September 7, 2015 § 5 Comments
We dropped down off the Switchbacks in a line. Sweeping through the right-hander onto PV Drive South all of the familiar figures fell into place.
Charon, Rudy, Derek, Leadout, Michael, Cuttler, Stathis, X-Man, and Undercover formed the point while the rest of us jostled for protection on the screaming downhill followed by the punchy rollers through Portuguese Bend. Everyone knew what was coming and it was gonna fuggin’ hurt.
The scene of so much misery is called The Glass Church because, amazingly, it is a gradual roller that starts at the bottom of … guess what … a glass church. It’s not very long and it’s not very steep so it’s just the right distance for everyone to get in over his head.
Undercover pounded off the front in a hopeless kick destined for immolation and, always the one to pick the worst wheel at the worst time, I went with him. Chunks of sputum, toe jam, and tooth enamel began to bleed out of his eyes and after a couple hundred yards he began doing the Brad House arm flap. When he slowed to a pace that I could pass and maintain, I jumped past. The wankoton was well behind. I ground it halfway up the grade until I heard the telltale “whoosh, whoosh” of approaching carbon doom made of 100% full carbon.
It was Rudy. I grabbed on, then held on as he accelerated all the way up the roller and over the top. Derek was with him and we had a gap. I took something that looked like a pull, only it wasn’t. After a few rotations we were at the bottom of the little hill past Terranea. Rudy launched. Davy had bridged, somehow. Three-quarters of the way up the bump I punched it coming up the right-side gutter.
We flew down the short grade to the final uphill before the sprunt. Davy charged with X-Man, who had also come across, on his wheel. I faded backwards like the burnt out stage of a Saturn rocket.
We regrouped at the light and Rudy was grinning. “You hung on,” he said.
“Barely. There was that one point on the Glass Church when you came through and I had to bite down hard.”
“Those are always the moments when you either make the split or you don’t.”
“It felt like I was slowly chewing off my own tongue.”
“But then it lets up and you’ve made the split. Because everyone else backs off.”
“The taste of your own tongue isn’t very good,” I mused.
“I work with a lot of riders who are just starting out. They have that great ‘new’ fitness but the depth isn’t there yet, where they can max out and still bring their heart rate back down. They hit top gear and stay elevated.”
“There’s so much out there about how to train,” I said, “but I’m still waiting for someone to write a book about how to win.”
He laughed. “Yeah. Same as in poker. Cycling appears to be about training and fitness, or in poker it appears to be about luck, but in the final round it’s always the same five guys sitting at the table.”
“Because the guys who win have a playbook.”
He nodded. “And they follow it.”
“When are you publishing yours?”
We had hit the bottom of Via Zumaya and he glided away. “Someday!” he said.
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January 3, 2015 § 51 Comments
I recently bought some carbon beer wheels. These are carbon bicycle wheels that were funded by the money I would have spent on the beer I no longer drink. In order for this math to work out, I would have needed to drink two cases of beer a week for the next 45 weeks, which was totally doable.
I have always wanted a set of full carbon wheels. My buddy Jon Davy is the boss at FastForward Wheels USA here in Torrance, and we ride together a lot and race on the same team. Once I made up my mind to buy the wheels from him, I decided to do some intensive research. “Hey, Jon,” I said, “do you think a set of full carbon wheels will make me go faster?”
Jon is a very honest guy, but we get along anyway. “Probably not,” he said.
“What if I were riding them in a wind tunnel?”
“Oh, then they would,” he said.
“How much does a wind tunnel cost?” I asked.
“About 30 million euros, give or take a million.”
“I think I’ll just start with the wheels,” I said, figuring that the beer equivalent of a wind tunnel would be about 15,672 weeks at two cases of Racer 5 per week, or roughly 1,313 years, and therefore hard to justify to Mrs. WM, who was going to be pretty upset about the wheels anyway, let alone finding space on our balcony for the wind tunnel.
Anyway, I’ve had the wheels now for about a month and have ridden them every day. In order to really understand why carbon wheels are far, far superior to merely mortal bicycle wheels, you have to first learn a bit about computational fluid dynamics. This is about as much fun as chewing out your own fingernails and eating your thumbs. You also have to learn about aerodynamics concepts such as yaw, which is suspiciously similar to “yawn,” and the one will absolutely lead to the other.
