Why do you study Slovak?

January 27, 2018 § 3 Comments

There is no reason on earth to study Slovak. I know this because when I mention that I am studying it, people ask, reasonably, “Why?”

“Because it’s next to Austria, where my eldest son lives,” I say.

Blank look.

“And I plan on visiting there.”

Blank look.

“And it’s always fun to learn a little bit before you go, you know?”

Blank look, followed by new topic.

Today my wife and I were in the car driving to Sacramento for the second annual Deb Banks Throw a Leg Over Recovery Ride. Deb was hit and catastrophically injured by a drunk driver a few years ago. She has made a 98.287% recovery and it’s important to mark the milestones.

Last year we marked it by freezing our butts off and riding to Winters. This year we will also freeze our butts off but will do something called Round the Mountain, which supposedly has a mountain and 63 miles and 3,600 feet of climbing. This year Yasuko wanted to do the ride with me. Her longest ride ever is 35 miles and I didn’t want to scare her so I told her that it would be about 40 miles and flattish. I didn’t tell her the name of the route.

Six-plus hours is a long time to sit in the car and make conversation, but we tried. “How are your Slovak lessons going?” she asked.

“Fine.”

“Who is that one teacher who always sounds like she’s making you read from the textbook?”

“Oh, that’s Marika.” I have three teachers.

“Why does it always sound like you are reading from the textbook?”

“Because she makes me read from the textbook.”

“Is that a good lesson?”

“No.”

“What about your other teachers?”

“They are fantastic.”

“Why do you keep using Marika?”

“Because she is really nice and super cheap and because sitting and reading the textbook is useful. I’d never do it on my own. It’s like an hour of forced study.”

“But isn’t it boring?”

“Life is boring.”

“You are spending so much time on Slovak. Is it really useful?”

“No.”

“Then why do you do it?”

“Because it is not useful.”

“You do a lot of that.”

“I know.”

We rode along for a while and played “spot a hawk.” After many hours and a ton of hawks, not to mention crows, white pelicans, turkey vultures, shorebirds, gulls, and egrets, we got to Sacramento. She was hungry and I was hungry, and she had found a cafe on the Internet called Selland’s Market-Cafe.

As we drove down J Street she shouted, “Look!” and pointed at a sign.

I looked. “What?”

“That sign! It says Cafe Marika!”

“So?”

“Isn’t that the name of your teacher?”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, it is.”

“I wonder what kind of restaurant it is?”

We were in a line of stopped traffic and peered at the window glass. “It says ‘European Cuisine,'” I said. “Pretty big footprint.”

“I bet they are Slovak!”

“I doubt it. Not here in Sacramento.”

“Let’s go in! It might be good!”

“What about the Market-Cafe?”

“Let’s go in!”

I rounded the corner and parked. We walked up to the cafe. It was really tiny. I peered through the window. There were only two customers. I shrugged. “Let’s try it.”

I pushed the door open and the two customers looked up at us. The owner was leaning against the tiny counter and his wife was behind it. I can only read about ten words in Slovak, but two of them were written large and in chalk on a menu board: “Dobre chut!” it said, which means “Bon appetit!”

“Ahojte!” I said, which means “Hello politely!”

Their faces froze. I have seen surprised and shocked faces in my life but never has a room fallen as completely silent as that cafe when I let loose with one of my ten words of Slovak.

“Ahojte!” said the owner, finding his tongue.

Now I was in that familiar bog of having said something in a language I only know fragments of. I desperately searched my Slovak memory bank which was pretty easy since it was a rather barren cupboard. “Volam sa Seth,” I said, idiotically introducing myself. “Ucim sa po slovensky,” I added, even more idiotically, as if anyone cared that I was learning Slovak.

Out came a torrent, not of Slovak, but of Czech. I stared blankly and everyone relaxed. I was obviously not a spy, or if I was, I was a horribly inept one.

Still, the effect of having someone waltz in and greet them in Slovak remained. We began to talk and soon the two customers chimed in; they had been dining there for decades. “Why do you study Slovak?” the owner asked.

