Broken record

May 4, 2013 § 33 Comments

I hate to be the one to break your Strava bubble, but “PR” is an oxymoron. There’s no such thing as a “personal record,” any more than there’s a “personal Super Bowl victory” or a “personal presidential election.”

A record is a mark set by someone that at least two people have done. You know Chris Horner’s time up Mt. Palomar? That is a record. Eleven hundred people have done it and his time is the fastest. It’s a record time.

Even though when you climbed it on Tuesday two and a half hours slower than Chris and it was the fastest of your 67 attempts, it’s still not a personal record. It’s two and a half hours slower than the record. You can call it your personal best. You can call it your fastest time up Mt. Palomar. You can call it proof that your $2,000 power meter and $15,000 bike and $950/month personal coaching regimen are making you faster…but it still pegs you in about one thousandth place relative to the RECORD.

Nothing personal about it.

All cycling metrics point to one conclusion: You suck

Strava’s business model is simple: Provide data to wankers that shows they’re getting better. Since none of us is getting better, and in fact all of us are getting older and therefore worse, and since those of us who are improving quickly reach a plateau, there has to be a way to snake-oil us into thinking that we’re improving.

So Strava sells you a premium membership where you can join a smaller subset of records (65+ men with an inseam of less than 25″ who sleep on the left side of the bed), and thereby convert some of your meaningless “personal records” into something more meaningful: A higher spot on the age adjusted, inseam-length adjusted, side-of-the-bed adjusted leaderboard.

Unfortunately, even after adjusting yourself into 75th place, which is a huge jump from 1,000th, physics still mercilessly claws its way to the front. Your “progress” plateaus, and your ability to climb the flailerboard grinds to a halt. So it’s back to personal records, and chasing the illusion of improvement even though all the data point, or rather, scream deafeningly, to a wholly opposite conclusion: You not only suck, you suck more than you did on this segment last year. Introspective riders feel the icy hand of death tightening its grip around their throat if they look at the data too closely past about age forty.

Note to the Stravati: There’s a reason you prefer Strava to bike racing

I don’t vomit often, but when I do it’s usually after someone takes one of my KOM’s. I’ve only got seventeen of them left, and there’s not a single one that couldn’t be handily snapped up by any number of Stravati who live for that kind of thing.

It’s no defense, but I never tried to set a single one of those KOM’s, which is probably the reason they fall so easily. The handful of times I’ve gone out and tried to grab a KOM, I’ve failed, usually miserably. I use Strava for the same reason that I wear pants. It’s a social convention the lack of which would earn too much opprobrium. I also use it as a handy calorie counter. And finally, I use it for you. Just when you’re starting to think your performance is dropping, or you’re really not very good, you can click on my most recent ride and feel relief: There’s someone in your neighborhood who’s slower and an even bigger bicycle kook than you.

This, I believe, is a powerful source of inspiration for flailers and wankers throughout the South Bay. Through Strava, I keep them riding. It’s a social service, and you can thank me via PayPal.

What you can’t do is get away with the pleasant little self-deception that your KOM is as good as a bike race. You can’t even get away with the delusion that it’s as good as an old-fashioned group beatdown on the NPR.

You know why that is? Because it isn’t. Masturbating your way to the top of a leaderboard on Strava, when unaccompanied by ball-busting accomplishments on group rides or in real mass start races in which you have to actually pay an entry fee and pin on a number, are just that: Digital auto-titillation.

Believe it or don’t, I’m fine with that. Riding a bicycle is like consensual sex between adults: I not only approve of it, I’m wholly uninterested in your particular activities. I’m not a libertarian, I’m a “don’t give a fucktarian.” If you’re out pedaling your bicycle, in my book you’re winning.

If your riding is confined to setting Strava records without racing or group riding, though, you are wanking. Can we be clear about that? Good. Because last Thursday a new South bay cycling record was set. Not on Strava, where anonymous, zipless riders virtually compete  using all manner of tricks, traps, aids, pacers, run-ups, and “special assists” to set the record.

