December 30, 2014 § 46 Comments
Some things hit really close to home, and this is one of them. Herman Shum, a 40-year-old high school principal, joined the House of Pain ride last Saturday that leaves out of Danville, CA. The group had somewhere between fifty and seventy riders. the riders were tightly packed across the single lane, and surging to position for a sprint.
rider left the pavement, and in hopping back from the shoulder he caused a crash. Three riders went down. Herman crossed the center line in the mayhem and was killed by an oncoming water utility truck.
Danville is several hundred miles away from Southern California, but it might as well be right next door. Every national holiday we have the Holiday Ride here in the South Bay, but unlike the “HOP” ride, our ride doesn’t have dozens of riders, it has hundreds. We cram onto the roads and race our way to Mandeville Canyon, where what’s left of the battered field — a “mere” 150 or so riders — surges to the fore as each rider jockeys for position on the incredibly narrow, two-lane residential road.
A few hard accelerations later and the group is whittled down to perhaps twenty riders who are still filling the whole lane, heads down, wheels inches apart, bars, bodies, and brains, on the limit for the better part of the 18-minute climb. Oncoming traffic, folks pulling out from their driveways, livid passing vehicles crossing the center line at 50 while showering us with curses … I’ve seen all that and more, including the time that the peloton almost ran over a woman pushing an infant in a pram.
I stopped doing our Holiday Ride a few years ago because the ride from Manhattan Beach to San Vicente Boulevard in Brentwood had become absolutely batshit crazy. People who cannot ride a bike were mixed in with people who shouldn’t ride a bike who were mixed in with people who were trying to stay away from everyone else who were mixed in with hotshot racers drilling it at the front at 30. There is a crash almost every time, and worse — one time a knucklehead slammed on his brakes, got off his bike, and walked across the reflective dots in the pavement. Fortunately there were only about a hundred stomping maroons charging up his sphincter at the time. I’m pretty sure he always wanted a carbon enema. Campy, of course.
The HOP ride in Danville comes with a warning, and it’s the kind of warning that is going to soon become the focal point for the attorney who represents Mr. Shum’s family in the wrongful death/negligence lawsuit that will likely be filed. Here it is, from the NorCal Cycling News web site:
House of Pain (HOP)
- Where: Peet’s Coffee Danville
- When: Saturday Mornings
- 8:45 HOP Line
- 9:00 HOP Media
- 9:15 HOP The Original HOP
“The Lowdown: There are three versions of the House of Pain (HOP) ride. HOP, HOP Medium, and HOP Lite. All three of them leave Peet’s in Danville on Saturday morning. HOP – full on race ride (emphasis mine), no waiting for the weak or people with flats. No regroups. HOP Lite – steady pace. No attacking and there are a couple of regroups. HOP Medium – In between HOP and HOP Medium.”
The killer language? “Full on race ride.”
A lawyer’s going to want to know exactly what that means, and I suppose I could explain it to him: It’s an informal road ride where, at certain points, the riders go to their absolute max in an attempt to crack everyone else. In a “full on race ride” there are a handful of riders who are doling out the pain, and everyone else is trying to hang on. Race rides are filled with testosterone and speed, but they’re not filled with insurance, race permits, course marshals, officials, ambulances, or waivers.
The lawyer will have more questions. Who put on this ride? Who wrote this language? Who manages the (now defunct) Facebook page? And most importantly, “Who has the fuggin’ money, because that’s the person who’s in the wrong.”
But I’m not going to write about the legal merits of such a lawsuit, or the lack thereof. What I am going to write about is the concept of the “full on race ride.” These things are a part of cycling, and they entail risk. Actually, “risk” is a bad word. It’s too neutral. These rides entail death and permanent, horrific injury.
I participate in them, most notably the Thursday morning beatdown ride and the Saturday morning Donut Ride here in the South Bay. I also travel a few times a year down to San Diego to join their Holiday Ride — perversely, because in the past it has been harder and more grueling than the one we have here.
