April 30, 2015 § 41 Comments

I received this letter yesterday:

Notice of Revocation of License

Dear Mr. Wankmeister:

We, the Standing Committee on Safety and Proper Cycling Behavior of the New Pier Ride, regret to inform you that after an emergency plenary session which was convened via Facebag on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 from 2:00 PM until 11:35 PM, you are henceforth prohibited from participating in, observing, commenting on, or otherwise involving yourself with any and all activities associated with the bicycle ride occurring twice weekly, on Tuesday and Thursday from the hours of 6:40 AM until 8:00 AM, and commonly referred to as the NPR or New Pier Ride.

This ban, effective immediately, shall continue until further notice and shall be enforced without right of appeal. You may, if you so desire, do independent laps around the Parkway with Nancy but only between the hours of 10:00 and 11:00 AM in such small and easy gears as may be, and always are, selected by him.

It was brought to the attention of the Standing Committee on Safety and Proper Cycling Behavior that your actions Tuesday last were among the most abominable, dangerous, hazardous, anti-safety, and despicable in the annals of our illustrious event, such that even the cavalier attitude and disrespectful riding habits of former attendee Josh A. and the previously excommunicated Wily Greek are deemed to be pale in comparison.

The general charges laid against you we hereby set forth as follows:

I. That on the morning of April 28, 2015, at approximately 6:37 AM, you appeared at the starting site for the NPR with what eyewitnesses have independently corroborated as a “mean, unfriendly, hostile attitude clearly intended to make other participants feel uncomfortable and perhaps sad.”

II. That after exiting the alleyway onto Vista del Mar, you intentionally assumed a hostile and unfriendly position on the drop portion of your handlebars and were seen to shift your chain onto the larger of your two chainrings while simultaneously lowering your chain onto the smallest rear sprocket. Eyewitnesses have confirmed that it was an eleven.

III. That immediately after passing the traffic signal at Grand Ave., you “hunkered down” and “began hammering like a maniac.” More than fifty of the assembled august personages who you later were heard to disparage as “wankers” generously offered to hop onto your wheel but you refused their assistance and pedaled away.

IV. That, being deprived of a rear wheel, the august personages of the peloton were rudely forced to give chase at a time during the ride when each of them was normally accustomed to friendly chatting about wattage, training plans, and other important items, and that this chase made each of them tired, induced burning sensations in their legs and lungs to which they were were not accustomed except on such days as Daniel H. and the aforementioned Josh A. are present.

V. That, with the exception of your despicable henchmen Surfer D., Man S., Tumble W., and a handful of other reprobates, the remainder of the decent and dog-fearing peloton were forced to continue painful pedaling without a wheel to sit upon all the way to the light at Pershing, which made each of them unhappy and uncomfortable and sad.

VI. That, rather than politely stop behind the long line of cars queued up at the light and give the noble and extremely pleasant wheel-followers in the peloton a chance to rest and attach themselves to your rear wheel, you blindly, recklessly, dangerously, and meanly sped through the narrow chute between the cars and the large brick wall, thereby endangering all who attempted to follow, and forcing the safety-minded and decent personages of the peloton who would otherwise have gladly assisted you by attaching themselves to your rear wheel, to come to a complete halt which further enhanced the unfair, illegal, dangerous, and unsportsmanlike gap you had created by willfully pedaling your bicycle hard in the manner of Josh A., who thankfully does not come here any more.

VII. That, once on Pershing, you continued to exploit your cruel, dangerous, and unfair advantage by repeatedly pushing down hard on the pedals such that when the decent and hard-working members of the peloton who had expended so much energy to reach you finally approached, each and every one of them was tired and felt meanly used and sad.

VIII. That, once the hop-in wankers atop Pershing who always wait there so they will not have to rush up the small bump on Pershing merged with you, additional bad-mannered henchmen such as Hair W., NJ P. Beater, Jon D., Man S., and repeat offender Surfer D. pushed the pace even harder until the fair and honest members of the peloton, unable to pull through and unable to sit on a wheel, opened up large-ish gaps and wreaked havoc amongst themselves, causing extreme unhappiness, sadness, and considerable discomfort.

IX. That, once on the Parkway, you and your henchmen continued your bad habits and reckless disregard for safety by running red lights and continually pedaling so hard such that the decent and honest peloton could not get close enough to sit on your wheel, assist you from the rear, and helpfully come around you at the finish.

