Off the grid

I used to be off the grid, you know, no speedometer or HRM and certainly no power meter, just riding in a fog on a steel bike pounding like an idiot until I couldn’t pound anymore and then slacking off until I could hear myself pant and then whaling away again at the pedals until I was gagging and crosseyed and had my face covered in the sheetsmear of snot and spit and then back it off until my eyes could focus again and then just pound and flail away to a fare-the-well. The thing about this methodology is that, often times, after a while there would only be one or two, or sometimes even no idiots left.

Other times, though, I’d just crack, fade, and watch the peloton whoosh away.

So I figured that I needed to take advantage of modern training methods, and along with a super pro doping regimen of corticosteroids, masking agents, blood boosters and coke and amphetamines and shit I would get a speedometer and a Garmin and a power meter and a copy of TrainingPeaks and then I’d read a bunch more shit and analyze my numbers and track my FTP and learn about my power-to-weight ratio and understand how many matches I could burn in a race and then periodize the whole shebang and, along with the drugs and the new carbon bike and the carbon wheels and the computer technology I would be bad ass, just like I imagined I used to be back in the day, when in fact I wasn’t really bad ass at all, and was pretty much just half-bad ass, or really mostly nice and obedient ass.

Problem is, I couldn’t afford the drugs or understand how to use them without killing myself or growing a third eye, and even the new bike and wheels took a one-year no-interest payment plan from Specialized, and by the time I’d added the power meter I was flat fucking broke-er than I’d ever been before and was having to seriously consider starting the year with something less than $900 in new kits designed by Joe Yule and StageOne.

Other problem was that after close to three years of data and power analysis, I still sucked. The numbers didn’t lie, and although they’d occasionally whisper sweet nothings in my ear (“Today’s 20-min power was the best in six months, you powerful cycling stud and overall sexy dog!”), those occasional sweet nothings were invariably drowned out by the raucous jeering of race day results: “YOU–YES, YOU!!–SUCK! Go home now! You’ve never been any good and you never will be!”

Strava to the rescue

Somewhere along the way I discovered Strava, which was kind of an antidote to race day suckage in that I could always go create a special segment that went from, say, from the garage’s electronic gate that no one can get behind without a buzzer, to the entrance by the apartment tennis courts, and then I could own the shit out of that segment. KOM all fucking day, poseurs. Eat my bytes.

That brief bit of consolation turned to gall and wormwood when GregBot sniffed out my KOM’s and one by one took them all away, often teaming up with Wankers Deluxe like Douggie and Fireman. And because GregBot has a Ph.D. in psychology he was even able to reprogram the garage’s electronic gate. The one segment I was sure I’d own until doomsday is now his. You can look it up if you don’t believe me: Lowridge Apartments Garage Gate to Tennis Courts, RPV, California. Eleven seconds. KOM: GregBot.

The final straw, though, was sixteen days ago. I’d forgotten my Garmin for the first time ever. It was the morning of the New Pier Ride, and without my computer I was lost. How many rpm’s was I doing? How close was I to my threshold? How fast was I going? What time was it? How many kilojoules had I expended? What was the current lap time, lap power, three-second power, and total elapsed time? What the fuck was I supposed to do?

As we hit Pershing I fell into the Old Way. The Way before power meters, before carbon wheelsets, before plastic bike frames, before brake lever shifters, before calculations and analysis and review and segments and training regimens and all that other shit.

The Old Way of Hammer

According to the Old Way of Hammer, one simply hammers without regard to anything other than how long one can continue hammering. The only limiter to the Old Way of Hammer is pain. You are not slowed down by wind, power, heart rate, spoke count, lack of aero equipment, hills, dirt, rain, gear ratios, strategy, distance, size or quality of field, red blood cells, glycogen, oxygen, water, time or space. You are only slowed by pain.

