April 8, 2016 § 36 Comments
The LA weatherperson forecast rain tomorrow and this weekend. This generally means it won’t rain, but people have already canceled Friday coffee cruises, Saturday races, and Sunday group rides.
If it does rain, people from other parts of the country will probably not call it “rain.” Rather, it will be a few concentrated drops of water more commonly recognized as drizzle. But it will keep cyclists home in droves.
Not me. I hope it rains. It’s not that I like the rain or that I’m one of those tough guys who licks his chops when it starts raining in sheets and the wind starts howling and the temperature drops to freezing. But every once in a while I really enjoy going out and getting soaked on my bike.
It’s because when I started junior high my dad drove me to school on the first day. Then on the second day I got my things ready and told him I was ready to go. “Okay,” he said. “Have a great day.”
I looked at him for a minute because he was still drinking coffee and reading the paper. “I’ll wait in the car.”
“You might have a long wait.”
I tried to divine the Oracle of Dad, but either I hadn’t proffered the right goats and virgins and incense or he was done talking. So I stood there for a minute. “Aren’t we gonna drive?” I asked.
“I wasn’t planning on it.”
I did some quick mental math, which for me took a while. “So I’m gonna walk?” It was a solid three miles.
“You can if you want to,” he said without looking up.
I fidgeted and squeaked this out, something that might have almost been rebellious. “What if I don’t want to?”
The Oracle of Dad read a few more paragraphs about David Berkowitz a/k/a Son of Sam, who had been all the rage for a couple of weeks. “Then you should ride your bike.” The audience with the Oracle of Dad was now over and my three-year sentence of daily commuting in the humid, hot, wet, miserable hell hole of Houston began.
The worst days were rain days. It would come down in blinding sheets, cars spraying walls of water as they passed within inches, and I’d arrive at school as wet as if I’d just stepped out of the swimming pool, or something really nasty, like the Gulf of Mexico. I remember clenching my teeth as filthy road water soaked my face, and I remember spitting out the bitter, brown, grit-filled sludge. On the worst rain days, which was all of them, I remember seething with rage at being forced to swim to class, arriving sopping wet and hunched over as I tried to lock my bike up in the bike cage, never a problem finding a good spot because on those days my bike was the only one there.
It took an average of two class periods to fully dry out, and my shoes generally squished until the end of the day. If I was lucky the rain would pick up again around three and I’d get to do it all over again.
Those rain days left some kind of stamp on me, something written in a secret invisible ink that has to be treated with a special potion to come to the fore again and be visible. Nowadays, when it’s not raining too hard and it’s not too cold and I’m not too lazy, I love to get out in it and pedal around, hoping that maybe the stamp of youth and struggle will become visible again.
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April 6, 2016 § 41 Comments
I paid little attention to the faux exploits of Dan Bilzerian as he pedaled his way to a cool million or so in a bet about whether or not he could ride from Las Vegas to Hollywood in 48 hours. But I did pay attention to the controversy it generated in my little corner of the universe, because shortly after winning the bet Bilzerian posted a Facegag video with this charming bit of literature:
Two things stand out:
- Hates gays.
- Hates cycling.
So he’s probably not going to be someone I invite to my next Gay Men’s Fitness Ride. But what bothered me wasn’t this painfully short dude trying to make up for it with daddy’s money and a bushy beard, but it was that people in my cycling community got their teeth caught in their zippers over it.
Bilzerian allegedly spent upwards of $60k at local bike shop Helen’s in Santa Monica and another bundle on the coaching services of Nate Loyal. Then, after the ride he stuck a fork in their eyes by laughing at our “fake” sport, pocketing a ton of money, and merrily skipping back to his stock-in-trade of misogyny, small penis machismo, and Instagram blather.
This pissed off some other Westsiders, one of whom is named Tony. He was not, shall we say, amused, and a host of other cyclists were enraged at the insults that Shorty sprayed on our sport like a fire extinguisher filled with shit. Bilzerian had succeeded in doing what he apparently does best: Playing to his audience (non-cycling misogynistic gay-hating couch potatoes) and showing the middle finger to everyone else. Oh, and picking up a cool million.
