October 6, 2020 § 29 Comments
This is not easy to explain. Three months or so of hard riding atop a 55-lb., fully loaded touring bike has made me really fit. I’ve got cycling strength that is new and different, a combination of power and endurance that feel so good as to be odd.
One of the first things I did back home was to ride my road bike, which is really light, carbon, has skinny tires, and rolls like a gazelle. I couldn’t believe how fast I can go with a fraction of the effort. E-tap, carbon FastForward wheels … man!
For what Matt Brousseau would call the Avid Recreational Cyclist, I had reached nirvana, which is the strength to smash at will on the group ride. The next Donut Ride is on Saturday. The usual suspects will be there, and if it was a ride I used to do well on, now it would be a bloodbath. It could be a return of epic proportions. Scalps and bald skulls hung every fuckin’ where.
I won’t be there.
Today I went down to the coolest bike shop that hasn’t yet been opened, The Dropout in Old Torrance. Baby Seal was there, laying bathroom tile with the precision of a 12th Century mosaic artist working on the stained glass windows of Notre Dame de Paris. Boozy P. was there, hooking up the pipes and whistles for the world’s largest air compressor.
“Here,” I said. “Take it.” I pushed my Fuji to him
Baby Seal raised an eyebrow, grabbing the bars. “And then what?”
He shrugged. “Okay. How much are you asking?”
“Whatever you can get.”
He nodded. “So what’s the back story? In the market for a new whip?”
“Nope,” I said. “Me and Avid Recreational Cycling … we’re done.”
“Got dropped by some old guy on an e-bike, huh?”
“Kinda but not really. I was riding up Mt. Bachelor and got passed by a really terrible human being. So I caught him and dropped him.”
“With your touring bike?”
“Loaded with those fucking panniers?”
“Bet that put a kink in his day.”
“He later explained that he’d been sick and was only at 80% max power, and that this was his easy week, and that his coach had his peak targeted for October, and that he used to live next door to Steve Tilford but that he missed his memorial service cuz bike race. He’s now focusing on October for realz.”
“When all the big races are, I guess.”
“Right. In snow skiing.”
“What happened then?”
“I realized that the idiot was me. Here I was, riding my bike on some of the most beautiful roads, meeting some of the most interesting people, seeing some of the most amazing things, learning some of the most important lessons life has to teach, and the second I get passed by an idiot with a coach, I chase him like Pavlov’s dog.”
“Pretty lame,” Baby Seal agreed.
“That’s when I realized I was over it. No person my age trying to go fast has any business trying to go fast. We’re almost in the grave. If we have any sense at all, we need to be slowing the fuck down. Way down.”
“Yeah. And as soon as that epiphany happened, I got passed by another dick, this time some guy in his 70’s.”
“Well it must have felt good to let him go. You earned your inner peace the hard way, man.”
“Yeah. Except I chased him down and dropped him.”
Baby Seal looked perplexed. “That’s fucked up, man. I thought you were going to have this awesome story of enlightenment. Sounds like you’re the same old wanker you always were.”
“I had a couple more opportunities where I got passed and then couldn’t resist.”
“You’re a lifer. I’m not taking this bike. See you on the Donut.”
“No, no,” I protested. “You didn’t let me finish my story.”
Baby Seal had a shop to open. “Okay. But make it quick.”
“I got to LA and got badassed on San Vicente, first thing.”
“And I let it go.”
“Then I got badassed on Ocean a few minutes later.”
“I let it go.”
“And on the way to Manhattan Beach, you know who I saw?”
“Shirtless Keith. And you know what he was doing?”
“Smiling. Waving. Riding his fuggin’ bike. That’s the lesson, Baby Seal. And I’m done.”
He wheeled the bike into the back. “I think we can get $2,399 for it.”
I stood on the street, for the first time since I was 18 the non-owner of a speedy road bike. If I could have looked at it in a rear-view mirror, I wouldn’t have even spared a glance.
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March 7, 2020 § 1 Comment
Yesterday’s Donut Ride was a little thin. Thin on participation but thick on drama.
In an ever shifting landscape of rules and etiquette, the dominant playbook seems to require that only riders who complete the entire ride, and who complete all fast segments of the ride such as the glass church and Western, are eligible for points.
The first climb to the Domes was won by Chris Tregillis, but after discussion and mutual assent the point was given to Stathis Sakellariadis.
The second climb to the Domes was won by Jon Petrucci, but since he did not complete the ride, no points were awarded for his crushing climb or for his solo sprint at Hawthorne.
The final climb up via Zumaya was won by Stathis.
