Coffee shop or coffee … house?

February 22, 2018 § 2 Comments

A good book makes you do something, and reading about the old coffee shops in Vienna made me want to go to Austria and get some coffee. With the exception of full carbon that is 100% carbon and made exclusively of carbon, few things are more important to underwear bicycle riders than coffee. But Vienna is far and Los Angeles has lots of coffee shops, so why cross the ocean for something you can easily get right around the corner?

The answer is long. #sorrynotsorry

The Vienna Coffeehouse

Once upon a time, the legend goes, Vienna was the world’s center for coffeehouses. The greatest writers, artists, actors, politicians, and financiers of Europe could be found at their favorite coffeehouse, conducting business, arguing, reading, romancing, discussing, holding forth, snorting cocaine, observing, in short doing anything but drinking coffee. This was the Viennese coffeehouse, a place for the “vagabond and footloose nomad who didn’t like to leave home.”

As I read through the book I jotted down notes that captured the essence of the people and the times better than anything I could regurgitate or plagiarize.

  • One famed writer always refused to move outdoors when the weather warmed and his favorite coffeehouse opened its garden terrace. For years his friends begged him to leave the hot and stuffy indoors during the summer months, but he never budged. Then one day a man hurled himself from the fifth floor of the hotel above the coffeehouse, crashing onto a table in the garden and nearly killing a guest. “See?” said the famed writer. “That’s why I never take my coffee outside.”
  • “The only pleasure I ever gave my parents was nine months before my birth.”
  • “Words are never so right as those written for the eyes of one.”
  • “You’ll be my guest at the Royal Hotel tonight! Assuming I can find someone to invite us.”
  • “I’d never do him the honor of sponging off him.”
  • “When your last name is ‘Cow’ and you want to be taken seriously, you’d best act like a bull.”
  • “It was his incomprehensible fortune that made him a beggar.”
  • “It was the laboratory of the destruction of democracy.”
  • “He was divorced, like every educated person.”
  • “And it ground the mass of humanity into soulless materiele.”
  • “She was like a burned up piece of paper made entirely of ash but retaining its shape, waiting only for the tap of a finger to crumble into formlessness.”
  • “Nothing makes a renegade quicker than money.”
  • “Man accustoms himself to nothing so quickly as comfort.”
  • “He sat there forced to do what so many before him had done, the choice not his but the Muse’s.”
  • “This is the place where Karl Kraus used to sit and so studiously read the newspapers, which he hated.”
  • “If you’re in a coffee shop the coffee is the goal, but if you’re in a coffeehouse, the coffee is the means.”

The Los Angeles coffee shop (cyclists, take note)

A couple of days ago I did Intelligentsia the dishonor of insulting its atmosphere and clientele. I made fun of its ridiculous customers, its jangling atmosphere, and its inhospitability.

The fool, however, was I, because a coffee shop is not a coffeehouse, just like a strand cruiser is not a time trail bike. Unlike the coffeehouse, whose existence has little if anything to do with coffee, the coffee shop is all about coffee. You buy it, you pay too much for it, you drink it, you pose a bit, and you get the hell out and make way for the next patron. Plus, you have somewhere else to go pose. The coffeehouse is a state of mind; the coffee shop is a state of mindlessness with a profit motive. In fact, if you are staring around wondering “How does this shabby place possibly stay in business?” you may well be in a coffeehouse, although you may also simply be in a crappy coffee shop about to go under.

On reflection, no place could possibly be better for cyclists than the Center of the Known Universe, the Starbucks on Highland and Manhattan Beach overlooking the pier and the Pacific Ocean. Where better to preen, flex, gab, and look at the people who are also looking at you? Where better to quaff an espresso or, better yet, a quattro? And where else is it 65 and sunny in February?

But if Starbucks isn’t your fancy, then Intelligentsia or Zinque or Nikau Kai or Dogtown Coffee or that place in Santa Monica where the coffee is made with butter should be. These places all define themselves based on what they sell and how it tastes, and they provide a venue to strut your stuff, or at least to hide in a corner and watch while others strut theirs, but please don’t do it for very long even though we do have wi-fi.

