November 11, 2015 § 12 Comments
I was riding with my Internet cycling coach and psychologist and financial adviser and child-rearing counselor yesterday and he told me all about saving watts.
“What?” I asked.
“Yeah, watts,” he answered. “It’s not simply about gaining watts, but saving watts.”
“Oh … ” and then I mumbled something and the wind howled for a second.
“What?” he asked.
“I thought you said ‘watts.'”
“But I couldn’t hear what you said,” he said. “So I said ‘what.'”
We went along like that, who’s-on-firsting it until we got back on topic. “I know you hate Strava,” he said.
“But you should use it to do a few Nega-Stravas.”
“What’s a Nega-Strava?”
“It’s where you measure how few watts you can use instead of how many. It’s an efficiency test. The best climbing happens when you get to the base having used less energy than anyone else.”
This made sense, so the next morning when I got ready to leave for NPR I downloaded the Strava app for my iPhone 2. “I’m gonna ride the NPR with maximal Vince di Meglio wheelsucking efficiency, avoiding the wind at all costs and following the most robust ass I can find.”
On the way out, when it was still neutral, I saw Hank Stengenbladdammit from Scottsdale who had shown up on the Donut last Saturday and flayed us all. I’d been hoping he would go home, but alas.
“Hi, Hank. I know this is your first NPR, but since it’s the off-season it will be really slow. You can go hard if you want but I’ll be chilling at the back.”
“Okay,” said Hank as we started up Pershing. We weren’t going very fast so I figured I would stay at the front until the Hop In Wankers at the top of the hill hopped in, and then I would slink to the back.
We passed the H.I.W.’s and I swung over and Hank came past like shit through a goose. “I’d better hop on his wheel so he doesn’t get lost as it’s his first time, plus, I’m on a wheel so it’s not that much effort.”
Hank ended up going really fast and I had to huff and puff a bit. “No problem. As soon as those H.I.W.’s pull through I will pull over and sit for the rest of the ride.”
It was a super windy morning and we hit the parkway hard. I was farther to the front than I wanted to be, and when Toronto swung off the point I was on the front. But I didn’t go too hard until Hank battered by again and I had to go a tad harder than I wanted.
Over the next three laps I masterfully sat on Hank’s wheel, but it seemed like we were always in these little three-or-four-man-plus-Katie-Wilson breakaways, then we’d get caught at a light because I never run red lights anymore and then we’d start off again and I’d head for the back but suddenly there would be a good opportunity to punch it with Hank going balls out but not punching too hard but probably harder than, say, sitting at the back.
At the start of the fourth lap everyone looked funny so I decided to sneak to the back for good this time but first I figured I should jump a little bit and test the waters. Then I was accidentally off by myself but I wasn’t going too hard except for a bit when I had to push it to keep my gap, which kept getting bigger but I don’t think it was too hard because I wasn’t going all that hard as much as it was they were letting me go. (All my pals are on the NPR and they like to help me a lot.)
At the final turnaround I had a very red light but since I’d stopped at all the other ones and the peloton was pretty close it made sense to keep going since there were 60 of them and 1 of me and they’d catch the green by the time they came around or at worst would have to stop for a few seconds so I started pedaling kind of hard. It was harder than if I’d been sitting in but hopefully not much except for the bits of oatmeal and almonds and blood from breakfast that kept coming up.
They must have all stopped and taken a nap and gotten caught by a bunch of lights and been concerned about the off-season and have wanted to let the old feller have one because I won the imaginary sprunt with lots of time to spare and when they caught up to me only Toronto and my Internet coach said “Good job.” Everyone else glowered, but they were happy glowers.
At coffee I checked my phone and said to Coach, “I averaged 352 watts.”
“What?” he said.
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November 10, 2015 § 33 Comments
On Sunday I went to a club banquet with Sausage. I rode over to his place, changed into my clean t-shirt and jeans that were clean a couple of weeks ago, and climbed into the passenger seat of his Fahrvergnuegenwagen 12-cylinder hi-performance luxury SUV.
The seats were leather. The dash was leather. The radio was leather. And when he pushed down on the gas pedal the Fahrvergnuegenwagen jumped like a stallion straining at the reins. We went around corners smoothly, the leather suspension absorbing LA’s terrible potholes as if they were mere pockmarks.
