It’s only a thousand meters

October 29, 2017 § 30 Comments

The fruits of thievery are success.

Velo Club La Grange has for years put on an intra-club race series. It consists of a 500-meter race on the track; you can use a road bike. Later in the year there is a 20-km TT on PCH; you can use your full TT geek rig. This is the only time you will use it all year, btw. The series finishes with the legendary Piuma Hillclimb. It’s about three miles long, it’s steep, and hard.

A small handful of people (think Trump hands) worry that bike racing is dying or perhaps dead. In the “old way,” it certainly is, by which I mean that there is no new crop of young people getting USAC licenses. Why would they? When you race bikes you will get hurt. Better to raise your kids in a safety cocoon than have them learn about risk, injury, danger, and reward.

At the same time, a number of race organizers keep chugging along, here to survive another day on the fumes of past participation, and on the super-charged fuel of the modern fondue ride, which is actually a great concept. You can charge people $160 to ride the roads they can ride for free, everyone wins, and if riders are ambitious and do the long course you can make sure there’s no water left at the last four rest stops.

But I digress.

Velo Club La Grange’s intra-club race series is a template for encouraging people to race, for developing and discovering nascent racers in the club, and for ensuring that the DNA of their organization as a racing club does not degenerate into a social media contest about whose bike is newest or whose selfies are awesomest. Being a free template, I stole it under cover of darkness and transported it, kicking and screaming while tied up in a burlap bag, over to Team Lizard Collectors HQ.

Of course some of the lizard collectors weren’t impressed. “Who needs a club race?” and “This will steal attention from my #socmed posts!” and “How in the eff will this promote my sock brand?” and of course “But I don’t raaaaaace!” were all valid and legitimate objections to the scurrilous suggestion that a bike racing club should have a bike race.

However, the Team Lizard Collectors board is composed, unfortunately, of bike racers, and with the exception of online porn nothing gets them salivating like the prospect of a bike race with trinkets. So they signed off on the cheap imitation of Velo Club La Grange’s Excellent Adventure, and a misbirth was born. Here was the plan for the Big Orange Galactic Championship series:

  1. 1,000-meter TT at Telo. No TT bikes allowed.
  2. Latigo hillclimb. Bring your secret motor, you’ll need it.
  3. 10-lap TT at Telo. No TT bikes allowed.

Several lizard collectors wondered about the 1k event. “It’s too short!” and “It’s too long!” and “It’s too easy!” and “How come I can’t bring my wind tunnel-tested TT rig?” and “But I don’t raaaaaaace!” were all valid and legitimate objections to the scurrilous suggestion that a bike race didn’t have to be so complicated that its inherent complications would create its demise and allow club members to go back to their normal business of lizard collecting and selfies.

However, here were the answers:

  1. Give people a short race and it will encourage them to try it out.
  2. If you think the kilometer is easy, please come show us on race day.
  3. TT rigs have ruined time trialing. They allow you to literally buy speed, they require redundant equipment, and they take one of cycling’s best and safest events out of the purview of the casual rider. TT bikes also make the safest, easiest, and least stressful discipline horribly dangerous for newbies by putting them on twitchy, deadly, unsteerable dorkbikes. Plus, TT rigs look stupid AF and are crazy expensive clothes hangers.
  4. Don’t raaaaaace? No problem. Come ride one thousand lousy meters with a number pinned on, and with your time being compared to everyone else on the same course on the same day under the same conditions, and forevermore you will be called a bike racer. It’s that simple.

Saturday came and went, and 36 members from Team Lizard Collectors’ 300-member roster showed up to compete, several of whom were doing their first race and first time trial ever. Most impressively, four out of the club’s five board members raced; talk about putting your board where your organization’s goals are. Instead of organizing it so that everyone got a trinket by dividing the event into categories of age/weight/gender/astrological sign/religion, there was a women’s category and a men’s. That was it.

The event was a huge success. Riders came out who otherwise would not have. New riders raced their first race. Non-favorites whipped ass on the favorites. Certain people discovered an affinity for short, fast efforts, and with it they garnered real respect, not virtual kudos on Strava.

