How hard WAS it?

February 19, 2016 § 11 Comments

I was talking with Major Bob about road racing the other day. “It’s funny,” I said. “The races that we profamateurs admire the most are the really hard races. Flanders. Roubaix. The Tour. But when it comes to actually doing hard races, people flock to crits and avoid the monsters like UCLA, Boulevard, Tuttle Creek, and anything that says ‘NorCal’ … why?”

“Because people,” said Major without missing a beat “don’t like to work.”

“Really? Like Congress?”

“Look at the peloton. Same old faces taking the hard hits, making things happen, riding the breaks, while everyone else kind of hangs around towards the back hoping they get lucky.”

That reminded me of a day-long argument I had with G3, followed by several terabytes of email discussion in which we fought tooth and kneecap over whether the leaky prostate 45+ category at UCLA was harder than the Cat 3 race.

“Dude,” I said. “The fuggin’ old farts’ race had a faster overall time, ergo harder. Plus, THOG.”

“Nope,” he said, after analyzing various sections of the course for different racers who’d won their category. “The Cat 3’s climbed faster on two of the laps. Old farts were faster overall, but Cat 3’s suffered more, ergo harder.”

“How can you say they suffered more? They are all young and stupid and recover in 30 seconds and can enjoy conjugal relations the night after the race. That’s not suffering. Suffering is being a worn out shoe, getting stuffed in the box, staying there for 2.5 hours, then drinking Alleve six times a day for the next week until you can get out of bed without groaning.”

The argument was put to rest by Leibert, the guy who actually won the race, and his logic was impeccable. “Would you two please shut up?”

It is kind of odd when you think about it. Road races, especially hilly ones, may be harder to finish in terms of watts and carbon and weight weenies and 100% carbon wheels and Chris T. doing a 50-mile race on half a water bottle to save a few grams.

But crits are more difficult to win because they require actual bicycling skills like cornering, positioning, maneuvering in tight places, timing, fakery, coordination with teammates except for Prez, preening, fist-pumping, and cauterized nerves in the finale. So you could argue that as a complete package, crit racing is actually harder.

Then I got a great idea. Why not call up Filds? It was 2:00 AM, which meant it was only 4:00 AM in Milwaukee. With any luck he’d still be on the third bottle of Cutty.

“Hey, man, it’s me, Seth.”

“What do you want?”

“Is it harder to win road races or crits?” Filds had won them all.

“You called me at four in the morning to ask me that?”

“It’s for the blog, dude.”

He chewed his cud for a second. “Listen up.”

I listened.

“There’s no such thing as an easy win.”



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The pelotonic plague

September 24, 2012 § 7 Comments

“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a bird on a plane! No! It’s the space shuttle Endeavor on a plane! Okay! Everybody knock off work to snap photos!”

Life in LA came to a halt on Friday, which wasn’t odd, because nothing ever gets done on Friday anyway when the weather’s good and people are poring over their ride plans for the weekend. What was odd was that people were obsessing about the space shuttle, a rusted out bucket of bolts that cost an estimated $200 billion over its 30-year lifespan.

Quick: Name ONE FUCKING THING the space shuttle ever did for you. Right? Nothing. Squat. It didn’t even give us velcro or Tang.

Quicker: Name 50 THINGS you ever got from a teacher. Right? Reading. Writing. Spelling (some of you). Math (fewer, but okay, it’s still a lot).

Quickest: Explain to me again why we had $200 billion to dump on a fucking engineer’s handjob, but don’t want to pay teachers a living wage?

The flyover hangover

Facebook, Twitter, and the Interwebs overheated with all of the “Go, USA!” and “Proud to be a Merkun!” cell phone photos, as most of Los Angeles paid homage to something they never knew about, cared about, or that ever helped them in any way. I still remember driving out to Ellington AFB in Houston in 1979 with Rick Ellis and his family to look at the shuttle.

Rick’s dad was an engineer and extremely proud of all things American, especially if related to NASA. “This is American ingenuity at is finest!” he proclaimed.

“Wow,” I thought. “A plane strapped to a plane. How dumb.”

Then I remembered the Challenger tragedy. “Wow,” I thought. “What a terrible waste of life.”

Then I remembered the Columbia tragedy. “Wow,” I thought. “All this for NOTHING.”

