January 9, 2015 § 22 Comments
It’s that time of year, when folks are downright desperate. On Saturday we will roll out on the annual French Toast Ride, the finest, best, most awesome, wonderful, and miserable smashfest of the year. The ride starts and finishes at the home of DJ’s parents, who stuff us full of French toast, bacon, sausage, coffee, eggs, and other delicious food, then stuff us again seven hours later when we return. As a result, participation is by invitation only. No more than twenty-four riders have ever been privileged to do the ride.
This leads to the inevitable question, “How do I get invited?”
It’s simple, really, even though there are thousands who want one of the coveted slots. First, you have to ride with DJ at Saturday morning at 6:00 AM a couple of dozen times, leaving from the top secret launchpad of CotKU. These rides are long and miserably hard, not because of DJ’s riding ability but because he tells the same three stories for hours on end, week in and week out. After your third ride most people decide that whenever the FTR happens, they’re busy that weekend.
Those who endure the rides must then do this every year for a few years. Eventually, but probably not, you will then get invited. DJ bases his invitations on a secret set of rules that are all subordinate to The Rule, which is this: DJ Makes All The Rules.
Some of the rules are:
- No Freds.
- No wankers.
- No last-minute-undependables.
- No whiners.
- No riders who violate the secret rules.
However, exceptions abound, which give hope to all, for example:
- No Freds, but numerous Long Beach and New Mexico riders have participated.
- No wankers, but numerrous unfit, hopeless peloton anchors and Elron have participated.
- No last-minute-undependables, but … Neumann.
- No whiners, but Wanky.
In other words, hope springs eternal, and if you show up for the secret Saturday rides, laugh at the corny jokes, cajole, wheedle, and get down on your knees to beg, there’s a slight chance you might get invited if someone else cancels. You might think that such a prestigious event would never have cancellations, but you would be wrong.
Because at Mile 102 you hit Balcom Canyon, and there are still sixteen hard miles to go after that. If you don’t know Balcom, it’s the most incredible … never mind. In other words, the Freddies who eagerly slurp up their invitation in October begin getting nervous in November, having doubts in December, and experiencing severe diaper rash in January. There’s a trickle of defections around Thanksgiving, an exodus at Christmas, and one or two quitters in January. Of course the most heinous quitter in the history of the FTR whose name shall remain unnamed (Neumann) had the gall to simply not show up the morning of the ride and therefore be banished from the invite list forever, but that is another story.
This gives the waitlisters, who have been burning incense and slaughtering goats like mad, hope. And don’t think the waitlisters have simply been roasting quadrupeds on a spit and offering up vestal virgins to the FTR dogs. Nope, they’ve been lobbying like crazy, and they lobby like this.
“You doing FTR this year?”
“Do you think you could get me in?”
“What if someone cancels?”
“It’s still full. For you.”
“Aw come on. Don’t you remember that meal I bought you at Charlie’s Cheese and Lard House and All You Can Eat Buffet?”
“So can’t you put in a good word for me? Please? I’m good for two more dinners a Charlie’s, buddy old pal.”
So then Bull, or whichever other FTR participant has been guilted into making a futile request, sidles up to DJ on a ride. “Hey, DJ, how’s it going?”
“No, he can’t come.”
“Whoever. We’re full.”
And that’s how it goes. What’s worse, if the FTR hopeful has never actually done a Top Secret Saturday Ride, or worse, doesn’t know DJ personally, that person’s name gets entered into a Top Secret Shit List and is forever barred from the sacred FTR invitation email.
Of course no one has ever asked me to lobby for them because I have no pull, and I won’t do it, and the answer is always “No.”
Enter the Hopper
I hadn’t seen Clodhopper in a long time. Ever since they shut down the Parkway and we stopped doing the NPR, he had gone stealth on my radar screen. A few days ago I sent him a Happy New Year email. Clodhopper is one of those guys who, like a great case of mold, grows on you. He pinged me right back and returned the New Year greetings. “You doing FTR?” he asked.
“Yep,” I said, knowing what would come next.
“Enjoy!” he emailed.
And that was it.
Of course that was it, because Clodhopper don’t beg. He’d been assiduously doing the Top Secret Corny Joke Rides all year, he knew the chance of admission was somewhat less than zero, and he did them anyway. But among all the pretenders and SoCal profamateurs and not-good-enough-to-ride-pro-but-good-enough-to-be-a-masters-racer fakers who do the FTR, Clodhopper is the only cyclist among us who’s actually an athlete.
