September 29, 2016 § 44 Comments
On Monday night there was a traffic safety committee meeting held by the city of Rancho Palos Verdes. You think committee meetings are boring?
This one wasn’t.
It featured a guy who began by complaining about people taking pictures. The chair told him he was “out of order” which is nice speak for “shut the fuck up” and informed him that it was a public meeting, open to the public, held for the public, and publicly regulated under the Brown Act, which publicly regulates public meetings.
The guy was not mollified by the law because he was part of a contingent who demanded that the city put up signs saying “Bikes Must Ride Single File.” No matter that this isn’t the law, and no matter that the California Vehicle Code doesn’t prohibit riding two abreast, no matter that the committee has given extensive, detailed PowerPoint presentations on CVC 21202(a) and its exceptions, and no matter that the most fundamental principle of statutory construction is that the law permits everything that is not specifically prohibited.
In Rancho Palos Verdes these NIMBYs had come to the meeting to advise what they thought the law should be and to demand that the city put it on a sign. Right? Because after inventing a few new anti-bike provisions for the vehicle code they could follow it with signs that said, “No poor people,” “No Torranceites,” “No San Pedroians,” and of course “No people whose last names end in a vowel.”
It was clear that, having bought a second-hand home with an ugly garage on top of a hill and surrounding the whole faux estate with an iron gate and guard shack, this guy thought that the public meetings were private, too, and no amount of explaining that the meeting was “public” seemed to have any effect on him at all.
Because polysyllabic words and laws and facts kept getting in the way of his opinions, the guy followed up his outburst a few minutes later by showing the middle finger at what appeared to be the committee. When the sheriff’s deputy came over and told him he couldn’t flip off the committee, he told the deputy that he hadn’t been flipping off them, he’d been flipping off … me. For taking pictures.
I hadn’t said a word the entire meeting and when I looked back he threw a fleck of paper at me while raising his middle finger again for emphasis. There I was, back in Third Grade with the classroom bully showing me the finger, throwing spitballs, and daring the teacher to get on with her job. If you think it’s extraordinary that a grown man would go to a public meeting and show his contempt for public participation by flipping people off and flinging flecks of paper at his imagined enemies, you need to come to one of these meetings.
But what’s more extraordinary is that the very people who flipped us off, threw things, and booed Delia Park at the previous meeting when she described the catastrophic injuries of a friend belong to the same anti-bike contingent that opened the meeting with an appeal for civility and made pointed complaints about the militant biker bullies–never mind that not a single cyclist in any public meeting has insulted, attacked, threatened, or made an obscene gesture to anyone ever, and never mind that several cyclists began by thanking the committee for their efforts.
One first-time biker attendee later commented that “I thought you were exaggerating, Seth, but these people really are batshit fucking crazy.”
The discussion point of the meeting was colossally stupid. A handful of NIMBYs on Crest Road were seeking to apply the city’s event permitting ordinance to “organic” groups of ten or more cyclists. Unable to understand the law’s intent–regulation of large events that had a significant impact on the public right of way–these folks yammered on endlessly about how the law should be applied to local, unorganized, organic bike rides.
Under the ingenuous pretense of “safety,” though none of them had consulted any of the cycling groups whose safety is most imperiled in traffic collisions, and after having a prior petition to ban cyclists from the roadway being unceremoniously booted due to its patent illegality, they were now trying to regulate unorganized group bike rides in the hope it would make things somehow more orderly, i.e. get rid of bikes. When I asked one of the NIMBYs whether or not he would attend a free Cycling Savvy course to get educated about the law from the cyclist’s perspective, he told me he was “too busy” because he “had a 16-year-old who was just getting his driver license.”
Well, of course! No responsible father with a new young male driver in the family would possibly be able to make time to go learn the law and safe traffic skills that have to do with cyclists, especially the cyclists who allegedly cause so many traffic problems up on Rancho Palos Verdes Estates Wish We Were Palos Verdes Estates Crest Road.