At some point, though, we’re going to have to think more carefully about the size and composition of these beatdown events. Although they are for the most part harmless, all it takes is one unlucky confluence of factors and suddenly someone’s dead. One avenue that I’ve taken is avoiding the mass events that are “race rides.” As one very experienced friend pointed out about bike racing, “The more crowded the field, the more crashes. Period.”
That’s true for “race rides” too. Three hundred idiots, as are likely to show up at Manhattan Beach on January 1, are more dangerous than 25 riders showing up at 6:35 AM at Malaga Cove.
In addition to group size, there’s another factor, the ease of the ride. The South Bay Holiday Ride is a true wankfest, where anyone with reasonable fitness can hang on for a huge chunk of the ride. The roaring, swelling, swaying pack of idiots tears through Santa Monica, a dense urban landscape clogged with cagers, pedestrians, and tourists like a cloud of locusts.
Not so with the Donut Ride. By the ten minute mark many have been dropped. By the thirty minute mark the group is fractured, and those who remain are riding single file. Once the climb starts at 35 minutes, and for the rest of the day, it’s a pretty small group, and with only a few small route changes the group could be split to pieces even earlier.
That’s not to say that these rides don’t have the potential for accidents, but maybe we’ve reached an era where bigger really isn’t better, at least for the “race ride” or the “beatdown event.” Maybe a little discretion will go a long way to avoiding the kind of accident that led to Herman’s senseless and needless death last Saturday. Maybe.
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December 24, 2014 § 19 Comments
The older I get, the more I appreciate people who aren’t sociopaths. Not that the SoCal Profamateur™ ranks are filled with them, but I do run across them from time to time. A sociopath, of course, is a person who reduces the entirety of human existence to “I am in the right.”
Here’s a quick quiz to find out if you are a cycling sociopath, but if you’re really a sociopath one of the key qualities is the inability to recognize it.
- I never caused a crash.
- I’ve had bad luck before, but never been beaten.
- I dope because everyone else dopes, so it’s not cheating.
- I cut the course because I had to.
- There’s nothing wrong with banditing a ride because the organizers plan for a certain level of banditing.
Of course cycling sociopaths, compared to the ones I run across in my day job, are pretty harmless. Whereas cycling sociopaths are trying to cheat you out of a pair of socks or a fistful of gels, litigation sociopaths are often trying to ruin a client’s life, and sometimes mine as well. But despite their relative harmlessness, their presence causes the good guys out there to shine even more brightly.
One of my favorite Old Fellow Leaky Prostate Cycling Stars is Greg Leibert, a/k/a G$ a/k/a G-Munnnnny. I can’t help rooting for him, even when he’s plucking out my legs like an evil little kid yanking off the twitching limbs of a helpless insect. I root for G$ because he rides with class, he wins graciously, and he loses with a smile and a congratulations for the winner. I root for G$ because when he wins, the good guy really does win. And of course I root for him in the hope that one day I’ll beat him, and therefore have beaten the very best.
The last two seasons G$ has had a rough go of it on the race course, so much so that it almost seemed like he might be done for good. The guy who soloed to victory at Boulevard a few years back, the guy who regularly stomped the dicks of the best leaky prostates on the toughest SoCal road courses, had been “relegated” to “only” one or two wins a season. The saddest moment of my old fellow cycling career was this year at Boulevard, when I punctured a few miles from the finish. The peloton whooshed by, and then a few minutes later along came Greg, who stopped to help change my flat.
“Are you okay?” I asked in disbelief.
Greg smiled. “I didn’t have it today. They went, and I didn’t.”
It was like learning that there is no Santa Claus, only worse, since I was raised an atheist and we kept getting Christmas swag even after figuring out that the old fat drunk in the mall was nothing more glamorous than an old fat drunk in the mall. So you can imagine how happy I was to hear through the grapevine that G$ was back on track for 2015.
I’d see him doing lonely big ring workouts on Via del Monte. I’d hear rumors about the gradually increasing fitness. Best of all — or worst — I’d pump him about his condition and he’s say with a smile, “It’s coming around.”
