June 23, 2015 § 26 Comments
The most telling part of the SCNCA web site is its section on financials.
You go to the “About” navigation on the home page, select “Financials” from the drop-down menu, click on the link and get nothing at all. It’s succinct, and brevity is the soul of wit!
The financial opacity is fitting because SCNCA taxes the race promoters and racers fifty cents every race (if you do two crits in one day, you pay twice) and then does something with the money. Something that helps us all, doubtless.
SCNCA gets the rest of its budget (How big is the budget? How is it spent? Who spends it?) as a kickback from USA Cycling for each in-district license registration. SCNCA isn’t funded according to results, meeting stated goals, customer satisfcation, or even for wearing nicely coordinated belts and socks. Talk about incentives to improve!
So when we asked the Internet for some data about why racers race, and why licensed racers don’t, no one held their breath for help from SCNCA. Instead, Cameron Scott, Joe Camacho, and Robert Efthimos immediately stepped in and designed a survey.
Here it is: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3R5KGQZ
Please take a minute to fill it out; the survey will stay open for four weeks. We’ll tabulate the results and share it with the Internet, race promoters and, of course with SCNCA. I’m sure they will put the data to excellent use in their round file or in their ongoing quest to increase race turnout while they also practice learning to walk and chew gum, but not at the same time. Baby steps.
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June 22, 2015 § 23 Comments
I attended Saturday’s Avenue of the Flags Criterium in Buellton. It was the best crit of the year by far. We can leave aside the prize money for now, which was substantial — $32,000 in cash prizes for three days of racing.
The course is the most challenging crit course in SoCal. It isn’t super technical, but it’s technical enough that you must be able to corner well or the accelerations out of the turns will devour you. The wind is a huge factor; it’s mostly a strong crosswind that ensures you will get no respite on the two long straightaways. There is also a significant finishing gradient, which guarantees that your legs will be toast when it’s time to sprint.
Buellton has resurfaced the entire course since last year so the paving is smooth, grippy, and very fast. The infield between the two straightaways is lined with booths, food vendors, and spectators. The races go off on time, and if you’ve traveled with an S/O, as soon as the race finishes you can jaunt off to any of the numerous wineries — or the legendary Firestone Brewery — that are minutes away. And if jaunting away isn’t your style, you can belly up in the beer garden right across from the announcer’s stand.
And did I mention prize money?
I got more finishing sixth place in the masters 50+ category than is on offer to win many crits. Top finishers got lots more, and those who won their category for the 3-day omnium received $1,000+ paydays. Oh, and he weather was beautiful.
You would think that with a great, safe course, huge payday, professional execution, and lots of other activities for fellow travelers, fantastic vibe, and classy central coast scenery, the fields would be full to busting. You’d think that a race like this would fill up online and waitlisted riders would be standing around on race day, trying to buy slots off racers who had pre-registered, or wheedling the promoter for a special favor.
But, well, nope.
Only 18 riders showed for the final day in the 50+, 23 riders in the 40+, and 36 riders in the P/1/2 field with thousands and thosands of dollars on offer. The promoter, Mike Hecker, was rewarded for putting on an incredible event, huge prizes, and great courses with a collective yawn from the amateur “racers” here in SoCal. Entire teams that sport about town in wrapped team vehicles and the trickest equipment were absent; other clubs that have hundreds of members showed up with one or two racers, max.
Whether Hecker will put on the event next year is open to question, and if he doesn’t all the people who didn’t bother to show up will bitch and whine about how “there aren’t any good races anymore.”
That’s right, dumbshits, BECAUSE PEOPLE LIKE YOU DON’T SHOW UP.
However, it’s easy to blame all the lazy, hypocritical, whiny, spoiled, frosted-cupcake race poodles who parade at the coffee shop but are always “otherwise engaged” on race day. And it’s easy to be sympathetic to Mike, who is a promoter’s promoter — puts his heart and soul into it, does a superlative job, and at the end of the day loses money.
What’s harder is to figure out the problem, and harder still to solve it.
The reason licensed racers don’t show up to races is because we don’t know why licensed racers don’t show up races. That’s right … we have no data. We know how many people hold licenses, we know how many events are held annually, and we know attendance numbers. But we don’t have the data that matters, i.e. the customer feedback about why they don’t race, and more specifically, why they didn’t show up for this race.