As I fell into the Old Way things felt suddenly better. It no longer mattered how many watts I wasn’t producing, because ultimately I would run out of oxygen, my legs would seize up, and I would spin off to the side like a jettisoned rocket booster. It no longer mattered how fast I was going because, until someone came by, I was going faster than everyone else. It no longer mattered how badly it hurt, because once I could no longer tolerate the pain I would stop, and then the pain would go away, and I could hammer again.

Many years ago my granny made me an Afghan blanket that says in the bottom left-hand corner in her neatly embroidered hand, “1974, For Seth With Love.”

Every time I pull that blanket over my knees, curling up to write nasty political diatribes to strangers on FB I feel all cozy and warm, from the soft texture of the wool yarn but also from the comfort of that familiar blanket. That’s how I felt rolling up Pershing in the Old Way, wrapped in a warm, familiar, sweat-soaked, snot-covered, heaving, choking blanket of pain. Welcome back, Kotter.

Moderation is a sign of instability

No matter the side of the fence you’re on, whether you’re Beachbody or ViSalus, Amway or HerbaLife, Ambulance Chaser or Insurance Whore, you’d better be all in. People who try to find the best out of various alternatives end up as appealing as a rum-soaked Christmas fruitcake with fifteen different kinds of dried fruit. Like Jesus? Spread the fucking word and don’t take “Sorry, I’m Jewish,” for an answer. Think Ron Paul is the answer to our problems? Tell the world, adorn your ass with his bumper stickers, and don’t be deterred by the fact that he’s a crazy, right-wing, mysogynistic, racist whackdoodle. As Mark Bixby said, “Go big or go home.”

So when I realized that the Old Way was really the best way for me, I sent TrainingPeaks to the recycle bin, then stripped off all the data measuring devices from my Specialized Scratch and retired them. PowerTap hub and Zipp 404’s to Ebay. Garmin to The Box Where Used Bike Parts Go To Die.

And the more I thought about it, the happier I became, which was almost reason to put them all back on again. The numbers never really told me anything anyway, at least nothing I could use. On the other hand, they constantly reminded me of how hopelessly out of reach true ability on the bike would always be. Cycling, the ultimate sport of fantasy, where everyone can be a winner if he just ignores all the people around him, had become like golf: cold, hard, numerical, unwinnable, and impregnable to the prodding penis of fantasy.

You know how no doctor has ever said, “Well, Joe, you should take up golf in order to get a handle on this high blood pressure”? That’s how biking had gradually begun to feel. It was like golf without Tiger’s tawdry tabloid stories, which frankly were the only thing that ever made golf seem remotely like an activity that might appeal to me.

Best of all, this newfound love of the oldfound way has allowed me to do the one thing that makes the entire cycling endeavor worthwhile: buy new stuff. Without the PowerTap Zipps I needed a new set of wheels, and it just so happened that the bike shop had a brand new pair of Mavic Open Pro 32-hole clinchers built up on–gasp, sweat, palpitate, throb, swoon–Chris King hubs. My very first day going commando on the new wheels in the Old Way, I got that rarest of rewards, an NPR vee thanks to a hard effort and an auspiciously timed red stoplight.

This weekend is the Torrance crit. I’ll be off the grid and, after a thorough Old Way flail, likely off the back. But I be listening to some liquid crystal display tell me how badly I suck. I’ll be listening to that mellifluous, deluded inner voice telling me I just won the Tour.

18 thoughts on “Off the grid”

  1. My brother, this is why I have never trained with a watt-meter. Watts are vicious, cold and judgmental. Heart rate? Heart rate is the beautiful percussion of your soul telling your legs to stop being pussies and pedal harder.

    1. I thought it was because you’re a cheap-ass. Anyway, heart rate is only warm and tender until you convert it to a number and throw it up on your Garmin. Then it’s just as golfy as watts. But…now that I have experienced the pleasures and disappointments of both, I can accept, without judgment, those who choose either. Or both. Or neither.

  2. My brother, this is why I have never trained with a watt meter. Watts are vicious, cold and judgmental. Heart rate? Heart rate is the beautiful percussion of your soul telling your legs to stop being pussies and pedal harder.