Let me put it this way: Even though he looks like he’s had one cheeseburger too many, Clodhopper once held the world record in the 1600-meter relay. We’re not talking a silver medal at the master’s nationals crit, folks. We’re talking the fastest human being on the planet in an actual sport, as opposed to geriatrics in clown suits on wheels.
When Clodhopper took up cycling back in the 90’s, he showed up at the Lake Castaic road race and won by smashing the snot out of Jeff Pierce, who was only a couple of years past his record as the first American to win a stage at the Tour, and the only American ever to win on the Champs-Elysees. Clodhopper, in addition to a world record at the pinnacle of the world’s most competitive sport, was also a badass on the bike … before he met all those cheeseburgers.
Nonetheless, I’ve ridden with him enough to know that he can still crank out more watts on a 5-hour-a-week training plan than most full time profamateurs. Genes + pain threshold + world titles on the track = Clodhopper Don’t Beg.
“Yo, Clodhopper,” I said when I saw him next, “what have you been up to?”
“Been doing the Saturday rides with DJ.”
“And no FTR invite?”
“Want me to put in a word for you?” I never put in a word for anyone, except perhaps the word “wanker.”
“No, thanks,” he said. “I’ll do the Saturday rides this year and hope for a ride in 2016.”
“Let me ask,” I said.
“I’m specifically telling you not to ask. If I’m a fit I’ll get an invite. If not, it’s a blast riding with those guys.”
He had clearly lost his mind. So, I went home and composed a carefully-worded email to DJ that went exactly like this: “Yo, DJ: Clodhopper.”
A couple of days later, I got the email with the finalized list of participants. There at the bottom was Clodhopper’s name. I immediately called him. “Dude,” I said. “Me and Surfer Dan need a ride. Got room?”
“Of course,” he said. “You said something to DJ, didn’t you?”
“Me? No. Never. I got no pull, dude.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Whatever.”
Wankers, start your engines!
The final start list is below. It will be epic.
1) Road Champ
6) Full Gas
7) Dream Crusher
9) Major Bob
11) BP a/k/a Oilspill
14) Iron Mike
18) Surfer Dan
20) FTR DS
22) Limey Carboy
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December 10, 2014 § 14 Comments
There are three kinds of people with racing licenses.
- Racers. They race pretty much every weekend.
- Sorta racers. They race a few races each year.
- Fakesters. They have all the stuff, but none of the “stuff.”
If you promote bicycle races, aside from your obviously miserable financial judgment, your need for public abuse, and the strange satisfaction you get out of dealing with angry/stupid/selfish people, you have one really big need on race day, and it’s that people show up and race. For the most part, we expect you, the promoter, to promote your race. We’ll come if we feel like it, maybe.
This is a stupid model. Sure, the promoter should do his best to get people to race. He’s a fuggin’ promoter, for fugg’s sake.
But full fields have as huge a benefit to bike racers as they do to promoters. Full fields increase prize money. They increase sponsorship. They increase spectatorship. And most importantly, they help the promoter turn a profit, which encourages him to keep living in a tent and to promote more races next year. It’s my belief that fuller fields rather than emptier ones can be accomplished by the bike racers themselves, and in 2015 I’ll be giving my theory a shot. Here it is:
People who fit into category #1 above are the backbone, the meat and potatoes of racing. Guys like Brauch, Tinstman, Wimberley, and Charon are just some of the riders who show up week in, week out, with no prodding or encouragement. They live to race. More about them later.
People who fit into category #3 we can forget. They will never race. It doesn’t matter why; the fact that they’re on a race team, that they have team race gear, that they love to talk and read about bike racing is irrelevant. They would rather do a hundred group rides, team training camps, and century rides, than sign up for a single 45-minute USA Cycling crit. Forget them.
People who fit into category #2 are the rest of us, and we hold the key to successful turnout on race day. Sorta racers make annual race calendars, target certain races, and do lots of actual training. Sorta racers are sorta fit in January and sorta wrecked by late April. Sorta racers have no trouble putting in 15-20 hours a week on the bike, but lots of trouble doing more than a handful of races. Sorta racers have detailed excuses for not racing on race day, even when they’ve planned to race. Sorta racers think a lot about racing early in the season, and focus on kiddie soccer games, “work,” honey-do’s, “the high cost of racing,” safety, and butt pimples as reasons to stop thinking about racing later in the season.
In short, we sorta racers are fence sitters. We wanna, but most of the time we don’t.
