Big C, Part Four: Pitched by the lip

July 28, 2013 § 24 Comments

The great thing about cutting your teeth with Austin’s Violet Crown Sports Association in the early 1980’s was the way you learned how to ride your bike while profoundly high. Although I never inhaled, every Sunday ride featured numerous dirt road detours. Each time a detour passed through a low water crossing — and oddly, they all did — someone would shout “Low water crossing!” and the whole crew would come skidding to a halt.

Out would come the sacred hemp, and these hardened bike racers would puff and suck hard enough to send smoke signals to Oklahoma. It was these rides that made me wonder why pot was considered a performance enhancing drug, because I noted that once everyone was completely high, they would leap on their bikes and ride with a speed and intensity that was, uh, mind blowing. Incredible feats of speed, power, jumping, sprinting, and crazy mad high-speed bike skills were displayed such as I’d never seen before or since.

Problem was that it was pot, which meant the amazing displays only lasted about three minutes and sometimes less, after which the pace would crater down to thirteen mph, lazy conversations would ensue, much commentary would be had on the beauty and unusual shapes of the clouds, and everyone would begin to think exclusively about pizza. Want to ride the Tour on ganja? Really? Go for it, dude.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but it sure is fun

Sometimes we would take so many dirt roads that the seemingly inexhaustible supply of drugs would run out, which meant that instead of stopping at each low water crossing we would blast through them. They were frequently covered with water, and when roads were paved it could get tricky because the entire pavement was underwater and the edges were often covered with mud and moss and algae.

It only took a couple of falls to learn that generally the safest line through a low water crossing was the center because that’s where the water was moving fastest and the chance of hitting snot-slick mud or moss was lowest.

We were now more than an hour into the MMX Deathday Celebration. It had started horribly enough.

“Just up here there’s a climb,” MMX had said.

“Oh yeah?” I was riding next to him on the front to show everybody that I wasn’t afraid to go up where the wind was strong and the pace was bitter (it was later pointed out that I was only there for five minutes and it was the beginning of the ride when we were mostly stopped at stop lights).

“Yeah. About half the field will get dropped and quit here.”

I waited for him to say, “Except you, of course.” But he didn’t.

“So, uh, what about me?”

He stared stonily ahead.

The problem with MMX was that for all his soft and fuzzy qualities, exaggeration wasn’t one of them. To the contrary, whenever he spoke he considered his words for their precision before uttering them. The down side of this exactitude was that when he said something would be “hard” or “everyone would quit” or “many would die,” it always turned out that way. But the good side was that, well, I suppose there wasn’t a good side.

We hit the first climb and everyone except Stinger, MMX, and Olivery Stanle got shelled. I somehow chased back on even as the donuts and McBreakfast were chasing up my esophagus. I got kicked out the back on the next roller and flailed by myself for a few minutes until I reached the regroup spot.

The next thing I knew, MMX, David, and I were barreling down a narrow country lane a hundred yards or so ahead of the lynch mob. The road went through a low water crossing. MMX took the middle line at full speed, as did David and I.

Surfer Dan, back in the chase mob, had not spent enough of his early life stoned on a bicycle going full gas through muddy water crossings while choking on donuts, so he took the line along the right edge. A few pedal strokes in, he noticed that he was in the air, moving sideways, with the pavement coming up towards his face at a rather dramatic pace.

Before conking his noggin on the ground he whacked his neighbor’s thigh with his head. Filled as it was with dense and clever and high-quality brain matter, the weight of his skull thumped the neighbor’s leg with such viciousness that it knocked the neighbor’s bike out from under him as surely as a stick in the spokes.

Surfer Dan, dropping into the slime at a ridiculous angle as he set up for the bottom turn, slashed hard to the left and came up with a perfect drop wallet Larry layback. Just as his rear derailleur started to purl, he yanked on the left rail and stuck his head into the cascading wall of mud, getting totally covered for several full seconds. Unfortunately, he failed to make the full barrel as the door closed on his head, jacking his fork up under the mud lip and sending him sprawling into the foam.

Neighbor, who he’d dropped in on, tried valiantly to pigdog the vertical face but ended up, like Surfer Dan, flat on his ass and getting dragged over the reef.

We stopped to count the dead and wounded. Two riders down, one trashed wheel and one mortally wounded derailleur hanger.

Dan had landed on his hip and slid thirty feet through the slime, so naturally he was laughing. “That was fun! I toldja this was gonna be a fun ride!”

“You are clinically insane,” I advised.

Neighbor’s wheel had lost four spokes and was more out of true than a speech on the floor of the Senate. “Are you gonna continue?” MMX asked, and it wasn’t a question.

“Sure,” said Neighbor. “Worst thing that could happen is the wheel could explode and kill me.”

Everyone agreed this was a minor issue and unworthy of further discussion. “What’s the rest of the route?” asked Neighbor.

“The usual route, plus three miles of sand and five miles of off-road rock garden mud climb plus sandy wall of death up vertical face,” MMX advised him. “You’ll be fine. Or not.”

As we applied pressure to Surfer Dan’s severed iliac artery and stanched the blood with a strip of tube, a boot, and a Clif bar wrapper, the gang of jagged-toothed barracudas remounted. Now that hardly anyone was left but the certifiable crazies, the ride could begin in earnest.

Big C, Part Three: Donuts to the rescue

July 27, 2013 § 16 Comments

Only one person gets up for me at 4:30 AM. It’s not my wife and certainly not my kids. On Sunday morning, legs still aching from the Donut thrashing the day before, I drove over to rendezvous with Surfer Dan.

He was standing on the street corner, bike and knapsack at the ready.

“You want coffee?” I asked.

“No, I’m good.”

“You hungry?”

“I’ve already eaten.”

We jammed our two bikes into the Prius and headed south. “Any predictions for MMX’s birthday ride?”

“Yep.”

“Let’s hear ’em.”

“Only one, actually. It’s going to hurt. A lot.”

After half an hour on the deserted freeway I noticed that Dan’s hands were shaking. “You sure you don’t want any coffee?”

“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”

“You gotta be hungry.”

“No, I’m not. What about you? If you want to stop, it’s fine with me.”

