The skinny

September 5, 2017 § 25 Comments

Back in April I was reading Steve Tilford’s blog and came across one of his musings on air conditioning/heating and whether or not it caused weight gain. He thought that being hot and sweating burned more calories than sitting under the AC.

It makes sense. So I thought about it as a general proposition. Maybe the solution to trying to stay warm when it’s cold out, or trying to stay cool when it’s hot out, starts with foregoing as much clothing as possible and letting your body do the regulating.

I chucked my hoodies and knit caps and started going around in a t-shirt full time. Of course in Southern California that’s no great feat, since the weather here is pretty much perfect year-round. But if it’s so perfect, why do so many people wear so much warm clothing in the winter? And why do they wilt any time it gets over 90 degrees?

The obvious answer is that no matter how balmy the weather, when you depend on clothing and climate control to make things perfect, anything less than perfect sends you scurrying for a jacket or howling for an air conditioner.

My experiment is about four months in, and I can assure you that it hasn’t caused any weight loss. But what I have noticed, especially during my recent jaunt to Las Vegas, is that my body quickly, almost instantaneously, adjusts to the ambient air temperature. I could go from the frigid casino to the outdoor inferno and acclimate right away. I could re-enter the air-conditioned environs and within a minute or two be sufficiently warm to not even think about putting on a jacket.

The only time during my three days in Vegas that I had to wear a dress shirt and sport coat, I was unbearably hot. I’m not claiming that I could easily walk around in the extreme Vegas heat, either. One day I spent about thirty minutes on the Strip mid-day, and I took a pounding. No natural acclimation in the world will accommodate 110 degrees.

But upon returning to the South Bay in the midst of a horrible heat wave that saw (gasp!) temperatures in the high 90’s, I had no problems at all. It was hot but far from unbearable, or even miserable.

We’ll see how this fares when we hit the frigid winter temps that will certainly dive down into the low 60’s or even high 50’s; brutal stuff. In any event, I’ll save on winter clothes.



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PS: Don’t forget the Wanky’s. As if you could.


Tilford Tuesday: Ten Commandments

May 16, 2017 § 12 Comments

Buried somewhere in Steve’s thousands of Internet pages of wisdom, I came across this gem. It’s a list of ten rules for bike racing. I call them the Ten Commandments.

What’s so amazing about these rules is that they completely sum up what you are supposed to do during a race. If you could master even half of them you’d never need a coach, a power meter, a heart rate monitor … nothing. And because they’re so succinct they’re easy to remember.

As I read through these rules I realized why I’m such a shitty bike racer. I don’t follow any of them. In fact, the more I thought about it, I pretty much am the Antichrist of bike racing. I break all the commandments every time I race. Wow. No wonder I suck.

So I decided to annotate the rules with examples from my racing past.

FIRST COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt never be in the front pulling for no reason.

This is my bete noir, the Pointless Pull. Go the front, hammer, feel like a champion, revel in the pain being inflicted, suddenly feel a wee tired, drift to the back, there goes the winning move never to be seen again.

SECOND COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt always know which direction that the wind is coming from.

Wind? What’s that? Derek the Destroyer flies big jets and used to surf a lot. He knows where the wind is before he even gets on his bike. My Cousin Vinnie wouldn’t know the wind if it had a business card–that’s how well he hides from it. But me? Unsure about where it’s blowing from or how to avoid it, and therefore always smack out in it.

THIRD COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt always know the course, at least in thy mind, before the start and picture where the strategic points, hills and wind direction will occur.

“Before the start” means “chat with others about the condition of the port-a-potties.” Then be astounded when the race starts on a 30% climb. Astounded, followed by dropped.

FOURTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt constantly ask thyself if thou art in the right position. If thou are not, thou shalt get there.

I have BPHR, Bad Positioning Homing Radar. Always stuck behind “that guy.” What am I saying? I am “that guy.”

FIFTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt know when to do a single pace line and when to ride double echelon.


SIXTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt not be shouting at other riders telling them what to do. It just pisses them off and makes them want thee not to do well.