The details of the ordinance appeared irrelevant to many of the NIMBYs, the main “detail” being no detail at all but rather its most salient feature: The ordinance specifically applies to “organized” events. Speaker after speaker on the cyclists’ side tried in vain to explain to the waxed-in brains of the NIMBYs that THERE IS NO ORGANIZER FOR THE DONUT RIDE. But they either didn’t understand, wouldn’t understand, or couldn’t understand.
It’s true that you can’t fix stupid, but in this case you couldn’t even shut it up. The committee, obviously perplexed by having to deal with something that made no sense at all, referred it for further “study by staff.” This will presumably involve someone sitting in a lawn chair watching groups of cyclists go by at 25 mph and trying to determine if they’re “organized” or “in a group” or “ten or more.” One fool suggested that group riders be required to ride with identifying stickers, a great idea that was used with much success in the late 1930’s.
A cyclist speaker offered the NIMBYs a thousand bucks if they could find the organizer of the Donut Ride, which one of the crazypants asserted was any person who mentioned it on their web site. Kind of like, you know, how you’re an organizer of the Super Bowl when you note on your blog its location, date, time, and the teams who are playing.
Almost three and a half hours later the meeting adjourned, but not before one guy spent several minutes complaining about committee member David Kramer’s “conflict of interest” because in addition to his duties as a committee member he was formerly an officer of Big Orange. We’ll set aside for a minute the fact that nothing on the agenda affects Big Orange as a club at all, another detail that didn’t matter because it so obviously contradicted this guy’s attack.
Lacking any ability to understand that Big Orange doesn’t have a single organized ride in RPV, and unable to do anything other than wave tax returns and Secretary of State filings, this bonehead repeatedly insisted that Kramer “recuse” himself.
Kramer repeated, as he always does, that the committee makes no decisions (ergo there’s nothing to be recused from), that all committee recommendations must be voted on by the city council which has the power to accept, reject or modify anything done by the committee, that the committee acts in a volunteer advisory capacity only, and that his activities as a cyclist have long been public, but the NIMBY didn’t care. All that the NIMBY could grasp is that Kramer is a cyclist, Kramer belongs to Big Orange, therefore Kramer has a conflict of interest. Of course with NIMBY logic, all of the motorists would have to recuse themselves from the committee, too, since no motorist could possibly be expected to be neutral on issues that affected cars. But in an absence of understanding and in a surfeit of ignorance, facts meant little, and one of the NIMBYs assured me outside the building that a lawsuit would be brought to remove Kramer from the committee.
“You’re not going to like that,” he said. I could only hope that he retained a very expensive lawyer with a huge, nonrefundable retainer.
In line with the NIMBY hatred of cyclists on Crest, riders recently reported a white Toyota Corolla buzzing, honking at, and harassing cyclists going up Crest in, surprise, single file. It’s hard to understand what they meant by civility, except perhaps this: Please shut up and go away from RPV.
The next day was Tuesday. I mentally flushed out the cremains of the night before with a good bike ride, one of those organic rides without a leader or promoter that’s been going on for over 30 years, and that evening I was back at another city meeting to witness another series of mindless assaults on cycling. This one was at Palos Verdes Estates.
At the end of the meeting I was accosted by a guy who claimed to be “Frank Ponce” and who “wanted to talk” to me. Imagine a pudgy bully whose hairpiece has been dipped in a bucket of chiGrecian Formula, clad in a two-for-one suit from Men’s Wearhouse, wearing an imitation of a fake Swiss watch and looking like he wanted to kill you.
Then imagine another guy, larger, blobbier, dumber looking (possible? yes!) who was also wearing a sandwich board with my picture on it and the caption “This Clown Wants More Signs.”
This clever fellow had discovered a picture that was on my web site and was now going to expose me as an advocate for bike signage. Plus he was going to call me a clown. Unfortunately, Mom’s allowance must have been a bit on the low side because the construction of the sign had the quality you normally associate with a cardboard roof used by a homeless person to cover his shopping cart.
How a person can strap on a homemade sign and duck-waddle around in public while calling someone else a clown is a metaphor for the wholesale absence of reflection, perspective, or self-awareness that the bike haters displayed at every turn. I was waiting for the Sandwich Clown to ask for gas money since Mom had perhaps kicked him off the couch for the evening, the best explanation for him even being out of the house.