“Oh, no. I’m fine. I had coffee and yogurt and oatmeal and fruit before I left. I’m full as a tick. Couldn’t eat another bite.”

“Okay, then.”

I was getting more nervous about the ride. “So how bad do you think it will be?”

Dan reflected for a moment. “I’m guessing that on a scale of one to ten, it will be on a different scale.”

No doom impends like the doom of a horrific beating on the bike. “What’s with these fucking North County rides? Why are they so hard? And why do we keep going down to them?”

“They’re fun!”

One thing I liked about Dan is that he thought bike riding was fun no matter what. One thing I hated about Dan is that he thought bike riding was fun no matter what. “What’s fun about getting your head staved in?”

“Oh, it’s not just that. There’ll be a big group. The ride will start so fast that half will quit in the first hour. Then we’ll get pummeled up hill and down dale for the next three hours. It’ll be a blast.”

We drove a little longer. “You sure you don’t want any coffee or food?”

“Nope.”

“Me, either. Plus I hate fast food. That stuff is nasty.”

“Yeah, I hate it too.”

“All those chemicals.”

“Pink slime.”

“Did you know they put arsenic in McChicken?” I said, outraged.

“Fucking gross.”

“I know.”

“Can’t even believe people eat that shit. It’s so bad for you.”

“Yep. And their breakfasts are just as nasty. Stuff is made in a trash compactor, spray painted, and doused in chemical smells to make you think you’re eating real food.”

“It’s a pretty messed up society we live in, eating industrialized food like that,” Dan agreed.

We drove a little longer.

“You need to take a leak?” I asked.

“I’m okay.”

“I need to take a leak. Let’s pull into this McDonald’s.”

“There’s no Mac here.”

“Sure there is. Exit Pico and it’s about a quarter mile down on the right.”

“How’d you know that?”

“I, uh, have to take a leak a lot on the way back from San Diego.” We pulled into the parking lot and went in. “Man, that sure smells good,” I said. “I mean, it smells good for nasty industrial chemical shit.”

“Does, doesn’t it?”

“Let’s get something to eat,” I said.

“Might as well. It’s gonna be a long day.”

We each ordered two sausage, egg, and cheese McGriddles (550 kcal x 2), hash browns (150 kcal), a sausage burrito (300 kcal), a small nonfat yogurt to keep it healthy, and we split a tub of cinnamon McMelts. We washed it all down with a large coffee and then ambled off to the toilets where whole sections of bathroom tile were blown off the walls.

Welcome to Leucadia Donut Shoppe

We got to Encinitas way early and had nothing to do. “You ready for some more coffee?” I asked.

“No, I’m good.”

“Me, too. Do you like donuts?” I asked.

“Love ’em. But I’m stuffed.”

“Me, too. Leucadia has the best donuts in SoCal.”

“Really?”

“Really. They’re sold out by eight o’clock. But I’m stuffed.”

“Yeah, if I eat another bite I’ll bust. Where is it?” Dan was curious and we had nothing else to do.

“Just up the road. We can swing by so you’ll know it for next time.”

“Cool.”

We drove by. The windows were down and fresh donut smells wafted into the car. “I’m fucking stuffed, Dan.”

“Me, too.”

“You should check the inside of this place out, though. It’s awesome.”

“Sure. Let’s do it.”

We went in just as the fellow who ran the place was bringing out a fresh tray of golden glazed donuts. “How may I help you?” he asked.

“One glazed for me. And one for him. And a couple of cinnamon, and two chocolate old fashioneds.”

“And an apple fritter!” Dan added, with a little fleck of drool coming out of the corner of his mouth.

“And an apple fritter.”

We sat out on the patio and ate the donuts. “I feel sick,” I said.

“Me, too,” said Dan.

“What were we thinking?”

“I’m not sure we were.”

“Looks like it’s about time to ride.”

We drove over to RIDE Cyclery in Encinitas. There were about sixty warriors milling around. They all looked ill-tempered, as if they’d been forced to get up early and the only thing that would make them feel better was to smush a pair of weak and overfed L.A. cyclists into a bloody pulp.

“Hi, guys!” I said cheerily. “Gonna be a fun day, huh?”

Everyone looked at me like I was crazy. Brent stuck his head out of the shop. “There’s bagels and cream cheese and coffee if you guys are hungry.”

I looked at Dan. Dan looked at me. “I’m fricking sick from those donuts,” I said.

“Me, too.”

“But let’s at least go in to be polite.”

“Okay.”

Inside the shop was a big platter of poppy seed bagels and cream cheese with jam and coffee. We each had a bagel.

“All right,” we heard MMX say outside. “Time to ride.”

Things were suddenly not looking very good.

Short news brief in summary and abbreviated form

July 6, 2013 § 8 Comments

I have been banging the drum here in L.A. for some time now regarding the great bicycle riding opportunities in North County San Diego. This is not because I want to encourage people to get to know others, have fun, and enjoy cycling. It is because I get vicarious pleasure out of seeing my friends and riding buddies suffer obliteration. Although riding in North County won’t make you faster, it will permanently devastate your self-esteem. So, as Knoll would say, “There’s that.”

I joined my first SPY Holiday Ride yesterday. The evening before we had a team celebration at RIDE Cyclery. MMX, Slim Jim, and Brent had stocked the deck with giant coolers filled with fresh growlers of beer from Lost Abbey. None of the growlers had fancy beer names like “Working Stiff” or “Take Five” or “North County Rough Road.” No, they just had percentages of alcohol content written on the caps with a Sharpie.

This was beer for people who were serious about drinking beer. The Lost Abbey figured out how to make the beer, and apparently it was your job to figure out what to call it. The next morning I awoke with a screaming, blinding, pounding, stomach-churning hangover from hell, so in the future I will call their beer Sbpsc Hfh. Add vowels as needed.

It would be easy to blame the next day’s dismal ride performance on the hangover were it not for the fact that I have never done a hard ride in North County that didn’t either kick me out the back or reduce me to a whimpering puddle of drained legs and melted ego.

