I think I’ll follow that guy

March 9, 2015 § 35 Comments

Most CBR races that I do start the same way. About twenty guys push and shove and jostle and squeeze to make sure they’re in the very first row. After the race starts, I never see any of them again.

I always lollygag at the back before the race with Big Steve. He doesn’t care where he starts. He’s more concerned about where he finishes.

There is another guy who always starts at the back of the back of the back, and then two wheels behind that. He’s at every race, and he’s one very rotund fellow. You look at him and you think, “Dude, lay off the Oreo triple stuf. You are going to have a heart attack before we get to Turn One.”

Then you notice that even though his belly is testing the physical stretch limits of his jersey, so are his massive quads. Then, if you’re still paying attention and haven’t written him off because he’s obviously pushing sixty, you notice the bands on his shirt sleeve, the rainbow ones. And you’re like, “Whaaa? World champion of what? Carrot cake?”

The race starts and it always starts fast, and my goal is always the same, every single time: Follow that guy. There are a lot of good reasons to follow him, and not just because Gibby Hatton is one of the best track racers in the history of U.S. cycling. For me, following Gibby is a lesson in humiliation, and I’m never happier than when I’m under the lash.

“What could be easier than following an oxcart?” you wonder. Well, it’s harder than it looks. For one, even though he hardly ever pedals and it looks ridiculously easy, you quickly find out that he’s the most efficient rider in the peloton by a factor of ten. That would make sense, because at his professional zenith he was the No. 2 highest-earning keirin racer on the Japanese professional circuit.

For another, Gibby doesn’t use his brakes. Whereas I’m the kind of rider who replaces his pads in between events, Gibby has been using the same set since 1982. They still have the shrink-wrap on them. This means he slingshots through the turns. While the idiots are grabbing brakes and wobbling and dodging curbs and spraying up fountains of carbon brake pad powder, Gibby is coasting at 35. Out of the turn he pedals once or twice to hold his momentum, and in the process he’s passed forty people.

There’s another great reason to follow Gibby’s wheel. It will give you your adrenaline rush for the decade. Sure, he looks like a walrus on a bike. But a more delicate, graceful, perfectly coordinated rider I’ve never seen, or imagined seeing. He floats through gaps that shut with a clang once he’s through. He edges around kooks with the gentlest shift of weight on his saddle. He creates openings by lightly tapping on someone’s thigh … and it’s the tap of authority that doesn’t say, “May I come in here?” but that says, “I’m coming in now.”

The best reason of all to be on Gibby’s wheel is that if there’s no breakaway, he’s going to put you in the top five or higher if you can come around him (you can’t). At 58 years old, by the time everyone has wheezed and gasped and struggled to the final 200 meters, Gibby will finally activate the thighs, and the acceleration is vicious, fearsome, and effective.

I’ve never been able to follow his wheel for more than two laps. It’s like following a solo by Louis Armstrong, or matching the steps of Fred Astaire, and today was no different.

After the race started, some people went fast and some went slower, some people dreamed big dreams and some people dreamed small ones, some people got tired and some people quit. Leading into the final turn three riders decided to throw all of their bike parts and bodies high into the air and then splatter painfully on the ground. With 200 meters to go, the Walrus, ever perfectly positioned, mashed hard on the pedals. It was his first real effort in the whole 60-minute race.

Two riders were ahead of him, much younger and much faster. But not cagier, and not better at using all the right effort at just the right time. Gibby nipped them at the line.

Again.

END

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Wankmeister cycling clinic #28: Can we get a “B” ride?

March 6, 2015 § 35 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

I know you are a big fan of that Thursday Flog Ride around the PV Golf Course and I am too. I have done it several times but I always get dropped. The hardest part is right when we turn out of the parking lot. I’m tired of getting dropped and have spoken with some other people who have also been dropped, and what we’d like to know is if you would make everybody stop at the top at the golf course and regroup, that way we could all be together until the next lap, and then after we all got dropped you could wait for us again and then we’d do that for all six laps and it would be like doing intervals on the Amalfi Ride that they do over in West L.A.

Hopefully,
Dudley Duffersmith

Dear Dudley:

First, it’s not my ride and I don’t control how people ride it. If you want people to wait for you then at the start you should say to everyone in a loud voice before rolling out, “Hey, guys and girls, please wait for me after I get dropped, okay?” Then each person can decide how he or she wants to proceed. The Amalfi Ride is indeed a regroup-and-wait ride, yes, it certainly is.