I sank back into the leather commander’s chair and rubbed my feet against the leather floor mats. Such a difference from my Prius, with its 142,039 miles and in which everything is made not from leather but from bits and pieces of plastic. I imagined the glory of sporting around town in that Fahrvergnuegenwagen, gaily hopping out of the leather driver’s seat in my leather pants, handing a leathery $20 to the garkon, doffing my leather porkpie hat to the girls all clad in leather, and taking the elevator up to my office on the penthouse suite.
But reality jolted me back when we passed a sagging Prius as it huffed and puffed its way up a 2% grade. I looked in the window at the penny-pinched fellow in his mid-40’s, hunched over the wheel, racked and smacked by every crack in the road as he anxiously re-calculated how many hundreds of thousands of Prius miles he’d have to drive to save enough money for the first two months of his son’s first year in college.
Or maybe not. Maybe he was simply Priusing because he liked small and he liked being able to park on something smaller than the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and he didn’t even have any kids or want any and the money he saved on gas he used to buy full carbon wheels that were made of 100% carbon.
I smiled and waved at him as we passed, which was highly unnatural, and what was odder, he smiled and waved back.
“Who am I,” I thought, “to judge someone by the car he drives?”
Which brings us to Santa Barbara, where they have a big morning weekend ride filled with bicyclists who are not only important, but who are terribly impressed with their own importance. Or rather, Importance. Best, IMPORTANCE.
This will sound unbelievable when I write it, but they express their IMPORTANCE by heckling riders going the other direction who have dared to venture out on their bicycles without conforming to the Dress and Equipment Code. Happy bicyclists who pass these IMPORTANT riders are verbally abused for being fat, or for riding dorky bikes, or for wearing the wrong things.
They have vented their IMPORTANCE at ordinary riders and extraordinary ones, pack behavior and poor manners exhibited by fellows whose life necessities are paid for by mommy and daddy and whose career trajectories surely include podium steps at the Tour or at least Ontario.
The traffic suddenly snarled and the Prius was stuck in a stopped lane. Sausage eased off the gas and let the Prius in. They exchanged waves.
“Now how hard was that?” I thought.
For the Santa Barbarians, it’s apparently hard. Very, very hard.
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November 9, 2015 § 26 Comments
My mortality was definitively announced with the full throated cry of a newborn, fully pink and flush from the hard passage, wailing his objection to the eviction and voicing his displeasure at the light, the air, and the awaiting life of toil that began with a life and death struggle for the nipple.
Not a milestone but a tombstone, a definitive thrusting motion off to the side like a large piece of family furniture, suddenly in the way, and now set over in the corner lest someone trip over it or stub a toe.
Live forever! Ride a bike! Avoid the void with fruit, grains, nuts, and complete abjuration of trans-fats, saturated fats, and saturated news cycles and recycled political crises and dilemmas. California! The golden shore! Where death is for other people and mortality only happens in whispers, quickly forgotten or painfully remembered in silence because Pontius Pilates and deep tissue massage and Zumba for the aged will anti-age you or at least make sure that everyone else croaks first.
I pedaled along the bike path with a friend, deeply thankful that my grandson had announced my demise, trying and failing to convey my gratitude which instead sounded like a whine or a sob or a spoiled brat crying “No!”
Not I. Facts for me are things to be seen and understood, never denied or prayed around. In order to die we first have to live. And nothing infuses life like the turning cranks, or as Robert Doty likes to say, “the Church of the Spinning Wheel.” Because along with the announcement that my time was shortening rather more quickly than I’d anticipated, my grandson brought with him a rare gift, and this too I carefully considered as I rode.
No longer the provider, the progenitor, the pater familias, the care for this new life was first and foremost the duty of someone else. Someone else had brought him into the world, had made the solemn contract to clothe, to nourish, to house, to succor, to protect, to guide, to comfort, and to heal.
My grandson brought with him into the world a gift to me, the freedom simply to love, and to love simply.
November 7, 2015 § 28 Comments
Beans are cooking on the stove and have been since 5:00 AM. They will be ready tonight. Soak them in water the night before, then sautee the celery, onion, and garlic in bacon fat. Spice the beans, dump in the vegetables along with the bacon, the fat, and the vegetable juice, and sit tight.
The apartment smells REALLY good at 5:00 AM, by the way.
Which got me to thinking about cycling, which in some circles is simply referred to as an eating disorder. After I tossed aside the bottle last November I dropped between 15 and 20 pounds. By March I weighed 150; I’m 5′-11″. Actually, I’m 6′-0″, but when I say I’m 5′-11″ it really agonizes all the guys who tell everyone else they’re “six feet.”
