My cousin Vinnie

June 5, 2015 § 24 Comments

I had a pair of Mavic Open Pro 32-spoke wheels. Thet were aluminum box rim rims, “bulletproof” as people like to describe a wheelset instead of calling them “really fucking heavy and slow.”

These were sold to me by Steve Bowen, the wonderful guy who used to own the PV Bicycle Center. I had walked into the store one day with a glazed look that said “Ready to spend some money on something,” and Steve, the consummate salesman, recognized it.

He pointed to the wheels hanging from the ceiling, which I’ve always thought is a great place to sell products if your clients are giraffes. “These would be good for you,” he said. “Chris King hubs, 32-spoke, bulletproof.”

Like the old saying goes when you have a stud horse for hire, “The best time to breed the mare is when the farmer is in heat,” and I was in heat for some new wheels and Steve sensed it, despite the fact that my bike needed a set of “bulletproof” wheels about as badly as it needed a concrete saddlebag.

“Cool,” I said without missing a beat. “How much?”

“$1,200 for you,” he said in perfect contrapuntal time.

“Done,” I answered in rather more complicated 7/8 measure.

Then for five years I rode the dogfuck out of those wheels. Four BWR’s, 15k miles a year, races, trails, you name it, IDGAF what the road looked like, those wheels rode it, even the cliff down to the Nazi Camp off Sullivan Ridge. Yep, that cliff. On a road bike.

I rode the wheels so hard that I wore out the rims and had to replace them along with the rear hub. Then in November I cracked the front hub on the Nosco Ride. Apparently even bulletproof can’t withstand a mortar round. Of course, I sent the fucked over, trashed up, shattered, blasted, and deformed hub back to Chris King and told them that their product was plainly defective as it had only been driven for the last five years by a little old lady in Montebello who uses her bicycle to pedal .2 miles round-trip to the grocery store and back.

They sent me a hub the next day and Boozy P. built ‘er up on one of the afternoons when the brewery that he lives behind was closed for remodeling.

Then in 2014 I got in heat again for some wheels and for the first time in five years spent some money on my bike. Local bike shops have gone bankrupt waiting for me to spend more than six dollars at a time. I decided to test out something that wasn’t bulletproof, that is, some full carbon made of 100% carbon, you know, carbon wheels.

As soon as I bought the FastForward full carbon wheelset, my old Mavics violated the Wanky Rule of Wheels: Thou shalt have no more than two.

So I went on Facebag and posted “that” photo. You know the one. It’s where your cyclist friend leans his wheels up against the closet door for a photo and everyone on Facebag world realizes that 1) All cyclists live in cheap apartments and 2) We all have the same carpet.

I offered these beautiful wheels for the low, low, low, low price of $200, and in response to my offer received a number of caustic replies, all related to the condition of the wheels after five years between the forks of someone with a reputation as terrible as mine.

“Fuck all you wankers,” I said. “I’m calling Vinnie.”

Vinnie is an aged Cat 1 racer who is also a teacher, longshoreman, part-time bike mechanic, and most importantly, an eBay savant. Vinnie sells on eBay like he races, and by the way, he has the fitness of a bath towel. Doesn’t matter. For Vinnie, every race is a study in aerodynamics. He can finish any crit in the top ten simply by drafting.

He treats other riders as a scientific review of the principles of aerodynamics, and I have seen him reject perfectly rotund, excellent Cadillac drafts in favor of bodies that are slightly more advantageous in terms of slipstream. I have seen him do 60-minute crits without pedaling more than eleven times. He is a connoisseur of body types, and an even more assiduous student of the psychology of eBay buyers.

Vinnie will take your old frame, your old shifters, your old socks, your old boyfriend, WHATEVER, and sell it on eBay for far more than you could ever get on your own. Then he will ship it and charge you 30%.

Vinnie studies eBay like Warren Buffett studies stocks. In other words, Vinnie knows suckers.