Respectfully,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankscum:

I am sick of getting dropped by all the snooty SPY wankers on the Flog Ride. How come you don’t regroup? The thing that’s awesome about the NPR is that everyone stays together. Or at least make a B Ride. Quit being such an asshole, okay?

Pissedly,
Peter Peckinpaw

Dear Peter:

You’re being unfair. Your’re not just getting dropped by SPY, you’re also getting dropped by the Big O wankers, the Surf City wankers, and the Monster Media wankette. Have you noticed that the no-drop NPR goes off on Thursday at exactly the same time as the Flog Ride? Hint, hint.

Libertarianally,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

You SPY guys reek of elitism and exclusiveness. Get over yourselves, and while you’re at it please let’s do a regroup at the top and also have a B Ride and maybe also a C Ride for the people who can’t ride with the B’s. Really. I’m serious.

Frowningly,
Tess Tookingham

Dear Tess:

Rather than pointing to SPY’s elitism and alleged exclusivity, please let me point you to their fourth quarter results. How did they do this? By having a happy disrespect for the usual way of looking at things. In most cycling communities, when a ride is too hard, it gets watered down with a B, C, and D ride. Then “no-drop” rules get instituted. Before long, you know what happens? Someone like Tony Manzella goes out and creates a Dogtown Ride, which shreds everyone until people start complaining and the watering down starts all over again. Our Thursday Flog Ride is an alternative to the usual way of doing things. It was thought up by a creative genius, and the participants like hard rides. If it will make you feel any better (it won’t), everyone eventually gets dropped. Especially me.

Shelled but happy,
Wanky

END

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Belgian Waffle Ride practice ride

March 5, 2015 § 40 Comments

This ride is not sponsored, authorized, approved, recognized, encouraged, abetted, aided, promoted, offered, suggested, referenced, affiliated with, created by, managed, supervised, regulated, reviewed, evaluated, or in any way, shape, method, means, form, or function related to or otherwise connected with SPY Optic and its officially endorsed Belgian Waffle Ride.

But that is not all,
Oh no, that is not all!

On Saturday, March 7, 2015 at 7:00 AM pointy sharp I’m leaving from the bricks of the Center of the Known Universe a/k/a CotKU a/k/a the Manhattan Beach Pier Starbucks in order to ride my bicycle. I will be riding my bicycle for one reason and one reason only: To prepare my spindly legs and spongy lungs for the battering that awaits on April 26, 2015, the day of the 4th Annual Belgian Waffle Ride.

This BWR practice ride of mine, which is wholly unaffiliated with the actual Belgian Waffle Ride and its sponsors, will ride from CotKU to Pacific Coast Highway and from there to The Rock, where I will pee, take in the view, and then turn around and head back towards Los Angeles.

On the way I will make a left-hand turn up Yerba Buena, and when I get to the top I will go down Mulholland Drive until it hits Pacific Coast Highway again, where I will turn left. After a little while I will make another left-hand turn, this time up Decker Lane. When I reach the intersection with Encinal I will turn right and go back to PCH.

Then I will pedal back to CotKU and from there back to Palos Verdes where I will climb another long hill. After it’s all said and done I will have ridden about 140 miles, which is a long way, and will have gone uphill a whole bunch. I will be very tired.

You can come if you want and you can ride as much or as little as you see fit, and here’s the thing: Anyone who wants to join me on this practice bicycle ride can. The same way that you can jog behind someone on the bike path, or follow someone on the freeway, or hop onto the tail-end of a bunch of wankers sliding along a cross-country ski trail, well, you can ride in my vicinity when I go ride my bike, too.

The catch? I’m not promoting the ride other than to note its existence, and I’m certainly NOT suggesting that you do it. I’m not providing protection, medical care, organization, road permits, or anything else. Why? Because it’s my own private bicycle ride that I plan to do alone. If you show up, that’s your business. It’s not a race or century ride or a Grand Fondue or a public event or a private one. It’s not an event of any kind. It’s my own personal bicycle ride.

What does this mean? It means that if you decide to leave from the same place at the same time with the same destination in mind as I, you may well die or suffer horrible, catastrophic injury. You may get hit by a car, you may fall off your bicycle and split your skull, you may have some wanker smash into you, you may slide out on a descent and get killed, you may blow a tire, bust a rim, snap a chain, crater a fork, or have any of a million other bad things happen to you.

