September 9, 2015 § 48 Comments
I don’t like electrobikes. They go too fast on the bike path, which doesn’t bother me. Their riders have lousy bike handling skills, which doesn’t bother me. They zoom up behind me without notice, which doesn’t bother me. The riders are completely unfit hardly every pedal, which doesn’t bother me.
They pass me as if I were tied to a math word problem.
THAT BOTHERS ME.
It doesn’t just bother me because they are faster; okay, a lot faster. It bothers me because of what I suspected but wasn’t revealed until the other night, listening to ARD’s Infonacht radio program.
The reporter was interviewing some schmo in Munich who sold electrobikes. “They are great,” said Schmo.
“You can go much farther than on a regular bike. They are cheaper than a racing bicycle. They are very eco-friendly. And of course you can go uphill without much strenuous pedaling.”
“So you expect sales to increase?”
“Oh yes, they have tripled in the last eighteen months.”
“Why do you think they are so popular?”
“Many reasons, but one in particular.”
“What’s that?” asked the interviewer.
“When you pass a bike racer or a fitness enthusiast it is such a wonderful feeling.”
So there you have it. As rotten as you feel when some unfit schmo blows by you at 30 on the bike path, he feels inversely happy at leaving you chewing on the sand and grit kicked up by his back tire.
It doesn’t matter that he’s cheating, that you’re fitter, or that he’s beating you with a fuggin’ motor. What matters is that he is faster and you can’t catch him. So, I pretty much hate that.
But it’s the tip of the iceberg, and you can say in a couple of years that you read it here first: Electrobike racing is right around the corner. What could be more awesome? Unlike ho-hum crits, a pack filled with bikes that can chug around the parking lot at 40 will be thrilling. The crashes will be epic and the technology will be off the hook.
When wankers tangle wheels, a single pile-up will cost $100k. Talk about a yard sale!
Forget getting an edge with a few millimeters of carbon on your rims; racers will be getting more and more motorized wattage crammed into lighter and lighter frames. You think weight weenies are a bore? This will cross the unbearable boredom of weight weeniedom with the agonizing mindlessness of gearheadism.
“But that’s not bike racing!” we will screech and scream.
Not in the beginning, perhaps, but as the manufacturer money flows in and the races become more like motocross and less like bicycles, real bike racers will move in. Instead of a sport where you need 60 minutes of fitness to ride a break or win a field sprunt, you’ll need spurts of power to complement the bike’s wattage for short bursts. A sprint will mean tacking on 5 mph of human power to a 45 mph top end of the electrobike.
The electro horsepower will allow riders to wear real protective gear instead of lycra underwear. The sport will be incredibly fast, incredibly exciting, and incredibly dangerous. Best of all, there will be no masters categories–just young kamikazes pedo-racing their souped up electro bikes for cash primes and closed head injuries.
It’s coming in a couple of years. You’ll see. I hope I’m dead by then, and if I’m not, please shoot me.
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September 8, 2015 § 27 Comments
If you have been following the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, perhaps you’ve been agog at German chancellor Angela Merkel’s bizarre, incomprehensible response to the poor, the wretched, the hungry, and the persecuted, yearning to be free: “Welcome!”
That’s right, folks. Instead of building a wall (U.S.A., Israel, Hungary, DDR), Germany is rolling up its sleeves and getting down to the hard work of accepting and integrating what will shortly be over 800,000 refugees. Sure, there are Germans who believe that the best welcome is a water cannon and a concentration camp, but they are a minority. Merkel’s word on the influx of hundreds of thousands of people pouring in?
“Deutschland schafft es.”
“Germany has this.”
Compare that with the standard bearer for the Republican Party and current GOP front-runner, Mr. I Am Angry Donald Trump. He hates immigrants from Mexico and proposes a wall that Mexico will pay for. Trumpy is pissed off, doesn’t like brown people, and wants to keep everyone away from the table except himself and presumably the handful of white male billionaires like him.