He put up the wheels for sale and got back with me seven days later. “They won’t fetch anything as-is.”

“WTF? They’re immaculate! Perfect! Bulletproof.” It’s like having the obstetrician tell you that your baby isn’t just ugly, it’s actually a rhesus monkey.

“Yes,” he said, “they are perfect in every way. But that’s not how they’re perceived. They’re perceived as second-hand junk that has been beaten to shit and that will likely explode after two days’ worth of riding.”

“The hubs are new!”

“I know.”

“They’re Chris King!”

“I know.”

“The rims are practically new, sort of!”

“I know.”

“I’m a gentle rider!”

“I know.”

“I picked only the best lines in the last four BWR’s!”

“I know.”

I sighed. “Okay. So I guess I’ll come get them.”

“Not so fast,” said Vinnie. “We will get $400 dollars for them.”

“We will?”

“Yes, but it’s going to hurt.”

“$400 never hurts.”

“This will.”

“Tell me.”

“We will cut away the rims and just sell the hubs.”

“Huh? That’s nuts! We’re not going to waste those awesome rims and spokes!”

“Yes, we are.”

“What idiot would buy a pair of hubs instead of a pair of wheels?”

“Ebay idiots.”

“Why?”

“Because when they see the wheels they think, ‘Those rims have been grudge fucked by Godzilla on a meth bender.’ But when they see they see the hubs, all nicely polished and leaning against my closet, they think, ‘Whoa! Chris King hubs! Imma build up some bitchin’ wheels with those bad boys! Bulletprooooooof!'”

“You’re joking, right.”

“Wanky,” he said.

“Yes?”

“I never joke about money.”

“Do the surgery.”

“Yes, sir.”

Seven days later I got the text. “Hey, man, hubs sold for $400. Come get your money.”

I don’t know if he also does hits. But if does, I’m pretty sure he always gets his man.

END

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The enemy among us

March 28, 2015 § 59 Comments

[An earlier version of this post incorrectly attributed the quote below to Patrick Brady, when in fact it was written by someone else and posted as a guest editorial on Red Kite Prayer, Patrick’s blog. I’ve corrected the mistaken attribution and edited the post accordingly.]

Some people never cease to amaze me. Even so, I was amazed to read this editorial posted on Patrick Brady’s blog, Red Kite Bore. The author thinks that a helmet law in California isn’t worth opposing. Whaaaaaat?

According to the author:

Bike advocate groups might consider what others see when they see us. They see people who run stop signs, weave in and out of traffic, ride in packs, take up a lane, and so on. It’s not a pretty picture. Sure, most of us are wearing helmets as we bend rules and traffic laws, but that’s not what the pissed off drivers see. So when they hear cyclists are opposed to a helmet law, it only furthers their belief that we are selfish, unpredictable and dangerous. Maybe we let this one go. Let the lawmakers and drivers have this one without resistance. We got our 3-foot law in California, we can put up with a helmet law on the books. Pick your battles as they say. This is one fight we can easily walk away from.

Presumably, the editorial is endorsed by Patrick and RKP, as it fits hand-in-glove with the kind of writing for which RKP is infamous. And this one is a real howler, especially the last two sentences, as if Patrick or RKP has ever picked a fight with anyone, anywhere, for the benefit of cyclists. In all of the advocacy I’ve been involved in, I’ve never seen Patrick show up for anything, even when there was free beer and pizza. Never seen him at a council meeting, never seen him on a “Take the Lane” protest ride down PCH, nothing, zip, nada.

So to hear the guy who gave rave reviews to the latest Bell helmet put up a guest post supporting the helmet law speaks volumes. Unfortunately, the author, Mike Hotten, is a friend and an accomplished cyclist. But he’s completely wrong when he thinks that the solution is to “let this one pass.”

