Does weight matter? Are you a complete idiot?

February 17, 2015 § 63 Comments

I saw this VeloNews load of crap when it came out about six months ago, and ignored it because, obviously, it was written by a triathlete.

“What do you have against triathletes, Wanky?”

Nothing. Some of the people who I might otherwise consider friends are triathletes. But the bottom line is that when you’re looking for bike racing advice, triathletes are complete, hopeless, and utter morons. The only thing worse is seeking bike racing advice from a blog on the Internet. Nonetheless, what triathletes do has nothing in common with bike racing. They get on a bicycle and pedal it hard. Hardest pedaler gets there first. Brain not required.

So when I saw that Jim Gourley is “demystifying the science of triathlon” I kept on going. First, last time I checked, there is no section in Science for “Triathlonology.” Nor I have ever heard of a “triathlonologist.” What I have seen, and seen plenty of, are tri-dorks.

Unfortunately, someone brought this corpse of an article back from the dead and posted it on Facebag, where a handful of actual cyclists noted their approval. Oh, brother.

To sum it up, Gourley wants you to believe that bike weight doesn’t really matter. He proves this by taking out his calculator and plugging in some numbers, assuming identical rider weight and an identical steady grade. Air resistance, we’re told, isn’t factored in. That’s so we can have a model that is as far from reality as those triathlon outfits are from attractive.

What he “discovers” in his windless lab where everyone rides along at the same power output is that a one-pound weight advantage only gives you a 2.5 second advantage in his fantasy lab setting. And who doesn’t race in a laboratory?

Unfortunately, if you read this correctly, you need to go screaming out to your nearest bike shop and get the lightest bike you can find. Why? Because 2.5 seconds in a hilly road race — or any bike race — is a crushing, dominating victory. Unlike triathlon, where 2.5 seconds on the bike is easily wiped out in the run, if you put 2.5 seconds on someone at the end of a bike race you have made them your bitch and they will have to spend the whole fucking morning on Monday looking at stupid pictures of you with your arms raised on Facebag.

But there’s more. Gourley the Triathlonologist says that a 3-lb. difference will give you a 7.5-second advantage when racing in his laboratory. This is not just a beatdown, it’s being skinned alive. And here’s the good part: For about a thousand bucks you can shave 1.5 pounds off your bike with a light pair of full carbon tubulars that are full carbon and made out of carbon.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “The last time I was in a lab someone bent me over and put on a latex glove.”

Exactly. The only people who race in labs are, apparently, triathlonologists as they’re working on the latest research project that will hopefully get them a Nobel Prize in Triathlonology.

The rest of us contend in road races that are on roads with actual wind, and we compete against people who don’t weigh exactly what we do in events that don’t require a steady power output. This means several things:

  1. The weight advantage of a light bike is increased when you’re racing someone who is in the wind while you’re sheltered. The guy pounding it on the front of the climb, even if he isn’t saddled with a heavier bike (which he often is), is taking the brunt of the wind. When you’re sucking wheel three bikes back riding a rig that’s 3-pounds lighter than his, Gourley’s “7.5 second advantage,” or rather the savings in watts, becomes even more significant.
  2. The weight advantage of a light bike is increased when you’re racing uphill against someone who’s fatter than you are. On the flip side, if you’re the porker, a lighter bike diminishes your chub disadvantage to the tweezly twig-men who are driving the pace, especially if you’re combining a light bike with massive wheelsuckery.
  3. Different riders have different power profiles. Tri-dorks tend to dominate in the “Duhhhhh” power band, which requires mindless mashing at a steady state. Hilly road races, however, are surge-fests. Intense 2-3 minute bursts on the climb shake out the wankers. The leaders take a rest and the pace drops dramatically. Then they kick it again. These continual surges thin the herd and put a premium on your ability to go fast on a climb, slow down, then go fast again. In this context, bike weight in general and wheel weight in particular is huge when you’re on a hard climb because you have to get the damned thing up to speed over and over and over, unlike the tri-dork who wraps it up to 27 mph and holds it there until his teeth rot out. In other words, every last gram matters when it comes to acceleration.

The other problem with extrapolations from the science of triathlon to the witch craftery of bike racing is that disparities caused by weight don’t make themselves felt in a linear fashion throughout the race such that, at the end, the lighter wanker is 2.5 seconds ahead.

What actually happens in a hilly bike race is that the 10 or 15-watt differential enjoyed by the guy on the carbon bike made of full carbon makes itself felt early on, and it results in you getting your ass shellacked on the climb. Once unhitched, you spiral off the back and are left to battle with the wind — no shelter from the peloton — by yourself. The “2.5 second” differential turns into minutes by the end of the race, with you dejectedly struggling through the finish zone and embarrassed onlookers try to make you feel good by ignoring you or saying “Good job,” in mousy, quiet voices.

How many times have you been in a race where the difference between hanging on and getting kicked out the back has been a mere one or two pedal strokes? Suddenly those “7.5” seconds look like what they are: A huge differential that can decide the entire race. And of course when you’ve got great form, are already tiny, are riding smart, and have the lightest rig, you’re truly stacking the deck.

Weight matters when the road tilts up. Every single gram. And if you’re listening to a triathlonologist for bike racing advice, well, you deserve what you get.