Stathis Sakellariadis 8
Leo Bugtai 4
Jon Petrucci 3
Seth Davidson 3
Aaron Wirthwein 3
Cole Lewis 2
Andy Engel 2
Arturo Anaya 2
Julien Bourdevaire 1
Rich Mull 1
Nigel DeSota 1
Charon Smith 1
Kevin Phillips 1
Matt Brown 1
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May 19, 2019 § 14 Comments
Some people can’t get their day started right without a big ol’ confrontation.
I was sitting on my bike yesterday waiting for the Donut to start, idly and somewhat carelessly blocking the entrance to a coveted parking space in front of the Starbucks. On the one hand it was thoughtless of me to block it, but on the other hand it was pretty awesome because I was acting like a valet, saving the space for the next car.
As I chatted, the next car drove up and honked, the angry driver motioning me to get out of the way of his shiny, white, new Rage Rover. We laughed and moved, and as we did I imitated his hand-waving motion. I suppose it never occurred to him to roll down his window and say something like a human rather than blast on his horn.
For the next five minutes I kept yakking until the ride started to leave. That’s when I noticed that the driver had been standing off to my side the entire time, glaring at me. He was a short, pudgy dude with a scorched-earth hairline, and he was livid.
We made eye contact. “You think you’re so smart?” he snarled.
It took me a second to connect the raging dude with the Rage Rover. “What?” I said as riders slowly rolled by.
“You don’t know who you’re messing with,” he said.
“I’m not messing with anybody.” I clipped my other foot in, amazed that the guy had been standing there for at least five minutes. Why hadn’t he said something earlier if he were so eager to fight?
Then as various very large and muscled cyclists like Davy and Petrucci rolled by, I realized that he’d hopped out of his car eager to take on the skinny, aged smart-ass with twiggly arms only to find that he was in the middle of a group of about fifty well muscled mostly young people, any one of whom could have broken him in half with minimal effort, and all of whom seemed to know me.
Worse, no one paid any attention to him, further intensifying his pain at being small, slighted, and ignored. It sucks to stand there all puffed up, ready to take on your enemy, and have exactly no one notice. Foxy rolled by and took in the situation. “You touch him and I’ll kick your ass,” she said.
“You don’t know who you’re talking to,” he said again, begging us to ask.
“Whoever you are,” I said, “you still have to stand in line for coffee like everybody else.”
Unhappy Dude didn’t know what to say at the prospect of getting punched out by a woman or at being reminded of his ordinariness. He spun on his heel and stormed into the Starbucks.
“His dog is in for a rough day of it,” I said, and off we went.
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August 15, 2018 § 25 Comments
The other morning I was out riding around the Hill with a bunch of people in a hurry. In the other direction came a small group of riders who didn’t look like they were in a hurry. They looked like they were out for a pleasant ride. I glanced twice and recognized most of them. They were people I used to ride with all the time.
Donut beatdown? They never missed it. Five-day smashfests from San Francisco to LA? Present and accounted for. Piuma-Stunt from PV and head north after that? Sure! NPR? Twice weekly, baby. Telo? Yaaaah. Then go long to the Rock on Sunday, dragging the peloton behind ’em for 120 miles? Uh-huh.
I only read Moby Dick a couple of times but the thing I remember most about it is that there are no women in it, anywhere. Maybe there was a woman in the church scene, or something. Other than that, it’s 400,000 pages of guys doing guy things like sailing to the South Pacific and spearing whales bare-handed.
The best part in the whole book is the description of life in the sperm whale pod. It was simply the best life ever. When I get run over by a chubby Lunada Bay Boy on Mom’s Couch, I hope to be reincarnated as a sperm whale in the South Seas 10,000 years ago. Those whales had it good.
But kind of like bike racing, they only had it really good until they didn’t. And the didn’t part came when a young bull would take on the boss of the pod and run him out of office. Once you got run away from the pod and all your cows got taken away, life pretty much sucked. You swam alone by yourself, grazing on plankton or whatever sperm whales eat, and you lived forever being miserable.
The whales of the Hill
Now don’t get me wrong. These dudes aren’t sperm whales cast out from the pod. They are old whales who have their own old whale rides and they ride along at old whale speeds and chat about old whale things. It’s wholly unobjectionable.
But I wonder what it is that triggers them to turn away from the mayhem of the full-gas Saturday and decide to ride around having slowpoke fun? They used to crave the adrenaline and enjoy the beatdown. They used to turn their noses up at hobby bikers. What happens in a whale to make him say, “Done with that nonsense. I’m going to do this nonsense instead.”
