Down in the alley

July 24, 2014 § 40 Comments

A new bobble has been added to the weekly Donut Ride, and I contemplated it as the wankers of the South Bay chewed me up and spit me out. It’s a short, steep, nasty little alleyway that comes after a long uphill slog followed by a fast downhill followed by a gradual climb followed by a very short wall.

The point behind the alley is to crush the spirits and impoverish the souls of those who, even at the outset of the group ride, are already broken.

The Donut Ride has evolved into an almost perfect group ride. It is so hard that to properly complete it you must cheat, cut the course, suck wheel, sneak ahead while everyone is regrouping, or all of the above. The climbs are so vicious that hordes of South Bay bicycle owners refuse to even show up. It drops people while they are still in bed.

In common with all great group rides, it crowns a winner who everyone can dispute, but not actually beat. “Wily Greek is a wheelsucker,” we mutter each time he deftly sprints away at the bottom of the Switchbacks. And like all group rides, great or not, you get to declare yourself the winner of something. “I was the first one to the Domes out of the fastest people who got dropped in the alley.” “I was the fastest climber out of the non-climbing sprinters who live in Long Beach.” Etc. It’s almost as good as Strava.

The Donut Ride also contains the race-within-the-race element that so many of us live for: the OTB flailer who nonetheless fights tooth and toenail to finish ahead of the other OTB flailer who said something rude to him on Facebook. Best of all, like all group rides it’s free, starts close to home, doesn’t require an entry fee or a license, and when done properly will effectively wreck any legitimate training plan or racing goal.

The ideal group ride, which the Donut is, will be intense enough to destroy your legs but not make you faster. It will be long enough to exhaust you but not long enough to build your endurance. It will force you to ride either too slow to build your engine, or so fast that you’ll need an entire week in order to recuperate. It will expose all of your weaknesses and develop none of your strengths. Best of all, if you are a Donut vainquer, your victories will translate into little more than DNF’s and barely-finished’s at legitimate stage races.

It is a cul-de-sac for performance, and crystal meth for the legs. Plus, it finishes near several brewpubs which open about the time the ride finishes.

But the hardest group ride in America … Where is it?

My default vote goes to my own backyard; yours probably does, too. After all, no kid is smarter or better looking than your own. The Donut Ride is about 50 miles long and boasts about 5,000 feet of climbing. It goes off every Saturday, with anywhere from 80 to 100 idiots lining up at the start in Redondo Beach in the summer … and less than a dozen making it to base of the Switchbacks-to-Crest climb thirty minutes later, after which the smashing begins in earnest.

But is it the hardest?

The Swami’s ride in Encinitas is horrifically hard and staffed with twisted mutants like Tinstman, Bordine, Marckx, and Thurlow, but it’s shorter (about 30 miles) and “only” has 3,500 feet of climbing. Then there’s the SPY Holiday Ride, a beatdown so vicious that if I make it up the first climb without getting shelled I consider it a total victory: 60 miles, 4,000 feet of climbing, and a 100+ field that is always stacked with state champions, national champions, and group ride champions who live just to dish it out on gang slugfests like this one. The ugliness is sharpened by competition for KOM and sprint awards given out post-ride in the form of BWR Ale brewed by the Lost Abbey.

But is it the hardest?

I don’t know. America is filled with group rides that go off every Saturday, Sunday, holiday, Tuesday, Thursday, and every other day that ends in “-day.”

