January 13, 2014 § 24 Comments
I rode up onto the sidewalk like I always do, made the left down the narrow little path next to the parking garage, and dismounted at the top of the four concrete steps which lead to the big locked gate. There is a hedge opposite the wall of the parking garage, and the space along the path is so slight that if they weren’t well trimmed, the branches would touch the opposing wall. It’s a busy little passageway; countless tenants come and go through this side entrance over the course of a day.
The jersey pockets of my bicycle outfit are always stuffed the same way. Gate and house key on the left, spare tube in the middle, and CO2/cash/credit card on the right. When I’m cutting out before sunrise I’ll stick my sunglasses in the left pocket, on top of the keys. It’s my “sunglass” pocket, or, when I’m coming home in the late afternoon and wearing my sunglasses, it’s the pocket in which I’ll put the Rx clear-lens biking glasses that I’d worn on the pre-dawn commute. In any event, the glasses are always on top of the gate and house key.
On Thursday afternoon I got back to the complex, dismounted, and took off my gloves before fishing out the glasses from the left pocket in order to reach the gate and house key. I walked the bike down the steps, let myself in, and walked up the staircase to our apartment. Then the evening quickly took over. There was so much to do before our big trip to Palm Springs on Friday. There were bags to be packed, bike to be cleaned, dinner to be eaten, beer to be drunk and, of course, book to be faced.
One of the last things to be packed was my actual riding gear, and nothing is double and triple-checked more often than my eyewear. This is because my vision is so terrible that without my prescription biker glasses it’s simply not possible to ride. Although I knew from our riding schedule that we wouldn’t be riding before sunup or after sundown, and I therefore wouldn’t need them, I noticed that my clear Rx glasses were missing.
“Honey,” I said, “have you seen my clear glasses?”
“No. Why? When’s the last time you wore them?”
“Today. I thought I came home with them today, actually.” A short search ensued but they didn’t turn up. “They’ll show up later,” I thought.
Rather, I hoped like hell they’d show up, because they were prescription SPY Quanta performance glasses, and they meant the difference between pre-dawn riding and not. They would also be expensive to replace.
The weekend flew by, and on Sunday night, as I unpacked my bags, I realized that the glasses had never turned up. This wasn’t surprising, since I hadn’t looked for them and since we’d been out of town. “Honey,” I asked again. “Have you seen my clear Rx riding glasses?”
She rolled her eyes. “In Palm Springs? No.”
On Monday morning I got ready to ride and faced the nasty truth. I’d lost the glasses and couldn’t remember where, and they weren’t coming back. Our apartment is small and we don’t have much in it, and the glasses would have surfaced if only because SPY provides a gray cloth carrying case with a bright orange drawstring for all its eyewear. It’s the kind of thing that you just can’t miss, bright orange strings against a slightly metallic gray bag.
I clomped down the concrete staircase and went out the gate. As I mounted the top concrete step on the walkway, I glanced to my right. There on the hedge was a gray cloth bag, hanging from a branch by its bright orange drawstring. Then it all came back to me. I’d taken out the glasses out of the back pocket in order to get the gate key, and must have dropped the glasses. They’d been there for almost four days.
Someone had picked up the bag, looked inside, realized that the glasses were prescription and fancy and important, and had thoughtfully hung them from the hedge. Over the four days countless people had stopped, opened the little bag to see what was inside, realized that they were lost glasses, and left them there. Countless little acts of observation, investigation, conclusion and … doing the nicest thing.
I smiled a big smile and tucked the glasses into my jersey pocket, the left one of course. Then I pedaled on to work, feeling like the strangers of the world were, somehow, looking out for me, and reminding me that when it came my turn, to be sure and look out for them, too.
January 12, 2014 § 16 Comments
I had really been looking forward to the weekend, that’s what I told myself as the whole fucking peloton exploded into wobbling, weaving fragments on the lower part of the Tramway climb, only I didn’t know it was the lower part because I’d never been there before or watched the finale of the Tour of California stage because if I had I would have known that the yellow sign and the modest bump-top I was sprinting for, far from being the top, was four miles from the top, and what was already the most miserable mile I’d ever spent on a bike was about to be most hellish five miles, not just one.