Best of all, the event shored up our club’s DNA. We’re a bike racing club, open to everyone, racer or not, but with a mission to increase bike racing and to give everyone the opportunity to learn about and participate in this awesome sport. If you run a club and haven’t yet put together one of these series, now might be the time. It’s a blast. And I’ll even loan you the burlap bag.

END

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Bicycle mugging

October 27, 2017 § 32 Comments

My son-in-law Torazo is a badass, by which I mean a physics nerd. He also rides a bike, and he rides it about as badassedly as he solves physics problems, by which I mean yes, he loves to ride the Donut and hammer, but even more badassedly, he commutes to school on his celeste green, 4,000-lb. steel Bianchi.

Torazo goes to Harbor Community College, where he takes physics, calculus, chemistry, and a bunch of other classes that I never took anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Despite his undergraduate degree from Tokyo University, he fell in with the motley Davidson crew and wound up preferring the laid back SoCal lifestyle to the manacled, daily psycho-beatdown that you get as a salaryman in corporate Japan.

Harbor is one of the the poorest LA coastal community colleges, serving urban students. It’s about 70% Latino, 15% African-American, 10% frightened white, and a smattering of everything else. The Japanese students in the South Bay bundle up for safety and study mostly at Santa Monica College miles and a horrible commute away, where there is plenty of whiteness and richness and where you won’t suddenly find yourself in that awkward situation of having to talk to people who make up the majority of the population.

But not Torazo. He likes Harbor. It’s close, he has a 30-minute downhill ride to school and a 50-minute uphill ride home, the teachers are great, the students are great, and he’s there for the physics and calculus, not for the white bread. Like I said, badass.

Still, the school does have its issues, and the biggest one is the bicycle parking area, which is behind the gym, which is where all the jocks hang out. Many of the jocks at Harbor are trying to get a pro slot or an NCAA D-I billet, and they are like major-American-sport jocks everywhere: Big, loud talking, full of bravado, not overly impressed by any human activity that doesn’t end in the word “ball,” and not especially well known for taking physics.

So every day Torazo the physics nerd, with his 75-lb. backpack and nerdy bike pants and nerdy Big O lizard collectors jersey and nerdy bike shoes has to click-clack through the jock gauntlet to get to his bike. Nothing has ever happened, but walking through a large group of big, athletic, loud-talking people can induce anxiety in anyone, especially in a gentle physics nerd.

Today, though, it went down. He had almost made it through the tightly packed group, when a voice rang out. “Hey!” It wasn’t a greeting, it was a command.

Torazo picked up his pace but as a physics nerd he could calculate that reaching his bike, unlocking the lock, and pedaling madly away wouldn’t happen fast enough. “Hey!” the voice repeated, and this time it was sharper.

Torazo turned around, the color drained out of his face. “Me?” he asked, his voice shaking. The entire group stared at him.

“Fuck yeah, you, man. You think I’m talking to the fuckin’ wall?”

Torazo’s first language isn’t English, and in moments of extreme distress, as with anyone, his facility with the language fragmented. “How may I help you?” he blurted out, realizing that this was probably not the right playground response.

The guy who had accosted him took a few steps closer. He was easily 6’4″, with ripped arms, sinewy legs, and very intent eyes focused on Torazo. Torazo stared up at the tower. “That your bike?” the basketball player asked.

“Yes, sir,” Torazo said.

“Don’t give me no ‘sir’ shit. You ride that to school?”

“Yes,” Torazo answered.

The big guy nodded, staring intently at the shiny racing rig that stood out among the ten or fifteen other junker bikes. “What’s that thing cost?”

“I don’t know exactly.”

“You don’t know? What, you stole it?”

“No sir,” Torazo blurted. “I bought it in Japan and I don’t correctly know the exact exchange rate from that time.”

The guy wrinkled his brow, skeptically. “You ride on the road, too? Or just commute?”

Torazo paused, processing the sentence. “Yes,” he said. “Road riding all the time.”