In other words, race promoters for the most part are running a business that depends on customer satisfaction without knowing what satisfies their customers. And when we do know what satisfies customers, because occasionally they tell us, we still don’t know if their answers are representative of others, and crucially, we have no idea whether they’re representative of the customers who have licenses and who never show up.
I don’t think that Toyota works that way. I think that before they roll out a new product, they find out what their potential customers think about it. Everyone with a racing license is a potential customer, but with a few exceptions we don’t know what makes them decide to race or stay home except on an anecdotal basis.
And here’s where everyone has an opinion: Some say it’s cost, or training time, equipment, the fact that it’s a dirty sport, danger, distance, time away from family, the list is endless. But until we can rank the reasons that people stay home, and as importantly, rank the reasons that they show up, superb events like the 805 Crit Series will struggle.
SCNCA of course has the resources to do this type of outreach, and of the 18 “services” they claim to provide, only two bullet points address member growth and retention, and they’re buried in the list. Can you imagine Toyota putting “customer growth and retention” in between “maintaining the web site” and “maintaining a presence on Facebook”?
I’d argue that nothing SCNCA does is even remotely as important as customer growth and retention, with the possible exception of “increasing race participation” which, of course, they don’t even bother to list as a goal. And why should they? SCNCA is primarily funded by licenses, not race participation. As long as you have a license, SCNCA gets funded.
Individual clubs could really help out here, but they won’t. All it would take is an email survey of members to find out answers to these questions:
- Do you race?
- Why or why not?
- Do you want to race?
- Why or why not?
- How many races do you do each year?
- How many have you done in the last five years?
- How many would you like to do next year if you could?
- How many years have you held a racing license?
- How important are these things to you in deciding whether or not to race:
- Distance from home
- Cost of equipment
- Hours of training required per week
- Entry fee
- Risk of crashing
- Prize money
- Course difficulty
- Course distance
- Technical nature of course
- Race reimbursements by your club
- Field size
- Type of race–crit, road, TT, SR, omnium
- Category upgrade points
- How often does your club send out race information?
- How easy is it to find another racer with whom to carpool?
- Do others on your team encourage you to race?
If ten clubs did this and aggregated the results, it would certainly be a start, and we wouldn’t be guessing quite as blindly. If the top 50 clubs did it we would be on our way to a real database. Ultimately, we desperately need promoters like Mike Hecker and events like the 805 Series. But if we can’t even be bothered to find out why our peers are staying home and why the’re making the effort to race, well, this is another great event that people will look back on fondly and say, “Remember when … ”
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June 21, 2015 § 10 Comments
The last time I was fired from a job was in 1982. It was at the Sharpstown Mall in Houston, where I had taken a sales associate position with Sexy Underwear and Toys, a franchise retail establishment that offered a fine selection of clothing for the discriminating shopper. Our best seller was the “Lock him up, Jim!” which consisted of a bright blue pair of briefs with a padlock on the fly.
Fit the key,
Remove the treasure,
Add to your undressing pleasure!
That was the jingle, if I recall correctly. They fired me for failure to move enough product, so to speak.
I hadn’t planned on doing the Labor Board Complaint Crit, held each year in the picturesque town of Methylvania, located halfway between Methville and Methopolis in scenic inland Southern California. The only reason I was going to the race was to do the race promoter a favor. He’d asked me to announce the master men’s 40+ race because I’d done it the year before to great acclaim and because I was free.
Especially because I was free.
The main reason I wanted to announce wasn’t simply to get my hands on a microphone in front of an audience, it was a public service to keep people from falling asleep while watching the race. This year the announcing was provided by Puddsy McNuggets’s Professional Bicycle Race Announcing and Sump Repair Company, and Puddsy was one of the best in the business, which is to say he was pretty much the only one in the business, and he was awful.
Bike racing is boring even on a good day, and there’s never a good day. The Labor Board Complaint Crit was no exception: A blurry herd of spastically colored, interchangeable people roar by for a microsecond over intervals that seem slower than the origin of species, during which bells are rung and mysterious phrases are uttered and then at the end the tired remnants lurch across the line and the winner stands on a cardboard box in front of a dumpster and raises his hands in the air to receive a medal and hopefully some deodorant.
