Bike racing lessons

January 24, 2018 Comments Off on Bike racing lessons

I did two races on Sunday and finished mostly last in the first one and relatively last in the second. In the first race I attacked a bunch, got brought back a bunch, and sat up with a lap to go because one of the most basic bike racing lessons is “Don’t go where you don’t belong,” and I don’t belong UP THERE at the end of a crit that’s finishing in a bunch sprunt.

In the second race, being gassed from the first one, I sat at the back for forty minutes and then jumped free for a few laps in a doomed breakaway that was caught, swarmed, and discarded like so much used toilet paper. Again, it always pays to follow that most basic of bike racing lessons, “Don’t go where you don’t belong.” And by “pay” I mean “go home with all the skin you came with.”

Why does everyone sit?

During both races I watched while 90% of the field simply sat. A handful of people animated the race, and ten people placed in the top ten, but everyone else was content to go around in circles and then sprunt for placings 11-100. In case you think there’s a difference between 2nd and 100th, let me suggest that there isn’t.

But it’s more complicated than that and since I’ve witnessed the same imbecilic behavior in every crit I’ve ever been in, now seems like a good time to break down this whole bike racing thing, not so that anyone will ever do anything differently, but so that I won’t have to repeat myself the next time someone asks me about crit racing.

Bike racing lessons for the industrial park, 4-corner, crit wanker

Every race is different, and the biggest factor in how you place is who shows up, period. That’s why a local 70-year-old flailer who has never lined up in a mass start race calls himself a “world champion.” One other wanker showed up for the time trial, and the “winner” rode 2,000 meters faster than the “silver medalist.” The bronze medalist was an empty space.

For real bike racers, though, your competition is the most significant factor, and at CBR, where primes are generous, courses are wide and safe, the weather is good, and the atmosphere is fun, the riders who you cannot and will not beat, ever, are guaranteed to be there. From this we can take home the first lesson of industrial park crit racing, and the most important: YOU WILL NOT WIN, EVER.

Read that as often as you need to. Once you understand it we will move on to Lesson 2, and please don’t give me any “If!” and “But!” and “My coach says!” and “My Strava!” and “But wattage!”

I don’t GAF. You–yes, you–cannot win a CBR crit. Neither, of course can I, and please don’t remind me of that time last year when it was raining meatballs and I beat one other dude who quit midway through. That wasn’t “winning CBR,” that was “riding in the rain alone.” The reason you will never win a CBR crit is really simple. There will always be someone faster than you.

How do I know this? Because the same kinds of people have been winning this race, and races like it, for decades. You are not one of those kinds of people.

Understanding your crit racing limits

You may be wondering how I can be so certain that you aren’t ever going to win at CBR. Well, there are two reasons. One, you are too slow. “But my wattage!” you cry. Okay, perhaps you have the wattage. Perhaps you really do have enough power in the last 300m to win at CBR. But there’s a second reason you will never win, which is way more important than your power: You don’t know how to get in the right position, and stay there, on the last lap.

These two limitations, your speed and your position, can never both be overcome. This is because you are a fraidy cat slowpoke, and because at CBR there are at least a dozen riders who are consummately skilled at positioning, and who have a better sprint. And you could race and train and pay coach until the heavens go black forever, but you will still never come around Cory Williams, or Justin Williams, or Charon Smith, or Steve Gregorios, or Tommy Robles, etc. etc. etc.

I can’t overestimate the importance of understanding how hopeless your outlook is. It’s like walking on the surface of the sun, or breaking the two-minute mile, or chewing with your mouth closed. It will never happen, and it’s not until you accept that fact that we can proceed. By the way, if you think I might be talking about you, I AM.

Understanding everyone else’s crit racing limits

Once you accept defeat it’s time to study another of the important bike racing lessons, which is that none of the other racers can win, either. All those people around you? They are as hopeless as you are. You and they are one, together, joined at the hip. They, like you, have spent all that money and time on Facebook but they will be going home with something other than first place. This is called losing. You and they will lose.

Now don’t get me wrong. Coach will find something to praise you about and your numbers will be a navel for infinite gazing. Someone may have a photo of you charging around a corner and you will one day win a prime, or at least know someone who did. But you and they will still have lost and be losers. Remember this when you observe the field. “We are losers.” Repeat this as often as you need to.