“It’s next to Austria,” I said. They waited, unlike my American interlocutors, not at all surprised to be told the basic geography of a continent they had grown up in. “My son lives in Vienna and we’re going to visit next summer and I want to visit Slovakia so my policy is to always study a little bit before you go.”

“I’m from Vienna,” one of the guests piped up in German. “Do you also speak German?”

I said I did and we were off to the races. His partner was from Munich; they had emigrated 35 years ago and been together ever since. To make it even friendlier, the German’s name was the same as my son’s, Hans. The food came, delicious chicken curry for me and Hungarian ghoulash for Yasuko accompanied with rice, thick slabs of bread, and spaetzle.

Before long we got to arguing about immigration in Europe and in the U.S., a genuine argument between strangers about things they felt strongly about but were able to discuss without getting upset or namecalling or storming out, or unfriending on Facebook. They had good points and so did I, and it struck me how good it felt to disagree and discuss things with people who know how to talk, who have traveled, who speak other languages, and who have lived on both sides of the immigration fence.

At one point a couple walked in and the Austrian went silent out of respect for the owner, obviously not wanting to scare away new business with our animated volleys. But the owner was having none of it. “Keep talking!” he commanded. “This is good!”

After a while his wife brought out coffee, and unlike the dark dishwater that  most American cafes serve up, this was strong and pungent, fresh and rich. “Would you like some strudel?” she asked.

“Prosim,” I said, thereby exhausting my complete Slovak vocabulary.

She laughed and brought out two pieces of homemade strudel that were better than any pastry I have ever eaten in my life, effectively pausing my two-month abstention from tasty sugary foods.

When it came time to pay the bill we were all great friends until I reached for my credit card and the owner pointed sadly to a sign: “No credit cards.”

I hadn’t brought any cash, but Yasuko had. As we left, the Austrian said, “If you like Austrian pastries you must go to Konditorei in Davis. They have the very best, and they are from Vienna.”

We left, stuffed. I turned to Yasuko. “I suppose that’s why I study Slovak,” I said.

END

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About SouthBayCycling.com: 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.

Dummy talk

January 26, 2018 Comments Off on Dummy talk

Chris Froome delivered an early Christmas gift during the off season when he tested positive for way-too-much salbutamol, giving bloggers, cyclists stuck on Zwift in the basement for the winter, and fanboy journalists tons of fodder to get through the lull in the pro road racing season. Unfortunately, many foolish things were said, and more unfortunately, all of this dummy talk recorded in print.

David Lapparient, president of the UCI: “This is bad for the image of cycling.” Is it? How? Cycling’s image is and has been and will always be doping, with Lance as the always-relevant cheater, hopscotching from race to race, delivering air-light pronouncements and analysis on the fake sport he fakishly ruined.

Javier Guillén, director of the Vuelta: “It’s concerning. We can’t take any part in it, either in favour or against, obviously.” Uh … this guy is about to get banned and have his Vuelta title stripped, doing immense damage to your race, and you can’t take sides?

Alberto Contador, former banned doper: “You can’t have cases drag on and on, it has to be dealt with quickly.” What does this even mean? You have due process or you don’t. What’s the mechanism for “quickly” having Froomester do a lab-replication to show he wasn’t doping, and/or for “quickly” getting a CAS appeal heard? In what language is “appeal” a synonym for “quickly”?

Owain Doull, Team Sky rider: “I was at the team camp in December and it was pretty much business as usual.” Probably not the best quote when asked how your team is dealing with accusations of doping, cover-ups, secret packet drug deliveries, missing laptops with medical records, and you know, very bad stuff.

Movement for Credibility in Cycling: “This is the reason why MPCC and its Board of Directors, without making any assumption towards the final decision, asks Team Sky to suspend [Chris Froome] on a voluntary basis.” First, the name of your group, guys. There is no credibility in cycling and never has been. Second, asking Team Sky to forego its due process protections for shitsngiggles? Third, asking Team Dope to voluntarily kill its cash cow? Goodness. Stuuuuuu-pid.