And unfortunately, this is the risk you take when you ride a bicycle on public roads. You are trading the fun of riding your bicycle on the street for the risk of death or catastrophic injury. I’m not encouraging you to do it, to the contrary. I’m warning you about the danger and telling you that if you show up, it’s your life, it’s your safety, and it’s your responsibility to come home in one piece — not mine.

If you do decide to meet up with me, it will be good training for the BWR. I won’t be hammering, that’s for sure. And at the end of the day, although you may well get killed, you may well not. It could even turn out to be fun. Your call.

So see you on the road. Or not!

END

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“Tapas Bar, Calle Escudellers, Barcelona”

March 4, 2015 § 16 Comments

My brother Ian, who got me into cycling, loved Barcelona and loved Spanish poetry. After he died virtually all of his unpublished writing and his translations were destroyed when a family member took his computer and destroyed it. My eldest son got this copy of one of Ian’ few remaining poems, perhaps from my mom, and shared it with me. Now I’m sharing it with you.

After grocery shopping I
stop by for coffee at the tapas bar.

Inside there’s sawdust on the floor,
and it’s still dark, as if the morning
weren’t the start of a new day but a
continuation of the night before.

Already drinking tinto with tortillas
several salty men sit at the bar,
being ribbed by an old woman with no teeth.

Shortly after I sit down she lifts her shirt up slightly to expose her paunch
and the man next to her pulls it further up over her breasts,
and squeezing at a dug he checks it like a loaf of bread or meat
for sale in the mercado up the street.

She says her only pleasures are to eat
and sleep, then slaps her crotch
repeatedly and with great strength and gusto,
to demonstrate the region’s perfectly
without sensation.

This accompanied
by laughs and densely worded argument,
another round of tit-grabbing,
then pointing by all at cocks and cunts.

Afterwards we all feel quite content,
happy to begin the day’s affairs
with breakfast at Café Escudellers.

By Ian Davidson

Doing the heavy lifting

March 3, 2015 § 15 Comments

There are people in the Internet world who mainly blab, like me, and people who do the heavy lifting, like Ted Rogers of Biking in LA. In addition to continual bike advocacy, Ted does the tough work of going through news, local and global, to find the stories that are most relevant to LA’s largest and most important population of cyclists: Those who use bicycles for transportation. Ted does much more than aggregate news stories; he also investigates them. With a particular focus on cycling fatalities, Ted’s blog is almost always on the cutting edge of reporting bike fatalities in Southern California, and he tints his reportage with incredible sympathy for the victims and their families.

Ted’s advocacy has teeth, too. Although he’s fiercely partisan he’s also fair, and he never hides facts or twists situations to fit his moods — unlike one $2.99/month South Bay blogger I have in mind. After years of this kind of advocacy, Ted’s words have heft, and as a member of the board of directors of the LA County Bicycle Coalition, he devotes considerable time to action.

Fortunately, I disagree with Ted’s strong support of cycling infrastructure and believe instead that the best path for cycling is enforcement of existing laws that allow us to ride in the roadway. I say “fortunately” because there’s nothing more boring than having to read someone with whom you agree 100%. A little red meat always makes the veggies taste better.

Whether he’s keeping us up to date on which bicycle friendly candidates to support, or spreading the word about yet another cyclist trying to recover from catastrophic injuries, the Biking in LA blog covers the cycling waterfront. And something that tickles me deep down inside is Ted’s ferocious adherence to correct spelling and good grammar. I don’t think I’ve ever found a typo. In sum, his work is fair, it’s fierce, and it’s often fun, making BiLA’s work such an amazing contrast to VeloNews and Bicycling, puffy and ad-bloated rags that couldn’t do an investigative report on their own stool sample.

If Ted’s not on your daily read list, he should be.

END

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Leading by bad example, or, “A Prayer for Neal Rogers”

March 2, 2015 § 61 Comments

I could only pedal slowly, my jaw scraping the tarmac as I rolled along, listening to the story. In brief, an up-and-coming youngster had chosen the wrong wheel with half a lap to go. The guy he was counting on to drag him to victory sat up, which made sense because he’d been out in a two-man breakaway for the last two laps, had been caught by a field averaging 30 mph for the entire race, and didn’t have the legs to sprint.

Junior, stuck on the wrong wheel, tried to come around when Mr. Deliverance stopped pedaling, but the train had already left the station.