Upon leaving the parking lot, Mr. Men’s Wearhouse, still furious that none of the cyclists would engage with him or take him up on his unspoken offers of a duel using tubes of Rogaine, taunted me as I walked by. Rumor has it that the fake watch consortium is going to set the wheels in motion to “revoke my law license.” It will be fascinating to watch the $99 suits tangle with even more words, rules, laws, and procedures, seeing as they still haven’t been able to read and understand CVC 21202(a) and its exceptions. Imagine their surprise when someone tries to draw them a stick-figure diagram of what an anti-SLAPP motion is and what attorney fee sanctions look like.
As I left the parking lot, catcalls ringing in my ears, it occurred to me that there it was again! Third Grade! Another flaccid wanker thinking that no one could possibly resist the idea of jumping into a verbal sewer with him. I kept walking, slightly pleased that with so little effort I’d taken up permanent residence into such a small and sand-filled head. And best of all, I was staying there rent-free.
The PVE City Council meeting itself was something of a clusterfuck. Because the council had seen the large turnout of cyclists in past meetings and been inundated by NIMBY emails complaining about outsiders/flatlanders/transients influencing their special snowflake on the hill, they sought to do an end-run by moving the time from 5:30 to 7:30 in order to conduct a workshop on traffic safety. It was never articulated as such, but the idea seemed to be to wear down the cyclists with an earlier meeting that would cut off speaking times. The plan only half-worked because the fire marshal had to stop people from entering after the room filled to capacity with cyclists.
While the tiny Men’s Wearhouse contingent had vociferously sought to rally the anti-cycling troops for the meeting, the packed-to-capacity council chambers were filled predominantly with cyclists. When asked to stand if they supported BMUFL signage, only a smattering of the 90+ attendees remained seated. If the plan had been to get all the concerned PVE residents out in force, it worked, because the meeting showed what we’ve known all along: Most residents don’t give two ratfucks about five new BMUFL signs and the only ones who oppose them are either still subsidized by Mom or are retired or are woefully underemployed or all three.
The workshop, although ostensibly held to educate the council as to this “complex” issue of four signs, seemed in fact to be Traffic Safety Principles 101 for the Completely Clueless NIMBYs. It was a rehash of many, many presentations I’ve heard in bits and pieces from the city’s traffic engineer, and it was all politespeak for “These BMUFL signs are legal, you dumbshits.”
But the problem was this: If the NIMBYs were so thick-headed that they couldn’t understand CVC 21202(a), and if they were so pig-headed that they refused to recognized the legality of BMUFL, how in the world was the workshop going to educate them about something as complex as “basic principles of traffic engineering”? Their go-to guy was a stooge in a sandwich board and a sub-literate, flabby realtor in a cheap suit whose Linked-In profile picture reminds me of a hubcap thief from the 1920’s. These people were going to be “educated” about engineering and the law?
No. They were not.
It was like having a civil rights lawyer address a group of Trump supporters on the illegality of segregation.
Civil rights lawyer: “Segregation is illegal.”
Trumpers: “But we hate black people.”
CRL: “It’s still illegal.”
Trumpers: “No, it isn’t.”
CRL: “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).”
Trumpers: “Can we change the law just for here? PVE is unique!”
CRL: “No. It’s the supreme law of the land and codified in numerous federal and state laws and the California Constitution.”
Trumpers: “We still hate black people. We still hate integration. We love segregation. We don’t understand why we can’t have it. We grew up with it. And we’ve lived here since 1984.”
The part of the workshop that did work was that it promptly concluded at 7:30, before even a fraction of the cyclists had gotten to speak out in favor of BMUFL signage. This served the city and the NIMBYs’ agenda perfectly: It delayed the decision on the signs even further, it forced the cyclists to come back again (and again and possibly again), and it let the BMUFL advocates know that the city wasn’t going to easily and quickly fold to the recommendations of its own attorney, traffic engineer, safety committee, and what one NIMBY at the last traffic committee meeting referred to as “transients.”
