One from the vaults

November 13, 2015 § 24 Comments

I received this most excellent email from Ira Schaffer on Wednesday, and had to share–with his permission of course!

Thank you for your great writing and thanks for helping me to stay connected to cycling in the South Bay!

I grew up in Palos Verdes and lived there from 1958 to 1976. One day in 1972 I walked from my house to the Peninsula Center, I was fourteen at the time, and noticed a bunch of commotion that was ununusal for an early Sunday morning around Hawthorne and Indian Peak.

I walked up to the corner and at that moment a huge pack of racing cyclists came screaming down Hawthorne and made the turn onto Indian Peak at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour! It turned out to be an Olympic qualifying road race, won by John Howard.

I watched in amazement and knew that I wanted to do the same thing. I began to ride my bike everywhere and joined a local club, the Lomita Bicycle Peddalers, run by Bob Roach in Lomita. His son Tim Roach, one of the top track coaches in American today, was my best friend at Rolling Hills High School. I trained in the hills of PV in the 70’s along with the few other cyclists like Paul Deem, and raced whenever I could.

Back then, as it is now, SoCal was known mostly for crits. I traveled to Encino twice a week to hone my bike handling skills, with Bob Roach usually driving us until Tim and I got our driving licenses, and we raced on Saturday nights at the velodrome and on Sunday. I raced crits mostly, and “competed” as a Junior against guys like the Whitehead brothers, Dave and Mark and of course Gibby Hatton, who had just won the Junior World Championships. The fields on crit raceday for juniors, which was a category aged 14-18, typically had 75-100 racers, and events like the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix drew up to 125 entrants for the Junior field alone.

I raced through the early 80’s and won the Junior State Road Championship in 1976. I attended UCLA and lived with a guy that worked at a shop and with whom I raced. The shop was on Wilshire and called, appropriately enough, Wilshire West Bicycle Shop.

Since the shop was in West LA, the clientele included a bunch of “movie folks.” One day a producer or director or other important person walked into the shop and asked my roommate if he knew anyone who could help a couple of actors learn the ins and outs of how to ride a bike. My roommate agreed. For the next month, Dennis Christopher and Hart Bochner of Breaking Away met us at our apartment in Santa Monica and we helped teach them some of the “ins and outs” of riding. They invited us to continue the training in Indiana, but I would have had to drop out of school, something I didn’t even consider.

I have great memories of riding and racing my bike in Palos Verdes and your writing helps me to connect. My folks still live in PV (89 years old) and I still ride a bit. I raced masters a few years ago in SoCal. I recently moved to the Bay Area and enjoy the riding up here as well. Thanks for your writing and thanks for helping me stay connected.

Ira Schaffer

[Note from Wanky: Actually, Ira, it is we who should thank you for sharing this great piece of SoCal cycling history and, most especially, for your $2.99 monthly subscription! A round of craft water for everyone!]



For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog, like Ira did! Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

The broken window karma bitch from hell

September 30, 2012 § 13 Comments

Aging is like driving an old car. We try to make the best of a deteriorating situation, hoping that the failures are incremental rather than catastrophic. My Camry is in fantastic shape for its 195,000+ miles. It’s got a character ding on the rear bumper, a character gash on the passenger door, and a driver-side window that won’t close all the way.

The window makes a huge whooshing sound once you hit about 40, a whoosh that drowns out radios, cell phones, directions from your spouse, screaming kids in the back seat, and sirens. I’ve been meaning to get it fixed for the last 30,000 miles or so. Meaning to. A great concept.

A brief psychlocross instructional

I left at 5:30 AM to meet up with MMX in North County to borrow a pair of ‘cross shoes, do the Swami’s ride, and get some pointers on how to succeed in my first psychlocross race, which is Sunday. I whooshed all the way to Encinitas, where MMX handed me the shoes.

They were covered with a thick crust of dried mud. They were battered, torn, and had dried mud shoved up into areas where you wouldn’t have thought there was anywhere to shove, like up under the sole. “How do you get mud up under the sole?” I wondered. “So,” I said. “What do I need to know for my first race?”

“Hmmmm. ‘Cross is a lot of fun. After it’s over. During the race you pretty much feel worse than you’ve ever felt your entire life for every single pedal stroke.”

“Oh. Okay. So, like, what do I need to know, technique-wise and stuff?”

“That’s kind of it.” There was an uncomfortable silence as he looked at me. “And don’t crash.”

“B” is for “Babies”

We rolled off to the world-infamous Swami’s “B” Ride, which was founded as an alternative to the leg-shattering, soul-destroying, lung-incinerating Saturday fuckfest now known as the Swami’s “A” Ride.

“You can’t hammer on the B Ride,” MMX said. “Or they’ll kick you off it.”