The difference between a felony conviction and staying at home is often the difference between a buddy saying “Let’s do it!” and not. Same goes for racing. As any salesman knows, the customer has to be asked to buy. And as any good salesman knows, “No, thanks” is simply an opportunity to ask again with greater skill and persuasiveness.
My best race in 2014 resulted from Derek B. asking me to go race with him. I didn’t really want to go, it was the last race of the season, I’m not good at crits, at age 50 I don’t belong in the 35+ superman category, I was tired from Saturday’s Donut Ride, I didn’t have a good set of race wheels, the entry fee was too high, the race was too short, and my butt pimples were suppurating.
All of those objections were overcome by the simple act of being asked because being asked to go race your bike with a friend is flattering, and it also puts you on the spot. The super excuse of butt pimples sounds awesome when you’re talking to yourself, but not so great when you have to mouth it to someone, especially someone you respect, as a reason for not lining up and actually using your $10k in gear and your 25 hours a week of profamateur preparation.
In short, the people who are committed to going to a race can boost race attendance by sending out three, or five, or ten emails, or even more outrageously by actually telephoning, or even more extremely by asking a pal face-to-face to sack up and go race together. If you’re one of the people who’s a dependable ironhead, make sure you ask a couple of other people to go race, and for dog’s sake don’t limit it to your teammates.
Why ask non-teammates to race? Because one of the reasons that guys who aren’t on big teams don’t race is because they hate rolling alone against the big teams and they need extra motivation to go out and get crushed. Again. Asking non-teammates shows that you value their presence, and it stimulates smaller teams to get their act together. A powerful motivator for people to race is having a rider complain to his teammates that he’s the only fuggin’ one in the race, so please come out and help.
Another reason that sorta racers don’t race is they simply forget. I’m going to this weekend’s CBR race because yesterday, on a training ride, I asked EA Sports, Inc. what he was doing this weekend. “I’m racing, dude. And so are you.” It wasn’t a question. It was an order, but it was also a reminder as I’d completely forgotten about the race.
If you’re one of the sorta racers who sorta races, on the days when you’re actually committed, make sure you ask several friends to go race with you. This locks YOU in when it comes time to scratch the b.p.’s and prevents you (hopefully) from bailing at the last minute, and it will encourage one or two other riders to join you. (Hint: Asking others to race with you can also involve sharing rides, splitting gas fees, and saving money!! If it’s a CBR race in LA, it means having someone to ride over to the race with.)
Finally, if you’re the leader of a team, have you reached out to every single rider via email and encouraged them to line up? Have you made two or twelve phone calls to the sorta racers who have hogged all your swag and been conspicuously absent on race days? No? Well, get callin’!
So, does it work? I think it does. I’ve sent out about ten emails and had one buddy confirm that he’s in. His comment? “I’m not very fit, but it’s been over a year since anyone asked me to go race, so, hell yeah.”
If you tell two friends, and he tells two friends, and he tells two friends, well, who knows? The “problem” of declining race participation might simply vanish.
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December 8, 2014 § 43 Comments
It is kind of complicated every time I meet an English person. They sound funny right away and I always try to guess where they’re from and I’m always wrong. I figure it’s got to be one of the former English colonies like South Africa, New Zealand, Austria, or even England itself, but I always pick wrong and the person is always mildly annoyed.
Then when they say they’re English I try to show that I’m a knowledgeable fellow and so I say, “Oh, really? What part?”
Then they get this look like “This bloke [that’s an English word meaning ‘fellow’] isn’t going to have a clue where my little corner of England is,” but they go ahead and tell me in order to be polite, somewhere like Leeds, or Glasgow, or Cardiff, or Dublin or one of the other major cities in England.
Of course I’m never sure where any of those places are so then they’re still trying to be polite and they’re like, “So have you ever been to the U.K.?” and I’m always like, “No,” and I explain how I’m not good with foreign languages and I’m always too embarrassed to ask them what’s the difference between the United Kingdom and Man United.
It’s also pretty awkward when I ask them what’s their favorite football team (that’s to show I know it’s not called “soccer” in England) because they kind of already know I don’t know anything about it and it’s probably the 400th time this conversation has happened this week, usually at the checkout stand or while buying some coffee, but most of the time I don’t tell them that I’m related to the queen.
However, one guy I sometimes ride with, Nancy, really can’t stand English people. “Fucking I hate ’em,” Nancy will sometimes say if an English dude shows up on a ride. Of course he tends to say that to anyone new, but he specializes in English people because the ones that hang out over here tend to be complete badasses on the bike and they drop him immediately, which he doesn’t much care for.