The other part of the workshop that worked out exquisitely for the NIMBYs was that the latter half of the workshop degenerated into “cyclists running stop signs.” No matter how many times the police say they have limited resources, no matter how many times people point out that stop sign violations are equal among cars and bikes, and no matter how many times people point out that stop sign violations have nothing at all to do with BMUFL signage, once the Dreaded Stop Sign Issue is raised, everything goes running down into the gutter.
It’s as if you convened a meeting to discuss space travel and no one could stop talking about stop signs.
Bike Advocate: “BMUFL signage is legal and saves lives.”
Men’s Wearhouse: “Bikes run stop signs!”
Bike Advocate: “So do motorists but that’s not the issue.”
Men’s Wearhouse: “Bikes run stop signs!”
Bike Advocate: “Yes, but today we’re here to discuss BMUFL signage.”
Men’s Wearhouse: “Norm is videotaping all the scofflaw bikers running stop signs!”
Bike Advocate: “Yes, we’ve seen samples of the high quality videos made by Mom’s Couch Productions. But today we’re here to discuss BMUFL signage, how it’s legal, recommended by the city engineer, and how it saves lives according the the NIH.”
Men’s Wearhouse: “Blobbly Bob is going to make another sandwich board showing bikers running stop signs!”
Bike Advocate: “I hope it’s a wide one.”
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September 6, 2016 § 22 Comments
There will be a traffic safety committee meeting at the Palos Verdes Estates city hall tomorrow at 7:30 PM. The traffic safety committee has recommended that the city install six signs that say “Bikes May Use Full Lane.” The full agenda is here; the address is 340 Palos Verdes Drive West, Palos Verdes Estates, CA 90274.
Sounds like glacial change that couldn’t possibly be controversial.
However, a handful of NIMBYs think that this is outrageous and will spoil the peninsula. So, in typical NIMBY fashion, they have cobbled together a petition that urges the city to delay putting up Bikes May Use Full Lane signage even though such signage has been approved by the city’s traffic safety commission and is completely legal. I’ve heard but can’t confirm that there is also a petition to limit cyclist usage of certain sections of public roads. This isn’t on the agenda, but we’ll see at the meeting if that’s in fact what some of the NIMBYs are advocating. I won’t urge you to show up and make your voice heard. Everyone has their own to-do list. Families, kids, jobs, fantasy football, and the all-important rest time for the next big group ride. I get it.
But for those who think that democracy only happens when people show up, please take a few hours out of your lives to help the traffic safety committee do what it already knows is the right thing to do.
And the right thing to do, as a very first step, is to install signage that will encourage motorists not to behave like this 14-carat asshole driving in Palos Verdes Estates who almost killed one cyclist and almost injured many more yesterday:
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April 20, 2014 § 36 Comments
The night had started off slowly. I was sitting next to a couple of dudes at the bar and they were discussing beer. “I like the slightly fruity finish, almost strawberryish,” one said of his light-colored ale.
“Yeah. And it’s amazing the way it starts with a full nose, almost chocolatey, then transforms into something airy and almost, like you said, a fruity aromatic.”
I looked at my 32-oz. glass of suds. “Are you guys talking about beer or edible underwear?” I asked.
They laughed nervously. “Ha, ha. Good one. What are you drinking?”
“Oh, that’s a good beer,” approved Fruity Finish.
“Yes, very workmanlike, solid,” added Chocolatey Nose. “For sure it’s a biggie and has those strong citrus notes. Kind of muted compared to others but still lots of orange rind and piney notes. It’s a big beer, for sure.”
“It is?” I asked, wondering if they were talking about the big mug.
“Oh, yes,” chimed in Fruity Finish. “I’d add that, you know, it’s a well-balanced bitey IPA, right?” He eyed my giant mug. “You’ll get a better nose from a tulip glass, it’ll let the smell travel and pull out the high notes on that classic mix of piney, mango, citrus, resin, dankness. There’s enough bitterness, nicely mixes with the fruity, citrusy, fresh finish.”
I looked at them as if they were trying take upskirt photos of my wife. “You think so?” I asked.
Fruity Finish and Chocolatey Nose nodded. “How would you describe it?” asked Chocolately Nose.
I took another swallow from the giant mug as the bitter liquid charged down my throat. I savored it for a moment. “Hmmm,” I said. “Tastes like ass.”