Why you should do this ride

1. There is no “B” ride. It is uncompromising. You will suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, be kicked out the back, and forced to find your way home alone or in the company of other lost damned souls. How many things do you do in life that are uncompromising? That demand everything of you and guarantee nothing but defeat? (Don’t answer this if you’ve been married for more than five years.) That bring out the best in you even when your best is a pathetic, sniveling NOTHING? So, you should do this ride because it replicates, in the tiniest of ways, your natteringly, immeasurably insignificant place in the universe.

2. You are a chickenshit. Yes, you. You, who hide behind wheels, always take the short route home, sandbag in the easiest categories, or “compete” by “racing” exclusively against Strava and your own “personal records.” Thing is, you don’t have to just be a chickenshit. You can go on this ride and be a smashed chickenshit and earn the contempt of the august men and powerful women on the SPY Holiday Ride who will crush you like an eggshell beneath the wheel of an Antonov An-225.

3. There is order in the court. Unlike the Manhattan Beach Holiday Ride, in which 300 freds and 50 solid riders usurp the roadways of coastal L.A. in a mad, undisciplined dash to Mandeville Canyon, the SPY Holiday Ride is ordered. Yesterday about 175 riders went two-by-two for the first five miles, a sick single file for the next four, and all-hell-breaking-loose at the nine-mile mark when the peloton shattered at the base of the San Diegueno climb.

4. Prizes galore. Yesterday an entire case of The Lost Abbey’s BWR Bad-Ass Ale was awarded to the sado-masochist who spent the most time on the front. Unsurprisingly, the winner was Phil Tinstman. KOM winners got cool SPY sunglasses. OTB-wankers got as many servings of ridicule and contempt as they could swallow.

5. Natural selection. This ride rather quickly separated the wheat from the chaff, and you eventually rode with the category of your true ability. Once the pain train hit Lake Hodges, those who had pulled early, blew early. Those who had sucked wheel in hopes that a miracle would get them up the punishing rollers had to re-evaluate their faith. Those who had saved so they could punish finally “Let the Dogs Out.”

6. Variable terrain. The terrain in North County is different from much of SoCal, and punishing. It doesn’t feature many long climbs, but it continually throws rollers in your path no matter which direction you go. These variations wear you down, break your will to live, and leave you looking for a quaint coffee shop with yummy pastries, or failing that, a Starbucks, or failing that, a house with a garden hose. But there are none.

7. Heatstroke. Once you leave the coast it gets A-fucking hot. The poorly hydrated crack, crumple, and cave. The lucky ones die.

8. Benign indifference. Although close two hundred riders started, only a tiny handful finished with the lead group. The rest were ground beneath the wheel, or, as Hesse would say, “Unterm Rad.” This is of course how the universe views you: With benign indifference. Many people go to Sedona or buy crystals or use Feng Shui to align themselves with the universe’s forces when really all they need to do to discover their true quotient of universal meaninglessness is go get their balls stomped on the SPY Holiday Ride.

9. Free salt for wound-rubbing. Post-ride, one wanker said “We normally ride a bit faster going up to the first climb, but we had a pretty gentle roll over there today.” This was the section where I pulled my fucking brains out, drove the pace like a madman, then cracked and split open at the bottom of the first climb only to learn that it had been a tad on the slow side. Sorry bastard motherfuckers.

10. Lots of awesome Strava KOM’s. The SPY Holiday Ride is a great chance for you to bag some prestigious KOM’s, kind of like “The lottery is a great chance for you to get rich.” Only, the chance for you is zero.

11. Regrouping. The SPY Holiday Ride regroups a couple of times, although neither time is for your benefit. It is to allow the baby seals to rejoin so they can be re-clubbed and re-skinned. And you will be.

12. Race simulation. The pace was very much like a tough road race with a series of difficult sections, each of which caused destruction at the back of the pack. Unlike real road races, however, where you can conveniently categorize yourself according to age and gender, this ride forced you to match matches against monsters like Thurlow, Full Gas Tinstman, MMX and the SPY Train, Brett Clare, and a handful of very strong wheelsuckers who never took a pull but attacked and attacked hard.

13. Fireworks. Although illegal due to the dry conditions and high temperatures, the ride offered constant explosive detonations that occurered when riders like Zink, Hatchitt, David A., Stinger, and Tait lit the fuses of Those Who Shall Not Be Named For Now and watched as they snapped, crackled, fizzled, and popped with a whimper.

14. Del Dios KOM. This bad boy has over 6,500 riders on Strava, but yesterday Full Gas Phil whomped the snot out of the record time and set a blistering new pace of 12:38. You should do this so you can be like me, who gave it everything he had and got 98th place. 98th.

15. The 130-lb. Exemption. After the first pitch the road flattened out and this was where, if you were still there (you weren’t), various hardmen went to the front. Then some dude hit the jets, even though he had never taken one pull the whole day. His reasoning? “I don’t have to pull, dude, I’m only only 130 pounds.” So take notice: Anyone 130-lbs. or less need not bring along so much as a shred of self-respect.

16. Watch Brett sprint. On the return there was a sprint into Rancho Santa Fe. Those hoping to pass Brett, Full Gas, Thurlow, MMX, Josh, etc. brought mopeds.

17. Pity the fools. The 3 Witches ascent had the next sprint at the top, featuring three risers that topped out with a nasty sprint. For the first two witches, a couple of wankers from SDBC set tempo with Thurlow, Full Gas, and MMX sitting behind. For the third and final witch, Thurlow pulled and dropped the fools, with Full Gas Phil taking the sprint, MMX next and followed by Thurlow. Everyone else was shelled here. You were, too. Oh, wait, no you weren’t — you were shelled like an hour ago.

18. Visionary delusions. After a few more merciless beatdowns, sprunt points, and complete draining of all bodily adeonsine triphosphate, the handful of remaining riders “remarked what a great ride it had been.” Uh, sure. Whatever. Bunch of fucking liars.

19. Horrific inland heat. The weather got hotter as the ride went inland. The heat sucked the life out of the weak, the lame, and the too-many-Lost-Abbey-brews-the-night-before. I staggered into a convenience store in Del Mar and doused my head in water, then lay on the cool pavement and hoped for a gurney or for someone to run over me. No one did.