“Me, too. We oughta ride together. I been looking for somebody here at Harbor likes to ride. I love to ride. What’s your number?”

Torazo and the guy exchanged info. “I will call you for the next Donut Ride,” Torazo said, waving as he pedaled away.

“Cool, man. Looking forward to it!” The guy went back to his friends, and Torazo was gone, one more biking friend on the way home than he’d had when he left.

END

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Let’s play smashface

October 25, 2017 § 8 Comments

I don’t get suckered often, but when I do it’s always a big chapeau to the perpetrator. At the very least it solves my problem, for a day, of “What’m I gonna blog about?”

A few months ago I met Jason Hole in the Internet/Facebag way. He lives in Orange County and has a group of riders who coalesce around the slogan “Let’s Play Bikes.” The purpose, so I was told, is for people to get together and “have fun.” The weekly Tuesday ride, which leaves Bill Barber Park in Irvine at 5:45 PM, accommodates a wide variety of interests and abilities.

It’s “only about an hour” and it’s “flat” and it “regroups.”

Of course the above description should have sent screaming, blood-dripped shrieks of alarm raging through my head. “Have fun.” “Flat.” “Regroups.” These are all code words for their antonyms, “miserable AF,” “gnarly climb,” and “good fuggin’ luck, seeyalater or probably never.”

The moist and tasty little worm on the end of the hook was “Why don’t you come down and talk to us about bike safety, and then do the ride with us?”

Bike safety? Hell, yes. And followed with a fun, friendly, flat pedal for an hour or so? Perfection!

So we loaded up Kristie’s battle wagon and hurled ourselves into the teeth of the 405 at 3:15 on a Tuesday, and it was a full-on SoCal traffic porn show, bumper to bumper to bumper to bumper as we limped through the concrete freeway hellhole, saving the environment with our zero emissions bikes by putting them in the back of an 8-cylinder truck that got 8 or 9 feet per gallon. [Cue hypocritical smugness.]

We nervously gazed at the thermometer as we inched along. 107 degrees. And since we’d ridden that morning and had done a decent amount of climbing, we already knew that outside it was drier than C-SPAN.

Once we got to the park and met up with Jason, I noted a few key things. First, it was not only 107 very hot degrees, and it was not only sandpaper dry, but there was a howling, screeching wind. Naturally, I figured we’d be riding into it. But most disturbing? Jason never cracked a smile. Not a grin. Not even a tiny upturned corner of one side of his mouth. Long bike experience told me what I didn’t want to hear: This was going to be all business.

The parking lot filled, I gave my safety talk, and we rolled out, two by two. It’s true there was a wide variety of abilities, but it was also obvious that some of those abilities were decidedly on the upper end of the scale. And as I’d feared, we headed out into the wind. Huge dry, hot winds on an empty stomach and tired legs on unfamiliar roads with utter strangers will begin cracking your will to live immediately, and they did. Sitting second wheel my legs ached, and no matter how I hunkered they hurt. “Please let this end soon,” I prayed to dog. I was afraid to ask how long the ride lasted; it was clearly going to be a lot more than an hour. I didn’t hear anyone chatting. So much for the fun. The wind howled.

Once it got dark and my bottle was empty, and my tongue was sticking to my teeth, and my legs felt like they would fall off, Jason turned to me as we sat on the front together. “There’s a little hill here. You can go hard if you want to get in a workout. We’ll regroup.”

Translation: “I’m going to kick your ass starting here.”

I glanced back and noted that our group was in tatters, a long string of shrapnel-ized blinky lights strung out for as far back as I could see. About that time Jason, who had clearly been waiting for this moment, turned the screws and I went magically from tired to completely on the rivet. The hot, dry air fried and dried my throat so that my breathing sounded more like whooping cough than athletic exertion. The gradual 1-mile climb was into a biting sidewind, so it guttered instantly. At the moment when it felt like things couldn’t get worse, some dude who’d been hiding the entire ride and was fresh as new tea leaves sprinted up the side, leaving everyone in his wake.