Last Saturday G$ showed up for the Donut Ride, which is rare because he only shows up to check his fitness. Unlike the other wankers who throw themselves headlong into their “base intensity” programs 12 months a year, G$ builds, tests, then goes back to work.
As we snaked through Portuguese Bend, there was the familiar sight of the Legs From Planet Zebulon, the slightly hunched back, the smooth cadence, and the sinewy strips of calf, ham, and quad popping out from the stretched skin. Best of all, though, was the hollering.
G$ will never pointlessly ride on the front — he’s too smart for that — but he loves it when you do, and he has a well-worn method for getting the idiots to pound themselves into oblivion. Here’s how he does it: Some maroon will take a dig, and a fellow maroon will follow through, and then the pace will slack. “Sixteen mph?” G$ will yell from five wheels back. “Are we riding our bikes or pushing a baby stroller?”
No one has the man parts to turn around and say, “Hey, wanker, if you want the speed to pick up, there’s plenty of room at the front to give us a demo.”
Instead, we hunker down, all butt-hurt and such, and then take turns killing ourselves in pointless efforts to show that WE AREN’T GONNA GO SIXTEEN. Then G$ will yell a little more until we’re totally pooped, we reach the climb, and he leaves us like we are chained to a liberal piece of legislation in the US Congress.
But on Saturday, I bided my time until we hit the Switchbacks, followed wheels, and before long had left the wankoton in the rear, latched onto the wheel of Boy Jules, who hates being shadowed by creaky old men. The impossible had happened — a fit-and-getting-fitter G$ had been shelled by Boy Jules and Creaky Wanky.
The euphoria was intense, followed by sadness (“If G$ can’t keep up with me, he really is finished,”) followed by an unspeakable beatdown. Half a mile from the end of the climb G$ hunted me down like an old tom closing in on a crippled rat. He roared by, I latched on (having shed Boy Jules at the wall), and G$ played his favorite role of train conductor. It goes like this:
G$: I see you are riding on the train.
Me: Yes, sir.
G$: May I see your ticket?
Me: I ain’t got no ticket.
G$: Well, son, no one rides for free.
Then he came out of the saddle, fired the pistons, and vanished around the bend. I deflated and crumpled as he put a couple of football fields between us in a matter of seconds. I was deflated, but elated. You know why?
Because Munnnnnnny is back.
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November 19, 2014 § 20 Comments
I first saw the old elephant about three years ago. He was gray-headed and busting out at the seams as we flew past him on the Donut Ride. He’d gotten a good ten-minute head start but we overhauled him long before the first big climb. He huffed and puffed and mashed for about ten pedal strokes, trying to hang on before he was blown out the back.
As we passed him someone said, “Good job, Bill,” and then we were gone.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s Backintheday Bill,” the other rider said as he filled me in on Bill’s career as a top local pro and general two-wheeled wrecking ball.
“He looks terrible,” I said. “He’s gotta weigh over 250.”
“Yeah, I haven’t seen him in fifteen years, maybe more. His race weight was 140.” From that Saturday on I saw Bill every weekend and always said hello when we passed. Over time he stopped taking head starts and began rolling out with the group. And he was getting smaller.
At the beginning of the year I noticed that he was sticking with us up the first hard surge, and although he was still a pretty big fella, he was certainly under 200, and his kits didn’t look like they were about to unravel and kill someone with the force of the exploding seams. Now he’s visibly getting thinner by the month, and sticks with a much younger grupetto all the way over the first big climb. All of his kits are new because the old ones flat out don’t fit anymore.
Bill’s one of many, many riders who come and go and then come back. They leave for all the right reasons — racing is dumb, cycling is costly, pedaling is dangerous. Some leave for all the wrong reasons, too. My buddy J.C. had found Miss Right through cycling.
“Can you imagine anything better?” he had said. “A girlfriend who loves to bike?”
I didn’t say anything, because I could imagine a lot of things better, like a girlfriend who loves to cook, who earns seven figures, and who loves you to bike while she perfects her home brewing recipe. But I didn’t say anything except “Nope.”
