10 cycling moves you might as well go ahead and not try

October 27, 2015 § 13 Comments

I see all kinds of weird shit on the bike. Here’s a list of things that you don’t need to try because they’ve already been done and they suck.

  1. Rear wheel pitch-back. Tomorrow will be a great day not to jump out of the saddle with someone on your wheel and throw your bike back six inches. Go ahead! Don’t try it!
  2. Architectural digest. Next time you’re riding along the crowded bike path, take a couple of hours not to ogle the oceanfront homes. You can’t afford them and you’re about to run over that small child’s testicles. So go ahead! Don’t look!
  3. First thong of spring. She’s not just old enough to be your granddaughter, she is your granddaughter, and someone much younger and virile than you has already staked his claim. So don’t enjoy the view. Look straight ahead.
  4. Uh-oh shift. When the road kicks up, don’t wait until you’re about to tip over before shifting in that horrible grinding way that sounds like someone is emptying a gravel truck. Go ahead! Don’t not shift in advance!
  5. Sticky shower. Next time you gobble a mouthful of sugary energy drink goop, swallow without dribbling a few tablespoons of spray on the rider or bike behind you. Go ahead! Don’t attract so many flies when you ride!
  6. Rubber beggar. You’ve flatted because it was easier and cheaper to put the 12,200-and-first mile on that threadbare tire, and now’s your chance not to beg a spare tire worth $9.99 from a kindly companion. Go ahead! Buy your own fucking tubes and CO2 cartridge!
  7. Window into eternity. Sure those see-through white bib shorts are vintage and covered with a shiny patina. Problem is, so’s your furry bunghole. Go ahead! Don’t cause PTSD a-la-Brad House to whomever’s behind you–put on a pair of undies or better yet, buy a fresh pair of bibs.
  8. It’s only time. Group ride coming up? Try showing up BEFORE the roll-out time rather than 15 minutes AFTER. Go ahead! Show your pals that you know what it means when the big hand is on the twelve and the little hand is on the eight!
  9. Weebles wobble. Galloping into the sprunt with legit riders? Now’s the perfect time to not charge to the front and show your mettle. Go ahead! Stop pedaling and float to the back of the bus and out of the way, where the only person you’re likely to harm is yourself.
  10. Mansplaining. See a new rider who’s in desperate need of your keen advice? Go ahead! STFU, or introduce yourself and try to remember their name. He/she’ll probably be riding you off his/her wheel in a couple of weeks anyway!



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Please get “R” done

October 26, 2015 § 66 Comments

This is a topic that I’ve written about before and that I can’t write about enough. It’s dry, it’s a bit legalistic, and it includes the dreaded word “insurance,” but please take a minute to read because it concerns the most important purchase you’ll ever make as a cyclist.

You may think that if you get hurt in a bike-car collision you’ll be able to recover money from the negligent driver as long as the driver is insured.

What you may not know is that in California the minimal insurance coverage for collision liability is $15,000. What you also may not know is that 85% of the drivers on the road have this minimal coverage.

This means the odds are overwhelming that the driver who hits you will have to compensate you for a maximum of $15,000 and THAT’S IT. Once your expenses exceed the $15k that most drivers carry, you’re done, even when you’ve suffered injuries totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There is, however, a very cheap and very effective way for cyclists to protect themselves and their families from cagers who carry minimal insurance. It’s called uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM), and it comes standard with every auto insurance policy unless you specifically decline the coverage. [Note: NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER DECLINE THIS COVERAGE. You may think you’re saving a few bucks but in reality you’re declining the best and cheapest insurance you will ever buy as a cyclist.]

Few cyclists know that UM/UIM coverage on their own auto liability policy exists, and even fewer know that it covers them in a bike-car collision when they’re cycling and get hit by a motorist. This means that if, for example, the driver’s policy tops out at $15k, you have the legal right to turn to your own UM/UIM insurance for the remaining expenses or damages above and beyond the $15k paid out by the driver.

So far, so good, but there’s a catch: If you’re like most people, your UM/UIM coverage is also minimal, often only $15k or $25k. Since you have to deduct the amount already paid out by the offending driver from your own UM/UIM claim, if you have minimal UM/UIM coverage the additional recovery is very small or zero. (15k UIM coverage – Offending Driver’s $15k liability coverage = 0 additional recovery.) It’s not uncommon at all to see a cyclist who has a responsible liability policy for $500k, but a measly $15k or $30k for the UM/UIM portion of his policy.

In other words, the cyclist is being very responsible with regard to paying for damage he might do to others, but completely failing to make adequate provision for the damage that some uninsured drunk or underinsured deadbeat may do to him.

