races, a successful career as a speed skater, and the distinction of being the youngest woman ever to compete in the Winter Olympics. Taylor’s father, Davis Phinney, is the winningest American bike racer of all time, with 328 wins, including two stages in the Tour and the overall at America’s premier stage race, the Coors Classic. Davis achieved all this when American cycling had no program to bring US amateurs into Europe; had he raced in his prime among the European peloton he would have been the dominant sprinter of his era.

It’s this pedigree and carefully nurtured career, along with his world class speed against the clock, that has guided Taylor along as the Chosen One among America’s professional cyclists, including a stint under the watchful eye of Lance Armstrong. Rivera, on the other hand, has had none of that. She grew up in extremely modest circumstances in urban LA, supported by her Filipino-American family where every race entry fee, every piece of equipment she had to buy, and every long distance trip was a sacrifice. She is truly a self-made woman.

From her days at the Carson velodrome training under Tim Roach, I watched her blitz any and all all comers, male and female alike. But no matter how many titles she won and no matter how brilliant her racing, she has always had to fight and scrap. When she burst onto the US pro women’s scene, collecting scalps with ease from older, “better,” and vastly more experienced racers, she received a modicum of press and nothing more.

This reflects the old boy network of cycling, where testicles matter more than results, and where the stellar athletic achievements of women are footnotes to the off-season training camp antics of men. If we want cycling to grow in recognition, we need to start recognizing the very best.

And that means starting with Coryn.



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December 24, 2014 § 19 Comments

The older I get, the more I appreciate people who aren’t sociopaths. Not that the SoCal Profamateur™ ranks are filled with them, but I do run across them from time to time. A sociopath, of course, is a person who reduces the entirety of human existence to “I am in the right.”

Here’s a quick quiz to find out if you are a cycling sociopath, but if you’re really a sociopath one of the key qualities is the inability to recognize it.

  1. I never caused a crash.
  2. I’ve had bad luck before, but never been beaten.
  3. I dope because everyone else dopes, so it’s not cheating.
  4. I cut the course because I had to.
  5. There’s nothing wrong with banditing a ride because the organizers plan for a certain level of banditing.

Of course cycling sociopaths, compared to the ones I run across in my day job, are pretty harmless. Whereas cycling sociopaths are trying to cheat you out of a pair of socks or a fistful of gels, litigation sociopaths are often trying to ruin a client’s life, and sometimes mine as well. But despite their relative harmlessness, their presence causes the good guys out there to shine even more brightly.

One of my favorite Old Fellow Leaky Prostate Cycling Stars is Greg Leibert, a/k/a G$ a/k/a G-Munnnnny. I can’t help rooting for him, even when he’s plucking out my legs like an evil little kid yanking off the twitching limbs of a helpless insect. I root for G$ because he rides with class, he wins graciously, and he loses with a smile and a congratulations for the winner. I root for G$ because when he wins, the good guy really does win. And of course I root for him in the hope that one day I’ll beat him, and therefore have beaten the very best.

The last two seasons G$ has had a rough go of it on the race course, so much so that it almost seemed like he might be done for good. The guy who soloed to victory at Boulevard a few years back, the guy who regularly stomped the dicks of the best leaky prostates on the toughest SoCal road courses, had been “relegated” to “only” one or two wins a season. The saddest moment of my old fellow cycling career was this year at Boulevard, when I punctured a few miles from the finish. The peloton whooshed by, and then a few minutes later along came Greg, who stopped to help change my flat.

“Are you okay?” I asked in disbelief.

Greg smiled. “I didn’t have it today. They went, and I didn’t.”

It was like learning that there is no Santa Claus, only worse, since I was raised an atheist and we kept getting Christmas swag even after figuring out that the old fat drunk in the mall was nothing more glamorous than an old fat drunk in the mall. So you can imagine how happy I was to hear through the grapevine that G$ was back on track for 2015.

I’d see him doing lonely big ring workouts on Via del Monte. I’d hear rumors about the gradually increasing fitness. Best of all — or worst — I’d pump him about his condition and he’s say with a smile, “It’s coming around.”

Last Saturday G$ showed up for the Donut Ride, which is rare because he only shows up to check his fitness. Unlike the other wankers who throw themselves headlong into their “base intensity” programs 12 months a year, G$ builds, tests, then goes back to work.

As we snaked through Portuguese Bend, there was the familiar sight of the Legs From Planet Zebulon, the slightly hunched back, the smooth cadence, and the sinewy strips of calf, ham, and quad popping out from the stretched skin. Best of all, though, was the hollering.

G$ will never pointlessly ride on the front — he’s too smart for that — but he loves it when you do, and he has a well-worn method for getting the idiots to pound themselves into oblivion. Here’s how he does it: Some maroon will take a dig, and a fellow maroon will follow through, and then the pace will slack. “Sixteen mph?” G$ will yell from five wheels back. “Are we riding our bikes or pushing a baby stroller?”

