February 9, 2016 § 32 Comments
Road riding has a deserved reputation for unfriendliness. I’ve been to so many places where the group rides are filled with jerks. There was a group of people in Sugarland, west of Houston, I used to ride with who made a point of being assholes. They didn’t like you from the day you showed up until the day you left.
SoCal has many places that are just like that. I’ve heard awful stories about group rides in LA, Orange County, and San Diego–and participated in many–where the ethos is best described as “Sure, you belong … but not here.”
The first time I showed up in LA on my steel bike and in my fuzzy wool outfit, the local bully yelled at me for daring to mix it up in the sprint on the Old Pier Ride.
We know that as interest in competitive road racing dwindles, something has to change. The biggest thing, in my opinion, is ameliorating the tendency to be a jerk just because someone is new.
The last club I rode for was pretty elitist. It was set up on an invitation only basis. If you didn’t know the right people and couldn’t do the right handshake and couldn’t put up the right numbers, it didn’t matter how nice a person you were.
My current club is Team Lizard Collectors. It is a motley crew. But the thing that makes it a great club is that everyone is welcomed, and welcomed heartily. The only rule is “Don’t be a dick.” In its many years of existence only two people have been booted for dickishness.
Team Lizard Collectors has set the bar high in terms of not simply accepting people, but actively asking them to join. One of the reasons I was thrilled to join TLC is because I could ask people to join. This good vibration has spread to other clubs in the area.
Thanks in part to the relentless efforts of Team Lizard Collectors and their bossmen Greg Seyranian and Greg Leibert, the good vibration has spread to other clubs. Under the leadership of “El President” Robert Efthimos, the west side icon of Velo Club L’Argent has also become one of the most open door, welcoming clubs anywhere. And as clubs have gotten friendlier, the area’s vibe has gotten friendlier. Suddenly, instead of being a competition to treat people like that brown thing that’s been in the back of the freezer since ’09, there has developed a spirit of “Who can be the friendliest?”
Okay, so it’s a competition. These are cyclists we’re talking about.
I was pleased to see a dude on the NPR last week who was wearing a nondescript kit that said “Abbeville” on it. He went pretty good. I chatted him up, gave him my card, and asked him to join Team Lizard Collectors. He’d been in town for a few months and was getting to know the local rides.
“Sure,” he said. “Thank you.”
So the dude joined TLC. Turns out he is a two-time French national champion and has 47 road wins under his belt. He showed up on the Flog Ride on Thursday and put everyone to the sword without breaking a sweat. Best of all, his wife owns an awesome coffee shop with authentic French pastries that melt in your mouth, or in the back of your jersey if you stick a couple there to take home.
Next time you see someone riding down the road, take a minute to say hi. You never know who you’ll run across. And it doesn’t cost you one red cent.
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December 28, 2013 § 5 Comments
December 29: On what would have been Raymond’s 93rd birthday, Velo Club La Grange invites everyone to join them on a memorial pedal along the famous Nichols Canyon route. This is one of the iconic rides in Southern California, and was started by Fouquet, a French immigrant, waiter, restaurateur, and passionate cyclist. Riders meet at the traditional meeting place on the corner of Westwood Boulevard and La Grange Avenue. Please meet by 7:45 AM. The ride will be a “No Drop” pace led by Marco Fantone. VCLG asks that you obey traffic laws and be courteous to motorists, even the ones who are obviously trying to kill you. The ride is about 30 miles long and ends at Peet’s Coffee in Brentwood, so you can also park there, as it is about three miles to the start in Westwood. Estimated end time is 10:00 AM. All La Grange members are encouraged to wear their current kits in honor of Raymond’s memory, and other area riders are also encouraged to wear their club colors, as Raymond’s life was all about supporting Southern California amateur bicycle racing.
December 29: Tour of Palos Verdes. This will be a moderately paced wankalong leaving the Malaga Cove fountains at 7:30 AM sharp for a more easily paced loop around the PV Peninsula. Everyone is invited, and like all good rides this one ends at a coffee shop, also in Malaga Cove. There’s plenty of parking if you’re driving. The route will follow the Donut Ride, but at a pace where you’re not hocking up a lung.
Jan 1: South Bay Holiday Ride. This ride goes off at promptly at 7:59:18 from the Center of the Known Universe, a/k/a CotKU, a/k/a Manhattan Beach Starbucks by the pier. It is a complete fredfest, and when the weather is good, which it will likely be on Wednesday, the ride can attract well over 200 alleged cyclists, all of whom will be surging and charging to get to the front so that they can promptly slow down. The festivities start on Mandeville Canyon Road, where the massive gaggle, which will have already shed a hundred riders up San Vicente, will lose another 175 or so riders as the pace hits warp speed up this 6-mile climb. So, if you’re reading this carefully, yes, you got it right. It’s an all-day pedal (70+ from PV) so that you can do an 18-minute effort with some very fast riders. The rest of the time you’ll be terrified for your life trying to avoid the tandems, in-line skaters, racquetball players, and freddies who are trying out their $15k Christmas rig for the very first time.