So first things first, and you’re not gonna like it. This was an impressive athletic accomplishment. I don’t care if he drafted. I don’t care if he had 7-time-Tour-de-Doper Lance Armstrong offering coaching advice. I don’t care if he rode a recumbent.
What matters is that an avowed non-cyclist pedaled from Vegas to Hollywood in 48 hours. It’s a long ass way and most Americans, let alone the congenital sloths who make up Bilzerian’s fan base, couldn’t do it if their clogged arteries depended on it.
But it gets better. The dude proved that you don’t have to be very fit or very athletic or very ANYTHING to ride your bike hundreds of miles. If you have the desire, motivation, and money, you can do it, and better yet, you don’t even need the money. Anyone mildly desirous of getting in shape and having fun can, with a bit of preparation and commitment, ride a bike incredible lengths and achieve amazing stuff.
For that Bilzerian deserves credit. He’s the ultimate Fred and he did it his way. What’s not to like?
Now that you mention it, a couple of things, for example, he’s a homophobic misogynist who beat self-important cyclists at their own game.
Can I back up a sec?
Bilzerian didn’t beat anyone except another gambler. He didn’t win a bike race. He didn’t pin on a number. He didn’t contest an event with multiple entrants under a set of rules. He sure as fuck didn’t line up at San Dimas. He bet some other dude some money and won and claimed to have mastered the sport of cycling, which according to him isn’t even a real sport. I won a game of flag football against some little kids, proving that the NFL is a joke.
And the people who helped him on his way? Well, they got paid for it, and apparently they were paid pretty well. If Bilzerian had come to me after getting run over by a truck I wouldn’t have turned down his case just because he’s a douchebag.
The only thing this guy did that bothers me at all is this: He created a division among good people where none needs to be. Tony was right to take a stand and criticize the guy’s misogyny and hatred of gays and he was right to scorn Bilzerian’s claim that he has somehow exposed cycling as a non-sport. But Helen’s and Nate were also right to take the money and do the job. If every bike fitter and bike shop had to police the politics of their customers before providing their service, there would be few bike shops and even fewer bike fitters. In fact, providing services based on the customer’s sexual orientation is exactly what the states of North Carolina and Mississippi have just done, and it’s not turning out well for anyone.
The wasted part is that Bilzerian was introduced to the nicest bunch of people and invited to be part of a global fraternity. We are men, women, and children of every persuasion, ethnicity, nationality, and political belief. We ride for fun, for work, and for transportation. And for the most part we prefer riding to not, and are happy to see new people share in our passion.
Small Dan Bilzerian couldn’t see, or wasn’t interested in the gift. And instead of politely handing it back with a “No, thanks,” he urinated on it, then dumped it on the dinner table.
That’s too bad, but not for us. The gift is eternal and easily washed off, re-wrapped, and passed back on to your friend, your spouse, your child, your grandchild, or the neighborhood kid.
And if he ever gets tired of being a professional douche, he’ll find that the gift is all cleaned up, ready, and waiting for Dan Bilzerian, too.
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April 5, 2016 § 37 Comments
It’s really hard to get away from bicycling, but I was determined.
My youngest son is in the midst of college admissions season, or as I fondly call it, college rejection season, and I am so glad that he will be the last kid of mine to go through this perverse circus of manipulation, extortion, debasement, and fraud.
My oldest kid got rejected from her first choice school, the Tokyo University of Fine Arts, and ended up going to her “back-up” college, Tokyo University. That’s the university that successful Japanese applicants begin studying for in earnest when they enter kindergarten. It’s the university that receives half of the entire national budget for higher education, and from which most leading Japanese politicians and heads of major corporations have graduated from.
It turned out to be a shit school, though. Lots of prestige and a big empty bag of wind with regard to content, education, development, or learning. And since she ended up back in the US where no one had ever heard of it anyway, it was actually a negative. “University of Tokyo?” they’d say. “That’s … interesting.”