END

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The hairy one with warts who carries a meat cleaver in her purse

February 15, 2015 § 9 Comments

“I got a date this weekend with Konsmo and Leibert,” Strava Jr. said in his email. He was referring to the UCLA Road Race, which is held every year on the Devil’s Punchbowl course, a sparkling gem of cactus and windblown condoms set in the meth mecca of Pearblossom, CA.

“That’s a date you might want to consider breaking,” I said.

“How come?”

“Because it’s gonna be like one of those Internet date thingies where you select the hot blonde woman under 35 who is athletic, has a great sense of humor, loves to fuck, makes a great pizza, and then when you show up at the Starbucks ready to invest a whole $4.25 on Ms. Right you find out that she’s actually Glomhilda Bromdingnag with the one tooth, furry forehead, wart-covered chin, and a meat cleaver in her purse.”

Fast forward to the “date.”

Strava Jr. was making awful, gasping wheezing noises that sounded like high-pressure jalapeno farts being forced out his ears. It was hard to hear him because my gasps were, if anything, worse.

The peloton was in tatters. A tiny lump of fifteen riders was all that remained from the roughly $450,000 in carbon frames and wheels made of full carbon, electronic drivetrains, and designer bicycling outfits that had lined up at the start of the race for the 45+ Leaky Prostate category.

What was worse than the terrible investment that so many had made — $10k in goodies for the chance to pedal across the desert in their underwear — was the fact that for 30 of the 45 riders the fantasy train had come crashing to a halt less than five minutes into the race.

That was when Scrappypants had looked on the rest of the field in disgust and stood on the pedals. Strava Jr. and I weren’t locked in the pain box; it was more like the pain living room, or even the pain country estate. No matter which couch you tried to lie down on, which entertainment room you chose, or which bedroom you wanted to flop in, the entire place was decorated in early 18th Century Torture Chamber.

We made it over the first climb and hurtled pell-mell down the backside of the hill, which was actually named Pell Mell Hill. You could say we pell-melled Pell Mell. Then we trundled along the rollers, thinking about the inevitable destruction that awaited four miles later, when we would turn right and begin the endless climb again.

Just as we made the right-hander, a gaggle of stragglers who had been shelled on the climb the first time around latched on. This was bad judgment on their part, and it violated Rule 1 of Hilly Road Races: Once you are viciously shelled on a climb, reattaching on the descent or after a long fast section will only result in a second shelling, except it will be much worse.

And it was. As I smugly contemplated how badly the reattachees were going to be pooped out the back, I tried not to take it personally that the brief surge was shelling me as well. The peloton scooted away and I pedaled along, my day done at the conclusion of Lap 1.

At that moment a group of four desperadoes rushed by. I hopped on the back, wondering where they were going in such a hurry. Didn’t they know that if they kept hurrying they would catch the leaders? And didn’t they know that up there with the leaders lay nothing but pain and misery and defeat? Didn’t they know that the best way to ride a race like this was by soft pedaling the whole thing and then posting cool pics on Facebag?

They apparently didn’t, and before long they had closed all but the last 200 meters to the leaders, who were now halfway up the climb. I really appreciated the hard work of my mates. They had worked manfully. They had taken gritty pulls. They had left it all on the road, including gobs of spit and sputum. I, on the other hand, had been sitting back doing what I do best, which is nothing.

The final gap was too much, however, and the pace slackened. “Come on, guys!” I shouted, as I slowly rolled to the front and brought each of my friends gently up to the leaders.

That’s what I wanted to do, anyway. Instead, I waited until they were gassed, and sprinted full bore to make sure no one got a wheel. Then I put my head down and closed the gap solo. The friends who had done so much to help me imploded and vanished from view. They were great guys, each and every one, but I hated them anyway.

Towards the top of the climb I was feeling fine. Strava Jr., who had never left the leaders, was in a very bad way. I imagined a lot of friendly encouragement, since we are friends and riding buddies, as I did everything in my power to make sure he had zero draft and was stuck in the sand-and-rock-filled gutter.

While I had been off the back, Scrappypants, G$, and Gus Not Bayle had attacked and put close to two minutes on the broken shards of the field. When we hit the descent one of my teammates, Dr. Jon, looked over at me. “How’re the legs?”

“Mush.”

“Can you hit it on the flats? We gotta get those guys back.”

At this point it felt like I was a pig in a slaughterhouse at the point where the big hairy Estonian dude had slammed me in the forehead with a hammer and run a grappling hook through my heel. The hook, which was attached to a chain, jerked me off my feet and now I was dangling in the air, blood spurting out of my heel. The temporary stun from the hammer blow had worn off and I began to squeal.

Suddenly, right in front of me there was another big hairy dude, probably Lithuanian, and he was holding a giant knife that was dripping with the gore of the porkers who had gone before me. As I moved towards him through the hair he laid the blade against my throat. The only difference my dream and reality was that the Lithuanian and Estonian dudes were Konsmo and G$, and they had garroted all comers.

Dr. Jon looked at me. “See what you can do.”

We bombed the descent at well over 55 mph, but the three leaders were tiny bug specks far away. At the turn we launched onto the rollers. I put my head down and pulled for a while. Pretty soon the fly specks became large pieces of cow dung. Then the cow dung turned into actual people. Along the way we overhauled the 35+ peloton, which had started ahead of us by five minutes.