“Really? How come?” I asked him one day.
“Fucking arrogant bastards, that’s why.”
“Arrogant about what?”
“Fucking act like they invented the fucking language.”
“Well, didn’t they?” I asked.
That didn’t sit very well with Nancy. “They act like they fucking know everything,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, “I kind of see where you’re coming from. But you know, they have a pretty badass tradition of being, you know, pretty smart.”
“Smart about what?” he snarled.
“Not that it’s a lot, but you know, Shakespeare, Dickens, the first novel, pretty much all the books worth reading in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries that weren’t written by Mark Twain, and I’m pretty sure they discovered DNA, oh, and the Rolling Stones.”
Nancy got livid. “The Rolling Stones? Those fuckers stole our music!”
“Fuck yeah! They just ripped off our American blues masters and commercialized it!” Nancy is super white.
“You mean the music of the black Americans who Elvis ripped off and commercialized?”
“Yeah!” he yelled.
“Seems to me that the English did what everyone else was doing on that score, they just did it better.”
“What the hell are you? Some English lover? I bet you drink tea.” About this time a group of riders pedaled by in the other direction.
“Man, that’s a pretty big group of wankers,” I said, trying to change the topic.
Nancy went ballistic. “Don’t you ever use that stupid fucking word around me again!” he screeched. “Do you even know what it means? It’s English talk for a jerk-off! It’s the worst thing a British person can say about someone! I hate that fucking word and now it’s everywhere because somebody on a stupid fucking moronic blog started using it like a cutesy word and now it’s wanker this and wanker that and wank the other and it makes me so sick I could kill someone! It’s like calling everyone ‘cum-face.’ You think that’s cute? Plus it’s English and it makes me fucking sick so for fuck’s sake don’t ever use that word again!”
Nancy’s veins from his excessive drinking had popped out all over his face and teeth and he was shivering from anti-imperialistic fervor. About this time Rodley pedaled up, as we had stopped at a red light so that Nancy could take his seizure pills. Rodley is the nicest guy you will ever meet. He put his foot down and smiled the friendliest smile. “Hey, wankers!” he said. “What’s up?”
I’m not sure what happened to Nancy because he got off his bike and began moaning, and a couple of English guys I know rolled by and they started explaining that the U.K. wasn’t a football (soccer) team. I hope Nancy is okay.
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October 18, 2014 § 19 Comments
UCI Pro Tour team Astana launched an investigation into team doping practices after Maxim Iglinskiy tested positive for EPO during the fourth stage of the Tour of Belgium. Within forty-seven minutes of the announcement, Astana general manager Alexandre Vinokourov announced that “doping had been discovered” within the team.
“I’m very sorry to announce that doping has been discovered within Team Astana,” Vinokourov said at a press conference held at the world famous tourist resort and secret rendition destination known as Kyzylorda-sur-Waterboarding. “The dopers have confessed and been properly disposed of.”
Despite the most vigorous anti-doping program on the Pro Tour, a program that includes asking riders to report if they dope and that makes extensive use of self-graded questionnaires to root out potential drug problems, Astana has suffered a shocking number of doping positives, beginning with general manager Alexandre Vinokourov’s 2-year suspension for doping in the 2007 Tour de France.
“After getting caught for doping, I made sure that my team would have a very strict anti-doping policy,” said Vinokourov at the press conference. “People like me would no longer be welcome on the team, and after I retired it was my goal to make sure that no one like me would ever be associated with the team again.”
Vim Vandy Pants, cycling journalist and noted notary public, questioned Vinokourov regarding the team’s policy. According to Vandy Pants, “Shortly after Vino was busted, Matthias Kessler, another Astana rider, received a 2-year doping sanction. How do you explain this?” he asked at the press conference.
“Kessler was an aberration, an anomaly, a synonym for ‘one-off.’ None of his self-reported doping exams or questionnaires ever indicated drug use,” said Vinokourov.
Wham Wankypants, yet another famous cycling journalist and an even more widely noted notary public, followed up by asking Vinokourov about Eddy Mazzoleni, the former Astana rider who was banned for two years in the infamous Italian oil-for-drugs-and-old-jockstraps sting carried out by the Italian anti-doping agency, CONI-BALONEY. “You say zat no doping inna Astana, but you, Kessler, and Mazzoleni all was doping onna banana.”