However, sprinkled in among the losers are potential winners. You are not one of them and it’s pointless to speculate who they might be. It doesn’t matter; they are not you and you are not they. And since this kind of thing goes better with real names, I will give you a few from my own club. Ryan Dorris, Dave Holland, Anthony Freeman, Scott Torrence …

These racers can potentially win at CBR because they have top-end speed and the ability to position themselves on the last lap. There are other racers like them who can also win, but again, none of those racers is you, and never will be. It’s important to recognize that your team may have one or two potential winners in a bunch sprint and that you will never be one because this is the beginning of the process through which you can answer the key question about bike race participation: What the fuck are you doing out there if you’re not there to win?

To sum up: You’re in a bike race and your chance of winning is zero. Why are you there?

Breaking down purposeful racing

Leaving aside the only explanation for every junior racer ever, “My dad made me do this,” there are only four reasons for any human being to ever join a four-corner industrial park crit that is going to end in a bunch sprunt. Here they are:

  1. I’m here to win (this doesn’t apply to you, ever).
  2. I’m here for the training.
  3. I’m here to help my teammate win.
  4. I’m here to entertain the spectators.

There is no fifth reason to be in a four-corner industrial bunch sprunt crit. If you can’t peg yourself to #2, #3, or #4, it’s time for you to go into therapy. But first, go home because you don’t belong here, ever, and the pavement hurts.

I’m here for the training

This is actually a great reason to sit in the middle of a big pack, do nothing, and pedal hard the last lap so that you can get 58th. Bike races with lots of racers go fast, and speedwork is speedwork. Joining the bike race to improve your cornering, get used to racing in proximity with other imbeciles, and learning to bunnyhop body parts is all part of the skill set you will need if you plan to continue racing, which, by the way, is a bad plan.

However, in order to get much of a training benefit from crit racing where you ride around in the pack like a broken potato, you need to do more than one race. You need to do three, four if you can stand it. The additional races cost a measly fifteen bucks, and you will be absolutely frazzled if you put in three hours of crit racing, even if you just sit there like a wart.

The corollary is that if you only do one or two races you are not getting much training benefit from imitating a toenail. So once you accept that you will never win, if you decide that your goal is training, then do three races and make sure when you get home you can barely inject a steroid. That’s how tired you should be.

I’m here to help my teammate win

While this sounds like a good reason to do a four-corner industrial park bunch sprint, it’s usually not. Why? Because if your teammate is Ryan Dorris or Dave Holland or Anthony Freeman, they don’t need your help. At all. Not even a little bit. That fantasy you have of driving the pace on the final lap and dropping them off gift-wrapped with 200m to go is like the Tooth Fairy. Nuh-uh.

The most obvious reason this won’t ever happen is because if you had that kind of speed and that kind of positioning, you’d be capable of winning yourself, but as we’ve seen you have one or neither but not both. The less obvious reason and the sad one that your teammates won’t tell you is that they don’t need or want you anywhere near them on the last lap.

Your teammates are looking for a good wheel to latch onto, not yours, and you are violating that most crucial of bike racing lessons, “Don’t go where you don’t belong.”

It is painful to realize that you are worthless when it comes to helping others, but like gravity it is also a fact. You are a clogstacle, an object that gets in the way at precisely the wrong time, leading to crashes, bumps, shrieks of terror, and having thirty people pass you in the last hundred meters. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen a wide-eyed new racer tell me how he was getting fit so he could “help the team” by “leading out Ol’ Grizzles,” and me never having the heart to say “Ol’ Grizzles wants you as far back as you can get without being in Montana.”

So now is a great time to take that fantasy of you driving the leadout train behind the woodshed and shoot it. Actually, you don’t even have to shoot it because it is already dead.

Meaningful help

But don’t despair! There is a way that you, a loser, can help your teammates, who might be winners. It’s not glamorous or glorious and you may well DNF, but since you’ve accepted that you will never win, and have decided that you don’t just want to ride around in circles like a greasy donut doing nothing, you can be a helper.

Here’s how.

Your sprinter dude teammates at CBR are waiting for the end. That’s it. They know who they have to beat and how they have to beat them. What they are hoping is that their competition is just slightly more tired at the end than they are because unless you’re sprinting against Charon Smith the differential is often not that great. This is where you, lowly wanker, can actually attack.

Attacking is simple. You wait until the pack bunches up, then squirt up the side pedaling as if you are being chased by facial herpes. The pack has bunched up because it is going slow; you are squirting up the side because you are going fast. When you hit the front you will keep going and they will watch you go, in amazement, perhaps sprinkled with a few giggles at your awkward pedaling syle (pull your left knee in, please).