X. That, in addition to your dangerous red light running and mischievous pedal pounding, you formed a final group consisting of yourself, Hair W., NJ P. Beater, Old F., and First O., refused to slow down or stop for traffic signals such that the honorable members of the august peloton could attach to your rear wheel and assist you from the back or otherwise float to the front and lower your unfriendly pace such that they could diminish the pain, discomfort, sadness, and general feelings of antipathy aroused by you in them.

XI. That, in addition to refusing to slow down and thereby forcing the august personages of the peloton to choose between chasing in earnest and suffering additional discomfort and sadness, or to give up and cede the victory to your unethical and dangerous riding and thereby diminish each of their feelings of self-worth, and thereby making them sad as if they were on a ride with Josh A., you insisted on continuing to ride like a maniac from Pershing all the way back to CotKU, thereby depriving the august personages of the peloton the opportunity to voice their displeasure, critique your awful behavior, provide you with useful training and racing tips, and castigate you for causing them so much needless danger, discomfort, and generalized feelings of sadness.

Therefore, be it know by these presents, that you are hereby excommunicated from the community of the New Pier Ride, that your seal clubbing license is peremptorily revoked, and that we, the members of the Standing Committee, will ensure that your behavior is monitored through Facebag postings and private email exchanges.

Sadly yours,

The Standing Committee on Safety and Proper Cycling Behavior of the New Pier Ride



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A bad time gone worse

October 30, 2014 § 17 Comments

For three years we enjoyed the New Pier Ride. But last week, a mortal blow was dealt to this mainstay morning ride in the South Bay of Los Angeles. Massive construction along Westchester Parkway meant that in addition to the normal avoidance of cars, crap in the road, and other bikers, we had to negotiate giant earthmoving equipment, massive trenches, construction workers, steel plates, ripped up pavement, plastic cones, and an entire parkway shrunk down to one tiny, narrow lane.

Many people, including me, decided that they would be taking a hiatus from the Tuesday-Thursday beatdown until the construction was finished. Some folks suggested a return to the Old Pier Ride, a classic urban fustercluck that included countless stoplights, lots of aggro morning commuters, and a deathly, screaming pedal along a narrow bike path in the marina.


Then I got a note from Junkyard. It said something like, “Yo, Wanky. New route on Thursday around the golf course in PV. Four laps. Neutral descent. Finish on La Cuesta, with its 3-minute, 15% grade. Be there.”

At first it seemed crazy simply because it is so different from the NPR, which is flat. The loop around the golf course has three short, very punchy climbs, and that’s the opposite of what NPR aficionados want. In fact, the NPR is a place where pretty much anyone, regardless of fitness, can hang on due to the sucking draft of the 80+ riders barreling along a wide, flat parkway.

The illness of Junkyard’s route was that there would be nowhere to hide. The climbs weren’t long enough to select for “climbers,” but they weren’t easy enough to let the big and the lazy simply cruise over the difficulties by leveraging position and momentum.

At 6:35 AM we rolled out from Malaga Cove. One or two geniuses had left their headlights at home, but no matter. The crew consisted of Junkyard, Toronto, Tumbleweed, EA Sports, Inc., Cookie, Davy, Tregillis, South Bay Baby Seal, and me. “Let’s ride the first two laps neutral until we’re familiar with the course,” Junkyard advised.

We did in fact start at a neutral pace, but a hundred yards in we were going full-gas up PV North. Cookie made a groaning noise and popped. The next time anyone saw him, he was hanging over his top tube in the parking lot with his eyes spinning backwards in his head. When we crested the third and final riser at the golf course on lap one, only three riders were left. We regrouped and did another lap.

This time Davy and a couple of others opened a gap on PV North. Toronto closed the gap and then made an opportunistic attack at the bottom of the last climb. But then the transmission fell out of his chassis, a rod when flying through his engine block, and we didn’t see him again for a while.

By the end of the third lap Tumbleweed and Cookie had left in order to [go to work/ ride according to their proper off-season training plan/ do yoga]. Junkyard was shelled. Toronto was shelled. I was cracked.

On the final lap we hit the first climb up PV Drive hard. Then on Via Campesina, EA Sports, Inc. accelerated. Davy had taken a sabbatical and now I was about to do the same. Tregillis rolled by to bridge and I clawed onto his wheel. EA Sports, Inc. made it first to the top of the golf course, but unfortunately we had the beast of La Cuesta waiting. Tregillis hit the ascent and floated away, then caught EA Sports, Inc., and kept on floating.