The leaders numbered about fifteen and I could count them, as they were plotted out in high relief against the ugly, featureless desert shitscape that spilled out like bad barf on either side of the roadway. The flailers numbered about sixty, riders who had, like me, thought they were coming to Palm Springs for a fun team bonding training camp, only to find out that as soon as they’d picked up their swag and put on their fancy kits that some sadist had planned the most miserable of afternoons for them in the high desert hell.
Slowly I moved up, latching onto the wheels of the decaying riders who, like me, were coming apart at the seams, but unlike me were coming apart slightly faster. My signature pant-gasp-hack-cough got into their heads along with the depressing reality that flashed across their minds as I sat on their wheels: “If Wankmeister has caught me and can hold my wheel, my fucking season is over. It’s like being caught by an obese child with short legs, only worse.” One by one they pounded as hard as they could, desperately trying to shake the stigma of having me ride them down, then pulled over in defeat as I soldiered on. This terribly painful, wholly unrewarding, ego-crushing climb ended with only a handful of the very best riders ahead of me. I calculated eighth place out of about seventy-five riders, with Chris Johnson, Brian Stack, John Abate, Paul Vaccari, Logan Fiedler, Dave Jaeger, and Taylor Vaccardi ahead of me.
This, of course, was a result so far beyond anything I could have ever imagined that it almost made up for the misery of the climb and the terror of the 60-mph downhill. When we all reconvened at the hotel, the consensus was general: On the very first ride of the very first day of training camp we had all destroyed ourselves so completely that we would spend the next two days sucking our thumbs, curled up in bed popping Advil and wishing we could go home.
What is a training camp?
I wondered this the sleepless night before our Spy-Giant-RIDE Second Annual Training Camp of General Awesomeness and Beer. There didn’t seem to be any tents, sleeping bags, or highjinks with the girl campers on the itinerary, so it clearly wasn’t a camp. And after wrecking all of our legs on Day One (various riders were so destroyed by the dry air and brutal climb that the following day they tucked tail 30 miles into the ride and slinked back to the hotel bar rather than complete the 103-mile death march across the desert), I couldn’t really figure out what it was we were training for, except perhaps for a graveside service.
Mrs. WM and I had in fact begun the whole thing in high spirits. We stopped in San Bernardino on the way out to get gas after the typical husband-wife car conversation, which began like this. “I gotta pee.”
“You’re fuggin’ kidding me. We’ve been in the car less than an hour.”
“I don’ care I gotta pee.”
“You can’t have to pee. There’s no way you have generated enough pee. You’ve drunk nothing. You can’t have to pee.”
“I gotta pee so let’s stop onna pee stop now.”
A few minutes later we were at a gas station. She came back to the car. “Can I get onna magazine?”
“Sure.” This was odd, because in 26 years of marriage she had read, maybe, four magazines. She returned to the car, smiling, with a copy of Cosmo. “What did you get that for? Don’t tell me you’re reading Cosmo for fashion advice?”
“It had onna cover story called ‘Fantasy Sex.’”
There was a brief silence as I calculated the possibilities. Team training camp was starting to look good.
When we arrived at the Westin Mission Hills Resort and Golf Nirvana our awesome team bosses greeted us with an assembly line of kits, caps, eyewear, and t-shirts. It was brain numbing to think that we, a worthless bunch of prostate-challenged wannabes were being showered with so much pro stuff. Our kits came in plastic bags with our names on them, and the kits themselves had our names on the side panels of the jerseys. We gazed in wonder, not simply at the awesomeness of it, but at the realization that all the other teams would be purple with envy when they saw our rad personalized clothing. Henceforth the pro masters SoCal masters cycling circuit would, unquestionably, be demanding personalized kits even as they gnawed their livers at not having thought of it first.
After returning from our horrific Day One training ride, I realized many things, and chief among them was this: Just because I have a fancy kit doesn’t mean I’m any good. This was really depressing, as I’d been hoping, deep down, that by wearing the nicest kit I would somehow be a better rider.
SPY had reserved a giant room with a bar, restaurant, and conference area for the afternoon presentations. We began with the most important one, from SPY Optic, called “Why You Are Here.” This was important because from the moment we were showered with swag and set up for the amazing weekend, each of us wondered the same thing: “What’s a wanker like me doing to deserve all this?”
To the relief of many, the answer was NOT “Go forth and win bike races.”
Instead, the answer was something entirely different. It was, “Go forth and live a good life, and a happy one. If you win bike races as a result, good for you. If you win nothing at all, you’ve still won everything possible.” In shorthand that every bike racer can understand, we were treated to the SPY motto, “HTFU.” Yeah. Happy the Fuck Up.