But what if you want a coffeehouse? And what is a coffeehouse, by the way, really?

What a coffeehouse is, really

For starters, and for most folks enders, a coffeehouse is a place with mediocre coffee. No one goes to a coffeehouse to drink something out of a cup with this description:

As the cold air rides in on the north wind Borealis and settles in for the season, warm yourself with our new winter blend. Our inaugural Borealis blends three sizzling coffees from Africa and reminds us of butterscotch, candied ginger and plum jam. [That’s a real description from Intelligentsia, by the way.]

People go to a coffeehouse to scrounge around. To lay about. To waste time and while away the day, and perhaps to talk with an acquaintance or, best of all, to wash down the taste of the mediocre coffee with a cigarette or three.

Nothing, however, defines a coffeehouse like books. In short, if books are not strewn about, or if someone isn’t lounging on a broken sofa reading “Dianetics,” then you’re not at a coffeehouse. And if everyone is hunched over a phone or iPad or laptop, you’re not at a coffeehouse either, unless it’s clear that most of the people are looking at each other or, better yet, the walls. In Los Angeles, the true coffeeshop has at least one patron who’s never written a screenplay, book, or poem, never acted, never played guitar, never developed an app or had an idea for a new social media app, and never tried to surf, but who looks like he might have done each of those things professionally before he stopped shaving in 1983.

The coffeehouse close to home

It didn’t take long for me to find a coffeehouse, and better yet I didn’t have to fight the killing traffic on the 405 to get there. No sir, right down the hill was a place that fit the bill to a “T.”

I walked in and noted that the place actually smelled like coffee. It was quiet, old, worn, and dumpy, and my “here” order came in a permanently stained mug that, with a little effort, could easily have been chipped. But what told me in no uncertain terms that I was in a coffeehouse were the books. Hundreds of them were lined up in bookshelves, and as you’d expect they were books of the worst sort, old, pawed through with ratty covers, and left behind only because donation required less effort than tossing them in the trash.

More than the overflow of bad books, however, were the actual human beings reading them. What could be weirder than people reading books in public, unashamedly?

In the background Wes Montgomery slid up and down the guitar neck, and muted, first-class mediocre jazz standards ensured that you wouldn’t have to leap out of your chair at the first lyric of a rapper fucking his girl. A big, algae-stained aquarium made splishing noises that further drowned out the mindless conversations that no one was having, and if they were, that you couldn’t overhear.

Deep leather chairs and ugly velour sofas, long past their expiration dates, sucked the patrons in like quicksand; uncomfortable and mismatched, they were hard in the wrong places and not soft in the right ones. Commanding the generally degenerate scene was no barista, perish the thought, but rather a part-time dude in a t-shirt “making coffee.” And however sketch his coffee knowledge was, he knew the names of the customers and, more impressively, was able to make their drink without even asking. He had a vaguely foreign accent that sounded like “no work visa.”

Bad photos from local photographers were interspersed with ugly artwork from local artists, all overpriced, and none appeared to have been purchased in years judging from the geological strata of dust along the top edge of the frames. The bathroom was washed in graffiti, none of it obscene. A woman was giving French lessons to a Japanese student; scroungers were smoking outside on the terrace; strange looking old men hunched over their coffee while scrolling through Facebook … but best of all was the dumpy fellow with the smell of stale armpits who sat on the couch and stared out the plate glass window for more than an hour, unmoving.

This coffeehouse had Stammgäste, regulars who plainly loathed human contact but who craved the society of others, nomads who preferred to stay home. In sum, a coffeehouse is a place where you can go in with nothing but a book and some pocket change, although I dare you. A coffeehouse is vaguely tattered in all its particulars, made uncomfortable by everything that has passed from broken-in to simply broken, but it exceeds anything you could possibly lounge in that is new or comfortable.