Part of it is probably always getting dropped. You reach a point where you get tired of starting with the group and saying “adios” after fifteen minutes or less. What was the point of that?
Another part of it is probably exhaustion. You can’t do those big efforts and recover like you used to.
And I guess it sucks being surround by young whales who are better than you even though they don’t even train and were up until 3:00 AM drinking cigars and smoking tequila.
Risk has got to be part of the equation as well. The older you get the greedier you get for the few years that are left, even if hanging on means poking around. Better to poke on the pavement than rot under it? Is that it?
Likely, boredom is a factor. When you’ve done the Donut 500 times you know how it’s going to end. You were getting dropped in ’97, you were getting dropped in ’07, come on, already. And beatdown rides aren’t much for conversation, either, when you’re just staring at some dude’s sweaty ass and skinny tire and trying to blot out the pain, unsuccessfully.
Whatever the reasons, and they’re all good ones I’m sure, it makes me sad. I’ll be talking to some whippersnapper and we’ll pass a whale. “See that whale?” I’ll point. “He used to wait until we got halfway up the Switchbacks, start from the rear, and ride everyone off his wheel.”
“That old fart?”
“Yep. That one.”
The whippersnapper will shake his head, not buying any of it.
I look around now and I’m not the oldest guy lining up to get his weekly dose of humiliation, but I’m close to it. I miss those old whales and wish they’d come back. Or I wish I didn’t feel compelled to go do that which I’m clearly unfit for, kind of like those geezers in the 70’s who tried to horn in on the disco craze and just looked silly, polyester shirts unbuttoned to their navels, white chest hair spilling out like somebody tumped over the can of Comet.
Maybe the whale life isn’t so bad. Maybe they know something I don’t. Maybe.
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June 23, 2018 Comments Off on The Quitnut Ride
The best thing about the Donut Ride is that like all group ride #fakeraces it is a brand new day. The sun shines. People mill around in front of the coffee shop commenting on each others’ new appliances.
“Hey, Wanky, is that a new frame?”
“When did you get it?
“I thought you rode a Cannondale.”
But more than wondering about frames and wheels, most of all everyone wonders, “When will I get dropped?”
The Donut is pretty easy for me to figure out. If riders show up who I’ve never dropped before and who have always dropped me, then it is a certainty they will drop me again. I think all group #fakeraces are this way. For some reason, though, because today is by definition a new day, hope copulates with delusion giving birth to the fantasy child that the same thing that happened the last hundred times maybe won’t happen this time, too.
In addition to the boundless optimism of the Saturday Ride, the Donut has a tradition of new old people showing up. New old people are riders who used to ride the Donut and then quit. Some of them got jobs, some of them lost jobs, some of them had too many birthdays, some of them stopped having birthdays, some of them had a particularly memorable bicycle-falling-off-incident, some of them graduated from high school, some of them graduated from single life and some of them got promoted to single life, but for the most part they got tired of Donut comas.
The Donut coma is what you are left with after the Donut. It is only 48 miles and 5,000k of climbing but when you get home you have the thousand-Donut stare, the Donut droop, and you can’t do anything except stare at the tv, or in my case, if you don’t have a tv, at the wall.
Anyway, new old people continually pop up on the Donut. They are in town for a few days, or they dusted off their ’95 Colnago, or they decided to get in shape again, or they never got out of shape but have been living in Biloxi and are back in the South Bay on business/vacation/visiting family, and for whatever bad set of reasons they decide to come have a bite of Donut.
It is very bittersweet seeing these new old riders, like today when the Irish brothers showed up. On the one hand it makes you happy to renew acquaintances and see old friends. On the other hand it makes you sad to know you are going to rip their legs off or, in the alternative, that they are going to rip off yours.
Would you like the blood glaze or the puke glaze?
This morning it looked bad and got worse. Frexit was there, Alx Bns was there, Rudy was there, Fukdude was there, Hop-in was there, Surfer was there, and so were a bunch of other Donut aspirants. Lately the Donut has become so punishing that there is even a group of pre-Nutters, riders who used to always mix it up at the front who have decided that life is too short and there are too few Saturdays left to spend them drooling on a stem while gazing into the barely-covered butthole of some dude six inches in front of your nose for three hours.
I think we started a bit hot, as I was later told that we hit 37 mph launching through Malaga Cove Plaza to the base of the climb up to Pregnant Point, and Surfer, my partner in crime, set the fifth fastest time ever up to Bluff Cove, a 3-minute something effort.