Okay, finally one that I often get right. Because it’s hard to shout and get dropped simultaneously.

SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt never look back for what’s going on behind thee. If thou really needest to know, thou shalt drift back through the field subtly.

A few weeks ago I went to the neck doctor. “Doc, I got a crick in my neck.” “You have Rider’s Crick,” he said. “What’s that?” I said. “It’s a joint problem caused by spending hours looking through your armpit backwards.”

EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt not try to show off in races. Races are judged by who crosses the line first.

All I can say about this is, wow. Talk about taking all the fun out of bike racing.

NINTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt observe and rate the guys thou art racing against. Watch how they pedal, climb, corner, etc.

This is easy to do but not so useful for me because almost every race starts with the realization that I’ve never beaten anyone to the left of me, never beaten anyone to the right of me, and never beaten anyone behind or in front of me. And the way they pedal is “faster.”

TENTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt know where the finish line is and where thou plannest to sprint from.


Anyway, these commandments are so good and succinct you could almost trim them down and paste them on your top tube. And since it’s January 1st somewhere, now is a great time to make a new year’s resolution.

Which I’m going to do now.




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Tilford Tuesday

May 2, 2017 § 27 Comments

“So, for the weekend, Trek/HRRC took five of the six podium spots. That was kind of lucky really.” Steve Tilford, 2007.

I think about Steve every day now, which is weird because I didn’t when he was alive. I don’t understand why people can affect us more after they’re gone than when they were here. Maybe it’s because I didn’t really know him that well, and it was only after he died that I started to understand the mark he’d left on so many people. Maybe it’s just plain old guilt, discovering that there was a really great person out there who rode bikes and was contributing, day in day out, and for whatever reason I was only peripherally aware of it. And maybe that’s a core function of death, it cuts off forever the possibility that you’ll ever again be able to see the person, and so you have focus on what they left behind. In Steve’s case, what he left behind was massive.

Anyway, here’s a brief history of his blog. In 2003 it started out as a PR thing, with posts by his friend Vincent. Then in 2006 he started writing his own stuff. That’s when the grit started. One of the things that immediately struck me was how admired he was by his peers in the sport of cyclocross. In 2007 he was voted the best U.S. ‘cross racer of all time: 508 votes for Tilford, 224 for Jonathan Page who’d almost won UCI Worlds, and 53 votes for third place.

He was known for loving tough conditions. In 2007 he fell onto a frozen lake in a ‘cross race, then fell through the ice, got out, and kept racing. His gloves froze to his hands and he had no gears or brakes. His hands hurt for days afterwards.

Detail: He won.

At age 47 he was 2nd at the elite nationals crit in 2006, behind Kayle Leogrande who later was banned for doping. That race is a great example of what Steve always said, that dopers steal things from people, and that unlike normal thieves, they steal things you can’t ever get back. What kind of crown would that have been, to have won outright the national title at age 47? Pretty cool, that’s what.

So anyway, Tuesday seems like a good day of the week to dedicate to Steve. His blog has a lifetime’s worth of material to think about, like the line I started this post with.

I love that line because it has two great ideas in it. First is that Steve was humble. He was keenly aware of how good he was, of how he affected other people, and of how people admired him. But he was equally aware of where he stood at any given moment in time, and more importantly, where he stood at the finish of any given race. He never let the things he had accomplished get in the way of who he was: A regular guy who loved to race bikes, who raced them really well, and who loved to share his knowledge and enthusiasm.

The other thing I like about the quote is the way he uses “lucky.” In a way he’s right. It’s always lucky, i.e, random, when you win a bike race. The sport is fickle. No two courses are ever raced the same way because of the road, weather, competition, and your own condition. You can’t win without being the beneficiary of random chance.

But he also uses “lucky” in its Jeffersonian sense, i.e., “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Steve was all about preparation, going through the motions, and paying attention to the details. One friend told me how, whenever possible, Steve always got to the race early and lined up on the front row. The start isn’t always important in a crit, but it can be and it’s a detail, and one he rarely overlooked.