I was so blown that even with EA Sports, Inc. paperboying up the climb I still couldn’t catch him. Atop La Cuesta we struggled and gasped and heaved.

Toronto joined us after a while. “My cleat kept wanting to come out of the pedal so I had to pedal just right,” he said, implying that but for the cleat issue things might have ended differently. Then he added, “Plus, I already rode hard and did some big climbs before we started.”

Junkyard trailed in, face and chest covered in sheet snot, eyes crossed, and strange sounds coming out of his mouth that sounded like English as it is spoken by wildebeests.

After a few moments we all agreed that it was a great course except that no one would ever want to do it. “Can you imagine the NPR crew showing up for this?” asked Junkyard.

“No,” I said. “I can’t.”

“And the whole thing was only 36 minutes,” he said. “Next week we’ll add two more laps. But the first lap will be neutral.”

We all looked at each other.

“Really,” said. “It will.”



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The Sealpire clubs back

March 7, 2014 § 29 Comments

Wankmeister’s ass hurt, the kind of butthurt that felt like his saddle had been forcefully wedged somewhere between L1 and T9 for an hour or so. Even though he was curled up in bed, coughing chunks of dark green phlegm, his legs still ached the deep ache of “you are too old and weak to exert yourself in this fashion and expect anything other than collapse.” The roots of his teeth hurt, always a bad sign. Most worrisome, his headache had sunk down below his brain and had morphed into a deep throbbing at the back of his eyeballs.

Wanky wondered if he’d ever had sore eyeballs before from a bike ride. He hadn’t.

Don’t roll NPR when you’re droopypants

The morning had begun with the most ill of omens, an incredulous interrogation by Mrs. WM. “You not goin onna NPR?”

“Yeah, I am.”

“You crazy? You been droopy alla week with cold and coughin and fluin and spittin onna washbasin and onna toilet seat. Why you goin onna ride so soon after bein droopypants?”

“I’m better now. I need to ride.”

“You ain’t better now you still all sick and still coughin because you woke me up alla night spittin, you was spittin an chokin like a cat spittin four hairballs outta his butt.”

“That would be shitting, then, not spitting.”

“You was doin that too and you wasn’t turnin on the high fan because it stinked up alla hallway and even inna kitchen.”

“Honey, I’ve been off the bike for a week. I’m losing fitness.”

“What you’re losin, you’re losin onna your mind. An you’re gonna come back home even bigger droopypants you watch, an askin onna “hot tea” this anna “leg rubbin'” that but I ain’t doin it.”

Etymology of the South Bay seal hunt

Few know that the concept of baby seal clubbing on the New Pier Ride was invented by Bull Seivert, also known as “KitchenAid” for his thrashing, mashing, mixing, heaving, whaling, pig-fucking-a-greased-football pedaling style that, when observed up close, makes you wonder whether the bike wouldn’t go faster if he flipped over on his back and rowed the thing in the air with his giant hams. Bull is known far and wide for his fearless, senseless, single-minded charges to the front, charges so filled with fury and strength that he typically explodes halfway through the ride like a giant blood sausage overstuffed with snot, sweat, and sputum.

However, by the time that KitchenAid rolls over like a great, bleeding, wheezing harpooned whale, the hangers-on, suckers-of-wheels, waiters-for-the-sprunt, and all other manner of lower life forms have been beaten into a lumpy pulp of quivering flesh and bone. It was after one particularly memorable thrashing that Bull compared the pack fodder to a raft of baby harp seals, innocent, bleating, helpless, chubby, doe-eyed and defenseless in the face of the murderous, blood covered drunks swinging their hooked clubs, matted as they were with the blood, gore, and fleshy pieces of their victims.

The baby seal analogy stuck, and the truism of the analogy was such that entire contingents of NPR riders began referring to themselves as “baby seals.” Like their namesakes, they relived the brutal clubbing of their furry friends each and every Tuesday. Only a few of the most daring pinnipeds, creatures with names like Sausage and Poopsie, ever raised their flippers in victory at the NPR. The passion play remained forever writ in stone: The giants clubbed and the baby seals rolled over in a bloody trough of shame, pain, and defeat.

