March 31, 2015 § 17 Comments
The first time I saw Charon Smith in a race he was sitting down in the middle of the asphalt with a hundred bikes flying by, his shorts torn and his wheel ground down from where he’d rolled his tire.
“What a wanker,” I thought.
That was back in 2007, I think, at the El Dorado Tuesday night crit, and since then he’s won countless races, state titles, stood on the podium at nationals, and I’ve pretty much won nothing. So, we know who the wanker is.
This past weekend at San Dimas, however, Charon really and truly took it to a whole ‘nother level. The rap has always been “Yeah, but he’s just a sprinter,” as if beating out a hundred crazy people in a death rush to the line is, you know, a piece of cake. Funny thing about that rap, it’s been wrong from the beginning.
While it’s true that over the years Charon established himself as the fastest masters finisher in SoCal, he’s worked hard each and every year to add new weaponry to his arsenal. Last year saw him tackle the San Dimas stage race where he snagged the green jersey in a hilly, tough road race and then said “Adios” to all comers in the final day’s crit.
With another off season of focus and preparation on the non-sprinting aspects of his race game, Charon showed up to play consummate teammate at the hilly Boulevard RR, where his team efforts resulted in victory for their designated road guy, and he showed up again at San Dimas. This time, however, he raced with the kind of toughness and smarts that you only find in the most hardened of road racers.
When the winning break in the road race rolled up the road, Charon bridged solo to a field that included the Who’s Who of masters racing: Phil Tinstman, Rudy Napolitano, Mike Easter, Derek Brauch, and Mark Noble, to name a few. When the break came back, Charon continually found himself OTB on the climb, only to repeatedly claw his way back on.
With everyone melted from the speed and the day’s withering heat, the remains of the peloton hit the finishing stretch wrung out and beaten to a pulp. Charon reached down deep and kicked hard, so hard that with “only” 900 watts he cleared the line first. So much for the “He’s only a sprinter” thing.
True grit is more than what happens on the bike, though. A mentor to junior racers, Charon is vitally concerned with what happens to those coming up in the ranks. Showing young riders how to obtain good, credible results through hard work and dedication is something that he does as a matter of course.
And in cycling, as in life, it’s the little things that reveal the bigger ones. Charon’s inclusive — he brought Prez onto the team, for dog’s sake — he shares what he loves, and he’s got time for anyone who has time for him. Stands up when people introduce their wives or parents, and opens the door for you. Those little things, which really aren’t so little after all.
No wonder that he’s built a team of devoted and dedicated followers who are making competition miserable for everyone else.
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March 23, 2015 § 28 Comments
Before the race I saw Dave happily siting on his top tube.
“You racing with us?” I asked.
“No,” he said firmly and happily. “Masters 35+ 4/5.” Dave had won the Masters 35+ 4/5 sandbagger race the week before in Merced and was licking his chops, noting that none of his competition came anywhere close to his 400 weekly training miles.
“When are you going to upgrade? You’re a beast.”
He looked at me very seriously. “Oh, no I’m not. I’m still learning so much about racing. And the 40+ group is way too fast.”
“Let me know when you’ve learned everything you need to know about racing,” I said.
Our race was going to be whatever is worse than terrible. You would think that a bicycle race where you had to be at least fifty years old to enter wouldn’t be that hard, but you would be wrong. On the start line were Thurlow a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG, Konsmo, the Parksie Twins, G$, Mark Noble, DQ Louie, Jaeger, Pomeranz, and a whole host of other guys I’d never beaten, and wasn’t going to beat today.
The course was a 27-mile out-and-back. We were supposed to it twice. The total elevation was about 5,500 feet. Going out, the course had a series of punchy rollers that led to the bottom of a 1-mile climb. After a 2-mile descent, the road continually ascends through a valley with a half-dozen short climbs and a few false flats until you reach the turnaround at the 13 Mile point.
Then the road descends into a headwind all the way to the base of the 2-mile climb, which pitches up, flattens briefly about 2/3 of the way up, then crests and drops you back to the base of the rollers. The race finishes on a 1-km climb with a moderately steep final 200 meter “sprint.”
Less than a mile into the race I was fully occupied with Mr. Crash Magnet. He’s the guy I get behind in every race and every race has one. Crash Magnet was so scared that his arms were shaking and his entire bike was wobbling. The smart thing in these cases is to get away from Crash Magnet ASAP, but he’s called “magnet” for a reason.