There’s a great solution, though. You can increase your UM/UIM coverage so that it equals the amount of your liability coverage for only a small increase in your monthly premium. Although your UM/UIM coverage is barred from exceeding your liability coverage, as an example, if you have $500k of liability insurance but only $25k in UM/UIM, you can bump up your UM/UIM from $25k to $500k for only a few bucks a month. If you only have $25k or $50k of liability insurance to begin with, you have a problem.

If you ride a bike and have liability coverage of anything less than $100k you are grossly underinsured. I’d say that a barely adequate UM/UIM policy should be no less than $500k. If you have a family nothing less than $1M is enough. If you can’t afford $1M in liability/UM/UIM coverage, sell your extra bike or extra set of carbon wheels. It is the best money you will ever spend as long as you ride a bike, and obviously it’s exactly the kind of protection you want if you’re driving. UM/UIM coverage also kicks in if you get hit by a car while you’re walking.

There are certain insurers such as Mercury who will not offer a policy for more than $250k. Run from these insurers and go with an insurance company that will sell you an adequate policy. Chubb, Allstate, AAA, State Farm, Farmers, and Tokio Fire Insurance and Marine are just a few of the insurers who offer adequate policy coverage. I’ve found Tokio Fire Insurance and Marine to have the cheapest rates with the best coverage and the best claims responses.

For the sake of yourself and your family, take a minute to look at the declarations page of your insurance policy, check liability limits and the UM/UIM coverage, and then call your agent or go online and raise it to the max. This is something you can’t afford to put off.

The other huge benefit to turning to your UM/UIM coverage in the event you get hit is that if you’re forced to use it because the driver’s coverage was inadequate, you actually wind up with a larger recovery than you would if you were making a claim against a driver with adequate coverage.

This is because your health insurance provider will have a lien against any recovery you get from the driver’s insurance. In other words, if Anthem pays your doctor $15,000 in medical bills, Anthem will be able to recover what it paid your doctor from the insurance proceeds you get from the offending driver, effectively reducing the amount you ultimately receive by the amount of their lien. However, when the recovery comes from your own UM/UIM motorist policy, the health insurance provider will have no claim on those proceeds except in a very few limited instances.

Call your insurance agent and raise your limits now. I’ve seen too many injured cyclists with six and seven-figure injuries who are hit by uninsured or underinsured motorists and whose own UM/UIM coverage is only for a few thousand bucks. Don’t be that cyclist!



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Running with the devil

October 25, 2015 § 13 Comments

In junior high I had a crush on a girl named Lana. My first crush was in kindergarten at Booker T. Elementary in Galveston and it was on my teacher, Miss Mary Session. Between Miss Session and Lana I had one or two crushes a year, real old-fashioned crushes.

Back then crushes were awful things because except for school there was no way to see the object of your love, and if your crush wasn’t even in your class it was limited to lunch or, most agonizing of all, passing in the hall and blushing. Without texting or Facegag those infinite periods between when you’d next get to see your crush were a hell without parallel.

By the time I fell in love with Lana I was fourteen and my crushes were major, overwhelming, incapacitating things that spiked such profound intensity as to approach delirium. Crippled as I was with the triple curses of observation, granular memory, and extraterrestrial imagination, every day that I came home I would collapse in the giraffe-patterned beanbag chair in my room and comb through my memory.

Lana’s beautiful eyes. Lana’s impossibly soft skin (I had borrowed a pen from her once and felt her hand). Lana’s shimmering black hair. Lana’s stunningly sleek body. Lana’s occasional noticing of my existence (she once called me “goofball”).

We only had one phone line, of course, and there were only two phones in the house, one upstairs and one downstairs. It was impossible to even think about calling her even though I’d circled her name in blue and red and yellow and green in the Jane Long Junior High School directory, because there was no privacy. And if my brother Ian even scented that I was hot on the trail of another unrequited crush, the physical pummeling and verbal abuse would be relentless.

So I would sit in the beanbag chair and practice my conversations with Lana the Unapproachable.

“Hi, Lana, this is Seth.”

She’d be thrilled to hear from me but would pretend to be surprised. “Oh, hi Seth. What are you doing?”

“I was going to go see ‘Alien Chainsaw Murderer Zombie Atheists’ tomorrow and wanted to see if you wanted to go. I’ve heard it’s a great movie.”

“Oh wow, I’ve been dying to see that! Sure, let’s go!”