Carrying the hunter’s club to the seal’s own demise

Winter before last, on a cold and rainy morning that had less than twenty riders on the NPR, Wanky had stopped at the alleyway exit to take off his rain jacket. The pack kept going but one baby seal stopped. It was a weak and barely developed juvenile seal, Phoque de Paris, who was in his second season of riding. Phoque accepted his place in the clubbing hierarchy so completely that he had purchased a baby stuffed seal and strapped it beneath his saddle, just in case there were ever any doubt. There wasn’t.

Wanky fumbled with his jacket, got it stuffed in his jersey, and the pair, hunter and prey, set off in chase of the peloton. Wankmeister wasn’t feeling great, and his less-than-great sensations were enhanced by Phoque’s madman time-trial mode along Vista del Mar, battering into a nasty, miserably cold crosswind. “What the Phoque?” he wondered at this sudden display of speed and power by a heretofore undistinguished baby seal.

Phoque never swung over, and barreled for several miles until the pack was in sight. With one huge final effort he got to within a couple of hundred yards. By now Wankmeister was quite warmed up and he noted Phoque’s shoulders as they swayed and sagged, his head beginning to evince the tell-tale “cranial droop” of a tired rider. Thankful and profoundly appreciative for Phoque’s selfless effort, Wanky took out his club, inspected the shiny, sparkling, unblooded tip, and jumped as hard as he could around Phoque to close the gap. Unable to follow the sudden burst, the hapless baby seal, after doing all that hard word for a friend, found himself alone, shelled, and hopelessly dropped as the pack rode away.

Wankmeister wiped off his club and went on to a glorious NPR victory that day, which he dedicated to “that little phoquer who waited for me.”

When the club swings full circle

Now, many moons later, Wanky reached the Center of the Known Universe and greeted his fellow riders. The chief talk that morning was whether or not the angry psychotic homeless person would be waiting to ambush them in the alley, and what the best response would be if he challenged the group again with his fists. Most agreed that the bragging rights attached to 60 healthy grown athletic men beating the snot out of an insane poor person were minimal, and although a certain “fun” quotient was mentioned by one or two, the consensus was to take evasive action if he appeared.

Wankmeister’s cold/flu/bronchial infection/ovarian cyst reminded him how bad he felt, how right his wife had been, and how he should have stayed in bed. When the group turned onto Vista del Mar, he realized that in his current condition the only sane thing to do would be, of course, to attack. So he did.

Unbeknownst to our hero, however, there is a sacred rule espoused by those who are famed for never attacking anywhere, ever: “Thou shalt not attack on Vista del Mar.” In retrospect, when he was curled up in bed, Wanky wished that he had known about the rule if only so that he could have enjoyed breaking it. By the time he passed Imperial, a nascent break had formed including Bull, Phoque, Lamchops, Brewmaster, and Ronan the Mini-Barbarian. The first time that Phoque pulled through, Wankmeister noticed something that surprised him. Beneath Phoque’s saddle there no longer dangled a stuffed baby seal.

After a few rotations Lamchop had been seasoned, fried in the pan, and served up with a sprig of parsley. Mini-Barbarian decided to go back to the pack and get civilized. Brewmaster’s yeast infection had gummed up his pedalworks, and there were soon only three riders left. After one rotation KitchenAid began to suck and heave, and each time Phoque swung over for Wanky to pull through, he couldn’t. “Hey, fucker!” yelled Wanky. “I can’t pull through if you don’t slow down!” Shrugging, Phoque kept the gas on.

Dragging the corpse

They raced up the small hill on Pershing, with Bull still hanging on for dear life, unable to take a pull. In his pain-besotted misery, Wankmeister cursed his friend and teammate. “Pull through you sorry fucker, I don’t care how much you’re hurting,” he muttered to himself between mighty exhalations of snot that were immediately absorbed by his dripping mustache, then drooled into his mouth or into his beard.

By the time they hit the Parkway, KitchenAid’s beaters had been reattached and he started to pull through. The peloton was a distant memory as Poopsie, Sausage, Hallpass, and Finnhead bitterly complained and gnashed their teeth about the early attack while they had been discussing gear-inches, motorcycle protective clothing, and drag coefficients. They angrily made plans to impugn the integrity of the breakaways, people who had none, on Facebook. “Just remember,” Finnhead said to Poopsie, “it’s easier to complain about a breakaway on FB than it is to chase it down in real life.” Then they all went to the back and Instagrammed each other’s kits.