In the Wrinkly Prostate Division, although most of the riders aren’t good at holding their water, decades of racing have made them masters at avoiding crash magnets. So there is a race-within-a-race: Get away from the magnet. And since I’m the worst bike handler after whomever the crash magnet happens to be, everyone slides and jostles and positions so that I’m the one stuck on Crash Magnet’s wheel.
I dashed off to the left and got ahead of him, but to no avail. The deck reshuffled and there he was again. After the fourth reshuffle I resigned myself to the terrible accident in store if he hung around much longer. This is one of the great freeing experiences of bike racing. You are in destiny’s maw.
Robb came up next to me after we’d crossed the first four rollers. The bottom of the big climb lay ahead. “This is gonna hurt,” he said.
“Why,” I asked “are you using the future tense?”
About that time I edged around Crash Magnet just as he made a beeline for the shoulder, hit a rock, shimmied his handlebars, and launched himself headlong into a soft bed of cactus and ocotillo. As I sprinted away, wondering how badly he was hurt, I noted that THOG & The Co. from Hell had moved to the front. I slotted in behind him.
Now here is something that everyone who’s been dropped on a hard climb in a hard race surrounded by much better riders can relate to, but ordinary intelligent people who play golf and happily drink beer from the back of a golf cart cannot, and I call it the lighting of the fuse. It happens in stages.
- Terrible feeling of awful dread as you anticipate at the bottom of the climb.
- First acceleration at the bottom where you think, “I can do this.”
- Second acceleration shortly after the first where you think, “This is going to be hard.”
- Grit teeth as the pace settles in.
- Feeling begins somewhere in your calves, the feeling of give-up-and-quit.
- “I’m not quitting” + excessive teeth gritting. Brief look around to see that the group has halved.
- Third acceleration midway up the climb where you think, “Fuck you cocksuckers to hell.”
- Fuse burns up into lower quads. Pain however is no longer localized to legs and has spread to eyeballs.
- Fourth acceleration where the group halves again. Konsmo, who is leading the charge, is on the tops and doesn’t appear to be breathing. “Fuck you, Konsmo, if we ever stop I will kill you,” you think, or something like that.
- Almost at the top the fuse reaches the bomb and you explode. Body shudders, head droops, prostate deflates.
- “Quit gapping me out motherfucker!” is roared from behind.
- Race effectively ends.
When we reached Stage 11, I leaped onto the last rider’s wheel and latched on as we made it over the top. There was hardly anyone left. The pain immediately receded and all of my attention focused on why I’d chosen to try and ride with the leaders instead of doing the logical thing, which would have been following Crash Magnet face-first into the cactus bush.
At the bottom of the valley G$ took over. The pain returned and riders continued to pop off. At the base of each mini-peak G$ would punch it hard, but by now the people who had made it this far weren’t going to be dropped so easily. I looked up and saw the lights of the motorcycle that was following the 40+ field containing Mike Easter, Derek Brauch, Matt Carinio, Tony Manzella, Jon Flagg, and Chris DiMarchi. They had left five minutes earlier but the vicious climbing speed of Konsmo and G$ had devoured the time gap.
They were neutralized and we roared by, which led me to wonder this: Could someone please explain the biology behind how a group of riders, some of whom were in their mid-50’s, were riding faster than a group of men some of whom were fifteen years younger? Or maybe it was just mirrors and we had lighter wheels. But then I remembered that weight doesn’t really matter.
Whatever it was, we sped by with our teeth plastered to the stem as the 40+ pre-geezers stared over, insulted and slack-jawed. Shortly past the turnaround the butthurt 40+ field took matters into their own hands and came flying by us, proving the superiority of youth and better medical care. We never saw them again.
Before long our greatly reduced herd hit the base of the big climb. The fuse was re-lit, and burned all the way until shortly before the short flat. I was sitting on Mark Noble’s wheel making that last-gasp cry that lobsters make when you throw them into the boiling water, when I exploded for good. Race over.
With Chris Hahn, Scott McAfee, and Bald Tim on my wheel, we chased madly through the rollers, eventually picking up DQ Louie, who had inexplicably been shelled. After a few more miles of unutterable misery that left Scott and Bald Tim adrift, I dragged Chris and Louie back to the leaders. Of course we reattached at the bottom of the big climb, the fuse was lit, and it mercifully skipped Stages 2-11, going from Stage 1 to Stage 12 in about fifteen seconds. Louie and Chris happily pedaled away, the sorry bastards.