We turned up the climb and the three leaders were a handful of seconds ahead. I wheezed, sagged, and imploded. The field roared by. Shattered, I struggled, slug-like, up the hill. A car cruised slowly by. It was Holloway and Spivey. “Hey, wanker, why are you going so slow? The group is RIGHT THERE! They’re not even a hundred yards away!”

I considered explaining that when you’ve just had your throat cut by a hairy Estonian, a hundred yards is equal to 4.5 parsecs, but my tongue was plastered to the back of my head, so I just slumped some more and pedaled squares.

The remaining two laps proceeded at a snail’s pace. First I got caught by the chasers. Then I got caught by the chasers who were chasing the chasers. Then the gristle stinky horsemeat of the 35+ field came by. Then the leaders of the 3’s. Then the chasers of the 3’s. Finally I was passed by an old lady walking her dog.

Then, when I thought there was no one left to pass me, along came Garrett. We chatted briefly, sharing the lessons we had learned from this epic day of racing. “One thing’s sure,” he said. “There are no lessons to be learned from a shitshow like this.”

“Except that we are slow.”

“And old.”

“And that we suck, even among our geriatric peers.”

An eternity later we finished, but not before an animated young boy in the 12-year-old junior field chased us down and beat us handily in the sprint.

Patrizia R., who had handed up a team Big Orange water bottle to me on Lap 3, was standing at the finish line. “Thanks for the bottle!” I said, reaching down and pulling it out of my bottle cage. As I flung it over to her, I reminded myself why I had spent so much time on the bench in Little League, because the enormous, half-full bottle sailed directly into Garrett’s forehead, who was riding next to me. He wobbled and almost crashed into the judge’s stand, but saved it.

“Sorry, dude,” I said.

“No problem,” he answered with a smile. “That was the least painful thing that’s happened all day.”

END

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Stooge-o-rama

February 13, 2015 § 44 Comments

It was 8:00 AM on a Wednesday. The world was going to work or was already there. None but the most inveterate slackers would have answered the call for a bicycle ride down the bike path in order to spend several hours getting a cup of coffee.

Manslaughter, Chief, and I pedaled away at 8:00 AM, pointy sharp, because my rides always leave when they say they will leave. That way when you get there two minutes late and no one’s there you don’t have to wonder where everyone is.

In the marina there was an obese runner staggering along with a limp who I thought I knew. “Hey, do we know each other?” I asked. In the split second it took to ask the question I realized we were strangers. I had mistaken him for a guy who’d had a stroke.

“No,” he smiled. “But we do now!”

We pedaled on while Chief talked about what is now the 25th of his 30-year plan to “get back in shape.” Shortly thereafter we heard a wheezing sound. It was Stonehenge the human enigma, one of Manslaughter’s teammates.

“I almost got killed back there!” he said. We politely pretended to listen and care as we thought about our wattage.

“Glad you’re okay,” Manslaughter pretended.

“And you know what I was thinking last night?”

We tensed up. “What?”

“That Manslaughter should really be pronounced ‘man’s laughter.’ Get it?”

Manslaughter laughed.

Chief peeled off in Santa Monica so that he could do waif intervals, loops up and down San Vicente where he gazes fondly at the pretty young girls who he imagined he used to consort with. Stonehenge, Manslaughter, and I went to Philz Coffee on 5th and Santa Monica.

Philz is a pour-over coffee place. They don’t have any machines and they don’t make any froo-froo drinks. Instead they make frippy-frippy drinks. Weird and friendly pour-over chefs who are oddly excited about dumping boiling water on coffee grounds take your order. It costs $4 for a cup of coffee that you can make at home with a French press for forty cents.

The folks at Philz are smart.

What you’re paying for at Philz, however, is the waif quotient. Unlike the Sckubrats in Manhattan beach, where all the women are white, reasonably attractive, in their 40’s, and wearing yoga pants and tight tops to model what is almost never original equipment, Philz is filled with women who are too poor to afford new parts and too young to need them.

We paid $12 for our $1.20 worth of coffee and went outside to sit and stare at the talent. The sun was beating down directly on the aluminum bench and reflecting off the plate glass, so the little slice of sidewalk was about a hundred degrees, a perfect place to sit all bundled up with arm warmers, leg warmers, long-fingered gloves, shoe covers, and a boiling cup of coffee.

Stonehenge looked up. “Is that a glider?” he asked.

Manslaughter tried to be nice. “Uh, no. The wings aren’t long enough.”

“I think you’re wrong. That’s a glider,” Stonehenge insisted.

We all looked at the large airplane with four engines and pondered various things.

“So, guys,” said Manslaughter. “I’m gonna be in Vegas this weekend to take a little break from the job I don’t have. Any suggestions on what to do?”

“Whack off?” I offered.

“I do that here. In fact, I’m gonna do it today. I was thinking more along the lines of something new and different.”

“When you check in at your hotel ask the clerk what country most of the foreign guests are from,” I said. She’ll tell you something weird, like ‘Lithuanian.’ After you check in, go grab a Lithuanian phrasebook and start chatting up the Lithuanians. ‘Hi, I’m Manslaughter, trying to learn Lithuanian.'”

“That’s stupid,” said Manslaughter. “Where in the world are you gonna find a Lithuanian phrasebook in Vegas?”

Stonehenge took my side. “They’ll have them throughout the casino if that’s the predominant nationality of the guests. It might be fun. ‘What is it like in your country?’ ‘Do the people in your country eat cabbage?’ ‘How much for the little girl?'”