I pulled my book up over my nose and sipped my brackish brown water, lightened with a bit of foam, as I read the Gothic letters: “It began to rain softly, quietly, like silent tears.”

END

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1

Shifting the center

May 1, 2017 § 13 Comments

For years now the Manhattan Beach Starbucks has been officially recognized in the Interplanetary Coffee Starship Guide as the center of the known universe. Its starship locator code is CotKU.

Due to the high quality of the male and female passersby talent, its ample brickside layabout for lazy cyclists, and its awesome view of the MB Pier and Pacific Ocean, intergalactic travelers have long agreed that CotKU really is CotKU.

However, a few weeks ago I was coming back from a ride and I noticed a new coffee shop a couple of yards up Highland. Actually, it wasn’t a coffee shop, it was a surf shop that sells coffee. The place is called Nikau Kai. In Hawaiian this means “Center of the Known Universe.”

“Wow!” I thought. “Has the center of the universe shifted?” So I went in. The owner, Jason Shanks, has a dog dish out in front to entice dogs, and a bike pump next to it to entice bikers. The enclosed-but-open-air railing on the inside, with high stools, is amazing. A few feet back is a big table with plenty of room to spread out and make funny noises as your cleats clack on the floor.

But most importantly, the coffee is superb. Jason gets it from somewhere fancy in Santa Cruz. He told me the name and I pretended to know, but it’s gone now. All I can tell you for sure is that if the taste of your coffee matters, Starbucks has a fight on its hand. And instead of factory-made food delivered in a reefer truck, Nikau Kai’s stuff is fresh and homemade. A reefer is probably still involved, but in a different way.

So you can get coffee that actually rocks, and you can also get de-dorkified. As a cyclist you are of course a dork, and that’s why surfers, who are cool, have historically never mixed with cyclists, who are dorks.

Of course there are the few rarities like Dan Cobley, MMX, Jay LaPlante, and a handful of other legitimate shredders who ride and surf, but they all go to great pains to never introduce their cycling dork friends to their cool surfer friends.

What’s great about Nikau Kai is that you can get great coffee and then when you’re finished you can wander into the back of the shop and get a swimsuit that doesn’t look like it was made in 1987. Mrs. WM has been hassling me for years to replace my perfectly serviceable swimsuit but since it isn’t broken I’ve never replaced it.

I mean, no swimsuit in the world is going to fix my cycledork suntan or help me grow shoulders, arm muscles, etc.

Anyway, I sauntered into the back and found a pair that probably fit.

“You want to try these on?” Jason asked.

“No,” I said. “I hate trying things on.”

Instead of giving me grief he smiled and said, “No worries. Bring ’em back if they don’t.”

I got to the counter and the very polite and uber-cool young surfer fellow said, “Anything besides the boardies?”

“I don’t want any boardies, thanks. Just this swimsuit.”

He hesitated, but in the nick of time one of my cyclist friends whispered “‘Boardies’ means ‘swimsuit’ in surfer talk.”

I nodded as undorkily as I could. “Yeah, dude. Just the boardies.”

Anyway, I got home quickly from the excellent double espresso and tried on my swimsuit. It fit perfectly. Now all I need is a suntan. While I’m working on that — and it’s going to take decades — give Nikau Kai a try. But don’t necessarily tell them I sent you.

END

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Back where it began

June 11, 2016 § 4 Comments

When people die before their time it hits you hard.

But when is “their time”? When is anyone’s time?

Justin Warfield’s time was on Sunday. His death was mourned and his life was celebrated in his Catholic church, over a thousand people on a Wednesday afternoon standing testament to the worth of his life. More than that, they were witnesses to what we all hope for: That in our short lives we’ll have made people better by having known us.

And Justin’s life was short. Diagnosed with a ragingly malignant tumor in November of 2014 at the age of 39, he was gone a mere year and a half later.Those who knew him well were stunned. Those who knew him in passing, like me, were likewise shocked. How could someone who lived such a good, clean, healthy life have been stricken down in the blink of an eye?

I don’t know, you don’t know. No one knows.