Left to wallow in my own misery, I slogged up the hill, was caught and dropped by teammate Andy Schmidt who had been stoned and chased out of the 40+ community, and was then overtaken by a mongrel group of 40+ and 50+ shellees including teammate John Hatchitt, and assassin/arch enemies Pomeranz and McAfee. I slunk to the back and struggled along to the turnaround, back down the valley, and to the bottom of the big climb.
This time I did something different, though. I put it into the small chain ring. Realizing that I’d been doing the massive climbs in my 53, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be easier if I used a smaller gear. Wow! Who knew???? Climbing is easier in a 39×28 instead of a 53×21. Gawrsh!
McAfee attacked and one by one our group reduced in size until there were only six of us. Hatchitt attacked, caught and dropped McAfee. Then after the false flat Pomeranz attacked, leaving me with a couple of 40+ racers who had no interest in or need to chase down guys who weren’t in their race.
With 1k to go I hunted down Hatchitt and McAfee. Hatchitt went early and blew. McAfee went a bit later, but I was able to sit on his wheel until the very end and throw myself across the line, beating out a couple of 40+ wankers and looking less like Mark Cavendish winning MSR and more like a fish whose bleeding mouth had been ripped from a hook and thrown mercilessly onto the rocks to flip, flop, gasp, and die.
After the race I saw Dave, who had sandbagged his way to another awesome win. “Good job,” I said, filled with bitterness and envy as I contemplated getting my downgrade for 2016.
Wankamodo snapped this immortal shot of my last-gasp lunge for a top-40 placing in our 40-man field.
50+ Leaky Prostate Category Race Notes:
Mark Noble played a smart waiting game, stayed out of the win, and smashed the four-man leading of group for the win, edging out Bennie Parks, Thurlow Rogers, and Jeff Konsmo. Race activator and head-banger Greg Leibert finished sixth behind Todd Parks, with SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b GQ6 teammate and 2014 winner David Jaeger coming in 8th.
My ride chauffeur, Derek Brauch, got second in the 40+ race behind winner Mike Easter. SPY-Giant-RIDE teammate Jon Flagg put on a display of incredible strength by bridging to the leaders and finishing fourth.
Emily Georgeson got a bronze medal in the women’s state championship road race, confirming again that this is her breakout season.
Other people in other races finished, or didn’t, with some going faster and others going slower.
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December 10, 2014 § 14 Comments
There are three kinds of people with racing licenses.
- Racers. They race pretty much every weekend.
- Sorta racers. They race a few races each year.
- Fakesters. They have all the stuff, but none of the “stuff.”
If you promote bicycle races, aside from your obviously miserable financial judgment, your need for public abuse, and the strange satisfaction you get out of dealing with angry/stupid/selfish people, you have one really big need on race day, and it’s that people show up and race. For the most part, we expect you, the promoter, to promote your race. We’ll come if we feel like it, maybe.
This is a stupid model. Sure, the promoter should do his best to get people to race. He’s a fuggin’ promoter, for fugg’s sake.
But full fields have as huge a benefit to bike racers as they do to promoters. Full fields increase prize money. They increase sponsorship. They increase spectatorship. And most importantly, they help the promoter turn a profit, which encourages him to keep living in a tent and to promote more races next year. It’s my belief that fuller fields rather than emptier ones can be accomplished by the bike racers themselves, and in 2015 I’ll be giving my theory a shot. Here it is:
People who fit into category #1 above are the backbone, the meat and potatoes of racing. Guys like Brauch, Tinstman, Wimberley, and Charon are just some of the riders who show up week in, week out, with no prodding or encouragement. They live to race. More about them later.
People who fit into category #3 we can forget. They will never race. It doesn’t matter why; the fact that they’re on a race team, that they have team race gear, that they love to talk and read about bike racing is irrelevant. They would rather do a hundred group rides, team training camps, and century rides, than sign up for a single 45-minute USA Cycling crit. Forget them.
People who fit into category #2 are the rest of us, and we hold the key to successful turnout on race day. Sorta racers make annual race calendars, target certain races, and do lots of actual training. Sorta racers are sorta fit in January and sorta wrecked by late April. Sorta racers have no trouble putting in 15-20 hours a week on the bike, but lots of trouble doing more than a handful of races. Sorta racers have detailed excuses for not racing on race day, even when they’ve planned to race. Sorta racers think a lot about racing early in the season, and focus on kiddie soccer games, “work,” honey-do’s, “the high cost of racing,” safety, and butt pimples as reasons to stop thinking about racing later in the season.
