November 30, 2018 § 15 Comments
I still remember three-ish years ago when Kristie said, “I want to win NPR.”
“Never gonna happen.”
“Look around. See all these wankers? 98% of them have never won and never will.”
“If it ends in a bunch sprint you have to be able to bunch sprint. Only a few riders can. If it ends in a break you have to be strong enough to make the break, ride the break, then attack the break or outsprint the break. Only a few can. If you go solo you have to be strong enough to stay out there and run all the red lights for four laps. Only a few can.”
“How do you know I can’t?”
“You’re a woman. Women have been riding the NPR since it began and none has ever won it. Suze Sonye never won it, for dog’s sake. Tink, Lolo, Emmy Sue, Katie D., Kate V., the list goes on and on. It’s woman-proof.”
“I’m gonna win it one day.”
“In your dreams,” I said.
The Rule of Brauch
Derek the Destroyer once told me the secret of bike racing. “Your race is decided by who shows up.”
On Wednesday night Kristie sent me a text. “NPR tomorrow? 100% chance of rain and 40 mph wind gusts.”
“In,” I said.
We rode down there in the nastiest gale imaginable and by the time we got to the pier the rain had slackened but the wind was insane. We were a crowd of two.
The rain resumed. We hammered out Vista del Mar, the rain beating so hard it drilled into my face like needles. Atop the Pershing Bump there was no one. “Gonna be your day,” I said.
Four laps later Kristie cruised to the win. We were frozen to the core as we pedaled back to CotKU. “But did I really win?” she said. “Does it count?”
“Did you leave the MB Pier on a Tuesday or Thursday at 6:40 AM, pointy-sharp?”
“Did you complete the entire NPR course?”
“Were you the first rider across the #imaginary #fake finish line?”
“Then you won the NPR.”
“But didn’t you let me win?”
“Bike racing has a hallowed tradition of breakaway riders cutting deals. Sometimes it’s for a past favor. Sometimes it’s for a future favor. Sometimes it’s for cash. But that actually makes it more legit because while you’re cutting deals for the win, the Pillowbabies are back there slitting throats for third, or hitting snooze for the fifth time.”
“So what do I owe you?”
“Coffee,” I said.
Of course the hardest thing about a chick winning the NPR is all the guys who HAVE NEVER WON IT AND NEVER WILL. It is quite painful for them. There they were, lying in bed. The alarm went off but they hit snooze after listening to the rainfall. “Ain’t nobody stupid enough to do the ride today,” they thought.
Unfortunately, Gary Cziko, who lives atop the Pershing Bump and trains his video camera on the NPR every Tuesday and Thursday, recorded the morning’s heroics and posted the video on Facebag. “Who’s stupid enough to do NPR this morning?” he asked rhetorically, before answering “Seth and some guy.”
So far so good until it was pointed out that the other guy was Kristie Fox. The Pillowbabies moaned. Facebook creaked. The excuse factory went into overdrive as each Pillowbaby angrily thought about how HE couldashouldwoulda #won the most prestigious #fakerace in California.
Below are the top Pillowbaby excuses for getting owned by a chick:
- There wuz only two riders! [Please refer to Rule of Brauch, above.]
- I woulda beat that chick if I’da been there! [You weren’t.]
- They wuz goin’ eezy! [They were going full gas, per eyewitness and video footage of Dr. Cziko.]
- That’s bullshit! [Please refer to Rule of Brauch, above.]
- Aw, man! [Please refer to Rule of Brauch, above.]
- I’m gonna kill it next week! [Along with 80 others, which means you’ll get 35th. Again.]
- Next time it rains I’m gonna show up and beat two other people! [We’ll be waiting.]
- This sucks! [You snooze, you lose.]
- I am gonna totally kill the Gram later today! [Okay.]
- Check out these new socks and kit I just bought! [Nice.]
- It’s the off season! [Which is now 12 months in SoCal.]