Puddsy had just finished announcing the junior girls’ race, which had fourteen competitors, and even that surpassed his commentating skills, which were more suited to announcing rainfall or fog than an athletic event. He’d never raced a bike and had learned the announcing trade as an auctioneer for used sumps.
“Here they come!” he’d say in a sad, bored tone, and they would come.
“There they go!” he’d add, and they would, indeed go. Who “they” were, and the mechanics of why they were coming and going remained as mysterious and impenetrable as the fur on Schrodinger’s cat.
Every few minutes Puddsy would sigh deeply, inhale, and commentate. “Looks like it’s strung out on the back side,” he’d intone, as if it someone were making a bead necklace in junior high. Since none of the town’s twelve inhabitants had seen a bike race since last year, during which time the meth and tequila and domestic violence had erased all memory of it, they would crane their necks trying to figure out what was strung out and who was showing her backside.
In between comments (“Number 261 is making a move” [Ed. note: What kind of move? Bowel?]), Puddsy would switch the PA over to his playlist of 70’s classic rock and lunge forcefully into the real object of his affections, his third double grande chili-dog burrito with extra cheese and farts. As a dringle of melted cheddar dangled off his chin he’d periodically look up and try to add some funereal color to the drab and lifeless event. “This one is going to be a bunch finish,” he’d predict when the group came back together, followed a few minutes later by “This one is going to end in a breakaway,” when one or two riders gained a second on the field.
The children’s race ended and I hopped up on the sound stage, introduced myself, grabbed a microphone, and pushed Puddsy out of the way as the masters racers mobbed the start line. The night before announcing a race I always do a quick online check to see who’s registered and then follow it up with a series of queries to various state and federal databases. This always makes announcing more fun, and I started with gusto.
“There’s Finkle Finkleston, twelve-time state champ and currently living more than two miles from all schools and playgrounds. He will be firing some heavy artillery. And folks, keep your eyes on Stubbsy Quackenbush, who just finished serving his time for murder; he’s a mean one in a knife fight or a sprint.”
I continued with my call-ups, praising the ex-porn stars, the ex-dopers, the current dopers, the national champs, the state champs, the deadbeat dads, the breakaway artists, the tattoo artists, and those who were just there for the weekend on parole. “The ones to watch, though, are the Destroyer and Gatecrasher! Destroyer’s the one who looks like he hasn’t eaten since 1984 and Gatecrasher is wearing the bright orange lid that looks like a legless cockroach!”
The audience cheered and craned their necks to get a look at each of the heroes.
As the race started, I urged the crowd to yell. “Use those lungs! Don’t act like you’re all choked up on Deep Throat!”
Puddsy grabbed my mic. “You can’t talk like that! This is a public event!”
“What’s a Deep Throat, mommy?” I heard a small child ask.
“Shut the fuck up,” I said to Puddsy and grabbed the mic back. Then I launched into a detailed discussion of race tactics, pointing out the tricky technical sections of the course, the points on the course where the wind shifted, the importance of sheltering against the barricades but not running over the metal feet, crashing, and tearing your aorta.
Puddsy spit out the business end of his fourth cheese burrito when I accidentally let drop a couple of f-bombs. At that very moment one of the peloton’s most fearsome felons was making a move up the crosswind-riddled gradient. Puddsy took a stab at announcing, clearly embarrassed at the large crowd of people who were now ganging up against the barricades to hear my awesome mix of commentating, profanity, race tactics, intimate details about arrest records, and slander.
“Number 872 is going for the prime!” Puddsy yelled in a tone almost similar to excitement.
I filled in for him. “A prime is like getting some blow along with a hooker,” I roared. “The main event is the hooker, but the blow sweetens the pot. Watch these deadbeat dads living in dumpsters endure inhuman pain and risk death for five bucks and a tub of high-performance electrolyte a/k/a sucrose!”
Puddsy was livid. “Get off this stage!” he roared. “You’re obscene! These people just want to hear music! They can’t understand anything you’re saying!”
“If there’s one thing the folks here in Methylvania CAN understand, it’s hookers and blow!” I shouted back into the mic to an appreciative pair of single-tooth housefraus with tattoos on the uncovered, upper reaches of their untethered udders. A third winked and mouthed the words “Ten bucks for you, behind the third dumpster!”