Good lessons are packed into that line for life, not only for cycling:

  1. Acknowledge random chance when it helps you succeed. It’s not all about you. You’re lucky to be here.
  2. Put in the effort. It increases the chances of a good outcome.

I’ll see how long I can continue these Tilford Tuesdays. There’s certainly no shortage of material.



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Exit, stage center

April 6, 2017 § 91 Comments

Steve Tilford didn’t go quietly into that dark night, and he certainly didn’t exit stage left. He went out from the center in a thrashing, twisting howl of shredded metal, his van hurtling through the body of an overturned semi-tractor trailer in a winter storm on I-70. The last act of Steve’s life, one marked by countless falls, broken bones, and injuries, was a massive freeway crash.

Steve Tilford died the result of a violent collision, something that couldn’t have been predicted or avoided, but that he nonetheless found himself smack in the middle of, going full tilt, no time to brake, swerve, or take evasive action. Incredibly for anyone but Steve, smashing through the first tractor-trailer didn’t kill him, no, he survived that just fine. It was the second 18-wheeler that plowed into the crash scene that left him with injuries from which even Steve Tilford, the man of steel, the phoenix who rose from every injury faster and stronger and tougher than before, the time-defying ageless competitor, could not recover.

This was just like when things go sideways in a tightly packed, high speed crit. It was just like in the uproarious, furious, full-throttle story of Steve Tilford’s incredibly short life. He was 57, and still younger than all of us.

The last time I talked to Steve he had texted and said that he was on his way to California, and could we grab a bite near the airport before he headed on down to San Diego?

There was only one possible answer to that invitation, which was “Absolutely.” We met at The Habit burger grill in El Segundo, and I wasn’t really sure why he’d reached out, but didn’t exactly care. He had fallen on a training ride in October of last year and suffered a catastrophic closed head injury. He had been slated to come and speak at our annual South Bay Cycling Awards again, but of course couldn’t after the fall.

Tilford-like, he’d gone down at 30 on a training ride, unhelmeted, taken out by a dog, such that his skull shattered. When the inevitable victim blaming sprang up, Tilford shrugged. “I didn’t wear a helmet and it didn’t work out for me, but I don’t go around blaming riders with helmets who’ve been injured or killed.”

The first words out of his mouth when we met were an apology. “Really sorry I missed the awards last year,” he said, as if hovering between life and death wasn’t a good enough reason to stay home.

And that summed up one part of Steve Tilford: Decent to a fault. Reflective to an almost painful degree. Keenly aware by orders of magnitude how his life, his actions, and his words affected others. Not by random chance did he end up that way. His parents were alcoholics, and at a young age he was abandoned by his mom and sent to live with his grandmother, who was in her 80s.

“Never really cared for drinking,” he told me. “And living with my grandmother, that added years to her life.” He said it with a laugh as he regaled me with the story, because the other part of Steve was his storytelling. Everything may not have happened for a reason, but it happened, and he recalled the smallest of details to give you the blow-by-blow. His memory was extraordinary, photographic, total recall. “I’ll never forget being down in Austin one winter, I was staying with Fields and the Dicksons. They were always doing stuff.

“One morning I got ready to ride and my bike was super heavy. I couldn’t figure it out. It was like ten pounds heavier. Turns out they had yanked the seat post and filled the seat tube with gravel.”

Behind the smile and the kindness was the hardness of Steve’s early Kansas boyhood, and it was fitting that the town of Topeka gave rise to one of cycling’s greats. If American cycling has a soul, it is in the Midwest and the Great Plains, where the wind, the cold, the wet, the heat, and the wind, the wind, the wind made bestial pain the price of bike racing. Steve was a product of hard scrabble and hard wind, and it showed in everything he did.

And what he did, mostly, was whip ass. His, hers, yours, mine, everyone’s. The first and only time we rode together was on the Donut Ride in 2015. He had come out to be a guest speaker for our annual awards ceremony, and that morning we had our weekly slugfest. Word was out that Tilford was in town, and quite a bit of heavy artillery had been rolled into position. Steve made short work of everyone, “everyone” being at least twenty years younger.

