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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June 29, 2018 § 7 Comments
When the NPR started last Tuesday, it had all the hallmarks of a beatdown. And it was. Surfer, Frexit, and Dennis lined it out on Vista del Mar, and the pounding continued for the entire ride.
Usually no matter how hot it starts, the ride usually slows down by the second of four laps, but not on Tuesday. Each time it looked like it might bunch up, someone charged to the fore and strung it out again.
At the end, a small group including Justin Williams, Frexit, E.A. Sports, Inc., Rudy, and a couple of other riders pinched off. The chasers chased hard up the golf course but when we hit the orange traffic signal, everyone stopped. This was weird because with the break just a few seconds up and the end so near, orange has never stopped a charging NPR peloton of idiots.
But it did on Tuesday.
I looked around and everyone was panting, glad to put a foot down. I expected there to be anger or frustration at losing the #fakerace, but there wasn’t. Instead, there was a weird sensation, a shared group happiness. People were smiling and chatting as they waited for the light. Did I mention we’d all been on the verge of vomiting for the entire ride? When it changed, we pedaled more or less vigorously the remaining half-mile, and the ride ended.
It puzzled me that I felt so good after such a bitterly hard ride, and it puzzled me even more that everyone else felt so good despite the shellacking. I remarked on it to a friend, who shrugged. “Of course everyone feels good. Didn’t you see how hard they were going?”
“But we got our dicks stomped. We were gassed. And we couldn’t catch the break.”
“But everyone was still happy, right?”
“Yeah, it was so weird.”
“Not weird at all. The harder you ride such that it creates repeated intervals, the bigger the endorphin release.”
“Sure. Moderate exercise doesn’t cause much, if any endorphin release. When you go crazy deep and repeat it over and over, you get swamped with endorphins. That’s why so many of these wankers are literally addicted to the NPR. Sausage is a certified NPR junkie.”
It kind of made sense, now that I thought about it.
“The endorphins are only released during that kind of intensity because your body has to have something to help you cope with the pain. That’s the mechanism.”
“Wow,” I said.
“There’s only one down side to the addicting, incredible flood of incomparable pleasure.”
“In order to get the flood you have suffer like the dog you are. And the pain is so bad that most people won’t willingly do it very often. That’s why you see so many formerly fast racers puttering around like brokedown kiddie carts once they hit fifty.”
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April 4, 2018 Comments Off on Down and out
One of the funny things about cycling is that you don’t always know that much about people, even if you ride with them a lot. It’s weird in cycling to ask someone, “What do you do?” or to make small talk about jobs. There are people on the NPR I’ve ridden with for years whose names I don’t know, but whose riding characteristics I’ve memorized and whose butts I can pair with a face from 100 yards.
Yet many of those same people are complete strangers. What they do, where they live, and the other huge parts of their identity? No fuggin’ clue.
What’s more, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter what someone’s personal details are when you’ve got your nose smashed against the stem and you’re struggling might and main to keep from getting shelled. Stockbroker? Trash collector? IDGAF because your occupation is not going to help me hang on. And after the ride, who in the world wants to talk about work when we can talk about the epic NPR screaming match between Major Bob and Anthony?
The anonymity of the back
There is one guy who does the NPR a bunch but he always rides towards the middle or the back. I know his name and we always exchange that classic biker throwaway line, “How’s it going?” before we sprint off. I’ll call him Ol’ Jake. He’s a chiropractor. How did I know he was a chiropractor? Because he looked like one, that’s how.
One day I heard some bad news. Ol’ Jake had gotten in a bicycle-falling-off-incident and smashed up his leg pretty good. It was smashed up so good that people weren’t sure he was going to walk again. Cyclists being cyclists, that is, uninsured, a group of guys decided to put together a Kickstarter campaign for him, because it was the kind of injury that would cost a fortune to fix, would keep him off work, and would take a long time to heal.
It turns out I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know Ol’ Jake very well. There was a lot of confusion about where he lived and where his office was, that kind of thing.
Eventually someone got hold of him and got his address. A group of guys took the afternoon off and rode over to his place to check with him and make sure he was okay with the Kickstarter thing. Cyclists are almost never too proud to beg and accept charity, but you never know.
Kickstarter for whom?
When they got to Ol’ Jake’s apartment building they were surprised because it wasn’t your typical deadebeat bike rider apartment building. It was a high-rise, and Ol’ Jake wasn’t simply on the top floor, he was the entire top floor, with a view of the ocean and city and mountains and pretty much everything else.
When Ol’ Jake ushered them in their eyes about popped out at the opulent furnishings. “I guess you done pretty good at the chiropracting,” one guy said.
“Sorry?” Ol’ Jake said.
“The chiropracting. You must have a good business with all those adjustments and shit.”
“What makes you think I’m a chiropractor?”
“Wanky said so.”