“Hey, no way!” they holler. “I’m six feet and you’re taller than me!”
“I guess you’re not six feet, then.” Boom.
But anyway, back to cycling, I mean the eating disorder. Losing weight is easier than keeping it off, and losing it is hard enough. A few years ago I went on the kimchi diet, but all it got me was emaciated, slow, low test, 15 hours sleep each day, and farts.
This time I’ve kept my weight at between 148-150 every month since March. Please don’t try this, as it won’t work for you. Still.
- I eat three times a day. 5:00 AM when I get up, 12:00 noon, and then at 6 or 7 PM.
- I don’t eat between meals. No snacking, no fruit, no milk, no nuts, except on the Donut Ride, when I put energy drink in my bottle instead of water. If I get nailed by a low energy lull I nap for five or ten minutes.
- When I eat, I eat until I’m full. Seconds if I feel like it, occasionally thirds, but not often.
- Fruit for dessert.
- I rarely eat out.
- No alcohol.
- No weird dietary restrictions; plenty of fat and meat and dairy.
- I grocery shop for each day only. No bulk supplies or meal planning.
- With the exception of booze, no absolutes.
I try to take a 15-20 minute walk at least once a day; an hour in the morning when I can squeeze it in.
There you have it.
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November 6, 2015 § 12 Comments
I decided to write down everything I know about performance cycling.
There. That sure was quick.
Then I decided to write down the things that, although inappropriate for others or unorthodox, have helped me achieve competitive success on the bike.
So that leaves me with my observations, and the problem with those is that they’re filtered through a brain that is politely described as “eccentric” and clinically described as “in need of strong medication.” But I regress.
The performance cycling pie has three equally sized slices. Well, they should be equally sized but they aren’t.
I. The training slice.
This is the one that in most pies covers 90% of the plate. I won’t tell you about training because you already know everything there is to know about it, which is why you won Paris-Roubaix last year. But I will tell you about my training slice for 2016 because it meets the only two criteria for a training plan that matter: It’s simple and I can do it.
- Don’t tire myself out. For decades I slogged and flogged, never passing up a long ride, never refusing an offer to take an interminable, stupid pull, never hesitating to follow up one hard workout with another, and then after that, another. But no mas. My new rule? If my legs feel flat I’m not riding. Why? Because I am old and wear out quickly, and if you’re over 40, so do you. You know how steel will wear out eventually? We’re not steel.
- Two hard efforts a week. Or less.
- Avoid any training regimen that involves data, or worse, social media, or worst, data and social media.
- Keep my weight at 150.
- Study Chinese more.
- Continue to finish each day with several tall, cold glasses of un-drunk beer. Recently I’ve been super enjoying not drinking Racer 6 IPA.
II. The aero slice.
This is the piece that some people focus on, but typically only as it concerns equipment. The current battle for “Most Aero” is being viciously fought between Strava Jr. and Sausage. The one ground down his carbon stem (full carbon, that is) so that the bolts no longer protrude. The other booked a room in the Specialized wind tunnel for his tenth wedding anniversary.
Fully 1/3 of your performance pie should be devoted to aerodynamics. The easy part is buying shit and loading up on 100% carbon components that are full carbon and taking your wife to the wind tunnel. The hard part is riding aero (and ever getting laid again).
Riding aero differs from buying aero, and as an inveterate cheapskate I’ve failed at both. In addition to a lifetime devoted to poor training habits, I’ve also developed bad positioning into an art form. The idiot out on the edge of the peloton, catching all the wind? Me.
The dolt riding three bike lengths behind the last rider? Me.
The clod who’s always on the wrong side of the echelon? Me again.
Unsurprisingly, stupid training and bad positioning go together. The bulk of your aero efforts should be comprised of wheelsucking, something that most cyclists gravitate towards naturally, and selective drafting, something that few riders excel at. None, it should be noted, surpass Vinny D.
Selective drafting is like having to sample fifteen wines before you pick one to drink. You don’t guzzle the whole tasting glass, just like you don’t commit to Twitch Thudpucker’s wheel for half the race. You put a little in your mouth, swish it around, then spit it out. Same with drafting. The wheel you suck should itself be well positioned. It should be ridden by someone who typically makes the split. And it should feature a big old ass, one that is wide and with overtones of blackberry, perhaps even including a tart yet buttery finish that goes well with fish. The rear panel should not be beyond its expiration date a-la-Brad House. And if Kjar isn’t around, you must learn to never follow riders who are smaller than you.