No one has the man parts to turn around and say, “Hey, wanker, if you want the speed to pick up, there’s plenty of room at the front to give us a demo.”

Instead, we hunker down, all butt-hurt and such, and then take turns killing ourselves in pointless efforts to show that WE AREN’T GONNA GO SIXTEEN. Then G$ will yell a little more until we’re totally pooped, we reach the climb, and he leaves us like we are chained to a liberal piece of legislation in the US Congress.

But on Saturday, I bided my time until we hit the Switchbacks, followed wheels, and before long had left the wankoton in the rear, latched onto the wheel of Boy Jules, who hates being shadowed by creaky old men. The impossible had happened — a fit-and-getting-fitter G$ had been shelled by Boy Jules and Creaky Wanky.

The euphoria was intense, followed by sadness (“If G$ can’t keep up with me, he really is finished,”) followed by an unspeakable beatdown. Half a mile from the end of the climb G$ hunted me down like an old tom closing in on a crippled rat. He roared by, I latched on (having shed Boy Jules at the wall), and G$ played his favorite role of train conductor. It goes like this:

G$: I see you are riding on the train.

Me: Yes, sir.

G$: May I see your ticket?

Me: I ain’t got no ticket.

G$: Well, son, no one rides for free.

Then he came out of the saddle, fired the pistons, and vanished around the bend. I deflated and crumpled as he put a couple of football fields between us in a matter of seconds. I was deflated, but elated. You know why?

Because Munnnnnnny is back.



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Pizza in your pocket

December 22, 2014 § 29 Comments

We had been stuffed into the box, the lid had been nailed shut, and now there was nothing left to do but suffer. As Greg and I struggled up Fortuna Ranch Road, Sam and the Wily Greek kept slowing down to wait, and it wasn’t because they liked us. It was because they needed all four guys in order to finish.

This was the SPY Joker Ride, where for ten bucks a rider you got to form a four-man team and race your bike for sixty miles on a variety of paved and unpaved North County San Diego roads. It was early in the ride and the road was decidedly unpaved. Unfortunately, as we reached the end of Fortuna, our fortunes took a turn for the worse.

The road leaped off and down into a deep muddy trench filled with rocky craters and every type of igneous obstacle. The day before I’d bought a slick new pair of FastForward full carbon clinchers. This was the first time in over thirty years that I’d ridden real carbon wheels, and the difference between these magical hoops and the concrete, 32-hole, aluminum box rim Open Pros that I finally smashed into bits a few weeks ago was amazing. In addition to floating uphill and accelerating like a juggernaut, they had another amazing quality, a quality I’d been sort of warned about. “Just be careful at first because, you know, carbon doesn’t brake so good.”

As my bike launched into the trench of death I grabbed on the rear brake. Something happened, but it didn’t feel like braking. More like a gentle love tug, or perhaps a nudge. The bike didn’t slow, and neither did the uncontrollable urge to soil myself, so I grabbed the brake even harder. The bike gradually scrubbed speed and I made a mental note to bring extra diapers when running full carbon.

Wily led us over the rocky moonscape and back to pavement, where we caught our breath and Greg continued with the truly most complicated part of the whole ride, which was navigating. The organizers had kept the route under wraps until the morning of the ride. As each team sat at the starting line, going off in one-minute intervals, you were given a playing card and a direction card, one of three that would take you to the next waystation. At each of the waystations you’d pick up another playing card to make your hand, and another direction card to get you to the next stop. At the end of the ride, the team with the best hand got a prize, and the team with the best time got a prize.

As the seconds ticked down to our start — we were the first team off out of forty — we stared frantically at the direction card. Instead of saying “PCH L to La Costa. R on La Costa, etc.” it was a riddle tucked inside a rhyme. You think I’m kidding? Try to figure this out while your heart is pounding, everyone’s yelling, and your colon is telling you that you might have some unfinished business:

photo 1

If you weren’t a local, and all but a couple of teams were, you could perhaps figure it out, but if you were a local you could simply scheme your way to the next waystation without doing nasty, unpaved climbs like Questhaven. But if you were Team Wank Special you were already lost and if you didn’t follow the directions you’d get extra lost, plus lose time, plus not get your card, plus look like a total cheating flailer when your team’s data got uploaded to Strava.

We whipped out onto Elfin Forest and made a right towards the turnoff for Questhaven. At that moment a rider came up behind us. “Hi, guys!” he shouted. “I’m not doing the Joker Ride! Which team are you?”

“We’re the first team off,” said Sam.

“Awesome,” he said. “Let’s go!”

We looked at each other. “Let’s?” said Gret.

“Where are you heading?” He was so excited to have found us.

“Questhaven,” I said.

“Perfect! I’ll take you to it!” Though Fireman and I knew where it was, having done the Belgian Waffle Ride and numerous rides in North County, we shrugged as Cliff charged ahead. Soon it became clear that he was a member of that most despicable species of rider, the Ride Bandit.

