In the catbird seat

January 1, 2016 § 18 Comments

It’s New Year’s Day and if you’re lucky you are out on your bike or you are lying in bed thinking about getting on your bike or you are talking to your cats, which is what my mom is doing right now.

She is a cat lady which makes sense because she is a psychiatrist and no one is whackier than an old cat lady head shrinker. She talks to her cats all the time but it’s a one-way conversation as they never talk back.

Her husband is a whacky cat talker, too. That makes sense because they live together and if you are married to a cat lady you had better learn to be a cat man I suppose. It is weird to see a grown man talking to cats.

My dad’s wife is a cat lady, too. They have cats everywhere and my dad is such an old cat man that when we talk on the phone he tells me about his cats. I don’t give two half fucks about his cats but I listen patiently.

I hate all their cats but it’s not personal. I hate them because I am allergic which the cats all know and which the cat owners in my family really know. “Are you okay?” they fake ask as I swell up and turn red and my eyes bleed tears and I sneeze uncontrollably and I quit breathing mostly.

“I’m so sorry,” they say, adding in the same breath, “Ooh, Buttons! You’re so cute!” as Buttons rubs against my leg and sets off another round of hell. Buttons is always like, “Fuck you, cat hater, take that.”

When people are sitting around and a cat walks in and of course in a house full of cats they’re always walking in because they have nothing else to do, the cat people immediately remark on it. “Oh, look, Tounces likes sitting by the fire.” All conversation is now hijacked by Tounces, who shows what he thinks about you and your stupid family of non-cats by sticking out his left leg and licking his nasty cat ass.

I wonder why we even sit together any more. No one can get any kind of conversation started without it becoming about the cats, which by the way suits the cats just fine. It’s like having a house full of shitting babies who never grow up. No one ever says, “Spot got into grad school at Harvard and is researching fluid dynamics.”

For the rest of your life it’s going to be, “Spot likes the new seafood flavor of Kibbles,” and “Spot and Tounces simply can’t get along.” Is it just me or doesn’t everyone know that cats don’t get along? Is there someone out there who really thinks cats are pack animals? Have cat people heard the phrase “herding cats”?

But as much as I’d like to discuss the refugee crisis or Poland’s evisceration of its Supreme Court or the war in Syria, it ain’t gonna happen, ever. And since I can’t ride my bike I may as well sit back and marvel at the cat’s ass.

Now pardon me while I sneeze.

END

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Austin’s CHANGED!!!

December 31, 2015 § 17 Comments

I am spending a few days in the city where I learned how to race bikes and ruined my life. The last time I was here was 2010 or so. Every time I come to Austin I’m told breathlessly how much it has changed.

“Development has taken over!”

“The things that make Austin Austin are being ruined!”

“Gentrification!”

“Traffic!”

“High prices!”

“East Austin is changing we hardly recognize it!”

“We have bike parking now!”

And all that is true. There are some new buildings and cars and people and bars on Pecan Street and coffe shops and craft breweries and a shit-ton of tract housing if I were inclined to go look at any of it.

But what really strikes me is that when I moved here in 1982 Austin was up in arms because of all the development and change and outsiders ruining what made Austin Austin, which in those days was weed and the Armadillo World Headquarters and Willie’s 4th of July Picnic and SRV.

In other words, weed.

In fact, Austin was being so ruined and de-Austinized in 1982 that there was a bumper sticker with an outline of the capitol over the neon light slogan, “No Vacancy.”

I never cared because all I ever did was ride my bike.

My parents came to visit me once in college but were so depressed they left and never returned until after I graduated. “Austin just isn’t the same,” they sighed before purchasing some prime real estate which is now probably worth $50 billion. “It’s changed.”

And it had. Because the last time they had lived here was 19-fucking-62.

So, yeah, shit changed in 20 years, and yeah, it has changed in the last 30, and call me crazy but 30 years hence it will have changed again and there is a super slight chance that Willie might even be dead.

What’s interesting to me is that none of the development that everyone hates while it raises their property values has ruined what makes Austin Austin, because what makes Austin Austin, aside from the geography of “30 square miles surrounded by reality,” is the wild-eyed stoner fantasy that you can have a progressive and liberal city in the right-wing, open-carry, fundie nutjob center of Hell.

END

Coach Wanky

December 30, 2015 § 8 Comments

I have been a lot of things in life but I have never been a coach. Even my kids never asked me how to do anything, except the boys both made me teach them how to spit.

But this blog is a crazy thing. People read it, and some of them take it seriously. I know, I know.