20. Making great friends. After Zink flatted I was miserably stuck on his wheel for 30 miles while he “repaid” my assistance with the tire change by dragging me up hill, down dale, periodically dropping me, sitting up and waiting, towing me for a while, dropping me again, and generally making my life a living hell while trying to help me out. Note to self: Don’t ever stop to help Zink change a flat.

Ride facts:

— 60 miles with 3800 feet of climbing

— 4 sprint waypoints, and the KOM at Del Dios

— Held every national holiday. Next one will be on Labor day.

— Ride size: 100-200, depending on weather and time of year

Primal scream therapy

May 17, 2013 § 10 Comments

Nature is beautiful. The tiny chicks hatch, featherless, and are carefully tended by momma bird until they fledge. As they get too big for the nest, the timid fledglings are gently nudged out onto the limb. Anxiously, their loving mother sits by their side, gently chirping and encouraging them as they prepare to take their first flutter into the air.

It is a scary moment in a little bird’s life, but made tolerable by the constant cooing of momma bird as she helps the little chickie take its first tentative flaps before leaping off the branch. Momma bird watches nervously and immediately flies to baby bird’s new perch, praising and cooing and urging him to take another tentative flight.

Love, support, encouragement, and the watchful eye of mommy all lead to success. Baby bird quickly gets his “flight wings” and by day’s end is proudly flitting from tree to tree, but never too far from his warm little nest where momma bird can praise him and yes, even reward him with a moist, plump earthworm or two. Baby bird snuggles against momma’s cozy feathered breast and enjoys his yummy snack, proud of his accomplishments on his big day and looking forward to more in the days to come.

The North County Puke & Gulp isn’t quite as tender

When we rolled out from the Starbucks at La Costa and El Camino Real, an entire flock of baby birds was nervously perched on the corner. But rather than being protected by anxious and encouraging momma bird, they were eyed hungrily by  ravenous, toothy wolves with names like Full-Gas Phil, Battering Ram Abate, Red Light Davis, Bad Magic Johnson, and MMX.

The baby birds chirped nervously as Full-Gas tossed it into the big ring and simultaneously swallowed a fistful of fledglings — feathers, feet, beaks and all. He spit out the beaks.

When the peloton hit PCH, Bad Magic opened the throttle and, with stomps of his hob-nailed, steel-toed boots, he mercilessly ground up another handful of baby chicks into pink slime, ready-prepped for the McNuggets factory. Battering Ram  barreled to the fore, knocking an entire row of terrified fledglings off the branch and into the blood-stained maw of MMX, who chewed off their heads and spit the mangled carcasses onto the bowed shoulders of those who cowered at the back.

I had made the mistake of stirring the North County pot, and on this morning the testosterone stew bubbled and boiled and gurgled and roiled with the intensity of a steel smelter. The first crew of forty-eight was, by ride’s end, reduced to less than a dozen. None was wearing Swami’s blue.

How DO they ride down in San Diego County?

I’ve ridden enough in North County to know that they love welcoming newcomers with a fistful of nails and broken glass rammed down your throat. If you want an extra helping of hard, they always seem eager to serve seconds, then thirds. Moreover, a handful of North County natives have been kind enough to come up to Los Angeles and do our New Pier Ride, so I wanted to return the favor and sample their wares — but not before taunting them as weaklings and slackers. [Note to self: Do not send out boastful emails prior to showing up for a North County ride.]

No matter what anyone says, it’s fun to have visitors on your local ride. The North County Tuesday/Thursday ride I especially wanted to do because one of the people who’s been instrumental in ramping up its popularity and difficulty — my buddy MMX — never fails to pop in on the NPR when he’s in town and ladle out an extra scoop of misery.

If you’re in town on a Tue/Thu, I recommend this ride. It’s exceedingly hard and challenging, but as with any ride it has its drawbacks. Before I extol the virtues, here are the blemishes:

  1. It’s too short. The whole thing is well under an hour.
  2. Although there’s some good pre-ride congregating, as soon as the ride finishes everyone hurries off to work or to complete a longer ride. There doesn’t seem to be a permanently unemployed or underemployed leisure class who can sit around post-ride and burn up the rest of the morning quaffing coffee in the sun.
  3. They don’t have anyone remotely close to Prez. They don’t even have anyone who wears neon yellow shoe covers with bright pink gloves.
  4. It is a relentless beatdown with nowhere to  hide. This is good if you want to leave 90% of the participants inert and blown out the back, but the death knell if you want to have a 100+ wankoton on sunny days, where baby seals and fledglings can leech off the strong while doing little or no work at the back.
  5. No warm-up. You get on your bike and you’re doing 30.

But then there are the pluses…and are they ever pluses.

The course, the characters

I call this ride the North County Puke & Gulp. It started so hard and fast that I tasted breakfast multiple times on the ride, and especially in the first ten minutes. Tinstman, Bad Magic, et al. set out at a wicked pace on La Costa, and after a couple of miles we hit the coast highway. The leaders sprinted up to speed, a solid 35 or faster, and a handful of riders churned the front with brief, intense pulls.

“Full-Gas” Phil Tinstman made the pace so hard that no one could pull for more than a few seconds. The vast majority of the 48 riders got nowhere near the front, but unlike NPR, where there’s safety at the back, the tiniest of gaps sent riders rocketing backwards, alone, shelled, before the ride had barely begun. Battering Ram, Red Light, Mike Williams, Bad Magic, and MMX busted more freeloaders off the back and put them out to pasture.

There is a small hill going up to Palomar Road but people were already so fagged with the speed that it was devoid of the crazy attacks I’d been assured would be on offer. By now pages of Strava KOM’s had been rewritten, if you’re into that kind of thing, and everyone in North County apparently is, as the short 20-mile ride has been broken down into fourteen thousand segments.

The ride reaches its first neutral zone in downtown Carlsbad, a picturesque little seaside town that would be even more picturesque without the snot and spit and bloody stool that people were leaving on the road. The group had thinned considerably; perhaps a third of the fledglings had already been rolled in batter and dipped in the fryalator.

