The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 10: Up yanking

January 27, 2015 § 46 Comments

Last July I realized that my racing season, which was almost over, hadn’t gone so well. I had a bunch of DNF’s and 47th’s, which in and of itself was a step up from the year before, but I could tell that my power had dropped.

Since I don’t use a power meter except for my right lung and left lung, I noticed that they would quickly start to burn and hurt relatively early in the race, usually around sign-in. I checked the Internet to find out the best way to increase my power and every road seemed to lead here:

Cheaper than a set of good wheels!

Cheaper than a set of good wheels!

However, after doing a bit more research I learned that in order to properly dope you would have to have a training plan, and what’s worse, you’d have to follow it. For someone who has trouble remembering to put water in his bottle, the thought of all those needles, pills, feeding tubes, home transfusion kits, and cranial catheters was a bit overwhelming.

So I kept cruising the Internet and I found this:

Up yanking

Up yanking

Yep, it struck me that every time I’d ever seen Marco Pantani climbing, he did it on the drops. So on a fateful day in July I tried it out myself, and learned a lot, which I’m going to share with you now.

  • First, when you climb in the drops you are effectively yanking up on the bars. This up-yanking engages your arms, even when they are skinny, tweezly little twigs like mine and Marco’s.
  • Second, when you are hunched over like that you can’t breathe, which can be problematic since breathing is somewhat important for bicycle riders and people in general who are not dead.
  • Third, by hunching over the bars and up yanking, it pretty much tears out all of the muscles, ligaments, tendons, discs, carbon spacers, and labia in your lower back so that when you get off your bike you can’t walk upright anymore.
  • Fourth, you eventually flummox back onto your seat with a weighty thud because it’s impossible to hold yourself in that position for more than about two minutes.

When I got out of bed after that ride a few days later, I realized that this technique had real potential aside from the excruciating pain, breathing obstructions, and inability to hold the pose. If it was good enough for Marco Pantani, a disgraced drug cheat who died alone in a filthy hotel room surrounded by empty syringes, it was certainly good enough for me.

My new Up Yanking Addendum to the Wanky Training Plan (UYAttWTP, pronounced “You a Twip”) had begun. Every time I came to an incline I got out of the saddle in the drops. At first I could only do it for a few minutes, but as my arms got stronger and the labia in my back got clenchier, I could hold the position for longer. By late August I was able to do the entire Latigo climb in the drops — it’s a 41-minute climb that I can cram into an hour or so.

The benefits to up yanking have been huge. By throwing most of my weight over the front wheel, the bike becomes quite unstable and frightens people, which is a plus. More importantly, when you grip tightly on the bars you can really feel the extra power in the downstroke, as well as the rapid exhaustion and collapse of your arms and shoulders from squeezing so hard.

The real benefit to climbing in the drops is that you get to leverage the weight of your entire upper body over the pedal, and when you’re hunched over like Marco you are creating a very low aero profile as opposed to climbing while standing and gripping the hoods. In that position you are standing upright, creating the aero profile of a sail or, if you’re one of the guys I ride with, a hippo.

Anyway, I hope you will integrate up yanking into your training plans. It may turn you too into the next Marco Pantani, minus the hotel room and used syringes.



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Thanks for blowing me off

November 29, 2014 § 19 Comments

Over Thanksgiving Dinner I had sternly lectured Sherri about forgiveness. “Sure, ol’ Puddinhead is a fourteen-carat asshole. But you can’t get too angry at him.”

“Why not? Nobody can stand the bastard.”

“Because cycling isn’t like the real world. In the real world when you meet an asshole, you avoid him forever. But in the cycling world, when you meet an asshole, chances are great that he’s going to be on every group ride you do for the next ten years. And when it’s your turn to fall off your bike on your head, chances are excellent that it’s asshole who will be there to call EMS or drag your corpse to the roadside so that the embalmer doesn’t have to get truck treads out of your face.”

“Easy to say, Mr. Turntheotherbuttcheek.”

“I’ve got a lot of practice. There’s nothing that happens in cycling that’s worth getting angry about, at least not for more than a few minutes. We’re too dependent on each other — on rides, in races — just being on someone’s wheel is a leap of faith of the biggest sort.”

Sherri shook her head. “Some assholes just need a good killin’.”

I had been excited all week about Friday’s SPY Holiday Ride. One of my buddies who had never done it before kindly offered to give me and the Wily Greek a lift down to San Diego. He, like many others, wanted to see how he would “stack up” against the monsters of North County on their home turf — a 60-mile, hilly, crushing, full-on dick stomping contest of the very first order.