In short, we sorta racers are fence sitters. We wanna, but most of the time we don’t.
The difference between a felony conviction and staying at home is often the difference between a buddy saying “Let’s do it!” and not. Same goes for racing. As any salesman knows, the customer has to be asked to buy. And as any good salesman knows, “No, thanks” is simply an opportunity to ask again with greater skill and persuasiveness.
My best race in 2014 resulted from Derek B. asking me to go race with him. I didn’t really want to go, it was the last race of the season, I’m not good at crits, at age 50 I don’t belong in the 35+ superman category, I was tired from Saturday’s Donut Ride, I didn’t have a good set of race wheels, the entry fee was too high, the race was too short, and my butt pimples were suppurating.
All of those objections were overcome by the simple act of being asked because being asked to go race your bike with a friend is flattering, and it also puts you on the spot. The super excuse of butt pimples sounds awesome when you’re talking to yourself, but not so great when you have to mouth it to someone, especially someone you respect, as a reason for not lining up and actually using your $10k in gear and your 25 hours a week of profamateur preparation.
In short, the people who are committed to going to a race can boost race attendance by sending out three, or five, or ten emails, or even more outrageously by actually telephoning, or even more extremely by asking a pal face-to-face to sack up and go race together. If you’re one of the people who’s a dependable ironhead, make sure you ask a couple of other people to go race, and for dog’s sake don’t limit it to your teammates.
Why ask non-teammates to race? Because one of the reasons that guys who aren’t on big teams don’t race is because they hate rolling alone against the big teams and they need extra motivation to go out and get crushed. Again. Asking non-teammates shows that you value their presence, and it stimulates smaller teams to get their act together. A powerful motivator for people to race is having a rider complain to his teammates that he’s the only fuggin’ one in the race, so please come out and help.
Another reason that sorta racers don’t race is they simply forget. I’m going to this weekend’s CBR race because yesterday, on a training ride, I asked EA Sports, Inc. what he was doing this weekend. “I’m racing, dude. And so are you.” It wasn’t a question. It was an order, but it was also a reminder as I’d completely forgotten about the race.
If you’re one of the sorta racers who sorta races, on the days when you’re actually committed, make sure you ask several friends to go race with you. This locks YOU in when it comes time to scratch the b.p.’s and prevents you (hopefully) from bailing at the last minute, and it will encourage one or two other riders to join you. (Hint: Asking others to race with you can also involve sharing rides, splitting gas fees, and saving money!! If it’s a CBR race in LA, it means having someone to ride over to the race with.)
Finally, if you’re the leader of a team, have you reached out to every single rider via email and encouraged them to line up? Have you made two or twelve phone calls to the sorta racers who have hogged all your swag and been conspicuously absent on race days? No? Well, get callin’!
So, does it work? I think it does. I’ve sent out about ten emails and had one buddy confirm that he’s in. His comment? “I’m not very fit, but it’s been over a year since anyone asked me to go race, so, hell yeah.”
If you tell two friends, and he tells two friends, and he tells two friends, well, who knows? The “problem” of declining race participation might simply vanish.
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September 2, 2014 § 19 Comments
Derek had been cajoling me to do the last CBR crit of the season for over a week. “C’mon, dude,” he said. “The field will be easy. All the fast guys will be at nationals or tapering for it.” And then the biggest lie of all: “It’ll be fun!”
When you are old and slow and tactically stupid and racing your bike on the fumes of dead dreams, you are vulnerable. “Okay,” I groused. “But I’m not shaving my legs. I’m done with that shit.”
Derek smiled. “No problem.”
I met him at the corner of Anza and Carson at 11:25. The race started at 12:35, and it was a forty-minute pedal if you caught all the lights, which never happens. This gave us a very comfy 40-minute safety buffer. We chatted and pedaled along the mostly empty Sunday streets of Torrance until the street became not-quite-so-empty, then pretty-trafficked, and finally stopped-completely-dead-in-a-sea-of-cars.
We threaded the lanes until we got to the source of the problem: The world’s longest freight train. “What the hell is this?” Derek asked.
“They run the really long ones through town on Sundays to minimize traffic disruption.”
“Crap,” he said, looking at his watch. “How long does it take?”
“I’ve never been stopped at one for more than thirty minutes.”
As the endless train endlessly rolled by at a whopping 5 mph, we sat stewing in the heat. The plus side was that if it lasted much longer we’d miss the race, which was fine with me because I didn’t want to do the 35+ category anyway. If it was hopeless racing with my own leaky prostate peers in the 50+, throwing down with the snotnoses was something much worse than hopeless. The last two 35+ races I’d entered I hadn’t even finished.