- Aw, man! [We heard you the first time.]
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November 27, 2018 § 14 Comments
I’ve noticed that there are lots of mini-rides now, calving off from the formerly massive weekend group rides.
Some of the rides, like the Old Donut Ride, are aged riders who are still fast and fit but who can’t keep up with the youngsters and don’t like the sketchy, argy-bargy circumstances of so much naturally occurring testosterone.
Other of the rides, like the Origin Rides, are secret social gatherings, invitation only, where like-minded souls follow their own recipes without having to bother about meeting or being nice to people they don’t know or don’t like.
Yet other of the rides are simply twosies, people who would rather pedal and chat than gallop along in a group while focused intently on not falling down.
The ultimate instance comprises those riders who, formerly attendant on every gathering, formerly leaders in their cycling community, simply go off on their own and abjure the company of others. It’s preferable for them to be completely alone than to spend so much as a minute with another cycling human being.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, because it’s not a zero-sum game. Part of the reason there are so many groupings is because there are so many more riders than there once were. You’re no longer constrained to “the” group ride. Options are bountiful and wheel-chopping gets old.
Not that cyclists were ever an especially unified bunch, tending as they are to be misfits, but I sometimes wonder if all of this fracturing is also a reflection of societal individuation, where people are able to zone out in their own Internet space and make hard-and-fast delineations about the kind of people they are going to hang out with, and similarly inflexible decisions about the kinds of opinions they are going to tolerate, much less discuss.
When everyone on the ride thinks basically the same thing about the ride, it doesn’t make for diversity of anything except perhaps a few watts here and there. As no one has to contend with anything that’s different, it lowers everyone’s tolerance for things that are different.
Although I’m skipping it today, that’s at least one good reason for the NPR, where diverse people get together and slug it out in a not-always-very-safe manner. At least they are together and coping, which our world needs a lot more of, not a lot less.
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November 14, 2018 § 5 Comments
I went out and did the NPR today, but not before posting the Wanky NPR call sign on Facebagland, “Switching to Glide.”
It was kind of like the old days, a reunion of sorts minus Sausage, Eric A., Hair, Davy, Rahsaan, G$, Surfer, Derek, and a bunch of others. Still, plenty of tough riders answered the call including the legendary Head Down James, making his reappearance for the first time in ages.
My goal was to go hard until I couldn’t anymore but I got more than I bargained for. Head Down James, Chris Rothermel, Shoutypants Faye, Sleepy David Ellis, and Ram-Ram lit it up on VdM. Cam Khoury blitzed after World Way Ramp, and by the time we were on the Parkway people were already gassed.
James, Chris, and a couple of other riders hit it again and they were gone. The group chased hard until the turnaround on the first lap. The leaders had a red light and they simply stopped. No breakaway rules, they just stopped and patiently waited. We “caught” them, otherwise they would have been gone for the day.
After seeing that kind of stone cold restraint, I’m never running an NPR red light again. Chapeau, guys.
I kept drifting to the front, taking a swing, then drifting to the back. Rudy Napolitano showed up and all hell broke loose. James kept the gas on and people were getting shelled left and right, then playing hop-in-wanker as they cut across the Parkway to hitch back on when the group rolled back around.
I made a hard effort halfway into the second lap, then eased up because my legs were shot as the group came by on the golf course bump. I waited until the last rider then dug, almost at the top, to get back on.
For the first time ever, I couldn’t. It was only about 20 yards to cover, which was about 19 yards too far. “Man,” I thought, “this is a combination of old age and being really weak.”
As I rode alone for a bit, then Tim Gillibrand, the 95-year-old guy who still comes out twice a week, passed me. “That all you got?” he said with contempt.
Yeah, Tim. It was.
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October 19, 2018 § 21 Comments
My wife did her first NPR on Tuesday and it didn’t go so hot. She tipped over on the hill waiting for the light at the Chevron and skinned her elbow.