Normally I don’t accept such ride offers because they are invariably accompanied by a phone call the morning of the ride saying, “Hey dude I got really sick last night and barfed and can’t make it sorry have a great ride.” There’s something about anticipating the ride that makes people sick at about 3:00 AM the morning of. I call it the poopy diaper effect.

At 5:00 AM I got out of bed, loaded my junk, and roused Mrs. WM. She loves getting up at 5:00 in the morning to drive me places. It is fun for her, especially if it is bicycle related.

A few minutes before we got to my teammate’s house, my phone rang. It was Wily. “Yo,” he said. “You still going?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Didn’t you get Poopy’s text?”


“Yeah, dude. Poopy got really sick last night and barfed and can’t make it.”

I flipped through my phone. Sure enough, Poopy had sent a text at 4:58 AM. “That motherfugger,” I said. “I guess it was too much trouble to actually call.”

“What are you gonna do?”

“I dunno,” I said. “Mrs. WM needs the car today. I guess I’ll go home.”

“At least now you have something to blog about,” he said.

“Nah. I wouldn’t want to call out Poopy in public. Some things you gotta keep to yourself.”

I sat around and fumed for a couple of hours, then went out for a ride. It occurred to me not to be angry or hold grudges since, you know, we cyclists all depend on each other, but I was furiously mad. It’s one thing to lecture people, it’s another to have to practice what you preach, which I make a practice of never doing.

It was going to be hot so I took two water bottles. One of them was a very nice Specialized bottle with the premium nipple that had caused a big marital spat. I had found it on a ride and brought it home.

“What’s this?” asked Mrs. WM.

“It’s a water bottle I found.”

“You gonna drink onna nasty found bottle?”

“Sure. Just wash it up and it’ll be good to go.”

“I ain’t washin’ on no nasty found bottle. Maybe he had onna AIDS.”

“You don’t get AIDS by drinking old water bottles. It’s in perfectly fine condition.”

So Mrs. WM disassembled the actual nipple, including the two rubber washers on the inner nipple assembly, then took a toothpick and ran it inside the washer grooves. As I was peacefully sitting on the couch she came over with the toothpick, whose end was covered in a black, nasty slime. “Here’s onna your supposed okay water nipple,” she said.

I looked at the slime. “What the hell is that?”

“That’s onna your water bottle that you was gonna stick in your mouth.”

“Is it clean now?”

“Sure it’s clean. I been cleanin’ it!”

It’s been a great water bottle ever since.

The day’s anger management route was out PCH to Latigo Canyon. Latigo is a 40-minute climb if you are really, really good, and a multiple of 40 minutes if you are me. I decided to ride steadily and not push it. As the first section of the climb kicked up, some dude came whizzing by.

He was riding a wankish red bike with three chain rings, MTB pedals, and a helmet visor. I was tempted to let him go, fully expecting to see him again, when I noticed his legs and kit. The kit was very pro, and he looked super fit. “Hello,” he said in an is-it-English-South-African-Kiwi-or-an-Aussie accent as he flew by. I pedaled up behind him and noticed a yellow ANZ tag on his seatpost. “Air New Zealand?” I wondered.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

He smiled. “Woody.”

“No kidding? What’s it short for?”


“I’ve only met one other Woodrow my entire life.”

“Oh, really? Who’s that?”

“My youngest son.”

It was his turn to be surprised, and we chatted about names, he chatting while I gasped out little chopped syllables. He was flying. Woody, who’s only been biking for two years, is a pilot for Air New Zealand, and had brought his beater bike to get in a ride during his layover. “I don’t want to get m’heart rate over 160,” he said, as mine pushed 180, then 280, then 1,000.

Before long the residual anger I’d had about being stood up by Poopy was wholly replaced by the burning pain of the climb and the gnawing fear that Woody was going to ride me off his wheel with a helmet visor and a triple. I hung on, barely, and after we crested the top I gave him lots of advice about how to climb properly. He seemed to listen.

We descended Kanaan Dume and got back on PCH. Woody put his head down and started going somewhat fast. For the next twenty miles he averaged a solid 30 mph. It was all I could do to tuck and suck. When we reached Will Rogers Park I sprinted around him for the win, then gave him lots more advice about how to get strong on the flats. He seemed to listen to that, too.