To demonstrate his unhappiness with the actions of the lead-out man who wasn’t even on his team, Junior stormed off, threw himself into his dad’s car, locked the doors, and pouted. Fumble-futz dad sheepishly collected the gear, then went over to Junior’s teammates and began making excuses for Junior’s bad performance–not Junior’s dramatic performance of “Hamlet, Prince of Pout,” but his dramatic failure to seal the win.

There were so many things wrong with this story. First, why was a 19-year-old at a P/1/2 bike race in February? Didn’t he have coursework at college he was supposed to study over the weekend, and weren’t midterms around the corner? Second, why was the father of a grown man even at the bike race? Aren’t normal parents embarrassed by adult children who race bikes? Third, why was his father making excuses to the team? And fourth, why hadn’t the dad jerked Junior out of the car by the scruff of his neck and said something along the lines of “If you ever lock me out again I’ll kick your snotty little fucking ass and make you walk home, after I sell your stupid fucking bike for a tank of gas.”

The answer to all these questions is complex, but it boils down to “Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be bike racers.” Because if you do, chances are good that they’ll always be babies.

Junior’s story isn’t the first one I’ve heard from this trove of tales from the failed parenting vault. Somewhere along the way someone forgot to tell their son that bike racing, unless pursued as a hobby, is a dead end. Over the years, excepting Lance Armstrong and Marco Vermeij, I’ve never seen a kid being “groomed for the pros” who actually made it as a Pro Tour rider or even anything close. What I’ve seen are rabid parents throwing money and pressure on kids, teaching them to spend their time cycling instead of getting good grades, and winding up with almost-good-enough-but-not-quite long term deadbeats. I’ve seen a lot of that.

Unlike other pro sports, where the chance of success is also infinitesimal but the rewards are at least astronomical if you hit the jackpot, the biggest winners in pro cycling are still chumps compared to the biggest earners in soccer, basketball, and baseball. The reason is that sponsors won’t go near cycling at the pro level, and their avoidance of the sport is only partially related to the structure of teams and the UCI.

Despite the fact that the “industry” is worth billions–when’s the last time you saw a Local Basketball Shop–the money in cycling is at the retail level, not the pro level. And one reason the pro level is devoid of meaningful money is because it cannot extricate itself from its association with doping. After an entire history of pretending that drugs weren’t a problem and cheerleading the Lance & Floyd + Trek & Oakley show, VeloNews has now taken the opposite tack: Ensuring that no one will ever forget the sport’s sordid past and, what’s worse, its sordid present.

Last night Neal Rogers, the VeloNews editor, posted a link on his Twitter account to an article written by Michele Ferrari. The article estimates Chris Froome’s VAM and “stratospheric” w/kg in a recent race, and insinuates the obvious: Froome is doped to the gills. Rogers’s posting adds a level of insinuation onto Ferrari’s insinuation: If anyone should know about stratospheric levels of cheating, it’s Michele.

Apparently Rogers, with over 15,000 Twitter followers and a venerable position in one of the most globally influential cycling rags, sees nothing wrong with linking to a web site that offers coaching services by an unrepentant cheater who’s been banned from cycling for life and who was the mastermind behind Armstrong’s drug-enhanced Tour victories. When questioned about promoting Ferrari on Twitter, Rogers shrugged it off and aggressively defended a guy who is more than a cancer: The advocacy and use of EPO in its early stages led to the death of numerous young riders.

Instead, Rogers doubled down, saying that Ferrari is “highly intelligent and scientifically minded” and his status “doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to him, though. End of the day, he’s a number cruncher.”

And there you have it. Rogers couldn’t care less about Ferrari’s role in the exploitation of young athletes, his lifetime sanction for cheating, or the fact that one of the worst faces in cycling is now selling his services on the Internet to any and all comers. At the end of the day he’s a number cruncher, a harmless old fellow with wire-rimmed spectacles doing complex math for the benefit of all the innumerates out there.

No, Neal, you have it exactly wrong. At the end of the day Ferrari is a liar, a cheat, and an evil person who is so bad for the sport you supposedly promote that he had been banned from it for life. It’s like saying that at the end of the day “Dr. Mengele was just a scientist.” In fact, the Nazi researchers — like Dr. Ferrari — weren’t simply “highly intelligent and scientifically minded” people. They were highly intelligent and scientifically minded people who used their high intelligence and science to harm people, break laws, and blithely pretend that it was okay.

