Tilford Tuesday

May 2, 2017 § 27 Comments

“So, for the weekend, Trek/HRRC took five of the six podium spots. That was kind of lucky really.” Steve Tilford, 2007.

I think about Steve every day now, which is weird because I didn’t when he was alive. I don’t understand why people can affect us more after they’re gone than when they were here. Maybe it’s because I didn’t really know him that well, and it was only after he died that I started to understand the mark he’d left on so many people. Maybe it’s just plain old guilt, discovering that there was a really great person out there who rode bikes and was contributing, day in day out, and for whatever reason I was only peripherally aware of it. And maybe that’s a core function of death, it cuts off forever the possibility that you’ll ever again be able to see the person, and so you have focus on what they left behind. In Steve’s case, what he left behind was massive.

Anyway, here’s a brief history of his blog. In 2003 it started out as a PR thing, with posts by his friend Vincent. Then in 2006 he started writing his own stuff. That’s when the grit started. One of the things that immediately struck me was how admired he was by his peers in the sport of cyclocross. In 2007 he was voted the best U.S. ‘cross racer of all time: 508 votes for Tilford, 224 for Jonathan Page who’d almost won UCI Worlds, and 53 votes for third place.

He was known for loving tough conditions. In 2007 he fell onto a frozen lake in a ‘cross race, then fell through the ice, got out, and kept racing. His gloves froze to his hands and he had no gears or brakes. His hands hurt for days afterwards.

Detail: He won.

At age 47 he was 2nd at the elite nationals crit in 2006, behind Kayle Leogrande who later was banned for doping. That race is a great example of what Steve always said, that dopers steal things from people, and that unlike normal thieves, they steal things you can’t ever get back. What kind of crown would that have been, to have won outright the national title at age 47? Pretty cool, that’s what.

So anyway, Tuesday seems like a good day of the week to dedicate to Steve. His blog has a lifetime’s worth of material to think about, like the line I started this post with.

I love that line because it has two great ideas in it. First is that Steve was humble. He was keenly aware of how good he was, of how he affected other people, and of how people admired him. But he was equally aware of where he stood at any given moment in time, and more importantly, where he stood at the finish of any given race. He never let the things he had accomplished get in the way of who he was: A regular guy who loved to race bikes, who raced them really well, and who loved to share his knowledge and enthusiasm.

The other thing I like about the quote is the way he uses “lucky.” In a way he’s right. It’s always lucky, i.e, random, when you win a bike race. The sport is fickle. No two courses are ever raced the same way because of the road, weather, competition, and your own condition. You can’t win without being the beneficiary of random chance.

But he also uses “lucky” in its Jeffersonian sense, i.e., “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Steve was all about preparation, going through the motions, and paying attention to the details. One friend told me how, whenever possible, Steve always got to the race early and lined up on the front row. The start isn’t always important in a crit, but it can be and it’s a detail, and one he rarely overlooked.

Good lessons are packed into that line for life, not only for cycling:

  1. Acknowledge random chance when it helps you succeed. It’s not all about you. You’re lucky to be here.
  2. Put in the effort. It increases the chances of a good outcome.

I’ll see how long I can continue these Tilford Tuesdays. There’s certainly no shortage of material.



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Shifting the center

May 1, 2017 § 13 Comments

For years now the Manhattan Beach Starbucks has been officially recognized in the Interplanetary Coffee Starship Guide as the center of the known universe. Its starship locator code is CotKU.

Due to the high quality of the male and female passersby talent, its ample brickside layabout for lazy cyclists, and its awesome view of the MB Pier and Pacific Ocean, intergalactic travelers have long agreed that CotKU really is CotKU.

However, a few weeks ago I was coming back from a ride and I noticed a new coffee shop a couple of yards up Highland. Actually, it wasn’t a coffee shop, it was a surf shop that sells coffee. The place is called Nikau Kai. In Hawaiian this means “Center of the Known Universe.”

“Wow!” I thought. “Has the center of the universe shifted?” So I went in. The owner, Jason Shanks, has a dog dish out in front to entice dogs, and a bike pump next to it to entice bikers. The enclosed-but-open-air railing on the inside, with high stools, is amazing. A few feet back is a big table with plenty of room to spread out and make funny noises as your cleats clack on the floor.

But most importantly, the coffee is superb. Jason gets it from somewhere fancy in Santa Cruz. He told me the name and I pretended to know, but it’s gone now. All I can tell you for sure is that if the taste of your coffee matters, Starbucks has a fight on its hand. And instead of factory-made food delivered in a reefer truck, Nikau Kai’s stuff is fresh and homemade. A reefer is probably still involved, but in a different way.

So you can get coffee that actually rocks, and you can also get de-dorkified. As a cyclist you are of course a dork, and that’s why surfers, who are cool, have historically never mixed with cyclists, who are dorks.

Of course there are the few rarities like Dan Cobley, MMX, Jay LaPlante, and a handful of other legitimate shredders who ride and surf, but they all go to great pains to never introduce their cycling dork friends to their cool surfer friends.