This first section, the “Front Half,” was the easy part, though I was barely able to hang on. Several riders came up and told me to “be ready” for the “hard part.” I don’t know how you get ready for something that you’re too weak to do, especially when the moment of truth is five minutes away or less. Once on the Back Half, the relative flat of the coast gave way to the punishing rollers for which North County is infamous. It is here that the ride completely and forever leaves aside all comparisons with the NPR.

Unlike our L.A. ride, where a bit of tenacious wheelsucking will get almost anyone through the hard bits, once you hit the rollers on the back side you either have the go-legs or you have a lot of time alone with yourself. MMX drove it to the top of El Camino Real and separated the group for what I was sure was for good. I blew apart halfway up, and the leaders made it easily through the light. My chase group hit the light on dead red, and we were all eternally grateful for the chance to stop, catch our breath, and blame the breakaway on the traffic signal rather than our weak legs and puny lungs.

To shout or not to shout? Primal scream therapy or gentle remonstrance?

There are two schools of thought on shouting at people who screw up on the bike. One school holds that shouting is rude, counterproductive, frightening, and that it ruins budding friendships. The other school holds that if you ride like a dumbshit you deserve to be yelled at, since studies show that dumbshits learn best after a good solid hollering.

In our case, the chase group was populated with adherents to the second school, and when two riders blew through the dead-red light that had traffic stacked up at opposing ends of the intersection, there was more yelling and screaming and cussing than a Westboro Baptist funeral protest.

One wanker turned around mid-intersection; the other sped up the road to join the disappearing leaders. It was impressive to see how the entire group reamed this poor dude out; almost as impressive as watching him humbly accept the tongue lashing and then apologize. Wanker #2 got yelled at later in the ride, yelled at on Facebook, and privately reprimanded by MMX. Like an adult, he accepted responsibility, proffered no lame excuses, and apologized.

This, more than anything else, impressed me. Whereas our ride shout-outs result in lifelong enmity, or in riders pouting for months on end, these guys were able to be dressed down by their good friends and cursed at like sailors, apologize, and have their apology accepted. Cool stuff.

Key ride facts

The beatdown delivered by SPY, Full-Gas Tinstman, and Battering Ram Abate left everyone else hanging on for dear life. It was a record day on Strava in case anyone doubted the intensity; MMX got 9 KOMs on a course he has ridden twice a week for the last two years. Everyone who finished the ride chalked up PR’s, top 10’s, and many set course records for various segments.

The finishing group would have been truly microscopic in size had we chasers not reattached with the leaders who got stopped at the world’s longest light.

Unquestionably, Full-Gas was the single biggest factor in keeping such a torrid pace. If one other thing contributed to the intensity, it was likely the desire of the local crew to show that whatever kind of ride we have in L.A., they’ve got that and then some in North County.

They are, however, now running short on baby birds.

Broken record

May 4, 2013 § 33 Comments

I hate to be the one to break your Strava bubble, but “PR” is an oxymoron. There’s no such thing as a “personal record,” any more than there’s a “personal Super Bowl victory” or a “personal presidential election.”

A record is a mark set by someone that at least two people have done. You know Chris Horner’s time up Mt. Palomar? That is a record. Eleven hundred people have done it and his time is the fastest. It’s a record time.

Even though when you climbed it on Tuesday two and a half hours slower than Chris and it was the fastest of your 67 attempts, it’s still not a personal record. It’s two and a half hours slower than the record. You can call it your personal best. You can call it your fastest time up Mt. Palomar. You can call it proof that your $2,000 power meter and $15,000 bike and $950/month personal coaching regimen are making you faster…but it still pegs you in about one thousandth place relative to the RECORD.

Nothing personal about it.

All cycling metrics point to one conclusion: You suck

Strava’s business model is simple: Provide data to wankers that shows they’re getting better. Since none of us is getting better, and in fact all of us are getting older and therefore worse, and since those of us who are improving quickly reach a plateau, there has to be a way to snake-oil us into thinking that we’re improving.

So Strava sells you a premium membership where you can join a smaller subset of records (65+ men with an inseam of less than 25″ who sleep on the left side of the bed), and thereby convert some of your meaningless “personal records” into something more meaningful: A higher spot on the age adjusted, inseam-length adjusted, side-of-the-bed adjusted leaderboard.

Unfortunately, even after adjusting yourself into 75th place, which is a huge jump from 1,000th, physics still mercilessly claws its way to the front. Your “progress” plateaus, and your ability to climb the flailerboard grinds to a halt. So it’s back to personal records, and chasing the illusion of improvement even though all the data point, or rather, scream deafeningly, to a wholly opposite conclusion: You not only suck, you suck more than you did on this segment last year. Introspective riders feel the icy hand of death tightening its grip around their throat if they look at the data too closely past about age forty.

Note to the Stravati: There’s a reason you prefer Strava to bike racing

I don’t vomit often, but when I do it’s usually after someone takes one of my KOM’s. I’ve only got seventeen of them left, and there’s not a single one that couldn’t be handily snapped up by any number of Stravati who live for that kind of thing.

It’s no defense, but I never tried to set a single one of those KOM’s, which is probably the reason they fall so easily. The handful of times I’ve gone out and tried to grab a KOM, I’ve failed, usually miserably. I use Strava for the same reason that I wear pants. It’s a social convention the lack of which would earn too much opprobrium. I also use it as a handy calorie counter. And finally, I use it for you. Just when you’re starting to think your performance is dropping, or you’re really not very good, you can click on my most recent ride and feel relief: There’s someone in your neighborhood who’s slower and an even bigger bicycle kook than you.

This, I believe, is a powerful source of inspiration for flailers and wankers throughout the South Bay. Through Strava, I keep them riding. It’s a social service, and you can thank me via PayPal.

What you can’t do is get away with the pleasant little self-deception that your KOM is as good as a bike race. You can’t even get away with the delusion that it’s as good as an old-fashioned group beatdown on the NPR.

You know why that is? Because it isn’t. Masturbating your way to the top of a leaderboard on Strava, when unaccompanied by ball-busting accomplishments on group rides or in real mass start races in which you have to actually pay an entry fee and pin on a number, are just that: Digital auto-titillation.