“Who is that wanker?” they will all wonder, but you won’t care because you will be off the front and pretty soon instead of wondering, they will have to chase. Don’t ever think, even for a moment, that they will not chase and you will somehow solo to glorious victory. They will, and you won’t.

Key point: This attack helps your sprinter/potential winner. You will get caught of course and there will likely be a counter and you could well get punched out the back of the field, dropped for good, pulled by the ref, and forced to tell your wife that you DNF’d a stupid crit, but you will have done something far more interesting and useful and bike-racerish than going around in circles like a turd swirling the drain. What’s more important is that if you have teammates who are also doing the toilet swirl thing, they can do these attacks, too.

Each attack, though weak and doomed to failure and instigated by a complete flailer (you), results in someone having to expend energy chasing you down. That is often one of the potential winners and your teammate will be back there chortling. Make a note of this: DOOMED ATTACKS ARE GREAT TEAMWORK AND HELP YOUR SPRUNTER. Even more incredibly, you are not limited to one of these attacks. You can do two, three, or even seventy, as many as your legs can stand. And another bonus is that it is good training. So the next time you are in a crit simply going around in circles waiting for your inevitable 58th placing, for fuck’s sake make an effort, and then another, and then another.

Here’s another fact. If the 90% who never do anything all did one hard effort, the races wouldn’t end in a field sprunt. They would break apart and an actual bike race would occur. However, this is impossible.

I’m here to entertain the spectators

It is easy to understand why you wouldn’t want to attack repeatedly to help your teammate. Most teammates aren’t worth helping at all, even a little. In fact, most teammates are best served by being chased down like scurvy dogs. There are few feelings in life as enjoyable as watching a teammate in a successful break, and then helping the enemy bring him back. Betrayal and treachery rule.

So it’s not necessary to carry out senseless attacks so your superior teammate can bring home yet another winner’s mug and $50 check while you have to show up at the water cooler on Monday and explain that you “helped by losing.” No one will understand. The only thing they will understand is “I won,” which you will never get to say, and even if you do, they will immediately forget because it is a ridiculous thing that causes their brains to stop the minute you say “criterium.” No matter what they say they are all thinking “What the fuck is a criterium?”

The final and only sane reason to be at the bike race, since you can’t win and you don’t want to train and you wouldn’t help your teammates on a bet is to entertain the spectators.

Keep in mind that although for you bike racing is a mortally serious event contested between serious adults displaying the ultimate in mental acuity, reflexes, endurance, fitness, and speed, to the rest of Planet Earth you are a middle-aged man slowly and anonymously riding a plastic toy in circles in his underwear clownsuit while his pot belly sags over the top tube and a few bored family members eat tacos and hope you don’t get killed or, depending on your insurance policy, that you do.

Although studies have shown that some activities shut down the brain more completely than watching a bike race, such as being dead, for the most part industrial park crit racing is the worst. Fortunately, at least at CBR, Kris and Jeff Prinz had the foresight to hire Archibald & Rufus to do the race announcing. These two guys are funny, witty, insightful, experienced racers and pro commentators.

The catch?

Something has to happen in the race. Even Archibald & Rufus can’t make chicken salad out of chickenshit, and it’s up to you to bring the chicken. A well timed attack, a badly timed attack, a hopeless surge for a lost prime, a mad dash for a pair of socks or some nutritional supplement that you don’t need, anything that is dynamic and noticeable and that distinguishes you from the other sods stuck in the middle of the peloton counting down to 58th place is exciting! And the announcers will either say your name or, less thrilling, your race number.

“Here comes Number 607 on a hopeless attack destined for failure!” Rufus will roar.

The crowd will wake up. They will look. They’ll note your determination, your focused drive, your matchy-matchy socks, and they will admire your effort, because no matter how silly you look, punching off the front in a solo move is hard and looks impressive, especially to the ignorant and ill-informed, and especially with Archibald & Rufus comparing your daring to Eddy Merckx.

In other words, if all else fails, at least put on a show. You got this.

Conclusion: Bike racing lessons that work

I hope you’ve been able to identify yourself. I know I have. Industrial park crit racing can be gratifying but you have to get out of the blob. Everyone can’t be a winner; it’s not a lottery ticket where the chances are equal. But there’s more to life than winning. Just ask Charlie Sheen.