They married and six months later she quit cycling. Then six more months later she told him to quit cycling. Then six more months later he was single again, and back, of course, on his bike.
Some dudes quit for spiritual enlightenment, like The Buddha. Tony used to be one of the most feared racers in SoCal. Then he started growing a big bushy beard, and worse, reading books, long books with hard words. They ruined him, of course, and one day he announced on Facebag that he was “done.” Now he’s a Buddhist adept, spreading love instead of dishing out the pain, but mark my words, he’ll be back. As nice as it is to make the world a better place, it’s even nicer to watch people crumble.
Sometimes when a guy sells his bikes and is “done” you’re kind of glad, but other times it’s a sinking feeling of genuine loss, like when Todd quit coming to the rides, then sold his bike, then vanished from view. Everybody loved Todd. He never had a bad word to say, he was one of the funniest guys alive, and he was always up for a beer. If you had a problem he’d give you the shirt off your back, even if what you really needed was a pair of trousers.
But as a cyclist, he was the guy who made your ride fun. You know how when someone pedals up and everyone kind of moans inwardly, as in “Why’d that buzzkill show up?” Todd was the opposite. Punctual-departure-Nazis would sit around for ten, fifteen minutes, gladly waiting for him even though he was always late and didn’t show up despite blood pacts the night before about “being there no matter what.” Todd was the brightest jewel in the crown of South Bay cycling fun, and then one day he was gone except for the occasional post on Facebag, which always made me sad.
Then yesterday Fireman texted me a photo. “Just finished our ride,” the message said, and next to the words was a picture of him and Todd draining a fermented recovery drink. There was a huge smile on Todd’s face, and I bet it was mostly from being back on his bike.
But his smile wasn’t nearly as big as mine.
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November 9, 2014 § 26 Comments
I know what you’re going to say. “He’s even older than you are.”
“That guy hasn’t won a race in years.”
“DJ? He still rides?”
And, of course, “Who?”
Yeah, well, whatever. We all have benchmarks, and Dave is one of mine. “The day I beat Dave Jaeger up a climb,” I have often said, “is the day I will quit cycling.” I’ve made that promise to myself because it’s something that will never occur.
“Never say never!” chirp the Pollyannas. “Ya gotta show up to win!” Oh, horseshit. There are some people you’ll never beat, and it’s not because you don’t train enough or have the right equipment or the right dietitian or whatever, it’s because they are faster than you. That’s Dave. He’s faster than me when he hasn’t been training for a year and I’ve been on the EPO Diet.
He’s faster than me in races. In training. He’s even faster than me getting out of bed, I just know it.
I used to do an early morning Saturday training ride with him but I quit doing it for the same reason I quit buying lottery tickets. There was no chance of winning.
It’s no big deal to me that he’s richer, better looking, has an uber-hot wife, and wonderful kids. That stuff counts for zip. All I ever cared about is beating Dave Jaeger on a climb. He has beaten me every year for the last six years on the French Toast Ride, cruising up Balcom Canyon in his big ring, putting minutes on me even when I hit the climb with a several-hundred-yard head start. He has beaten me so many times on the Donut Ride that on the few times a year that he bothers to show up I immediately call it my “off week.”
Worst of all, when everyone else beats me everywhere else I get to smile and say, “Yeah, but I’m 50,” even when the other guy is 49. Not with Dave. He races 55+ starting in 2016. He’s waaaay older than I am. And worser than the worst, he’s always nice about it. “Good job, wanker,” he’ll always say after putting a few football fields in between me and my dignity. And he’ll mean it.
Yesterday was going to be more of the same. The Donut Ride started slowly, thanks to the absences of Smasher and Ollie. Manny Fresh did a pointless attack on the downhill, and SBBaby Seal rolled away only to make the fatal mistake of turning down the alley. No one followed and he wasn’t seen again.
Once we hit Portuguese Bend the pace picked up, but not too much. We had some Belgian dude named Jan riding with us, and just the word “Belgian” was enough to make most of us shart in our shorts. Even the Wily Greek was eyeing him.