Then we’d sit in the dark movie theater and I’d inch my hand over to hers where she’d be holding it deathly still on the little divider between our two chairs and I’d put my hand over hers just when the hero smashed the brains out of the atheist zombie who was trying to chew the leg off the heroine. Her hand would be so soft and mine would NOT be drenched in sweat and we’d sit there and eventually I’d give her hand a squeeze and she’d give mine a squeeze even though I hadn’t worked out how she’d squeeze it if mine were on top of hers but that would work itself out and then on the way home we’d stop behind a tree and kiss.

It was always at that point that I’d open my eyes and utter a curse, knowing that she’d never agree to go to a movie with an urchin like me, and that if I were going to get her attention it would have to be dramatic.

In those days I rode my bicycle to school, a gray Murray, and I rode it with an orange knapsack. This was back when knapsacks were like giant billboards saying “Beat my ass I’m probably gay” and riding a bike to school was a death sentence because in Houston you always arrived lathered in stink and sweat so that your jeans and shirt looked like they’d been dunked. On the rainy days you just rode in the rain, and even though you arrived looking the same at least you didn’t smell as much.

We didn’t have iPods and the Sony Walkman was years away so I would hum my favorite songs as I pedaled. I had stolen a nice collection of records from the Eagle supermarket around the corner and my favorite latest larceny was Van Halen and my favorite song was “Running with the Devil.”

After agonizing through science class one day as my heart broke two tables away from Lana, I jumped on my bike and raced home. Ian took the bus and wasn’t there and my parents were at work. I looked up Lana’s number and dialed. Lana answered in a voice so beautiful that it froze me my tracks. “Hello?” she said.

“Hi, Lana, this is Seth. Seth from science class.”

“Oh,” she said, and giggled. “Hi.”

“Do you have a second?” I asked.

“I guess so. But Debbie is here with me so I have to go soon.”

“Listen to this,” I said and began belting out “Running with the Devil,” screaming at the top of my lungs. After I finished there was silence on the other end. An amazing silence. Then a laugh. Then two laughs, because she’d apparently shared the receiver with Debbie.

“Oh my god,” she said between laughs, “that was awful!!”

“Yes,” I said, crestfallen, “I guess it was.” She started laughing again and Debbie was in hysterics.

“Bye,” I said, and hung up, cursing my bicycle-inspired attempt at demonstrative love.

Thirty-six years later I still think about Lana and about that song; needless to say the only thing that came of it was that Lana never looked at me again and when we went to high school together she would occasionally see me and move to the other side of the hall.

A couple of days ago her name popped up on Facebag; she’s part of my high school reunion group, an event I’ve never been to. I messaged her. She messaged right back. We exchanged lives for an incredibly pleasant stroll down memory lane.

“Hey,” I wrote. “Do you remember the time I called you and sang you a song?”

The wait bubbles floated eternally in the message box.

“Yes,” she typed. “I do.”


2015 lessons

October 24, 2015 § 26 Comments

I am a slow learner. But I’m getting there.

  1. Suck wheel.
  2. Wait.
  3. Eat three times a day (not three + snacks).
  4. Super light climbing wheels work.
  5. Fruit is better than chocolate.
  6. Keep the knives in the kitchen drawer razor fucking sharp.
  7. Nothing reverses aging.
  8. The rider who moves first almost always loses.
  9. Don’t ever be the strongest rider in the break.
  10. Better to let the winning move go and hope it gets brought back than to go with a winning move from which you can’t possibly win.
  11. Numbers and data are generally your enemy.
  12. Ride less.
  13. Hurt less.
  14. Go all in at least once a week. But not for very long.
  15. Everyone gets dropped.
  16. If you’ve been riding and racing for ten years or more, you don’t need “base” anything.
  17. It’s easier to lose and maintain weight loss with less variety in your diet.
  18. Follow only great wheels.
  19. Practice descending inches off great wheels.
  20. If it’s not fun you’re doing it wrong.
  21. Lightweight, yes.
  22. Aero, yes x 3.
  23. Share. No one was born doing this.
  24. “What’s your name?” is the nicest thing you can ever say to a new face.
  25. Remembering it is the second.
  26. If you expect repayment, it’s not a favor.
  27. Does your wife care who won the climb or where you are on Strava? Neither does anyone else.
  28. Bicycles are for transportation.
  29. Everything eventually wears out, including you.
  30. Greet the day, clean your chain.
  31. Noel will get back on his bike one day.
  32. It’s not worth fighting over.
  33. “Good job!” doesn’t cost anything to say.
  34. No one asked you.
  35. After you die, there is no after.



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The head Donut guy

October 23, 2015 § 19 Comments

His head was tilted to one side, he was slurring his words and gesticulating.

So I stood there in my tuxedo and listened.