END

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About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

 

French Toast Ride prep

January 19, 2018 Comments Off on French Toast Ride prep

Here we are, a couple of weeks out from Dave Jaeger’s infamous French Toast Ride, and that means it’s time to do some preparation. How do you prepare for a 117-mile, 7,500-foot smashfest populated by fanged assassins? Answer: Go ride your bike. A bunch.

However, I am very far past that point in life where I am going to ride my bike a bunch for anything, so instead I did a blog search and pulled up all the ride reports I had done since I began chronicling the FTR in 2011. Let me tell you something, reading those posts was almost as miserable as doing the ride. Long. Meandering. Pointless. Endless …

As I stumbled through them, I realized how many riders have come and gone over the years. And the French Toast Ride has been going on a whole lot of years. Twenty, maybe a hundred, longer even than Dave’s ongoing prostate leak.

Old cyclists never die, unfortunately

Many of the French Toasters (toasties?) have fallen by the wayside due to breaches of etiquette, as there are only two FTR rules. 1) Show up. 2) Be nice to Jim and Nancy Jaeger. No one has ever violated 2, of course.

But it’s amazing how many people, after swearing on a stack of Hustlers that they will be there for the ride, manage to not show up. Over the years they have culled themselves from the herd, with the most unforgettable breach ever occurring the year that Neumann not only failed to show (lame) but didn’t even bother to let anyone know (excommunication).

Other Toasters have fallen by the wayside due to silly things like marriage, kids, job, and quietly swelling guts that eventually begin to whisper “You cannot do that ride any more.” Some keep ignoring the whisper, or perhaps they’re simply hard of hearing, or (most likely) it will take more than a whisper to rope ’em away from Pancho’s All-You-Can-Eat $5.95 Buffet. And of course there are French Toast Ride icons who have given up the ghost due to unforeseen life catastrophes, such as yoga.

Nonetheless, every year a handful of 20 or 21 or 22 ravenously hungry old people show up, lay waste to Jim and Nancy’s bathroom, eat piles of tasty breakfast, smash themselves for seven hours, eat a bunch more food, and then quit riding for another eleven months or so. But knowing what lay in store, I decided to prepare this time. Really prepare.

Hell is other people’s French Toast Ride training plan

Rather than go out and do a series of well thought out, carefully executed rides, or, better yet, join up with Jaeger & Co. for their Saturday AM climb-fests in the Santa Monica Mountains, Kristie and I met up at Via Valmonte and PV Drive North on Tuesday, 5:32 AM pointy-sharp, and did four laps around the Peninsula. Each lap included the Cove climb, the Alley, and Millionaires. Total mileage was 104-ish, with a cherry on top by throwing in Basswood and Shorewood, and total elevation was, well, elevated.

I realized when I finished that the whole thing had been a horrible idea. The French Toast Ride is more like a race where everyone pretends not to race while stopping and cheating and quitting, whereas four laps around the Peninsula is more akin to dousing yourself in gasoline and lighting up a cigarette, putting out the fire after a couple of minutes, then doing it all over again.

In other words, I’m now so tired and broken that I won’t be riding again for a couple of weeks. Just in time for some stupid ride named after a piece of bread sopped in raw eggs and fried in a pan.

FTR 2011, FTR 2012, FTR 2013, FTR 2014, FTR 2015, FTR 2016 : Canceled, FTR 2017

END

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About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

CBR Crit #1: Big bang theory

January 17, 2018 Comments Off on CBR Crit #1: Big bang theory

If you look at the SoCal bike racing calendar, it is pretty slim pickings for road racing. The first road race of the year, Tuttle Creek, got torn off the calendar, presumably to be rescheduled, where “presumably” means “if Steve gets around to it.” After that there is the Santa Barbara road race, famed for the dude who flipped off the bridge and miraculously survived with a Spidey save, the UCLA road race, and the Victorville road race. Everything else is basically a crit. The CBR crit series is especially like a crit. Having a race calendar with nothing but crits is like having a sex life with nothing but handjobs. You may get good at it, but it leaves a lot be desired.

However, Jeff and Kris Prinz have charged into their second year as owners of the CBR crit series. They have done an amazing job with it. The team area now sports a plethora of colorful tents and racers instead of its former aura, which was more reminiscent of a holding tank filled with alcoholic suicides. When the CBR races take off, they do so under a big inflatable banner that makes you feel like you’re special and not some dork in his underwear about to fall on his head fighting for a candy bar prime.