Puddsy yanked out my mic cord and switched on “Ventura Highway.” “You’re fired!” he screamed. “Get out of here!”
I hopped off the stage, watching as the Destroyer and Gatecrasher crushed the field with a full-gas, two-man breakaway, just as I’d predicted. “To hell with you, Puddsy!” I yelled back. “I’m calling my lawyer to file a complaint with the labor board!” I reached into my pocket and called myself, as I also handle labor law violations for select clients.
On the way back to my car I saw the promoter. “I thought you were announcing,” he said.
“I was,” I answered, “but old Puddsy gave me the same treatment I got when I was selling ‘Lock him up, Jim.'”
He looked at me funny and I continued on.
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June 19, 2015 § 20 Comments
My way just happened to be wrong.
From the moment that Junkyard announced the creation of the Flog Ride, everything was messed up. First of all there was the name he’d given it, “Love and Thursday.” Then there was the length, only four laps. Worse, the first lap was neutral. To cap off the mess, we were supposed to descend with care, especially around the two hairpins.
With a little bit of effort, though, we got all of that fixed. We changed the name to the Flog Ride. We lengthened it to five, then six laps. We reduced the neutral section to the first 25 feet, and we descended the hairpins at the razor edge of physics where speed, friction, and tire pressure all come together in a terrifying blur of clenched sphincters.
It was glorious. We’d do the 25-foot warm-up and then hit PV Drive North full gas. The uninitiated were typically shelled in the first 500 yards. Those who managed to hang on for the first lap, survive the kamikaze downhill sweepers, avoid the peacocks wandering in the road, and keep from slamming into the side of fast moving traffic when we right-hooked back onto PV Drive North were reduced to puddles on Lap 2.
By Lap 4 there were never more than five riders in the lead, and everyone else was busted out the back and struggling around the golf course alone, in the dark, angry, hurt, broken, and wondering why they’d gotten up at 5:30 AM for a 6:35 group ride that had lasted thirty seconds.
Each time up the 7-minute climb was a terrible infusion of pain, and hardly anyone ever came back to do the ride more than twice. The Flog Ride was the sadistic bully at the end of the block whose house you’d go three miles out of your way not to have to walk by. It was the barometer for how badly you sucked, how low your pain threshold was, and how poorly your self-image comported with reality.
On the plus side, the graduates of the Flog Class of 2014-2015 racked up wins at Boulevard and numerous other races. The fitness that came from doing six eyeball-extracting intervals was superlative; if you could do all six laps with the lead group and finish on the 20% grade up La Cuesta, you were race ready.
The fact that hardly anyone ever showed up was no problem. All it took was two other idiots bent on mayhem to get the training effect we sought.
The fact that dozens of eager riders showed up, got instantly shelled, and never came back was no problem. Welcome to life, suckers!
But despite the ride’s near perfection in every way, it did have one minor complication: In a few short months three riders went down in the hairpins, and thanks only to dumb luck, when they slid out across the yellow line there was no oncoming traffic. Had there been, people would have died or been catastrophically injured.
After the third accident, we decided that no ride was worth this kind of risk, even though such a decision clearly called our insanity into question. The options were to cancel the ride or to modify it so that it comported with the wise architecture sketched out by Junkyard in the first place. So instead of racing up the hill and then racing back down, we raced up the hill and coasted down, taking the hairpins at slow, fully controlled velocity.
Not only were shelled riders able to regroup without racing down the descent, but slow coasting on the downhill meant that the uphill intervals were even harder, if such a thing is possible. There’s no way to make a bicycle ride safe, but sometimes you really can take out the sharpest fangs without killing the fun. Just don’t call it Love and Thursday.
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June 18, 2015 § 24 Comments
So, this little gem just came in over the transom, edited by me for brevity and clarity …
At the past NCNCA Board of Directors meeting, a motion was approved by the board regarding out-of-district racers taking part in NCNCA District Championship events moving forward.
For Northern Caifornial/Northern Nevada Championship events, the NCNCA will allow riders to participate who are ineligible for the championships, but the designation “Champion” and any awards/jerseys involved in that designation will be awarded only to riders who are licensed in the Northern California/Northern Nevada USAC District.
The vote was unanimous.