The three-man breakaway, however, was completely unconcerned with Finnhead’s gnashing teeth or with the long, detailed complaint that Sausage and Poopsie would draft and mail to the New Pier Ride Advisory Board and its director, “Toofs” Prettytree, one of the staunchest advocates for fair, honest, riding on the NPR and dental work and wheelsucking. The breakaway was concerned with something much more important: Not becoming a one-man breakaway, as Phoque was drilling and grilling like an insane combination of dentist-turned-Texas-BBQ-chef.

Phoque kept the torrid pace up for minutes at a time, pausing only to catch his breath while Wanky leaked tears and prostate juice all over his bike and while KitchenAid kept staring mindlessly at his Garmin, hoping that it would say something other than YOU ARE COMPLETELY FUCKED NOW. It didn’t, but deep in the throes of cranial droop KitchenAid slammed into Phoque’s rear wheel, creating a nice brown stain in Wanky’s shorts that would take several hours of hard scrubbing to remove. “Keep your fucking head up and quit looking at your fucking computer!” Wanky roared, but it wasn’t a roar, it was more of a whimper, as Phoque was driving the pace into the wind again and the two cabooses needed every bit of oxygen to pedal.

Swing. Thud. Swing. Thud. Swing. Thud.

If you’ve ever been in a break on the NPR with four laps to go, you know the meaning of hell. 99 times out of 100, you’re going to get caught and when you do, you will be wrecked. However, Phoque didn’t appear to care, and he swung his club at Wanky and Bull with abandon. The blood flowed.

“So,” squealed Bull. “This is how it feels.”

“Ouchies,” whined Wankmeister. “My prostate juice is sopping my shorts.”

“Oh, did that hurt?” Phoque asked solicitously. “Let me give you another one.” And he’d pound away. Occasionally the chasing peloton would come into view, with Sausage and Finnhead and Toofs seated comfortably at the back, adding new points and sub-points to their detailed legal polemic that would be posted after the ride. Poopsie tried to drive the pace, but as an inveterate baby seal his efforts were for naught, and anyway, while the chasers got hung up at the occasional red light Phoque & Co. had full advantage of the NPR’s Three Breakaway Rules, which are as follows:

  1. Never stop.
  2. Do not stop.
  3. Stopping is prohibited.

Finnhead and Toofs made note of this and added it to the long list of infractions being compiled, to wit: “Faux breakaway cheaters and early attackers in neutral zone furthermore didn’t stop but we had to stop at all the lights so there.”

“Be sure to add that we almost caught them anyway,” said Finnhead, comfortably sitting in the very back as the break continued to put huge amounts of time on the pack.

It pays to have friends in high places

Even with their gargantuan lead, the breakaway would have succumbed had Wankmeister’s SPY teammates not sat at the back of the peloton and refused to assist with Poopsie’s doomed chase. Before long even Poopsie, he of the detailed report to be submitted to the Rules Committee, threw in the towel. Finnhead, realizing that his usual zero probability of winning had been reduced to negative numbers, focused instead on the 38 mph max speed that he would reach by sitting on others’ wheels, and chalked it up as a win. Sausage planned to purchase the Parkway in his next M&A acquisition and jail all future rule breakers.

As they sped up towards the bridge on the finishing lap, Phoque finally swung over. He was starting to look winded and well-tenderized for a late attack, the kind that would be quick and hard enough for him not to respond to, and the kind that would leave him gasping for air as Wankmeister claimed another glorious victory. It would be a nice “don’t forget your elders” touch to pay Phoque back for the relentless clubbing he’d administered the entire morning.

“Hey, man,” Wanky said as he passed.


“You ever won the NPR?”

Phoque shook his head. “No.”

“Well, wanker, you will today.”

And he did.


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One for the good guys

November 15, 2013 § 45 Comments

One of the basic rules of engagement is “Know your enemy.”

The asshat who has been regularly buzzing our New Pier Ride group on Tuesdays and Thursdays assumed that we were just a bunch of defenseless schmos. He assumed wrongly, at least about the “defenseless” part.

Once our New Pier Ride page on FB lit up with the video of his dangerous antics and the history of his harassing behavior, a few things happened. One of those things was that folks within the peloton made certain calls to certain people. Another of those things was this: At least one NPR rider who occasionally shows up is, shall we say, very highly placed, very anonymous … and very much the worst possible person you could want to fuck with.

The combination of phone calls to the police complaining of asshat, and of engaging Worst Possible Person You Could Want To Fuck With resulted in this on today’s edition of the NPR: Cops on motorcycles. Cops in unmarked cars. Cops hidden behind the bushes running radar.