    1. This double-posting comment stuff is rad. Makes it look like twice as many people have read the blog. You know, two readers instead of one. Winning!!!!!!

  3. Almost twenty years without any kind of measuring device on my bike and counting ! When I’m fit (very rare nowadays) I don’t care how fast I’m going, how many kilometers I have just accomplished or what my top speed was, when I am not fit (= most of the time), I really don’t want to know at all… Old School all the way, my fav pair of wheels? Campy Chorus 32 hole hubs with flat Campy tubular rims, laced up with DT revolution spokes and alloy nipples. Built them myself of course…

  4. My brother, I long ago calculated my power to weight ration to the twenty-second decimal point. I have recalibrated a billion times, and every time it comes back the same: too little power; too much weight. Got a Garmin for Xmas from my loving family. It spoke to me in no uncertaint terms: Dude, you’re old, fat, and slow. It was almost enough to make me cry. But instead, I got on my ancient Nago and said “man, do I love feeling the wind go by, the company of friends, and the views after suffering my fat arse up a good hill. That’s what it’s all about (at least back here in the sub-wanker grupetto).

  5. So you mean all that stuff you told me about how aero the SL4 was & how much faster it was coasting down Via Del Monte according to your Garmin was bullshit?

    I had this same ephinay in 1996 when I had the pleasure of riding all over Mallorca with Alex Steida & some former Frenceh pros……I was as fit as ever & the old French dudes would drop me like I was tied to a tree on the climbs…..I would reach the top to find them smoking cigarettes while they waited for me! First thing I did when I got home was chuck my Avocet 45 & my HR monitor in the trash……haven’t had a computer or any real fitness since but man have I met some great people & seen many beautiful sights as I was not fixated on the stupid little computer mounted to my bars.

    1. Dear Usta: Yes, it was all bullshit, especially the part about the SL4, which I don’t even own. Sorry for all the lies and deceptions. I will make it up to you with a new set of bigger and more outrageous ones. The reason they dropped you like you were tied to a tree is because they had tied you to a tree.

    1. Oh, goodness. Whenever someone tells me I’m right it causes the most profound self-doubt imaginable. Could you please re-post and call me a “deluded fucking idiot” or something like that to make feel like I’m on the right track? Thank you!!

  6. So, WM … have you now embraced classic steel frames, 7-speed downtube-mounted shifters, toe clips, and wool jerseys?

    1. I sold all that shit in 2008 when I bought my first carbon frame. Wouldn’t wish any of it on my worst enemy…

  7. Wanky, I am new to reading your stunning work and when I say stunning it refers to the warm feeling that spreads throughout my body at the joy of finding some writing loosely based around this cycling thing on the interdweebs that does not all at once inflame my temper, kindle all kinds of shame and doubt on what it all means, and bore me to slow, burning, boring tears.

    So I say Huzzah! to you and your thought process and your stories and perspectives and humor. It’s really good. I just want to tell you that. I might not throw away this iPhone now that there is something I am look forward to reading on the toilet for a while.

    Remarkably, the riding scene here in rural Alabama is sometimes mistaken for nonexistent but luckily over time a few of us found each other and now we can muster a mighty peloton of 3 or 4 on some Saturday mornings. My brother started calling us “RIP CREW” and it stuck. Just last weekend a motion was presented to amend the name to RIP CREW p/b TUFF CLUB after becoming inspired by the tale of one of our members children who had gotten into a bit of trouble at school for establishing the aforementioned club in which the price of initiation and the honor of the “tuff” descriptor came at the price of subjecting oneself to a kick in the nether regions from an established club member.

    (and now, thanks to you, in ornate lettering beneath…….)

    Your new #1 fan from Grassy, AL,

    1. Whoa…thanks! I’ve got a buddy in Alabama, Anthony Garrett, so it’s no surprise to know that there’s a cycling scene. I once lived in Miami, Texas, where I was the only cyclist in the county. Still, there were riders in Amarillo and a couple over the way in Canadian. Give us a yell if you’re ever out this way, and thanks very much for the thoughtful and flattering comments!

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