A bunch of other things happened, none of which mattered, except that when push came to shove came to smash came to crush came to blow came to flail came to gasp came to drop, I watched Rudy attack our front group on the Switchbacks as Alx Bns, Strava Jr., and Fukdude pedaled away on the chase and everyone else self-immolated, me especially.
At the college preen point (you know, the part in every #fakerace group ride where people stand around and preen and flex and fluff), the 60-strong peloton was much depleted. I shrugged because it had been a tad sporty and there was for sure more sportiness to come, so I descended ahead of the group, something I like to do because bombing a 45 mph descent on a narrow, twisty, two-lane road with forty people barely in control of their bikes doesn’t seem like the rational move it seemed ten years ago, when you could literally watch your life flash before your eyes in slow motion as Prez took the final turn at 50.
I made the right-hander at the bottom of the descent and pedaled super slowly, waiting for the group to catch so we could throw another bundle of matchboxes into the furnace going through San Pedro.
The boys of summer had already gone
Unhappily for me, the group never caught. That’s because with the exception of Frexit, Joe, John, Chris, Luke, and Kristie, everyone else quit and went home, which is the first time that an entire Donut Ride has simply folded its cards and quit.
The seven of us finished the ride, and when I got back I texted a few friends, not that I have any. “WTF happened?”
“That shit was too hard.”
“I got a flat.”
“I am too full of beer and sloth to hang these days.”
“Only one climb in me today.”
“I went pop early.”
Evens and John van Gilder took turns smashing our faces in for the rest of the ride. In other words, another Donut fried and glazed to perfection.
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June 17, 2018 § 7 Comments
I always love it when people talk about the health benefits of cycling, as if punishing your internal organs to the brink of failure is somehow good for you.
Yesterday’s Donut was filled with about as much cholesterol, fat, sugar, enzymes, dextrose, mono and diglycerides, soy lecithin, xanthan gum, karaya gum, wheat starch, cornstarch, sodium stearoyl lactylate, artificial flavors, sodium propionate, and food dyes Yellow No. 5 and 6 as the finest Dolly Madison Little Gem.
Before we started, Destroyer looked around. “You can win today, Wanky,” he said.
“Yes. But you can’t attack at Kilometer 1.”
“In the race to the radar domes, every single pedal stroke counts. But there’s no one here today who can beat you. With cunning and wheelsuckery you’ve got this.”
“What about Sausage? He’s ripping legs at the Flog Ride.”
“One-off. He has peaked for the state ITT and won’t be a factor.”
“Ivan the Terrible? He is so fit right now.”
“Yes but he’s focused on crits and honing his sprunt. The climb to the domes will be a bridge too far.”
“But look over there. Medium Banana has brought his wrecking crew from D.C. They are lean and look like they just had a bucket of chum for breakfast.”
“D.C. is flat. They won’t digest their first Donut very well.”
“What about Goggle? He’s in razor sharp form.”
“He’s competition, but smart riding from you and you could collect your first Donut victory since that last one you fake lied about in your blog.”
I spied Tinkerbell as she rode up, resplendent in her pro outfit. My heart sank. “There’s Tink,” I said.
“Conserve every stroke. Do not attack. Wait until the climb. Today is your day.”
Conservation and wheelsuckery
We bit into the Donut at 8:00 AM pointy-sharp, an 80-strong phalanx of ill-tempered cyclists dreaming of glory, savoring that first taste of sugar and soy lecithin as our mouths watered from wrapping our tongues around the glory hole of fresh donut.
As we approached the starting gate in Malaga Cove at Kilometer 1, I reflected on the wisdom of Destroyer’s words. To eat this Donut I would need to nibble around the edges and only chomp when the final ramp was in view. Restraint was the key. Cold calculation. The young man is strong, but the old man is wise.
I thought of the countless years that Surfer Dan and I had attacked at Kilometer 1 and even earlier, out of the parking lot, and of the futility in which virtually all such moves had ended. I reflected on my recent Km 1 accelerations and how they always flamed out early, a soggy lump of donut clogging my windpipe and arteries as I went down in paroxysms of indigestion.
This time would be different.
As we rolled past Km 1 an uncontrollable urge surged over me and I attacked, exactly as Destroyer had enjoined.
“This is futile,” I told myself.
“Don’t do it,” I told myself.
“Ease off,” I told myself.
So I pedaled harder and didn’t look back until I had passed Pregnant Point a couple of miles later. The wankoton was invisible, and my passengers were three: Dennis, Tinkerbell, and Goggle.
Tink and Dennis had no appetite for any more Donut at that point and were steadfastly chewing; only Goggle crammed more donuts between his teeth and began sharing the load.