No, this Thursday record was set the old-fashioned way. Clubbers clubbed. Baby seals got their heads staved in. Pain was ladled out in buckets. And only the strong, the ornery, the mutton-headed, and the relentless survived.

One thing that’s never happened on the New Pier Ride

…is a successful four-lap breakaway. Dan Seivert and I once, on a cold, rainy, windy winter day in 2012 attacked on Vista del Mar and stayed away for four laps, but it wasn’t a real breakaway. We sneaked off three or four miles before the real ride began, there was zero horsepower in the field, and no one even knew we had attacked. Although we hurt like dogs and congratulated ourselves for the heroic effort, it was more a flailaway than a breakaway. Plus, no one cared. To the contrary, they tortured us with the worst torture known to a group ride breakaway: “You were off the front? If I’d known that I’d have chased.”

Last week, though, word went out that MMX was coming to town to do the NPR. This meant one thing: Merciless beatdown in the offing.

There were at least ten thousand baby seals at the Manhattan Beach Pier when the ride left at 6:40 AM. We hit the bottom of Pershing and it immediately strung out into the gutter and then snapped. The Westside seals were all lounging on the roadside atop the bump, because they’ve learned from repeated beatdowns that it’s better to jump in after the first hard effort than to try and jump in as the group comes by at the bottom of the little hill. Just as they were finishing their first bucket of raw mackerel, we came by like a whirlwind.

As we passed the parkway, Josh Alverson drilled it.

Then Peyton Cooke drilled it.

Then Johnny Walsh drilled it.

MMX, who had started at the back and worked his way up to the point, later noted that from the bottom of Pershing it was pure mayhem. Many of the baby seals were killed with that first single devastating blow to the head. Others, un-hit, were so stunned by the acceleration that they simply pulled over, unclipped, and skinned themselves.

Robert Efthimos reported that Thursday was his 128th time up World Way ramp, and it turned out to be his single highest average wattage ever for a lap on the NPR. He churned out those numbers stuck at the back of the herd after the break left.

After the ramp, Greg Leibert blasted away, stringing it out into a line of about 15 riders, with a small clump forming at about 16th wheel and turning into an amorphous lump into which 80 or 90 baby seals still cowered. After Greg swung over, MMX opened the throttle, dissolved the clump and turned the entire peloton into a single line with countless little blubbering seals who began snapping and popping like plastic rivets on a space shuttle.

We turned onto the parkway in full flight, with Johnny Walsh, Marco Cubillos, Josh, and “26” pounding the pedals. This is the point where after the initial surge, the front riders usually slowed down, or the neverpulls in back made their first and only real effort of the day to chase down the nascent break. Marco, John, Josh, and 26 kept going, and were soon joined by Greg, Jeff Bryant, Jay LaPlante, some dude from La Grange who was incinerated shortly thereafter, and one of the South Bay’s legendary purple card-carrying, neverpulling, wheelsuckers extraordinaire whose name shall not be mentioned.

MMX looked ahead from the pack as the break gained ground, surged, and bridged. Then he closed the door and threw away the key.

No break has ever stayed away on the NPR for all four laps. The course won’t allow it due to stoplights, the high tailwind speeds of the chasing field, and the relatively flat nature of the course.

We made the first turn and had a gap. Atop the bridge Jeff Bryant unleashed a monster pull, but then, over his head by the extreme effort, he and Greg were unable to latch onto the break as it accelerated at the next turnaround. Accounts differ, with some claiming a car pinched them, and others claiming they were too gassed to catch, but in any event the break didn’t feel like waiting, as there were already too many orange kits in the group. This meant the Greg/Jeff duo had to chase.

The pack was in a different time zone, which meant nothing as we’d just completed one lap and there was plenty of time for them to organize and chase in earnest. What we didn’t know is that they were already chasing in earnest, and the stoplight gods were smiling on us.

Having taken the initiative in trying to fend off the entire baby seal population of the South Bay, we were being rewarded with a string of green lights even as the baby seals were being punished with reds. Naturally, post-ride the baby seals that survived chalked everything up to the traffic signals rather than the sheet-snot that covered our faces and the haggard, beaten look of those who rode the break for the entire four laps.