Not much to add, except this: Hats off to Tim Burgess, the NCNCA board, and all of the NorCal riders who supported this decision. You folks are awesome, and thank you for not firebombing my apartment.
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June 16, 2015 § 15 Comments
It was pretty unpleasant, that last lap out on the Parkway. There I was, hanging onto Big Thom’s rear wheel for dear life. He was in a hurry and that translated into extreme physical discomfort. For me. He flicked me through to take a pull but I reflected on the last couple of times he’d shown up on the Flog Ride, crushed me, and left me for dead.
My turn could wait.
Then across No Man’s Land came Major Bob, which was great news because he has never shirked a pull in his 35 years of bike racing. He didn’t this morning, either, even as I shirked and faked and gasped and hung on for dear life, awaiting the turnaround.
The whole thing was surreal, and not just because we’d reached escape velocity and had left the gravitational pull of the pack. It was surreal because I was sitting on Big Thom’s wheel, and if there’s one iron law of bicycle physics on the NPR it is this: You can never sit on a La Grange rider’s wheel because they are always buried in the rear of the group, searching for oxygen and spare legs.
Then, there was the other surreal thing … the guy off the front we were chasing was NJ Pedalbeater, another La Grange rider. And the final corkscrewed, Dali-esque nail in the eyeball was that La Grange had been out front for four laps and we hadn’t been able to reel him in. The only thing that smacked of comforting familiarity was that one teammate was chasing down the other. But other than that …
Off the front? La Grange? For four laps? And a desperate chase effort led by … La Grange? And the desperate effort of Big Thom turning manly seal clubbers into soft, velvety pelts ready for harvesting? Whaaaaat?
Call it what you want, but don’t call it an anomaly. Call it Sausage Power.
Since he was elected president of arguably America’s best racing-cyclo club, Robert Efthimos has breathed amazing life and vitality into an organization whose time had come to hand over the reins to new blood. Under Robert’s watch race participation has soared. Rather than whipping out a birder-like checklist and ticking off the rare appearance of La Grange at a race, you can now expect them there because they show up in force, set up a tent, and race the entire day.
Nor is their presence limited to one type of race. La Grange can now be expected at any race you show up at and in any, sometimes every, category. Robert’s brand of leadership by example mixed with a big tent philosophy, his deprecating self modesty, and his ability to execute has given LA cycling an important model for growth. By assiduously courting new sponsors while continuing to work hand-in-glove with his existing ones, such as the incredibly generous and dependable Helen’s Cycles, La Grange is showing other clubs a model for how a club can strengthen its cycling identity while still attracting people who don’t race.
Nowhere is this easier to see than in La Grange’s monthly mixers, where club members and non-members, racers and non-racers, and gasp, and even cyclists from the poor, unwashed South Bay are welcome. Over the last three years we’ve gone from wondering “Who is that Sausage dude with twelve bike cameras and a fast finish?” to “Imma try to get on his wheel and afterwards borrow ten bucks.”
All of this and more went through my head as we hit the turnaround. After having sat on for half a lap I jumped hard, dislodging Big Thom who had so nobly sacrificed for the cause. “La Grange may be on a roll,” I said to myself, “but they still have some work to do.”
Several hundred yards from the imaginary finish I realized that it was I, not they, who was the work in progress: La Grange’s OTF rider coasted across the line with his hands in the air.
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June 16, 2015 § 14 Comments
After enjoying two of its best years since the world-renowned performance eyewear company was acquired by Italian megabehemotholithic ubercorporation Luxotica, Oakley trumpeted its strong sales and growing market share with a dramatic corporate restructuring. Long-time CEO and engineer of the brand’s smashingly successful Prizm brand, Colin Baden Powell, has been restructured to the position of Chief Design Engineer in recognition of his important work in developing this benchmark product.
CitSB got a chance to sit down with “Scoutmaster” Colin and talk with him about the exciting prospects for Oakley’s future.
CitSB: You must be pretty excited about this demotion, I mean, restructured up-leveling.
Colin Baden Powell: It’s the highlight of my career and I’m so appreciative that Luxotica has shown me this level of confidence.
CitSB: Can you tell us a little bit about your work with the Prizm and how it has helped revolutionize the performance eyewear market?
CBP: Absolutely. We decided to start from scratch, clear the slate, and come up with something that has never done before.
CitSB: Which was?