So there I was, jammed into the chute behind Michael Smith, Rico, and Matt Cuttler as we pounded up Mandeville Canyon on the 18-minute interval that is the Holiday Ride. The 80-person peloton had been surgically reduced to a tiny group with the messy, bloody, painful efficacy of a giant liposuction hose and only wheelsuckers remained, glued to Matt’s wheel as he relentlessly tried to reel in the Wily Greek.
Towards the end a few faces who hadn’t been seen the entire ride rushed forth, led by a searing attack courtesy of Big Wanker from La Grange, a strong young buck who clearly believed in making his elders do all the work. Attila Fruttus and Dave Holland scampered off with him. I held his wheel for 200 yards and cracked, experiencing the spectrum of cardiac arrhythmias described here.
I think I got eighth in a non-race that no one counts while everyone raced and counted.
On the way down I chatted with one of the guys, a newcomer from the Midwest. He told me about his few forays down south into Orange County, and about how he’d done the Como Street Ride the day before.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s pretty different down there.”
“Three hours of riding and talking with people and not a single person asked me a single question.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I’d ride next to someone, talk to them about THEM and hear all the details of their life, what they did, but never got any interest the other way. It was a one way street. No one gave a damn.”
“It’s called the Orange Curtain for a reason,” I laughed.
“When I came to the South Bay I was welcomed,” he said. “People asked me to join their club, join their team, join their rides; I spent my first two weeks saying ‘Thanks.'”
“You are a national class bike racer, don’t forget.”
“It’s not that. In the last several months I’ve seen all kinds of people welcomed and have seen zero shunning. It’s just different here.”
“That’s cycling for you,” I said.
“Merkel or Trump,” I said.
He looked at me funny but I didn’t explain.
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September 7, 2015 § 5 Comments
We dropped down off the Switchbacks in a line. Sweeping through the right-hander onto PV Drive South all of the familiar figures fell into place.
Charon, Rudy, Derek, Leadout, Michael, Cuttler, Stathis, X-Man, and Undercover formed the point while the rest of us jostled for protection on the screaming downhill followed by the punchy rollers through Portuguese Bend. Everyone knew what was coming and it was gonna fuggin’ hurt.
The scene of so much misery is called The Glass Church because, amazingly, it is a gradual roller that starts at the bottom of … guess what … a glass church. It’s not very long and it’s not very steep so it’s just the right distance for everyone to get in over his head.
Undercover pounded off the front in a hopeless kick destined for immolation and, always the one to pick the worst wheel at the worst time, I went with him. Chunks of sputum, toe jam, and tooth enamel began to bleed out of his eyes and after a couple hundred yards he began doing the Brad House arm flap. When he slowed to a pace that I could pass and maintain, I jumped past. The wankoton was well behind. I ground it halfway up the grade until I heard the telltale “whoosh, whoosh” of approaching carbon doom made of 100% full carbon.
It was Rudy. I grabbed on, then held on as he accelerated all the way up the roller and over the top. Derek was with him and we had a gap. I took something that looked like a pull, only it wasn’t. After a few rotations we were at the bottom of the little hill past Terranea. Rudy launched. Davy had bridged, somehow. Three-quarters of the way up the bump I punched it coming up the right-side gutter.
We flew down the short grade to the final uphill before the sprunt. Davy charged with X-Man, who had also come across, on his wheel. I faded backwards like the burnt out stage of a Saturn rocket.
We regrouped at the light and Rudy was grinning. “You hung on,” he said.
“Barely. There was that one point on the Glass Church when you came through and I had to bite down hard.”
“Those are always the moments when you either make the split or you don’t.”
“It felt like I was slowly chewing off my own tongue.”
“But then it lets up and you’ve made the split. Because everyone else backs off.”
“The taste of your own tongue isn’t very good,” I mused.