But what’s most reprehensible is the description of cyclists and by implication himself as someone who is a complete asshole on the bike. While I wholeheartedly agree that his description fits Patrick, it hardly describes most riders who in terms of numbers are simply people using a bike to get from point A to point B. Even worse is the rationale: People hate us, so let them force us to wear helmets because if we oppose the helmet law they’ll hate us even more. Glad that RKP wasn’t selected to fight for a seat at a lunch counter in Alabama back in the 60’s.

Patrick and the RKP forum are as far from zealous cycling advocacy as it gets. He has zero racing cred, belongs to no club or racing team that I’m aware of, and has never shown his face at any local bike race I’ve ever attended even though he kits out in the fanciest stuff and yet pretends to be a commentator on bike racing. He’s the same guy who gave a descending clinic to new riders at the defunct PV Bicycle Center, and a year later crashed very badly descending Las Flores when he hit a rock or slid out or just fredded his way off into a ditch. Yeah, that Patrick Brady.

My personal experiences with Patrick have been that he is  condescending to  riders who are wearing the wrong stuff, riding the wrong stuff, or don’t know the secret handshake. Of course he’s also the first guy to get shelled when we start climbing, or to get shelled in a hard paceline, is as tough as an under-baked cupcake, and is referred to as “Nancy” behind his back. When people talk about the cliquish, condescending, snooty attitude of road cyclists, the epitome of that stereotype is Patrick Brady.

For this clown’s publication to tell us we should roll over and accept a bad law because they’re too lazy to do anything about it is pathetic. The real problem is properly analyzed by Bike Snob, and it’s analyzed well. Try not to giggle too much at the photos he posted of Patrick as he models his aero goon helmet with the go-faux-pro Assos jersey.

As for the 3-foot law, the article says “we.” I’d love to hear about Patrick’s and RKP’s  particular role in that legislation. And while they’re at it, show us some statistics to demonstrate it’s had any effect on accidents or deaths, any at all.

In short, the helmet law sucks. You should oppose it. And don’t listen to Red Kite Bore when it comes to helmet laws when their sole means of subsistence is the sale of advertising space to people who make bike junk, not limited to helmets.

END

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It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to

December 25, 2012 § 141 Comments

Christmas Day is a melancholy day for me and I don’t have to apologize for it. It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to.

It was melancholy for my grandfather Jim, who was stone drunk by ten every Christmas morning, and on the blind staggers by evening. His elder sister had died on Christmas when he was a young man, compounding what was a sad holiday anyway. Celebration of the birthday of an innocent man who was nailed to a cross? Day of mourning is more like it…

My brother was born on December 27th.

I spent my life chasing him, and for two days every year we were the same age. What a wonderful feeling, those two days of equality, until he would race by me again, reminding me with a thump on the head that he was still the boss. This year I’ll pass him forever. What I wouldn’t give to be the younger one again.

Death and remembrance

I swung by the PV Bicycle Center yesterday to pick up my ‘cross bike, which had been cleaned and overhauled after the bitter abuse of half a beginner’s race season. As I parked, Dave Lindstedt was pulling out. He rolled down his window. “Did you hear about Steve?”

Now you know and I know, that’s a question that’s never going to end well. I expected the worst, of course, which in my world means that another friend got mowed down by a motorist. I braced for the account of the accident, the extent of the injuries, and finally the location of the hospital.

If it was a bad accident, I’d likely be spending Christmas Eve at UCLA Harbor. If it was only terrible-bad, I’d be visiting him at Torrance Memorial. If he’d gotten pegged on one of his longer rides, it might even be UCLA in Westwood.

“No,” I said, opening my door because the electronic window was still broken and I’d just covered the controls with duct tape to keep from inadvertently hitting the button and causing the window to leap out of the frame.

Dave swallowed hard. “He’s gone.”

“He’s what?”

“Gone. Yesterday in Malibu, climbing with Marcella. His heart gave out.”

We looked at each other, me in shock, him in pity as the shock coursed across my face. There’s that moment when anything you say is small and inadequate and rent with cliche, when reflexive utterances fill the void.