So this guy called me who I’ve never set eyes on. He lives in the South Bay and apparently does some of the local rides. “Can you coach me?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because I don’t know shit about cycling, and even less about coaching.”

“But you have that blog and you go pretty good on the group rides.”

“Going pretty good on a group ride is to coaching as digging for boogers is to brain surgery. Plus I have a cracked pelvis and am in a real bad mood.”

“Oh, come on. Please?”

“Why in the world should I?” I asked.

“Because I’ll pay you.”

I perked up. “How much?”

“What about $2.99 a month?”

“Deal.”

So I took down his credit card number and signed him up. “Now here are the rules,” I said. “First, don’t ever call me. Second, don’t ever text or email me. Third, don’t ever come up to me on the Donut and ask me anything.”

“Okay, but how are you going to coach me?” It was a reasonable question, but he had hired an unreasonable man.

“I’m going to send you some coaching tips in a letter.”

“What if I don’t understand them?”

“Then you’ll be lucky.”

“What if I have questions? Am I supposed to write you letters back? With stamps and stuff? That’ll take forever.”

“If you have questions I will ignore them. One fool can keep a hundred wise men busy for a thousand years.”

“Okay,” he said.

So that night I knocked back some of LA’s best cycling craft water from “L’Etape,” took out a pencil and got to work.

FIRST AND LAST CYCLING LESSON
BY COACH WANKY

INTRO

I’ve always had a hard time understanding why cycling is so complex that in order to do it properly you need to pay someone, especially since you are simply flailing around trying to have fun, not win the Tour. Most coachees have never been involved in any sport before and are essentially seeking emotional counseling to answer the question, “Why do I suck so badly?”

The answer is usually simple. Pick as many as apply.

  1. You are old.
  2. You are lazy.
  3. You are weak.

The other reason you suck so badly is that you haven’t yet learned how to move the goal posts. For example, you keep trying to beat people who are your genetic and physical and mental superiors. Stop doing that right now.

Instead, pick people who are your inferiors. If you have never met such a cyclist, entice a very sick person or a toddler out on a bike ride.

EQUIPMENT AND STUFF

Now a word about equipment. When people start a new activity they spend a lot of money on it. When people have been doing something a long time they (usually) become much more selective about what they buy, even when they buy expensive stuff. Or, in the case of cycling, they get cheaper because it’s a sport that makes you more broke than children. Really, it does.

But at your stage, you’re too ignorant to know what you need. That’s because what you need isn’t sold in stores, it’s available for free out on the road, and it’s called “exercise.” After you’ve ridden a series of 10,000-mile seasons, come back to me (if your credit card is still good) and we’ll discuss your bike fit and why your knees hit beneath your chin and whether that’s good or not.

Until then don’t ask me about wheels or gearing or frames or sizes or saddles or aero. After then feel free to ask about all those things but I’ll just shrug and send you to Bike Effect where they actually know what they’re talking about.

Pro tip: the answer to “Why do I suck?” is never “Because I need better stuff,” and is always “Because I am lazy.” This is important in a “stuff” intensive activity like cycling, where there is no upper limit on expense, and where everyone struggles to pay the bills AND to buy the best stuff. You should be struggling to pedal your bike, not pay for it.

Also–the focus on equipment will take all the fun out of it for you. If it’s already not fun, then you really are on your way to being a real cyclist. The only way to perfect yourself is to not be able to afford all the stuff you get bored with immediately after you go into debt to buy it.

TRAINING PLAN

Okay, now that we’re through with the preliminaries, here is your training plan for 2015-2018.

  1. Learn to draft.
  2. Make other people pay for your coffee.
  3. Ride your fuggin’ bike.

PS: Your credit card was declined. Do you have another?

END

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The existential meaningless of falling off your bicycle

December 29, 2015 § 38 Comments

People love to find meaning in stuff. “The movement of the stars at birth determines your character!”

“The lines on your palm tell your future!”

“These tea leaves reveal tomorrow’s stock gains!”

Etc.

Another place people love to find meaning is in misfortune. It’s well-intentioned and it reflects the root of all human hope, which is optimism. Unfortunately, it’s hogwash.

Now before you chastise me for another ramble down Pity Lane, keep in mind that I have to come up with something to write about virtually every day, and for better or worse my cracked pelvis keeps on giving.

Of all the condolences I get, and being a pity whore I lap them all up and gladly solicit new ones by showing up at events with a crutch even though I no longer need it, the only one that I can’t swallow is this one: “Everything happens for a reason.”

