What you’re really made of

May 7, 2013 § 27 Comments

It is part of our bicycling delusion that we are made of the qualities we reveal “on the bike.” The power meter tells you that you’re a badass (the opposite of which is what? A goodass?) Showing up for the NPR when it’s raining toxic sludge in 40-mph sideways sheets proves that you’re a tough guy, whether or not you’re even a guy. Hanging onto Rudy Napolitano’s wheel for the first 50 yards of his acceleration on the Switchbacks makes you a fighter.

That’s who you are, right? Watt pumper, road tough, and a competitor.

Bicycling may or may not reveal character, but it sure is replete with characters. And the character of those characters, in my experience, is most often revealed not on the bike, but off it.

The cast of characters

G3: I still don’t know what “G3” stands for, and I’ve been riding with this wanker for years.

Stathis the Wily Greek: Only smiles for money.

Little Sammy Snubbins: Baby seal pup who loves to ride his bike.

Stitchface: Cat 4 adventurer who’s already gotten 100 sutures in his face this year.

Anonymous Steve: Generic bicycle rider whose chief characteristic was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Cast of Dozens: Amalgamated Idiots, Inc., a/k/a Usual Donut Ride Crew.

The route

Portuguese Bend is a hallowed part of the Donut Ride. It connects Palos Verdes Estates (a fancy enclave whose denizens’ shit doesn’t stink) with the Switchbacks, the epic 8-minute climb that punctuates this weekly beatdown.

Portuguese Bend is so geologically unstable that a permanent road crew is assigned to the 2-mile stretch of twisting roads, which shift and crack daily. The instability is such that sewer lines are placed above ground and  re-paving the entire roadway is done multiple times each year. The crews make weekly repairs to gaping crevasses that open up overnight as this side of the slope slides relentlessly into the sea.

With steep ups and downs, cracks that appear suddenly, narrow lanes, speeding traffic, and a long downhill from the Switchbacks, of course it’s the perfect place for the weekly gaggle of idiots to charge through the area at speeds exceeding 40 mph.

What could possibly go wrong?

The delicately choreographed Dance of the Club-footed Oafs

Cold logic, or even cool reason, don’t live in a peloton (“peloton” is French for “speeding gaggle of imbeciles.”) When you drop off the Switchbacks it’s a straight plunge several miles long to the bottom of Portuguese Bend. You wind up tightly bent into a densely packed anthill of carbon and meat and wires and metal, crammed into a tiny bike lane with livid pickups passing on the left three inches from your bars, your nose jammed up the next rider’s rear end, your front wheel an inch out of the next rider’s spokes, the busted and uneven and pockmarked road rattling your wheels and your frame and your legs and the tiny pea inside your skull but instead of sitting up and braking and letting the crazies dash off to their doom you bury yourself into the heart of the swarming beehive where there’s no escape hatch and the slightest waver will slam you to the pavement or worse catapult you off your bike into the oncoming traffic where Suzie Q whose shit doesn’t stink will mow you down in her Range Rover while talking on her cell phone and sipping a latte, as she’s wholly untrained to avoid catapulting bicycles flying across the road onto her grill which is pretty much what happens in the next instant when Little Sammy Snubbins, tucked deep in the hive at tenth wheel, hits a crack and, because he’s Little Sammy Snubbins and still on the lower part of the learning curve is rocketing along the jarring bumpy roads with his hands loosely gripping the bars instead of clenching them like his life depends on it which in fact it does and the crack that he smacks full-on with his front wheel jolts his left hand off the bars and his right hand steers him t-bone style into the side of Stitchface who, at 40 mph, is hit by Generic Steve full force in the rear, taco-ing Stitchface’s rear wheel and tossing him into the air like a rag doll and hurling his bike and him into oncoming traffic but actually against all odds Suzie Q WAS expecting a flying bike and Raggedy Andy biker to come sailing airborne over into her lane from thirty feet away and she locks up the ABS and doesn’t squash Stitchface like a bug or even hit him but down goes Generic Steve and down goes Little Sammy Snubbins and the Dance of the Club-footed Oafs goes from being a sort of delicately clumsy waltz to a screeching, screaming, clattering, skittering, pandemonic mishmash of smoking rubber and hands filled with maximum brake and, miracle of miracles, no one else chews the asphalt and Little Sammy Snubbins only breaks his bike and Generic Steve barely gets a scratch and Stitchface peels his body off from the pavement and declares himself unhurt even after the shock wears off.

Unfortunately, someone has to be the grown-up

So for the moment the bicycling is over. Everyone stops; well, almost everyone. There are a handful for whom getting in their miles is more important than stopping to see if Stitchface has been gored to death or to find out if Little Sammy Snubbins needs mouth-to-brain resuscitation, and…

…there is no “and.”

It’s now, off the bike not on it, that character is revealed.

The character is revealed of G3 who swings back, gets the riders off the road, orders others to control the traffic, and swiftly calls the rescue wagon with Nurse Jeanette and Nurse Ava to come and haul back the broken bikes and thankfully unbroken bodies.

The character is revealed of Stathis the Wily Greek, who despite his stone-faced demeanor is one of the first to dismount and leap to the aid of the fallen, though he was on Generic Steve’s wheel and narrowly avoided catastrophe himself.

The character is revealed of numerous other riders whose first and only impulse was to stop and help.

And the character is revealed of those who couldn’t have cared less.

The little drama plays out again, reminding us that it’s not about the bike, it’s about what happens on the bike, and what happens off it. The unsophisticated and uninitiated might even go so far as to call it “life.”

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§ 27 Responses to What you’re really made of

  • cyclosomatic says:

    Holy shit.
    I could not agree more with your thesis. Too bad such carnage wound up being the pretext for its articulation….

