I know a guy who broke his neck the second or third time he’d ever done a time trial. There he was, whizzing along, legs flooded with poison at the end of the race, and as he crossed into the finishing chute he clipped a cone. He wasn’t a great bike handler and the TT bike was twitchy as hell and he veered off towards the shoulder, which would have been fine except for the big Suburban parked right in front of his 32-mph face.
He veered some more, left the shoulder and hit deep, soft sand. The wheel sank and stopped and he flipped over the bars onto his head and neck. His brain damage was so severe that after recovering from a year’s worth of surgery and rehab, he decided to keep racing.
I know another guy who was on a group ride coming down Las Flores. One of the riders wasn’t very experienced. The new guy overcooked a turn and hit the guard wire on the left side of the road, which killed him. The guy who survived now lives in a strange place inside his head.
Then there was the dude who weighed 280 lbs., and one day a pal from college saw him on the street. “Good dog,” said the friend. “You look like shit. How’d you turn into such a fat slob?” The fat dude got all embarrassed, but the friend didn’t pay him any attention at all. “Meet me at my house tomorrow at 6:30.”
They went for a bike ride. The fat dude had to dismount after a mile. He couldn’t breathe. His legs were killing him. He ass hurt. He oozed sweat and bacon grease. Six months later the fat dude had lost 100 lbs. Eight months later he did his first Donut Ride. Ten months later he became a fixture on the NPR. Now he races his bike and is as fit and fast as anyone else his age. He thinks he’s twenty again, but he’s forty.
A certain guy who rides for the Bahati team is as big as a house. He’s all muscle — played football, basketball, lifted weights, you name it. But all the pounding and grinding and jumping wore out his joints. He never thought much of all those skinny guys pedaling around in their underwear, but one day he decided to get a bike for the exercise. He’s a lightning fast sprinter now and in the best shape of his life. He laughs when he thinks about contact sports. “Last race I crashed in was more contact than a NASCAR pile-up.”
A local woman did triathlons. She was very good. Then she did a few bike races. She was even better. In 2008 I rode up Topanga Canyon with her and some other idiots and Rudy and Jack from Illinois (not his real name). Jack and Rudy rode away. She jumped around me and dragged me up the climb and back onto the wheels of the two leaders. I’d never been so completely thrashed before. In the intervening years she would occasionally ride the Donut and crush all but the very strongest men. Yesterday she helped her teammate Lauren Hall win one of the toughest pro road races in the world, Gent-Wevelgem.
At the Redlands Crit last year a guy was pushed into the barriers coming through the start/finish. He had been racing in SoCal for more than 30 years. The accident shattered his leg, ripped an artery open, punctured a lung, and almost killed him. Six months later he was still hobbling around with a cane. The trauma of the accident, the near-death experience in the ICU, and the long, painful recovery convinced him that he’d done his time in the saddle and that he’d sacrificed enough to the Bike Dog. He discovered a life off the bike. He saw family and friends he’d not seen for years even though he had been seeing them every day. He understood that the bike is no better or worse than any other drug or false idol, and he misses it only vaguely.
Then there were a thousand women who met a thousand men through cycling and they became lovers, briefly, if love can be brief. Which, of course, it cannot.
None of these people know how they got to be where they are, although they all seemed to start out on bicycles. The place they came from didn’t ever lead to their destination, which is perhaps precisely why they arrived.