On the plus side, initial estimates for the shuttle’s operating cost (adjusted for 2011 dollars) was only $54 million per flight, but with hard work on the part of the government and sole-source private contractors, economy-minded planners were able to raise that to $450 million per flight, ten of which would have funded the entire 2013 state educational budget for the state of Oklahoma. Which begs the question, would the nation have been better off with another ten space missions, or with the first generation of Oklahomans able to read on a third grade level?

The infection spreads

Among South Bay cyclists, the contagion of Shuttle Nostalgia began as a minor chest cold, and quickly laid low some of the Bay’s fixtures. First, New Girl was infected and forced to actually miss a group ride. Next, Junkyard himself got sick, with specialists theorizing that the vector was a nick in his titanium elbow that allowed the dreaded disease to attack.

By Friday late afternoon, Shuttle Nostalgia had ripped through the peloton, with Jay Y., Hockeystick, and countless others in full blown shuttle fever. By Sunday, the worst symptoms had dissipated, and I showed up on the Kettle Ride.

It’s been months since I last did the Kettle, and the group was full to busting. Tink was back from her muscle tear; Kimmy had been released from her 36-hour stints as a resident at the ER; Elron, G3, G$, MM, Johnny W., Nick P., Wankomodo, Major Bob, Prez, Jonathan P., Lisa C., Psycho Mike & the Bike Palace Boys, Dan-O, Pistol Pete, Shon the Bomb, Surf City Justin, Suze, Mike and Julie L., and a host of others were at CotKU, later joined by Knoll, Bucks, and a bunch of others at the Ocean Park toilets.

It’s not daaaaaangerous anymore

After a nasty dustup a few blog posts back regarding running the light at Vista del Mar and Grand, the group hauled ass through the stale yellow light with the battle cry “Rolling!” so that those of us at the back of the wankoton got to blow through a light that had been red so long it was about to turn violet.

This bothered me not at all, as it was good to see that the other idiots, when in charge of the insane asylum, were just as inept as I was.

A few hundred yards later, with the group kind of bunchy, a certain individual who will only be named if you send $5 to my PayPal account, decided that rather than going over the hole in front of him that no one had bothered to call out, he would slam on his brakes with about 20 riders immediately behind him.

Everything suddenly shifted into “Fuck, I’m going down mode,” as I too hit the brakes and swerved, with the idiot in front of me rocketing backwards into my front wheel. My back tire locked on the damp pavement and my front wheel skidded as things began to get sideways.

If music is what happens between the notes, bike accidents are what happens between the idiots, and I saw it all happen in the blink of an eye. Me, hitting Idiot. Me, flying over the bars. Me, hitting my shoulder or head or forearm or all of the above at once while the other hapless schmoes behind used my face as a braking surface for their tires or as a landing pad for their giant asses.

The hard whack of the asphalt, the grinding sound of snapping plastic, and through it all the grunts and “fucks” and yells as mayhem ensued.

There it all was, in the blink of an eye.

But it never happened.

My bike straightened, Idiot released his brake and moved just enough so that I didn’t slam into his back wheel, and the other idiots somehow straightened out the mess with no one going down. It was a ballet of club-footed imbeciles, and it was beautiful, as I was the biggest imbecile of all, having chosen to ride in the back third of the wankoton for the only reason anyone ever chooses the back third: The lovely, hunky, sexy, gorgeous, luscious draft created by sixty moving bikes in front of you.

Now, of course, I was awake. Eyes wide open. Heart pounding. Adrenaline gushing. Balls sweating. So grateful to still be upright that I didn’t even bother to curse at the idiot who slammed on his brakes. Another rider was less courteous. “Don’t slam on your brakes in the middle of the pack! Just go over the hole! It’s not that big and won’t kill you!”


Most of the serious racers in the South Bay are done racing by the end of September. This is why I begin my build in August, so that I can peak when no one else is even going hard.

Today’s Kettle was denominated a “noodle ride,” which meant that unofficial orders had been passed out that there would be no hammering.

As soon as the light turned green at Temescal, I hammered. When you’re a wanker, the best time to be fit is when it doesn’t count. This lets you crow about how you spanked 60 of the best (“They were minutes behind! Minutes!”), and more importantly, it sets the stage for proper excusifying when racing begins in 2013.

“Fuck man, I was flying in September and October. Just missed my peak, you know, otherwise I’d be killing everyone like I was doing on the Kettle, beating those wankers by minutes. Minutes!”

Even on a noodle ride, there are always a handful of idiots who can’t resist the challenge of a throwdown, and today was no exception. Pistol Pete, Knoll, Major Bob, Rio Dan, Dan-O (for a while), Treebeard (from Colorado), Hammer Nutrition (Hammernut for short), and a gang of others joined in the stretched out line on PCH while the bulk of the wankoton shook their heads in contempt.