This can be a challenge, because little people are often the best racers. No matter. Spit them out and ride behind the bigger butt.
One difficulty I have always had in wheel selection is the delusion that I am small. Because I sometimes end up with the climbers, I mistakenly assume that I’m like them. I’m not. They are tiny and delicate and cute and you want to cuddle them and hook them up to a cheeseburger I.V. bag. But I am not. I am long and stretched out and a kind of elongated wind sail. So sitting behind tiny people doesn’t work for me, and henceforth I will not sit behind them. You shouldn’t either. What you will find, however, is that tiny people are constantly sitting on YOU. Use this to your advantage by throwing back your rear wheel, veering unpredictably, or stopping for no reason. Think PREZ.
The final piece of aero riding is navigating within the pack. This isn’t that hard (I’m told), but it is terrifying. The lugs who occupy the middle of the pack are using 78.3% less energy than I am as I slog over on the side in the wind, but they are scary because they have head tattoos, pierced teeth, facial scars, jangling ear dangles made of brass that play jingle bells against their top tubes, and they don’t cry when their bars bump. If you can develop the steel nerves to sit in this viper’s den of angry killers, you will arrive at the finish fresh and rested. Good luck with that.
III. The strategy slice.
For a very few riders, this is 90% of the pie, and they always win a few races a year. Do you know Gibby Hatton? He shows up to races with no teammates, not very fit, and always wins a few. Why? Because he has perfected aero pack riding and because he knows exactly when to pedal hard–once, in the last 200 meters, sitting fourth or fifth wheel in the last turn.
The rest of us had strategiotomies at an early age and are more or less profoundly stupid and incapable of thinking during a race. That’s too bad (for us, not Gibby) because it means that at no time in the race do we actually try to answer this question: “How am I going to win today?” [Note: “Go from the gun and solo the whole race” is not a strategy, just like “Be president of the United States” is not a career plan.]
Why are we so stupid? Because strategy involves constantly evaluating your “plan to win” against what’s happening on the ground. It’s a great idea to attack on the final climb unless there’s already a break three minutes up the road. It’s a great idea to come around Charon at the finish but 30 other people have the exact same plan and most of them believe in open carry. It’s a great idea to splat on your face in the last ten meters but Prez already has that sewn up. Plus, it’s not really a good idea.
Although dynamically strategic thinking is impossible for me, it is possible to pick one concept and stick to it. For example, “Don’t be the strongest one in the break.” Or “Don’t lead out the sprunt.” Or “Pay off the best rider.” That last one generally works very well.
So that’s it. Go forth and win. And remember who taught you how.
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November 5, 2015 § 24 Comments
Rapha announced today that it would end its partnership with Team Sky at the end of 2016. Cycling in the South Bay sat down with Chauncy Chalmers, CEO of Rapha, to talk about the divorce.
CitSB: What was it? Irreconcilable differences?
Chauncy: Oh, far from it. We’ve both benefited immensely from the partnership and are leaving on the best of terms. We plan to remain friends, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without Team SKY.
CitSB: And where are you today?
Chauncy: We are the dominant player in the pretentious bicycle clothing market. $345 for a pink plastic vest. See? We OWN it.
CitSB: Yes, but there’s more to your success than that, isn’t there? Rapha is regarded as one of the best fitting, most superbly designed clothing manufacturers in the bike industry, combining the understated English qualities of Savile Row with the hardman exploits of volcano dopers. That’s what they say over at Red Kite Prayer, anyway.
Chauncy: Don’t believe everything you read; that guy was nominated for Wanker of the Year. Our stuff is made by the same underpaid Chinese garment workers as every other label. And get this–the average Chinese worker makes $19.81 per day, just under $2.50 an hour. Pretty sweet mark-up, I’d say.
CitSB: Schweet, for sho. So why the break-up with SKY? Seemed like a match made in heaven. Pretentious British label hawked by marginal gains volcano dopers with funny accents that sound vaguely aristocratic to the untrained American ear, which can’t distinguish between the Queen’s English, Ozzie Jibberjabber, and Pig Latin.
Chauncy: Yes, the American market is what we’ve always referred to as “gullible.” And it certainly has paid the bills.
CitSB: So why the breakup? Faux English tailored cycling kits with a vaguely 70’s design in updated 21st Century Pink; volcano dopers who talk funny and millions of tubby Americans who think Rapha’s been around since Eddy Merckx.