We parted company in Manhattan Beach and I pedaled, decrepit, back home. It had been a great day, the water from the water bottle had tasted fine, and I wasn’t angry anymore.



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A matter of manners

October 30, 2012 § 14 Comments

Some things are simple, like manners. Biking makes these simple things even simpler.

Clawing my way up Latigo yesterday I passed a woman and her boyfriend. “Hey, guys,” I said.

“Hey,” said the dude.

“Nice socks!” said the chick, admiring my pink unicorn Gnarlube calf-high stockings.

A couple of minutes later the dude had caught up to me. “You didn’t think I was going to let you just ride away as easy as that, did you?” he said, rudely, challenging.

“I’m just riding tempo by myself today,” was what I said.

What I thought was, “Fuck you, asshole.” Predictably, things went from tempo to threshold. Then I was by myself again.

What kind of dude drops his girlfriend to chase down a pair of chickenlegs in pink socks? Answer: Someone with very bad manners.

What happens to rude cyclists? Answer: They get shelled. Unceremoniously.

Mind if I leech?

After Latigo I headed north on PCH and met up with the Big Orange contingent a few miles after the Ventura County line. They were coming back from the Rock at Point Mugu. I u-turned and sat in for a few miles, chatting with Ron and Tink until a mechanical caused the group to stop.

I continued on with Robert Ephthamos, a dude with a terribly hard name to pronounce, much less spell, all dressed up in a Garmin kit. “I gotta get home,” he half-apologized as he picked up the pace. I could tell after a few moments that he was a relatively new rider, but game and ready to work.

We rode a hard tempo, easing up while passing under Cher’s compound in Malibu Colony. At Cross Creek we lifted the pace again after the stoplight. A group of four or five wankers saw this as their opportunity for a free ride, and hitched on.

Robert was lathered up, and so was I. After four miles the leeches hadn’t made the slightest effort to come through. “Robert,” I said as he rotated off of a particularly long pull, “make the fuckers pull through.”

My next pull was brief, and Robert had gone all the way to the back. The next guy in line put his hands on the tops as I slowed and swung over. “I can’t pull through!” he shouted.

–Next Line Is Absolutely True–

“I’m not strong enough!” he wailed.

–End Of Absolutely True Line–

I thought he was going to cry, like the time I told my dad “I can’t do word problems!” while struggling over  Fourth Grade math.

“I don’t give a fuck,” I said. “If you’re strong enough to suck wheel, you’re strong enough to pull through. This isn’t a charity ride with you as the beneficiary. Get your saggy ass up here and take a pull.”

By now I’d slowed down so much that he could have easily come through, but the belief in his own mind that he couldn’t was so great that he just stopped pedaling. Robert roared by and I followed.

One of the wankers stayed with us, and after Robert and I took our turns he eased up next to me. “Do you want me to take a pull?”

“When you go to someone’s house for dinner, do you ask if they want you to refrain from pissing all over the toilet seat?” I asked. “Hell yes I want you to take a fucking pull!”

He pulled through. Rather large, and rather offended, and very well rested, he began winding up the speed until we were going well over thirty. Robert and I tucked behind the Cadillac draft as I counted strokes. At pedal stroke sixty, his shoulders started to sag and wobble a little bit. Then the speed started to drop. Then his pedal strokes changed from circles to squares to raggedy triangles.

This, of course, was the teachable moment. He’d overcome his inclination to suck wheel and, with a little prodding, had done the right thing, obeying the imperative of the paceline: He’d gone to the front.

Moreover, he’d put in a big effort. He’d behaved in a way worthy of redemption and forgiveness, such that if I now came through steadily and not too fast he could latch on, recover, and perhaps help out a few miles later. He would learn a valuable lesson about sharing the work, and more importantly, about the bonds of friendship that are built between strangers as they toil into the wind at their physical limits, sharing the work each according to his ability.

So I did the only respectable thing that I could do, both as a representative of cycling in the South Bay, as an older and experienced rider, and as someone who understands and profoundly respects what road cycling is all about, which is to say I attacked him so fucking hard that I thought I’d puke.

When my eyes refocused, Robert was pulling through at full throttle, a long string of drool splattered along his face. I jumped on his wheel and glanced back to confirm that our good friend was dropped and a receding speck in the distance.

Just before we settled back into a rhythm of dull, aching pain, Robert asked “Were you trying to teach that guy a lesson?”

“No,” I said. “The lesson was for you.”

He grinned and let the big meat sing.

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