A few of the new recruits may have been puzzled, but I wasn’t. Anyone who thinks that winning bike races, or winning any kind of race, is the key to a good life well lived, hasn’t read the fine print that comes Life. Crushing the souls of your competitors, or marking up their FB wall with boasts about how you’ll destroy their hopes in the Aged People With Prostate Issues Category is important, and fun, and, perhaps, fulfilling in some strange way. But the key to getting your foot onto the next stepping stone in life isn’t “winning.” It’s being the kind of person who is kind, and it’s happily accepting happiness as a completely self-fulfilling way of doing the journey.
Of course none of us bought that bullshit for even a nanosecond, and all we could think about was training harder, racing smarter, and beating the snot out of the guys and women we race against, hopefully humiliating them in front of their small children, but at a minimum making fun of them for cherry-picking crits and avoiding anything with a hill in it.
How the team was fitted
The next morning we staggered into breakfast, inhaled everything on the buffet line, and sat down to a presentation from Harmony Bars, a San Diego company that makes what is unquestionably the tastiest in-your-jersey-pocket-treat ever created. However, no one in the room was able to concentrate on the caloric and nutritive aspects of the presentation, since it was being done by Jess Cerra in a pair of mesh white tights. We had all spent the previous day having Jess ride us off our her wheel on the Tramway climb, not terribly different from the times she had ridden us off her wheel on the Swami’s Ride, on the SPY Holiday Ride, on the Belgian Waffle Ride, or, frankly, every other ride we’d ever accompanied her on.
Jess’s strength and unrelenting power on the bike, and her unparalleled ability to litter the roadside with smashed male egos, was equaled only by her presentation in the white tights. Every man in the room died a little bit that day, heaping jealousy and hatred on the shoulders of John Abate as we watchd, er, listened, to Jess’s presentation. The Harmony Bar story can be summed up thus: This shit tastes good, is locally made, and was designed by people who crush on the bike. Okay?
Next we heard from our StageOne sponsors, the dudes who designed and manufactured our kits. Joe Yule and Jon Davy had a glazed look in their eyes, and it was clear they’d put together their presentation after a detailed sketch on the back of a napkin. Davy’s every third word was “Uh,” and with good reason: StageOne had designed, manufactured, delivered, bagged, and tagged the entire team kit in less than ninety days. This had involved multiple designs and product tests, trips to the manufacturing plant in Holland, and an eye for detail and execution that no one but Davy could have ever delivered. Joe Yule’s lifelong mission to beautify the highways of California had come, yet again, to fruition, as our SPY-Giant-RIDE kit was so beautiful that grown men wept while taking selfies of themselves in the mirror and posting them to their mothers’ FB pages.
To make matters more intense, StageOne replaces SPY-Giant-RIDE’s previous kit manufacturer Squadra, and riders are nothing if not bitchy little pricks about their kits. Whatever concerns people had about leaving the top-line kits of Squadra for the as-yet-untried-new-kids-on-the-block-StageOne were dispelled after our first team pedal. Sporting innovations that include a zipper garage, back grippers on the jersey, and farmer-john straps for comfort when you’re not wearing a base layer, the StageOne design and production received rave reviews, which is good, because if anyone had dared complain they’d have had a 210-lb. Jon Davy to deal with.
Following the StageOne presentation we heard from Giant, our bike sponsor. I wish I could explain to you in detail why the new Giant Propel is the most awesome bike since someone decided to make a bicycle with a chain … but I can’t. The Giant presentation explained lots of details about the Propel and about the concept of aero road frames and about how it improved on what most already considered the most perfect bike ever made, the Giant TCR, but it was all in one ear and out the other for me as I was still stuck on the Harmony Bars and the white tights. One of the problems that Giant has with its bikes is that each new model improves on an already incredible model, and the people like me who are completely in love with the current model can’t imagine something better than what they’ve already got. But the situation appears pretty simple, in that the Propel will propel you faster.
Let my people go
Once the presentations finished we saddled up for a leisurely 103-mile ride in the desert. It was going to be a friendly, two-by-two affair until we hit a nasty sidewind going up a long grade and the young punks turned on the gas and shredded the field. Suddenly our 75-person peloton was split into multiple groups of desperately pedaling flailers who broke up into echelons as they tried to avoid getting further behind. The young punks pulled away as I sat back in the second group watching the end of the day happen at about mile twenty, because there was no way the leaders were coming back. As we toiled into the most miserable of howling sidewinds, the guy in front of me exploded into pieces and I lunged ahead in a last-ditch effort to bridge.