Believe it or don’t, I’m fine with that. Riding a bicycle is like consensual sex between adults: I not only approve of it, I’m wholly uninterested in your particular activities. I’m not a libertarian, I’m a “don’t give a fucktarian.” If you’re out pedaling your bicycle, in my book you’re winning.

If your riding is confined to setting Strava records without racing or group riding, though, you are wanking. Can we be clear about that? Good. Because last Thursday a new South bay cycling record was set. Not on Strava, where anonymous, zipless riders virtually compete  using all manner of tricks, traps, aids, pacers, run-ups, and “special assists” to set the record.

No, this Thursday record was set the old-fashioned way. Clubbers clubbed. Baby seals got their heads staved in. Pain was ladled out in buckets. And only the strong, the ornery, the mutton-headed, and the relentless survived.

One thing that’s never happened on the New Pier Ride

…is a successful four-lap breakaway. Dan Seivert and I once, on a cold, rainy, windy winter day in 2012 attacked on Vista del Mar and stayed away for four laps, but it wasn’t a real breakaway. We sneaked off three or four miles before the real ride began, there was zero horsepower in the field, and no one even knew we had attacked. Although we hurt like dogs and congratulated ourselves for the heroic effort, it was more a flailaway than a breakaway. Plus, no one cared. To the contrary, they tortured us with the worst torture known to a group ride breakaway: “You were off the front? If I’d known that I’d have chased.”

Last week, though, word went out that MMX was coming to town to do the NPR. This meant one thing: Merciless beatdown in the offing.

There were at least ten thousand baby seals at the Manhattan Beach Pier when the ride left at 6:40 AM. We hit the bottom of Pershing and it immediately strung out into the gutter and then snapped. The Westside seals were all lounging on the roadside atop the bump, because they’ve learned from repeated beatdowns that it’s better to jump in after the first hard effort than to try and jump in as the group comes by at the bottom of the little hill. Just as they were finishing their first bucket of raw mackerel, we came by like a whirlwind.

As we passed the parkway, Josh Alverson drilled it.

Then Peyton Cooke drilled it.

Then Johnny Walsh drilled it.

MMX, who had started at the back and worked his way up to the point, later noted that from the bottom of Pershing it was pure mayhem. Many of the baby seals were killed with that first single devastating blow to the head. Others, un-hit, were so stunned by the acceleration that they simply pulled over, unclipped, and skinned themselves.

Robert Efthimos reported that Thursday was his 128th time up World Way ramp, and it turned out to be his single highest average wattage ever for a lap on the NPR. He churned out those numbers stuck at the back of the herd after the break left.

After the ramp, Greg Leibert blasted away, stringing it out into a line of about 15 riders, with a small clump forming at about 16th wheel and turning into an amorphous lump into which 80 or 90 baby seals still cowered. After Greg swung over, MMX opened the throttle, dissolved the clump and turned the entire peloton into a single line with countless little blubbering seals who began snapping and popping like plastic rivets on a space shuttle.

We turned onto the parkway in full flight, with Johnny Walsh, Marco Cubillos, Josh, and “26” pounding the pedals. This is the point where after the initial surge, the front riders usually slowed down, or the neverpulls in back made their first and only real effort of the day to chase down the nascent break. Marco, John, Josh, and 26 kept going, and were soon joined by Greg, Jeff Bryant, Jay LaPlante, some dude from La Grange who was incinerated shortly thereafter, and one of the South Bay’s legendary purple card-carrying, neverpulling, wheelsuckers extraordinaire whose name shall not be mentioned.

MMX looked ahead from the pack as the break gained ground, surged, and bridged. Then he closed the door and threw away the key.

No break has ever stayed away on the NPR for all four laps. The course won’t allow it due to stoplights, the high tailwind speeds of the chasing field, and the relatively flat nature of the course.

We made the first turn and had a gap. Atop the bridge Jeff Bryant unleashed a monster pull, but then, over his head by the extreme effort, he and Greg were unable to latch onto the break as it accelerated at the next turnaround. Accounts differ, with some claiming a car pinched them, and others claiming they were too gassed to catch, but in any event the break didn’t feel like waiting, as there were already too many orange kits in the group. This meant the Greg/Jeff duo had to chase.

The pack was in a different time zone, which meant nothing as we’d just completed one lap and there was plenty of time for them to organize and chase in earnest. What we didn’t know is that they were already chasing in earnest, and the stoplight gods were smiling on us.

Having taken the initiative in trying to fend off the entire baby seal population of the South Bay, we were being rewarded with a string of green lights even as the baby seals were being punished with reds. Naturally, post-ride the baby seals that survived chalked everything up to the traffic signals rather than the sheet-snot that covered our faces and the haggard, beaten look of those who rode the break for the entire four laps.

Greg and Jeff, unable to reattach, finally hopped across the road and jumped in as we whizzed by. Greg then attacked us balls-out the remaining lap and a half. Ouch. Every time we brought him back another of our matchboxes was incinerated.

On the final stretch, after berating Sir Neverpull for never coming through, MMX unleashed the leadout from Klubtown. Sir Neverpull, suddenly discovering that with the end in sight he wasn’t quite that tired after all, leaped just in time for his engine to blow and his legs to detach from his torso. Jay LaPlante sprunted around the MMX lead-out with Josh fixed on his wheel. Going too far out and in too small a gear, Jay settled for second after a doing yeoman’s work in the break.

We celebrated this, the first ever four-lap breakaway on the NPR, with coffee and sunshine.

And yes, it was a record.

KOM-munism

March 31, 2013 § 9 Comments

This one had merit. Out of 14,304 times and more than 2,000 riders, he convincingly took the 1.2 mile KOM by three seconds. The segment is regularly ridden hard and the contingent yesterday, as it often does, contained continental pros, former pros, national champions, state champions, and some of the the best active racers in California.

Strava KOM-munism is mostly standing in front of a mirror admiring yourself. The rider picks a segment, hones the conditions, and repeatedly goes for it until the little crown pops up. The segments are mostly minor in terms of the number of riders and the number of times the segment has been ridden on Strava. KOM-munism is self-glory that is only rarely vindicated through actual racing.