Tom Dumoulin, rival and 2017 Giro winner: “What can I say now about the Froome case? I cannot say anything because I don’t know the details. I only know that he’s positive … ” What can you say? You can say you think he’s most likely a dopey doper who dopes. For starters.

Dave Brailsford, director for Team Dope: “I have the utmost confidence that Chris followed the medical guidance in managing his asthma symptoms, staying within the permissible dose for Salbutamol.” Did he not notice that the positive test was for double the permissible dose? Total dummy talk.

Geraint Thomas, Team Dope rider: “It’s another thing against the team but I do trust that he wouldn’t have gone out of his way to cheat.” So he would cheat if it were really easy, but wouldn’t go out of his way to do it? Nice.

Patrick Lefevere, QuickStep team manager: “I’m sad. First of all, I’m sad.” Yes, it’s so sad when a doper dopes and gets caught. I’d argue that it’s not sad. It’s predictable and it’s part of the freak show. Sad? Sad is when some tenement burns down. Sad is Sandy Hook. This isn’t sad, it’s the entertainment business.

Gianni Bugno, ex-pro and convicted drug trafficker: “Froome is innocent until proven guilty and so it’s right he can race.” Yet another example of knuckleheads conflating criminal guilt with civil proceedings, in this case a private arbitration process.

Dick Pound, former WADA president: “If you’re over the threshold by 100 per cent, that needs some explanation.” No, it doesn’t. It needs a ban.

Chris Froome, confused bicycle racer: “I know what those limits are, and I’ve never gone over those limits.” Earth to Chris: Yes, you have. That’s what this is all about. You have gone over limits by 100 percent. Dummy talk …

Wout Poels, Team Dope rider: “Every once in a while we get a small update and behind the scenes, Chris and his lawyers are working hard to solve the problem.” I like the way it’s posed as a problem to be solved, like a quadratic equation. No suggestion that they are feverishly working to find way to get a cheater off the hook.

Mathieu van der Poel, ‘Cross rider: “A suspension, that’s what I think. For me it’s a positive test. If the limit is 1,000 and he’s up to 2,000, then there’s not much discussion needed. That’s a positive test.” Okay, someone finally said something that made sense.

Katie Compton, ‘Cross rider: “It doesn’t make sense that you could have that much in your system and still be able to pedal that hard. I don’t know. I feel like something else is going on.” I wonder what that could possibly be? Maybe time to get O.J. on the case?

Brent Copeland, Bahrain-Merida team manager: “You’re riding through different climatic conditions all the time and unfortunately they do suffer from asthma and a lot of riders do use this substance to help them out.” Yes, they do use it to help them out, and Chris helped himself too much. Ergo, busted.

Lance Armstrong, Face of Pro Cycling: “Cycling is the sporting world’s doormat. I have to say that I take a lot of blame for that.” Still one of the dumbest people to open his mouth in front of a microphone, and still everyone’s go-to quote machine for all things cycling. Name another sport whose banned villains are the most relevant voices in the game.

Greg Lemond, Tour winner: “If this is what he claims, then it’s simple, he broke the rules and should be punished accordingly.” Oops! Something intelligent sneaked into this post!

Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour: “We want the situation to be cleared up, to get out of the darkness and ambiguity.” Darkness? Are we in a cave? Ambiguity? He tested double the limit. Sheesh. What Prudhomme means is the ambiguity of whether he’s going to have a winner in 2018 or a winner in 2018 who gets stripped in 2019.

Chris Froome, unhappy asthmatic: “This is quite a horrible situation if I’m honest. We’re working as hard as we can to get to the bottom of this.” Kind of like Prudhomme’s dark cave, this is very simple. You took too much and got caught. And “get to the bottom” implies some nefarious scheme that Inspector Lestrade and Holmes are working hard to solve. Nope.

Tom van Damme, UCI Road Commission President: “It is unfortunate that a problem in the gray zone is now being enlarged, unfortunately we have to follow the rules of WADA.” Unfortunate that you have due process? It would so much easier if you could just do what? Shoot him?