But most importantly, the CBR crit series is like a necessary encounter with a proctologist’s latex finger: Smooth, unpleasant, and over quickly. That’s crit racing, folks, so get used to it. Of course it is vastly superior to a 2km ITT where a pair of 70+ gentlemen fight for a world chumpionship jersey so that they can put rainbow stripes on their business cards and compare their exploits to Peter Sagan.

Go ahead and register now!

The CBR crit series is a lot of fun and I plan to be at all of them; I did a bunch last year, and the year before, and the year before … Now that I’m in the RFO (really fuggin’ old) category of 55+, it means that I can race three races all before noon, which is good, because in this category anything that happens after twelve gets hunted down and killed by my mid-day nap. But there are a lot of other great reasons to race the CBR series, for example:

  1. You’re supporting people who are doing their damndest to keep a niche, weird, socially awkward sport alive, and it’s cheaper than rehab.
  2. Bike racing is fun as hell when you’re not crashing, getting dropped, getting chopped, giving up, or having all your hair fall out and testes shrink down to green pea-size nuggets because of the steroids.
  3. Although losing sucks, and losing is basically all you’ll ever do at a bike race, the odds are better than PowerBall.
  4. Jeff and Kris have a cool podium you can stand on when you win (See #3).
  5. Madcap announcers Dave Wells and David “Raining Meatballs” Worthington are more fun to listen to than a drunk family squabble over who gets to eat the last Eskimo Pie.
  6. You can’t be a bike racer if you don’t race yer fuggin’ bike.

Especially, especially, especially #6. See you there.

END

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About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

The middle ground a/k/a FDR

January 15, 2018 Comments Off on The middle ground a/k/a FDR

There is a sweet spot in cycling for most people, located right in that middle ground between “pound” on the one hand, where everyone feels like they had eye surgery sans anesthetic, and “flail,” where you finish the ride and wonder, “Did I ride?” The South Bay’s Fun Donut Ride, or FDR, hits the sweet spot almost every time.

It’s a hard spot to find because any grouping of riders invariably attracts an outlier or two. The pounder whines because it was “too easy,” and the flailer moans because it was “too hard.” Of course no ride is right for every rider, all the time. But coming up with that Sweet Spot Ride, getting it started, and hardest of all, keeping it alive, is fiendishly hard to do, yet it’s precisely this kind of ride that builds community and participation in cycling. How to do it?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Joann Zwagerman’s FDR.

Genesis: How the FDR came to be

I could give you the background of the FDR, but why? Joann has already done it for me. With a few edits and emendations, here it is:

Greg Seyranian had a South Bay ride called the Anti-Donut. I would show up week after week and pedal my ass off. It was mellow for them but it was totally challenging for me. I did my best to try and keep up. They never abandoned me and they always waited for me and I found that remarkable.

Once race season began and the Anti-Donut ended, I found myself looking for a similar ride. If you were a racer, you were on the Donut Ride. If not, you were looking for friendly people to ride with. Thus, the Fun Donut Ride, or FDR, was born. It is an inclusive, non pretentious, friendly, fun and challenging ride.

Maybe today is your biggest ride? Your first group ride? Your first FDR? Whatever it is, I hope you feel like you’ve accomplished something at the end of it even if it’s just eating your first donut with chocolate sprinkles in ten years and making a few new friends!

Thank you everyone for all your support! Ride on and be safe!

Exodus: How riders joined the FDR

As we all know, it’s fairly easy to start a ride. You tell a few friends the time and place, give them a general rundown of the route, and three of them show up. If you invite a hundred people, you can expect maybe four. Everyone does the ride, has a more or less good time, and then you do the ride for a couple more weeks, and participation increases a bit or stays the same.

Then comes the crunch moment. It’s the day for “your” ride. You’ve told everyone you’ll be there. But yesterday you got a bo-bo on your boo-boo, or maybe a boo-boo on your bo-bo and it’s feeling really ouchie as you lay there in bed with only thirty minutes to crap, air your tires, drink some coffee, pull a pair of shorts out of the dirty hamper, and scurry to the start.

What do you do? You roll over, of course! This isn’t your job! It’s your hobby! Those wankers know the route! You’ll be there next week anyway! Snxxxxxxxzzzzzzzz!

Of course your pals see it differently. They get to the start and you’re not there. They check their phones. They call you. Someone finally rouses you and you groggily text back, “Boo-boo on bo-bo, out.”

And guess what? You just drove a wooden stake through the heart of your nascent ride. Because for a ride to continue, the person who started it has got to keep showing up. It’s like being married, only far worse because at least when you’re married, rolling over and snoring is an accepted part of lovemaking. Requisite, actually.