Jaeger always gets irritated when people go slow, and this day was no exception. “What are you wankers doing, holding hands?” he asked. I nodded. He shook his head and attacked off the front, from the front. The last time I saw him do that was at the Lake Castaic Road Race. In fact, the situation had been identical.
“Did you wankers show up to hold hands or race your bikes?” he had asked.
“Hold hands, hopefully,” I had peeped.
That time too he had shaken his head, punched it, and soloed for 47 miles to victory. It was my only top-ten road placing of the year, but that’s just because everyone from #11 on down quit.
DJ rolled away from the Donut. We lollygagged some more until we hit the bottom of the Switchbacks. There are usually a half-dozen wankers left by this point, as the repeated accelerations have shaken the dingleberries out of the weeds, but today we were still thirty or forty strong. There was a feeling of joy in the air as the larger specimens enjoyed being with the lead group at the bottom of the climb, a point at which they were usually alone, defeated, struggling, and swearing off pork rinds at least for the next hour.
The Wily Greek leaped away. Chatty Cathy followed. Davy followed. Destroyer followed. I followed. With a few pedal strokes I glanced back and the wankoton had evaporated. Then as Wily punched it again, I evaporated. After clawing my way back we went around a couple more turns on the Switchbacks and Wily surged again, taking Destroyer with him.
Chatty Cathy pulled for a while then cracked. I passed him and continued on to the wall. Up ahead I could see Wily Greek and DJ, who had hooked up, with Destroyer in No Man’s Land. Jaeger then came unhitched, and I passed him on the wall.
Please re-read that a few dozen times. “I passed him on the wall.”
Yep, that actually happened. Wankmeister passed David Jaeger on a climb.
Somehow I got onto Destroyer’s rear wheel, “somehow” meaning “he let me.” Then he towed me to the flat spot. Then I towed him for six or seven feet to allow him to recover before swinging over to let him share some more of the work. Then, a quarter mile before the end, with Wily dangling out in front doing his nails and wondering why no one was riding up to him, I spied a shadow on my wheel.
I didn’t need to look back, because there was only one rider yesterday who had the legs to chase down Destroyer on a climb, and the outline of the head meant that it was Jaeger. My glorious victory, the one time I was going to actually beat the best bike racer, nicest guy, richest man, dude with the hottest wife … it all crumbled in an instant.
The only hope I had, and it was a slim one, was cunning. Destroyer swung over and I took a massive 180-watt pull. DJ came through like a bull. I went to the back and recovered from my 180-watt effort. We rounded the bend. The imaginary finish line was in sight. Wily, who had arrived slightly before, had finished the finance section of the Times and was halfway through “A History of Modern Computing in Twelve Volumes.” I dropped back a few feet and took a run at Destroyer’s rear wheel.
Destroyer laughed at the tiny acceleration and easily sprunted away, but to me, he was small game, tiny fish, he was nuttin’. As I passed the imaginary finish line I heard that familiar voice on my right-hand shoulder. “Good job, wanker.”
“Best ride of my life,” I said.
He laughed. “Oh, I’m sure you’ve passed me before.”
“I’m sure I haven’t.”
‘November 8, 2014, the day I beat Dave Jaeger on a climb.’
The artist told me to keep the ink out of the sun for two weeks, which will be hard because it’s on my forehead in 36-point Courier and kind of winds down over my ears and neck, and yes, tattoos hurt a bit, and yes, it’s my first one, but this one is worth it.
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November 2, 2014 § 27 Comments
I woke up yesterday and looked outside. It was the worst weather we have had in Southern California in over a year. The thermometer read a bitter 65 degrees, and the roads still had places that appeared to be wet, or at least damp. Twelve or eighteen raindrops pounded down, and a large cloud hung over the mountains.
These are the days that the hardmen greedily await, a day when we can disprove the calumnies spread about the softness, cowardice, and shickenchit nature of cyclists in the South Bay. I rummaged through my closet and took out my sturdiest, best insulated clothing. I drew on the armwarmers and wind vest, knowing that with these accoutrements I could weather any weather.