Romain Bardet, AG2R La Mondiale rider: “I don’t see how Froome can race as if nothing is going on.” He has four million reasons to keep racing, actually. Every year.

Brian Cookson, ousted UCI president: “I mistakenly thought that the matter must have been resolved.” In this case, “resolved” means that it was swept under the table. Cookson said this knowing that Froome had tested positive, he just didn’t know it was about to be found out. Wannnnnker.

Julie Harringon, British Cycling CEO: “The issue in this case is that the process was leaked.” No, Julie, the issue is that Froome was doping.

Mauro Vegni, director of the Giro: “Everything is in the hands of the UCI.” No, it isn’t. It’s in the hands of Froome’s legal team, the UCI, and ultimately the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

END

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About SouthBayCycling.com: 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.

 

Archibald & Rufus

January 22, 2018 § 1 Comment

Today was the 2018 debut of Archibald & Rufus, the South Bay’s most infamous, mouthy, and ass-crackingly funny bike racing announcers on Planet Zebulon. It was also the first of six crits in the CBR race series, which brought more cockroaches, fleas, termites, lice, bedbugs, tapeworms, earwigs, maggots, and blowflies to the surface than the Black Death.

In other words, race season had begun!

The pre-race warm-up consisted of physically warming up, as the thermometer was barely breaking 36 degrees no matter where you stuck it. Iron Maiden did her pre-race laps in a down jacket; I chattered around the course in tights, undershirt, speedsuit, long-sleeve jersey, and a hoodie. As I warmed up I passed Dandy, who had driven up from San Diego for this edition of the Clash of the Infirm and Loose Bowels.

“What’s the plan, Dandy?”

“Fuggit, it’s so cold, attack from the gun.”

So we did.

The Brit and the hipster

Dandy and I have raced for decades and we raced together on Team Concentration Camp for four years, so we understand each other perfectly and we know crit racing even more perfectly. A mentally defective four-year-old can easily understand CBR crit rules, and so can even a few of the racers.

  1. You have zero chance of winning.
  2. You have zero chance of getting on the podium.
  3. Take all of your skin home with you.

Dandy and I, having fully internalized #1 and #2, set about punishing ourselves with a series of pointless attacks and accelerations that exhausted us, achieved nothing, and set the table perfectly for Steve Gregorious to mop the field with his can of Whoop.

In addition to setting up Big Steve, we also had to set up announcers Archibald & Rufus–without some silly antics on our part they would have nothing to talk about, an inexcusable crime since Archibald had worn his best British overcoat and wool ivy cap, and Rufus had donned his finest overcoat, wool fedora, and de-fingered punchemup gloves. These gentlemen dressed better than any bike race announcer anywhere, ever, commensurate with the stature of this great sporting event.

Archibald & Rufus & the turkey’s behind

As Dandy and I mashed through the start-finish, dragging the field behind us in stylish Cat 5 fashion, a pair of hammers launched for the prime. “The thermometer has now popped out of the turkey’s butt!” roared Archibald, “just in time for Thanksgiving!!!”

The two people in the crowd roared, and Rufus followed up with his trademark line: “With mayhem like that in the field, it’s raining meatballs!!!” Several spectators looked up, and one even grabbed a fork.

By the time the pack had absorbed us and rotated us to the back, Dandy and I had pretty much packed up our empty lunch pails and begun heading for the door. As we slunk shamefully to the shade of our respective team tents, Rufus called out our heroics. “That race was sure animated by those two guys who don’t know how to race!” Dandy and I stripped off our numbers and pretended that we didn’t know who they meant.

END

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About SouthBayCycling.com: 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.