My next kid went to an Ivy League school. “Here in the good old USA,” we thought, “he’ll get a fantastic education at the elite academy that is the University of Pennsylvania.”
He may have got that, but what we got was crushing debt. And when push came to shove, he was wholly uninterested in the real benefit that Penn offered, which was first choice of cubicles at Goldman Sachs. Instead, he failed utterly to LEARN THE LESSON OF THE EAST COAST ELITE WHICH IS MONEY, FUCKER and wound up immersed in philosophy, literature, German, teaching, and other things that are good for the soul and make you happy and a better person and an informed citizen but never get a crowd of angry protesters outside your house cursing you and your corporation for buying their home at a foreclosure sale and evicting them onto the street.
I hate to say it, but he could have gotten all of those things right around the corner at CSU Long Beach and the missus and I would now occasionally be able to splurge at The Habit instead of taking all our meals from instant ramen packages.
But now that we as parents had accumulated our Merit Badges of Offspring Higher Education which allowed us to wear sweatshirts that said “Penn” and to use little leather key rings that said “University of Tokyo” as a substitute for a fat 401k, we were ready to ram our third child through the meaningless and humiliating process of college applications, which we unhesitatingly did.
“Just because it sucks and is awful and stupid doesn’t mean it’s bad,” I consoled him.
Only he didn’t want to be rammed and refused to apply to more than a handful of schools. And when he found out that he’d been wait-listed at UCLA and admitted at UCSB, he shrugged. “I don’t want to go to UCSB, so I’ll wait to see if I get into UCLA and if I don’t I’ll go to community college for two years and transfer. You’ll save money and I won’t have to go somewhere I hate.”
“Whoa,” I said. “Hate? How can you hate UCSB? You’ve never even been there.”
“I’ve heard it’s a massive party school.”
“But what’s the down side?”
“I’m going to UCLA.”
“Son,” I said, “UCSB is reportedly overflowing with beautiful women. You are a young man. Do I need to diagram this?”
He looked at me with pity. “Thanks, Dad. But I’m still not interested.”
“Why not? You’ve never even been there! All my friends who’ve graduated from UCSB swear by its, uh, academics. Destroyer went there for dog’s sake.” As soon as I said it I realized that this was not perhaps my strongest card. “Look,” I said. “UCSB is a fine school. Beautiful, uh, location. Beautiful, ah, weather. Really hot, uh, summer days. And gorgeous, er, beaches.”
“I want an education.”
“Damn it, son!” I was so frustrated thinking about all the trips I wouldn’t be getting to take to visit him at UCSB and sit on the benches that I temporarily lost my cool. “Before you make up your mind about whether you’re going to a school that hasn’t even accepted you, we’re going to take a trip to Santa Barbara, which has. You’ll see. It’s awesome.”
“Have you ever been there?”
He rolled his eyes. “Okay, Dad.”
We got up and drove to Santa Barbara. On the way up I told him to check his phone and find out if there were any good places to birdwatch. We had brought our binoculars. He started rattling off places. “Damn,” I said. “That lagoon place sounds good. Where is it?”
“It’s on campus,” he said.
We got to the school and the weather was spectacular. We did a self-guided tour and noticed that the campus was bustling and lively, but kind of quiet. “What is it?” I asked.
We stood and looked around. “No cars,” he said. “There are no cars allowed on campus.”
He was right. There were bike lanes, a bike roundabout, and skateboard lanes, but no cars. After lunch we wandered down to the lagoon, which was brimming with birds. As we thoroughly misidentified most of what we saw, trying to turn ordinary things into birds-that-haven’t-ever-been-recorded-in-the-Western-Hemisphere, a student strolled by.
He glanced at our binoculars. “Are you birders?”
“Yes,” we said.
“Me, too! What have you seen?”
“We can’t figure out that hummingbird,” I said, pointing to a tiny hummer atop a tree branch. I offered him my binoculars to take a look.