I re-read the Wikipedia entry on yaw four or five times, then read it backwards, then turned the screen upside down, but still couldn’t understand it. Apparently yaw is fundamental to sailing, and before you can really understand a bicycle wheel’s aerodynamic properties you have to be a sailor, and I flunked the Cub Scout rope badge for bowlines, half-hitches, and square knots, so that ain’t gonna happen.
Fortunately, the fine folks at Bontrager have written a white paper on why their carbon wheels are the best ones in the world, which kind of sucks because I didn’t read it until after I’d bought the other brand. It’s pretty technical and if you think yaw and CFD and tared data and flow separation are hard to understand, that’s okay, because the conclusion of the whole 34-page mishmash can be boiled down to the photo on p. 30 where Fabian is putting the wood to some wanker from Quick-Step on the Oude Pekkerstommper climb in the Tour of Flanders, and if it’s good enough for Fabian it’s sure the fugg good enough for you and me.
So I’m not able to comment on the FastForward wheels’ aerodynamic properties except to say that they accelerate quicker than late fees and interest on a no-background-check car loan, they hold momentum longer than an angry mother-in-law, they go uphill faster than a Sherpa on amphetamines, and they stop like a runaway locomotive going over a cliff with no brakes. Hopefully the engineering guys will get to work on that last part soon.
None of these performance benefits really mean anything to me, though. I was riding with 4-time national elite crit champion Daniel Holloway today. We were talking about racing. “Doesn’t matter how strong you are if you don’t know what to do at the end of the race,” he said.
I thought about that. Aside from being slow and not very good, it was an excellent summation of why no amount of technical performance will ever get me out of the mid-pack — the last five words I’ve ever thought at the end of any race ever are, “What do I do now?” and “Shiiiiiiiiiittt!”
On the other hand, my new FastForward wheels have completely revolutionized my cycling. First and most importantly, they are black and white, and my bike frame is black and white, so they match. I also got two free FFWD water bottles that have a cool shape, and are black and white with a little red highlight on the side. I am killing the bike fashion thanks to those wheels.
Second, my new FastForward wheelset, since it is full carbon (did I mention that it is full carbon?) it makes a cool whooshing noise. Full carbon wheels really do whoosh, and the deeper the profile the bigger the whoosh. The whoosh comes from the hollow wheel’s carbonized full carbon body with carbon — bigger body, bigger whoosh. Simply put, when you pass someone going whoosh they get completely unnerved. And if they pass you, you still sound cooler than they do because aluminum wheels don’t whoosh at all, if anything they whizz, like a little boy tinkling on the pavement. It is much more awesome to sound like an angry whooshing motherfugger about to bash someone’s skull in with a giant crowbar than to sound like a little kid with a tiny pizzle whizzing in the street.
How excellent is whooshing? When you get dropped, instead of berating yourself for being a fat, lazy slug, you can listen to the whooshing wheels and how cool you sound. I’m not kidding.
Third, even though the brakes on a full carbon wheelset don’t actually stop or even slow down the wheel, the space age technology of the brake pads, a combination of darmstadtium, a transition metal, and ununoctium, a noble gas, makes the coolest shirrrrr sound ever when you squeeze the brake levers. When you are riding with a bunch of other cool people with full carbon wheels and you all hit the carbon brakes together it’s shirrrrr, shirrrrr, shirrrr, and then you stomp on the gas and it’s whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. You don’t even have to talk to each other any more, that’s how cool it sounds.
In other words, there you are, tricked out in an all black-and-white rig with black-and-white wheels and a black-and-white-and-red-highlight water bottle, whooshing along like crazy, then going shirrrrrr when an SUV pulls out in front of you just before you go splaaaaat and graaaaack through the rear windshield. It’s a fuggin’ bike symphony.
So I rate this product twelve stars out of, like, four. You should get some, too, and tell Jon that Wanky sent ya.