The two connoisseurs winced. “Ass?”
“Yep,” I said, taking another swig. “A big old nasty swallow of ass. And that’s what beer’s supposed to taste like, by the way.”
They didn’t know what to say, so I continued. “Beer is one of the nastiest things ever invented, worse than kimchi. It’s rotted inedible offal stewed in a pot and left in a bucket to rot some more. If it doesn’t taste like shit you’re doing it wrong.”
Fruity Nose protested. “Good craft beer …”
“Fuck good craft beer. Beer tastes foul when you start and gets fouler with each successive swallow. That’s why by your tenth beer you’re cross-eyed trying to choke the shit down. That’s why men drink it after a long day digging ditches or clear cutting virgin old growth. If you’re going to fructify and chocolatify it, might as well soak a pair of flavored edible panties in ethanol and eat that.”
The two experts politely turned away, which was perfect timing because up came the Godfather. He sat down at the bar next to me and ordered a beer. Like a man, he pointed to my glass and said to the bartender, “I’ll have what he’s having.” Like a man, he didn’t bother to ask what it was, he just assumed that it was strong and bitter and there was a lot of it.
“How’d you get into cycling, Godfather?” I asked him.
The barkeep plopped the huge cold mug in front of him and he paused to take a deep, manly draft after we clinked the shit out of those 12-lb. mugs. “Fatty tuna,” he said.
I thought about that for a second, hoping like hell he wasn’t about to pronounce that there was a finishing note of raw fish. “Not saying I’m drunk, Godfather, but you’re gonna have to help me out with that one.”
“Fatty tuna,” he repeated. “And strawberries.” Then, like a man, he sucked down a full quarter of his glass and dissected it the only way any man worth his salt would ever evaluate a beer. “That shit is good,” he said.
“Damn straight,” I said, adding the only man-approved comment to another man’s approval of a cold beer. “But I’m still not understanding the berries and tuna thing and what it has to do with bikes.”
Godfather lives up on top of the Hill and runs the global energy consulting arm of IBM. He is always nicely dressed and seems like the perfect product of Southern California suburbia. But he isn’t. “You know, I grew up in Pedro,” he said, referring to San Pedro, the impoverished little armpit at the southernmost tail of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. “We were fishermen, and our family had fished the peninsula since they emigrated from a little village in Sicily in the early 1900’s. All of Pedro was fishermen, mostly Italians and Portuguese, and Croats, too.”
“Pedro?” I asked, incredulously. “You mean the place that’s now crawling with gangs and drunk longshoremen and street people who live in shopping carts?”
“The same,” he said. “We had three boats, the biggest was the Giuseppe, a hundred-footer. When I got big enough to work the boat, I was seven, they took me on my first run. We left in the wee hours and sailed up by Abalone Cove, shining lights on the surface to bring up the squid. Once we had a full load of squid, we sailed farther out to the bait barge and cashed in our bait for money that we used to fuel up the Giuseppe and the chaser boat.”
“What’s a chaser boat?”
“We had a little motorboat hanging on the back of the Giuseppe, my dad ran that.”
I tried to envision all of this happening right here on the coast of Southern California in the late 1960’s, a family fishing operation off a peninsula that’s now slathered in tract housing, faux Mediterranean designs, and filled with people whose only conception of beer is fruity finishes and chocolatey noses.
“I bet your old man liked beer,” I said.
“Damn straight he did. But we were a big Italian family, so he loved wine, too. Anyway, we fueled up the boat and headed out because we knew the tuna were running up from Baja, and if we could land a decent catch we’d be able to keep a roof over our heads for the next three months or so. It was a big deal. Grandpa climbed up into the crow’s nest and started scanning the water for dolphin fins because the tuna ran beneath the dolphin schools. Sure enough, he spotted ’em. He had eyes like a hawk, just like the whalers back in the day.
“He shouted down to dad, and we rolled the chaser boat into the water, and dad cranked the motor and set out after those tuna with grandpa coming up under a full head of steam. Dad got to the school, and started to turn it with the chaser boat, bringing the dolphins back to the Giuseppe, where we had the nets. It was exciting stuff, yelling and the crew doing everything just exactly at the right time and then bam, those nets were filled with tuna and all hell broke loose. We wound up with three tons of tuna that run.”