“I work with a lot of riders who are just starting out. They have that great ‘new’ fitness but the depth isn’t there yet, where they can max out and still bring their heart rate back down. They hit top gear and stay elevated.”
“There’s so much out there about how to train,” I said, “but I’m still waiting for someone to write a book about how to win.”
He laughed. “Yeah. Same as in poker. Cycling appears to be about training and fitness, or in poker it appears to be about luck, but in the final round it’s always the same five guys sitting at the table.”
“Because the guys who win have a playbook.”
He nodded. “And they follow it.”
“When are you publishing yours?”
We had hit the bottom of Via Zumaya and he glided away. “Someday!” he said.
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September 5, 2015 § 10 Comments
“Here’s your dinner,” I said to Woodrow.
He stared at the plate in fear. “What is it?”
“It’s a sloppy Joe.”
It hit me like a stubbed toe: My kids have never eaten a sloppy Joe. “You’re kidding, right?”
He angled away from the plate. “No. It sure looks sloppy, though.”
“Wait ’til you taste it,” I said, having already sampled it and confident that it was probably the best sloppy Joe ever made in the history of poor people.
“Can’t you tell me what it is first?”
“What, you’ve been going to Chester Karras negotiating seminars? It’s a fuggin’ sloppy Joe, the finest cuisine known to redneckdom. It’s cheap hamburger meat grilled in a pan and mixed with onion, green pepper, garlic, cayenne pepper, some more garlic, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, a bit of garlic, and tomato sauce.”
“That sounds nasty.” He sniffed the plate. “How do I eat it?”
“With a fuggin’ fork, for fuck’s sake! Sloppy Joe days used to be the best day on the school lunch menu back at ol’ Jane Long Junior High. That is some good eatin’!” I cut off a slab of toasted wheat hamburger bun that was groaning under the weight of the sloppy and jammed it in my mouth. “MMMMM, mmmm!” I said. And it was awesome. There is nothing like the rubberized gnawing on cheap ground beef to take you back to your childhood.
He cut off a tiny corner and placed it on his fork, then he sniffed it and carefully put it into his mouth. I waited for him to swallow and got ready to enjoy the explosion of satisfaction on his skeptical face. He swallowed. “Well?” I said triumphantly.
He cut off a slightly larger piece and ate it. “It’s okay,” he said.
“Okay? That’s it? Here you’re eating dog’s gift to American poor folks cuisine, loaded with ketchup and cheap fatty gristle meat smothered in ketchup with extra ketchup and the best you can say is ‘It’s okay’?”
He ate some more. “It’s not bad, Dad. Really.”
“Let me tell you something, Mr. It’s Not Bad Dad Really. I got a friend who is a fuggin’ expert at taking sloppy, messed up shit and turning it into filet mignon.”
“Really?” He knew what filet mignon was = I’ve failed as a parent.
“What’s his name?”
“Charon. Charon Smith.”
“That’s a funny name.”
“He’s a funny guy.”
“You throw him into a nasty, messy, sloppy, fucked up shark tank of idiots and supercharged bad bike handlers and he pounds the motherfuckers into a smooth slurry of fine cuisine and slices through them like a sharp knife through a soft eyeball.”
“Gross,” he said, polishing off the sloppy and getting up to make himself a second one.
“And I’ll tell you something else,” I said. “Ol’ Charon doesn’t let it get him down when someone says It’s Not Bad Dad Really, no sir, he does not.”
“People been telling Charon that he’s a fast old fart crit finisher but he can’t road race and he can’t outsprint the pros.”
“You should have seen him on Sunday. He skipped the leaky prostate race because he knew his teammate Leadout would be with him and he did the pro race. Talk about sloppy fuggin’ Joe. There were 122 sloppy-assed idiots on the line who were messy and aggro enough to eat nails and broken glass.”
“Hundred dollar primes, also known a biker chum. But Charon didn’t give a damn.”