What’s great about Nikau Kai is that you can get great coffee and then when you’re finished you can wander into the back of the shop and get a swimsuit that doesn’t look like it was made in 1987. Mrs. WM has been hassling me for years to replace my perfectly serviceable swimsuit but since it isn’t broken I’ve never replaced it.

I mean, no swimsuit in the world is going to fix my cycledork suntan or help me grow shoulders, arm muscles, etc.

Anyway, I sauntered into the back and found a pair that probably fit.

“You want to try these on?” Jason asked.

“No,” I said. “I hate trying things on.”

Instead of giving me grief he smiled and said, “No worries. Bring ’em back if they don’t.”

I got to the counter and the very polite and uber-cool young surfer fellow said, “Anything besides the boardies?”

“I don’t want any boardies, thanks. Just this swimsuit.”

He hesitated, but in the nick of time one of my cyclist friends whispered “‘Boardies’ means ‘swimsuit’ in surfer talk.”

I nodded as undorkily as I could. “Yeah, dude. Just the boardies.”

Anyway, I got home quickly from the excellent double espresso and tried on my swimsuit. It fit perfectly. Now all I need is a suntan. While I’m working on that — and it’s going to take decades — give Nikau Kai a try. But don’t necessarily tell them I sent you.



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Downward-facing dogging off into the sunset

April 30, 2017 § 19 Comments

I have a good friend who helped me quit being a drunk. He doesn’t know how much he helped, believe me. He was a 40-year South Bay cycling fixture. Good rider. Tough guy. Good guy. Juggling his demons and mortgage while providing for a family, working for a living, and paying it forward by being there for any drunk who was willing to ask for help and willing to put in the effort to stay off the beautiful, lovely, perfect bottle.

Then I heard through Facebook that he was done with cycling. Not “fuck it I’m done” but something far more final: He saw that there’s more to life, this brief arrangement of atoms, than shoving your nose against the stem and riding in the gutter every weekend with the taste of puke in your mouth. There’s more to life than being exhausted by noon every holiday and coming home to collapse in a wet puddle of leg migraines.

Than honey-do lists that ain’t never getting done.

Than weekday mornings begun in a swarming pack of freddies and assassins on the NPR, never more than a pedal stroke away from a massive collision.

Than hurry-ups every Tuesday night to make the Telo beatdown so you can get home in time to drool and pass out.

Than weekend racing, of holiday trips to Phoenix to do the Thanksgiving Ride, of trips to North County to taste the whip, of a life focused around pain, exhaustion, food, sleep, and more pain.

In short, he decided to live. To give his wife a piece of him that hadn’t been mauled a few hours earlier by the Donut Ride, or the whatever ride.

And for that I commend him. It is hard to take a new direction, especially when it involves yoga. I did yoga once in Japan and threw out my back. The only way I can touch my toes is by curling up into a ball. He’s going to address some physical and muscular imbalances. I’m going to try to get rid of these 6-inch biceps that are slowing me down on the Switchbacks, dammit. In short, he’s figured it out while I’m still puzzling over whether the equation is right-side up or not.

It’s okay to honorably acquit yourself from the fray, or dishonorably. There is no right or wrong, and I admire someone who can put down the Garmin, walk away from the carbon, give a cold shoulder to the politics of next year’s team kit design.

What’s funny about stepping off the crazy-sel is that it just happens. One day you’re all in, full on, loaded up with 100% pure carbon that is all carbon, completely carbonized, and the next day you’re saying “namaste” and “I’m at peace with the world.”

There’s no transition zone. Look at Jamie Paolinetti, throat-slitting bike racer turned playwright. Look at Tony Galvan, one day the avenging hammer of Thor, the next day a hair-covered Buddha. And who can ever forget Roger Worthington, once the guillotine of the peloton, now a kindly old fellow peddling spirits to hippies in the Pacific Northwest and encouraging people to be the best version of themselves they can be.

Wish I had a nickel for every valiant hero who had wasted decades on bikes and then woken up, smelled the coffee, and realized that there was a planet out there to enjoy and explore. That people were more than sentient meatbags to chase, drop, crush, and punish. That life was beautiful and life was good.

I admire those people and wish them well. I feel nothing but the most profound respect for their maturity, however late they came by it, and for their ability to adapt their bodies and minds to the realities of passing time.

Of course, they’re dead to me now.



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Just one bike

April 29, 2017 § 26 Comments

A friend came over today and took a quick tour of the apartment. “Where are the rest of your bikes?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I see your road bike, parked next to your bed. Nice. But where do you keep your other bikes?”

I had to tell her that’s all I got. No ‘cross bike in the storage locker, no MTB, no beach cruiser, no cool bike from back in the day.

Just one bike.

Mostly it’s because I’ve never been able to figure out how to ride more than one bike at a time, and also because of Scott Dickson, he of Paris-Brest-Paris fame. We were riding one day east of I-35 between San Marcos and Austin and I was well into my third bonk and according to Scott we were “almost home” and were “just going” to take a “little detour” right here to “get a couple of extra miles.”