CBP: Develop a reverse-breakaway product.
CitSB: What’s that?
CBP: In bicycling, a “breakaway” is where you “break away” from other riders and then pedal off quickly to be the champion winner. So we wanted to “break away” from our competition. It’s a bicycling sport term. That was our concept.
CitSB: Pretty cool.
CBP: Yes. So in order to “break away” from our competition and pedal to the championships we decided to do that in reverse. In other words, instead of trying to get ahead of everyone we would drop behind them and do something innovative that they couldn’t see and copy.
CitSB: Because you’d be behind them?
CitSB: And that’s the Prizm?
CitSB: Pretty neat. Then what?
CBP: As was part of our plan, the first two years we’ve been far, far, far behind the competition, tucked safely way behind them. In bicycling sports it’s called riding off of your back.
CitSB: Being off the back?
CBP: Whatever. So we successfully did the reverse breakaway off of your back and the main office in Milan was blown away by the execution. They are crazy for bicycle racing sporty stuff in Italy. They went crazy when I showed them what I meant by a revers breakaway. I don’t speak much Italian, but they were excited, I can tell you that. Who is Fausto Coppi?
CitSB: Coppi? He’s, uh, Italy’s most famous standard breakaway rider. So they probably really did appreciate the reverse breakaway concept. Maybe you could call the next generation the “Fausto.” They will love that. So how has this concept been received by the market?
CBP: The response has been incredible. We managed to keep sales way down from the date of launch ’til now. In fact, we’re doing 1/10 the business of our competitors.
CitSB: Sounds like you have this riding off of your back stuff down.
CBP: I don’t mean to brag, but I’m a pretty hardcore amateur bicyclist myself.
CBP: Fifty miles a week, consistently, six or seven months out of the year.
CitSB: So tell me more about the restructuring. That really sounds exciting.
CBP: It is, and the folks in Milan recognized that I didn’t just do it on my own. They’ve given Ted Li, our incredibly innovative senior vice president and general manager of the North American market, which is globally the biggest for Oakley, an amazing opportunity to work as a sales manager at Quiksilver.
CitSB: The surf underwear company?
CitSB: I didn’t know that was part of the Luxotica corporate sausage machine.
CBP: It isn’t, but he had so much success here with the Prizm and our other authentic products especially the bicycle racing market thing that Luigi Florentino dello Cappucino, the CEO in Milan, decided to give Ted the opportunity to go innovate somewhere else. What is it that the surfer people say? “We are like stoked dude, mahalo.” Right?
CitSB: Um, right. Other exciting promotions?
CBP: Well, our senior VP of products, and formerly strategy, Chris Donnelly, has always been a key part of what has made Oakley the following-edge company we’ve become, exemplified by the Prizm, and Luxotica gave him the dream promotion.
CitSB: What was that?
CBP: He has always wanted to do high-speed corporate turnarounds, so they gave him an hour to clear out his office and “turnaround” out the back door. Proud to say he got ‘er done in 59:00 flat. Taught that boy everything he knows. Josee Perault, SVP Global Sales, and Link Newcomb, SVP Retail, were already restructuring for a major promotion into a free market job search position scheduled for September, but they were told they don’t need to bother coming in the building ever again as a kind of going away “thank you.” They were touched, really touched. Carline Starner, SVP of HR, was given an exit package that she probably had to create herself. Awkward, perhaps, but it was the highest compliment if you think about it.
CitSB: Sounds like Oakley’s on a tear. Any thoughts about the future?
CBP: Yes, once we get finished with our reverse breakaway project we are going to segue into “Project Sprunt.”
CitSB: What’s that?
CBP: It’s another pro bicycling term, sprunting. It’s where you go lots faster than everyone else at the very end of a race but actually they all pass you. There is a really cool blog we all follow here at Oakley that has lots of deep insight into the pro cycling world. The writer is an expert on bicycle stuff. Inside tip here — he’s the guy who we get our best ideas from.
CitSB: What’s this, uh, blogger’s name?
CBP: Not sure. He goes by the handle “Wankmiester,” or “Wankmeister,” or “Wanky” or something like that. Say, mind if I show you our latest glasses? The Oakley Spruntmeister, engineered for reverse breakaway artists.
CitSB: Thanks, I think I’m late for another appointment.
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