Greg and Jeff, unable to reattach, finally hopped across the road and jumped in as we whizzed by. Greg then attacked us balls-out the remaining lap and a half. Ouch. Every time we brought him back another of our matchboxes was incinerated.

On the final stretch, after berating Sir Neverpull for never coming through, MMX unleashed the leadout from Klubtown. Sir Neverpull, suddenly discovering that with the end in sight he wasn’t quite that tired after all, leaped just in time for his engine to blow and his legs to detach from his torso. Jay LaPlante sprunted around the MMX lead-out with Josh fixed on his wheel. Going too far out and in too small a gear, Jay settled for second after a doing yeoman’s work in the break.

We celebrated this, the first ever four-lap breakaway on the NPR, with coffee and sunshine.

And yes, it was a record.

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§ 33 Responses to Broken record

  • New Girl says:


  • New Girl says:


  • New Girl says:

    NOTE: NG read this immediately after arriving home from “doing” the Donut, and of course uploading my Strava data, well, and after noting my QOM* from this mornings Donut (where I barely made it up and over the Malaga Bump…

    *1/3 😉

  • Clearly, the only things that matter in life are those ranked in terms of others’ achievements. I’m eager for more from you: how good are your relationships? What’s your net worth? Please, teach us the ways master!

    • Admin says:

      No. If you’re going to assign worth based on comparison with others, which is the entire premise of Strava, then you should mix your Strava accomplishments with the real lab of competition.

      There’s nothing more enjoyable than watching a Stravatum get totally crushed in a real race or on a hard ride. “I KOM’d that” sounds hilarious when you get shelled like a rotten pecan on the first acceleration.

  • 26 says:

    So it seems the obvious questions are… (a) how do we convince MMX to make a regular appearance? Or, barring that, (b) how do we get people to flog themselves under the pretense that he is, in fact, present?

  • Tom F says:

    I thought it was Stravatus as it is second declension.

  • The Dude With the Funny Helmet says:

    I’ve always said that if you are in a break on the NPR and you happen to get the green while the group behind gets the red, tough shit for the group, that’s the reward for working and getting off the front. On the flip side, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a break that gets shut down not from the group catching, but from a red light. OK maybe I can – I’ll go ahead and say three times and you can’t prove otherwise.

    So good job out there, you guys earned it.

    But the baby seals are plotting their revenge.

  • G-JIT says:

    Dude, Master Seth San. You clubbed me squarely in the forehead with your electron bashing from afar. I was happily in the bathroom with my Nivea cream, pouring over my latest Stravaporn, when I recognized the truth, once again, of that which you teach. We are getting older, and unfortunately slower and I really suck more on a daily basis. I have tried all tricks I could think of to keep the illusion going, and it did work for awhile. I bought a new bike, good for two weeks of new records, upgraded to Premium Strava so I could filter down to make my results look better, lost some weight and looked at how much faster i was than the group of guys that weigh what i used to weigh, age filtered, started sleeping on my left side, drank beet juice, and even learned how to filter Strava down to eliminate women, so New Girl’s times would stop being faster than mine. I even invested in a vulture fund that invested in a company called Shewomano, who gave me a prototype of their pseudo power meter that was really a battery assist electric motor on their Model 20000 groupo, and that got me some great KOMs until Spencer Yee got one with a bigger battery and took every one in PV. I was really depressed, and didn’t know what to do, and even started looking at scooters in a longing loving way… However, as it always does, a solution came to me. Unbeknownst to many, Strava is aware of my syndrome, and has begun to offer Super Duper El Hefe El Primero Master Class Premium service for a very select few clients. It’s not cheap, but worth every shekel! They take your ride results and insert it into an imaginary leader board of hundreds of riders, and you are always faster and are always at the top. These wankers don’t exist, but I feel great, because they are younger, weigh less, wear team kits, and all my times are better than theirs! It also takes the vertical feet on a ride and doubles or triples it so you feel like you killed it every ride! We get enough reality every day, so my Strava dreams must remain wet and juicy! Besides, that clubbing stuff sounds like it could deflate any remaining illusions one might have about their skills based on Strava PRing…

  • Amsterdam Hammer says:

    Don’t look for me on strava 🙂

  • Edmund Dantes says:

    Well done, Seth. Not an easy feat, even with some lucky green lights on your side.