Still, the fast guys wouldn’t be there …
“Let’s go!” Derek said as the caboose rolled by. We were now touch-and-go for making the race, and the pre-race race began. Plowing into a nasty headwind and catching every single red light on Carson, we time-trailed to the race course moments before liftoff.
As we hurried to the sign-in tent, I saw that Derek had lied and lied well. There was Pat Bos, a guy I’ve never beaten. There was Dan Reback, a guy I’ve never even thought about beating. There was Michael Johnson, a guy that almost nobody has ever beaten. And there was Kayle LeoGrande, the guy who ritually beats everyone else.
The field was tiny and the course was windy, with a small bump leading up to Turn 4. The good thing about the small size of the field was that the race would start slow. I knew this from decades of experience — no one, no matter how good they are, wants to batter for a full fifty minutes in a race with no shelter.
Just before we started, Bart came up to me. “What the hell are you doing racing with these punks?” Bart had gotten third in the Old Farts’ Category earlier in the day.
“Funny, I was asking myself that same question.”
Armin the Great came over and clapped my shoulder, which hurt. “Don’t worry. You will do fine.”
I wanted to believe Armin, but when the gun sounded, his prediction sounded insanely optimistic. At Turn 1 Kayle jumped away from the field with Derek and two others in tow. The pain shot from my legs to my bowels to my eyes as the guillotine edge of reality made itself clear. This was going to be another day of “moral victories.” I already had them classified:
- Moral Victory #1: Getting out of bed and riding to the race.
- Moral Victory #2: Starting the race.
- Moral Victory #3: Finishing the first lap.
- Moral Victory #4: Beer.
As we finished the first lap the breakaway looked like it was gone and gone forever. Kayle had already kicked two of the breakaway companions out of the lead and they rocketed backwards, shattered, like pieces of a Morton-Thiokol booster rocket spiraling away from the Challenger space shuttle.
Then I heard the churning, whirring sound of accelerating carbon, and without bothering to look I sprunted hard. MJ came tearing through with Kayle’s teammate, Pat Bos, on his wheel. I latched onto Pat. MJ was flying solo and wasn’t about to let Kayle ride off the front like that.
The speed and wind and misery were so intense that I recounted my four moral victories and decided that now, as we finished Lap 2, was the perfect time to quit. I looked up and saw that MJ had reeled in the break, which contained Kayle and Derek. Everyone sat up except for Mario of Cal Pools, who attacked on the little riser. Derek and Rodrigo Flores went with him, and they pedaled away.
Then Dan Reback jumped and I went with him. A lap later we had bridged, leaving fistfuls of IQ points and galaxies of pointlessness scattered in our wake. We waited for Kayle or MJ or Pat to bridge, but somehow our ragtag group stayed off until, with fifteen minutes to go, we saw that miraculous sight of all miraculous sights: The remnants of the field that we were about to lap.
I have only lapped a field once. It was in 1985, at the crit at the Tour of Georgetown. There is nothing quite like it — it feels like a combination of having unprotected sex while mowing down your opposition on a battlefield with a machine gun. Only better.
We went around in circles for a few more laps. Teammate Eric Anderson set up Derek with the perfect leadout, and Derek responded with an amazing front-tire blowout as he railed through the final turn. I wound up fourth, losing to all my breakaway companions (including the one with a blowout) except for Mario, who sat up in Turn 3 and didn’t even try.
Still, lapping the field? (Yes, it was tiny.) Finishing ahead of two national champions who are contenders for a national championship next week? (No, this wasn’t a very important race for them.) Not getting immediately dropped and flayed by a field 15 years younger than my proper age category? (Dang, I’m old.)
I’m calling this one Moral Victory #5.
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May 10, 2012 § 2 Comments
So you’re in the South Bay. Lucky dog! And you’ve got your bike…luckier dog! Here’s a list of the standard rides, including a couple of the “top-secret don’t fucking show up here” ones, which are, of course, the ones you should make a priority.
- Dearly Beloved Clusterfuck Of The Ages: The Donut Ride
Begun a long time ago in front of a Winchell’s Donut Shop far, far away, the Donut Ride goes off every Saturday at 8:00 AM in the Riviera Village of Redondo Beach. 8:00 AM means “8:05 or 8:10 or whenever the group rolls out.” It NEVER means “8:00 AM.”