Too cheap to fork out ten dollars for an entire day’s worth of riding, food, support, and fun, and/or too much of a Delta Bravo to get anyone out of the 256,911 population of avid cyclists to ride with him and form a team (even though you actually show up, pay your ten bucks, and get paired with three other riders), Cliff was trolling the course to find someone he could ride with, getting the benefits of a fun race-ish ride without having to contribute.

Now that he had us, he was in a frenzy, asking to see our direction card and playing card and desperately behaving like he was one of our “team.” Greg had a pretty good idea of where the course went, and after finishing Questhaven we began climbing to San Elijo.

“Turn here!” Cliff shouted at a stop sign intersection. “It’s a great shortcut!”

We turned and pedaled for about a hundred yards, then all looked at each other. The guy was obviously a cheater and had already annoyed us beyond belief in less than three miles of riding. “Dude,” I said as we flipped our bikes around, “you can go wherever you want, but we’re sticking to what we think is the course. See ya.”

Cliff hurried up to us. “Okay!” he said, with the happy nonchalance that ride bandit delta bravos have when they’re called out. “No problem!”

At the next waystation Cliff sped up to the tent. “Gimme our card!” he shouted. Then he turned and looked at Greg, who was just rolling up. “Do you want a queen? I can get you a queen!”

Greg yelled to the guys manning the tent. “That kook is not with us! Don’t give him anything! He’s not on our team!”

Cliff looked crestfallen as we scooped up our cards and tried to figure out the next phase of the route, which was this:

photo 2

Cliff soon recovered, though. “Hey, guys!” he yelled. “This way!”

Wily rode up to me. “Dude,” he said. “I’m not pedaling another fucking inch with that motherfucker. Let’s hide behind a tree until he goes away.”

In a flash the four of us dragged our bikes behind a giant bush and hunkered down, peering through the branches while Cliff did circles in the parking lot, looking like an abandoned puppy. After a while another team rode up. “Hey guys!” he shouted at them. “I’m not on the Joker Ride!”

We hopped on our bikes and scampered down the road, leaving Cliff to his next set of victims.

An hour and a half later we wheeled into the SPY Happy Camp, utterly spent. We’d covered 58 miles in 3:04, four miles longer than the actual route, and a good chunk of that time had been spent soft pedaling while Greg plugged roads into his phone. The sapping climbs, the stretches of dirt, and the endless rollers of the North County byways had made it a grueling ride. Our effort hadn’t amounted to much, despite being dragged around all day by Wily and Sam, since other teams either knew the course and didn’t have to navigate, or cut the course, or were just flat out faster — although we hadn’t been passed by a single other group on the road. The winning time was 2:25, set by a threesome of pros including one ex-Cannondale rider.

Back at the SPY Happy Camp we changed into civvies and began helping ourselves to the delicious pizza and refreshments. After a while Cliff arrived. He hung up his bike and sat down on a nearby bench and began talking loudly as he piled his plate high with pizza he hadn’t paid for. “Yeah,” he crowed, not recognizing me as I was in jeans and t-shirt, dark glasses and ballcap, “I met these SPY guys from LA who were totally lost. I saved them! And those guys were so lame. They were the first ones out on the road and they’re not even back yet!”

“What was your team number?” someone asked him.

“Oh, uh, I didn’t race with a team today,” Cliff said, stuffing his face with another five square-foot slab of purloined pizza. “I just, you know, ran into them. But I finished with a couple of groups, we had a big bunch.”

Of course one of the “rules” was that 4-man teams couldn’t form a big group, but that didn’t bother Cliff at all as he got up and went over to the display table where two very nice women were handing out samples of high end fruit drinks. Cliff scooped up two big handfuls of the drink bottles, each of which looked like it retailed for five or six bucks, and crammed his rear jersey full, then pulled on his vest to hide the booty.

I watched Cliff prance throughout the exhibit area, chatting with people and scooping up so much pizza that I was pretty sure he was going to start jamming pepperoni, cheese, and tomato sauce into his jersey pockets, too. It was funny how people all seemed to know him and no one seemed to want him nearby, a kind of human being repellent. I wondered whether packaging his essence of Delta Bravo and genetically modifying it to repel mosquitoes could perhaps cure the global scourge of malaria.

Prior to the announcement of the winners, though, the real competition began: horse trading cards for a better hand. Within minutes some pretty amazing hands began appearing, and although no one was able to create four of a kind or a straight royal flush, the winning hand was an impressive ace-high full house with two kings. Much good beer from the Lost Abbey was swilled as I forlornly sipped from a bottle of craft water.

“Don’t worry, this beer tastes like shit,” Greg reassured me as he downed his fifth cup.

“Yeah,” said Mike the Cop, sitting next to me with a foamy cup in each fist. “This stuff is awful.”

Greg handed me the car keys. “But at least we have a designated driver!”

I tried to find the happiness in that, then looked around at the happy bikers, the killer venue, the good vibe, the beautiful sunshine spilling down on us, and realized that the Happy, indeed was all around us.



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