At that moment a waif walked by. She was wearing tight jeans that had a lot of holes, holes that came from hard use rather than from a designer’s shears. Her head was wrapped in a scarf and she had draped a loose red shirt over her shoulders. She was dragging a small two-wheeled cart filled with dog food and fresh cabbage.

“Hi!” said Manslaughter.

“I don’t have any sheep,” she snarled as she walked past.

“Did that woman just say she didn’t have any sheep?” asked Manslaughter.

Stonehenge rolled his eyes. “Of course not, dummy. She said she didn’t have any shape.”

At that moment the crazy woman standing on the bench across the street began screaming at us. “It’s a hit job!” she howled. “Titties and Moominvalley!” Then she squeezed her breasts, lay back down on the bench and began arguing with the four hundred insane people inside her head.

An enormous man exited the coffee shop and slumped down on the end of our bench. He stared angrily at our bicycles. “Those fancy bike frames don’t mean shit,” he said.

We looked at him.

“It’s all in the wheels. And the yaw angle.”

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “What kind of energy drink is that?” He pointed to my water bottle.

“It’s called GQ-6.”

“Where do you get it?”

“Any GNC.”

“Oh yeah? What’s in it?”

“They have various formulations, but this is their race electrolyte replacement.”

“Really?”

“Yep. Special formulation; contains oxygen and hydrogen.”

“Two hydrogens for every oxygen,” Stonehenge chimed in.

The bum looked interested. “Really? Sounds pretty high-tech. Can I try it?”

“Sure,” I said, and handed him the bottle. “It’s a formulation that’s been around for a long time.”

He took a swig and washed it around in his mouth. “Hmmm,” he said. “Kind of tasteless.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s the electrolytes. They don’t have any flavor.”

As we pondered this insight and continued to sweat profusely, an extremely short young security guard from Citibank, which was next door, walked by. He pointed to a stop light. “That’s what happens to you Jews,” he said.

“But we’re not Jews,” I protested.

He shrugged. “That’s what happens to you anyway.” The light turned green.

“What happens? The light turns and we drive off?”

“Yep,” said the security guard as he entered Philz.

A hipster rode up at that moment on a bright red Schwinn fixie with orange rims. It was covered with rust and dents. On the top tube was a sticker that said, “I fuck for money.”

“Hey, man,” he said, looking at us. “Mind if I put my bike here? Watch my ride while a grab a cup so no one don’t steal it. This baby is my pride and joy.”

Seeing that he was aiming to lean his bike on Stonehenge’s rather than his, Manslaughter said, “No, go right ahead.”

“Ummmmmm,” said Stonehenge as the steel Schwinn scraped against his full carbon $6,000 carbon Cannondale with full carbon.

The heatstroke was about to crescendo. “Guys,” I said, “I’m moving over to the shade.” A few feet away there was a shaded bench in front of the Citibank. Manslaughter joined me, but Stonehenge stayed put.

“I can’t come,” he said, looking sadly at his bike, which was pinned by the Schwinn. “I’m in bike jail.”

We finally relocated and the security guard came back out, angrier than he had been when he went in. He glanced at our bikes in a rage, which were now leaned against his bank. “I’m taking me one of these fancy bikes,” he announced, hands full of coffee.

“Sure,” I said. “Take any one that your feet can reach the pedals.”

He glared at us with a furious look. “Dude is going to go home tonight and beat the shit out his cat.”

“Yep,” agreed Stonehenge. “If by ‘cat’ you mean ‘penis.'”

Soon we were pedaling back home. Stonehenge flatted. He turned his bike upside down and set it on its seat. His open water bottle drained sticky goop all over the handlebars. I shut off the spigot and got ready to assist; of course my mechanical skills are nonexistent at best.

As I reached for his toolbag Manslaughter cut in. “Hey Wanky,” he said. “Stonehenge just designed and built one of the largest and most complex craft breweries in L.A. He probably knows how to change a flat.”

Chastened, I sat down as another plane flew overhead. Without looking up we all three said, “Glider.”

“Or a U-2,” said Stonehenge. “Gary Powers.”

“Francis Gary Powers,” I added.

At that moment the most beautiful woman in the history of the galaxy rode by on a cute blue bicycle with a basket. We stopped and gaped. She crossed Main Street and locked her bike to a post. I could tell that Manslaughter was committing that post to memory. As we sat there with long, filmy, sticky strings of drool hanging off our lips a pedestrian with a tattoo on his leg that said “Lick here” stopped and followed our gaze.

“Yeah,” he said. “She’s fuggin’ hot.” The woman went into a building and soon reappeared upstairs. She sat down behind a desk which was in front of a plate glass window looking out on the street. The guy began humming “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?”

At the refrain we all went “Arf, arf!” and stared at the window. A group of Chinese tourists walked by as we barked, drooled, and stared across the street, huddled around the upside down bicycle. They hurried by, holding tightly onto their cameras.

“You know,” said Manslaughter. We didn’t. “This reminds me of the time that we were in Leadville and Tri-Dork was running the pool table. This pickup-load of shitkickers came in and challenged him to a game. He started to run the table on them, too, so I said to the one really big, ugly, hair guy, ‘Hey, guess what.'”

“‘What?’ he answered. ‘You’re about to get your ass kicked in pool game by a guy who drives a Prius.'”