Scott opined that it made no sense to have two bikes because all that meant is that neither one of them would be working perfectly.

That’s not to say I don’t like bikes or admire bikes or secretly wish I had a bunch of them. My friend Deb has a bunch of them. A whole bunch. She has a bicycle problem, in my estimation, one that she’s tried to remedy with a giant garage, to no avail.

Today I was almost overwhelmed with the urge to buy a second bike. Dave W. came by and showed off one cool bike, his Follis, made in 1392 or thereabouts. It has the coolest thing I’ve ever ridden: A hand-operated front derailleur.


You want to feel like the world’s baddest badass? When it gets time make the big meat sing, you don’t click no button or whack no handlebar shifter or even flip a lever on your down tube. Nah, you drop your entire fuggin’ arm down to the big chain ring and grab a big steel handle and prize your chain up onto the 53.

And when you go uphill, you reach down and manhandle it back.

It was surprising how smoothly it shifted. The bike had super narrow bars with cloth tape, just like the Nishiki International that Uncle Phil sold me back in October of 1982. The water bottle cage was up on the bars and the big, leather Brooks saddle was behind. It had a big, beefy Simplex derailleur and five — that’s the whole number between four and six — cogs on the freewheel. Yes, freewheel. Not “cassette.”

Spaghetti cables coming out of the brake hoods. Big goofy brakes that didn’t stop very well.

But it rode so smoothly, and wasn’t afraid of cracks, bumps, or deformities in the pavement. Rolled over that shit like a tank.

But what I really loved about that bike was the smile that came with it.



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Fake race report

April 28, 2017 § 5 Comments

Telo is pretty much a fake race, but it’s so gnarly, and such a good lab for learning how badly you suck that it deserves its own fake race report.

A really good race report needs to be simple. This one sure is: “Josh Alverson countered on Lap Two and soloed for the last 40 minutes.”

In between the start and the finish there were some teachable moments. One of them was that people don’t like wind very much. It was howling. It was so awful that only about fifteen people showed up.

So, top twenty!!!!

I think racing in the wind makes you better. You either get stronger by fighting the wind, or you get smarter by hiding from it and metering your efforts, or you improve your echelon/paceline skills. Sometimes all of these happen.

Josh had two breakmates at different times, but he rode them both off his wheel. I ended up in the first chase group with Aaron, Eric, and Dan Cobley. Dan was the strongest guy by far and he got us within twelve seconds before Josh nailed the coffin lid shut and pulled away.

Aaron rode the smartest, because he is the smartest. With a teammate up the road he rotated through and immediately swung over. If the three of us could bring back his teammate Josh, fine with him; he’d wax us in the finish. Which he did.

With five laps to go it became clear that we weren’t catching Josh. Dan and I are teammates but we didn’t ride that way. Eric and Aaron are both very fast so our only hope would have been to start attacking them and hope to get away. Instead we kept hammering at a pretty steady pace.

Funny how guys can be too tired to pull hard but when you round that final corner they catch a second wind. Good bike racing is always strategic. I love racing with guys who can think and race simultaneously. It’s very hard to do and I wish I could.

I got fourth for the second time in two weeks. Forever Fourth, or something like that.

David Wells and Emily did the best recap of all, which describes every Telo I’ve ever done, and none more so than this past Tuesday. I now share with you below:



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The 16.7-year subscription

April 27, 2017 § 18 Comments

A giant box arrived at the office from Jessup Auto Plaza.

Sketch, for sure.

The name “Jessup” has long been associated with a wide variety of cycling beatdowns and shenanigans in SoCal, mostly as a result of legend Andy Jessup. A few years ago, Andy got shoved into the barricades at Redlands, smashed his hip, tore open an artery, and almost died.

His recovery was long, painful beyond belief, but inevitable. Just to show he could, replete with rebuilt joint and enough PTSD to spook a combat platoon, he suited up and did a couple of races last year.

Still, a box from Jessup Auto Plaza …

I opened it up and found this:


And this:


And this:


Andy must have taken especial note of my filthy water bottle nozzles and my love of cookies and my chapped lips! But most especially, this:


Mrs. WM was not impressed with the swag. “Where we onna put your more bikin junk?”

“It’s not junk, honey, it’s awesome swag.”

“I got one drawer onna underwear and bra and you got four drawer onna old tire and smelly bikin socks.”

“But look, honey! These bottles are the best. And all clean nozzles! Camelback!”

She scowled. Then she saw the blank check. “Thatsa blank check.”

“Yes, but it’s dedicated to the Wanky Defense Fund.”

“Not no more it isn’t,” she said, snatching it.

“Hey! That’s blog subscription money! At $2.99/month that’s a 16.7-year subscription! Gimme that!”

She turned her back and carefully wrote “Mrs. WM” in the payee line. “Itsa bout time some on your deadbeat reader onna payin. If you was atta McDonald’s like you wastin time onna that blog we’d be onna time and a half last ten years and retirin.”

“Now just a minute,” I said. “My blog provides a very important service.”

“Finally,” she said, as she walked out the door to the bank.



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