“Ya see,” he said, “There’s a bigger chain ring they’re gonna make for me, see? Now I’ve only got fifty teeth, ya see? But the new one, it’s gonna have fifty-four or five or six, ya see?” He shaped the bigger chain rings with his hands.

“Yes, I see.”

“And they’re gonna put that on my bike, ya see?”

“Yes, I see.”

“And then you know what I’m gonna do?”

“Pay for it?”

“No,” he said. “I mean of course I’ll pay for it, but you know what I’m gonna DO?”

“What’s that?”

“I’m gonna beat the head Donut guy.” He paused for effect. “Ya see?”

I didn’t see at all. Not even a little bit. “How? I mean, the way things stand you can’t even beat Prez.”

“The head Donut guy, ya see, I can’t catch him on the flats. He’s got me there. But with this bigger chain ring, ya see, I’m gonna catch him on the flats. I can already beat the head Donut guy on the hill, don’t worry about that, I can beat him there.”

I wasn’t worried at all, but I was curious. “So who’s the head Donut guy?”

The slightly unusual fellow who had walked from San Pedro to the Wanky Awards in North Torrance, an eight-mile slog one-way, and who was going to walk all the way back, cocked his head a bit more. “The head Donut guy? He’s the guy always wins the Donut race. Don’t you know him?”

“But the first rider up the hill every Saturday is different a lot of the time. There’s not really any one head Donut guy.”

He shook his head vigorously, then nodded vigorously. “Oh yes there is and I’m gonna beat him at the race next Saturday.” The head Donut guy was apparently an apparition, or a symbol, or a metaphor. Or maybe he couldn’t tell us apart because of our glasses and helmets. Or maybe he just meant Wily.

This fellow was well known around the peninsula for riding a 40-pound MTB, shirtless, in baggy shorts, and sporting giant clodhopper work boots. He was a seal clubber of sorts. Despite his appearance he was viciously strong and loved nothing more than trolling for kitted out baby seals. He’d approach them slowly, out of the saddle, then pass them slowly.

Outraged, they’d give chase on their $10k rigs and he’d dangle. After a minute or so they’d be on the rivet and he’d pull away, leaving their self image in ruins.

But he couldn’t hang with “the Donut race” so he’d hop in with various shellees ascending the Switchbacks, pound for a while, and get dropped.

“The head Donut guy,” he repeated. “I’m gonna beat him. You’ll see.” He wandered off. Wearing a shirt and long pants he looked halfway normal.

But what weird ideas he had bouncing around in his head! What strange fixations were propelling him around the hill, driving him to walk sixteen miles in a single evening just to tell me his strategy against the head Donut guy, whoever that was! He was ricocheting around in an alternate universe, delusional, trying madly to find a wormhole back to reality.

Just like me.



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Falling off bike incident No. 1

October 22, 2015 § 39 Comments

By the time I started cycling in 1982 I had fallen off my bicycle countless times. The first string of bike falling off incidents was in 1969, when Santa brought me and my brother a couple of gold-and-white bikes. Ian fell off a couple of times and then got the hang of it, zooming around the dirt patch that was called, for unclear reasons, “the front lawn” and that was, for murkier reasons still, regularly mowed. Dirt and rocks flew everywhere and it was always exciting.

My bike was too big and I was too uncoordinated and fraidy and so I spent the first day falling off the bicycle, crying, being jeered at by my brother, and finally having my dad give up and leave me to my own solution, which was to put the training wheels back on. They came off a few months later and I fell off a lot more before learning to ride it which was better than anything that would ever happen to me the rest of my life.

When we moved to Houston I fell off my bike a bunch. 1972 was the beginning of the BMX craze and since we didn’t have BMX bikes, no one did, we bought some BMX handlebars and zoomed around with the banana seats cranked as low as they would go. I fell off most times I tried to jump for the same reasons I fell off from 2011-2014 when I tried to race cyclocross: I was so afraid of falling off my bike that I went too slow and fell off my bike.

As a young road cyclist I fell off my bike a fair amount but only once on the road. The other bike falling off incidents were in races. Although my peers voted me “most likely to die” in 1983 due to my bad bicycle handling skills, I didn’t. Since then I have fallen off my bicycle many times, most recently in The Great NPR Fredfest Crashemup of 2013, when I fell on my head at about 40 mph. Thankfully the bike was okay, as they say.

But my youngest son has never really fallen off a bike, which is a fancy way of saying he hasn’t ridden one very much. Then today as I was preparing to go meet a client I got a phone call. “Hi, this is Sarah, I’m a friend of Woodrow’s, he had an accident riding to work and the ambulance is on its way.”