“So what does that have to do with cycling and strawberries?” I’d managed to hang onto that thread despite the boat chase and the tuna catch and the squid and the old Italians drinking beer.
“I’d ridden my bike down to the harbor that morning at dark-thirty. Dad filleted a 30-lb. cut of fatty tuna, wrapped it in some newspaper, and put it in my basket. Now mind you, the bike and the tuna weighed almost as much as I did. ‘Go get us some berries, Gerald,’ he said. So I had to crank that big steel bicycle loaded down with fresh fish all the way up the wall on 25th Street and out PV Drive South out to what is now Trump National Golf Course. It wasn’t a golf course then, I can assure you.”
“What was it?”
“Strawberry fields. And corn fields. Paolo and Maria Pugliese farmed strawberries all along the coast along with a couple of other families.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“I am not. Where you now see multi-million dollar McMansions and a golf course there used to be strawberry fields and old Italians with sunburnt faces. It took me forever to get there, lugging that fish on that heavy bike. Remember, I was only seven. Finally I got there, and old Paolo took my fish and handed me two big wicker baskets. ‘Go pick your berries, Gerald,’ he said. So for the next two hours I bent over in the fields picking those fresh strawberries, then I rode home.”
“And that is how you got into cycling?” I asked.
Gerald finished off his beer in a one long manly pull. “Yes,” he said. “It is.”
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February 27, 2011 § 8 Comments
The first USCF race I ever entered was one of the very, very few USCF races I ever won. It was February, 1984. I had just gotten my Cat 4 license and joined the Violet Crown Sports Association in Austin after six or seven months doing their weekend training rides, the highlight of which were the “dirt road low water crossing sprints.” Jack and Phil and Mike knew every dirt road within a 100-mile radius of Austin, and every weekend ride featured numerous detours down roads that weren’t even on a map. Every time we’d hit a low water crossing, which was about every fifteen minutes, the peloton would slam on the brakes, throw the bikes onto the roadside, and pass around a massive joint.
I inhaled lots, not because I ever smoked but because the conflagration would send up plumes of smoke so thick that you couldn’t not partake. The group would then leap back on their bikes, and anyone who thinks pot isn’t a performance enhancing drug should have been on one of those rides. The pace would go from zero to hammer-forty in ten seconds, strung out into a line of dust eating, big ring churning, full-on pedal floggers.
No more than two or three minutes later, however, the hammer euphoria of the drug would morph into the wow, dude, mellow phase and the pace line of raw meat eating musclemen would become a slow, meandering, peaceful aggregation of happy riders. But those first two minutes…what performance!
Only the hard men need apply
In order to keep its USCF club license, the Violet Crown, snidely referred to by the envious as the “Violent Clowns” would annually throw together a “race,” usually announced a week or two in advance. In 1984 it was the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff Time Trial, in between Austin and Manor just off FM 973. Total distance was 4 miles.
I still remember the excitement, getting up at 6:00 a.m., eating a bowl of yogurt and granola, airing up the tires in my bright purple Picchio Rigida, pulling on my Detto Pietra shoes and pedaling from campus out to the course on that freezing February morning. By the time I got there I was frozen solid, and to my surprise, which should have been no surprise, Bloor Road was all dirt, and it began at the bottom of a steep hill. I wondered what would happen if there were a low water crossing.
Five other riders showed up, including Mike B., who was a junior and who had the first cyclocross bike I’d ever seen. Also present were Jack P. and maybe Tom P. When the results were tabulated, I was the winner over Mike by a few seconds. The organizers had either found a low water crossing or temporarily dispensed with the requirement, and in between giggles I was awarded first prize: an unopened Laverne and Shirley board game, complete with the plastic wrapping. Just in case you think I’m making that last part up, you can see it by clicking this link. It still remains the most valuable thing I’ve ever won in a bike race, and it has appreciated greatly in value: a vintage game will set you back $77 on Ebay.