Ol’ Jake laughed. “No, I haven’t ever tried my hand at that. But I’ve restored the classic car collections of a lot of famous people, and of some royal families in the Middle East. I’m just a mechanic, really.”
They looked around. Ol’ Jake was “just a mechanic” like Muhammed Ali was “just a boxer.”
“So, we, uh, came over to see if you’d mind if we started a Kickstarter campaign to help you pay for your medical bills, but I guess you probably don’t need it, so what do you say to starting a Kickstarter campaign for us?”
Ol’ Jake laughed. “It’s pretty darned nice of you to come by. You fellas sit down and let me get you some coffee.”
And they did.
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January 31, 2018 Comments Off on #fakenews
I haven’t done the New Pier Ride in a long time. I used to do it once or twice a week but as PoohBearATX remarked, “I only do the NPR when I’m serious about my plateauing.” Or, “The best way to kill it on the NPR is to never do the NPR.”
Today we rode over and did it. It was great to see my #fakefriends. By the way, everyone who races or does a competitive ride is a #fakefriend. They will help you and be kind to you until suddenly they drop you. Still, there is a special kind of magic rolling down the alley in the dark, lights blinking, surrounded by people you know, chatting, laughing, girding loins for the coming quake.
We kept a rather brisk pace going out Vista del Mar. This stretch of road is riddled with cracks and potholes, but is good for a group because we can easily take the entire lane and have plenty of room for cars coming by in the fast lane. On Pershing the gas stayed on and the typical group of Pershing H.I.W.’s hopped in.
When you abandon the NPR for a few months people completely forget you. One Unity Riders H.I.W. took a dainty little baby pull and when I came through for a similarly brief pull after having hit it continuously from VdM, he yelled “Stay up there!” or something silly that I ignored. It always amazes me that people have the lungs to advise you but never the lungs to attack or pull hard, like the guy at CBR last week who told me I needed to “quit moving my shoulders around and save energy” after I had launched my umpteenth failed attack. I am sure he never made it out of the caboose.
Things never relented so that mid-way through the first lap I was roasted. I slunk to the back and caught my breath, then pushed back to the fore as we began Lap 3. Rahsaan jumped, followed by Ivan Fernandez and Lauren, and I tagged onto Ivan. We made it to the bridge and slowed for the light as the pack was upon us.
Elijah yelled, “If we had kept going we would have split the group!”
“If grandma had balls she’d be grandpa,” I said, gassed and amused that he saw fit to say “we” for a group he wasn’t part of.
At that moment the light turned green and I still had a little momentum so I went again and at the top of the bridge Eric Bryan came through. He sneaked a sly grin and I hunkered down on his wheel. He is a student at UCLA and also rides for Team Subarau Santa Monica; after a few seconds my legs felt engulfed in flames. He’s not especially tall or broad so there was no draft, and he is especially fast and gnarly so it only felt like being dragged along the pavement behind a truck.
Eric opened a massive gap after his 1-mile effort, swung over, and I got my elbow working before I even made it through, swinging over immediately as sheet-snot covered my face. Next in line was Steve Kim, who smashed it as I dangled on the back. After him came Cat 5 Adam Flores, a 20-something kid who rides like a raging Cat 2.
The break didn’t have much hope of succeeding but it was better than dawdling back there with the sitters, hoping for a bunch sprunt.
At the beginning of Lap 4 we only had a couple hundred yards on the group, but traffic intervened at the turnaround and Eric threw down another incredible pull into the headwind, matched by Adam. Every time I had to come through I did what we will call “elder statesman pulls,” wrinkly and saggy and leaky in all the wrong places, leaving barely enough energy to sprint onto the back of the break.
At the final turnaround the gap was considerable and the children relaxed. “They will hunt you down and steal your toys if you let off the gas,” was my grandfatherly advice.
Eric took it to heart, too much so, unfortunately, attacking and gapping me out as the others chased on. I reattached as Adam barreled up the slight rise to the golf course. Once we were through the final light Eric attacked again, distancing us all. I was too tired and weak to do anything but follow wheels, and his wheel was sadly not on my follow list.
Steve jumped and dropped Adam, I clawed on, and Steve put in a stinking huge effort to close the gap to Eric, who was now 300 yards from the imaginary #fakefinish. With 200 to go a weird thing happened. After sitting in and sucking wheel and doing nothing and panting and flapping my elbow and sheet-snotting and sagging over the bars and evidencing a geriatric cardiac event I suddenly felt really good and it coincided with Steve and Eric feeling something off to the left of good and maybe even westerly of horrible.
I gave it the old grandpa Low-T andropause scissorkick and waltzed across the #fakefinish for what was perhaps the oldest ever geezer to rip an NPR #fakewin from the bloody talons of the young. And even if it wasn’t … it felt like it, so I went ahead and did it. I raised my hands.
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About Cycling in the South Bay: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.