Sometimes, though, the right rider on the right ride with the ride mix of fellow flailers pulls it all together. The result? A mass clubbing of baby seals and a new King Clubber.

That happened yesterday on the Donut. MMX came to town from North County San Diego, and the ride included Rudy Napolitano, Danny Heeley, some pro dude from Champion Systems, and a host of other hammerheads. Aaron Wimberley exploded out of Malaga Cove. MMX bridged up to him, followed by a tiny chick named Flavia. She was so small that hunch over as much as I might the only thing that got a decent draft were my knees.

Aaron kept the heat on until Flavia fried off the back, and I with her. As we rounded the bend, MMX hit the front with such power and abandon that Aaron, who had set the KOM-winning pace, was busted out the back. MMX pulled away, quickly becoming a tiny speck of churning, pounding pain levers. By the time he sat up there was nothing left of the 100+ wankoton, and he would find out at ride’s end that he was the new KOM of this segment: http://app.strava.com/segments/753144.

This, of course, is how it should be done. It should be done from the sharp end of the spear, not lollygagging in back and “making up time” by racing through the group to the front when the pace picks up. It should be done amidst a field thick with accomplished riders. It should be done convincingly and with strength, not by hanging onto the wheel of a breakaway and pushing through at the last second to snag the KOM by a wheel. Most of all, it should be done the way this one was done–not to get the KOM, but to break the legs and spirits of those behind, the KOM being a secondary reward that only came as surprise after the ride.

Hats, then, off!

Pin to win

February 17, 2013 § 28 Comments

Some people leave their hearts in San Francisco. I leave mine a couple of times a year in Pearblossom, one of the great scenic wastelands of America.

I rode up to the race with John Hall. He had had a superlative race at Boulevard a couple of weeks back. I had, too, in my very dumbed-down definition of the word “superlative.”

Neither of us said it, but we both approached the UCLA 2013 Road Race with high expectations. One of us would be sorely disappointed. Both of us would be sore.

As I explained to John, a guy I’ve never beaten on a training ride, much less in a bike race, number pinning was the single most important detail of the race.

“It is?” he asked.

“Sure. You let your number flap and whizz like an oversized bra on a cheap hooker and no one respects you.”

“They don’t?”

“Nope. You want respect, you gotta pin your number on right.”

“Really?”

“Oh, sure. All the pros pin their numbers on with at least ten or twelve pins. That’s one reason they ride so fast. It creates a more perfect airfoil for the wind.”

John looked straight ahead. I don’t think he was laughing. Not at me, anyway. I’m pretty sure.

It took eleven pins, and a carefully folded right-hand corner to get the paper to bend with my armpit, and a few stabs that went to deep into my thigh and drew blood, and a couple of errant pricks that wound up pinning my jeans to my jersey, and a readjustment or two so that the bottom edge of the number wouldn’t interfere with removal of food from the pockets, but after about an hour the number was pinned perfectly. It looked like this. Feast your eyes.

All the other losers had just slapped on their numbers and spent the time warming up. John rolled by just as I was finishing what, by all accounts, was a superb job of number pinning.

“Aren’t you going to warm up?”

“Nah. These other losers don’t even have their numbers pinned on right. I got this one in the bag.”

John continued warming up.

Greg Leibert, vainquer at Boulevard, multiple winner at Punchbowl, superstar and awesome dude rolled up. “Dude,” he said, “race starts in five. Why aren’t you warming up?”

I raised a haughty eyebrow. “You should be asking ‘Why is my number not pinned on as well as Wankmesiter’s?”

“Huh?”

“Your number, dude. It’s not pinned on very well. It’s kind of crooked.”

He shook his head and left. Just then Tink came up. She’d just won her pro 1/2 race, had gotten second at Boulevard, and had outsprinted one of SoCal’s top women pros to win today after a 25-mile two-woman breakaway that beat the field by three minutes. “WM,” she said, “I’m really worried about your hydration and nutrition. What’s in the water bottle?”

“Water.”

“You need an electrolyte. You’ll dehydrate and die on this course.”

I shook my head. “Oh, Tink, Tink, Tink. You’re such an inexperience young thing. Behold!” I help up my perfectly pinned number.

“What?”

“What? The number. Look how nicely I’ve pinned it on. It’s the best-pinned number by far. It will frighten everyone when they see how detail oriented and meticulous I am. They will extrapolate from the number to my careful race preparation and training methods. They will be paralyzed with fear.”

“Maybe. Until they see you’ve only got one water bottle and it’s filled with water and you don’t have any food or gels. Then they’ll think you’re sloppy and ill-prepared and have no idea what you’re doing, which will negate the effect of your number. Which, I admit, is pretty tasteful and pro.”

I laughed. “You’ll see.”

Nothing trumps confidence

Today was my day and everyone knew it. I even took a picture in the car to memorialize the look of pre-victory. Feast your eyes.

The selection for this race started when you were born

People who do or don’t do the UCLA road race always talk about how it’s a “selective” course and how the “selection” comes early. In most amateur wanker  (redundant, I know) races where this kind of verbiage gets bandied about, it means that the chaff is separated from the wheat in the first few miles or so.

Punchbowl’s selection, however, begins at birth. If you are genetically predisposed to never exceed four feet in height and 57 pounds in weight, to have lungs that could double as flotation devices for an anchor, to have legs that terminate right below your neck, and to have the pain threshold of an anvil, you have made the selection of “possible Punchbowl winner.” All others are selected to be in the category of “loser” or “quitter” or “quitter and loser.”

The Punchbowl course features 15,000 feet of vertical climbing per meter, along with gale force winds. It begins at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, so unless your name is Oreamnos Americanus, the empty, rasping, dry, heaving sensation in your lungs (which quickly spreads to your other internal organs) begins the second you step out into the scorching heat.

The great thing about the Punchbowl course in February, though, is that it doesn’t always welcome you with scorching heat. With snow still on the mountains that separate this meth-infested shithole from the meth-infested shithole of Los Angeles, it sometimes welcomes you with snow, hail, ice, sleet, and freezing rain.