What Joann figured out with the FDR was that if you’re cycling in the South Bay and you want people to commit to you, you have to commit to them. And that means a date, a time, a place, and a commitment to be there “til death do us part.” Week in and week out, the FDR went off with Joann present to shepherd her lambs, and it went off in some pretty extreme situations.

Broken hand? No worries, Joann sagged in her Rage Rover. Broken wrist a few months later? No worries, Joann sagged in her Rage Rover. Ride founder overtrained and barely able to move? No worries, Joann either did the ride, sagged in her Rage Rover, or rustled up a deputy. And this last part, “rustling up a deputy,” has been a great innovation because the FDR’s success has led to its having two routes: A fixed loop around the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and a variable route that can venture pretty far afield. Having a deputy means that the fixed FDR route always takes place, and people aren’t left showing up to a ride where they are the ride.

Revelation: You can make an FDR, too

Joann’s FDR has brought a lot of people into cycling and now serves as a focal point for people who are looking for a regular ride–not too hard, not too soft–and for event organizers who want to get the word out about their event. From Phil Gaimon’s Cookie Fondo, to the Belgian Waffle Ride, to Rivet Cycling’s Santa Barbara ribs extravaganza, people in the cycling community recognize that FDR is there for the community as a whole.

This, of course, is how you grow the cycling donut, and then get to eat it, too. One rider at a time.

END

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About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

The boozification of Starbucks

January 13, 2018 § 1 Comment

Coffee didn’t used to be part of cycling. It had nothing to do with it, period. I remember being out on some ride in the middle of nowherecentraltexas with the Dicksons and Fields … you think anyone ever suggested stopping for a cup of coffee? Or an espresso? Water and a coke and a candy bar, let’s roll.

Fer fuggsake, we didn’t even know what espresso was. Coffee was bad tasting watery black shit that came in a big can called Folger’s and you drank it in the morning to wash out the taste of your hangover.

I still remember my first Starbucks, in an airport circa 1999. I had been in Japan for years and was making a brief trip back to the States, and I think it was in the DFW airport where I wandered up to the counter, attracted by the sign and the giant word “COFFEE.”

“Seems like a thing,” I thought. “What will those crazy Americans think of next?” I stared at the menu like a monkey perusing a calculus textbook. “May I help you?” the lady asked.

“A coffee, please.”

She waited. “Would you like an espresso drink, sir?”

“Sure,” I said.

She waited some more until it became clear I was lost. “How about a latte?”

“Uh, okay.”

“Tall, grande, or venti?”

“What’s the difference?”

“Shots, bigger is more shots.”

I thought about that for a minute. “Can I just get a small coffee? It’s too early for shots.”

She nodded and made me what I later learned was a Tall Drip. Small coffee = Tall drip. Got it.

When fancy coffee came to town

A few years ago I was riding with Marshall Perkins, who is about a hundred. He knows the history of cycling in SoCal better than anyone this side of Ted Ernst. “Marsh,” I said, “when did coffee come to LA cycling? Was it always a thing?”

“Nope,” he said. “I remember the first time we ever stopped for coffee on a bike ride was in the late 70’s. Before that no one drank coffee as part of biking. It was a little joint in Santa Monica, I think, made espressos, lattes. Then after a while it kind of became a thing.”

LA was years ahead of Texas, naturally.

Of course nowadays you can no more ride without coffee than you can ride without air in your tires. And I’m pretty okay with that, not being a fan of riding on flats. But yesterday after the Flog Ride we wandered into Starbucks to grab a quick cup and noticed that they had just rolled out a new campaign, “Blonde Espresso.”

I roast my own beans in a frying pan and I know that any bean that might be light enough to be mistaken for a blonde is gonna taste like shit. But for a marketing name, it was pretty good. It was supposed to make you think of … what?

When crafts collide, or the boozification of covfefe

It didn’t take much ogling to figure out what they were selling, and it wasn’t sex. They were selling booze, or rather they were selling the image of booze. The subliminal messaging was astounding: Blonde is a variety of craft beer as we all know, and then the ads said “straight-up” and showed the coffee being served in proper shot glasses.

Along the back wall all of the syrup flavors were arranged in bottles, just like the hard alcohol in a bar. And the coloring, black and yellow, was exactly like in a Miller Genuine Draft ad.