“I can’t believe it,” I said.

Lost in sound

Steve Bowen owned the PV Bicycle Center. He, like most other bike shop owners, worked all the time. He knew his customers. He was honest. He was beyond fair. He was always willing to help. He cared about people. He was never too busy to listen to your story, no matter how stupid.

There was always one customer who seemed to live at the shop but who I never saw buy anything. He would stand at the counter and brag about his hard rides, about his toughness, about his great skills on the bike. He would ask a thousand questions about products, prices, components, and repair. He was a single-handed drain on Steve’s bottom line in terms of time alone, not to mention annoyance, making other customers wait, and the bad smell that he brought with him into the shop. He was the kind of guy who sucked you dry and then did his shopping online, where he saved five percent.

I never saw Steve show resignation, or boredom, or frustration at this boob. If it had been me, the second time he walked into my shop I’d have told him to buy something or get the hell out. That’s another reason I didn’t get into retail, I suppose.

Steve marched to a different beat, though, and it showed. Steve was originally a concert pianist, and he had the gentleness of an artist as well as the slightly detached third ear of a musician. He always listened intently, and always seemed to be hearing more than you said.

I think that’s what gave him his profound empathy; it was his ability to hear the rhythm and the undertones and the overtones of the subtext that overlay whatever it was you were saying. His gentleness showed itself in his demeanor towards people and even more so towards animals.

His shop dog, Peanut, was proof of Steve’s kindness and easy spirit. The dog was weaned on love and raised on affection, which breeds satisfaction and kindness in animals and people alike.

Firing up the base

Steve did more than sell bikes. He sold people on the importance and enjoyment of biking. His shop sponsored all manner of rides, everything from beginner rides to seminars with local pros. He helped local authors promote their books: Patrick Brady’s bike book sat at the front of the cash register. He sponsored local racing teams. He worked hard to get women into cycling by creating an environment that was safe and fun and not permeated with with the chest-thumping advice sausages who so often intimidate women and ruin their excitement at discovering cycling.

The PV Bike Chicks, a local club that is the largest women’s riding group in the South Bay, was formed in large part due to Steve’s unwavering support. At public hearings like the one in Rolling Hills Estates, when the horse people tried to shout down an extraordinary infrastructure plan that would accommodate more cyclists and make bicycling safer in one of LA’s best riding areas, Steve was always there and always willing to speak.

His demeanor was factual, friendly, reasonable. Shrill, squawking, madman-with-a-kazoo type speeches a la Wankmeister were not his thing. He spoke, he talked business, he talked safety, he talked health, and people listened.

Everyone had a feel-good story about Steve

A couple of years ago, when Michael Marckx was trying to help Blue Bicycles get a foothold in the Southern California market, Steve made the extra effort to carry their bikes. He believed in helping.

When his shop manager, Sean, interviewed for the job he came back home to his girlfriend and said, “I gotta get that job.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because this guy really cares about people. It’s not just push, push, push and grind the bottom line. You can tell he cares.”

I have my own litany of stories about Steve. Most of them involve last minute needs, after-hours wants, inconvenient demands made at inconvenient times for inconvenient products and inconvenient services. Steve was always there for me, and treated my patronage like it mattered.

Most importantly, he was a cyclist’s cyclist and he maintained a dual-repair track. There was one track for bikes that needed fixing. They got put into the queue. There was another track for cyclists who needed their bike so they could ride it.

Those gonna-get-ridden bikes always, always, always went to the head of the line. Steve knew the difference between someone with three bikes who was looking for a particular upgrade and a racer with one bike and a busted wheel who was racing or doing a big ride the next day. He loved bikes, but he loved people who rode them more.

A bad omen

For several years Steve ran his bike shop in a small, hard to find, harder to reach location adjacent to the vet and across the way from a grocery store, tucked into one of the least desirable spaces on the Hill. He busted his butt. He built a loyal customer base. He toiled the long hours.