I grabbed his wheel, reasoning that with a huge surge like that we must be near the top, but near obviously meant different things to different people. For me, “near” meant “any second now,” but to him it meant “another 500 yards.” He rode me off his wheel and I glanced back to see that even in that short distance the remnants were nothing but little firefly dots behind. Two other riders closed the gap and whizzed by just as we hit the end of the climb, proving the old adage that cycling is a sport of conservation, and the other adage that course knowledge is everything.

The regroup consisted of high speed attacking descents that shelled everyone. Kristie and I wound up alone, thankfully with a tailwind, and one by one passed little patches of people who looked like they’d seen a ghost, or an army of ghosts. We didn’t know the route and guessed our way back to the park. I guess the regroup was going to happen the following week …

We got back around nine, utterly spent, dehydrated, and covered in salt. The bikes were almost too heavy to lift out of the battle wagon. “Wanna play bikes?” Kristie asked.

We laughed and laughed and laughed.

END

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Sock it to me

October 23, 2017 § 37 Comments

The first time I met Diego, he must have been around fourteen. His dad Joe had brought him along on the Man Tour, a ridiculous odyssey of geezers riding five days from San Jose to Los Angeles, flatting, falling, complaining, getting indigestion, getting road rash, getting saddle sores, getting achy, and having the best time this side of a fresh box of Depends that we were ever going to have.

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Diego’s signature move each day was to collapse on a bed, unable to move, where he was essentially force-fed enough nutrients to make it through the next day. We were old and our prostrates were leaky, but we were still able to cover more ground faster and recover quicker than a little kid.

A couple of years passed and youth put age in its place as Diego became one of the fastest riders in SoCal, eventually landing a spot on the Hagens-Berman team and planning for a career in Europe. Along the way he became an Eagle Scout, because, you know, why not? More important than any community service or academic achievements, he also set the KOM on the Switchbacks here in Palos Verdes. Way, way more important.

After a brief stint in Belgium where the distance from home, poverty wages, brutal competition, lousy weather, unfamiliar food, and daily risk of life and limb convinced him that SoCal wasn’t so bad after all, Diego came home, put the $12k bike racer dream out to pasture, and embarked on a new  venture–his clothing company, Base Cartel. The ethos behind the clothing, in addition to quality construction, is a design aesthetic that focuses on the sights, sounds, and cultures of Los Angeles. Not being a designer myself, and only vaguely an imported Angeleno, I’m not sure what that means, but his stuff certainly looks great.

I can’t otherwise comment on Diego’s bike clothing line other than that it looks sharp and the people who wear his kits say great things about it, people who are pretty critical when it comes to cycling apparel. I can tell you that bike riders and bike racers in the South Bay love to support a hard-working young man whose business is community based and devoted to all things cycling. It’s refreshing to see a small business flap its wings and get off the ground, supported by friends, family, and personal relationships.

What I can comment on are Base Cartel’s socks. It was well over a year ago that he gave me a pair of his Pro Mesh socks to wear. Of course, even if they had fit like a plastic sandwich bag and felt like sandpaper, I would have gone ahead and purchased a couple of pairs to help the kid out. But I wouldn’t have bought more than thirty pairs for my own personal use, and I certainly wouldn’t have bought over 500 pairs to give to friends and as prizes for the La Grange Cup if they weren’t amazing beyond any words.

Pro Mesh sock, how can I describe thee? Thou art soft and comfy beyond any reason or rhyme. Thou grippest my toes in a loving embrace and leave nary a chafe or raw spot, no matter how tightly I lace down my shiny white dancing shoes. The first few times I wore these socks I thought, “They’ll be falling apart after the fifth wash. No way that anything this delicate and soft and smooth can last.”

But in addition to a softness and form-fitting nature that makes you want to snuggle with them between the covers, whisper sweet nothings into their cuffs, and bring them pancakes in bed, the socks are crazy tough, no, they’re Wanky tough. I don’t know what the secret sauce is that they pour into the Base Cartel socks in China or wherever the socks are brewed, but it is at least one part frog’s wart for every cotton/polyester fiber. That’s how magical these things are.