CBR Crit #1: Big bang theory

January 17, 2018 Comments Off on CBR Crit #1: Big bang theory

If you look at the SoCal bike racing calendar, it is pretty slim pickings for road racing. The first road race of the year, Tuttle Creek, got torn off the calendar, presumably to be rescheduled, where “presumably” means “if Steve gets around to it.” After that there is the Santa Barbara road race, famed for the dude who flipped off the bridge and miraculously survived with a Spidey save, the UCLA road race, and the Victorville road race. Everything else is basically a crit. The CBR crit series is especially like a crit. Having a race calendar with nothing but crits is like having a sex life with nothing but handjobs. You may get good at it, but it leaves a lot be desired.

However, Jeff and Kris Prinz have charged into their second year as owners of the CBR crit series. They have done an amazing job with it. The team area now sports a plethora of colorful tents and racers instead of its former aura, which was more reminiscent of a holding tank filled with alcoholic suicides. When the CBR races take off, they do so under a big inflatable banner that makes you feel like you’re special and not some dork in his underwear about to fall on his head fighting for a candy bar prime.

But most importantly, the CBR crit series is like a necessary encounter with a proctologist’s latex finger: Smooth, unpleasant, and over quickly. That’s crit racing, folks, so get used to it. Of course it is vastly superior to a 2km ITT where a pair of 70+ gentlemen fight for a world chumpionship jersey so that they can put rainbow stripes on their business cards and compare their exploits to Peter Sagan.

Go ahead and register now!

The CBR crit series is a lot of fun and I plan to be at all of them; I did a bunch last year, and the year before, and the year before … Now that I’m in the RFO (really fuggin’ old) category of 55+, it means that I can race three races all before noon, which is good, because in this category anything that happens after twelve gets hunted down and killed by my mid-day nap. But there are a lot of other great reasons to race the CBR series, for example:

  1. You’re supporting people who are doing their damndest to keep a niche, weird, socially awkward sport alive, and it’s cheaper than rehab.
  2. Bike racing is fun as hell when you’re not crashing, getting dropped, getting chopped, giving up, or having all your hair fall out and testes shrink down to green pea-size nuggets because of the steroids.
  3. Although losing sucks, and losing is basically all you’ll ever do at a bike race, the odds are better than PowerBall.
  4. Jeff and Kris have a cool podium you can stand on when you win (See #3).
  5. Madcap announcers Dave Wells and David “Raining Meatballs” Worthington are more fun to listen to than a drunk family squabble over who gets to eat the last Eskimo Pie.
  6. You can’t be a bike racer if you don’t race yer fuggin’ bike.

Especially, especially, especially #6. See you there.

END

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About SouthBayCycling.com: 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.

The middle ground a/k/a FDR

January 15, 2018 Comments Off on The middle ground a/k/a FDR

There is a sweet spot in cycling for most people, located right in that middle ground between “pound” on the one hand, where everyone feels like they had eye surgery sans anesthetic, and “flail,” where you finish the ride and wonder, “Did I ride?” The South Bay’s Fun Donut Ride, or FDR, hits the sweet spot almost every time.

It’s a hard spot to find because any grouping of riders invariably attracts an outlier or two. The pounder whines because it was “too easy,” and the flailer moans because it was “too hard.” Of course no ride is right for every rider, all the time. But coming up with that Sweet Spot Ride, getting it started, and hardest of all, keeping it alive, is fiendishly hard to do, yet it’s precisely this kind of ride that builds community and participation in cycling. How to do it?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Joann Zwagerman’s FDR.

Genesis: How the FDR came to be

I could give you the background of the FDR, but why? Joann has already done it for me. With a few edits and emendations, here it is:

Greg Seyranian had a South Bay ride called the Anti-Donut. I would show up week after week and pedal my ass off. It was mellow for them but it was totally challenging for me. I did my best to try and keep up. They never abandoned me and they always waited for me and I found that remarkable.

Once race season began and the Anti-Donut ended, I found myself looking for a similar ride. If you were a racer, you were on the Donut Ride. If not, you were looking for friendly people to ride with. Thus, the Fun Donut Ride, or FDR, was born. It is an inclusive, non pretentious, friendly, fun and challenging ride.

