Are we having fun now?

January 17, 2021 § 19 Comments

I took my first full ride around the hill this morning. It was sunny and warm, a perfect January morning for a bike ride. The streets were filled with cyclists. You’d think people would be ecstatic, riding in such circumstances, but what I noted is how grim almost everyone was. Some were grimly staring at their computer. Some were grimly grimacing up a grade. Some were grimacing at getting passed. Some were grimacing as they passed you.

Grimsby G. Sufferson

No one was smiling and no one said hello except for Vinnie, who zoomed by with a big grin and said “The legend!”

One fellow passed me on the switchbacks, had his legs fall off, and then snarled, “Comback, eh?” when I passed him.

Going up Crest I got passed by Alan Becker, one of the more unpleasant people I’ve ever ridden around. “I thought you were in Texas?” was his greeting. I let my presence answer the question. He’s another guy who presumably reads this blog and is too cheap to subscribe.

“I honked at you yesterday when you were on Torrance!” he said. I didn’t ask him how it was he thought I was in Texas if he had seen me yesterday.

I tried to ride away from him but coudn’t, pushing home the point that after depletion and three weeks of bed rest I was truly pathetic. Correctly judging that I was weak, he powered by me, something that could never have happened in his wildest dreams. But dreams do come true … I tried to follow him, one of the weakest people I know, only to get smartly out-sprinted at the top by a guy who accelerates like a dumpster. He turned around and passed me to descend, grimly happy at this once-in-a-lifetime achievement. It’s not every day you get to crush a guy in tennis shoes, and it probably went a long way to make up for the countless Flog Rides he had started late, was immediately shelled from, and never finished.

If I’d had a mirror I probably would have looked pretty grim, too. I searched the road carefully for the way down looking for even the tiniest shred of my self-respect, but there was none.

That’s what riding on the hill seems to be. An exercise in grimness. I pondered the reason and concluded that every single person out there is at any given moment predator or prey. That’s the “fun.” One moment you devour some poor sap, the next moment the poor sap is you. It’s an endless carousel of up-and-down, various strangers zipless fucking each other for the entirety of the ride. It had seemed like such a natural and normal thing the years that I did it.

Even though I tried to use the ride as a two-hour Chaucer practice session, it repeatedly was interrupted with grim people grimly passing by. I say interrupted because my heart rate always spikes when I get passed. The sound of the tires, the chain, the labored breathing, and then the visual of the grim bicyclist consuming another piece of prey.

I contrasted this with my experiences touring, where people always stopped and talked. When you see someone else on a bike loaded down with panniers, you want to stop and chat, hear their story, tell them yours because there always is one. There’s a fellowship, an instant bond between people out on some lonely road going to West Hell on a bike. The effect is more intense at a campground, where tourists often go over to each other’s camp sites, exchange information, share a beer, sit around a camp fire.

One reason perhaps is that the ARC, or “avid recreation cyclist” as Matt Brousseau calls them, is manufacturing adversity whereas the tourist’s adversity is very often real. Long stretches in the rain or cold or searing heat followed by setting up camp, cooking dinner, cleaning up your shit, and then doing it the next day all over again. When you tour, unless the whole thing is sagged, you often feel vulnerable and you appreciate seeing other people out doing what you’re doing.

The opposite happens with ARC riding on the hill, where other cyclists simply get in the way of your fantasy that you are doing something superhuman, godlike, beyond the ken of mere mortals and by the way, did you see my cool new kit? What is most extreme is the contrast between the beautiful weather and surroundings and the grimness of the riders.On tour I can’t count the number of times I got off my bike simply to gaze at the beauty of a mountain range, or to drink glacier-melt, or to photograph something worth remembering, be it a grave marker or a cactus.

But on the hill, when you have the whole gorgeous day at your disposal? Don’t even think about stopping–you might get passed.


The joy of cycling!

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§ 19 Responses to Are we having fun now?

  • dpcowboy54 says:

    Grim. That’s what I see too, but not very often here in northwestern Washington.
    I remember a conversation I once had with Brian Maloney in 1978 — we thought that we knew just about everyone who had a pair of bike shorts in San Diego County…everyone always turned around on the road rode together, and talked for a while.

  • Cameron says:

    That picture of Seal…

    I don’t live in PV anymore but I was on the hill a couple of weeks ago for work and wished I had my bike. Any ride on the hill is better than pretty much anywhere else.

    • LesB says:

      I’ve ridden PV and Santa Monica Mts extensively. Have a big preference for the Samo Mts, but PV conveniently located in my back yard.

    • fsethd says:

      Depends on the “anywhere else.” I’ve found a lot of amazing places to ride that are pretty much attitude-free. None near LA though …

  • ToddB says:

    Okay, I thought this whole post was (ironically) kind of grim until I saw that picture of JP…. 😆

    Whenever I’m feeling grim on a PV ride, I just 1) look around, or B) think of the way Shirtless Keith’s face looks when he’s descending — pure joy.