“Oh. Why?”

“Because if you want to hammer, you do the A Ride.”

“So why are we doing the B Ride? Isn’t that kind of like repeating kindergarten after you’ve graduated from high school?”

“We have a race tomorrow, so we’ll just spin our legs, that’s why. And whatever you do, don’t go to the front. That counts as hammering.”

“Even if I’m just soft pedaling?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Yes.”

Karma Strike One

The B Ride really was a flailfest. Even when they were pedaling hard, they weren’t going very fast. Before long I was up at the front. MMX kept waving me back, but by the time we got to Elfin Forest, the herd had thinned a bit. After the church sprunt, it was just MMX, Mark Nagy, and I, rolling along.

Although I thought I’d done a reasonably good job of not hammering, Karma Bitch was unimpressed. She keeps very accurate records, and knows every detail about you, right down to your Social Security Number.

A hero’s welcome

Up ahead as we climbed by the lake was a very old dude. He kept looking back, and was hustling hard to stay away.

“That’s John Howard,” said MMX.

The John Howard?” I asked.

“Yep. Four-time national champion, three-time Olympian, PanAm Games gold medalist, Ironman winner, four-time RAAM finisher, former holder of the land speed record on a bike, and all-round badass. That’s him. He’s sixty-six, and still rides better than most guys in their 20’s.”

I put my head down, and it took three of us working together to chase him down. We caught him on the bottom of the final ascent. He swung over, MMX pulled through easy, and I came through hard, keeping the gas on until I’d shaken off one of the greatest American cyclists ever, without so much as showing him the respect of saying “hello.”

Karma Strike Two.

Caloric value falls with distance from home

Much like cheating on your spouse, the farther away you get from home the less it counts if you eat chubomatic food when you’re on a diet. After finishing the ride, I got in the car and prepared to swing by HapiFish and get a bowl of cold oatmeal with non-fat milk.

However, I was now 104 miles from home, and the smell of the carnitas wafting out from the open window of Kojita’s Jr. Burrito Palace and Lard Kitchen was overpowering. Doing the caloric math, the 1,500-calorie burrito would probably only be worth 300 or 400 calories this far from home, so I bypassed the healthy oatmeal and went straight for the lard log. Oh, yummmm!

Karma Strike Three.

What’s a whoosh plus a screech?

Tummy pleasantly distended with crunchy, fried bits of fish and tortilla and burrito sauce, I headed up Leucadia Ave. to catch the 5 and return home. As I waited in the left-hand turn lane to get on the freeway, I realized that the window whooshing was caused by the window closing at an angle. It had taken thousands of miles and several years to figure this out.

“I bet I can fix that!” thought the guy who once almost lost his thumb trying to lube the chain on his track bike.

I lowered the window to try and straighten it, and as I raised it I slightly pushed the glass outward, trying to slow the rear part of the window so that the entire edge would seat properly. But I pushed too hard, and the glass popped completely outside the door frame.

The light turned green, and as I turned left I frantically tried to push the window back down with my right hand. That didn’t work, so I even more frantically hit the “down” button with my left hand, temporarily taking both hands off the wheel.

The window jerked down slightly, and sucked my thumb down into the crack along with it. I yowled a curse as the window, now hanging entirely outside the door frame, still wedged my thumb. I had to reach over my right arm to grab the wheel as I entered the freeway. The window began flapping in the wind and whacking against the outside of the door frame.

Each smack smushed my thumb, which felt like it had been caught in a door that was slowly opening and closing on it, over and over. It was Simon’s Hand in the Electric Gate all over again. I was afraid to push the button while driving, thinking that it could get my thumb caught up in the door motor, but at the same time I was afraid the window would shatter into a million pieces. The passing traffic looked amazed, as if they’d never seen a screaming madman with his window flopping outside the car, banging the side of the vehicle at 50 on the freeway while he drove with one hand stuck in the door and the other hand crossed over it while wearing a bicycling outfit and knee-high pink socks.

The only good thing was that everyone could see the SPY sticker on my bumper and the SPY logo on my kit, so my sponsors will know that I was representing.

The next exit took forever. I got off, pulled over, and gradually worked my thumb free. Then I sank into the seat and passed out.

Window repair 101

Upon reopening my eyes, it took a minute to remember why I was parked on the side of the road with my front window hanging out of the car. By the time it all came back, the Karma Bitch had gone. Her work was finished. With a little ingenuity and pushing and angling, I got the window back into the door and seated it properly.

Best of all, when I closed it for good the window sealed perfectly, and the whooshing was completely cured. I drove home listening to my only CD, enjoying music in the car for the first time in years.

Karma may be a bitch, but she can be a good bitch, too.

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