You have your own Donut Ride wherever you live, and this one is no different. Slow start, hammer up a hill, hammer on some flats, hammer along some some rollers, hammer up a hardass motherfucking 8-minute climb (“The Switchbacks”), stop, preen, let the wankers catch up, roll down the hill and then either climb back up from the other side or call it a day and hit the coffee shop.
This super-rad video was taken by local hammer Derek Brauch, beginning near Trump National and going all the way to the top of the Switchbacks. Watch ’em pop and fry!
- It can be an absolute beatdown, especially when local pros Sergio Hernandez, Rudy Napolitano, or visiting beasts like Mike Friedman or Tyler Hamilton show up.
- In good weather, which is most of the time, it’s a huge group with lots of places to suck wheel and cower from the front.
- After ascending the Switchbacks, there are numerous ride variations tailored to your level of wankerdom, including a hard climb up from the Reservoir + Homes & Domes + Glass Church hammer & sprint + Via Zumaya. You’ll be crushed if you eat the whole Donut. It’s never sugar-coated.
- Best scenery of any Saturday ride, anywhere.
- It can be a total wankfest if the fast dudes are all off racing somewhere and nobody wants to pull.
- Stopping and preening is pretty stupid and cools you down prematurely.
- The LA Sheriff’s Dept. and PV cops sometimes harass and endanger the group in the name of “safety.”
- It’s no fun getting kicked out of the back at Trump and flailing all the way to the top by yourself with some fat dude wearing sneakers and carrying a floor pump.
- If you’re one of those people who thinks that everyone’s shit smells bad except your own, it can be a real downer riding with ordinary humans, sitting as you are atop UCI world rankings.
- Twice-Weekly Ballbuster Before Work: New Pier Ride a/k/a NPR
This was originally the worst ride in the South Bay. It went along the bike path, meandered through parking lots, wandered over narrow bridges, perambulated along jogger trails, then turned into a series of mad, pell-mell dashes through a deadly gauntlet of traffic lights, stop signs, destroyed roads, and horrific morning traffic. That was the Old Pier Ride.
The New Pier Ride starts at the same place, the Manhattan Beach Pier (a/k/a Center of the Known Universe, “CotKU”), every Tuesday and Thursday, and rolls out promptly at 6:40 AM. “6:40 AM” may mean “6:38″ or “6:39.” If you show up at 6:41, be prepared to chase and chase hard. The ride now skips the bike path, rolls through an alley of death for a mile or so, pops out onto Vista del Mar, keeps a fast tempo all the way to Pershing, and then is a complete hammerfest with four laps around Westchester Parkway. Don’t ever do this ride and say “It wasn’t very hard.” That will prove you were nowhere near the front.
- Distinguish yourself here, and you’ll likely get mentioned on the most influential bike blog in the universe.
- Guaranteed to get your heart rate up, and then some, before work.
- Huge group on most days, 70-80 riders, so lots of places to suck wheel and cower.
- No big hills, just one small bump on Pershing and on the Parkway.
- If you get dropped you can pick up the pack when they come by in the other direction. And get dropped again.
- Pros like Rahsaan Bahati, and local beatdown artists like Greg Leibert, Harold Martinez, Eric Anderson, John Tomlinson, Aaron Wimberly, and others will usually show up wearing their best pair of stomp boots.
- The post-coital coffee chill at the Center of the Known Universe, a/k/a the Starbucks at Manhattan Beach, is the apogee of all that is fun about being a marginally employed bike wanker. We sit. We joke. We check FB updates. We delay going to work. We soak in the sun. We slobber as the local talent slinks by. What’s not to like?
- Distinguish yourself here, and you’ll likely get mentioned on the universe’s most influential bike blog.
- Too many places for the frail and the infirm to suck wheel and cower.
- Too many sprunters sit in and do nothing the entire time, then spank everyone in the sprunt.
- Unclear finishing line. Is it the beginning of the third traffic island? No one really knows, so it’s usually a case of “raise your hands and declare victory wherever your legs give out.”
- If you break free, there are numerous riders who never seem strong enough to go with you, but are always strong enough to chase you down.
- Occasional near-death traffic experiences.
- If You Show Up Uninvited You Will Be Crushed And Destroyed: The REMR (pronounced “reamer,” a/k/a Really Early Morning Ride)
This ride leaves every Thursday from the Center of the Known Universe at either 5:30 or 5:45. No one will tell you when. It will be dark. The other riders will materialize out of the shadows and grimly nod to one another. No one looks happy. That’s because no one is.