Cops who knew exactly what they were looking for.

When asshat got ready to do his morning troll, he got a very nasty surprise. Before he could even get started, he’d been identified and pulled over. I don’t know exactly what the message was, but it went something like this: “We’re watching you and we know who you are. You’d better drive more carefully.”

Strange to say, but today we didn’t get buzzed.

Now, I’m not a betting man, but here’s a wager I’ll make. Asshat’s buzzing days are over.

Any takers?

Fear and loathing in Los Angeles

November 14, 2013 § 33 Comments

This is really simple. A white C-Class Mercedes-Benz, with a license number we couldn’t confirm due to problems with the GoPro video that captured the scene, buzzed the Tuesday NPR group going an estimated 75 – 80 mph. No one was hurt. Lots of people were scared.

The driver is a repeat offender, and westbound on Westchester Parkway around 7:30 AM seems to be the time of his daily commute. I first became aware of him several months ago, sometime in June. A Texas Aggie cyclist had shown up on the ride and proceeded to crush it. Being a Texas grad, I waited for the interloper to exhibit the famed Aggie traits of doofishness, flaildom, and crackage.

This guy rode like a champ, kept pushing it at the front, and really stood out for his strength and work ethic and solid skills. I didn’t want to admit it, but he was damned good. Just before the finish a white Mercedes came roaring by in excess of 80 mph, buzzing the finishing sprinters. The Aggie took the win, and as I shook my head in respect I noticed that the rapidly receding asshat in the Benz had his alma mater emblazoned on the back.

It was a silver metallic Texas Longhorn.

When we turned left on Pershing, asshat had gotten hung up at the light, and we exchanged words. He sped in front of us, then threw on the brakes, as if to get out and fight. When he realized that the approaching mob contained about fifty grown athletic men, he flipped us off and sped away.

Ever since then he has periodically buzzed our group, and one day he’s going to kill someone.

This is what we put up with in order to ride our bikes on the streets of L.A.: Morons from Texas who are too chicken to get out and confront us, and instead risk our lives by trying to intimidate us with crazy, high speed games. Fortunately, since this repeated harassment has occurred in the City of Los Angeles, we have a remedy, because the city has passed an anti-harassment ordinance that specifically protects cyclists from life-threatening harassment such as the kind that this asshat regularly engages in.

Stay tuned. This one isn’t over yet by a long shot.

Nice begets nice

September 18, 2013 § 35 Comments

When you have a WordPress blog you can find out which search terms people use to discover your clever, amazing writing. It’s a great litmus test for the quality of your work and the quality of your readers. By examining the terms that people use to find your blog you can also get great insight into the ideas, thoughts, and concepts that stimulate your audience.

So I was honored (yet again) to review the search terms used to find “Cycling in the South Bay” over the last seven days, search terms like:

sam warford pictures
hey fuckface pvc
death pch bike newport beach
gas room heating flandria switch on
wank clinic
women spying on wankers
why don’t cyclists eat pig

And my favorite …

coach fucks cyclist in lycra videos

But it’s not all bad news

Aside from the rather depressing realization that the very best creative writing I have to offer attracts the lowest gutter-scum of the Internet, I continue to be buoyed by the things I witness while riding my bike. For example, I saw something really cool this morning on the NPR.

I’m now deep into the off season, which means that for the next ten days I’m only riding nine of them. My regular services at the Church of the New Pier Ride were curtailed this morning. Rather than trying to hammer for four laps I decided to suck wheel at the very back for two, after which I’d quit and pedal into work.

As I sat on the back I noticed one big ol’ wanker huffing and puffing to stay on the with the group. He’s a new NPR rider and has never made it the four full laps, typically getting shelled with the first hard surge up the Parkway. We were halfway done with the second lap and he was still there.

As the group accelerated up the modest rise to the bridge, he started to come off. That’s when I heard a somewhat stern voice say “Push harder!” It was Rider X, one of the bosses of the peloton.

Struggling Sam grunted his way back onto a wheel. “Good job,” said Rider X. “Now keep your damned head up. Don’t drop your head when you get tired or you’ll crash.”

Struggling Sam jerked his head up. “Okay,” he wheezed. The pace had slowed and he was firmly latched onto the back.