Of course, knowing that you’re supporting locally grown talent adds to the comfort, too. As it should.

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END

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Big City, Bright Lights

October 21, 2017 § 18 Comments

Where you sit in the roadway or the shoulder while pedaling your bike is up to you. I simply hope you’re doing it with a lot of lights.

After the recent smashback here in L.A. from cager trolls and the pitchfork peasants who were enraged that a safer, cleaner, cheaper, sexier, healthier, happier mode of transportation might slow them down fifteen seconds on their one-hour commute, it has become even more evident that cyclists themselves are riven. Lane control advocates shrug at the loss of bike infrastructure; they never wanted it to begin with, beyond sharrows and BMUFL signage. Infrastructure lovers are heartbroken and trying to rally themselves for the next big beating, like kids shuffling into dad’s bedroom knowing he already has the belt off.

I’m happy to report that there’s a solution. We lane control advocates should stop poking a thumb in the eye of the infrastructure lovers. We should stop sharpening our rhetorical sticks, hardening them with fire, and jabbing them into the tender fallacies of those who want more things built in roads to protect bicycles. We should let them go about their business.

In fact, I’m happy to give infrastructure advocates all the rope they want. They can take it out to Playa del Rey, Manhattan Beach and Palso Verdes, do their advocacy, show up at meetings and present factual data, but when they do, here’s a pro tip: Don’t do it near any trees with sturdy, low hanging, horizontal limbs. Because when the pitchfork peasants see your bike infrastructure rope, and understand that it’s a threat to the hegemony of their cages, they will know what to do with it.

Rather than poking holes in the infrastructure lovers’ arguments, we should make common cause with them in this way: Tell them, without judging, that while we’re waiting for the amazing infrastructure that will protect us from cagers (for example, the Santa Monica bike path where no one ever gets hurt by other bicycles and where no bicycle has ever run over and seriously injured a pedestrian), we will all take the fuggin’ lane while lit up like Christmas trees. This includes the infrastructure lovers.

bmufl_car

And then, after my cremated ashes have been dispersed by the winds of time, been blown to Jupiter and are circling its outer moon, eventually, I say, when the great infrastructure project is completed such that it has constructed those supremely segregated, superbly striped, sexily signed, perfectly protected, and beautifully barrier-ized bike path/lane/road/highways to cover every alley, every back road, every country lane, every cul-de-sac, every county road, every byway, every dirt road, every highway, every city street, every parking area, and every other possible place where cars and bikes might possibly be at the same place at the same time, then we will be able to have another discussion about whether bike infrastructure is better, safer, preferable, cheaper, more efficient, cheaper to maintain, more popular, and more conducive to expanding cycling than following existing traffic laws and exercising lane control in a lawful manner.

‘Til that happy day when The Infrastructure Saints Go Marchin’ In, however, let’s all take a deep a breath, swallow our ideologies, and take the fuggin’ lane. Lit up like Christmas trees, of course. Mirrors optional.

END

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Science won’t save ya

October 20, 2017 § 45 Comments

For a brief blip I saw salvation in the offing when I contemplated autonomous cars. “What,” I wondered “could be dumber than a human behind the wheel of a two-ton, speeding steel box?”

“Nothing,” was the obvious answer. “Certainly not a computer.”

Next, I read an online article in Consumer Reports about crash avoidance systems in cars and felt even better. In addition to replacing the dummy behind the wheel, sciency things were going to turn the driving over to an inanimate thing that didn’t text or drink lattes or scream “Faggot!” or live on Via Horcata. Bicyclists would only benefit.

Plus, a friend of mine who flies giant commercial airplanes seemed to think that airplane crash avoidance systems were a predictor of how cars might eventually operate. Airplanes don’t run into each other (much), and that’s because they have some sciency stuff that keeps big, fast-moving objects from hitting other fast-moving objects, such as the ground. “Why don’t they just stick airplane sciency stuff into cars and be done with it?” I wondered.