“Nope. He hung on for ninety minutes while the shrapnel flew, the body parts banged, the shit stains squirted, and everyone threw a Hail Mary pass every five minutes.”
“Then what?” The second sloppy Joe was much reduced.
“He took all that sloppy shit and cleaned it up with one whisk of his snot rag. Blew through the youngsters so fast that instead of cash primes, next time they’ll be offering those tykes diaper primes. He won by a country mile, clean as a whistle.”
Woodrow scraped up the last of the sloppy and licked his fork. Twice. “Sounds like an awesome dude.”
“Damn straight,” I said. The plate, it sparkled.
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September 4, 2015 § 11 Comments
Ol’ Cracks doesn’t call me often, but when he does I drop what I’m doing and take the call. Thank goodness I wasn’t holding my future grandbaby.
“How the hell are ya?” growled Ol’ Cracks, his Texas accent thicker than bacon grease on a Southern hooker’s shirt sleeves.
“Can’t complain,” I said.
“Yer a lyin’ sack of rotten oats,” he said. “All the hell you ever do is complain.”
“Now that you mention it,” I said.
“Now lissen up,” said Ol’ Cracks, which was not an invitation to flesh out my nascent complaint. “‘Cuz I got a story for ya.”
I moved from my office desk to my office bed and stretched out. “Shoot.” I knew I wouldn’t even need a notepad.
“You ‘member Gizzards?”
“Gizzards? Was he the guy who was blind in one eye and couldn’t see too well out of the other? Kind of rotund?”
“Naw, you got him confused with Big Piles.”
“Which one was Gizzards?”
“He was the dumb bastard.”
“That doesn’t narrow it down much.”
“Well anyhow, Gizzards got one of his buddies into cycling and started bringing him along on the Sunday Gutterfuck Ride.”
“How’d that work out for him?”
“We gutterfucked him coming out the dogdamn parking lot every time, but he kept coming.”
“Okay. So what?”
“Well, Gizzard’s pal’s name is Stumpnagel but everyone calls him Sags.”
“Hell, first off, his belly hangs down onto the top tube, so that’s your Sag Number One. And then when he gets tired, which is after the first five minutes, his head droops over the stem like the bend in a vulture’s neck. That’s Sag Number Two.”
“Sag Number Three?” I was almost afraid to ask.
“He’s allus the first bastard in the sag wagon.”
“Sag wagon? Since when did you guys start riding with a sag wagon?”
“Aw hell, never. That’s what we call the cars he flags down after we’ve gutterfucked him offn a ditch fifty miles from home.”
“Okay, so back to the saga of Sags.”
“So one day Sags and Gizzard come up to me and they say ‘Ol’ Cracks, how can we get better? You’ve been winning races for thirty years and you never train and you’re drunk half the time and you’re lazy as a post office supervisor. What’s the secret?'”
“What’d you tell ’em?”
“Same thing I tell everybody. I said, ‘Listen up you dumbasses, you suck and you always will. You’ll never win a race because you’re slow and stupid, in that order.'”
“They got all mad but next week they come up again and were just as sassy as a sixteen-year-old with big boobs and Gizzard says, ‘Ol’ Cracks we’ve signed up for Big George’s training camp in South Carolina and we’re gonna ride with some pros and get fast and come back here and stomp your ass.'”
“I bet you didn’t take that lying down.”
“No, sir, I did not. Told ’em they were just as slow and stupid as they’d been last week and that the only thing they’d get throwing money at a lying, cheating, doping ex-pro was poor.”
“How much did it cost?”
“Five grand for the first sucker, I mean trainee, and $2500 for the second one.”
“Big George has a good gig going. Ride around with a couple of hicks for $7,500 bucks? Hell, it couldn’t be any worse than riding around with you, which I do for free.”