But what I do know is that during his life he made a difference, the kind of difference that brings people from across the continent on a moment’s notice to pay homage to a friend, the kind of difference that you hear in the stories people tell and the look on their faces, looks that can’t be feigned.

When the monsignor asked everyone in the filled church to stand who had had a personal connection to Justin, every single person stood. We all got chills and we all felt grateful. We often talk about touching a lot of lives, but rarely see it, not like that.

My connection with him was the slim connection of two narrow bicycle tires. A tutor in Manhattan Beach, he was teaching the son of Jeff Konsmo, one of our most dedicated riders. One question led to another, and the obviously eager and competitive Justin ended up being invited by Jeff to a Friday coffee ride. Justin was dropped and therefore immediately hooked; you know the rest. Over a few short years cycling brought him the relief from life’s stresses and the balance he’d needed to finally allow him to begin stopping to smell the roses.

This Friday morning a small group of friends gathered at the Center of the Known Universe, where Justin’s cycling odyssey had begun. We pedaled out to the overlook where PV Drive hits Paseo del Mar, dismounted, and shared stories. Jeff opened it up with a voicemail he’d kept from Justin, that clear, happy, funny, strong voice slicing through the cool morning air, floating, it seemed, all the way across the Pacific Ocean that lay stretched out in front of us.

Dave shared the story of how Justin had gotten his nickname “Pigpen.” On the day of his first flat, King Harold had changed it for him. The bike was so filthy that Harry was covered hand-to-elbow in muck from simply handling the frame and wheel. “What the hell are you?” someone said. “Pigpen?”

From that day on he was Pigpen, and from the very next ride his bike sparkled. If a fleck of dirt ever attached to it again, no one ever saw it; Justin became the poster child for the Immaculate Ride. Chris and Dan shared stories about Justin’s dedication, his strength on the bike, and his goodness as a person.

He had died after suffering through unspeakable pain with never a complaint. The time he had left to live he used with amazing power, cementing old friendships, building new ones, wringing the nectar out of his life even as it evaporated in front of him. When he died, he was ready.

But we who didn’t have to live with his pain and suffering and the reboot of infinite courage he needed every single day just to live? We weren’t ready. We’re not ready yet. Nor will we be, perhaps ever.

END

 

Manties and armies

August 13, 2015 § 13 Comments

All in a day’s riding …

  1. One stop swap shop. I was coming back from REI in Manhattan Beach, where I’d purchased a pair of manties with a little pad to put under my regular shorts to reduce the incidence of cheesegrater ass. Dude on a fixie pulls up to me at Rosecrans and Inglewood. “Where are you riding from?” he asked friendlily. “Where did you get my arm warmers from?” I retorted.  Confused pause. “Are they yours?” “Used to be.” “I got them at a bike swap.” We had a good laugh.
  2.  armies
  3. Crustacean ride. Before going to MB I rode to San Pedro with two very old South Bay hermits, Crusty and Crusty Jr. Coffee was had at the Starbucks where Perez’s bike was stolen and he commandeered a vehicle from an old lady in order to (unsuccessfully) give chase. Every now and again you should take an old bikie crusty out for a ride. They need the sunshine and someone fresh to lie to.
  4. crusties
  5. Celebrity spotting and re-spotting. In MB I had to stop at the Center of the Known Universe for a crucial subcommittee meeting of the Wanky Awards support staff. Big planning secrets were discussed in detail. At that moment in walked Fireman and Soundman. “We were driving by and we saw the trick racing bike with the big stupid purple pedals and figured we’d stop in and say ‘hi.'” An hour later at REI someone yelled at me in the parking lot, “Get a helmet you idiot!” It was them. Everyone goes to CotKU and REI on their day off, I guess.
  6. Flog terror. It’s not often that I get a pre-apology for not coming to a ride but the Thursday Flog Ride is so terrible that *someone* felt compelled to send me this missive after being gently reminded of his long-running and noted absence from the ride: “I will be high altitude training in Mammoth until next Monday. Next week I will be in Holland working on my punchy-cobbled climbs … the following week… the FLOG is MINE!!!” My cred-o-meter rates this one at a -77.9.
  7. Check eBay for a cheap laptop NOW. After winning the TELO training crit eight times this year, Aaron W. received the grand prize of a Samsung laptop from teammate Prez. This looked suspiciously like the laptop that Prez was going to donate to the Wanky Awards, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.
  8. South Bay Cycling Award categories. Here they are. Submit your nominees by email, as a comment on this blog, or on the bathroom wall at the Ocean Park toilets by 5:00 PM Friday.
    1. 2015 Greatest Advocate
    2. 2015 Best Bike Shop
    3. 2015 Best Young Rider
    4. 2015  Best Old Rider
    5. 2015  Most Improved
    6. 2015  Best Club
    7. 2015  Best Event
    8. 2015  Wanker of the Year
    9. 2015  Belgian Award
    10. 2015 Group Ride Champion
    11. 2015 Best Sponsor
    12. 2015 Best Male Racer
    13. 2015 Best Female Racer
    14. 2015 GC Award
    15. 2015 Crashtacular Fred
    16. 2015 Strava KOM
    17. 2015 Most Happy to Help others
    18. 2015 Most Fun
    19. 2015 Best Spouse/SO
    20. 2015 Ian Davidson South Bay Rider of the Year