Maybe today is your biggest ride? Your first group ride? Your first FDR? Whatever it is, I hope you feel like you’ve accomplished something at the end of it even if it’s just eating your first donut with chocolate sprinkles in ten years and making a few new friends!

Thank you everyone for all your support! Ride on and be safe!

Exodus: How riders joined the FDR

As we all know, it’s fairly easy to start a ride. You tell a few friends the time and place, give them a general rundown of the route, and three of them show up. If you invite a hundred people, you can expect maybe four. Everyone does the ride, has a more or less good time, and then you do the ride for a couple more weeks, and participation increases a bit or stays the same.

Then comes the crunch moment. It’s the day for “your” ride. You’ve told everyone you’ll be there. But yesterday you got a bo-bo on your boo-boo, or maybe a boo-boo on your bo-bo and it’s feeling really ouchie as you lay there in bed with only thirty minutes to crap, air your tires, drink some coffee, pull a pair of shorts out of the dirty hamper, and scurry to the start.

What do you do? You roll over, of course! This isn’t your job! It’s your hobby! Those wankers know the route! You’ll be there next week anyway! Snxxxxxxxzzzzzzzz!

Of course your pals see it differently. They get to the start and you’re not there. They check their phones. They call you. Someone finally rouses you and you groggily text back, “Boo-boo on bo-bo, out.”

And guess what? You just drove a wooden stake through the heart of your nascent ride. Because for a ride to continue, the person who started it has got to keep showing up. It’s like being married, only far worse because at least when you’re married, rolling over and snoring is an accepted part of lovemaking. Requisite, actually.

What Joann figured out with the FDR was that if you’re cycling in the South Bay and you want people to commit to you, you have to commit to them. And that means a date, a time, a place, and a commitment to be there “til death do us part.” Week in and week out, the FDR went off with Joann present to shepherd her lambs, and it went off in some pretty extreme situations.

Broken hand? No worries, Joann sagged in her Rage Rover. Broken wrist a few months later? No worries, Joann sagged in her Rage Rover. Ride founder overtrained and barely able to move? No worries, Joann either did the ride, sagged in her Rage Rover, or rustled up a deputy. And this last part, “rustling up a deputy,” has been a great innovation because the FDR’s success has led to its having two routes: A fixed loop around the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and a variable route that can venture pretty far afield. Having a deputy means that the fixed FDR route always takes place, and people aren’t left showing up to a ride where they are the ride.

Revelation: You can make an FDR, too

Joann’s FDR has brought a lot of people into cycling and now serves as a focal point for people who are looking for a regular ride–not too hard, not too soft–and for event organizers who want to get the word out about their event. From Phil Gaimon’s Cookie Fondo, to the Belgian Waffle Ride, to Rivet Cycling’s Santa Barbara ribs extravaganza, people in the cycling community recognize that FDR is there for the community as a whole.

This, of course, is how you grow the cycling donut, and then get to eat it, too. One rider at a time.

END

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For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and pay to support what you might otherwise take for free. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

About SouthBayCycling.com: 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.

In the pink

November 9, 2017 Comments Off on In the pink

The lady at the hotel desk looked at me as if I were crazy, leaving in the rain and cold to go “enjoy some cycling.”

“What is to enjoy?” she asked. “It is like saying I going to dentist for enjoyment. It’s crazy.”

“Crazy can be its own kind of fun,” I replied.

I only had an hour and a half because I’d been informed that we were taking a day trip to Bratislava and we had to leave no later than 10:30. I didn’t want to go to Bratislava. I wanted to ride in the rain.

Every time I’ve climbed Johann-Staud Strasse, I’ve gone down this insane descent called Ulmenstrasse. If I were still on Strava I could tell you all the stats but using a non-#socmed description it is long AF, twisty AF, steep AF, and begging to be climbed.

The problem is that I’m not the kind of person who will go down a hill then flip a u-turn and go back up it. I have to actually be using the road as part of a route. I know, stupid.

So today’s stupid involved finding the base of Ulmenstrasse without going out Johann-Staud Strasse. After plenty of map recon to boost my hippocampus I headed out a major street, the rain soaking through to my feet pretty quickly but everything else staying dry. Ish.