Another couple of minutes went by as Rider X, the dude who’s stonily silent most of the time and who strikes terror into the hearts of his enemies, gave helpful and friendly tips to Struggling Sam, which was just enough encouragement for him to hang on. “Never made it this far!” said Sam with an elated grin as the group hit the turnaround and I glided on alone, heading to the office, my day started with search terms like “happy.”

The beautiful people

August 24, 2013 § 28 Comments

When you bike, you meet people you otherwise would never meet. It’s enriching.

Hoofixerman appeared on the South Bay scene a year or so ago, riding an ancient “state of the art” aluminum frame with first generation handlebar shifters. He’s one of those dudes who used to ride a lot and then got married and had kids and gave birth to a mortgage and spent his spare time on his first love, some Italian chick named Ducati.

Then the kids got older, the mortgage shrank a bit, and the Italian chick started hinting that she was really into more kinky, dangerous stuff, and Hoofixerman gravitated back to the bicycle. It’s an old story: Formerly fit dude gets back into cycling and after a bit he picks up where he left off, kicking ass and taking names.

Cycling being cycling, and the arms race being the arms race, after a year or so he made a stealth upgrade, and one day Hoofixerman appeared on the New Pier Ride pedaling an all-black, all-carbon Giant TCR with deep dish wheels. A month or so into the new bike and he was  sticking his nose out into the wind, testing his legs with a few attacks, seeing how far off the leash he could go on those 52-year-old pegs with a swarm of hungry, pounding punks hot on his heels. Answer: Not very far.

The bike wants to live, too

One day Hoofixerman, who’s a blacksmith and shoes the horses of the rich and famous for a living, joined me for a trip up to north L.A. for a bike ride. Being old and afraid of death our conversation turned, of course, to the dangers of cycling. We talked about that ridiculous old notion of “calculated risk,” a comforting nostrum invented by people aware of the deadly potency of the bike + car traffic combination who want to stay immersed in the toxic stew but also have a clever explanation for why it “makes sense.”

Hoofixerman talked about motorcycles and about unlearning common sense when you’re moving fast on a motorbike, about unlearning the instinct to hit the brakes in a turn, about unlearning the fear reflex, and most of all about letting the physics of the two twirling gyroscopes do their thing — knowing when to inject yourself into the dance, and when not to interfere.

“Ya gotta remember,” he said, so casually that it was an iron fact, “the bike wants to live, too.”

My mind exploded with the concept. The bike is a living thing and it wants to make the turn just as badly as you do. It’s got the full panoply of physics at its disposal, and all you have to do is ride it and guide it without asking the iron horse to buck the laws of physics.

It may be an iron horse, but it’s still a horse, and the horse wants to live, too.

There was an elegance in Hoofixerman’s idea that made me happy every time I thought about it, turned it over, examined it. From every angle, it was pretty and smart and sound.

Little victories

Last Tuesday we hit the last stoplight on the last lap of the NPR before the turnaround. After the turnaround there are approximately three minutes and twenty seconds of hell that finish in a sprint.

Hoofixerman hit the gas when the light turned green, and the hundred-strong pack watched him roll away.

“He’s too old.”

“He’ll never make it.”

“Who’s he kidding? Does he think the new bike makes him younger?”

“He’s wearing the same funny helmet as Cobra Penis. No way.”

We got to the turnaround and, for the first time since the New Pier Ride was created, the entire pack was held up for thirty seconds by an endless stream of cars. Still, no problem. With enough horsepower to reel him in, the engines went to the front and started drilling it.

Everyone knew the rules. The NPR is governed by traffic and stoplights, and you have to take that into account when attacking or following an attack. If you escape and the chasers get hung up at the red lights, that’s their penalty for not risking all with the break. If your breakaway gets stuck at a light or by traffic, and you get brought back as a result … that’s the risk of taking a flyer.

The one thing you can never say on the NPR is this: “Yeah, I would have [ fill in awesome result here] if it hadn’t been for that light.”

We buried ourselves to bring him back, until there, a few hundred yards before the finish, he was, going full gas with only a few yards left to the end. We had him. His bid would end vainly, full of vanity, in vain.

And then he dug once more, hard and deep, with everything he had. The carbon frame and carbon wheels kicked ahead, leaping like a horse catching the bite of the spurs, and somehow, in front of the fastest finishers in LA County, he crossed the line first. He was so gassed he couldn’t even raise an arm. Everything left there on the road, he was the oldest guy to ever win the NPR. It was incomprehensible to everyone else, but not to me.

Because you know, the bike, it wanted to win, too.

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