    END

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Let the moonlight wash it away

October 26, 2012 § 22 Comments

I got up and had a banana. My mind was teeming with all the things that lay in wait the rest of the day. Then I had two cups of coffee. In each cup of coffee I poured some nonfat milk and a tiny, really tiny, dollop of heavy cream. I rolled out just after 6:00 AM, met up with Bull and rode to the Center of the Known Universe.

We rode the New Pier Ride, which was fast and hard and into the teeth of a howling Santa Ana crosswind. Afterwards I bought more coffee at Peet’s, cut it with some nonfat milk and another dollop of half-and-half, and sat on the bricks in the morning sunshine at CotKU. My mind was a jumble of thoughts and memories and stories and reactions and questions and plans and ideas.

Then I went to the office, showered, had an apple, and worked until eleven. So many problems and angry people and odd ins and outs and procedures and letters and emails and faxes and more angry people and worried people and just people. All of them crammed inside my head, my tiny head.

At eleven I went down to the Coffee Bean and Tea leaf with a new graduate who’s awaiting his bar results. We had coffee. I put half-and-half in mine, feeling like a lawbreaker. A brazen lawbreaker.

The rest of the day force fed my mind with all the things it had in store.

I went back to the office and ate lunch. Lunch consisted of a can of tuna packed in water dumped into a bowl. Atop the tuna I cracked a raw egg and mixed it with the tuna and some pepper. Then I ate it with two tortillas and a baby Fuji apple for dessert.

I worked until five. Then I had a cup of coffee and four peanut M&M’s. They are twelve calories each.

After a full day of work my head was heavy as a big, rough stone that someone had moved with a bulldozer. I left the office just past five-thirty. My head was so heavy and swollen I could barely cinch my helmet strap.

As I pedaled home the wind blew strong in my face, passing Joe’s house, thinking about him and the six-day bike odyssey upon which he and the other Man Tour riders have just embarked. I turned along Esplanade in Redondo Beach. The wind was now at my back, blowing hard. The sun was quickly dropping onto the horizon. The breakers had been whipped up into large, ragged swells by the wind. Despite the poor form, several surfers were out bobbing in the whitecaps, seeking a few seconds of size and intensity.

The straightest way home is up Via del Monte. Left turn.

But I turned right at Malaga Cove and dropped all the way down to the water. Then I did the steep climb up by the little bay and popped out onto PV Drive.

The sun was mostly in the water.

The straightest way home was now PV Drive all the way to Hawthorne. I turned right on Paseo del Mar, went right at the elementary school in Lunada Bay and took the sharp, short, hard little spike up the secret alleyway.