“You’re just as big a fool as Sags and Gizzard. You think Big George rides around with these yahoos? He escorts ’em out of the parking lot to the base of a climb and leaves ’em at the rear like a dingleberry on a horse’s ass. Then five hours later he circles back to the hotel, pats ’em on the back, cashes another check, and goes home to his wife and EPO.”
“So they’re out there all alone?”
“Oh, no. Big George ain’t dumb. That’s what all those washed up pros and masters national champs are for. He pays THEM a pittance to ride around with Sags and Gizzards and change their diapers.”
“So what happened? They came back and kicked your ass?”
“You got a good imagination,” he said. “But not quite. On the first day Gizzard gets put in a lodge that has a housecat, and he’s deathly allergic to cat hair, and the housecat has layered the place with six inches of fur, so Gizzard swells up like a pumpkin and winds up in the ER on an inhaler.”
“Sags starts at the bottom of Big Corkscrew Mountain, a twelve-mile climb with sixty-three switchbacks and an average pitch of 23 percent, and when I say ‘starts’ I mean ‘almost tips over.’ His nursemaid is Cardboard Box O’Houlihan.”
“Cardboard Box O’Houlihan? Last year’s 35+ masters national road champ? The guy who lives in a … ”
“Cardboard box. Yeah, that’s him. So CB rides off and then about halfway up he stops to wait for Sags. Way off in the distance, here comes Sags, head down spinning at 4 or 7 rpm, tacking like a catamaran, all 235 lbs. of him grunting and groaning and grinding up that fuckin’ hill.”
“O’Houlihan’s phone rings and he pulls it out to see who’s calling. About that time Sags, whose head is still down, t-bones O’Houlihan at about 3 mph.”
“Thank goodness he was going slow.”
“You ever been hit by a piano going 3 mph?”
“Guess what? It fuggin’ hurts, especially when it lands on your leg, which Sags did, and it snapped O’Houlihan’s femur like a matchstick. O’Houlihan is writhing on the ground saying ‘You dumb motherfucker you run into me going UPHILL you dumb bastard!’ They fly him out or more likely drive him out in a pig manure truck.”
“Then what happened?”
“Sags comes home and I tell him man, you are one stupid sonofabitch. Couldn’t you make something up so’s you don’t look like such a brainless rhino? Running into a national champ going uphill? How the fuck does that even happen? And of course he says, ‘I dunno, but it was O’Houlihans’ fault.'”
“Yeah, for stopping on the side of the road, to which I said, you dumb bastard he stopped because he was waiting for you because that’s his fucking job!”
“So did his fitness improve?”
“I don’t know, he was only in town for a couple of days after that.”
“Where’d he go?”
“The Levi Leipheimer training camp somewhere in California.”
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September 2, 2015 § 41 Comments
When my eldest son Hans went off to college a few years ago I wasn’t sad. I was happy. He was embarking on adulthood and you could tell from the way he dashed up the escalator at the airport to board the plane that he couldn’t get to college a minute too soon.
We didn’t go out there with him and move him in or check to make sure he knew how to do his laundry, eat his dinner, wipe his ass, or put on condoms. We just waved goodbye and watched him go. My wife was sad but I wasn’t. I knew what kind of great time he was going to have, and how much better, infinitely better, it was going to be than it would be staying.
And it was.
I visited him in Philly twice, once during his freshman year and again when he graduated. We weren’t exactly helicopter parents. More like deep space probes.
When he returned to California after three years with an infinitely valuable degree in philosophy, he moved back home, got a job tutoring high school kids, and began saving money to retire his share of the college debt. He worked eight hours a day, often six days a week. He paid $300 a month in rent and slept on the living room floor on an old futon.
He never complained, but he never waxed exactly eloquent about sleeping on the floor and having one corner of the couch as “his” hang out space. He commuted to work on his brother’s too-small bike and learned just how fucking deadly it is trying to “share the road” when the other sharers want you dead.