  • Edmund Dantes says:

    Nah, it is the ones in your legs that count.

  • Mike says:

    Strava? Power meters? Who needs those? Like he said, we are getting older and we suck. I agree.

    Remember, if you’re not under contract and racing in Europe right now, you’re just a club rider like everyone else.

    Have a good time on that next ride. That’s what it’s all about.

    • Admin says:

      Yes…but I’m definitely a live-and-let-liver. Different people experience the two-wheeled thing differently, and in my case, often multiple phases in the same week, or ride.

      Still, the data point to the inescapable conclusion that we’re sucking worse, and if there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s being constantly reminded of what I already know.

  • I quit bike racing in 1988. I figured 20 years was enough. but, in 2003, I started riding again, going on some club rides (hammerfests) and the Fiesta Island World Championships (Thursdays, twilight, May through August). One weekend in 2011, an old friend was visiting and we joined the SDBC club ride. At a re-grouping point, one studly fembot called my friend a “Fred”, then quickly came over to apologize when she found out his brake cable exposed 12 speed, happened to be the ‘shit’ in 1976, when he was a pro in Italy. Instant cred. He looked at her, and her bike, and smirked a little, and when he said, “What’s that thing for?” and pointed at her computer, she gave him an explanation of sorts, and asked why he didn’t have one, that he should get one, blah, blah, blah…. He told her he knew when his PR was reached… that when he went hard enough, he could taste the blood.
    I never laughed so hard in all my life.

    • Admin says:


      The new folks are like new folks everywhere. They must be educated by their elders. Sometimes it is gentle. Sometimes it is rough. But since they have the youthfulness of fembotism in their lungs and legs and can snap us like dry twigs, we need to get in our educating when we can.

  • Steve says:

    Are riders that serious on a morning roll? Sounds like an uptight group of guys who couldn’t make it to cat 1 but still legends in their own minds. Great writing. Sorry if I offended.

    • Admin says:

      Offenses always welcome!

      A whole post beckons on the seriousness of being serious when seriously doing a serious ride…for fun.

  • channel_zero says:

    Yeah, I suck too. When we all started we saw big gains. And then the gains decrease. And then there are riders always Always ALWAYS faster than us.

    I gave up competitive riding years ago because of the lack of progress. I was not solving the problem of making more power. I’d argue, you aren’t solving the problem of making more power when hammering NPR. You are hammering. It’s a max effort. But, how come your speed doesn’t improve month-to-month like it did years, and years ago?

    Open your mind to the possibility that most of the riding you do isn’t about making more power.

    How come the gains don’t come like they did at first? What changed? I don’t see anyone working on an answer to that question.

    • Admin says:

      1. Reason my speed doesn’t improve month-to-month like it used to: Because I am getting slower and weaker, both in muscle and brain.

      2. What does most of my riding consist of: Fantasizing while flailing.

      3. How come the gains don’t come like they did at first: See #1 above.

      4. What changed: Too many birthdays.

      5. Is anyone working to answer this question: No. We all age, weaken, and die. It’s the only way to make room for young people. Unless you’re Ted Williams, whose head, minus a few dents and chips, will be resuscitated shortly.

    • Rob says:

      No matter how hard you train, you will eventually hit your max. Why are your buddies twice as fast as you with half the saddle time? Genetics…vo2 max. That’s life. Find a group at your level and the fun begins.

      • Admin says:

        My buddies are twice as slow with double the saddle time. Why? They are wankers.

  • Rob says:

    Who is MMX? A southbay regular?

    • Admin says:

      MMX was created on the 8th Day. He grew up in the South Bay but now lives in North County San Diego.

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