Everyone dashed off when the light turned green except one guy who waited for her. She pedaled over the hill and onto Vista del Mar. He came up alongside and gave her a push to get her up to speed.
The group was disappearing fast and she was still in shock from tipping over and now scared because she was going down the big hill at the Chevron. The helpful guy pushed a little more until he realized that she was too nervous. “Please go ahead, I’m okay,” she said. “And thank you!”
Released from bondage, the rider sped off. Yasuko called her friend Michelle who picked her up and took her to coffee. Thankfully, unlike her daredevil husband, Yasuko kept her helmet on inside the car, which is where most non-self-inflicted, non-fall related head injuries are likely to occur. I hope that all helmet advocates are equally consistent.
Back at the ranch
“So who was this nice guy who helped you?” I asked.
“I couldn’t recognize him because of his glasses and helmet but he was a nice young man, a kind of tall guy, an Asian Methodist, I am pretty sure.”
“An Asian guy, I think. He looked Asian.”
We talked about the rest of the ride but I still couldn’t figure out what the hell she meant by Methodist. Sometimes, when you have been married for more than thirty years, you just shut up, and then after you get finished shutting up, you shut some more.
The next day I got a text from Sausage. “Hey, man, Mrs. WM did great on the NPR despite her tipping-over-incident. I gave her a little push to try and get her up to the group but she didn’t look very comfortable so I did what any self-disrespecting bike racer would do, I left her and caught the group before they were gone for good.”
“Thanks, Sausage,” I texted back.
Yasuko was sitting at the table. “Hey honey,” I said. “The guy who pushed you was Sausage.”
“Yeah, the tall, fair-skinned, blue-eyed Greek Caucasian Asian guy.”
“Oh,” she said. “Well, I couldn’t tell. He looked like a nice young Asian man at the time.”
Finally I couldn’t stand it any more. “Why did you say he’s a Methodist?”
“Because of his kit. It looked like one of those kits.”
“You know, Rahsaan and Charon’s team.”
“Rahsaan and Charon?”
“Yes. Don’t they ride for Methodist Winning?”
THEY DO NOW.
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October 8, 2018 § 11 Comments
We had gathered at the Center of the Known Universe for a 160-mile ride to Ventura and back. It was 5:30 AM and none of us wanted to be there. As we stood around waiting to leave we unanimously decided that riding to Ventura was a stupid idea.
Instead we would ride fifteen miles to Santa Monica, get coffee, and be back home and in bed before 8:00 AM. This, we decided, was a great idea.
In Santa Monica everything was closed except Urth Cafe, the most overpriced place with the worst service and the mediocre-est coffee you will ever drink, anywhere. But it was open.
We ordered and then huddled around the giant heater to stay warm. Before long it was time to go. I went over to the bikes, then came back as no one was leaving the heater.
“Let’s go,” I said.
“Hush,” I was told. “Baby Seal is telling a story.”
“What story?” I asked.
“He’s explaining how he learned about kindness and mercy in cycling.”
Once upon a time
“There I was,” Baby Seal said, “as the tiny NPR pack turned left onto Vista del Mar, I saw my idol pull over and take off his rain jacket. ‘Are you okay?'” I asked.
“‘Yeah,'” he said.
“By the time he had stowed his jacket the group was gone, and they weren’t coming back. I’d been riding for about two years and had gone from a 230-lb. smoker to a fairly fit rider. But I still hadn’t really earned my chops, and I didn’t hesitate to stop to help my idol. Together, I figured, we could chase back on.
“I hit it hard and for two minutes pulled my brains out. I looked back, and Idol was tucked on my wheel and not coming around. ‘He’s recovering,’ I told myself. ‘We got this.’ I pulled even harder, longer.
“A couple of times I looked back but Idol was in the box. ‘No worries,’ I told myself. We’ll get within striking distance, somehow, and he’ll close the gap. We got this!