Leaving entrails, my soul, and copious quantities of spit and snot on the road, I somehow made it across. The only rider to go with me was, of course, Jess, who then went straight to the front and took a pull even as I hung on the back and prayed for a land mine. Happily, Andy Schmidt flatted at Dillon Road and we all stopped, giving the broken, dropped, crushed, and defeated remainder of the group time to catch up to us. People looked so ill and sad and sick and unhappy that it was clear to me the training camp was a total success.
For the remainder of the ride we rotated, hammer-tated, flail-tated, and generally gasped our way back to the hotel. Massive beerdration ensued for those of us who had not had enough water, and after an even more massive pizza feast we sat down and listened to another slew of evening presentations. The one that impressed me the most was MRI Endurance, our team’s presenting sponsor who is a manufacturer of training supplements. They impressed me not because of the presentation — I was too drunk to understand any of it and kept falling asleep on F-1 Jim’s shoulder, awakening only to wipe off the drool — but because of the following day when MRI handed out the team product.
Have you ever seen a shark feeding frenzy? People were practically gnawing each others’ arms off to get their share of the special supplements. Eyes were gouged, crotches were kneed, and medullas were rabbit-punched in the melee. Judging from the enthusiasm of the riders, this stuff works wonders.
Ending on a high note
On Sunday morning, we were so trashed from the beer, the riding, and the presentations of the night before that a few shameless wankers left early (after collecting all their swag, of course). Those who stuck around got to enjoy yet another morning of great food, camaraderie, and a series of excellent presentations from Skins, RIDE Cyclery, SRAM/Zipp, Lake cycling shoes, Razer keyboards & mice, and Clearwater Partners. Skins provided a detailed scientific review of the benefits of their full line of compression gear, but Mrs. WM had only one question: “If you compress onna chin-chin, it’s gonna make it bigger?”
I didn’t know what to say, or even what product to order. The compression tube sock, maybe, in size XXXXS?
The other sponsors helped us better understand the benefits of working with an awesome local bike shop, of racing on SRAM components and ZIPP wheels, of using Lake shoes and the Boa locking system, and of investing all of our money with Clearwater so we can retire early and race our bikes full time like true SoCal masters professionals.
We took a fine group picture and called it a day. My 2014 season is officially a success, thanks to the excellent job I did riding around the resort looking splendid in my new outfit and (barely) beating Jess up the Tramway climb. Looking forward to lots of great racing in 2015.
November 16, 2013 § 8 Comments
In a month and a half we’ll begin our third season of the SPY bicycling team. Lots of people wonder what it’s like to be an old creaky fellow with a leaky prostate and bad vision while riding for the premier old fellows racing team in California and therefore the galaxy. I’d sum it up like this:
Riding for SPY is fun.
In the first two years we saw that there were other teams with better racers. We’ve never had the fastest racers on our squad, but despite that our 45+ team was the winningest one in SoCal, our cyclocross masters teams are hands down the best, and our 35+ team, P/1/2 team and development riders mean that each year more and more people want to ride with us. Add into the mix that our women’s team, led by Jessica Cerra, is already primed to have a super year, and I think the reasons that people want to join the SPY cavalcade are simple : Swag and fun.
When you’re an old fellow, if you have any perspective at all, you realize that if your hobby is best measured in wins and losses, it’s probably no longer a hobby and has become what the rest of the world calls a “job.” You realize that as much as you’d like to win, even more than that you’d like to compete — and win — with people you actually like, doing things you actually enjoy, decked out in swag that makes you feel like you’re winning even when you place 78th.
SPY’s ethos is best described as having a happy disrespect for the usual way of looking at life. Put another way, “Beware of the usual!”
Living up to our mandate
We’re not told to go forth and win races, although we’re given plenty of leadership and racing and training opportunities to do so. What we are told is that once we put on the kit, we’re ambassadors for a brand. Not sales staff, or preachers, group thinkniks, but ambassadors, people who are here to deliver a message.
What message? This message.