“It’s true that Mazzoleni was a doper,” said Vinokourov. “But his program was very sophisticated, very clandestine, very secret. We asked him about it one night when he was very drunk, and he simply shrugged and said ‘I no doping.’ There was no way we could have known.”
Vinokourov was then asked about Andrey Kashechkin (banned for doping in the Tour of Turkey), former rider José Antonio Redondo (banned for testosterone), Vladimir Gusev (fired from team for sort-of-doping), Valentin Iglinskiy (banned for EPO), Maxim Iglinskiy (brother of Valentin, also banned for EPO), and llya Davidenok (busted for steroids and general stupidity).
Vinokourov was unapologetic. “These were isolated incidences, coincidences, outliers, random occurrences. We could never have known about such team-orchestrated doping despite our focus on self-reporting and questionnaires. However, now that we have launched a full investigation we have in fact uncovered doping. It is unacceptable and in the future we will insist that all riders on Astana refrain from doping or cheating in any way. Or else.”
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November 23, 2012 § 10 Comments
Iron Mike and I knew it was going to be bad, and not just because we made our first pre-ride pee stop at the elegant planter and walkway entrance in front of the Police Department.
“Can we piss here?” I asked, incredulously.
“Sure. Do it all the time.”
“What about the cops?”
“You see any cops?”
“I see a big entrance to the police department that we’re standing in front of.”
“I asked if you see any cops,” he said, casually uncoiling the hose and helping spruce up the vegetation.
I had to admit I didn’t see any, so I followed suit.
We’d gotten to the start of the Holiday Ride early. It was chilly but the sun had already burned off the mist. It was going to be a perfect day. Every idiot in the South Bay with a bike would be there. Rather than start with the foaming crowd we kept pedaling. After about ten minutes they caught us on Vista del Mar. Rather, they rolled over us like a tsunami.
Did you say THREE HUNDRED?
Remember, this is an unorganized, unsponsored, casual ride that has been happening for years on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Memorial Day, July the Fourth, and Labor Day. But whatever the critical mass was, it somehow got reached. Well over three hundred turkeys strutted out of the woodwork to test their legs in the race up Mandeville Canyon.
And a test it would be. Stathis Sakellariadis, Tony Manzella, Rahsaan Bahati, Diego Binatena, Dan Cobley, Greg Leibert, Cory Williams, Kristabel Doebel-Hickock, and a slew of Helen’s strongmen were all there spoiling for a fight.
Which was fine and as it should be.
What was not fine, and what was not as it should have been, was the outright war for position that began the moment the swollen cancer left Manhattan Beach. Going down Mt. Chevron, some idiots braked for the reflector dots and took their feet out of the clips. The idiots following too closely and watching something other than what was in front hit and went down.
No one cared, apparently because this was a race to the death.
I’m not easily frightened
Well, actually, I am. I’m a cowardly, fearful, trembling wussmaster when it comes to crashing, pain, danger, or getting hurt. And the second we were overtaken by the cancer, my terror level went through the roof.
People who don’t race, who have never raced, who have no intention of racing, and who wouldn’t know how to pin a number on a mannequin were fighting for position like pros approaching the Tranche d’Fuckenberg. Tiny little space between two bikes? The Turkey Pros shot through.
Both lanes filled, curb to center lane? A Turkey Pro would jump the yellow dots, sprint into oncoming traffic, advance ten positions, and dive back in.
Can’t move up by riding in the wrong lane? Watch the Turkey Pros hop the right-hand curb and race up the sidewalk. That nice lady pushing a pram with twins will understand later how important it was for them to be properly positioned, even though she’s drizzling terror pee now.
Only a couple of people figured out the solution, one being Miles Irish. Miles bulled to the very front and kept the gas on all the way to San Vicente while Turkey Pros crashed and burned behind him. Downside? The plumes of smoke coming out of his ears once the road tilted up. Upside? He never planned on winning on Mandeville anyway.
Towards the front, but never on it
The main ploy behind the Turkey Pros was to hop, squeeze, slide, and push their way towards the front, but to never actually get into the wind. It’s a clever tactic worthy of a protected Euro pro in a big race…but it’s a wanker move par excellence for the Holiday Ride.
When we hit the left turn on San Vicente, Hair looked over. “Why the serious face?” he laughed. Dude fucking always laughs, is fearless.
“I’m trying not to crash.”
Hair laughed. “Better spend that energy trying to hang on.”
And he had a point, because when we hit Mandeville Canyon, Josh Alverson opened up the throttle. Tree Perkins followed, with me glued to Tree’s wheel. I held the speed for thirty seconds or so, then swung over. Done.