“Then what happened?” asked Stonehenge.

“Another group of cowboys came in and they were pushing this woman in a wheelchair. They helped her onto a bar stool and pushed the wheelchair over to the back of the bar by the pool table. Everybody got drunk and then one of the cowboys getting beat by Tri-Dork got in the wheelchair and started zooming around the room.”

“Then what?” I asked.

“I told him to get the fuck out of the wheelchair or I was gonna crack his skull open.”

“Then what?” Stonehenge asked.

“He got all pissed off and ready to fight. So I turned to Tri-Dork and said, ‘This is gonna get ugly. You got my back?'”

“Then what?” the guy asked who had been humming “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?”

“Tri-Dork looked at me like I was crazy. ‘Dude,’ he said, ‘I got a wife, kids, a job, and I just came to Leadville to ride my bike. If you want to pick a fight with a bar full of drunk cowboys you’re on your own.'”

“Then what?” we asked in unison.

“We sneaked out and drove back to our hotel.”

Stonehenge got his flat changed and we rode back to the South Bay.

END

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What to do with that old mountain bike you practically NEVER EVER ride anymore

February 12, 2015 § 48 Comments

I got this letter from a reader. It speaks for itself.

Seth,

Thanks for supporting the team. I really appreciate it.

I’ve been a Special Education and Social Studies teacher at a small charter high school in South LA for the past four years. During that time, some of my students found out about my cycling habit and began asking me about my cycling adventures. Competitive cycling is something that isn’t really seen as a possibility by many of the students. However, in the past year a small group of juniors and seniors came to me asking about the SoCal High School Mountain Bike League.

The kids were frustrated because basketball and volleyball games were often canceled. School busses would show up late or not at all. Referees would show up late to games. The football team existed, and then it disappeared.

These kids wanted to do something different. They wanted to go to the mountains, they wanted to ride trails, to camp, and to compete in a new sport. I told them that if they got the ball rolling, showed up for workouts, and took personal ownership of the club, then I would volunteer my time as their head coach. So they made the club happen.

We now have six boys and two girls who have been showing up for weekly practices after school. The catch? They don’t have bikes. They’ve been training by running, doing circuit workouts, and occasionally riding a trainer. But so far the mountain bike team has yet to actually ride a mountain bike on a trail.

Can you imagine what it’s like to have as your dream the hope that one day you will be able to ride a bike? I can’t. I’ve taken the easy acquisition of bikes and paraphernalia as a given all of my life. For these kids, what we do without even thinking is a dream so powerful that they show up after school and train their hearts out, propelled only by the slim hope that one day the dream will become a tangible, functioning, rolling bicycle.

The have have set-up their own fundraising campaign but fundraising is hard to develop within the community. So, having done their part, it is my turn to turn to the bigger and broader world, a world that their youth and their circumstances have until now made off limits.

If you can lend support in any way, either through hard cash, an old bike, clothing, shoes, helmet, or other equipment, you can make a difference in the lives of kids whose dream is the thing we do almost without thinking.

If you can put us in touch with people within the industry, that too would be profoundly appreciated. We aim to attend our first race in Temecula during the month of April. They may not have bikes, but they’re not lacking for big dreams.

Your support for these kids might include jerseys with our school’s name on the front; according to the SoCal League rules, that’s one of the requirements. Your support might also include helping us get registered for their first (and only) race of the season.

To put this in context, many of my students have to set aside scarce money simply to pay for taking the PSAT. They also have to set aside money for SAT prep classes, and a special trip to Washington D.C. offered only to achieving students. They’re a motivated, dedicated bunch, and however much I support their dream of riding bikes, I want them to keep their money for educational purposes.

The link to the student-created fundraising page can be found here: http://www.youcaring.com/synergyquantumcycling

If you have any questions about our school, our team, and our mission, please feel free to reach out to my personal email, and we can talk. Any way that you can support these amazing kids and gift them the Gift of Bike will be a wonderful contribution to the great wheel that endlessly spins, handing out good and bringing that same wheel eventually back to you.

Thank you for reading, and ride safe.

Matt Smith
Resource Specialist/Social Studies Teacher
Synergy Quantum Academy High School
mattsmth@cox.net

Wanky Fever

February 10, 2015 § 20 Comments

This past weekend saw me rise to my loftiest heights ever: With first, second, and third place finishes in SoCal road races, I am now the top racer on SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ-6. As a result, after consultation with my agent and my attorney, I have decided to tender a request that SGR renegotiate my contract to reflect my significantly increased value to the team.

I’ve retained a forensic economist to formally evaluate the financial impact that my results have brought to my team and sponsors. In sum:

  1. After my win at Rosena Ranch, “Wanky Fever” has overtaken the SoCal, NorCal, and crappy-little-towns-in-DesertCal cycling scene.
  2. Facebag posts mentioning “Wanky Fever,” “leaky prostate,” and “he must be doping,” all affiliated with team SGR, have increased 2,504,882% over this time last year.
  3. The Twitter hashtag #wankyfever has appeared on cross-platform marketing campaigns as diverse as Pepsi, McDonald’s, and RuggedMaxx 2 organic male enhancement supplements.
  4. Share prices of SPY Optic rose 5.6% after Rosena Ranch, 3.4% after CBR Crit #1, and 2.9% after Tuttle Creek Road Race.