How do you evaluate their difficulty? The following criteria, for sure …

  1. Length. Should be more than 40 miles, less than 70. It has to be long enough not to simulate any race you’d actually do, but short enough that it can be completed before your wife goes completely apeshit at another wasted weekend on the bike. Also, it must be long enough so that you perform all chores and kid-activities with a glum face and lagging step.
  2. Elevation. Enough to make it hard, but not so much that the only champions weigh less than 130-lbs. Ideally, the elevation is spread throughout the ride rather than dumped at the end like the LA Holiday Ride, which is a joke. Having at least one 20-minute climb to obliterate the chubmeisters, the old people, the “just getting into the sport-ers,” and juniors is ideal.
  3. Number of riders. 30, minimum. Having somewhere to hide and suck wheel is crucial for a group ride. Too few people forces everyone to work, which reduces or eliminates the ability to name-call and point the finger after you get shelled.
  4. Wind. The more, the better. Wind is the great unequalizer, because it strips the skinny climbers of their watts/kg advantage and grinds them up into little rat pellets. Wind, preferably cold (although frying-pan hot furnace blasts are good, too), increases the chances of crashing and quitting.
  5. Elements. Freezing rain/brain-scalding heat/crushing humidity are always a plus. Especially in SoCal, where eternal sunshine cultivates softness, a good dose of terrible weather does wonders for separating the wheat from the cadavers.
  6. Pavement. Shitty road surfaces, hairball descents, off-camber paving, unannounced changes from tarmac to gravel … anything that will cause a flat or a crash or potentially crack your frame gets extra points.
  7. Quality of field. This is hard to evaluate, but generally, if the average age is “gets an annual prostate check,” then you’re playing with a worn out deck of cards. One good way to evaluate the field is financial stability. The more people living with girlfriends, out of cardboard boxes, sleeping on couches, the faster and more brutal the ride.

I’ve heard lots of stories about “our local group ride is the toughest,” and would like nothing better than to find out for myself. Is the real badass group ride yours? Post the info in a comment or shoot me an email,, with a link to the Strava segment if there is one. Extra points if the ride is so badass that it’s not even on Strava. It certainly won’t be any fun to go check it out in person, but it might assuage those late-night worries, i.e. “What am I going to write about tomorrow?”

2014 in review

January 2, 2014 § 19 Comments

My goal for 2014 was the same for 2013: don’t get shelled on the SPY Holiday Ride.

2013 was therefore a colossal failure. 2014? A complete success. I’m looking forward to 264 days of happy reflection on yesterday’s signal accomplishment, and am already thinking about a goal for 2015, something like “clean my chain.”

What is the SPY Holiday Ride? Despite the misleading title, it is not a holiday of a bike ride. It is, rather, a miserable, awful, pain-filled shitcake of a beatdown held throughout the year on national federal holidays. The ride began as a way for folks to enjoy their national holiday through the fun and camaraderie of a ride through North County San Diego, with a little competitive fun thrown in along the way. What it quickly became is a shark tank filled with the gnarliest, toughest, fastest, most ruthless riders in Southern California. The only people who show up on this thing are the ones who want to hurt or be hurt.

Surfer Dan and I left the South Bay at 5:15 AM. We reached Encinitas way ahead of schedule, which was awesome because Brent Garrigus at Ride Cyclery was just putting out the hot coffee, bagels, and schmeer. It was freezing cold. “How you feeling?” Brent asked.

“Great. I just have one goal.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t get dropped.”

Everyone has one

Unless you’re one of a handful of freaks — or David LeDuc — everyone has a ride, or a portion of a ride, that they fantasize about not getting dropped on. Maybe it’s the local Saturday hammerfest, or maybe it’s the local big climb, or maybe it’s the training crit with the “fast riders.” Sometimes, it’s just keeping up with Ol’ Rickety, the nemesis who somehow always manages to crack you at just the last minute.

For me, the monument has been the SPY Holiday Ride. Each time the pattern has been the same: Get up awfully early. Make the drive down to North County. Roll out at 8:00 AM. Get dropped 20 minutes into the ride when we hit the Dieguinos climb. Regroup a couple of miles later, where the real athletes are all waiting, bored and filled with contempt at those of us drizzling snot from our upper lip into our mouths. Ride together with the reduced group, then get dropped on Del Dios Highway. Join the re-group, which is now only 40 or 50 out of the original two hundred or more riders. Get horribly dropped coming back up the Three Witches. Hop in with a flailpetto and get dropped again doing the reverse side of Dieguinos. Catch on the downhill and struggle in on the flats.

Then, stop at the Bier Garden, drown my woes in alcohol, and have a designated driver ferry me home, where I sink into a deep and profound depression combined with a throbbing ache in my legs that doesn’t go away until about four days later.