Sure enough, as I rolled down the hill to the start of the Donut Ride, the climate was even more terrible than I’d surmised. The wind in my face brought the temperature down to 60, or perhaps even 59 degrees. I shivered as I bit my lip. Drops of rain (I counted six) beat my face and eyes so hard I could barely see. The occasional roadside puddle required every bit of bike handling I had to keep from crashing. Parts of my bike got wet, and flecks of dirt and mud spattered onto my downtube.
I gritted my teeth and pedaled.
As I dropped down to the start, several minutes late, I saw the group coming towards me. It was as I expected. This awful combination of cool breeze, raindrops, and roadside puddles had kept all but the toughest tucked snugly into their beds. The usual sunny day contingent of 60 to 80 riders, decimated by the brutal cold and soul-drenching wet, was a tiny cadre of seven riders: The Wily Greek, Davy Dawg, PJ Pajamas, Cookie, some dude named Hector with a backpack, the Pilot, and I.
Although the first thirty minutes were run beneath sunny skies along dry roads, our bicycles became very dirty. No wonder the normally tough men and women of the South Bay had opted for breakfast and bex in sed. The effort and work it would take post ride to clean their bicycles, the terrible toll it would take on their fingers and wrists to hand-wring the dirty rain out of their kits, and the incredible labor it would take to clean their chains meant that only the craziest and hardiest would brave these bitter elements.
Wily kicked everyone in the gonads and road away at Trump, and just as we began the grueling ascent of the Switchbacks, the heavens loosed their fury. Rain began pouring down in an incredible wall, such a deluge as hasn’t been seen since the days of Noah. Each of us hunkered down in the pounding squall, feeling a handful of drops work their way through our rain vests as small splotches appeared on our sunglasses. The temperature plunged to 58 and our bodies froze to the core.
After a relentless, nonstop downpour of one full minute, we were each somewhat damp on our exposed legs, but we soldiered on. The descent was even more awful, with chills and biting winds cutting us to the core even though the temperature had bumped up to 65 degrees. Like the hardmen of Belgium and the iron soldiers of Roubaix, we pushed on down the hill and went home.
The entire ride lasted an incredible seventy minutes, each minute an eternity of suffering and misery. As I peeled off my somewhat damp clothing, soaked as it was with the frigid rain drops, I nodded in grim satisfaction to myself in the mirror: “It is the days like today,” I grunted, “that make the champions of tomorrow.”
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October 5, 2014 § 11 Comments
I used to think I was smart. I used to think I was handsome. I used to think I was going to be rich. I used to think I was good in bed. I used to think I was going to have a good job. I used to think life was fair.
I used to think I was a climber.
I thought I was a climber because I could go uphill faster than most of the other people I rode with. No matter that I lived in Austin, where there weren’t any real climbs. At 135 pounds, I was a climber.
Then I met Marco. Marco wasn’t a climber. He weighed about 150, and was my height. He had won the Tour of the Netherlands, and had come to Texas to escape the cold Euro winter.
“You look like a climber,” I said.
“Me? I’m no climber.” And he meant it.
To myself I thought, “Good.” To him I said, “Let’s go up the back side of Jester.”
“Okay,” he cheerfully answered, never having gone up any side of Jester, front or back.
Jester was my domain because I was a climber. The back side of Jester was vicious and steep. In my memory it was a 45 percent grade, six miles long. In reality it was probably less.
We hit the bottom and I looked back at Marco, whose nickname was “The Lung.” Why hadn’t that nickname made an impression on me, I wondered later?
Marco, who would later do the Tour a couple of times racing for Chazal, easily and breezily pedaled by me. I gave it the best effort I’ve ever given anything, but he vanished rather quickly. We regrouped at the top.
“I thought you said you weren’t a climber,” I said.
“I’m not.” And he wasn’t. So what did that make me?
Luckily, I soon forgot about Marco and once he left Texas I became a climber again. Then I moved to Japan. I was the fastest guy up the climb in Shinrin Park, the course they later used for the World Championships in 1990. No one could hold my wheel because I was a climber.