Although my success has resulted in some intra-squad strife, with other higher profile team riders somewhat perturbed at having their thunder stolen and replaced by Wanky Fever and its occasionally uncomfortable rash (red spots with occasionally open sores in embarrassing places), it makes sense that management carefully consider my demands. Competing teams have already begun to make inquiries as to my availability — Wanky Fever yellow wristbands have begun popping up on training rides.

The only real issue in my contract demand concerns the events at the Tuttle Creek Road Race this past Saturday. Although it was a decisive, powerful, emphatic second place podium spot, detractors are characterizing it as “totally fuggin’ lame” and a “last place finish” simply because there was only one other rider in my category.

In fact, here’s how it all played out:

Manslaughter and I made the 3-hour drive to Lone Pine, a cozy community located at the foot of Mt. Whitney, in about an hour and a half. We got to the parking lot and asked a question you normally don’t have to ask at bike races. “Where are the racers?” followed by “Where is race registration?” followed by “Is there a race today?” followed by “Goddammit Wanky, are you sure it’s the right day?”

After a while Motoman drove up in his white van and took out a card table. The bitterly cold wind mixed with freezing rain was sweeping down from Mt. Whitney, which at 14,000 feet was still covered in snow. Motoman disappeared and a couple of other cars with bikes on top drove into the parking lot.

One of them parked next to us and out jumped a rotund fellow wearing a yellow flappy rain jacket. “You here for the race?” Manslaughter asked.

“Yep,” said Flappy. “I’m doing the 35+.”

“You’ll murder that porker,” I snickered to Manslaughter as Flappy hopped on his bike to check out the 12-mile course.

About that time a rider dressed head to toe in Rapha, and obviously a rank beginner, began prancing around in the parking lot. “Oh, jeez,” I said. “That poor dork is gonna get destroyed. He should be trying to upgrade from Cat 5 at a crit, not out on a man’s course like this.”

I had preregistered earlier in the week, and as of the night before I was the only rider in the 45+ category who had signed up. So the odds of “there’s no way you can lose” were looking good, even for me. Motoman walked over to the car. “Hey, Wanky,” he said, sticking a number into the window. “Just put your number in your back pocket. I know who you are.”

“Is this race actually going to happen?” asked Manslaughter.

“Oh, hell yes,” said Motoman.

“I’m doing the 35+,” Manslaughter continued. “How many riders are you expecting?”

Motoman paused and thought. “About 15.”

“Twelve riders in the 35+? Are you kidding? That’s nothing.”

“Who said anything about the 35+?” asked Motoman. “I’m talking about the whole race.”

“How many in the 35+?” asked Manslaughter.

“About three, maybe four.”

“How can you run a race with only four people in it?”

“Easy. All the categories race together. Better get warmed up. Race starts in thirty minutes.”

We assembled our bikes and got changed, but decided against warming up because the weather was so miserable, so instead we got back into the car, turned the heater onto “steel smelter” and ate a couple of peanut butter sandwiches. Then we were still hungry so we had a couple of Harmony Bars, some fruit, and bunch of energy drink. Pretty soon we had to get out of the car because of the farts.

At the starting line Motoman gave a rambling speech, telling us about each curve, each turn, each cattle guard, and each pothole on the course. “And for everyone who finishes, we’re getting together across the street at Bubba’s Pizza — and the pizza’s on me.”

There appeared to be no one in my category, which meant all that I had to do was finish and I’d win. But at the last minute a craggy, wrinkly, haggard, spindly, broken down old man rolled up to the line. “What the hell is that?” I wondered. “An entry in the 100+ category?”

“Hey, man,” I said, sticking out my hand. “You doing the 45+?”

“Yep,” he said with a friendly smile. “Sure am.”

“Great,” I said. “Me, too.” What I didn’t say is that I intended to break him in half like a matchstick, kick him out the back on the first climb and leave him for dead. “Have a good race,” I said.

“You, too,” he said as Motoman blew the whistle.

Manslaughter was riding next to me as our peloton of fifteen idiots pedaled off at a pace that would barely have kept up with a Friday coffee cruise. Flappy had returned from his reconnaissance mission and was hanging at the back. A group of Black Star racers in the P/1/2 field were at the front, chatting.

I looked at Manslaughter. “This is the stupidest joke race ever.” He nodded. “I guess we’ll do a couple of laps and then maybe heat things up a bit. No need to do anything ’til then. If these wankers want to hold hands and pedal like grannies that’s fine with me.”

After about five minutes we came to a slight rise. It was very short, only a couple of hundred feet, and the road twisted away behind a rock wall so you couldn’t see where it went. The scenery was spectacular, the most beautiful backdrop I’ve ever seen at a bike race and the road was perfectly free of cars.

We went up the little rise, twisted off to the right and went up a little more, and then a little more, and then suddenly it wasn’t very little any more. The hand-holders got out of the saddle and punched it as the road climbed; in seconds I had gone from comfy to gasping.

The climb turned out to be the hardest one I’ve ever done in a bike race. It was three miles long and constantly switched between a moderate gradient and short, steep pitches. By the time we were halfway up there were only seven riders left, and then as I massively cracked, only six.

One of the six was, of course, Great Grandpa a/k/a Scott McAfee a/k/a Antivirus. Manslaughter developed a terrible pain in his hamstring, which spread to his muscles, arms, back, lungs, heart, and brain, and quit the race. As I struggled alone, Rapha Boy, who was indeed a Cat 5, came charging by. I jumped on his wheel and he viciously towed me back up to Great Grandpa, who had been shelled along with one of the Cat 2’s from the leading group.