Before long, Pistol Pete, Knoll, Rio Dan, and Hammernut had ground everyone else up into little pieces of biker dung. Roaring into Cross Creek, Knoll jolted away, but soon exploded like a water balloon attached to a 45- jigawatt transmission line. Hammernut and Major Bob sprunted by as I wheezed and watched. Finally Pistol Pete, after having pulled for three days without rest, closed the gap with me somehow finding the energy to suck his wheel as he blew past Bob and Nut. Just as he smelled victory at the bridge, my wheelsucking ways paid the dividend of allowing me to sneakily sprunt by him at the end.

We turned around and rode back to Santa Monica Peet’s where Knoll treated us to coffee. Major Bob and I then returned to the South Bay. The plague seemed to have passed. Whew.

Don’t forget the Trojans

September 23, 2012 § 5 Comments

“Are you doing the Ride to the Rock tomorrow?” the email from Hockeystick asked.

“No. I’m riding with Bull and Major Bob up to Pasadena to watch the UCLA game.”

“You should send out an email to everyone telling them the Ride to the Rock starts at 6:00 AM instead of 7:00.”

“I’m not going on the ride and in any event I’m not the organizer, promoter, or sponsor. If you want to coordinate, why don’t you send out an email?”

A few hours later, in popped the email. “Ride to the Rock, leaving at 6:00 AM. Everyone welcome. Signed, Hockeystick.” It went out to a bunch of people.

Will you go to the prom with me? You will? Awesome! (One day later: How are you getting to the prom? And who’s going to buy your dinner?)

Later that evening Bull emailed to say that Hockeystick would be joining us on our sojourn to Pasadena.

“But he’s doing the Ride to the Rock tomorrow, and emailed a bunch of people about it.”


“Yeah. Several people blew off their regular ride to join him.”

“Oh. Well, surely, he wouldn’t just blow everyone off like that.”

“You don’t know Hockeystick.”

Glorious ride statistics and factoids

Distance: 90 miles

Climbing: 6,800 feet

Elapsed time: Seemed like forever

Food consumed: Half a bagel with jam, three cups of coffee, 3/4 of a Clif bar

Route: We rode from the South Bay to Santa Monica to the West Side, climbed through Bel-Air, took Mulholland to Laurel Canyon, crossed the Valley, then climbed back up Big Tujunga, Angeles Crest Highway, and dropped down into Pasadena and the Rose Bowl. This was an extraordinary route and got us way out of our comfort zone, except for Hockeystick, who was not just out of his comfort zone but pretty much in the urn for cremains from the minute we hit Bel-Air ’til the end.

Recommendations: Big Tujunga + Angeles Crest is long, hard, brutal, hot, and a favorite for crazies like the 300-lb. dude on the cafe racer whose passing fat draft almost bowled us over. Rednecks in pickups are de rigueur, as are rusted out turdboxes crammed with tweakers speeding to Palmdale for another meth run.

Best in-town discovery: Roscomare from the bottom and over Bel-Air is beautiful and a stiff climb. Hockeystick emptied most of the contents of his suitcase of courage on the first 1/3 mile, meaning that he had to do the rest of the climb using the contents of his moneybelt of adipose, which was painful to do and almost as painful to behold.

Bring your Trojans: Hockeystick was decked out for the UCLA-OSU game in a USC kit with the word “Trojans” in big, bold letters, which almost got him a date. Not at the game, but at the top of the Angeles Crest climb. Bull, Major Bob, and I had stopped at the forest service fire station to wait, and after three or four hours Hockeystick appeared, looking like Matt Barkley after playing Stanford. The half-naked fireman at the firehouse was playing loud, gay workout music as he flexed and preened with his barbells and calisthenics. Hockeystick made the mistake of wandering down by the water faucet and pulling out his own watering device to relieve himself. The combination of Hockeystick’s exposed stub and the word “Trojans” may have suggested to the sweaty, lathered up fireman that Hockeystick was inviting him to play a game of “hide the sausage in the tunnel,” and it was only by quickly suiting back up and dashing away at top speed that we were able to avoid having Hockeystick dragged off into the mancave and turned into a prison bitch.

Worst sound of the day: Bull, towards the top of Angeles Crest, moaning and groaning and whimpering the last two miles of the climb. “Unnnnnh!” and “Munnnnhrg!” and “Wennnnnghhunnh” are new words for me. Thank you, Bull.