“It’s okay,” he said, declining to take them. Then he unzipped his backpack and took out his own. He gazed for a minute. “Looks like an Anna’s to me. Is your son going to go here? If he does, give him my contact info. We have lots of birders here on campus.”
As we got ready to drive back to LA, Mrs. WM wanted to get coffee. “Can you find a good coffee shop in town on your phone?” she asked my son.
He fiddled with his phone. “How about Handlebar Coffee Roasters? It’s got a bike theme of some kind.”
We drove into town and found the place. A tall, tan, very fit looking dude was shoveling beans into the roaster. “Hi,” he said. “Welcome!” He looked at my Giant-Liv gimme cap. “You ride?”
“Yes, when I can. You?”
“Not so much anymore. But I used to ride a lot.”
“Did you race?”
“Yes, professionally for a couple of years.”
“Wow. Who for?”
“Have you ever heard of Telekom or Saunier Duval?”
“No,” I said. “Are they local Santa Barbara clubs?”
He paused, realizing I was a complete idiot. “No.”
“They were actually European teams.”
“Oh, so you weren’t good enough to make the big time here in the U.S.?”
He paused again, kindly. “Well, I did my best. I finished a couple of tours in Italy in 2006 and 2007 but I was never really contending for the win. Rode with a guy named Simoni one year. He was really good and actually won a couple of them.”
“Tours? Yeah, they have those here a lot, kind of for people who aren’t ready for Cat 5 racing yet. Solvang Century and the Central Coast Century are the biggies, I guess. It’s okay for beginners. Did your pal Simoni ever get out of the touring stuff and do actual racing?”
Aaron smiled again. “I think he stuck mostly with the tours.”
“Cool,” I said.
The coffee shop had a mint Eddy Merckx Molteni bike hanging from the ceiling, but more important than the awesome vibe and the bike decor was, you know, the actual coffee. I had a cappuccino that was easily the best cup of coffee I’d ever had, which made sense because Aaron looked like he was checking each individual bean as it roasted, and unlike the bulk beans I buy that look like ragged ball bearings run through a wood chipper, his beans were highest quality, beautiful, and perfectly shaped.
As I got ready to go he forced a t-shirt into my hand. “Thanks for coming by,” he said.
“I really hope,” I said, looking at Woodrow, “that I’ll be back. Because college isn’t just for kids anymore.”
And just like pretty much every other day in my life, this one ended with bicycles, too.
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April 4, 2016 § 16 Comments
I’ve been gathering data since March 2014 on cycling developments around the country and have completed what is in effect a long-term study on the best cities for cycling in the U.S. If you are interested in seeing the data that were used to compile this report, email me or post a comment requesting it and I will post a link to the raw data for your review.
- Houston, Texas. Known mostly as a sweaty hell-hole filled with mosquitoes and large, flying roaches, Houston is in fact the highest-rated metropolitan area in North America for its favorable cycling infrastructure and environment. Despite a high number of cyclist-cager fatalities (1,202.8 in 2015), Houston won the top spot due to its high number of cycling commuters: Over 40% of the city gets to work by bicycle.
- Minot, North Dakota. Although “perfect” riding conditions only occur between August 15 and August 28, the rest of the year Minot offers an incredible variety of riding. Aficionados can choose between riding indoors, hanging out at Val’s, or purchasing fracking equipment for their backyard. Minot nailed down the #2 spot due to its weekly ride (Tuesday) that boasts a gentleman who shows up on a tandem with no one on the back.
- Lancaster, California. Many people abhor the Lancaster-Palmdale Greater Methropolitan Area due to its ill-deserved reputation for drugs and highway fatalities, however,
- Tipton, Iowa. The hometown of former cyclist Jeff Filds, who no longer rides because he can’t find anyone who “just wants to ride down to the park and back,” Tipton offers scenic vistas, authentic Mayan burial pyramids, vast tracts of corn, and 47 different types of wind, all of which contain unique and beautiful varieties of dust.