  • rich says:

    Thankfully only the wallets were injured in this episode.

  • Dan says:

    That will ruin everyone’s day. I always thought it was protocol that the WHOLE group stops when there is a crash. The last crash we had at the almost world famous frustrated dads ride in denver was the catalyst for the specialized fork recall. A guys headtube snapped on some tracks and staight on his face he went. total frickin bloodbath.The happy ending was that he was back riding in the group within the month. Great story once again wanko. Glad everyone was okay

    • Admin says:

      Well, you can’t always stop because, you know, it’s important to finish the interval. Then cool down. Then put on the recovery boots.

  • David Kramer says:

    G3 is my hero! It’s not the first time he has shown what he is made of and it probably won’t be the last.
    He got his numeral when he was the 3rd Greg to show up on the OPR.

    • Admin says:

      That mystery is now officially solved. Thanks, Dave!

      And yes, he’s one of the good ones. Between him and Saint Norris, the baby seals are always well cared for!

  • Sam says:

    Thanks to Greg and his wife, Stathis, and everyone who hung around and made sure we were all okay. This is what makes the cycling community here so great.

    • Admin says:

      Sometimes shit happens, and that’s when you find out who the real riders are. The only obligation is to pass it on. Glad you weren’t hurt, and please don’t ride me off your wheel again next week, okay? Please?

  • Wankomodo says:

    Thanks for writing this. I just can’t understand someone who does not, at the very least, stop and say “are you OK?” before pressing on. I just have this built-in reaction to stop and help whenever I see a crash. Even in a race (where I am told it is OK not to stop), I do this because it is just programmed in my brain. There were crashes in 4 of my last 6 races. Each time I stopped, made sure everyone was OK or taken care of, formed a group with those who could still ride after the crash and we each took pulls to finish the race. Some things are more important that winning, not that I would have had a chance at winning anyway.

    • Admin says:

      Yeah, I have to stop. There aren’t many things more important than my 19th place on the Strava leaderboard for that segment that has a whole 27 riders, but injured friends and fellow riders is one of them.

  • The Dude With the Funny Helmet says:

    Just as incredibly, Stitchface did 101 miles the very next day, including the Lagrange Nichols ride and Fernwood.

  • Al Lakes says:

    I’ve noticed what seems like a blame the victim mentality after training ride crashes. The crashes I’ve witnessed on the Montrose ride have been minor (thank the cycling gods) but no one stops. You get a few glancing back to make sure there wasn’t any carnage but then there’s an acceleration. A mile up the road you get some details. Blame is assigned and no responsibility seems to be felt. As they say, YMMV.

    I guess it’s too easy to feel that crashes that involve only 2 or 3 riders are strictly based on inexperience or inattention and no one likes sketchy.

    • Admin says:

      It’s all part of the “We’re so damned serious because we’re so damned important because we’re BICYCLISTS” mentality that breeds among the emotionally unwashed. If your group doesn’t have people who think that safety and taking care of the hurt is the priority, switch groups. The South Bay has so many riders who will stop no matter what…it’s a good vibe.

      • Al Lakes says:

        Crash at the Rose Bowl today. About 5 guys went down and about 5 of us stopped to gather the wounded. No serious injuries, no broken components. You got me thinking about this stuff now, Seth. Could it be that guys in the SGV think every training ride is a race? Or are we stunted due to the smog and lack of scenery?

        I’m doing the Donut Ride this Sat!

  • Rob says:

    Just started riding in P.V. a few months ago but haven’t done Portuguese Bend yet. Thanks for the heads up. Maybe I’ll skip it or is it something that one needs to experience at least once?

    • Admin says:

      It’s a great route, just tough and gnarly in a fast-moving group of idiots.

    • Tom says:

      PV Drive South is the only east-west road through Portugese Bend, and there are only 2 east-west “through” roads on the entire PV peninsula (the other is PV Drive North).

      So — learn to love Portugese Bend — It’s very scenic.

      Just don’t use that few mile section for “hands off the bars” practice. Even 1-handed steering, while reaching for a water bottle, can be sketchy at higher speeds.
      As mentioned earlier, the slow-motion P.B. landslide can create nasty road ruts and cracks, literally overnight.

      • Edmund Dantes says:

        Never discount the existing tension on Portuguese Bend between drivers and cyclists, so taught you could twang it in the air like a guitar string. That, and all the road scars compressed into that one small area make for a hairy couple of turns – even solo. One must thread a needle between road crevasse and road rage… at 60kph.

  • DPCowboy says:

    Good read…touched a nerve here. While I am acutely aware of the danger and seriously demented ethic of Range Rovers (and other SUV’s), I have had two good experiences in the last ten years when being struck by cars. One was from a nurse who stopped to render aid –
    she had never seen such carnage from a bike accident (it was a hit-and-run) and the other was from the driver, who just didn’t see me. The nurse actually helped me “relocate” both my thumb and pinkie, which were looking like stand-ins for Sissy Hankshaw in “Even Cowgirls get the Blues”. I felt kindness both times…they are out there off the bike, too. Sometimes we just have to look harder.

  • bob peterson says:

    I could be wrong but as I recall Strava doesn’t even display a leader-board for that segment. Something about it being hazardous. That said it’s fun to hammer through there in a group and being able to cower in someone’s wheel on the bump after Wayfarers is worth some risk. You really are trusting everyone with your well being through there. Of course you can simply let yourself get blown off the rear – which seems to be easy for me…

    Glad no one in your group was hurt.

    • Admin says:

      Not sure if it’s a segment or not…but I’m sure it’s pell-mell craziness on two wheels.

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