“Now all I have to do is hang onto Great Grandpa,” I muttered, “and crush him at the end, preferably by driving a wooden stake through hit head.”

Rapha Boy never swung over, bulling his way up to the top of the climb, then turning onto the next three miles of rolling climb, then turning onto a final nasty half-mile headwind uphill pitch, then turning onto another endless series of rollers to the long 55-mph downhill that gave us an entire two or three minutes of rest before hitting the beginning of the loop and starting the entire miserable thing all over again.

Rapha Boy had obviously misunderstood the whole category thing, because he was in a fury and riding faster than anyone in the race except for the P/1/2 leaders, who had vanished long ago. As we approached the beginning of the climb he jumped hard. Great Grandpa and I followed. He jumped again, rested, jumped again, rested, and jumped again like a poisonous jack-in-the-box being wound up by a sadistic child.

Halfway up he jumped again, and I de-jumped. Great Grandpa went with him, breaking me in half like a matchstick, kicking me out the back leaving me for dead as he crushed my by driving a wooden stake through my head. With two and a half laps of utter misery to go, the freezing rain seeping into my crevices, the thin air shredding my throat and lungs like sandpaper, and the hellish climb making every stroke worse than declining German nouns, I soldiered on knowing that it would still be second place if I finished.

As I slogged through the finish at the end of Lap 2, Motoman yelled at me encouragingly. “Go to the front!”

At the bottom of the climb on Lap 3, a hairy Cat 2 dude with a beard like a Russian Tsar’s charged by and didn’t even say “hello.” A minute later I was caught by Tristan, another Cat 2 who was a tad large to be contesting such a bitter climber’s course, and Flappy, who was so happy to catch me he couldn’t contain himself.

He looked over at Tristan. “That’s the benefit of being an experienced time trialist,” he said. “I really know how to pace myself.”

It was bad enough to get shelled by Great Grandpa. It was worse to get abused by Cat 5 Rapha Boy. But to be chided by Flappy was more than I could take, so when Tristan upped the pace I went with him. Flappy ended up pacing himself backwards for the rest of the race and we didn’t see him again.

Tristan then hunkered down, creating a massive draft, and towed me around for the remainder of the race. We finally caught and dropped Tsarbeard, too. I angrily reflected that if I’d registered for the 35+ I would have won, and considered asking Motoman to retroactively change my category. But unlike me he’s a guy with integrity, so I didn’t bother. Great Grandpa had beaten me by well over five minutes.

In sum, the race was challenging beyond belief. The scenery gorgeous. The roads devoid of traffic. It was one of the best races I’ve ever done, and certainly the hardest. So I think my sponsors will understand it when my agent demands more money, a fluffer, and hotel rooms that always look east. It’s the least they can do for me.

END

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Catgate

February 9, 2015 § 50 Comments

Before the first waffle has been eaten, the first sausage scarfed, or the first ale quaffed, the 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride has its first bona fide controversy: Catgate.

On the online entry form, riders were asked to list their USAC racing category. Mistakenly thinking that their starting position would be determined by their racing category, some registrants took the opportunity to misstate their category and thereby get placed ahead of the lowly Cat 5’s, public, and “unranked” riders, not a few of whom are absolute beasts. Unfortunately for the sneaks, each registrant was checked against USAC records, and several riders were caught red-fingerboarded.

Since the “ride” will go off in three waves, some riders apparently believed that there was an advantage to going in the first wave even though it’s a timed event, with each wave starting at 0:00:00. A lively discussion of Catgate ensued on Facebag, where various punishments were discussed. Although I offered to do the beheadings, that option was not selected, and the fate of the would-be cheaters remains undecided.

Choices on the table include public shaming, relegation to the last wave, being banned from the ride, and having a note sent to your mother.

On the other hand, if there’s one thing about bikers you can count on, it’s the certainty that given the chance they will cheat. Actually, they will cheat even when they aren’t given the chance. Why?

Because cheating is fun.

The whole concept of the bike race is little more than organized cheating. You hunker behind the rider with the biggest butt to cheat the wind; you descend pell-mell or bang bars in the sprunt to cheat death; the winner of the race is the one who forces everyone else to work more while he hides like a thief in the night, waiting to slit the throats of those who ride with courage and honor. What could be more natural for a cyclist than cheating on a registration form, or cheating your way to the finish of a fun ride?

Moreover, the Belgian Waffle Ride was quite literally born amidst the pangs and throes of cheating cheaters who love to cheat. I will never forget the inaugural 2012 BWR, when a certain South Bay rider showed up and pirated it from beginning to end, eating the free breakfast, stopping at each aid station to gobble the food and drink, and enjoying the post-ride festivities to a fare-thee-well.

I caught up with him the following week and said, “Don’t you feel bad for being such a thieving, cheating, Delta Bravo, and generally worthless POS?”

“Nope!” he happily smiled. And he meant it.