If it stopped there I’d be fine, but it never does. The “everything-happens-for-a-reason” person follows it up with an observation about how being hurt changes your perspective, makes you humble, helps you appreciate what you’ve got, sharpens your will to get better, and is frankly a blessing in disguise because “After all, you’re lucky you weren’t killed.”

And all of that might be true. The problem is, none of it is connected with “Everything happens for a reason” because the only “reason” that anything happens is due to a confluence of decisions, circumstances, physics, and good old randomness.

There is no Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker brandishing The Force to weave the details of my stupid bicycle-falling-off-incident so that it will make me a better person. In fact, the people around me would agree that it’s made me a worse person, if such is possible.

Awful, horrific, hideous things with life-altering consequences (permanently and for the worse) happen all the time. Children have bombs dropped on their heads in Syria, children get kidnapped and sold into slavery in Nigeria, little kids get shot on the porch in Cleveland, and thousands of Korean women got press-ganged into prostitution for the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII.

And you know what? None of that was for the better, and none of it happened because of Dog or Fate or the Tea Leaves.

Now you could argue that the world is made a better place by having one less old fellow sporting around on a bicycle in his underwear while wearing stretchy bottoms that force everyone in the coffee shop to avert their eyes at the shriveled shrimp exposed in high relief by his tight pants.

And you could also argue that my bicycle falling off incident DID happen for a reason, as long as you state the reason as “Stupid choice of yours at the wrong time on the wrong road and the even-handed application of physics.”

But make me a better person?

That won’t happen until I’m allowed to eat all the pecan pie I want. Which isn’t now.

END

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The color of stupid

December 28, 2015 § 50 Comments

Every good rant ought to begin with a confession. This one does, and here it is:

I have broken most traffic laws on my bike. I’ve engaged in dangerous behavior, reckless riding, scofflawing, cursing at motorists, whacking the hoods of cars that almost killed me, shouting back at pedestrians who insult me, and, in my youth engaging in physical altercations. So if you’re looking for someone who claims his shit doesn’t stink, it’s not me.

Despite the above confession, these acts do not and have never characterized how I ride, for this simple reason: The ride is a fail unless you and your fellow riders make it home alive and unhurt.

Of course there’s a fine balance between riding safely and riding in a competitive group. Hormones flow. Delusions blossom. Risk-benefit analyses wither on the vine. And at the end, or somewhere on the route, there’s an imaginary victory in an imaginary race that has a real ending and real competitors and real bragging rights.

Over time the instinct for survival has won out. There’s only so much reckless abandon I want to be around, foremost because I don’t want to fall off my bicycle (I’m fairly accomplished at that without additional assistance), and secondarily because I don’t want my day ruined scraping up the remains of someone’s poor decisions.

“How was the ride?” when asked by my wife isn’t answered well with “Someone died.”

Which brings us to the Nichols Ride, one of LA’s oldest and most famous group clusterfucks. I’ve done it once, simply to say I’ve done it. If you haven’t done it, there are a bunch of better alternatives. For one, it’s a one-trick pony. There is a steep wall, very short, that dislocates all but a small handful. It happens early on, so if you’re doing the ride for the competition aspect, your chances of making the split and “winning” are almost nil.

For another, the hard part of the ride is very short, a few miles along Mulholland Drive that end in a sprint between the same handful every week.

Lastly, the fast part of the ride takes place along badly paved, twisting, rolling urban roadway that is often clogged with traffic. Especially, there is “the” intersection, where you can either stop at the red light and get caught by those behind you, or approach it on the wrong side of the road at 35+, blow the red light and trust your skills to shoot the gaps in the traffic.

In the past, riders have been clocked head-on by oncoming cars as they salmon; others have been hit by cross traffic as they run the red light, and thousands and thousands have risked life and limb as they squeeze through this harrowing strait. What’s most interesting, of course, is that the people who set the tone for this egregious behavior are the same people almost every ride.

Disengaged from reality, consequences, responsibility, or leadership, they weekly leave their mark on the Nichols Ride with feats of inanity that encourage those other few who are similarly unhinged to follow in their footsteps. No matter how many times they’ve been reproached, reasoned with, remonstrated with, or begged, they keep at it. They don’t fucking care about you, which makes sense, because they barely even care about themselves.

So today, when Facebag lit up with this video showing just how unbelievable these clowns are, it was amazing to see the outpouring of anger at this behavior–behavior that gives every motorist a poster child to aim at when you say “I’m a bicyclist.”