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October 9, 2012 § 10 Comments
I can say anything I want about Suze because we once had a big ol’ fight and talked more trash about each other than two rednecks getting divorced and arguing over who gets the half of the trailer with the leaky waterbed and broken TV, and who gets the set of false teeth.
Our spat happened like this. It was on the Pier Ride. The Old Pier Ride. Every single time I’d run the red lights going out on Admiralty, Suze would yell at me, which would make me run more lights, which would make her yell at me more. You get the picture.
This particular day, after running all the red lights and dragging the peloton along with me, we were half-pedaling up Pacific and I saw her out of the corner of my eye and gradually kind of half-chopped her wheel. Just a little bit. Enough to say, “Fuck you,” and enough so that if she hadn’t been paying attention she might have found herself in difficulty.
“Wow, what an asshole!” you might say.
“Are you fucking kidding me? You douchenozzle!” you might say.
“What a despicable, walking, talking, sack of human excrement you are!” you might say.
And you’d pretty much be right.
Save your Cat 5 tricks for the Cat 5’s
One thing about Suze is that she’s always on guard. That’s because people have been taking cheap shots at her for decades, especially lame-ass guys who are mortified at getting their dicks stomped by a biker chick.
Suze saw my cheap shot long before it got anywhere near her front wheel, and easily slid off to the side with nary a ruffled feather, but now she was pissed. For the rest of the ride she stuck to my wheel, and I got the message. “You’re never getting rid of me now, wanker.”
So when we hit the Parkway I made up my mind to get rid of her. Gave it everything I had…no luck. Hit the turnaround and drove her over to the curb…yawn. Sprunted out of the saddle to dust her on the rise…nuh-uh…there was the shadow of her little pigtail, bobbing along right in my draft.
Slow down, speed up, jump off to the left, hug the curb to the right, thread spaces that didn’t exist, open up every jet I had, scrub her off by attacking up the gutter, pull every lame move I knew short of slamming on the brakes.
Nope, nope, nope, and nope. She tailed me all the way to the finish, and made sure I knew it as she whizzed off to the right on Pershing at the end of the ride.
The Cold War
From that point on we behaved as enemies. She defriended me. I talked trash. She ignored me. I ground all the enamel off my teeth. She commented that I was a stupid lawyer. Everyone agreed (me, too, actually).
Somehow, we started talking to each other again. Then chatting. Then smiling. Then one day, when I had swung off, gassed, rocketing backwards and about to get dropped on the climb up to Trump, I felt a strong hand on my ass and heard a little “Umph” sound. It was a track throw, strong, straight, and powerful enough to sling me back onto the tail end of the snake.
I glanced back at the rider who’d pushed me, and who was now dropped from that last full-on effort to help a struggling rider.
It was Suze.
Best rider in 2012
Suzanne is the South Bay Rider of the Year for lots of reasons. First, she won the poll unanimously. I was the only voter, and frankly, she was the only candidate. It was one of those Soviet-era elections, where the winner, again by a 100% majority, is Joe Stalin, and if you don’t fucking like it, you’ll be taken out, lined up against a wall, and blogged about.
Suze isn’t a recent convert to cycling who just happens to be talented and fast. She’s been racing for 31 years and has raced against and raced for some of the greatest cyclists in the history of the sport. The pinnacle of her pro career was racing three years for Saturn, the #1 UCI-ranked team in the world.
Think about that the next time you’re polishing your third-place trophy in the Men’s 45+B cyclocross race.
At Saturn she learned from the best on the global stage. Ina-Yoko Teutenburg, Judith Arndt, Clara Hughes, Petra Rossner, Anna Wilson, Cathrine Marsal, Dede Demet, Nicole Reinhart, and Suzie Pryde were just a few of the racers with whom she trained and raced. She learned to ride out of her skin for her teammates, and found out that even though she wasn’t the most talented or deserving rider on the team, she earned her slot and she earned the right to keep it.
If you’ve ever watched Suze race, or watched her maneuver on the NPR, you’ll instantly recognize where she gets her world-class skills. Bumping and positioning among men twice her size and half her age, she’s always perfectly positioned, always knows the right wheel, and is always in the mix.