He got harassed by the PV cops for being a shade too tan and looking poor with an old backpack pedaling that too-small bike, he rode in the rain and he rode in the heat. Every month he got stronger going up Hawthorne, and many was the night he came home lathered in sweat but grinning.
All the while he was plotting his escape, of course, a teaching stint through the Fulbright Commission at a public high school in Austria. He got waitlisted for the program, causing me to wonder this: How can a kid named “Hans” with great grades from a great school who studied a semester in Berlin NOT get the first job on offer in a country where they speak German? Answer: That’s how the world is.
When the call came he was ready, but the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Postal Service were not. His paperwork only barely arriving in time thanks to the ineptitude of bureaucrats who truly, deeply, and profoundly do not care, he packed up his thing, singular, and I drove him to the airport.
In a year’s time we had talked, walked, laughed, listened, hugged, disagreed, drunk our morning coffee together, eaten home cooked meals of varying quality, hustled down to Baskin-Robbins for late night ice cream, and even had a couple of slugfests on the bike. I had so much I was going to tell him on the way to the airport, but suddenly we were there and it was all unsaid.
An angry limo driver crowded us as a scowling cop motioned him to get his bags and me to move the hell on. Hans reached over and gave me a hug. “Love you, Dad,” he said, and hustled away from the car, across the island, and towards the terminal’s doors.
The strapping, loping, graceful, beautiful man glanced back over his shoulder and smiled. I warmed from the inside out in a giant pulsating wave, then had to bite my lip hard to fight back the tears, which, like all good rivers, flowed anyway.
September 1, 2015 § 16 Comments
Although I generally despise the “off season” let me say that I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, which is the first day of September, which in turn marks the first day of my off season.
I need a break. For the first time in more than 30 years I didn’t flame out in early April, to which I can only credit having finally learned that you can’t keep training hard once race season starts, and to this little pearl of wisdom: The older you get, the less you recover.
It was an exciting year of racing even though I only fell off my bicycle once, at the BWR going around a turn with my head down into a cactus. A smattering of top-ten placings hint at even more mediocrity to come, which is encouraging. Best of all, I have no idea how many miles I rode this year, but it was at least 500, maybe even more.
In addition to the euphoria of not having to lace up my cycling jockstrap for a while, there was the sad news about my sobriety. “What sad news?” you ask. “The sobriety,” I answer. “That’s the sad news.”
But every sad occurrence is balanced by something not totally awful, and in this case for the first time in four years I won’t be entering September with the awful, heavy, painful dread of cyclocross hanging around my balls. I sold my ‘cross bike and won’t be buying it back. Thank you Major Bob for cutting the seat post so low that I couldn’t ride it even if I wanted to.
Will I miss not racing for a few months? Probably. What joy compares with having “Payday” Johnny Walsh, alleged teammate, chase me down in a breakaway with two laps to go so that he can score a $20 prime? Johnny, next time just come up to me after the race. I will give you the twenty dollars and a spare inner tube.
What thrill compares with bridging to the monsters of the crit peloton, Pat Bos, Derek Brauch, and Thurlow Rogers, with two laps to go in the 40+ race, only to get mown down and discarded by the hungry peloton and finishing so far back that they didn’t even put me on the results sheet?
What joy compares with getting dropped at Boulevard, dropped at Punchbowl, dropped at Lake Castaic, and dropped at Bakersfield? I know! It’s the joy of having my saddle fall off with one lap to go at the Poor College Kids RR and the super, super, super joy of having pro photographers like Danny Munson and Phil Beckman take exciting photos of me whizzing around a corner looking fast when actually I’m in 78th place with one lap to go.
And of course 2015 is ending with a sort of sputter, as all years in profamateur cycling end. The great SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ6 team is merging with Monster Media to form … what? SPY Monster? Media SPY? Team Blurge? And then the best of all reasons to take a break in September is so that I can properly evaluate the high dollar offers pouring in from masters teams around the state who want my services. Perhaps I’ll hire an agent.
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