Other infamous characters stamped the first BWR with a miscellany of misbehavior. One wanker held onto a truck for miles at a pop over the deathly dirt section of Country Club Road. Another cut the course. Another infamous cheater whose mendacious misdeeds were rewarded with the dreaded purple card not only cut the course but sneaked past Double Peak at the end of the ride, zoomed into the start-finish area, changed into his bicycling lounge suit, and displayed an “I got here first!” grin while those who had manfully done the ride struggled in beaten and exhausted wondering “How did that brokedown wanker beat me here?” — then he topped it off by disappearing with his finisher’s swag once people got suspicious and started asking to see the stamp that every honest rider received for passing the checkpoint atop Double Peak.

Your cheatin' heart!

Your cheatin’ heart!

The invention of the purple card, in fact, was an acknowledgment before the ride ever started that bicyclists are some of the scurviest, cheatingest, least reliable mendicants known to man. Before the first BWR ever rolled out, a series of Freddie Freeloader cards were printed and handed out to the ride’s “Secret Police,” who were ordered to patrol the peloton and punish the perpetrators for their purplish pecadilloes.

In the second edition, even though there were no purple cards awarded, numerous riders who claimed to have completed the entire course failed to upload their required Strava data to confirm that they did in fact finish the route. You would think that having GPS data would be sufficient to deter the cheats, but no — if forced to choose between cheating and not, cheating wins out every time.

Last year the noose tightened a bit, with timing chips making it impossible for veteran course-cutters to ply their trade, and wholly eliminating the ride pirates, but misdeeds abounded. The most egregious included vehicle assistance at critical points in the ride.

Short of sailing a cargo ship bound for the Horn of Africa to smoke out the pirates, there’s no way to run a cheat-free event. And that’s a good thing.

For 99.9% of participants, the ride is so hard that whatever advantage you might eke out from marginal gains cheating is nullified somewhere around Mile 80, if not far sooner. And while it’s patently untrue that cheaters never win, especially in cycling, no cheater has ever won the BWR. To the contrary: In the inaugural event the leaders went off course, which couldn’t be detected because there were no chips being used, and rather than hop back on course they retraced their route to the point where they left the course, got back on, and finished — even though it cost them the win as Dave Jaeger, who had made all the right turns, beat them to the line and claimed the yellow jersey.

Neil Shirley, two-time winner of the non-race, is regarded as one of the cleanest, most honorable guys in the sport. No matter how many places in line you try to jump, you still have to pass Neil. Good luck with that.

The BWR is beautiful because it showcases the best and also the worst. You get to ride with champions and chumps, heroes and whores.

And at the end, if you’ve done it right, you finish with a satisfaction unlike any other. So go ahead and cheat your little heart out. If you dare.

END

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The chase

February 9, 2015 § 23 Comments

I showed up for the Sunday Wheatgrass Ride. There were a lot of people, and I was tired. When we hit the bottom of the reservoir climb Dutchie attacked and then shelled himself. Chatty Cathy took a hard pull. Uglyfoot took a hard pull. Aston Martin took a hard pull. I sucked wheel and suffered.

We crested the climb and not many people were left. We descended and then started the Better Homes climb. Aston Martin hit it again, followed by Uglyfoot, who was raging. I sucked some more wheel, along with Strava Jr., who’d also been sucking wheel the whole time, but unlike me he was waiting to pounce.

He did and shed everyone except for me and Uglyfoot. They took turns beating me up, then flicking me to come through, but I refused. Before the final bend up to the Domes I cracked. My legs really hurt.

Instead of waiting for the wankoton I descended and headed home. I was too tired for coffee and it was a cold, overcast morning, very humid and gray.

Up the bump past Terranea a tri-dork sprunted by me, then melted. I passed him out of pride, pedaling harder than I wanted to pedal. I turned right at Hawthorne, hoping he wouldn’t follow me. The last thing I wanted was a 2-mile uphill battle. I wanted to go easy and finish the ride.

Hawthorne is long but not too steep except for a brief bump at the beginning, after which it becomes a false flat, and then a steep wall section. After the short wall it turns into an easier grade, but you’ve been climbing for a long way so it doesn’t seem that much easier.

As I hit the false flat I saw a guy some way up ahead. “I won’t even have to speed up to catch him,” I told myself as I slightly sped up. I admit I was going slow and I was tired.

He got closer, but after a while I realized that he was going at a pretty fast pace, so I upped it a bit. And sure, it was not very fast. But still … About a hundred yards or so before we hit the wall he had ten seconds on me. Not like I was timing him or anything.

Ahead of him was a rider in a blue jersey, flappy pants, and tri-bars. The guy I was chasing — Andrew was his name as I found out later — pulled away from me as the road kicked up. I couldn’t believe it.

Then, he overtook Flappy Pants and blew by him. My jaw was scraping the pavement.

I got out of the saddle and started pushing it. He had eighteen seconds on me now, and at the next checkpoint he had twenty-five. He’d opened the gap easier than a can of beer. Sure, I was tired, and sure, I wasn’t going very fast, but still … are you kidding me?

I flew by Flappy Pants and rounded the curve, stomped the pedals over the last part of the little wall and hit the rolling section. Now that I had a head of steam going and the wall was past there was no way that Andrew would hold me off. I slammed it into the big ring and chased him down, chewing up the gap in no time at all.

I pulled up next to him, breathing hard. “Dude,” I said, “that’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve been chasing you for over a mile.”

He smiled. “Practice, he said.” He was breathing hard, his arms swinging easily and efficiently by his side, but he never slowed his powerful stride as his running shoes kept up their relentless tattoo on the asphalt.

END

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