Strangest comment: Bull, as we climbed Big Tujunga, turned back and said, “Aren’t these desert colors beautiful?” Although I was focused mainly on his rear wheel, I later looked around. The colors were brown, tan, gray, off-brown, and charred black from the forest fire. Uh, no, they’re really fucking ugly. But that’s just me.

Best view: Descent from La Canada-Flintridge into Pasadena via Chevy Chase and Figueroa. This is spectacular, and Bull took us on a secret back route to the Rose Bowl.

Weirdest police behavior: Cops at the Rose Bowl refused to let us bike through the parking area until Bull told them the exact location of his car. Like, what were we going to do? Steal a parking space with our bikes?

Heavenly angel of the day: Mrs. Hockeystick, who had sent a care package of fresh, iced and sliced watermelon. Watermelon on a hot day is the best. Cold, sliced watermelon after a brutal slog through the nasty heat is a foodgasm.

Narrowly avoided beating of the day: Hockeystick’s USC/Trojans bike outfit didn’t wear too well in the UCLA fan parking area. Thankfully, he’d packed a change of clothes that featured UCLA’s famous pansy blue with gold sparkles. I never saw someone change out of a bike kit so quickly.

Fashion fail of the day: My pants no longer fit and I’d forgotten to pack a belt. Saggy jeans falling down around my ass made for comic relief in some, nausea in others. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been wearing my yellow and green Sponge Bob underpants.

Dietary mistake of the day: 2-foot long brat heaped with sauerkraut, jalapenos, ketchup, mustard, salsa verde, and chili, followed by cramming myself into a tiny seat under the Rose Bowl’s 106-degree heat blanket.

Funniest putdown of the day: Hey, Wankster, I know you’re from Texas and everything, but is the heat bothering you? [It wasn’t actually, unless you consider heatstroke “bother.”]

Smartest move of the day: Abandoning Hockeystick, Bull, and Major Bob after the first quarter, returning to the park, and falling asleep on the grass under the shade of an oak tree. For three hours.

Moral of today’s ride: Get out of your routine and explore somewhere new. And don’t forget to bring the Trojan(s).

The wind in my hair

April 14, 2012 § 4 Comments

I got out of bed at 5:00 this morning and it hit me like a thunderbolt: “I gotta feel the wind in my hair.” Unprotected cycling, like its procreative counterpart, has fallen out of fashion in the last twenty-five years.

For good reason, as AIDS and catastrophic head injuries just aren’t that much fun.

Or for good reasons, all of which roared their loudest to drown out the perfectly on-pitch note of bad judgment urging me to ditch the lid.

Voice of prior opinions: “You’ve blogged on the wisdom and necessity of helmets, you hypocrite!”

Voice of prior criticism: “You repeatedly hassled Knoll for riding without a lid! Repeatedly!”

Voice of insurance coverage: “Comparative negligence for failure to wear a helmet will greatly reduce your recovery in litigation when you get whacked by Mr. Mom on her way to church.”

Voice of aggravation: “Where’s your fucking helmet, dude?” [Repeated by friends a thousand times.]

Voice of love: “Your family depends on you!”

Voice of vanity: “How you gonna blog with the back of your head staved in?”

Voice of experience: “Which nursing home would MMX et al. be in today without one?”

Voice of responsibility: “Think of the message you’re conveying to beginners!”

Voice of derision: “You going to  be the new CC, or the new Guillermo on the block? What’s next, a penis piercing and full-body tattoo?”

Voice of fear: “This is gonna be the day you go down. On your head. You dumbass.”

And of course the Voice of Fear was shrillest of all.

Did someone say "Happy face"? I think they did!

The only voice that counts

With a rapidity that only comes from practice, I ignored the cacophony of reason and sound judgment and listened only to the on-pitch note, which sounded exactly like Martin H. You see, a couple of weeks back I’d posted an old photo of myself on FB, happily zinging helmetless down a hill in 1987. Martin’s comment? “Damn I loved riding without a helmet.” Oh, siren, how you do call.

From the moment I read his comment and looked at the picture, the memory of the wind whistling through my hair grew stronger and stronger. Then, out of nowhere, came the Supreme Court’s ruling that it is reasonable to strip search and probe the anus/vagina of anyone in custody, even people in custody for terroristic crimes like walking a dog without a leash, or driving with an expired license.