PV Hillclimb 2011
Fast forward 27 years. I’m still a Cat 4 for those who idiotically believe that if you persevere at cycling you’ll eventually get better. The PV Hillclimb series (is two a series?) is sponsored by local promoter Brad H., Big Orange Cycling member, bicycle activist, endurance racer, elbow flapper, and 2009 state time trial champion in the category of mixed tandem combined age 90+ (of the four teams, one was disqualified because the guy had an expired license and the gal had “no license info available”). Brad has shown his thirst for the kill on numerous occasions, most memorably when he wrecked me at last year’s Devil’s Punchbowl. I’ve mentioned this in previous blog postings, but not because it bothers me. I barely remember it, in fact. I also hardly remember him regaling Rod G. with the race outcome by saying, “I don’t know what happened to Seth. He just crumbled. So I rode away.” For the record I’m not even slightly bitter, because I’m bigger than that.
I got up excitedly at 6:00 a.m., ate a bowl of yogurt and granola, aired up the tires in my white Specialized, pulled on my Sidi shoes, and pedaled from home out to the course on what was a freezing February morning, replete with hail along PV Drive from last night’s hailstorm. I rolled along on fire as the Mad Alchemy “Madness” high heat embrocation cream had gotten smeared up high and inside the chamois, and my parts were simply smoking.
Prices have gone up since 1984, when it cost me $5 to enter the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff TT. Brad’s PV Hillclimb set me back $25, but it would prove to be worth every penny. Although there was no Laverne and Shirley board game on offer, the winner would have his name engraved in a PDF file and permanently uploaded to the World Wide Web. I shelled out my money and continued up the hill to warm up.
Cycling on the Palos Verdes Peninsula has several iconic climbs, and this course is one of them. It’s six miles long, starts at the nature center at the bottom of the reservoir, and goes up Palos Verdes Drive to Marymount College. At the college you turn right and head up Crest to the radar domes. The total distance is six miles, with about .5 mile of downhill halfway up the climb. The first three miles are a gradual grade, no more than 4 or 5%. After the downhill the road tilts back up, and then you go right at the college where there’s a short but steep section before the road settles down into a gradual climb up to the finish. It’s easy to come out too hot on this course and run out of gas once you hit the college. It’s also easy to hold too much in reserve and finish with gas in the tank. My goal was to hold 310-315 watts for the entirety of the climb.
When the cat’s away
This weekend bragged an absence of the South Bay hammerati due to the Callville Bay Classic in Nevada and the Ontario crit. Other lightning fast climbers had gone north, where they could pedal as many long hills as they wanted without having to pay for it. The absence of a Laverne and Shirley board game, the cold weather, competing events, and common sense meant that when sign-up closed only 37 idiots had penned their names and paid their money.
Teammates Kevin, Jon, Bob, Greg, Alan H., and Alan M. toed the line and went off on schedule. Kevin won the 35+, and Jon got second. A couple of minutes into my ride I started to remember why it had been 27 years since the last uphill time trial: they really hurt. My category included 6 other riders, so it was bigger than the entire field in 1984. Moreover, one of the hungry Hard Men against whom I had to prove my mettle was Big Brad, the glare from his white state champion’s mixed tandem 90+ TT jersey blinding in its refulgence.
The sweet taste of victory
My minute man was a furry Freddie, and I overtook him with ease. My two minute man was furry Freddie’s furrier cousin, and I devoured him as well. At the finish I turned in a 22:31, which was good enough to put me atop the 45+ category, relegating the six other pretenders to the ash heap of defeat. In the course of human endeavor, has anyone ever achieved more? In the annals of cycling, has a more glorious chapter ever been written?
I stood at the roadside, sucking in the winter smog and reflecting on my accomplishment. How did this compare to Merckx’s Mexico City hour record in ’72? To his Giro TT victory in ’73? To Boardman in ’96? Surely those events, noteworthy as they were, couldn’t compare to this field of six that I had so totally dominated. Did Merckx, Moser, or Rominger ever have Brad H. snapping at their heels? Were any of those titans ever hardened by the spoils of victory in their early years by a Laverne and Shirley board game? I doubt it.