As a result, you, Neal, should be really careful about not simply shrugging off Ferrari’s misdeeds as you actively promote him on your Twitter feed. Ferrari is a bad dude and you’ve given him your stamp of authority, even though you temper it with feeble protests about his “questionable ethics.”

Can you imagine the NFL promoting Lyle Alzado’s dealer, or MLB doing a promo link to the website of Balco and Victor Conte? Of course not, because the sponsors would raise holy hell.

And therein lies one of the intractable problems faced by kids who enter the sport, a problem not limited to pouting brats and their fumbling, apologetic, pathetic parents: The worst examples still abound at the very highest levels of cycling journalism which, after all these years, is still fanboy writing in its most supplicating form.

On the bright side, discerning parents will see positions like those taken by Rogers and realize what a joke the sport is at the Pro Tour level, and will encourage their kids to take another AP calculus class rather than sign up for another four-corner crit in Hooterville. And that is progress.

END

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Matching tops and bottoms

March 1, 2015 § 52 Comments

One of my friends in the “industry” sent me this link to a review of Wal-Mart skateboards. Since the sound on my brand new HP computer is already broken, it took me a couple of days to get around to viewing it. When I finally saw the video, well, let’s just say you don’t need the volume. Two skateboard dudes take turns jumping off concrete stairs on cheap-ass, defectively designed products that are marketed to little kids.

The boards fail catastrophically. If you have kids, grandkids, know anyone who has kids, or were once yourself a kid, this video will scare the hell out of you.

I see this a lot in the bike “industry” as well. I love it when people call it “the industry” because it sounds like a huge conglomeration of space-age manufacturing facilities, globally designing, testing, marketing, and retailing sophisticated services and products, and it doesn’t sound like some smelly old unemployed guy in his underwear, hunched over his computer screen in his mom’s basement sipping his third cup of coffee after awaking at noon to put out his bicycle industry blog. In short, it doesn’t sound like Steve Tilford.

Fact is, part of the bike industry revolves around the same kind of deadly, low-quality, defective products that Wal-Mart loves to sell on its skateboard shelves. Full carbon wheels made of 100% carbon that disassemble on steep descents when ridden by over-the-weight-limit riders, a weight that is often “super plus” sizes like 190 or 200 pounds–weights that are completely normal for certain body types. New generation disc brakes (always the front) that mysteriously stop working. Front fork failures. And of course my personal favorite, a Specialized tire that was slightly non-round at the bead, which meant that it would seat and inflate, then blow off the rim once you started going downhill.

“Oh, you tore your face off and spent a month in the ICU like the guy who runs my sister publication at Red Kite Bore while exhibiting your descending skills down Las Flores? Here, have another tire. It’s on us.”

In addition to the physical danger of product failure, there’s the fraud that occurs in the advertising of such products. Mrs. WM likes to go to the Korean spa around the corner. It’s a place where chubby middle-aged women, Asian and non, go to sweat away a few pounds of water weight while chowing down on the pork noodles and ice cream. The key thing about the Korean spa is that you aren’t allowed to wear clothes.

The other day I went to pick her up after her day-long bathing session and she was hopping mad. “I’m so onna sick of these cheaters,” she said.

“Cheaters?”

“Yes, they are cheaters.”

“Who?”

“The blonde bathing ladies, all coming onna spa dressed up all onna fancy with a pretty blonde hair.”

“I didn’t know you had it in for blondes.”

“I like onna blonde hair it’s pretty hair but then they are takin’ off onna bottoms and it’s all black like a parking lot in a Wal-Mart, that’s a fake advertising.”

“Fake advertising?”

“That’s what I’m saying. If I was a boy and getting all happy at a pretty blonde lady and she’s dropping off onna her bottoms and it’s all a black patch like a motor oil I’m gonna cry and ask for a moneyback.”

As usual, Mrs. WM had a great point. Nobody wants to pay for blonde and get black, or pay for black and get blonde, or pay for carbon and get rim failure at 50 mph going down Tuna Canyon.

Super products that have been tested and that work make a difference, and yep, they cost more. In a pinch, and when you’re racing your bike there’s always a pinch, good products can make the difference between a bad accident and losing your eyesight. Just ask Ronnie Toth, who would have been blinded without his performance glasses, made of course by SPY Optic. Save a few bucks and get a cheaper brand? The worst that could happen is, well, you go blind.

Quality matters. Choose wisely.

END

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