How many other 49 year-old riders, men or women, can say that?
Teaching through kicking your ass
If some people have a hard time getting along with Suze, it’s for this reason: Ask her a question, and she’ll tell you what she thinks. Or this reason: Do something stupid, and she’ll tell you what she thinks. Or this reason: Exist, and she’ll tell you what she thinks.
Suze has been with Helens Cycles for sixteen years, and 2012 is a fitting year to name her South Bay Rider of the Year because in addition to a string of impressive wins, it was her first full year running the Helen’s women’s program.
Working to achieve the goal of a strong women’s team is tough. Someone always wants to win, but in a highly individualized sport like road racing, the more competitive the race the more essential it is that riders work together.
Highlights in 2012 included winning the Brentwood Grand Prix at 49 freaking years old; placing 3rd overall at the Tour de Murrieta; watching teammate Shelby Reynolds win the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix; and most of all, being part of a team where people trust each other 100%. In 2013 the team will add Priscilla Calderon, and leg-breaker Emily Georgeson will graduate from the 3-4 team to the P/1/2 squad.
Learning through getting her own ass kicked
There are only a handful of South Bay women who can hang with the masters men racers when they’re going at speed. Suze is one of them.
In 2010, after returning to LA, Suze was dragging in the fitness and confidence departments. She didn’t believe that a return to the glory days was possible. With help and encouragement from wankers like Aaron, Victor, Rudy, Mike, Jay, Brenda, and most of all her mom, who kept asking people, “What’s wrong with her?” she found her legs again. And even though there’s the occasional lamefuck who tries to chop her wheel just to make a point, Suze will tell you that there are plenty of guys on the rides who push her to ride harder because they’re her friends.
I’ve learned first hand that underneath the toughness and the mad bike skills there’s a sweetheart of a girl. Lots of others have learned it, too.
When the ranks close
Of course it wouldn’t be cycling, and it sure wouldn’t be cycling in the South Bay, if there weren’t drama. People get mad, make up, then go off and get mad at someone else. And make up. It’s part of the scene. And it’s all good.
Except when it’s not.
One day on the Donut we were rolling up past Portuguese Bend. Some dude who no one knew was getting very attitude-ish. He was fit, fast, and had the best painted-on suntan in the peloton. As we rolled along the false flat he decided to move up. Suze was in his path. So he did what any jerkoff would do: He gave her a hard check, pushed her off her line, and told her to get out of the way.
In doing so, he broke the Rule of Davy.
This is the rule of the peloton that says “Thou shalt piss off anyone in the bunch as long as it’s not Davy.” The corollary to the Rule of Davy is the Rule of the Slowest Fuse, which says “Davy has the slowest fuse of any human alive and is therefore is almost impossible to piss off.”
Unless, of course, you fuck with Suze, with our Suze, in which case the slowest fuse in the peloton becomes a mildly excited 220-pound slab of chiseled steel. Davy never gets angry, but on this day he did get mildly excited.
Bullyprick suddenly found himself in the shadow of the man mountain, whose left arm lazily draped around Bullyprick’s shoulder. It was an arm larger than the trunk of a redwood, and adorned with a tattoo of a skull being pierced with a harpoon while being thrown to a shark in a volcano on top of a mushroom cloud.
“Dude,” Davy said. “If you do anything like that again you will not live to regret it. Because you will not live.”
Bullyprick stared several feet up at the somewhat smiling face of the man mountain and felt the forearm curling around his neck with the conviction of an iron noose. “But…ah…okay…sorry…” was all he could gurgle. And to his credit, it is awfully hard to argue your point when your trachea has been pinned shut.
We never saw Bullyprick again, and Bullyprick never saw Suze, because shortly thereafter she attacked and dropped him on the climb.
So the next time you see her, even though it’ll probably be as she recedes in the distance, take a minute to congratulate her on this coveted award. She’s earned it the hard way.
July 27, 2012 § 3 Comments
In eighteen thousand USCF amateur road, crit, and track races, Kevin Phillips had never missed a start. Driving pell-mell up to the start, throwing on kit, socks, shoes, wheels, and water bottle at the last minute, no matter how close, no matter how many miles in between him and the start line with the clock only minutes from launch, he had never missed a start.