The frightening answer is that airplanes don’t use sciency stuff at all to avoid collisions. They use acronyms. Big, long, complicated, similar-sounding, confusion inducing, memorization-defying acronyms that scramble up the English language into a foul sounding soup of letters that do nothing but bring on a migraine when you try to commit them to memory. TCAS, PCAS, FLARM, GPWS, TAWS, SV, and OCAS are the acronyms that work in airplanes, along with the actual spelled-out word of “radar.”

More about that later, but about the time I started worrying about the acronymization of car driving, I ran across this gem on the Tweeter: “Semi-autonomous BMW Will ‘Fight Driver’ to Deliver Close Passes to Cyclists.”

“Huh?” I thought, so I clicked on the link and learned that my pilot friend was right. Airplane crash avoidance systems will indeed be the template for semi-autonomous cars, with the overwhelming problem being the word “semi.” In other words, the technology that will make cars safer will ironically require much better driving skills. In a society where there is a race to the bottom in every conceivable metric for driving skills–physical fitness, situational awareness, mental response time, physical response time, behind-the-wheel training, alertness, familiarity with the vehicle and its handling characteristics, patience, a safety mindset, heightened concern for vulnerable road users–we are suddenly going to be presented with vehicles that require all of those parameters to increase, and increase drastically.

Should work well in a rapidly aging society filling up with crotchedy old blind farts.

Heightened user skill makes sense, because crash avoidance systems in commercial airplanes operate in an environment of highly trained pilots who are continually tested, re-tested, and required to pass regular physical exams. No multiple DUI pilots at United, folks, and you gotta have that 5th Grade reading level, at least. As the article above emphasizes, “The key to autonomous vehicles is training, training, training. The skill of driving must be robotic before the software can be developed. The skill of driving is being eroded and this can be seen every day.”

Training? For U.S. cagers? For the idiots who throw shit at cyclists, drive while severely impaired, blame the victim, recall elected officials who support road safety, troll pedestrian/cycling advocates, and who are routinely given a pass for carelessly killing bicyclists? Those assholes? Train them how, exactly? With a rolled-up newspaper and a cattle prod to the testicles? If you think adding bike lanes brings out the rage, wait ’til you tell Joe Q. Driver that he has to actually possess driving skills before he can go rampaging down the freeway. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Every piece of technology that relies on a smarter, better, more experienced and well-trained U.S. driver is operating on a massively flawed assumption, because U.S. drivers aren’t simply horrible, I’ve always contended that they aren’t drivers at all. They are pointers. They start the car and point it, unable to do even the most basic emergency maneuvers such as brake or turn without skidding. The minute that operating the vehicle transitions from point to maneuvering, 99% of drivers are f-u-c-k-e-d, or rather the bicyclist/pedestrian in front of them is.

As a cyclist who almost got clocked yesterday by a fully autonomous idiot who decided that the No. 1 Lane was inconvenient, and he’d rather whip into No. 2 without checking any mirrors, I can tell you that in Los Angeles drivers are older, meaner, angrier, more stressed, stupider, less skilled, more impulsive, and nastier than they were even ten years ago. Thanks, Obama.

And it’s not just my anecdotal experiences. The dumbphone has crazily accelerated the trend, making the “semi” half of the semi-autonomous car nothing more than an airbag dummy for all the crash avoidance systems that have to rely on drivers who can perform at least some minimal dum-dum maneuvers, such as, say, not switching off the autonomous systems.

Fortunately, virtually all of the problems with distracted cagers, and with systems that require cager responsiveness as it concerns cyclists, can be minimized or eliminated entirely by taking the fuggin’ lane. Even the most rudimentary systems will significantly brake if not completely halt when the object (we’re “objects,” folks) is directly in front of them. Close passes and clipping will happen to gutter bunnies, but not to Christmas Tree riders smack in the middle of the lane.

So there it is. The dumbphone dummies are taking over. You’ve been warned. Science won’t save ya. But takin’ the fuggin’ lane WILL.

END

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