  • Dave Tricamo says:

    Man I call BS on this post. The only real truth here is that cycle tourists have an innate camaraderie and it is easy to chat the noncycling public up when on tour with a loaded bike. The rest is nonsense born from a seemingly highly conflicted state of mind. Perhaps there is an insiders perspective here that I am missing as I am a lifelong NorCal guy, if so please set me straight. I am the same age as you Seth, and have been riding just as long, and grim has never once been a word I would use to describe a ride, except when there was a crash and someone got hurt. I’ll take your rebuttal off line Counselor if you are going to undress me.😀 Nah…

    • fsethd says:

      I can only report what I experience, and apparently as others note, I’m not alone.

      I rode out of Palo Alto once in June 1987 on the big Saturday beatdown ride there. Not a single person said a word to me. At the top of Page Mill Road, with only one other rider and the rest in tatters all the way down the climb, people got much friendlier. One of the guys on that ride was John Moffat, the Olympic swimmer. I recall him being a pretty nice guy, trying to segue into bike racing. The others? Rude and arrogant and unfriendly until they’d been shelled. That was only one ride, so I’m not pretending it represents everyone.

      You are right about the conflicted mind, though. I’d prefer to pedal along and do my thing but it’s hard when everyone else is in “Look at me race my bike” mode. I’ve been that way, too–all my life, in fact. Trying to move on … that’s the nature of change. It is the physical manifestation of conflict.

      You can always come out to the Peninsula on a Saturday or Sunday and see for yourself. Also, when I rode through Marin on my tour up north, none of the ARCs said a word, laden as I was with the kitchen sink. Tourists can talk much more easily to non-cyclists, you are right, but they also have a camaraderie totally absent from the weekend warrior community. I maintain it’s because ARCs think they are doing something so intense and athletic and important that they simply don’t have time to say hello, much less stop and take pictures, enjoy the view, chat with other people. They also judge you. Hairy legs? T-shirt? Tennis shoes? F-R-E-D.

      Why is that? Is the quality of their workout really going to be ruined by stopping? What are they working out for, anyway? The Tour? The weekend group ride? The local races that no longer happen? Zwift? If they’re working out to lose weight, it’s not a very successful regimen judging from appearances.

      If grim isn’t the right word for dozens of people passing without a word or even a nod, then I’m happy to use a different one. But pursed lips, full effort, silence … seems pretty grim to me.

      You may be saying that your rides are friendly and people enjoy one another’s company. We have those too, in small groups of friends. But the people who are passing you or who are getting passed certainly seem “something other than happy.”

      And this is something I’ve not found in touring, where people will literally stop to talk though you are going in opposite directions. One guy in Arizona chased me down and then rode with me for three entire days. I had more fellowship, camaraderie, and genuine exchange with him than I have had with anyone except for a handful of riding partners. He texted me last night, in fact, to see how I was, what I was doing, and to update me not on his cycling but his LIFE.

      I think that when you do long-haul tours it changes your perceptions. Things that seemed ordinary when I raced and play-raced don’t seem normal anymore. They seem strange and oddly inappropriate. Not all the time, of course, but in the main there’s not a whole lot of happiness on display as much as there is strutting and badassery.

      Of course millions of people enjoy their rides, but here on the Peninsula it seems a lot more serious and grim than it reasonably needs to be.

      • Dave Tricamo says:

        Ok fair play to you and thanks for taking the time to respond. I partially misunderstood the post, and admit having had a visceral response. Which is good! Your writing often fires me up, usually in a positive way but sometimes negatively. The bulk of my non work and family time, ie the time I spend away from those things, is on bikes and skis and often with friends in small groups. I cherish this time. But to your point I will say hello more often to strangers, as its a good idea on or off the bike. I did my long haul touring for a decade in my 20’s and can relate and agree with many of your points. I have never engaged with so many strangers as when I was traveling, almost always by bike and alone. Thanks.

        • fsethd says:

          Your comments are always well taken and on point. Thanks for taking the time to read and to write!

  • Michelle landes says:

    Went up Latigo yesterday every guy that passed me without saying hi “ I yelled out does anyone say hi anymore” jimmy Huziar said hi he always does👏🏼

    • ToddB says:

      Michelle, I try to be friendly and say hi or nod to people, and I’d say I get about a 50-50 response — some really appreciate it, but the other half ignore me or look at me like I’m a Fred. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • fsethd says:

      Generally they are too serious while awaiting that pro contract to talk with regular folks.

  • I was watching a Henry Rollins video the other day where he espoused the idea that it is up to you to go out and meet people, and how he travels a lot, and in his travels makes it a point to go one way in a taxi, and then walk around to meet people, waiting for someone to ask him “Are you lost? What are you looking for?”. To which he replies “I was looking for you”.

    • fsethd says:

      He’s the exception. Most people are very comfortable inside their helmet and glasses and are loth to get out of it …

  • dangerstu says:

    You have a point but you have to let it go, you still have the itch, otherwise you would not have mentioned the flat pedals.

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