As the wankoton blew by, I counted. For ten solid minutes riders passed me. I stopped counting at 298, and there were dozens who’d never even turned up Mandeville as well as dozens who had u-turned and gone back before passing me.
Meanwhile, back at the Center of the Known Universe
Long before I reached the summit a cadre of South Bay wankers including Joe, Gus, Marc, and Doug came blasting by. They had made the sensible choice not to wait for the endless stream struggling up the hill, and to ride back in a smaller, safer group.
For some reason, however, the closer they got to CotKU, the more ridiculous things got. Dudes who hadn’t been in the same zip code for Mandeville honors were now gunning it, devil-take-the-hindmost, to be first in line for coffee.
The only thing that got in the way of their fun was a Cadillac Escalade, and although they hit it full tilt, the 4,000-pound vehicle amazingly didn’t crumple from the impact of the flesh-and-bone-wrapped-around-some-plastic-tubes.
It did lose a tail light, whereas Carey D.’s entire frame broke. Doug busted a brake, and Marc got an ouchy on his saddle bag.
Back at CotKU they compared notes, trying to understand why their forceful bodies hadn’t been able to easily thrust aside the Escalade. No one could figure it out until King Harold, who happens to be an engineer, explained it to them.
“Mass times velocity,” he began, as the wankers’ eyes glazed over at the word “mass.”
Then he re-started. “Look here, dorks.” Everyone looked at his foot, where a doodlebug was trundling by. He lifted his foot and lowered it quickly on the hapless bug.
“You, dorks, are the bug. The Escalade is the foot. Get it?”
A light went on in the formerly befuddled and confused faces of the crash victims. “You mean…?” said one.
“That if it’s a witch…” said another.
“And it’s heavier than a duck…” said a third.
“Then we burn it?” said a fourth, as the other three nodded vigorously.
King Harold shook his head. “No, no, no,” he said. “I mean that this Holiday Ride thing we just did…”
“Yes?” they asked in a chorus.
“It’s perfect for you. Just perfect. See you on Christmas Day.”
October 30, 2012 § 14 Comments
Some things are simple, like manners. Biking makes these simple things even simpler.
Clawing my way up Latigo yesterday I passed a woman and her boyfriend. “Hey, guys,” I said.
“Hey,” said the dude.
“Nice socks!” said the chick, admiring my pink unicorn Gnarlube calf-high stockings.
A couple of minutes later the dude had caught up to me. “You didn’t think I was going to let you just ride away as easy as that, did you?” he said, rudely, challenging.
“I’m just riding tempo by myself today,” was what I said.
What I thought was, “Fuck you, asshole.” Predictably, things went from tempo to threshold. Then I was by myself again.
What kind of dude drops his girlfriend to chase down a pair of chickenlegs in pink socks? Answer: Someone with very bad manners.
What happens to rude cyclists? Answer: They get shelled. Unceremoniously.
Mind if I leech?
After Latigo I headed north on PCH and met up with the Big Orange contingent a few miles after the Ventura County line. They were coming back from the Rock at Point Mugu. I u-turned and sat in for a few miles, chatting with Ron and Tink until a mechanical caused the group to stop.
I continued on with Robert Ephthamos, a dude with a terribly hard name to pronounce, much less spell, all dressed up in a Garmin kit. “I gotta get home,” he half-apologized as he picked up the pace. I could tell after a few moments that he was a relatively new rider, but game and ready to work.
We rode a hard tempo, easing up while passing under Cher’s compound in Malibu Colony. At Cross Creek we lifted the pace again after the stoplight. A group of four or five wankers saw this as their opportunity for a free ride, and hitched on.
Robert was lathered up, and so was I. After four miles the leeches hadn’t made the slightest effort to come through. “Robert,” I said as he rotated off of a particularly long pull, “make the fuckers pull through.”
My next pull was brief, and Robert had gone all the way to the back. The next guy in line put his hands on the tops as I slowed and swung over. “I can’t pull through!” he shouted.
–Next Line Is Absolutely True–
“I’m not strong enough!” he wailed.
–End Of Absolutely True Line–
I thought he was going to cry, like the time I told my dad “I can’t do word problems!” while struggling over Fourth Grade math.
“I don’t give a fuck,” I said. “If you’re strong enough to suck wheel, you’re strong enough to pull through. This isn’t a charity ride with you as the beneficiary. Get your saggy ass up here and take a pull.”