I raced over to the scene. He was in the middle of the pavement and strapped to a body board. There are a lot of things in life you don’t want to see, and your injured child is at the top of the list. He was wincing and in obvious pain. “Looks like he broke his arm and maybe his ankle,” said the EMS guy. They gave him a shot of morphine and took him to UCLA Harbor.

The x-rays showed no fractures. He had fallen off his bike descending Via Coronel at about 25 mph. The bike started getting away from him and he granched down on the front brake, slamming down on his left side. His helmet was unscathed and his bike was mostly okay. “I’m really sorry, Dad,” he said in the hospital.

“Sorry? Don’t be sorry. I’m glad you’re okay. We have insurance, you know.” FYI, the ambulance ride to UCLA Harbor costs $9k whether it’s for a scratch or for thirty gunshot wounds.

They bandaged his ankle and sent him home. We talked about it on the way back, about how usually when you fall off your bicycle you move over to the curb when you’re able and do a general check before calling EMS unless something’s obviously broken or you’re obviously really hurt. And we talked about how most of the time you’re not really hurt, although it’s always frightening. When I was a kid I never saw anyone hauled off in an ambulance after falling off his bike. When you broke something you went home and your mom or dad drove you to the ER.

But times have changed, and my kids didn’t grow up falling off their bicycles, getting beaten up by thuggish street hoodlums, getting pounded on the playground, or even playing that most American of elementary schoolyard games, “Kill the man with the ball.” Needless to say, P.E. in their junior high schools didn’t include flag football where you “accidentally” tackled the runner while grabbing for his flag. and slamming him face-first to the sod. Every single time.

When you’re not always getting hurt or playing rough and violent games or falling off your bicycle, it’s hard to know the difference between a real injury and the pain of, well, pain.

On the whole, though, I suppose the new way is better, at least until I see the Anthem-Blue Cross E.O.B.



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Walking Chinese amazement to church

October 20, 2015 § 18 Comments

Before I go to a foreign country I like to try and learn to speak the language, or at least enough of it to make a complete idiot out of myself. You’ve all been there; boning up on French, arriving in Paris and asking the waiter while your heart is pounding like an 8-year old on the piano, “May please good morning eggs of soft nice weather,” and he replies in perfect English “Could you repeat that in English, please?”

I’m never deterred by coming across like a fool. If I were I wouldn’t practice law or ride a bicycle in my underwear duded up like superman without the cape or the special powers or the muscles or the good looks. And since we’re going to Taiwan next year I decided to crack out the ol’ Chinese textbooks I’d used in college. Unfortunately, they had been tossed somewhere between Move #12 and Move #35, so I ordered a new set of Practical Chinese Readers and got to work.

You may have heard that Chinese is difficult, but that’s only if you want to appear non-imbecilic. Otherwise it’s not that hard. Each morning as part of my masters bicycle racing workout I walk around the complex for an hour or so, listening to Chinese tapes on my iPhone 2 (gonna upgrade to 3 any day now!). We have a lot of Chinese neighbors and it’s been hot so they all sleep with their windows open.

I bet it’s weird to hear someone stomping around outside at 5:00 AM muttering, “My name is Ma Da-wei. I am Canadian. I met a beautiful girl. Are you busy? Let’s have cake. She is my sister. He is my grandfather on my mother’s side. Beijing is very big.”

Walking every morning is good exercise, too. It builds bone density without destroying the bone like running does. It’s also not filled with pain, as running is. Because walking is good exercise I have a longstanding habit of parking on French Street when I have court in Santa Ana. That’s about a mile from the courthouse, so I save on parking and get to stretch my legs before getting abused by judges and opposing counsel.

This morning as I was walking to court I came up to the stop light at the same time as a group of people. I immediately realized they were speaking Chinese. They were staring at a map and arguing about how to get to the Methodist Church, which was a block away. I knew this because they kept gesticulating at the map which said “Methodist Church French Street” in English.

They ignored me of course.

“Excuse me,” I said in my best Chinese. “There house walk walk to go.”

Shit got quiet pretty quick. “What?” said one of the tourists in Chinese. “You speak Chinese?”

“Yes,” I beamed. “My book teacher every day talk walk Chinese practice. Taiwan go.”

They began smiling and laughing and congratulating me on my complete mastery of this rather complicated language. It didn’t hurt that I was wearing a suit and carrying a fancy leather briefcase. “See you later!” they said, waving as they marched off to the Methodist Church. “Thank you for your help!”

“You’re welcome Thursday!” I blurted out. Then I checked my Timex and hurried off to court.



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