“I rode my heart out, and for the first time I felt like one of the gang. The rain had kicked back up, it was cold, and I was driving it on the front, giving my idol a chance to recover. This was teamwork, what cycling was all about. Once you feel that warm glow, you never forget it.”
“Then what happened?” asked the Wily Greek.
“We came up over the Pershing bump and there was the field, maybe 100 meters away. I was done, but had saved just enough to be able to catch on when my idol finally came through.”
“Then what happened?” asked Adam.
“The motherfucker attacked and dropped me, bridged to the field, and left me for dead.”
Heads were shaken all around.
“But you know what was the worst part of it? The fucker never even looked at me, not a nod, not a ‘good job,’ nothing. And he didn’t ride by me, he attacked me. I have never been dropped that hard since, ever. I was crushed. Left alone, abandoned like a little kid on a doorstep, I was too shattered emotionally to even try to catch on. I turned around and went home.”
“Wow,” said Wily. “What an asshole.”
“Yeah,” I chimed in. “What a dick.”
Baby Seal looked over at me. “Yeah,” he said, “you ought to know. Because it was YOU.”
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September 12, 2018 § 7 Comments
Rides come and go, they ebb and flow. The last two times I’ve done NPR I could only think, “Man, times have changed.”
NPR used to have 60+ riders even on Thursday. Tuesdays had more, everyone was fresh from Monday’s rest, and it was filled with hitters. You could expect the Tuesday NPR to be either single file for four laps, or hugely surgey with a crazy sprint.
No more, apparently.
Yesterday’s group was tiny, maybe a thirty-rider peloton that shrank over the course of the ride. Most telling was the fact that the last two rides I’ve been able to get away and stay away for four laps. Anytime you can’t catch a 54-year-old grandpa on a short ride like that, you have what is known as a very slow ride.
At the end yesterday, Frexit hunted me down and passed me at the last light, but the pack was still well more than a minute back.
NPR’s regular crashes got old, I guess, and some of the last pile-ups were huge. But more importantly, people have gotten old and quit. Or maybe I should say “older.” You still have guys in their 80’s like Jim and Tim out doing laps, but a whole generation of fast people who are now in their late 30’s and 40’s have simply quit NPR like the bad habit it is.
Gone are days when the Sausage Cam captured all the excitement, spliced and put to music.
Gone are the days when the sprunt involved Davy Dawg, Hair, Destroyer, Rahsaan, Pischon, Sausage, Cam, EA Sports, Inc., and half-a-dozen riders good enough to be there but not quite good enough to win.
Gone are the insane pulls by Dave Miller and Head Down James, the hopeless attacks by Richard Whose Last Name I Don’t Know, the shouting by Leibert … “We’re only going 28! Get off the effing front if you can only do 28!”
Gone are the guest appearances by Daniel Holloway, Justin and Cory Williams, and the regular appearance of women like Lisa, Chris, Tink, Suze, Katie D., Lolo, Michelle, Marilyne, and a whole bunch more.
And of course there are the aged ones who have simply moved into convalescent homes with Italian gentlemen. Kramer, Yule, Spalding, and dozens of others whose names I no longer even remember and whose features are kind of a blurry blot, like watching a face through a rainy window pane.
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August 29, 2018 § 8 Comments
It’s been a while since I’ve done NPR. This morning I got there and was met by Denis. “Dude!” he said. “I attacked early last week and put a 2-minute gap on the field!”
“That’s awesome,” I replied. “Did you win?”
“Evens and Rudy came by me and I didn’t know to get on.”
“Yeah, I have a similar problem with those guys, too. They come by and I know to get on, but don’t know how.”
Denis nodded. “Yeah.”
“Kind of like they came by and you melted like an old wad of chewing gum on a summer pavement?”
If at first you don’t succeed
We pulled out onto Vista del Mar and Denis took off. He was on fire to win the NPR which I sympathized with despite the fact that you technically can’t win a #fakerace. Fact is, the NPR has a generally agreed upon imaginary line on lap four where everyone, whether they hopped in, cut the course, or dropped in from outer space, is trying to get to first.