By now I’d slowed down so much that he could have easily come through, but the belief in his own mind that he couldn’t was so great that he just stopped pedaling. Robert roared by and I followed.
One of the wankers stayed with us, and after Robert and I took our turns he eased up next to me. “Do you want me to take a pull?”
“When you go to someone’s house for dinner, do you ask if they want you to refrain from pissing all over the toilet seat?” I asked. “Hell yes I want you to take a fucking pull!”
He pulled through. Rather large, and rather offended, and very well rested, he began winding up the speed until we were going well over thirty. Robert and I tucked behind the Cadillac draft as I counted strokes. At pedal stroke sixty, his shoulders started to sag and wobble a little bit. Then the speed started to drop. Then his pedal strokes changed from circles to squares to raggedy triangles.
This, of course, was the teachable moment. He’d overcome his inclination to suck wheel and, with a little prodding, had done the right thing, obeying the imperative of the paceline: He’d gone to the front.
Moreover, he’d put in a big effort. He’d behaved in a way worthy of redemption and forgiveness, such that if I now came through steadily and not too fast he could latch on, recover, and perhaps help out a few miles later. He would learn a valuable lesson about sharing the work, and more importantly, about the bonds of friendship that are built between strangers as they toil into the wind at their physical limits, sharing the work each according to his ability.
So I did the only respectable thing that I could do, both as a representative of cycling in the South Bay, as an older and experienced rider, and as someone who understands and profoundly respects what road cycling is all about, which is to say I attacked him so fucking hard that I thought I’d puke.
When my eyes refocused, Robert was pulling through at full throttle, a long string of drool splattered along his face. I jumped on his wheel and glanced back to confirm that our good friend was dropped and a receding speck in the distance.
Just before we settled back into a rhythm of dull, aching pain, Robert asked “Were you trying to teach that guy a lesson?”
“No,” I said. “The lesson was for you.”
He grinned and let the big meat sing.
September 10, 2012 § 14 Comments
It’s not every day that you get to see Ryan O’Neal groggily collecting his morning newspaper on PCH well past noon, looking like he lost a knife fight to a gallon of cheap tequila and shouting “Whoa!” in surprise as the speeding South Bay wankoton barreled by within two feet of his chintzy velour bathrobe and plastic slippers.
But then again, it’s not every day that you get up at 5:00 AM, have your first cup of coffee, prepare for the 115-mile beatdown with a small bowl of oatmeal, and rendezvous with 38 other wankers at the Center of the Known Universe amidst gorgeous weather offset by the rich blue of the placid Pacific Ocean.
Rules is rules
There were really only a couple of rules, and they were badly needed as the group had swelled to over seventy by the time we reached PCH. Rule 1: Don’t pollute the stunning oceanside panorama of the coast highway with an ugly outfit. Rule 2: Don’t show up on the group ride with shitty tires.
The “Looks Like a Pro Transformation Prize” was instantly awarded to Arkansas Traveler, he of the baseball cap-under-a-helmet-with-bloody-ass-hanging-out-from-shredded-shorts-fame. ArkTrav had put away the gimmecap with the 7-inch bill and replaced it with a svelte and stylish and old school cycling cap.
Fashion point one, check.
Next, he had discarded the old saggsalot jersey with spare pockets ample enough for a backup radiator, and had jettisoned the Brad House “wear ’em ’til the bunghole shows through, then wear ’em some more” bib shorts.
Fashion point two, check.
Finally, he had kitted up in what I still maintain is the best looking, most elegant, and well fitting kit on the road anywhere: The SPY weekender kit, which is cleaner and more rad than the racing outfit. It’s no surprise that both are the creation of Joe Yule, who has done more to beautify the highways and byways of California than the entire roadside garbage pickup division of CalTrans.
Now, about that shitty tire rule
The first tire casualty of the day was Cary the Elder, who flatted near Pepperdine and would have been left for dead had the Pilot not stopped to help change the flat, but more importantly, to tow him back up to the group…38 miles later.
The second tire casualty of the day was “She’s just now got good and broke in,” otherwise known as Ol’ Wrinkles, the man famous for using equipment until it either becomes so obsolete that tools no longer exist to repair it, or until it disintegrates from overuse and age and falls from the frame in a powder of rust. Ol’ Wrinkle’s first flat came on account of a “slice in his tire.”
Close examination revealed that indeed the tire was sliced…as are most tires with over 25,000 miles of heavy road wear. Closer examination revealed that the slice was actually about fifty slices, all of varying length. Closer examination still revealed that of all the tire products available to the cycling consumer, he had opted to go with the Trojan Papershell, a tire advertised by its Indonesian manufacturer as “Smooth and Thin as Your Second Skin.”