Droppage analysis

If you think about it, it’s pretty easy to figure out why you suck at the one ride you want to excel at. For me, the SPY Holiday Ride breaks down like this:

  1. The good riders are faster than I am.
  2. When the axe comes down and it’s butchering time, I prefer to play with my Barbie & Ken kitchen set.
  3. Thurlow, Tinstman, Stinger, Zink, Fiedler, MMX, Pomeranz, Boy Brian, etc.

However, these past several months I’ve been perfecting my SPY Holiday Ride strategy. First, I’ve been eating lots of fresh, home-baked bread and slathering it with butter. Second, I’ve upped my beer game considerably. In addition to the case of beer provided by G-JiT, the case of beer from Gussy, the two four-packs from Kenny, the monthly beer subscription from MMX, the six-packs from Little Miss Pottymouth a/k/a Foxy Moxie, and the low, low price of $3.99 per whangus-sized bottle of Port Brewing’s Wipeout IPA sold around the corner at Von’s, I’ve been assiduously practicing my beer technique.

Just as importantly, I’ve been resting, yes, resting. That, plus a bike fit and lots of emphasis on getting my cadence up from the high 70’s to 110 – 120 has meant that I’m able to spin out most of the hangover juice by mid-day, leaving plenty of capacity for more bread/butter/beer (the three B’s of cycling fitness) when it’s time for dinner.

I’ve had inklings that this rest + spin + beer combo is working much better than 2013’s infamous kimchi fart diet. For example, on the Thanksgiving holiday ride, I almost didn’t get dropped several times. “Almost didn’t get dropped” may not sound like much, but when you’re old, droopy, and slow, you measure success in micro-intervals. For example, “almost didn’t get dropped” means that with more fitness and speed I would have hung on, as opposed to “shat out the back,” which means that the only way I would have hung on was with a third leg, an extra lung, and a two-stroke. Prior SPY holiday rides were always in the “shat out the back” category.

How the war was won

Having firmly visualized success, set my goal in a loud Facebook posting, and guzzled a couple of pitchers of fromargs made from cheapest tequila on New Year’s Eve, I was pleasantly surprised on the Dieguinos climb to find that after depilating my beard and retching out the remains of the fromargs, I had not been dropped. It was later pointed out to me that this was one of the slowest holiday rides ever. This did not diminish by even an iota the pleasure I got from being a waiter instead of a waitee, and looking snobbishly at the poor schmoes who came up gasping and gagging and looking just like I had a few minutes before … only they hadn’t seen me!

On the climb to Lake Hodges I continued not to be dropped. On the return up Del Dios I didn’t get dropped some more. When we made the turn up Fairbanks Ranch I kept not getting dropped, which is more than all but about fifteen other riders could say, including certain South Bay riders who had made the drive south to show their stuff. Tri-Dork’s remains littered the roadside, along with the Wily Greek and Peyton, who was poured into a plastic sack and brought home in a hearse.

On the final of the Three Witches I came brutally unhitched, but just as the dwindling group of eleven riders was set to pedal away, Zink also came unhitched. I glommed onto the Cadillac Draft, he caught his breath and towed me back up. Then, as we pounded up the back-ass of San Dieguinos, I came unhitched again. Just as Thurlow, Tinstman, Cobley, Sam, Pomeranz, and Boy Brian seemed set to leave for good, the Three Musketeers of Stinger, Zink, and Fiedler came roaring by. I struggled on, and they madly hit the descent to close the 100-yard gap. At just the wrong moment, Thurlow’s front wheel blew out, and how Tinstman and Sam, who were on his wheel, didn’t go down I will never know.

Thurlow managed to keep the bike upright until he slowed it from 40+ to about 20 while railing down the twenty percent grade. The tire then came off the rim and got caught in the brakes, throwing him over the bars. He was skinned and bloody, but nothing was broken. It was such a horrifically fast and crazy and scary fall that we stood around in shock, amazed that the only casualty had been Thurlow, whose kit looked like it had been washed with an industrial shredder filled with blood. A sag call was made and shortly thereafter we finished the ride.

Back at the shop Zink, who had won the Del Dios KOM and gotten a case of Lost Abbey BWR Ale as his prime, gave a bottle each to me and Dan for our solid riding. I thanked him and quickly stuffed the bottles into my duffle. Maybe one day he’ll find out that Surfer Dan doesn’t drink.