1. Ride the front as much as you can on group rides, wherever you may train. Be a leader. Why? Because the usual way of doing things is to hide in the pack and show your face, if at all, at the coffee shop. The usual way of doing things is to use the work of others in order to benefit yourself. The unusual and irreverent way of doing things is to put your share of work into the group effort, and maybe even a little bit more than your share. If you’re too afraid of getting dropped or of not making the split, bite the bullet and … go to the front.
2. Take care of one another, and take care of others. The usual way of doing things is to only stop when you’re the one with the mechanical. This is your Sunday ride, right? You’ve waited all week for this, right? So if someone has a flat, well, that’s bike racing. The unusual and irreverent way of doing things is to recognize that there will be another Tuesday morning ride, and it’s probably not gonna kill you to help out a fellow cyclist. You’ll make a friend, you’ll energize the person you help to pass on the good karma, and you’ll go from being “all about me” to “serving others.”
3. Represent SPY and its team sponsors in the same way that you’d want them to represent YOU. Success doesn’t mean a podium in an old fellows criterium. Success is the sum of a life predicated on our collective good deeds, leadership, and the vicious clubbing of baby seals (to whom we apologize in advance and posthumously).
4. As a bike racer, or more accurately, as an elderly fellow drowning in a delusional vat of swag and beer and navel gazing, when you race your victory isn’t what matter. What matters are your actions and how they affect your team. What matters is whether you were ready to toil in anonymity and lay it all out there for the sake of a teammate.
5. Make people HAPPY. Collective groupings of old people racing bicycles isn’t a formula for happiness. Smiling and spreading positive energy is. So go forth and happify. Now.
From the touchy-feely to the hard facts
You probably expect me to praise SPY for all the usual reasons, but what are those “usual” reasons? And aren’t we supposed to beware of the usual? Rather, my affinity for the company, begun through personal friendship and swag, has transcended those two things to reach a level of discrimination I never thought I’d reach.
Because you see, I don’t really give a rat’s ass about bike products. Of course I love nice stuff when I can get it, but I’m not now and have never been a “bike guy.” I have one road bike and one ‘cross bike. One extra wheelset for the ‘cross bike. My road hoops are the same ones I train on and race on. For me, it’s always been about being lucky enough to cycle and to be part of a cycling community. The bike and the clothes and the parts are icing on the cake.
Of course, there’s one exception to that, and it’s the unusual exception of my eyes. I began wearing glasses at age 13, bout six or seven years after I first really needed them. My vision was so bad that I could only see movies from the front row. I’m still convinced that much of my early problems in school stemmed from an inability to see the chalkboard.
Having terrible vision has affected me throughout my life. I never learned to surf above kook level despite decades of trying. Why? Because I’m horribly uncoordinated and weak. But being unable to see the wave until it was breaking on my head didn’t help. Ball sports were always impossible, and even though I could see on a bike, my eyes were constantly irritated from the wind that incessantly screamed around the edges of my Laurent Fignon frames. Wearing superb prescription eyewear from SPY enabled me to win the Tour in 2011 and was directly responsible for the winning Powerball ticket that I bought down at the corner 7-11.
In actuality, my vision transformation on the bike thanks to SPY wasn’t accidental or the result of lottery-like luck. This eyewear is authentically bound to technical performance. The prescription glasses work in an incredibly demanding range of light and weather situations, including getting bounced on my head at 40 mph and remaining intact (the glasses, not the head).
This authenticity is so much more than, “The glasses work, dude.” It’s part of the background of the product, where and why it came into being, and what drives its evolution and subsequent iterations. Plus, SPY has never sponsored Lance.
The combination of “ride at the front” and “this shit works” forms the core of the proposition when you’re thinking about buying glasses. Do you want a product made by non-cyclists for cyclists and owned by a giant Italian conglomerate that also handles leather handbags, or do you want a product that’s made by cyclists who have to live with the shit they create, and who have to answer to the product’s utility in their own races and group rides?
Putting glasses on your nose … who knew it was so complicated? Well, it is, because when you wear SPY you’re choosing between Italian luxuory monolith or a variation on ZZ Topp: “That Little Old Performance Eyewear Company from Carlsbad.” Do things like happiness, irreverence, riding at the front, helping those who need it, and buying locally make a difference to you? If they do, maybe there’s something in this story for you.
The pros who ride SPY gear are chosen in order to transcend their stereotypes as “jocks” and tap into a multicultural lifestyle based on a love of outdoors activities. Us grizzled old dudes with leaky prostates believe in that transcendence, too.