“Damn, Wrinkles,” several people said as they watched him insert the wrong kind of tube. “What are you riding a premium crit tire for on a road like this?”
“They’re the best cornering tire made.”
“Yeah, but when’s the last time you went around a corner at anything over 5 mph?”
After successfully loading the tube, the group got together to chase the main pack for the next hundred yards or so, when the tire flatted and he replaced the wrong tube with another wrong tube. After cleaning out the grupetto of their last CO2 cartridge and last spare tube, Ol’ Wrinkles did a u-ey and headed home.
Pearls before swine
Elron is one of those dudes who knows more about bike fit than you do, and consequently he never gives advice. Pros like Matt Goss get fitted by him when they come into town, so unlike all the other advice sausages out there, he feels zero need to show off.
Once in every rare while, however, he sees something so wrong and so bad and so fucked up that he can’t help himself.
About thirty miles into the ride, he came up to me. “Dude. Your saddle’s too low.”
“Oh really? It does feel kinda low. But I like a flat stroke at the bottom.”
“You should raise it.”
“Start with about three inches.”
Since I never travel with a wrench, we waited until our first stop at the Rock, where Elron raised my seat. “Man,” I said, “that’s a lot.”
“You’ll get more power on the down stroke now that your knees aren’t under your chin.”
And he was right.
Put your junk into the wind
After Cross Creek, our group yo-yo’ed with the tentative uncertainty of various people on the front, none of whom understood the key point behind being on the front: If you’re comfortable, everyone behind you is expending zero energy because of the draft. This contributed to a horrible accordion effect that was also occurring because the leaders didn’t know how to pick a steady pace and maintain it.
It was more mayhem and crossed wheels and raggedy bunchedy herdball bike slop than you see when they let loose the 150 kiddies at a crit for the one-lap children’s event. To make matters worse, when we rolled through Trancas someone dived into the parking lot at the filling station, even though it wasn’t an approved stop.
Sheep being sheep, we all followed until Douggie yelled “What the fuck? This isn’t an approved stop!” So those of us who hadn’t hit the head or gone on a candybar marauding mission turned back onto PCH, effectively splitting the group and losing a handful of our most trusted leaders, which included Knoll and Pablo.
In order to steady the pace I wound up in front, this time with Junkyard at my side, plodding into a stiff 20 mph headwind. We reached the Rock in tatters, getting help from Bucks, Kramer, and Long Beach Freddy Wayne. Wayne, who was fresh as a daisy towards the end of my 20-mile headwind effort, chirpily asked, “Hey, Wankster, there’s gotta be a story behind those pink socks!”
“Ungh,” I grunted.
“Let’s hear it!” he said, chirpily.
“I’ll…tellya…another…………time,” I said.
We all dismounted at the Rock, with half the contingent dashing off to the chainlink fence to pee and the other half assaulting Legit Girl when they found out she was traveling with 25,000 calories of energy food. I crawled to her on my knees. “Got food?”
“Gosh, yes! What would you like?”
“What have you had so far?”
“But what have you been eating?”
“You can’t do a 120-mile ride on water! That’s unhealthy!”
I didn’t argue, but voraciously scarfed up the two little chocolate protein ball thingies that she flung my direction.
He who is always near but never quite at the front
By the time we got back to Marina del Rey, our group was down to about a dozen riders. At first I thought I was hallucinating when on the bike path Jensie, our German transplant, got on the front. A collective gasp went up, as one of the biggest shirkers in the wankoton not only hit the front but took fifteen or twenty pedal strokes.
“Oh my Dog!” shouted one rider.
“Quick! The camera!” shouted another.
“Call NBC News!” screamed a third.
Unfortunately, this was the one day I’d decided to ride without my GoPro, and before long Jensie had melted back into the anonymity of riding behind girls and elderly fellows with helmet mirrors. Inspired by this brazen display of on-the-frontery, a mere one mile from home, and after sitting in for a hundred miles, Eric of the South Bay Wheelpersons took a pull on Vista del Mar, ramping up the speed so that it kicked a couple of struggling, bonk-addled bikers out the back.
Once we reached the safety of the Center of the Known Universe, the survivors quaffed cold espresso drinks and reflected on another day in paradise. I’m sure it could have been better…maybe if it had been Tatum in that flimsy bathrobe instead of her dad?