Less imaginary is the hardest fact of a #fakewin at NPR: The same people win it, more or less, every time. That’s because if it’s a slower day and ends in a bunch sprunt, the bunch sprunters, of which there are a small handful, always win.
If it’s a fast day and ends in a break, the breakaway riders, of which there are a small handful, always win.
If it’s an insane day and someone #fakewins solo, well, that basically narrows it down to two people, neither of which is you.
So the great unwashed raft of NPR baby seals has zero chance of ever scoring a #fakewin, no matter how eagerly they pound off the front, and it’s this rarity that makes the glory so alluring. Think about it: There are countless baby seals who have done the ride hundreds of time, some over decades, and never scored a #fakewin. And they never will.
“If only …!” and “What if … !” and “Maybe today …!” all crumple and fold in the end, but at least at the Manhattan Beach Pier every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:40 AM pointy-sharp there is hope, and on NPR, it springs eternal.
I don’t know how many times I’ve #fakewon the NPR, but it isn’t many, less than ten since 2006. Once in a sprunt, three times solo, and the other times out of a collapsing break. As I get older, the returns diminish, and the probability starts to look more and more like that of getting hit on the thumb by a green asteroid.
I watched Denis disappear, saw the peloton closing, and sped up. He got hung up at the light at Imperial, I caught him, and suddenly we had a two-man #fakeaway.
I didn’t get too excited by the time we hit Dr. Cziko’s videocam on Pershing, where, instead of joining in the tomfoolery, Gary sits above us and documents the ride from the window of his duplex. Denis, though, was excited. This was where he notched his “amazing” 2-minute gap last week. I thought about telling him to quit surging, but why? It would go in one ear and out the other.
After exiting World Way ramp we saw the peloton. Our gap was not sustainable, but it wasn’t dead yet. They were chasing hard but the group only had about thirty riders. I figured we’d keep pouring on coal and see where we were at the first turnaround. On Westchester Parkway we were met by a howling headwind, which was good because it would blunt the chase, but bad because it would blunt us, too.
At the first turnaround we were only barely ahead, and Denis’s enthusiasm had given way to somewhat squarish pedaling. “We aren’t caught yet,” I thought, and picked up the pace with what seemed like ever longer pulls and ever shorter rests.
Giving the gift
I’ve let someone beat me for an NPR #fakewin exactly once, the time I gave the vee to SB Baby Seal and chronicled it here, back in 2014.
As we hit lap three and our gap had increased ever so slightly, I began thinking about how to finish this one off. Denis had the passion. He wanted it so bad he could taste it, whereas I only wanted it so bad I could smell it.
He had won Wanker of the Year at the South Bay Cycling Awards in 2016, and since then had proven a deserving recipient. There was the one time he’d taken a good pull in our break on the Donut this year before self-immolating in Lunada Bay, and most importantly there was the huge cash sponsorship that his employer ponied up every year to support the mission of Team Lizard Collectors.
At that moment I made up my mind to give him the win if we didn’t get hauled back, fully aware that it would likely change his life forever, and not in a good way, since his poor wife would have to hear about every pedal stroke from now until his next #fakewin, which would be eternity.
We reached the final turnaround and Denis’s baby pulls, which had become infant pulls, became fetus pulls, concluding with “Does life begin before conception?” pulls. Our gap was healthy as I slid back and got on his wheel.
“You’re gonna have to dig,” I said.
And dig he did. So deep, in fact, that when we got to the top of the golf course he actually whimpered. “I can’t,” he mumbled.
I giggled, towed him up the final bump, told him he was gonna win, and watched the terror on his face when I told him “They’re coming!” even though they weren’t. The rest is history, including his query regarding the location of the finish line and his near-fatal “hands-up” victory wobble.
But even better than being history, it’s on video, too. And yes, those things on his jersey are … hams.
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