Chauncy: The market is saturated.
CitSB: How can that be? There are ten new baby seals on the NPR every week, ripe for clubbing and for new Rapha kits and for 100% full carbon parts made of pure carbon. It’s only just begun!
Chauncy: Our market research shows that with the exception of New York, Los Angeles, and parts of North County San Diego, the pretentious asshole demographic is saturated and shrinking.
Chauncy: It’s true. Most people who ride bicycles aren’t snobby twits who crave approval by being treated rudely and looked down on. What’s worse, most people who ride bicycles don’t really care what their bicycle clothing looks like.
CitSB: Blasphemy! How do you know that?
Chauncy: We took our team of designers to the Tour of Palm Springs last year to examine the market first hand. Three of our designers are still in therapy. It gets worse. We randomly sampled riders, asking them if they liked Wiggins better than Froome. The answer blew our mind.
CitSB: What did they say?
Chauncy: They all said the same thing: “Who?”
CitSB: Shocking. And so you’ve pulled the plug. What’s Team SKY going to be wearing for 2017 then?
Chauncy: It’s a secret, but I’ll tell you if you promise to keep it off the record.
CitSB: You can trust me.
Chauncy: They’ve hired one of your local guys here in LA to do their kits. Apparently one of the designs here has really caught their fancy.
CitSB: Which one is that?
Chauncy: Big Purple, or Orange, or something.
CitSB: Big Orange?
Chauncy: Yes, that’s the one. You know them? They must have a pretty understated look to catch Team SKY’s eye.
CitSB: Nope. Never heard of ’em.
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November 4, 2015 § 20 Comments
The path of truth is straight, but lined with razors and thorns.
Reading about George Hincapie got me thinking about Steve Tilford. You couldn’t pick two people who are more different. One is quiet, dishonest, and makes his living on the back of ill-gotten gains that he earned through a career of cheating.
The other is garrulous, honest, and makes his living by playing fair and giving it his all. I’ve been meaning to do a write-up of Steve’s visit to the South Bay a few weeks ago, when he flew in from Kansas to give the keynote speech at the 3rd Annual South Bay Cycling Awards.
But I haven’t been able to do it because each time I sat down to type, the job seemed too immense. This evening it seems even more impossible, and not just because there’s a pot of Cajun beans and pork bubbling on the stove, infusing the room with a smell that screams “Eat me now!” without pause.
Big job or not, here goes.
Steve flew out and we met him at the Hotel Shade in Manhattan Beach. I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve ridden with lots of pros and cycling icons, and for the most part they are really disappointing in terms of personality. Something about endless miles seems to make the top tier of riders mute, or stupid, or bland, or some tasteless combination of all three.
Not Steve. From the minute we started pedaling, he was talking. Friendly, funny, and more stories than you could ever remember. Riding next to him was like leaping off into a bottomless pool of anecdotes and cycling history. If we had been expecting a bitter old curmudgeon, we would have been sadly surprised. As Steve said, “I’m not anti-doping, I’m pro-cycling. And that means I reject cheating in all its forms.”
Surrounded by us, the clueless clods of the South Bay, Steve never missed a beat, never looked down his nose at anybody, and politely followed the etiquette of the ride–an etiquette that ended with him stomping the collective dicks of some of SoCal’s strongest riders. Smiling, game for a hard ride, happy to cruise, he made us all feel like champions even though the real champion was he.
It’s impressive to watch great athletes do their thing, but the beauty of cycling is that you can sometimes participate, however briefly, in the performance. Finishing a hundred yards back from Steve the first time up to the Domes and right behind him the second time was better than any masters race, even though he was obviously going at quarter-throttle. Later in the ride, when he pulled out the stops going up Via Zumaya, no one could hold his wheel. No one. And where we were all wrecked after the ride, he had coffee and then went out for another “easy” 30 miles.
But his athletic performance was nothing compared to his keynote speech at our award ceremony. He literally graced us with his presence, speaking with conviction, with passion, with honesty, and with hail-fellow-well-met good cheer that turned a special night into an unforgettable one. Sincere, funny, and happy to hang out with the crowd after speaking and knock back a few beers … this is what every champion should be, but hardly any of them are.
The path of truth may be a hard one, but seeing people like Steve Tilford should give everyone hope and inspiration that it’s not simply a path we can take, but one that we should.