Until Tuesday, July 24, 2012, at the start of the points race in the masters national track championships at the 7-11 Velodrome in Colorado Springs.
They arrived at the track in time for Mel’s points race, which started immediately before Kevin’s. The officials weighed Mel’s bike, and that’s when the trouble started, because it was too light.
“No problem, we’ll yank the seat and fill the seat tube with some shit.” Minutes later they had pulled the saddle and dumped a handful of allen wrenches, a large crescent wrench, and part of a cheeseburger down the tube. The seatpost barely went back in. Whizzer Turdley, the official in charge of bike weight, gave it another whirl.
“No can do, man. Yer still over.”
The obvious solution was to put on Mel’s pursuit wheels, but they’d left them at the hotel. What possible reason could there have been to bring pursuit equipment to the mass start events?
The Ironfly team commenced a mad scramble to find a disc wheel. Even with the half-eaten cheeseburger, a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from the handlebars, and a steel implant in her helmet, Mel couldn’t make weight. It’s not often in life that a girl begs to weigh in heavier than she really is, but this was UCI bike regulation no. A-138.23(b)(4), and unless you were prepared to donate a $100,000 doping analyzer to the UCI, this rule bent for no one.
Finally, a grizzled old dude who was already grizzled when the velodrome was built back in the 80’s came up to them. “You guys need sump’n heavy like a disc?”
Kev and Mel nodded madly as the clock ticked. “Here y’ar. This is some vintage shit.” He rolled out an early 90’s Li-Tan Wu solid wheel, so heavy that it left crack marks in the concrete as it rolled. Davy, Mel, KP, and Grizzled all heaved together to get it into the drops as Mel’s carbon frame groaned and creaked under the strain.
With seconds to spare a small crane hauled her bike up the rail, and they were off. She’d made weight with exactly two ounces to spare.
The principle of inertia
Although it took her a few laps to get going, by the time the women’s points race concluded the track officials were already wondering how they would stop Mel’s inertia bike, powered as it was by the inertia of a 400-lb. flywheel. With the aid of an emergency foaming system sprayed onto the track by a fire truck, however, the bike came to a halt.
Next up was KP and Davy’s points race. With only minutes to spare, the crew began working feverishly to change the wheel. Soon the other riders were up on the rail, and Davy had to leave the pit or risk missing the race along with Kevin. However, he had mastered the Japanese parliamentary tactic of the cow walk, and dawdled so long getting to the rail that the officials gave him a delay of game warning, penalized him fifteen yards, and spotted the ball on the kicking team’s 25 yard line.
It was all to no avail. Kevin missed his start, the race left without him, and lacking a team mate in the 72-lap event Davy wound up with fourth, an honorable finish but far from what he might have achieved with KP at his side, though much better than the competitors who dropped out and died due to the 105-degree temperatures that had melted the glue off many of the rims.
Learning from their mistakes
The following day presented the scratch race, and the Ironfly boys and girls arrived at 4:00 AM for their 4:00 PM start in order to make sure they passed all the requisite checks. Kev brought three extra cheeseburgers just to be safe.
The men’s 35-39 10k scratch race went balls out from the gun. A couple of searing, early attacks went early, but the watchful group brought them back. The main players in the scratch race were the Ironfly team, a team from DC that Kevin had raced against last year and who had won the event, and another team from Bumfucksomewhereville. The silver medalist from the points race was in the mix as well.
Suddenly, one of the DC wankers attacked and opened up a gap on the straightaway. The group kept the pace steady without ever reeling him in, and eventually eased off the gas. Davy attacked, which is shorthand for “exploded from the group like a missile,” such that the only people who even considered following were the insane or those seated comfortably in the bleachers.
He put his head down, kept the pace steady, and chased for 6 laps before bridging to DC dude. Once he’d connected, the points race winner from the day before split away and after a short chase joined what was now a 3-man breakaway. Each rider did the obligatory timber check and concluded that this was a winner. Heads went down and full-on flail mode ensued.