The best reason to crash this ride is that, even though you’ll be squished like a bug, you’ll be squished like a bug even if you are invited. It’s hosted by the South Bay Royalty, presided over mainly by Jeff Konsmo and Dave Jaeger. Unless they tell you before the ride that they’re going easy, they will crush you like a tin can. The ride rolls crisply out to PV, buries it up the Reservoir climb, crushes it up Better Homes, then squelches the life out of you up to the radar domes on Crest. When the king and queen are preparing for states/nationals, they throw in a handful of additional brutal climbs at race pace. No matter how good you think you are, you’re not.
- Pain beyond your wildest fears.
- Being dismembered by the fang and claw of nature.
- Once in the office you will stare at your computer screen with a befuddled gaze until it’s time to go home.
- The Biggest Wankfest Of The South Bay: The Kettle Ride
Ride leaves every Sunday at 7:00 AM, or 7:05, or whenever, from the Center of the Known Universe, across from the Kettle Restaurant from which the ride got its name. It is the United Nations of South Bay Cycling, attracting all manner of biker. It can be a big ol’ group when the weather’s nice and junior’s Little League games are done for the year, or it can be tiny when it’s a horribly frigid SoCal winter day, which can mean an unendurably cold 63 degrees and a light drizzle. As C.U. Tomorrow says, speaking for thousands of South Bay cyclists, “I don’t touch my helmet ’til the thermo hits 75.”
The group stops at the “Knoll Loading and Unloading/Pick-up Party Area,” or KLAUPUPA [Pronunciation key: “Clow-poopa”], a/k/a public toilets at Ocean Park on the bike path in Santa Monica. Aged prostates are relieved and the group continues on to PCH, where all heck breaks loose. There is a mad slugfest for 6 or 7 miles to Cross Creek in Malibu; midway some riders turn right to climb Topanga or choose a hillier route. Huge sprunt finish at the bridge in Malibu. Most riders turn around and go home, others continue up PCH for more Sunday frolic.
- Big ol’ group of wankers, and wankers are fun.
- Nice warm up and chance to chat with friends if you’re planning on doing one of the hillier routes.
- Great ride if you just want a brief paceline interval.
- Beautiful scenery.
- Excellent beach talent on the bike path return; most sightings of the first thong of spring occur here.
- The ride’s too easy, especially since MMX moved off to North County San Diego.
- PCH can be hairy and dangerous.
- The non-climbing route is pancake flat and boring.
- That fat dude with the sheer, all-white kit two sizes too small sometimes shows up, and you can wind up having to stare down the hairy brown eye of death if you’re inadvertently on his wheel.
- Shakes the Clown makes this a regular ride of his.
- The Secret Saturday Ride For The Anointed: The Nameless Ride
The Nameless Ride is the Saturday alternative to the Donut. It leaves CotKU at 6:00 AM and comprises the aforementioned royalty along with their retinue. No fucking around. The ride goes north and does a handful of hard climbs. Wankers will be ostracized and dropped. All participants required to know the secret handshake. No one will wait for you after you’ve been cracked on some lonely canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, as vultures circle above and hungry coyotes eye your wretched, stringy body as you lie writhing in the ditch. The ride is as short as 70 miles and as long as 100; 120+ if you’re coming from Pedro or PV.
- Feeling inadequate.
- Being ignored.
- Getting dropped.
- All of the above.
- The Best Ride In America: The Wheatgrass Ride
The Wheatgrass Ride rolls out from Malaga Cove Plaza on Sundays just after 8:00 AM. It’s a short, 1.5 hour romp around the PV Peninsula that goes up the Reservoir hill, Homes & Domes, Glass Church, long climb up Hawthorne to PV Mall, and a post-coital discussion of various things while quaffing coffee, Jamba Juice, and wheatgrass. The ride was started by Iron Mike Norris, a/k/a the Mayor of the Hill, or just plain “Dad.” He provides wheatgrass for all participants at the end as punishment for not going to church.
The scenery is spectacularful. There’s regrouping at the radar domes. The pace is only as hard as you want to make it. The group is very welcoming. No one gets snobbed on or ostracized, even Bike Toss Mike when his lechery gets the better of him. If you want to race like a madman with Stathis the Wily Greek or G3 the Mad Scientist, you can. If you want to test your mettle against Tink (and have your mettle wilt like a butter pat in the sun), you can.