But aside from the national titles, the masters world titles, and the thousands–yes, thousands–of races he competed it, Steve stood for something a lot bigger than ripping your legs off and screaming through corners at 35. Steve stood for what is right, and he stood for it by living it.

A prodigious talent, a tremendous competitor, a disciplined athlete, a meticulous strategist, Steve never made the big time in the sport of bike racing. It’s not because he lacked the legs or the will or the smarts or the drive. It’s because he refused to cheat.

It grated on him to watch the big generation of drug cheats, the Armstrongs, Hincapies, Leipheimers, Vaughters, the entire cheating hall of shame that not only scooped up the money but retired to lucrative clothing lines, profitable grand fondues, and the management/ownership of UCI Pro Tour teams. But rather than dwell on what he might have done, he didn’t dwell at all. You can’t dwell when you’re railing the corners at 35.

He called dopers what they were, shrugged, and raced his fuggin’ bike. It was this relentless honesty and his world-renowned blog that, in the second half of his racing career, kept him on the sidelines yet again. His writing was direct, personal, powerful, and unvarnished. He didn’t whore out to rebadged component makers, didn’t extol the fake virtues of new bike frames or disc brakes, didn’t attribute his success to magical elixirs or power meters, and insisted on speaking The Hard Truth: If you want to be a good bike racer, you have to train hard and race hard. There is no second path, there is no Plan B.

And he lived the corollary to that truth: If you race, you’re going to get hurt. This amazing and beautiful piece written by Bill Strickland twenty years ago captures the cycling side of Tilford’s life in brutal prose. By age 38, Steve had sustained the kind of wounds and injuries and PTSD that we normally only associate with war. And at the time Strickland’s piece was written, Steve had almost twenty more years to go, years into which he would pack the equivalent of a hundred other lives in terms of danger, competition, injury, victory, and excitement. A hundred lives? A thousand.

Strickland calls this piece “Why We Ride,” but in truth, if Tilford’s life is the model, it’s why we don’t. Because we can’t.

Steve’s writing captured the imagination of thousands, and it chapped the asses of cycling journalism because it paid them no homage, paid them no advertising, and spoke only the introspective and reflective thoughts forged from a lifetime of real racing. Steve wrote true things, and those who read them knew them to be true.

Roy Knickman, one of America’s legends during the golden age of cycling, raced with Steve and summed it up like this: “There was only one Steve Tilford, a guy who spoke his mind but never with malice, he simply said what he believed to be true. He lived his life like no one else–I love racing my bike and I’m going to race my bike forever–that was Steve. He found a way to make it work and developed so many relationships along the way, and it’s amazing, the goodwill that he spread and the following that he had. People loved him because he was Steve Tilford who could do anything; at 57 he could do a P12 crit and still get in the money, or be the masters world ‘cross champ, or win an MTB series.

“One of my best memories of Steve is the year at the Coors Classic we were getting ready for the banquet and instead of dressing up we spray-painted t-shirts in my driveway. Hampsten’s shirt read KOM, but Steve’s read KOS, King of Spills (or Stories). He would crash, get up, and tell a story about it … and he could sprint pretty good for all that.

“One of the last times I saw him I had just mentioned off-hand on the phone that I was getting married and we were at the rehearsal down at the beach in PV and suddenly up rode this guy looking like Keith Richards on a bike. It was Steve who had come by to say hello, who for all I knew should have been in Kansas, not California. Classic Steve.”

A friend of mine, Michael Smith, also a Kansan, talked about how watching Tilford at a race in Scottsdale in 1997 had inspired him to race bikes. Fifteen years after that race, “My cycling career was complete when I was able to battle it out with Steve, shoulder to shoulder, racing up a finishing hill in a nothing race in nowhere Kansas. Might as well have been the Alpe D’Huez, that’s how much I cared. After the finish, which of course Steve won, I told him the story of how he inspired me with his performance that night in Scottsdale. As we stood there breathless, he recounted that race from fifteen years ago in vivid detail, move by move. I think he knew how much that meant to me.”