The sun was gone but the afterglow threw out plenty of sunlight as dusk began to settle.

The straightest way home was Hawthorne. I turned right at Calle Entradero and descended back to the water. People walked peacefully with their dogs. One lady in a billowing dress was taking a photo of a landscape that made her happy. I climbed the little wall back up to PV Drive.

Now I was at Hawthorne. The shortest way home was straight. It was vaguely dark, or rather deep dusk. I switched on my tail light and turned right, did a u-turn at the Starbucks, and headed the other direction on PV Drive back towards Lunada Bay.

The wind was in my face. A group of three bikers came whistling down Hawthorne and raced away, their red strobe tail lights taunting me to chase. The light turned green, but I didn’t chase.

I reached Via Zumaya and turned right, flicking on my headlight. I was now bathed in sweat. The thought occurred to me that my entire engine had run from morning to this point on a few hundred calories. I wasn’t really hungry, and my legs felt fresh.

It was now dark. The headlight cut a sharp beam, delineating the pavement. The moon was brilliant.

I glided up the climb, not going hard, but not giving in to gravity, either.

The moonbeams got stronger the higher I got, or maybe they made me higher.

At Coronel Plaza I turned right and merged with another rider. “Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” he said.

I climbed Ridgegate alone, the moonlight clearing everything from my mind except the rhythmic turning of the pedals.

There was nothing left in my mind, nothing at all, except this: “I wonder what’s for dinner?”

That, and a few moonbeams.

Whoa!

September 10, 2012 § 14 Comments

It’s not every day that you get to see Ryan O’Neal groggily collecting his morning newspaper on PCH well past noon, looking like he lost a knife fight to a gallon of cheap tequila and shouting “Whoa!” in surprise as the speeding South Bay wankoton barreled by within two feet of his chintzy velour bathrobe and plastic slippers.

But then again, it’s not every day that you get up at 5:00 AM, have your first cup of coffee, prepare for the 115-mile beatdown with a small bowl of oatmeal, and rendezvous with 38 other wankers at the Center of the Known Universe amidst gorgeous weather offset by the rich blue of the placid Pacific Ocean.

Rules is rules

There were really only a couple of rules, and they were badly needed as the group had swelled to over seventy by the time we reached PCH. Rule 1: Don’t pollute the stunning oceanside panorama of the coast highway with an ugly outfit. Rule 2: Don’t show up on the group ride with shitty tires.

The “Looks Like a Pro Transformation Prize” was instantly awarded to Arkansas Traveler, he of the baseball cap-under-a-helmet-with-bloody-ass-hanging-out-from-shredded-shorts-fame. ArkTrav had put away the gimmecap with the 7-inch bill and replaced it with a svelte and stylish and old school cycling cap.

Fashion point one, check.

Next, he had discarded the old saggsalot jersey with spare pockets ample enough for a backup radiator, and had jettisoned the Brad House “wear ’em ’til the bunghole shows through, then wear ’em some more” bib shorts.

Fashion point two, check.

Finally, he had kitted up in what I still maintain is the best looking, most elegant, and well fitting kit on the road anywhere: The SPY weekender kit, which is cleaner and more rad than the racing outfit. It’s no surprise that both are the creation of Joe Yule, who has done more to beautify the highways and byways of California than the entire roadside garbage pickup division of CalTrans.

Now, about that shitty tire rule

The first tire casualty of the day was Cary the Elder, who flatted near Pepperdine and would have been left for dead had the Pilot not stopped to help change the flat, but more importantly, to tow him back up to the group…38 miles later.

The second tire casualty of the day was “She’s just now got good and broke in,” otherwise known as Ol’ Wrinkles, the man famous for using equipment until it either becomes so obsolete that tools no longer exist to repair it, or until it disintegrates from overuse and age and falls from the frame in a powder of rust. Ol’ Wrinkle’s first flat came on account of a “slice in his tire.”