Of course it all makes sense. There are millions of people who get up in the morning and the hardest thing they will ever do is make it to 10:00 AM, when they have their first drink and all becomes right with the world. That’s how it is when you work 14-hour days, counting the days to retirement, working your ass off to pay for things you can’t enjoy because you’re working to pay for them, a slave to status and buy-buy-buy clickbait, leading to double-margarita lunches, nightcap dinners, and a bottle of Jim Beam in the worksleep cubicle. And I guess the boozified coffee makes it seem like you’re cheating the clock and getting a little nip at the very top of the morning. In fact, the imagery makes you want to add a splash of whiskey…all a coincidence, I’m sure.

I ordered a double blonde espresso, and it tasted good. Lots better than the usual motor oil flavor that Starbucks is famed for, but not nearly as good as the beer I used to love knocking back well before noon. I wasn’t sure what to think about the boozification, other than to acknowledge that the marketing was pretty slick. But I did end up ordering a second round. For old time’s sake.

END

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The eyes have it

January 12, 2018 Comments Off on The eyes have it

I finished racing Telo on Sunday, changed, and hopped in the car for the drive to Santa Barbara. A few days passed and I got ready to ride again and couldn’t find my riding glasses. “Have you seen my cycling glasses, honey?”

“No. You had them at Telo, though.”

“Probably in the back of the car somewhere.”

“I’ll run look,” she said, and she did, and she came back in a few minutes with my cycling glasses, all right, but the frame was split in half along the top. “You left them under the hatchback and they broke when you slammed it shut.”

These were my SPY Quanta prescription riding goggles, the best eyewear I have ever had. My eyes are very bad and you can’t ride a bike and survive for long at all if you can’t see, and see well. The Quanta was the first wide-screen frame that could accommodate my ridiculously thick prescription.

My awful eye history

I’ve had bad eyes ever since I was a little kid. I always used to fail the eye test in class because the school nurse thought I was “clowning.” She’d set up the chart with the big, giant, monstrously huge “E” at the top and all the little tilted ones getting smaller and smaller as you went down.

She’d call name. “Davidson!” and the class would titter because they knew what was coming as I did it every year.

“First line?” the nurse would say.

“I can’t see it,” I’d say, and the class would break out in howls as even a blind person could see that huge, giant, monstrous, whomping “E.”

I was a cut-up and made bad grades mostly because of my personality, but also because I could never see the blackboard or anything on it. I think I did pretty good, especially in math, considering that.

When I was thirteen we were driving along US 59 in Houston one Sunday on the way to a movie. In Texas every ten feet there is a 400-foot tall billboard along every freeway. “What does that say?” I asked my mom as we passed right in front of a sign so big you could have read the print on Mars.

“Are you serious?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, which everyone knew meant that I wasn’t serious at all.

But later at the movie my parents noticed for the first time that I was sitting on the front row like I had been doing since I was six. Afterwards my mom asked “Why were you down there on the front row?”

“I’m always on the front row,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because I can’t see.”

The next day I was sitting in the office of Dr. James Key, ophthalmologist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. It was my first real eye test ever. I remember what a nice guy Dr. Key was, and how he had the thickest glasses I had ever seen. Afterwards he said, “You don’t really see much of anything at all, do you?”

“No, sir,” I said.

“We will fix that,” he said. And he did.

The day I put on those first eyeglasses it was amazing. The world was so filled with sharply defined objects! The colors all had edges! You could read from a long way off! And I could figure out whether my shoelaces were untied without having to guess.

MMX to the rescue

From that day on, my cycling glasses became the most important article of clothing I owned, and many years later my SPY Quanta glasses were the gold standard for eyewear. If you rode with me even once since 2012 I was wearing those glasses, which were developed and designed by my friend Michael Marckx while he was the CEO at Spy Optic. He went on to develop some of the best cycling glasses ever made by anyone, anywhere, during his tenure, but none worked for me like the Quanta simply because it could handle my thick lenses and had a ridiculously wide field of vision that didn’t distort at the edges.

I stared at those poor broken frames and thought about all that we had been through together: Crossing continents, hitting the pavement, chewing through incredibly bad weather and rough roads … those were the cycling glasses that had kept my eyes safe and had kept the road in front of me focused and clear. All of those things were nice to reflect on but what really struck me was the incredible generosity of which I’d been the beneficiary, because Michael had given me those glasses with the prescription lenses as a gift.

In fact, he gave countless sets of glasses to friends and grifters, most of whom never bothered to say thanks or who thought that because they raced for an amazing masters team of 50+ grandfathers they were somehow entitled to expensive eyewear as they “promoted the brand,” i.e. wore the glasses. Unlike the traditional frames that Michael also designed, these were built to protect your eyes and your face. And that’s exactly what they did, more important to me than any wheel, any frame, any drivetrain, any bicycle outfit.