I met a guy who ran a bike shop. He was very small, maybe 120 pounds. “You look like a climber,” I said to Wada-san.
“I’m no climber,” he said.
“Good,” I thought, and took him out to the Shinrin Park climb. We hit the bottom and he dusted me off rather easily.
“I thought you said you weren’t a climber,” I said to Wada-san.
“I’m not,” he said. And he wasn’t.
Fortunately, I forgot about Wada-san and became a climber again. I was a very good climber in Miami, Texas, where there are no people, and in Houston, where there are no hills. Then I came to California. On my first few rides in PV, everyone dropped me. My riding partner, Crabs, was a fat, hairy-legged sprunter who dumped me on every climb.
One day I was talking to Fukdude after we’d gone up Fernwood. He had dropped me early. “Fuck, dude,” said Fukdude. “You’re no climber.”
“Nah. You’re too fucking fat. And big. And tall.”
“You’re a great climber.”
“Me? Dude, I’m no climber. I’m just a tall dude. You should forget about climbing and focus on something that fits your cycling body type.”
“Fuck, dude, I dunno. Drinking, maybe?”
It only took 32 years, but I finally figured it out. I’m no climber. When you look at legit climbers when they’re on the bike, they seem to be sort of your size, but when they get off the bike they aren’t. They’re tiny, squnched up, newt-like mini-versions of real people, little bags of skin stretched around massive lung bags and bony, veiny, spidery legs. None of them have big tummies.
The Donut Ride started today, and after a while the climbers-plus-Davy rolled away. Rudy, Wily, and a couple of other newts vanished. We hit the Switchbacks and it separated out pretty quickly. Somehow I was still with the lead chase group, even though it had some really tiny people in it. “Fuggitaboutit,” I told myself. “You’re no climber.”
Tregillis and his 3-lb. bike faded. Chatty Cathy faded. Suddenly there was nothing left but three or four climbers and me.
We hit the ramp to the Domes and Sandoval punched it. Sandoval is five-foot-five and weighs less than Tregillis’s bike. I leaped onto his wheel, and it was just him and me.
One by one, we passed the suicides who’d started out with Rudy and Stathis the Wily Greek. I had given up all hope. Sandoval is 26, the same age as my eldest daughter. He attacked me a couple of times, displeased with the fat, tubby, wheezing lardball dangling on his wheel. Somehow I hung on.
With a quarter-mile to go, Sandoval got out of the saddle. I matched his pace for a while, and then I didn’t. He vanished around the turn and I got fourth. Which is pretty damned good for someone who isn’t a climber.
July 24, 2014 § 40 Comments
A new bobble has been added to the weekly Donut Ride, and I contemplated it as the wankers of the South Bay chewed me up and spit me out. It’s a short, steep, nasty little alleyway that comes after a long uphill slog followed by a fast downhill followed by a gradual climb followed by a very short wall.
The point behind the alley is to crush the spirits and impoverish the souls of those who, even at the outset of the group ride, are already broken.
The Donut Ride has evolved into an almost perfect group ride. It is so hard that to properly complete it you must cheat, cut the course, suck wheel, sneak ahead while everyone is regrouping, or all of the above. The climbs are so vicious that hordes of South Bay bicycle owners refuse to even show up. It drops people while they are still in bed.
In common with all great group rides, it crowns a winner who everyone can dispute, but not actually beat. “Wily Greek is a wheelsucker,” we mutter each time he deftly sprints away at the bottom of the Switchbacks. And like all group rides, great or not, you get to declare yourself the winner of something. “I was the first one to the Domes out of the fastest people who got dropped in the alley.” “I was the fastest climber out of the non-climbing sprinters who live in Long Beach.” Etc. It’s almost as good as Strava.
The Donut Ride also contains the race-within-the-race element that so many of us live for: the OTB flailer who nonetheless fights tooth and toenail to finish ahead of the other OTB flailer who said something rude to him on Facebook. Best of all, like all group rides it’s free, starts close to home, doesn’t require an entry fee or a license, and when done properly will effectively wreck any legitimate training plan or racing goal.