Short news brief in summary and abbreviated form

July 6, 2013 § 8 Comments

I have been banging the drum here in L.A. for some time now regarding the great bicycle riding opportunities in North County San Diego. This is not because I want to encourage people to get to know others, have fun, and enjoy cycling. It is because I get vicarious pleasure out of seeing my friends and riding buddies suffer obliteration. Although riding in North County won’t make you faster, it will permanently devastate your self-esteem. So, as Knoll would say, “There’s that.”

I joined my first SPY Holiday Ride yesterday. The evening before we had a team celebration at RIDE Cyclery. MMX, Slim Jim, and Brent had stocked the deck with giant coolers filled with fresh growlers of beer from Lost Abbey. None of the growlers had fancy beer names like “Working Stiff” or “Take Five” or “North County Rough Road.” No, they just had percentages of alcohol content written on the caps with a Sharpie.

This was beer for people who were serious about drinking beer. The Lost Abbey figured out how to make the beer, and apparently it was your job to figure out what to call it. The next morning I awoke with a screaming, blinding, pounding, stomach-churning hangover from hell, so in the future I will call their beer Sbpsc Hfh. Add vowels as needed.

It would be easy to blame the next day’s dismal ride performance on the hangover were it not for the fact that I have never done a hard ride in North County that didn’t either kick me out the back or reduce me to a whimpering puddle of drained legs and melted ego.

Why you should do this ride

1. There is no “B” ride. It is uncompromising. You will suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, be kicked out the back, and forced to find your way home alone or in the company of other lost damned souls. How many things do you do in life that are uncompromising? That demand everything of you and guarantee nothing but defeat? (Don’t answer this if you’ve been married for more than five years.) That bring out the best in you even when your best is a pathetic, sniveling NOTHING? So, you should do this ride because it replicates, in the tiniest of ways, your natteringly, immeasurably insignificant place in the universe.

2. You are a chickenshit. Yes, you. You, who hide behind wheels, always take the short route home, sandbag in the easiest categories, or “compete” by “racing” exclusively against Strava and your own “personal records.” Thing is, you don’t have to just be a chickenshit. You can go on this ride and be a smashed chickenshit and earn the contempt of the august men and powerful women on the SPY Holiday Ride who will crush you like an eggshell beneath the wheel of an Antonov An-225.

3. There is order in the court. Unlike the Manhattan Beach Holiday Ride, in which 300 freds and 50 solid riders usurp the roadways of coastal L.A. in a mad, undisciplined dash to Mandeville Canyon, the SPY Holiday Ride is ordered. Yesterday about 175 riders went two-by-two for the first five miles, a sick single file for the next four, and all-hell-breaking-loose at the nine-mile mark when the peloton shattered at the base of the San Diegueno climb.

4. Prizes galore. Yesterday an entire case of The Lost Abbey’s BWR Bad-Ass Ale was awarded to the sado-masochist who spent the most time on the front. Unsurprisingly, the winner was Phil Tinstman. KOM winners got cool SPY sunglasses. OTB-wankers got as many servings of ridicule and contempt as they could swallow.

5. Natural selection. This ride rather quickly separated the wheat from the chaff, and you eventually rode with the category of your true ability. Once the pain train hit Lake Hodges, those who had pulled early, blew early. Those who had sucked wheel in hopes that a miracle would get them up the punishing rollers had to re-evaluate their faith. Those who had saved so they could punish finally “Let the Dogs Out.”

6. Variable terrain. The terrain in North County is different from much of SoCal, and punishing. It doesn’t feature many long climbs, but it continually throws rollers in your path no matter which direction you go. These variations wear you down, break your will to live, and leave you looking for a quaint coffee shop with yummy pastries, or failing that, a Starbucks, or failing that, a house with a garden hose. But there are none.

7. Heatstroke. Once you leave the coast it gets A-fucking hot. The poorly hydrated crack, crumple, and cave. The lucky ones die.