Then, three years ago he teamed up with Specialized to make a full-service, modern, beautiful bike shop that combined the best of an integrated Specialized operation with the integrity and friendliness of an LBS. If anything, he worked harder, but never lost the smile.

Earlier this year, while doing one of his 100-mile+ mountain rides, Steve keeled over and was briefly hospitalized. The doctors gave him a clean bill of health, but it was clearly worrisome to him as they’d been unable to pinpoint the cause. He kept riding and working and working and riding until this past Sunday.

He’d ventured out to the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu with Marcella Piersol. She was ahead of him on the climb when a motorist flagged her down.

“Your friend back there has fallen.”

She whipped around and sped back to him. A passing driver had stopped; as chance would have it he was a doctor who immediately tried to revive Steve, with no success. Despite her career as a cop with the LAPD, the shock to Marcella was indescribable. Steve was one of her best riding buddies, and a good friend besides.

She tried telling herself that he died doing what he loved, but that never takes away from the loss, it only makes us vaguely thankful. Vaguely. “It could have been worse” never lessened anyone’s pain.

The sound of music

Steve was a cyclist’s musician. He listened to the details. He cared about harmony. He was passionate about the larger, orchestrated movement.

He played a song for us, a song that was all too brief, and a song that was more complex than it seemed at first listen. Part of the coda, though, is this, and it’s something that Steve would have agreed with unreservedly: Life is fragile. Life is brief. Enjoy it now, while the band still plays.

RIP, Steve Bowen. My life is better because of knowing you. I’ll add you to my Christmas melancholy, but even so the thought of your goodness and your friendship will make me smile anyway.

Peace out.

Up the Hill, and down again

November 16, 2012 § 10 Comments

PV Bicycle Center is celebrating its fourth year atop the Palos Verdes Peninsula with, among other things, a hill climb featuring the legendary Switchbacks. The race goes off at 9:00 AM at the bottom of Palos Verdes Drive East. Victims meet at 8:45 AM to sign up and receive last rites at the parking inlet off Palos Verdes Drive South, just west of Palos Verdes Drive East. The first rider goes off at 9:00 AM and then successive riders leave at thirty second intervals. Category winners of the hill climb will receive a $50 gift certificate to the shop, and a supply of Athlete Octane.

At 10:00AM riders will regroup back at the shop for prizes, product demos by Marc Pro, free samples from vendors such as Athelete Octane, and for the chance to check out the shop’s 2012 clearance sale.

Guest of honor

This is all well and good, of course, but the real attraction to this event is that you’ll finally get to meet Craig Hummer. Craig is best known to Tour de France fans as the dude who provides color commentary with Bob Roll during the annual July extravaganza that is the Tour. However, here on the Hill, he’s known for something else: Not mixing with the proletariat.

Despite being a phenomenal athlete, the dude refuses to do the Pier Ride. Never shows up on the Donut. Avoids the Holiday and Wheatgrass rides like the plague. Instead, if you want to hang with Craig, you have to troll the Hill or Westchester Parkway long before sun-up, where he’s most likely to be found doing what he lives to do: Search out and destroy your Strava KOM’s.

Yep, this wanker likes to find an area KOM and then devote his life to claiming it. In fact, he used this stealth technique to steal one of my most-prized segments called “The Big One,” a segment I created and owned until it was discovered and ridden by another rider. In short, although Craig wouldn’t be caught dead riding with you, he’ll snatch and crush your Strava dreams under cover of darkness, and his coup stick of KOM’s dangles with numerous climbs around the peninsula.

Although I don’t have any intel on whether he’ll be hanging around after he blazes up the Switchbacks, chances are good that if you have a motorcycle or a net you can delay him long enough to get answers to your most burning TdF questions. I know I’ll be hanging around to find out when he’s going to show his stuff on the NPR.

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