Canvassing people before and after they’ve raced the Punchbowl course covers the gamut in human excusifying. Here are some of the gems I overheard yesterday:

One-lap quitter: “I had terrible back spasms and my HR was at 150 going into the first climb. It was physically dangerous for me to continue.”

Translation: “I suck and am slow and wasn’t even remotely prepared for the brutality of the course and the onslaught of speed that begin in mile one of the first climb on the first lap, so, because I couldn’t endure the pain and wasn’t proud enough to guy it out, I gave up and quit.”

First-lap droppee and Cat 4 finisher: “I did the Cat 4 race because it’s harder than the 45+ race.”

Translation: “I’ve never heard of, let alone ridden with world champion Thurlow Rogers, state TT champ Greg Leibert, national road silver medalist Jeff Konsmo, et al.”

First-lap droppee and 45+ finisher: “This was the worst day I’ve ever had on a bike.”

Translation: “I’ve never done Punchbowl before.”

19th-placed Cat 4 finisher: “I had a great race!”

Translation: “I finished!”

First-lap shellee and quitter: “I actually made it up the first climb, but got dropped on the descent.”

Translation: “I was slow and out of gas and terrified of the 50mph+ speed so I pooped in my shorts and quit before the goo drizzled out my pants leg.”

Cat 3 Pack Meat: “Our team got third!”

Translation: “I personally got stomped!”

First-lap droppee and second-lap quitter (that would be me): “I have a vastly overrated opinion of my ability and when the going gets tough I squnch and splatter like a soft jelly-filled donut under the wheels of an onrushing freight train.”

Translation: “You are the 99.999999999%.” [Of bike racers.]

The path to victory is strewn with the bones of the poorly-pinned

One of the great things about having the best-pinned on number in the race and having eked out 15th place in an earlier race is that you become an instant expert on everything, especially race tactics. “Man,” I said to MMX before the race began, “Konsmo plays it too safe. If he attacked more, on a course like this no one could hold his wheel. He could shatter the entire field, sit up and wait for a handful of reinforcements, then decimate whatever was left in the sprint.”

One mile into the race Konsmo attacked on the course so that no one could hold his wheel. He shattered the entire field, sat up and waited for a handful of reinforcements, and then rode away. I was panting so hard that I couldn’t hear anything except the opening and shutting of my heart valves. My world had been reduced to the six inches of pavement in front of my wheel. I made the first turn, struggled along at the rear of the lead group for a minute or two, and then imploded.

However, I wasn’t worried. Konsmo’s number was askew and had been haphazardly attached with yucky spray stuff that would leave ugly marks on his jersey. He was coming back.

At that moment a pro rider who had missed his start came whizzing by with a grin. “Yo, Wankster!” he said. “Hop on!”

Sergio slowed down to a crawl, I attached, and he dragged me over the climb, where we picked up Tri-Dork, MMX, and a host of other droppees. Tri-Dork was having the ride of his life. Our reinforced group, driven by my awesomely pinned number, chased down the leaders.

I turned to MMX. “Poor bastards,” I said. “They don’t have a chance.” I slapped my number in confidence. MMX shook his head and moved up, clearly regretting the decision to let me wear the SPY-Giant-RIDE team outfit. We trolled along the crosswind and hit the right turn up the climb.

Leibert, who must have gotten a number adjustment along the way. Hit the first roller with a vengeance. “Thanks for the tow,” I muttered to Sergio.

“No problem,” he laughed. “You’re back in the mix now! Do it!”

So I did it. “It,” of course meaning that I sputtered. I coughed. I choked. I flailed. I got dropped.

Right there, my race hopes died, and things went from bad to worse. Tri-Dork passed me, and roared on to an incredible 12th place finish. At the end of the race there was a small de-naming ceremony where he was placed on the podium and the Poobah from Pearblossom waved his magic meth stick over Tri-Dork’s head and spake thus: “Oh, mighty Tri-Dork, eater of In ‘N Out, spreader of butter on his beer and ale, goofy bastard who is fain to hold a straight line at Boulevard and who descendeth Punchbowl with the ferocity of a Russian meteorite, he who lacketh the gene of Quit, who rolleth like thunder despite his inherent Tri-dorkiness, today we de-name you “Tri-Dork” and hereby christen you forever and henceforth “Anvil” for the crushing weight you drop on on your adversaries, and for the fatness of your own posterior which aids your descending and does not in the least impede your uphill skills against featherweight manorexics half your size.”

A quite graveside service

At the end of the second lap my dead hopes and dreams, bleeding and inert, were rudely shoveled off the racecourse and into the ignominy of the car, where I undressed, put on jeans, and sobbed quietly over my perfectly pinned on number. Little teardrops formed sad hearts and drippy unicorns as I cried and gently rent by breast.

Then I went back to the start/finish to cheer the racers and let the women feel my satiny skin while extolling the virtues of a kimchi-based diet. The women were impressed with my skin, but not so much with the kimchi. “I bet you fart all the time because of that stuff,” they said.

Now that you mention it…

The final shakedown

As I stood there cheering it occurred to me how much more awesome it was to stand on the roadside with a cold energy drink, snacking on Cheeto’s, and having cute girls feel my satiny skin was than pounding out a tattoo of death with angry, forceful, road warrior assassins hell-bent on inflicting misery and pain on wankers like me. I made a mental note of this.

On the final lap, Konsmo caught the three breakaways with 400m to go and left them like they were planted in cement. He roared to what can only be described as the most impressive victory for someone with a poorly sprayed-on number in the history of the sport.

Showing the grit, determination, and toughness that made them borderline mental cases for persevering in such a hopeless display of defeat and pain and misery and disappointment, the rest of the field dribbled in.

John had a great result, and we returned to Los Angeles enjoying an extended rehash of each and every move and countermove. I explained in great detail how Jay LaRiviere, with whom I’d had an Internet dust-up the year before, had caught me, dropped me, and ground me into dust. Revenge, as they say, is best served up cold, although in this case the extra flavoring of pain, altitude, endless climbing, and physical and mental collapse probably made it even better.

“Still,” I said, “he’d have done even better if his number had been pinned on straight.”

END

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