But the stupidity of the culpable riders isn’t what’s exceptional. What’s exceptional is how long this type of riding has been tolerated, and how feeble our community has been when it comes to reining it in. Cycling has always had terrible people who run silly risks, but in the past those people were first given a talking to, and then ostracized. The group wasn’t willing to have gorillas in its midst, brainless people who endanger all and who give an already suspect sport an even more terrible name.

As cycling has grown, with so many huge rides and so many strong riders, the enforcers of yore have either left “the scene” and taken to riding in small groups on their own, or they have completely disengaged from the crazy rides. I’ve done the latter, and it’s a cop-out. The dynamics of cycling today, at least in L.A., call for a new brand of leadership.

Instead of treating every big ride like Death Race 2000, the people who have been around need to start opening every single ride with a little speech. Rides differ, but the message needs to be the same and it needs to be enforced. Something like this:

Listen up, assholes. This isn’t a bike race. You know how I know? Because no one has paid a fee or pinned on a number. This means you will follow the traffic laws. If you have a driver license you’re presumed to know what those are. If you don’t, raise your hand and I will explain the basics. If you can’t do that, don’t want to do that, or are too cool to do that, leave now. We’ll give you a huge head start and crown you king–but we won’t let you ruin our ride and, more importantly, our lives.

Sounds good in theory, but the problem is that nowadays no one wants to be the heavy, for various reasons. First is the fear of liability. If you’re the one laying down the law, who are the lawyers going to come looking for when someone falls off her bicycle and breaks an arm, or worse? Who wants to get sued for trying to keep things safe?

The other problem is that there are so many rides and so many schedules that it’s rare for the same people to show up every week for the same ride. So even though you can get the ball rolling, if you’re the “heavy” all you have to do is miss a few rides and the problem resets.

What’s the solution? First, these rides need to organize to this extent: The regulars need to agree that someone will always give “the speech.” This diffuses responsibility in case someone tries to pin the tail on you as the “promoter,” and it gives everyone a stake. Most importantly, it lets slower riders know that the asshat antics of the fast-and-furious-fools isn’t acceptable, and it encourages people to come up to these clowns post-ride and read them the riot act.

Best of all, it makes certain types of riding, i.e. the flagrant behavior seen in the video, uncool, and it gives each one of these rides the opportunity to ostracize those who would endanger everyone else for the cheap glory of a few seconds with your hands in the air.

There are already rides like this, where a chain-gang boss lays down the law and if you’re going to do the ride, you follow it. The Long Beach Freds come to mind, a group of hackers and Olympians who train daily on one of the hairiest and most congested roadways in SoCal, PCH. They stop at lights, don’t take crazy risks, and more or less look out for each other while also trying to rip each others’ legs off. They don’t give “the speech,” but if you get out of line you get sent to your room without any supper.

Gil Dodson, the ancient Fred around whom the Long Beach Freds are built, is proof that one strong voice and a group of like-minded riders can create an atmosphere of challenging competition and relative safety. Is that asking too much?

The time to change is now. Better to attend post-ride coffee than a post-ride funeral.

END

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Start stalking

December 27, 2015 § 16 Comments

People are funny. If you give them a good tip they ignore the hell out of it, like the weird black mole that’s been blossoming on my shin and now looks like a rotten cauliflower that is oozing goo and has probably metastasized to my liver.

I went to the doctor a while back. “How long has that been there?” he asked.

“I dunno.”

“Long time? Short time?”

“Short time I guess. It was a gash and how it’s just some dried blood under the skin I think.”

“If it changes at all or doesn’t go away in a couple of weeks come back and we’ll take a look at it. Don’t ignore it.”

That was a looooong time ago and I ignored the shit out of it even as I noted its terrifying growth profile. So now that it is about the size of a child’s bowling ball and has learned to read and write and can even say its name, I finally made an appointment to go back to the skin doc.

I know what he’s going to say. “Well, Mr. Davidson, you’re dead now.”

And I know what I’ll say. “Who cares? My leg’s still jacked and I can’t ride for beans.”

But you? You won’t ignore some sage advice, will you? Because I’m going to give you some. Here it is: Go stalk Daniel Holloway’s ride schedule and follow him like a bad case of Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Here’s the deal.

Daniel is the best bike racer in America. That’s not hyperbole or exaggeration. He won 345 races this year, half of them only pedaling with one leg. He races against the fastest lead-out trains on the continent and smokes them like a brat left overnight in the BBQ cooker.