Jan. 1: North County Holiday Ride. This ride goes off not-so-promptly at 8:00 AM or 8:05 AM, leaving from RIDE Cyclery in Encinitas. What began as a friendly, welcoming way to get people to enjoy a holiday pedal together — modeled after the South Bay ride of the same name — has become a kind of low-watermark in vicious brutality. The ride eases along for about 20 minutes, and can have pretty big numbers depending on the weather, but as soon as the group hits the San Dieguitos climb, well, the effluent meets the rotating blades. This ride is not for the meek, the weak, or the fragile of ego, because your legs will get torn off and your sense of self-worth will be completely destroyed. Expect to spend a lot of time by yourself, wondering why you drove 100 miles at 5:00 AM to pedal, lost and broken, amidst the endless rollers of North County hell. The ride climbs up Lake Hodges, which invariably reduces the already reduced gathering into a final selection of ten or fifteen of the true strongmen and strong women of SoCal cycling. Make it to the top of this bad boy with the leaders and you’ll be rubbing shoulders with Tinstman, Rogers, Dahl, MMX, and a handful of other bloodthirsty warriors. The ride is quick and short; 60 miles finished by a graveside service.
Jan 1: Long Beach NYD Ride. If you’ve never ridden with 10,000 other freddies, this is your chance. A wilder, crazier, more reckless, bizarre, dangerous, flailing group of whackadoodles hasn’t gathered in one place since the last full session of Congress. It’s a hundred miles and the pace starts hot, shedding the freddies, until only the strong freddies are left. The ride goes south from Long Beach; check the ride route here. The ride finishes in San Diego, so you should be prepared to either ride 100 miles back, or have someone waiting to pick you up, or have money for a motel room, or belly up to the bar and start drinking. Enjoy, and stay alive, or at least in one piece.
December 21, 2013 § 30 Comments
When Raymond Fouquet died, those close to him were aware that his health had been failing, and that at age 92 his end was near. His death was not tragic or shocking; it came at the end of a long live that had been wonderfully lived. Raymond’s death punctuated a lifetime of kindness, but death could not erase or even diminish the ripples of goodness that continue to fan out from the warmth and humanity of his good deeds.
In a profound and complex way, Raymond lived the American Dream. Not the dream of textbooks or political ideology, but the dream that all people have of providing for those they love and giving their children a better hand of cards than the ones they were dealt. In his case, Raymond had been dealt a pair of twos.
Born outside Paris in 1920, France was still in ruins from World War I. The loss of an entire generation of young men, the wholesale destruction of the northern part of the country, and the political instability created by the Treaty of Versailles meant that by the time he turned nineteen the continuation of World War I, otherwise known as World War II, had erupted with Hitler’s invasion of Poland. France quickly fell and Ray was sent to work in a forced labor camp in Germany.
An athletic and competitive young man, once the war ended he followed his passion for bicycles and raced for Montmartre Sportif, a cycling club based in Paris. This passion for bikes he brought with him to the United States, where he emigrated, finally settling in Los Angeles in 1956. Ray worked as a waiter until he saved up enough money to open his own restaurant, La Grange in Westwood, in 1968. This was the same year that he formed the La Grange cycling team, one of America’s oldest and most highly regarded bike clubs.
The real American Dream
Raymond’s life was a kind of cardboard cutout of “Succeeding in America for Dummies.” Work hard. Make friends. Save money. Take risks. Reap rewards. Although Ray did all of these things, his American Dream was something different. It involved planting a seed in the relatively barren cultural soil of 1950’s Southern California, and nourishing that seed with the passion and reverence that only those who have left a homeland for another country can understand.
For Ray, the dream was to infect his new homeland, one person at a time, with his passion for the most revolutionary peacemaking machine ever invented, the bicycle. As a restaurateur, nothing could have been simpler than doing group rides with his waiters, rides that started from the restaurant, of course. The late 1960’s was a time of political and cultural revolution in American history, and in his solid, quiet, middle class immigrant way, Raymond fomented change of his own in the form of bikes and bike racing.
Velo Club La Grange became the anchor for cycling in Southern California, and it formed along with the Nichols Ride, a legendary Sunday beatdown started by Ray and featuring a nasty 3-mile climb up into the Santa Monica mountains followed by a punishing 10-mile smashfest along Mulholland Drive. Had Ray only created the club and this one ride and nothing more he would still rank as one of the pioneers who helped make Southern California a national icon for bikes and bike racing.
But his real contribution was much greater than that.
Spreading the gospel with a gentle hand
In a sport where social graces are often wholly absent, and where a kind of nasty, rude clubbiness is painfully common, Ray believed that cycling wasn’t nearly as important as people. He believed that, since each person had a name, it was incumbent on him to know it. His rides began with a personal greeting to each friend and to each new face. This was in tandem with what became legendary hospitality. One rider still remembers with reverence how he went to Fouquet’s home to pick up his first kit and the kindly Frenchman invited him to sit down for dinner.
People who joined Ray’s circle of cycling friends –and everyone was welcome regardless of ability, ethnicity, or equipment — found themselves in a community that looked after its members and that practiced the camaraderie and joy of cycling embodied in Ray’s daily life. I didn’t know Ray Fouquet, but his goodness and his humanity touch me through those who knew him and through the good works of his club, which continues to be one of the best in the nation. This beachhead of bike racing and cycling culture that Raymond Fouquet established in California, however, is not his legacy.
His legacy is the grace and kindness and gentleness that he brought to the task. We can honor him by learning the lesson, and passing it on.