February 2, 2011 § 2 Comments
People who’ve done the Boulevard road race have varying memories of it. Mine, aside from crushing defeat, ignominious defeat, and humiliating defeat, are mostly centered on having been frozen to the core. Last year the race began in a freezing rain. The year before it snowed. This year the forecast is for sunshine, but if you check the course elevation–5,000 feet, same as Denver, Colorado–you’ll know that the forecast can change quickly. My expectation is that it will be very cold or at least very chilly, maybe even batshit miserable.
The whole idea behind embrocation is to heat your legs without covering them in lots of restrictive clothing. The other point is to augment your training/racing without having to say “I use Ben-Gay.” The biggest benefit of an embrocation is that it sounds very pro and very Euro, more so if you just say “embro.” Finally, of course, it has the talisman effect of cream in a jar, stored in a small bag, and rubbed on like a magic elixir prior to going forth to do battle. Davis Phinney used to achieve the same effect with his “lucky shorts.” After a few grand tours that must have been lots gnarlier than this stinky gel in a jar.
Mad Alchemy appeals to the most base bike racing instincts: its name admits mental instability and suggests a thoroughly discredited scientific theory. False advertising lawsuits need not apply.
How much to use?
If you’re cycling on the Palos Verdes peninsula, the pre-dawn temperatures can vary from the high 30’s to the low 50’s this time of year. Getting the type of embrocation right, and then smearing on the proper quantity, involve lots of trial and error. I bought a jar of Mad Alchemy Cold Weather Medium, recommended for temperatures from 30-60F, and a jar of Mad Alchemy Cold Weather Madness, recommended for putting on your shelf as a reminder that if you need this stuff it’s too damned cold to be outdoors on a bike.
Last Friday it was in the high 40’s and I put some medium cream on my legs, not very much, in fact, and I paid scrupulous attention to putting my shorts on first, rolling up the legs, and only then applying. If you put it on nude and then pull up your shorts, you will get hot dick and frypan balls, as described in a previous post. If you’re a woman I shudder to think what the phenomenon would be called. After a few minutes the Mad Alchemy warmed up my legs so that no leg warmers were needed at all. However, I didn’t put enough embrocation on so that after two hours my legs were cold.
On Saturday it was in the low 40’s and I put on medium cream, this time slathering it on pretty heavily. It worked wonders, especially since the temperature got up into the 60’s after a couple of hours. The heat remained on my legs for five or six hours, and it was exacerbated by sunshine. I also stuck a finger in my eye almost eight hours after using the cream, and it burned like hell for about thirty minutes. Lesson: wash your hands, dumbshit.
On Tuesday it was in the high 40’s and, like Friday, I used the medium cream. My legs were warm but my hands and feet, which were protected only with thin gloves and sock material booties, were really cold. I decided that today I would lather up my feet and hands as well as my legs and see how that worked. One side effect after yesterday morning’s ride was that after showering (hot water makes your legs really burn) and getting dressed for work, my legs pulsed heat for another couple of hours in the office. People were actually huddling around my thighs for warmth. That’s what they said.
This morning I put on what I thought was a lot, and rubbed it between my toes, all over the tops and soles of my feet, and on the back of my hands. I considered putting a pinch between my cheek and gum, but didn’t. Unfortunately, I didn’t check the temperature until I rolled out. It was in the mid-30’s, and even though my legs, hands, and feet were toasty warm, the rest of me froze to hell. Lesson: make sure you’re bundled up, up top. The medium embrocation was at its limit, and I probably could have used the extra hot cold weather Madness. If it’s cold enough tomorrow, I will give it a try.
The best thing about this product is that it’s really expensive. At $20 a jar, you can spend several hundred dollars a year just on your pro “embro.” Studies have shown a correlation between the amount of money you spend and the amount of pro-ness you feel on the bike, and if nothing else it will give your wife another item on the monthly credit card bill to nitpick and criticize. Not that it happens in my family. Right, honey?
Buy or not to buy?
Definitely buy. It’s a good product and it works. You’ll pedal faster and stronger in cold weather without all the lycra on your legs. Not sure if rapeseed oil, the active ingredient, is on the UCI list of banned substances, but it’s definitely in the California Penal Code. Use with caution.