But, whatever. This isn’t nearly as important as the fact that he’s in LA through the end of January, and what’s more important, shows up on most of the dork rides–NPR, Donut, etc. In other words, you have a chance to ride with the country’s winningest pro. And in other other words, five minutes spent riding with Daniel is worth 500 hours of Internet coach time and bike forum chat room palaver and Strava auto-titillation.

Unlike lots of supermen, Daniel has time for DLU, Dorks Like Us. Have a question you’ve always wanted answered? Daniel will answer it. He may be wrong, but at least you’ll be getting it from a pro.

Plus, he’s friendly. He intends to get in his workout, which often means all you’ll see is a tiny dot vanishing in the distance, but other times he’s pedaling around at DS, dork speed, trying to burn off the same cheesecake and lard-covered-butter cookies that you are.

Best of all, and most mystifying is when Daniel shows up on the NPR. Best because NOW IS YOUR CHANCE. Mystifying because when he hits the jets hardly anyone even tries to follow.

Dude! Pedal harder, please. This is your free coaching lesson. Even if you hang on for .0001 seconds, you will have gotten a better workout and will have seen what kind of acceleration it takes to escape the gravitational pull of 75 hackers pounding with a tailwind.

Better, if you’re like Smasher and manage to grab his wheel when he goes, he will absolutely beat your face in. All you have to do is hang onto his back wheel while he gins out 450 watts for four laps. You can do this, really, you can’t.

I know that you have a carefully planned workout regimen that is going to allow you to place mid-pack next year, but at least while Daniel’s in town you need to toss that plan out the window and follow this guy around, bothering the snot out of him with stupid questions. In addition to being a complete wizard with regard to tactics, he’s knowledgeable beyond belief when it comes to aero equipment and riding position, and has an ability to read a field that you won’t believe.

Of course I fully expect you to ignore this, because good, free advice is just that way.

END

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The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 15: Endeavor to persevere

December 26, 2015 § 20 Comments

Starting tomorrow or the day after we’re going to be awash in resolutions for 2016, but in reality every cyclist has one and one resolution only, and it’s this: “Stop eating during the holidays.”

This is impossible, and the intensity of the desire to stop eating is perfectly balanced with the insane quantity and quality of lip-smacking yummies at every turn. How about the bastard who gave me TWO pecan pies, one for my birthday and one for fucking Christmas?

FUCK YOU, Smasher, you fucking fucker.

What about the “friend” who gave me a “Merry Birthmas” packet of homemade chocolate smunchers with nuts and sugar and butter and chocolate and powdered yumminess?

FUCK YOU, fake friend!

What about the wife who bought my son a fucking Baskin-Robbins Giant-Sized Oreo Ice Cream Cake, served it on Thursday, and then on Friday dragged out a 10-lb. chocolate-and-strawberry birthday cake flanked with cream, sugar, frosting, and a giant chocolate placard that read “Happy Birthday, I love you”?

FUCK YOU, treasonous and perfidious wife!

That doesn’t even begin to count the “invitations” to parties loaded with cookies and goodies and cake (you bastards know who you are), the boxes of chocolates and goodies from the Big Island Gout Factory, and the sorry dungheads at Quill Office Products who sent a fucking can of Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies along with an order for ink toner.

I’VE RUN OUT OF FUCKS! I’VE RUN OUT OF FUCKS!

So bottom line is you’re already deep in a calorie hole that a Caterpillar couldn’t dig out of, and you barely have a garden trowel. So all you can do is try to slow down the giant vacuuming sound your mouth makes every time someone drops off a new load of diet-destroying sugary goodies, destined to make you happy and miserable all at the same time, with the misery attaching mostly to your tummy and butt and thighs and hanging around waaaaaay longer than the happy, which really only lingered on your tongue for a few seconds anyway.

Here, then, are your pre-New Year’s Resolutions, designed to get you safely through to Jan. 1, 2016.

  1. When someone offers you something to eat, snarl and say “FUCK YOU!” Bite their hand if you have to.
  2. Throw away all the food in the house. Now. All of it. Don’t worry, by 9:00 PM tonight there will be a whole new pile.
  3. Pour out all the booze. And milk. Pour out everything except what’s in the faucet.
  4. Open your “cycling energy” drawer and toss everything in a wrapper or bottle, except the Percocet.
  5. Decline all invitations, go nowhere.
  6. Don’t let anyone come in.
  7. Pull the covers up over your head.

And remember, after Jan. 1, you’re on your own.

END

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