- Bike Snob, New York. This black hole of negativity, anger, rage, formulaic writing, and sodden predictability drives me insane with jealousy. However, more Americans ride those pages than any other bicycling blog on the Internet.
- Portland, Oregon. Portland, site of former shipyards and naval stations and thousands of cases of mesothelioma, has in the last seven years imitated Austin, Texas, to a “T” and now boasts more people not from there who act like they were than the patrons of the Whole Foods Market on Lamar. Although most Porlandians drive SUV’s and add apostrophes to their acronyms, there are more bike shops operating in the red in this mainstream counterculture small town big city than anywhere except Boulder, CO.
- Yellow Knife, Northwest Territories. Selected for its mild winters, short distance from major metro areas such as Vancouver, culturally diverse population, and number of miles of dedicated bike lanes, Yellow Knife continues to punch above its weight in bicycle friendliness.
- Sugar Land, Texas. Located west of Houston, Sugarland is home to Russell “Ol’ Testicles,” one of the people responsible for getting more people out of cycling than anyone since Henry Ford.
- Santa Fe, New Mexico. This enchanted city tucked away in the mountains offers unrivaled vistas, uncluttered roadways, endlessly beautiful mountain climbs, and with the exception of a few cold weeks, year-round quality riding weather. However, this polished diamond is best known for its local bicycling tour guide services, the Stern Tours and Neophyte Welcoming Committee.
- Santa Monica, California. Home to one of the greatest champions of the modern cycling era, Nick Brandt-Sorenson provides the world’s leading web-based nutritional, pharmaco-medical, and fashion support for America’s cyclists.
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April 2, 2016 § 16 Comments
It is hard to learn another language because the people who speak it don’t want to practice it with you because they speak English better than you do Chinese so why would they want to listen to you say “I live in an apartment dog, I enjoy eating roast spit, and I have a 3-year-old daughter wife. How old is your tooth?”
The better question is why would a brain-rotted old fart like me want to learn Chinese anyway? My next trip is to Mallorca for the annual Old Texas Gizzards Romp and Norwegian Salted Fish Beatdown Bicycle Ride and they don’t speak Chinese there, they speak Catalan which is basically Spanish for defectives.
Anyway I like Chinese because it is very cheap. You can entertain the fuck out of yourself with a handful of Chinese words and it doesn’t cost hardly anything. The reason it is entertaining is because of the great simplicity of Chinese grammar, which is this: In order to translate anything in your head from English into Chinese, you simply arrange the Chinese words in an order that you wouldn’t ever arrange any sentence ever and then bingo you are bilingual.
But back to my problem of finding potential Chinese practice victims I did what I do with every life problem I apply a bicycle racing tactic to it. Bicycle racing tactics work for everything. In this case I used the Category Downgrade Tactic.
When you suck real bad at bike racing it’s not that you suck like Brad House, it’s that you are racing a too hard category. So you find an easier one that doesn’t have anyone in it who can beat you. This fits the Derek B. Rule of Race Outcome Prediction, which is this:
The thing that determines whether you will win is not your training or equipment or fitness or brains it is who shows up. Signed, Derek B.
The same thing is true of Chinese practicing. If you want to force someone to talk to you in Chinese their English has to suck balls worse than your Chinese sucks balls which frankly is a whole shit ton of ballsuckery. It’s a challenge because the only people whose English sucks balls worse than my Chinese ballsuckery are aged 4-6 months and they aren’t speaking yet, anything.
Hiring teachers is for balls because they only speak according to the Chinese to English Ration Rule which is this: You pay me $75/hour and I will speak 1:875, one word of Chinese to 875 words of English explanation.
So you pay the fuckers to teach them English.
Anyway, bike racing downgrade tactics work you just have to find someone who really sucks balls at English which is hard but not impossible because there are over a billion of them and about half live in my apartment complex. But if Brad House can win a dozen state championships then you can find one Chinese person whose English is dogsbody bad.