8. Benign indifference. Although close two hundred riders started, only a tiny handful finished with the lead group. The rest were ground beneath the wheel, or, as Hesse would say, “Unterm Rad.” This is of course how the universe views you: With benign indifference. Many people go to Sedona or buy crystals or use Feng Shui to align themselves with the universe’s forces when really all they need to do to discover their true quotient of universal meaninglessness is go get their balls stomped on the SPY Holiday Ride.

9. Free salt for wound-rubbing. Post-ride, one wanker said “We normally ride a bit faster going up to the first climb, but we had a pretty gentle roll over there today.” This was the section where I pulled my fucking brains out, drove the pace like a madman, then cracked and split open at the bottom of the first climb only to learn that it had been a tad on the slow side. Sorry bastard motherfuckers.

10. Lots of awesome Strava KOM’s. The SPY Holiday Ride is a great chance for you to bag some prestigious KOM’s, kind of like “The lottery is a great chance for you to get rich.” Only, the chance for you is zero.

11. Regrouping. The SPY Holiday Ride regroups a couple of times, although neither time is for your benefit. It is to allow the baby seals to rejoin so they can be re-clubbed and re-skinned. And you will be.

12. Race simulation. The pace was very much like a tough road race with a series of difficult sections, each of which caused destruction at the back of the pack. Unlike real road races, however, where you can conveniently categorize yourself according to age and gender, this ride forced you to match matches against monsters like Thurlow, Full Gas Tinstman, MMX and the SPY Train, Brett Clare, and a handful of very strong wheelsuckers who never took a pull but attacked and attacked hard.

13. Fireworks. Although illegal due to the dry conditions and high temperatures, the ride offered constant explosive detonations that occurered when riders like Zink, Hatchitt, David A., Stinger, and Tait lit the fuses of Those Who Shall Not Be Named For Now and watched as they snapped, crackled, fizzled, and popped with a whimper.

14. Del Dios KOM. This bad boy has over 6,500 riders on Strava, but yesterday Full Gas Phil whomped the snot out of the record time and set a blistering new pace of 12:38. You should do this so you can be like me, who gave it everything he had and got 98th place. 98th.

15. The 130-lb. Exemption. After the first pitch the road flattened out and this was where, if you were still there (you weren’t), various hardmen went to the front. Then some dude hit the jets, even though he had never taken one pull the whole day. His reasoning? “I don’t have to pull, dude, I’m only only 130 pounds.” So take notice: Anyone 130-lbs. or less need not bring along so much as a shred of self-respect.

16. Watch Brett sprint. On the return there was a sprint into Rancho Santa Fe. Those hoping to pass Brett, Full Gas, Thurlow, MMX, Josh, etc. brought mopeds.

17. Pity the fools. The 3 Witches ascent had the next sprint at the top, featuring three risers that topped out with a nasty sprint. For the first two witches, a couple of wankers from SDBC set tempo with Thurlow, Full Gas, and MMX sitting behind. For the third and final witch, Thurlow pulled and dropped the fools, with Full Gas Phil taking the sprint, MMX next and followed by Thurlow. Everyone else was shelled here. You were, too. Oh, wait, no you weren’t — you were shelled like an hour ago.

18. Visionary delusions. After a few more merciless beatdowns, sprunt points, and complete draining of all bodily adeonsine triphosphate, the handful of remaining riders “remarked what a great ride it had been.” Uh, sure. Whatever. Bunch of fucking liars.

19. Horrific inland heat. The weather got hotter as the ride went inland. The heat sucked the life out of the weak, the lame, and the too-many-Lost-Abbey-brews-the-night-before. I staggered into a convenience store in Del Mar and doused my head in water, then lay on the cool pavement and hoped for a gurney or for someone to run over me. No one did.

20. Making great friends. After Zink flatted I was miserably stuck on his wheel for 30 miles while he “repaid” my assistance with the tire change by dragging me up hill, down dale, periodically dropping me, sitting up and waiting, towing me for a while, dropping me again, and generally making my life a living hell while trying to help me out. Note to self: Don’t ever stop to help Zink change a flat.

Ride facts:

— 60 miles with 3800 feet of climbing

— 4 sprint waypoints, and the KOM at Del Dios

— Held every national holiday. Next one will be on Labor day.

— Ride size: 100-200, depending on weather and time of year

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