Close examination revealed that indeed the tire was sliced…as are most tires with over 25,000 miles of heavy road wear. Closer examination revealed that the slice was actually about fifty slices, all of varying length. Closer examination still revealed that of all the tire products available to the cycling consumer, he had opted to go with the Trojan Papershell, a tire advertised by its Indonesian manufacturer as “Smooth and Thin as Your Second Skin.”

“Damn, Wrinkles,” several people said as they watched him insert the wrong kind of tube. “What are you riding a premium crit tire for on a road like this?”

“They’re the best cornering tire made.”

“Yeah, but when’s the last time you went around a corner at anything over 5 mph?”

After successfully loading the tube, the group got together to chase the main pack for the next hundred yards or so, when the tire flatted and he replaced the wrong tube with another wrong tube. After cleaning out the grupetto of their last CO2 cartridge and last spare tube, Ol’ Wrinkles did a u-ey and headed home.

Pearls before swine

Elron is one of those dudes who knows more about bike fit than you do, and consequently he never gives advice. Pros like Matt Goss get fitted by him when they come into town, so unlike all the other advice sausages out there, he feels zero need to show off.

Once in every rare while, however, he sees something so wrong and so bad and so fucked up that he can’t help himself.

About thirty miles into the ride, he came up to me. “Dude. Your saddle’s too low.”

“Oh really? It does feel kinda low. But I like a flat stroke at the bottom.”

“You should raise it.”

“How much?”

“Start with about three inches.”

Since I never travel with a wrench, we waited until our first stop at the Rock, where Elron raised my seat. “Man,” I said, “that’s a lot.”

“You’ll get more power on the down stroke now that your knees aren’t under your chin.”

And he was right.

Put your junk into the wind

After Cross Creek, our group yo-yo’ed with the tentative uncertainty of various people on the front, none of whom understood the key point behind being on the front: If you’re comfortable, everyone behind you is expending zero energy because of the draft. This contributed to a horrible accordion effect that was also occurring because the leaders didn’t know how to pick a steady pace and maintain it.

It was more mayhem and crossed wheels and raggedy bunchedy herdball bike slop than you see when they let loose the 150 kiddies at a crit for the one-lap children’s event. To make matters worse, when we rolled through Trancas someone dived into the parking lot at the filling station, even though it wasn’t an approved stop.

Sheep being sheep, we all followed until Douggie yelled “What the fuck? This isn’t an approved stop!” So those of us who hadn’t hit the head or gone on a candybar marauding mission turned back onto PCH, effectively splitting the group and losing a handful of our most trusted leaders, which included Knoll and Pablo.

In order to steady the pace I wound up in front, this time with Junkyard at my side, plodding into a stiff 20 mph headwind. We reached the Rock in tatters, getting help from Bucks, Kramer, and Long Beach Freddy Wayne. Wayne, who was fresh as a daisy towards the end of my 20-mile headwind effort, chirpily asked, “Hey, Wankster, there’s gotta be a story behind those pink socks!”

“Ungh,” I grunted.

“Let’s hear it!” he said, chirpily.

“I’ll…tellya…another…………time,” I said.

We all dismounted at the Rock, with half the contingent dashing off to the chainlink fence to pee and the other half assaulting Legit Girl when they found out she was traveling with 25,000 calories of energy food. I crawled to her on my knees. “Got food?”

“Gosh, yes! What would you like?”

“Anything.”

“What have you had so far?”

“Water.”

“But what have you been eating?”

“Water.”

“You can’t do a 120-mile ride on water! That’s unhealthy!”

I didn’t argue, but voraciously scarfed up the two little chocolate protein ball thingies that she flung my direction.

He who is always near but never quite at the front

By the time we got back to Marina del Rey, our group was down to about a dozen riders. At first I thought I was hallucinating when on the bike path Jensie, our German transplant, got on the front. A collective gasp went up, as one of the biggest shirkers in the wankoton not only hit the front but took fifteen or twenty pedal strokes.

“Oh my Dog!” shouted one rider.

“Quick! The camera!” shouted another.

“Call NBC News!” screamed a third.