I was walking laps around the apartment complex and saw this aged Chinese couple sitting on the stairs catching their breath from lugging groceries up Ravenspur Drive to their apartment. It’s 18-percent and they were both about a hundred.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” they said.
“How are you today?” I asked.
“Bu dong,” they said.
“Nimen shi zhong guo ren ma?” I asked.
They smiled and said they were. Once it became clear that their English was absolutely nonexistent I had them snared like a new-bike owner on his first Flog Ride. I made a complete ass out of myself but they didn’t care because it fit the Rule of Assdom: No matter how big an ass you make speaking Chinese, it’s okay when your talking partner would make an even bigger ass out of herself speaking English.
I told them I was a lawyer but instead told them I was a fish. I told them I was married but instead told them I was tied up. I told them I had one daughter and two sons but instead told them that I had one toothache and two flippers. I told them my wife was orange. That my grandson’s name was “Cow.” That I like to ride my bicycle on car doors. And that every day I walked 10,000 laps around the apartment.
They smiled and told me my Chinese was excellent. We made a date to get together again and chat about the typhoon. I’m just afraid they will go home, break out the English dictionary, and learn five words of English. Then I’ll have to downgrade again.
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April 1, 2016 § 11 Comments
Our fools here in the South Bay are not limited to April. Every Thursday morning at 6:35 AM we do the Flog Ride, which consists of six loops around the Palos Verdes Golf Course and a finish on Via la Cuesta.
Each lap is very hilly, and the finish on Via la Cuesta is pretty steep.
The ride is pretty foolish year-round because:
- It leaves really early.
- It is really hard.
I know that it is possible nowadays to quantify “hard” with watts and Strava and kilojoules and TSS’s and amperes and such, but those methods are sterile. The best way to quantify the ride’s difficulty is in human terms, which is to say that hardly anyone ever comes back to do it twice, and many of the best riders in the South Bay have never even done it once.
How hard is the Flog Ride? After the fourth lap yesterday one of the new riders dismounted in the regroup parking lot and began fiddling with his bike.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
“I think my brakes have been rubbing,” he said. “I just can’t keep up.”
“It’s not your brakes that are rubbing on the rim,” I assured him. “It’s your lungs rubbing against your rib cage.”
At the Flog Ride, you can say with almost 100% certainty that when someone shows up to try it out, the rider will be a Reverse Terminator. He won’t be back.
The ride is only a year and seven months old, but two riders do keep coming back, and every week they have two goals:
- Don’t be last.
- Make it to the second turn with the group.
No dreams of beating the Wily Greek, no dreams of holding Destroyer’s wheel, no prayer of following Davy Dawg, no fantasy of ever even coming close to being first atop the climb, no goal of shattering the group on the puncher past the stop sign, no, none of that, just don’t be last and please, please, please dog let me make it the second turn before I get hammered, pounded, Mercury-in-retrograded into a quivering pile of gasping meat and flicked out the back.
But every week, with the precision of autocorrect, Michelle and Tom show up and get mercilessly vaporized. They are friends and teammates and good people, so we crush them.
Until yesterday. It was the last lap. We were all tired and dreading the final climb up Via la Cuesta. We made the first turn and Riddlebarger jumped away. Alan, a Big O teammate commuting to work who had jumped in with us, motored the tiny group into a tiny line. Michelle was second wheel and I was on her wheel.
Three riders launched at the stop sign but the group stayed intact. Atop la Cuesta, while the rest of us sat on the curb panting, Michelle and then Tom rode up. “We made it to the second turn!” she shouted, delirious with joy. Tom’s smile was bigger than a trophy bass’s.
“One and a half fucking years!” she said. “And we finally weren’t the caboose!”
We collected our lungs and got ready to descend to Redondo Beach for post-ride coffee and lies. “You coming?” Michelle asked Tom, who was standing on top of the hill, on top of the world, and gazing off into the distance, pleasure diffusing across his face.
“No,” he said. “I’m going to savor it.”
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