Michael is only one of thousands whose lives were affected for the better by Steve’s kindness and his amazing exploits on the bike. Steve’s life was a big picture, but it was lived and shared and scripted in the details, of which none seemed to escape his keen eye and digital memory.

As tributes poured in from all over the world, another thing became clear. The reward to a virtuous life can only be reaped in death. It is not only what people say about you when you are alive, but when you are not.

As Steve and I sat and talked over hamburgers and fries that night in El Segundo, we didn’t really talk at all. Steve did. He talked about his injury, about the splitting headaches that hurt so bad he couldn’t open his eyes for hours on end, about how long it was taking for his brain to function properly again, about his fear that he might never fully recover, and about how he was going to race anyway. He was in California, after all, to train. He’d set the Belgian Waffle Ride in his sights and was there to recon the course.

We parted company and he headed on down to San Diego. I figured I’d see him again on his way back to Kansas.

I never did.



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Where has all the fun gone?

March 22, 2016 § 35 Comments

After the fuss and feathers of Dick Doper died down, I felt depressed.

In one sense, Dick Doper really did win because he makes me realize what one commenter pointed out, which is that this Keystone Krook is a completely minor player in what has to be a worldwide, multi-billion dollar enterprise of cheating and crime.

And Dick’s doings have affected a lot of people. When I get my ass stomped in masters bike races, some other rider always mutters to me about “the dopers.” As much as I like to attribute my shitty bike racing results to a lifetime of bad judgment and little ability, it takes the fun out of it when you cogitate overmuch on the possibility of who’s doing what.

It’s like that for a lot of people. They want to compete but they don’t want to pay the money and spend the day away to get annihilated by cheaters. I dare you to call that kind of experience or the doubt and skepticism and cynicism it induces “fun.” In the past I’ve always subscribed to the sound theory that “If you want to race bikes you better put doping out of your head or it will ruin it for you.” Dick is another crack in the dike for me, and a completely collapsed dam for a lot of others.

But it’s even less fun than that, because his great results on Strava in conjunction with his drug dealing make it hard to escape the conclusion that people are literally Strava doping. And not this kind, either. So even though I don’t play Strava, the people who are in that particular sandbox as an alternative to human racing have their fun taken away by the same kind of cheating and by many of the self-same cheats.

Of course people have always cheated at games, but there were either fewer of them doing it in local races or we were a lot less informed about it, or both. In the old days if you were a cheater there weren’t many bike options in town once people found you out. But now you can cheat, get booted out of one group, and seamlessly cruise into another. Hell, people will even admire you as a renegade and buy your doper-branded clothing.

It makes you wonder where you can ride a bicycle to enjoy healthy competition and a fair fight. Dick proves that as long as there is anything at stake, be it glory or Internet bragging or a few bucks, a lot of people will cheat to win. There used to be shame associated with cheating, but how could there be now? George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer have shown the little fellows like Dick Doper that as long as you can turn it to your advantage, lying and cheating are just extra rules of the game you have to know about in order to win, kind of like the off-off-menu at In ‘N Out.

But it’s also a good feeling to see that so many people find his lousy behavior as lame as I do. It’s also gratifying when you wind up on the same side of a fight as Steve Tilford. It’s like being on Muhammed Ali’s team. You’re not only fighting for what’s right, you’re teamed up with the guy who’s going to knock the shit out of everyone else.

Best of all, Dick Doper’s behavior seems to show that he has zero remorse for what he’s done. To the contrary, shortly after his plea deal he and his wife began sending out groundless cease-and-desist letters to people who were simply reporting facts, or, as in my case, simply making a joke about a dumb name. That seems like a  violation of the conditions of his plea deal, not to mention a pretty obvious lack of remorse. Maybe someone will bring it to the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s Office here in Los Angeles and also point them to the unbelievable amount of traffic and discussion this has generated in the cycling community.

Wouldn’t it be great if at sentencing time on July 20, the judge took into account Dick Doper’s lack of remorse and hit him with the full $100k, 1-year jail sentence?

That would almost qualify as a happy ending. But it still wouldn’t make it fun.



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