The field chased, then sat up, then chased, then sat up, with the riders alternating between “Fuck, I’m bringing them back!” to “Fuck, YOU bring them back!” as is so typical of lazy bike racers who work their asses off the entire year for one race and then when the time comes dilly-dally around like a bunch of park bums.
As the laps ticked down, the fully rested, timely signed in, properly wheeled, correctly weighed, and canny killer Kevin launched from the field of flailing wankers. The boom was sonic, the spray of sweat from his face, legs and armpits was like a tidal wave of oily salt water, and the thought of following his lead was so dispiriting and soul-destroying that three riders immediately swore off sex and liquor and joined the priesthood.
In a few short strokes Kevin caught the break, which in turn had lapped the field. Davy & Co., needing a respite from their long battle in the wind, sat up for a moment. Kevin farted once, blew his nose twice, put his fucking head down and kept the pedal mashed all the goddamned way through the floorboard, rolling through the field like shit through a goose.
There were now only three laps to go, and no one was about to jump over the rails and carjack a moped in order to chase down our dude from the South Bay, so the field waited for the sprint. Davy got nicked at the line but still earned a bronze medal at his first national championship ever. Kevin pulled on the stars and stripes jersey, reveling in the moment even as he was whisked off to doping control where a couple of hairy nurses stood guard and clinically compared his endowment to their former husbands.
His next big race is Friday, where he faces stiff competition in the individual pursuit. Hats off to Kevin for another inspiring win!
July 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
“Davy fuckin’ turned a 1:08.”
I didn’t know how fast that was, exactly, but I didn’t need to. Fukdude was impressed, and Fukdude is never impressed.
“Pretty fast, huh?”
“Fast? Fuck, dude, it was like the fifth time he’d ever done a kilo. Fucking unbelievable.”
A year has passed, and I still don’t know exactly how fast 1:08 is, but I know it’s pretty much unbelievably incredibly awesomely fast because of the countless people who have come up to me and said, “Did you hear about Davy? Fucking dude turned a 1:08 on like his first kilo ever.”
It’s a good thing I never got my arms around 1:08 because they had the state masters track championships in Carson a few weeks ago.
Fukdude was shaking his head. “Davy fuckin’ turned a 1:07. Fucking unbelievable.”
However unthinkably fast a 1:08 was, Davy’s 1:07 was so fast that he caught the guy who started at the same time on the other side of the track. In a four-lap race that lasts less than a minute and ten seconds, he overhauled the other guy on the third lap.
The “other” discipline
We sometimes get so caught up in reviewing the accomplishments of our local roadies that the feats of our SoCal track racers get obscured. It’s easy to understand why. Whether it’s Keith Ketterer setting a new world hour record for his age group, Kevin Phillips coming home with a national title in the team pursuit, or multi-title winners John Walsh and Dan Vogt pulling on another stars-and-stripes jersey, track racers belong to the worst of all categories with regard to their sport. They’re a niche within a cranny inside microfissure.
What Jon Davy has accomplished in the short time he’s dedicated to the kilo is amazing, only not really. It’s amazing because when you calculate the average lap speed for a 1:07 kilo, it’s about 438 miles per hour. But it’s not really amazing if you know Jon and have ever ridden with him.
He’s one of the few masters racers who comes into the sport with a legitimate pedigree. He swam for USC on a full scholarship, and looks like it. He’s about six-twelve, weighs 300 pounds, and has the body fat percentage of a large asphalt crash barrier. You might think that with that build he’s not a great road racer, but he more than holds his own in the masters road races and certainly in the crits.
Despite trying his hand at a variety of road events, though, it seems like the place he’s imminently suited to excel is the track. There just aren’t very many guys out there who can sustain eight or nine gigawatts for four laps. The best thing of all about him, though, is his character. He never shouts, yells, or gets excited. I suppose that when you’re as large as a house and chiseled out of marble you don’t exactly have to raise your voice to get people to notice.
This Saturday Jon will tackle the kilo in Colorado Springs at the national masters track championships. In addition to the points race, scratch race, team sprint, team pursuit, and madison, he’ll be doing battle with the thin Colorado air and rigors of travel. Here’s wishing him and the rest of the California track contingent the best.