What was funny is that I never wanted the glasses in the first place because I had no idea how transformative a great set of frames could be. Oakley had just come out with a narrow, razor-band style of glasses that could hold my prescription but that provided almost zero width of vision; they were like looking out of a gun turret slit, and I’d shelled out almost $400 for them. I was dubious that these new glasses would be an improvement, as simply having prescription sunglasses was revolutionary for me. Until then I’d cycled in John Lennon frames, with every manner of grit and shit getting around the lens and into my eyes.

In fact, with those John Lennon specials, every couple of years I’d have to go to the eye doctor to get pieces of steel surgically removed from my cornea, tiny bits of grit and road detritus that got blown into and lodged into my eyeball surface. The Quantas took care of that once and for all.

But Michael is nothing if not persistent, and when the Quantas showed up and I put them on, well, everything really did look different. If it weren’t for him I’d probably still be wearing those crappy Oakleys because, cheap-ass. And of course I wondered how many other people had been the beneficiary of his largesse, how many other people with significant eye problems had found an amazing solution thanks to this and some of his other phenomenal designs.

As I wondered what I was going to do, I rummaged around in my Random Bike Shit Drawer, and there in the back was another pair of glasses. Quantas. Worn maybe twice. It was like finding a winning lottery ticket as I took them out and tried them on; perfect fit and perfect prescription.

Thanks, Michael.

Quanta cycling glasses

Cracked by the hatchback!

Quanta cycling glasses

Long and faithful, hardworking friends!

END

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Flat earth theory

January 11, 2018 Comments Off on Flat earth theory

My wife rides a road bike with flat pedals. It’s interesting to watch how people react to that. Rather, it’s interesting how reactions are so uniform.

“You need clipless pedals.”

“Why don’t you get some riding shoes?”

“You are losing so much power.”

“When are you going to ditch those flat pedals?”

“You’ll go so much faster with clip-in!”

And etc.

Most of the people who see fit to comment on her sad state of pedal affairs know that we are married and that I ride a bike a lot, so it’s kind of curious that they don’t run that through their filter, like this: “She’s got flat pedals, but she’s married to Seth so she probably knows about clip-in pedals, so there’s probably a reason …”

But no.

The reaction is uniform and knee-jerk: “Are you going to get clip-in pedals tomorrow? Or today?”

I wondered why people care which pedals she uses. The ostensible reason is that she will pedal more efficiently and therefore go faster. But that’s a bad explanation; the last thing that a new cyclist should do is go faster. New cyclists should go slower and learn to control the bike at lower speeds. Physics aren’t linear when you fall off your bike. Incremental increases of one or two mph result in much greater force when you fall off, and therefore greater injury. Telling beginners they need to go faster is like telling new drivers they need to go faster. Huh?

And from a psychological perspective, why would you want someone to go faster anyway? Doesn’t that mean they will beat you? You should want them on the worst equipment possible, in fact, eating nothing but peanut butter and ice cream five times a day.

The biggest reason people want you on clip-in pedals, I think, is because without clip-ins, you look like a Fred. This means two things: If you’re riding with me, and you’re a Fred, then I’m a Fred, too. Or it means that riding with you reminds me of when I was a Fred, and it’s a lot more comfortable to think I was born knowing how to drape myself coolly over a 100% carbon bike that is all carbon and made of pure carbon rather than to remember that, yeah, I used to not know anything, either, and I looked like it.

And of course in road cycling there’s the fashion element, where people instinctively shun those who are clearly unfashionable in an activity where the way you look is oh-so-important.

With regard to safety, everyone should start with flat pedals and most people should never leave them. On a road bike there are too many instances where taking your feet off the pedals will keep you from crashing. Anyone who thinks that you need clip-ins to climb well should have seen Josh Alverson or Stathis Sakellariadis shred the Donut Ride the times they rode it in sneakers.

And a bit of Internet reading confirms that the idea that clip-in pedals somehow yield huge improvements in pedaling power is not true. At best, the differences are negligible. Tellingly, the athlete in the power test confides that he still wants clip-ins because they help him when sprunting for peak power. Not sure that has any meaning at all for 99.999% of all people on bikes.

I’ve used both, but prefer clip-ins for a very particular reason.

And I’m not telling why. At least not today.

END

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