Unfortunately, this was the one day I’d decided to ride without my GoPro, and before long Jensie had melted back into the anonymity of riding behind girls and elderly fellows with helmet mirrors. Inspired by this brazen display of on-the-frontery, a mere one mile from home, and after sitting in for a hundred miles, Eric of the South Bay Wheelpersons took a pull on Vista del Mar, ramping up the speed so that it kicked a couple of struggling, bonk-addled bikers out the back.

Once we reached the safety of the Center of the Known Universe, the survivors quaffed cold espresso drinks and reflected on another day in paradise. I’m sure it could have been better…maybe if it had been Tatum in that flimsy bathrobe instead of her dad?

Some people…

August 24, 2012 § 9 Comments

If you’ve ever ridden much with Aaron Wimberley, and you don’t like him, you’re probably an asshole. On second thought, scratch “probably.” You are an asshole.

I’ve always admired him, and not just because he’s fast, and tough, and has great bike handling skills, and always fights fair. And not just because he’ll talk your ear off. And not just because he’ll talk trash and laugh good-naturedly when you talk it back.

Those things are all great qualities, but the thing I admire most is that he shares.

Dude, you really suck

A few weeks ago after a brisk beatdown on the NPR, he came up to me while we were sipping froo-froo coffees at the Center of the Known Universe.

“Dude,” he said with a laugh. “You know what I’m gonna start calling you when you attack?”

“Lightning?” I asked hopefully.

“Fuck, no. I’m gonna call you the Big Blue Bus ’cause you pull away so fucking slow that everybody, including that dude on the skateboard, has time to jump on your wheel.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling pretty tiny and cockroachish.

“Yeah,” he continued. “Just like the Big Blue Bus, dude, everybody’s parked happy in their seat and staring out the window while you flog yourself into a pile of meat and sweat, and then they all blast by in the sprint, dumping you quicker than a turd from Montezuma’s Revenge.”

“Well, I’m just slow.”

“Fuck no you’re not slow. You got power galore and you go fucking fast when you get up to speed. But like the bus, it takes you too long. All these wankers have time to climb aboard, read the paper and get a peddy. You need to work on your snap. Here’s how.”

He proceeded to give me some solid advice about how to become, if not Greased Lightning, at least a turbo bus.

Mr. Snappy

There’s another guy who’s a regular on the NPR, Trevon Salazar. He’s young and incredibly quick, but he never manages to make his way to third or fourth wheel in time for the finish. He’s always choking on someone’s fumes.

Aaron took him aside, too, and although I wasn’t there, the conversation must have gone something like this.

“Dude, your sprint positioning sucks balls. And your top end looks like you bought it at Wal-Mart.”

“Oh…” [Feeling very, very tiny.]

“Yeah. Get your ass out on the Parkway one of these evenings with me and Derek and a couple of teammates and we’ll practice giving you leadouts. You gotta be on the right wheel and then when your competition kicks, you’ve gotta have the top end to pass. It ain’t fucking rocket science.”

Take notes. Do as told. Watch good results flow.

On this morning’s NPR I didn’t do a single Big Blue Bus curb attack. Instead, I waited and hit it hard, springing free so that even though I got reeled in, the chasers had to actually chase. Each time there were nice gobs of snot and spittle hanging from the mouths of the chasers, and when they caught, there was never any counter.

After the second effort Aaron grinned over at me. “Good job, Bus. That’s how to do it!”

In the finale I grabbed Aaron’s wheel and actually made it to third in the field sprunt, my best ever.

But the most impressive thing was watching Trevon after a week of working with Aaron. Today, even though I was locked on Aaron’s wheel, with 400 yards to go Trevon just took it from me. When the last leadout man pulled off, Aaron unleashed, and not only did his understudy hold the acceleration, but he came by him neatly and with a bike length or two to spare.

“Good job, dude,” Aaron said.

How many people do you know in bike racing who’ll train their competition, and then congratulate them on a job well done?

Not very many, I bet.

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