Best of all, Wheatgrass is the ideal place to make your blogging debut. Something funny’s sure to happen, and you’ll be surrounded by the legends of the Hill. Iron Mike, Sunshine Rich, Big Bowles, Junkyard, New Girl, Pilot, Canyon Bob, Carlos, the Godfather, Vince di Draftlio…they’re all there. Most awesomely, you’ll get to meet Fussy, the human encyclopedia on everything that has ever happened in the South Bay. You’ll hear about the dude who used to take a mannikin to all the races and dress it with his jersey so his number would be pinned on perfectly, and that’s just the beginning. More funny stories per minute will be told than anywhere since Abe Lincoln was a circuit lawyer.
- The ride is short.
- No matter how hard you go, it’s not that hard.
- Tink will drop you and step on your manhood.
- You’ll be forced to drink wheatgrass at the end. Unless you’re Pretty Boy.
- You won’t be able to brag to your SO that you “did a hundred.”
- The ride is pure fun.
- People treat you like a real person.
- Everyone’s welcome, even Crazy George with the gym shorts, the saggy socks, and the rock collection he carries in his backpack.
- Someone will always stop and help you change your flat. Or your diaper.
- You’ll feel like one of the group your first time out.
- Nothing is as much fun as a sunny Sunday morning catching some rays, spreading some manure, and enjoying some post-coital smack talk with like-minded friends.
- Doin’ The Double: TELO Tuesday Training Race
After doing the NPR on Tuesday morning, you have the evening option of the TELO Training Race, which goes off every Tuesday at 6:00 PM from the spring time change to the fall time change. It is named after Telo Street in Torrance, a feeder road that leads into a lovely little office park.
The first lap is neutral, and the race lasts for an hour or until an errant vehicle takes out the field, whichever comes first. Packs are as small as 30 and as large as 60. As recently as a couple of years ago the pattern was this: Fast pace for a few laps, slow down, hard attack establishes break, pack chills for the rest of the race, breakaway hammers it out for the win. This rarely if ever happens anymore. The pace is so fast that breaks just can’t make it. There’s almost always a bitter headwind on the back half of the course, which is two long sides with a chicane and two short sides. Sprinter wheelsucks are always waiting in the wings.
- Super fast, super hard way to end your Tuesday.
- Close to South Bayers and free.
- Great way to get in a double workout if you do the NPR in the morning.
- Generally very safe racing. Crashes are rare, traffic knows about the race and is generally very considerate.
- It’s a crit. Yawn.
- If it comes down to a sprint between you, Aaron Wimberly, Paul Che, and Christian Cognigni, there’s no fucking way in hell you’re going to win.
- Wheelsuck sprinters who treat training races like the real thing. Yawn.
No, Virginia, Halloween isn’t a holiday: The Holiday Ride
When there is a national holiday, whichever day it falls on is the Holiday Ride. This often creates confusion on the part of most people in Manhattan Beach, and quite a few others in the South Bay who don’t really have jobs, and for whom every day is a holiday. So I get emails and texts from them like, “Hey, is there a Holiday Ride tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow,” of course, is usually Halloween, or Gothic Rune Day, or National Prayer in School Day, or the day We Honor Our Teachers but Still Pay Them Shit Day. These are not national holidays, however much you like to use them as an excuse not to finish those three shaping orders that have been 80% completed for the last six months, and therefore, no, there won’t be a Holiday Ride.
If it’s Christmas, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, MLK Day, 4th of July, etc., everyone meets at CotKU at 8:00 AM and leaves super promptly at 7:59. You’ll never catch if you show up late. If the weather’s sunny expect 200+ idiots.
The ride goes north to Santa Monica, turns right on San Vicente Blvd., makes another turn or two and then hits Mandeville Canyon. From the light at Mandeville, it’s game fucking on. The speed instantly snaps the mob into a single file line of death. If you think you’re a contender (you aren’t), don’t be more than ten wheels back.
People begin frying and charring immediately. It’s an endless climb, never very steep except at the last few hundred yards, where it turns into a wall. The finish rarely includes more than two or three people. The remaining 200 or so are flogging the little meat in ones and twos all the way back down the hill.
- It’s the ultimate “see and be seen” ride
- You get to see all the rich folks’ houses in Brentwood, or at least the ones you can see with your fucking face plastered to the stem, your eyes watering like a firehose, and sheet snot pouring out all over your face
- The climb up the canyon is intense and humbling
- It’s always a full-on beatdown
- Too many idiots
- Angry canyon residents have tried to kill cyclists using “their” road
- It’s always a full-on beatdown