You always hear about how good Euros are handling their bikes, and it’s when you get out in the rain on a day like today that you understand why. The street had two sets of streetcar rails laid into the asphalt, and the gaps parallel to the rails were just the right width to devour a bike tire and bring you down on your skull.

Next to the gaps was a section of concrete, not very wide, that had bolts drilled down into it. If you were riding on this section it was bumpy, not a good sensation so close to the deep, wheel-eating grooves. It also put me far enough out into the lane to back up traffic and I could feel the anger. The next section of pavement, further to the right, was very smooth but also very narrow, maybe two feet wide, and it ran flush against a row of parked cars. People were forever getting in and out, so the risk of being doored was constant, and people were pulling away from the curb, so you also had the risk of getting hit. My blazing strobe headlight saved me over and over.

Then, every kilometer or less there would be a traffic island for the streetcars to pull up at. The island ate up the street side parking lane and therefore the parked cars, which was fine, but also the narrow strip of good pavement, narrowing suddenly into just the rails and bolt-studded strip of concrete next to them. So I had to hop over onto the bolt-concrete, which was now flush up against the streetcar island, which itself was a good four or five-inch curb, about the right height to catch a pedal and send your front wheel into the crevice of death next to the streetcar rails.

It was tense going and I made a mental note to find a different route the next time, on a street that didn’t have streetcars. Eventually I got to the street I was looking for, Rosentalergasse. I think it means Pink Valley Street.

Turning up this street was wholly unnecessary, by the way, but it looked twisty on the map and twisty around here usually means a climb. Who doesn’t like to start their ride with a climb?

The road jerked straight up and suddenly I was away from all the traffic and noise. I could hear myself pant as the road got steeper until I was going at that speed where, when you pass a pedestrian, you can see the bloodshot in their eyeballs. No attaboys in Austria, but lots of “Whatthe fukkerya doin’ ridin’ up here?” looks.

Riding a new climb, sort of found, but also sort of lost because you don’t know when the climb will end, I slowed to whatever is slower than a crawl because Rosentalergasse is nasty. Will you think there’s something wrong with me if I tell you I was wet and it was cold and I was inching my way up a steep-ass hill and I was happy?

I made some guess-turns and the climb dumped me out 3/4 of the way up my old buddy Johann-Staud Strasse, but if I continued it would take me down the street I wanted to go up, Ulmenstrasse, so I turned around and got lost trying to find my way out.

And “found” is what I got. Cue second best feeling known to man.

Eventually I reached the base of Ulmenstrasse and after a few minutes I could only think “Dan Cobley.” Dan would love this climb. It was hard beyond belief and long and steep and the oncoming bus filled the whole road so I had to hop the cobbled curb and thread a utility pole and a stone wall and a parked car and then hop back into the lane, all the while struggling uphill.

I felt pretty Euro-ish, and my legs felt great. If Dan had been with me he would have kicked it at the halfway mark and I would have mounted a futile chase and he would have looked back and laughed and either pedaled away or sat up and waited, depending on his mood. But he would have loved this climb, the kind of road that even the locals seem to give a wide berth. And Dan would always be down for it. He wouldn’t care if it were raining or colding or pointlessing as long as it was gritty and hard and steep and it fuggin’ hurt.

I bombed the forested descent back into town, fairly scared because of that carbon-on-carbon, not-so-great-braking feel that fancy wheels have when wet. I navigated back streets to the hotel, avoiding all of the streetcars named desire as well as the ones named knock-down-the-cyclist.

The chunky hotel lady was taking a cigarette break. “Where have you been?”

“Riding around.”

“Where is there here to ride around? It is nothing but cold and wet and cars and shitty. To ride a bicycle in Vienna is what I think of when I think of hell.”

“I climbed up Rosentalergasse and Ulmenstrasse. Do you know them?”

She shook her head in reply, pulling happily on the warm cigarette. “Should I?”

“Nope,” I said.

END

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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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