The justification for dispensing with the Fourth Amendment is the same one we’ve used to jettison the right to habeas corpus and other trivial rights that have been around since the time of the Magna Carta: safety, or more properly, safety in the jails. That pesky Fourth Amendment, like riding without a helmet, makes us unsafe. And which would you rather have? Freedom or safety? Wind whistling through your hair…or safety?

One order of wind whistling through my hair, over easy, with bacon on the side, please. And kindly shove the safety up your ass. They’ll pull it out the next time you’re in custody.

This morning it was plain as day. I wanted wind through my hair. Why? Because people like Prez and Howard Hughes and Glass Hip and Leo Castillo don’t have any. They could take their helmets off all day long and never have the flow of the wind broken by anything rougher than a glass ball.

And truth be told, like most of the other fellers in the peloton, each year my acreage is getting rockier. Patches of dirt are cropping up where there once was nothing but thick vegetation. Danger and recklessness and bad morals and disapproving stares be damned, this morning I was going helmetless.

Are you really?

Someone left the apartment hallway window open last night, and a 40 mph breeze almost blew me off my feet as I waited for the elevator. So let me get this straight, Mr. Meister. You’re going out in a monsoon to participate in the South Bay’s iconic idiot parade and fredfest, i.e. the Donut Ride, and you’re doing it without a helmet? Is that right?

Yes. And I actually shook with a little bit of fear. That’s how deeply I’ve been enslimed in the protective coating of Safety At All Costs.

Once I actually began bolting downhill at 35 mph, however, I realized that the helmetless thing was totally unnecessarily, at least for today, as the wind was so strong it would have blown through my hair in a full facemask moto GP helmet.

But as the descent kept descending and the wind kept howling and my hair kept whistling and my scalp kept tingling, I knew that I’d done the right thing. There’s something about unprotected cycling…if you grew up on it, it’s still down in your bones.

Unprotected cycling is no magic talisman

The Donut was pretty small, less than 70 wankers, probably due to the incredible wind storm. When Major Bob and I caught the group, which had left while we were watching Rodley spill coffee on his crotch at the Bean & Leaf and listening to Fussy tell us about the guy with the little penis who showered five times a day and the monster Caddy that Joe B. and his Vietnamese buddy used to drive to races that had a trunk so big that they could put both bikes in it without taking off the wheels…

When we caught the group I noticed that Sergio Hernandez was with us. Sergio on ride bad. Sergio on ride much big pain. Sergio on ride you get droppy-droppy quicky-quicky, after ride no braggy-braggy, dick draggy-draggy in dirty-dirty.

Out of Malaga, Sergio heaped on the coals and towed us to Paseo del Mar. Josh from PVCC took a two-mile pull that decimated the group, as the effort was into a howling, and I mean howling, crosswind. Sergio kicked it through Lunada Bay and rode away with Josh. They got stopped at the Hawthorne light. We caught them and waited three minutes. Only then did the tattered remnants of the ride catch up.

Sergio began flogging the dog again through Terranea. I kept looking down at my legs, wondering why I was getting dropped, wondering why everyone was riding single file, wondering why there was no everyone. I kept getting almost dropped on the downhill to Portuguese Bend, and then, just as I thought I couldn’t possibly get dropped any more, Sergio took out the whip and beat us all into another single file of crackage and droppage.

Now there was hardly anybody left, and shortly past the PB Beach Club, Tom M., Marco C., and others just sat up, giving me the “Fuck this shit,” look. Major Bob and I hung onto Sergio briefly, until he dropped us, taking Josh and Backpack Eric with him. They was gone.

On the Switchbacks I chased down Kurt A., who dropped me after getting caught, and we went back and forth all the way to the top, when just after the final turn he imploded, coughed up a lung and a kidney, and went from pedaling squares to pedaling something made with a Spirograph.

My Donut was harder than yours

I know that each week the Donut is harder than the week before, with the absolutely hardest and most epic and most incomprehensibly hideous ones always being the ones I wasn’t on. So I heard that last week it was so hard that they’re thinking of accepting Strava times as substitutes for a race resume if you’re trying to get a wildcard into the TdF, and even so, this week’s was even harder.

As the shards from the group staggered in, minutes, hours, days, sidereal months later, it was clear that the main thing on everyone’s mind was “How do we make sure we don’t have to do this again with a legit UCI pro?”

Unsafe maneuver safely executed

I’m happy to report that I survived the death-defying stunt of riding without a helmet, much as I survived it for most of the years I’ve been cycling. I’m also happy to report that next time I go out, it will almost certainly be with a helmet. Almost.

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