The ideal group ride, which the Donut is, will be intense enough to destroy your legs but not make you faster. It will be long enough to exhaust you but not long enough to build your endurance. It will force you to ride either too slow to build your engine, or so fast that you’ll need an entire week in order to recuperate. It will expose all of your weaknesses and develop none of your strengths. Best of all, if you are a Donut vainquer, your victories will translate into little more than DNF’s and barely-finished’s at legitimate stage races.
It is a cul-de-sac for performance, and crystal meth for the legs. Plus, it finishes near several brewpubs which open about the time the ride finishes.
But the hardest group ride in America … Where is it?
My default vote goes to my own backyard; yours probably does, too. After all, no kid is smarter or better looking than your own. The Donut Ride is about 50 miles long and boasts about 5,000 feet of climbing. It goes off every Saturday, with anywhere from 80 to 100 idiots lining up at the start in Redondo Beach in the summer … and less than a dozen making it to base of the Switchbacks-to-Crest climb thirty minutes later, after which the smashing begins in earnest.
But is it the hardest?
The Swami’s ride in Encinitas is horrifically hard and staffed with twisted mutants like Tinstman, Bordine, Marckx, and Thurlow, but it’s shorter (about 30 miles) and “only” has 3,500 feet of climbing. Then there’s the SPY Holiday Ride, a beatdown so vicious that if I make it up the first climb without getting shelled I consider it a total victory: 60 miles, 4,000 feet of climbing, and a 100+ field that is always stacked with state champions, national champions, and group ride champions who live just to dish it out on gang slugfests like this one. The ugliness is sharpened by competition for KOM and sprint awards given out post-ride in the form of BWR Ale brewed by the Lost Abbey.
But is it the hardest?
I don’t know. America is filled with group rides that go off every Saturday, Sunday, holiday, Tuesday, Thursday, and every other day that ends in “-day.”
How do you evaluate their difficulty? The following criteria, for sure …
- Length. Should be more than 40 miles, less than 70. It has to be long enough not to simulate any race you’d actually do, but short enough that it can be completed before your wife goes completely apeshit at another wasted weekend on the bike. Also, it must be long enough so that you perform all chores and kid-activities with a glum face and lagging step.
- Elevation. Enough to make it hard, but not so much that the only champions weigh less than 130-lbs. Ideally, the elevation is spread throughout the ride rather than dumped at the end like the LA Holiday Ride, which is a joke. Having at least one 20-minute climb to obliterate the chubmeisters, the old people, the “just getting into the sport-ers,” and juniors is ideal.
- Number of riders. 30, minimum. Having somewhere to hide and suck wheel is crucial for a group ride. Too few people forces everyone to work, which reduces or eliminates the ability to name-call and point the finger after you get shelled.
- Wind. The more, the better. Wind is the great unequalizer, because it strips the skinny climbers of their watts/kg advantage and grinds them up into little rat pellets. Wind, preferably cold (although frying-pan hot furnace blasts are good, too), increases the chances of crashing and quitting.
- Elements. Freezing rain/brain-scalding heat/crushing humidity are always a plus. Especially in SoCal, where eternal sunshine cultivates softness, a good dose of terrible weather does wonders for separating the wheat from the cadavers.
- Pavement. Shitty road surfaces, hairball descents, off-camber paving, unannounced changes from tarmac to gravel … anything that will cause a flat or a crash or potentially crack your frame gets extra points.
- Quality of field. This is hard to evaluate, but generally, if the average age is “gets an annual prostate check,” then you’re playing with a worn out deck of cards. One good way to evaluate the field is financial stability. The more people living with girlfriends, out of cardboard boxes, sleeping on couches, the faster and more brutal the ride.
I’ve heard lots of stories about “our local group ride is the toughest,” and would like nothing better than to find out for myself. Is the real badass group ride yours? Post the info in a comment or shoot me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, with a link to the Strava segment if there is one. Extra points if the ride is so badass that it’s not even on Strava. It certainly won’t be any fun to go check it out in person, but it might assuage those late-night worries, i.e. “What am I going to write about tomorrow?”