I figured we’d get caught soon but that perhaps we could at least make it to Golden Cove. Dennis took a couple of pulls but Tink declined the invitation, masticating her chunk of Donut into smaller and smaller easily digested bits while Goggle and I stuffed ever larger pieces into our maws.
Dennis tailed off and then it was us three. Tink took a couple of token pulls, seemingly amused at our faces, which were covered in white donut powdered sugar.
We hit the bottom of the Switchbacks and Tink accelerated with the ferocity of a rider who had won the QOM at last year’s Tour of California, which she had. “Rest day,” she smiled as we struggled back to her wheel. She slid to the back and we pushed on, littering the way with crumbs and the gummy spew that lines your arteries and creates artheriosclerosis of the aorta.
Goggle and I took turns, passed the flat spot on Crest, and began to get that feeling like maybe we shouldn’t have downed the whole sleeve at once. Maybe we shouldn’t have punched it at Km 1. Maybe this was a bad idea.
At exactly that moment Tink jumped us like a schoolyard bully, her rear wheel waving wildly from side to side like a flounder on the deck of a fishing boat. Goggle conveniently had a flat tire, or so he claimed, and I was left to respond with two flats of my own, a right one and a left one.
Somehow I latched on. Tink relented once she saw my shadow. We were only a hundred meters from the final turn, and she took a quick look back to check my temperature.
What she saw was the twisted rictus of a gasping, heaving, choking, shuddering, worn out old shoe, and she stood once more on the pedals, gleefully chewing her Donut and leaving me to twist in the wind, choking on mine.
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May 7, 2018 § 17 Comments
It had to happen.
I stomped hard at the beginning of the Donut Ride on Saturday coming out of Malaga Cove Plaza, and they let me go. At the top I glanced back and there was no one, which kind of sucked. I had fallen into the overtrained-tired hole, and didn’t have the legs to stay out there by myself for very long, but with a gap this big I’d be alone until Hawthorne unless one or two riders bridged up.
I hunched down a little more and kept the gear rolling.
As I whipped down Paseo del Mar I saw a shadow on my right and a shadow on my left, and knew that these would be my breakaway companions for a couple of more miles until we got caught. After having done this ride a million times, there are only a couple of variations, and this was one of them.
Then I heard the noise of many bikes and glanced back. The entire peloton was there, and the rider whose shadow I’d seen in front was a guy who, as far as I know, has never chased down anything. He had brought me back instantaneously and wasn’t even breathing hard. I sat up confused, but glad that I could soft pedal and wait for the right moment to pull the plug and go home.
Meet the new boss
The PV Estates police, with their new lease on life, have been staffing every stop sign along the Donut route every Saturday, and they were out in force again. The group mostly put a foot down, got through, and started rolling again.
That’s when I noticed.
The dude who had brought me back was up at the front again, and he had a happy grin on his face, the grin of someone who was about to do some damage. I know that look. But what I didn’t know, and couldn’t believe even though I was staring right at it, was that he had shown up on the Donut and led the charge on an electric bike, or, as I like to call them, electric motorcycles with goofy footpegs.
So I said a few things to him, among which were phrases like, “Excuse me good sir but would you please be so kind as to remove yourself to the rear of the peloton?” and “Are you aware, good sir, that riding an electric motorcycle at the front of a group ride like this is ungentlemanly?”
To make sure he understood, some other vocabulary was also used, including references to various acts of reproduction, as well as references to individuals who do not play by the rules and the various parts of their anatomy in which their electric motorcycles should be stored.
To make extra sure, I said all of this several times in a rather loud voice. The dude slunk to the back, and even though I quit soon after to help mediate for a couple of riders who had been stopped by the cops, he apparently got the message and didn’t do any more chasing at the front.
Build it, and they will cheat
I continued on after the police dragnet and passed a friend going up the Switchbacks. “How’s it going, Mike?” I asked as I rode by.
“I may be last but at least I’m not riding an electric bike,” he said.
At the college several other riders expressed their contempt for the electric biker.
“He’s a good guy,” I said. “He’s been doing this ride for years.”
“Fuck that,” said one rider. “This has nothing to do with good guy/bad guy. That was a total douche move. He flipped the switch going up that hill and dragged the whole peloton up to you.”
“I was going to quit anyway.”
“Fuck that,” said another. “He’s giving everyone else the message: E-bikes are not only welcome on the Donut, they’re welcome to chase breaks. Why don’t we all just show up on motorcycles?”
When I got home, the dude had written me a very apologetic text message, promising to never do it again. And while I believe him, his rationale for doing it in the first place will likely occur to others.
- I want to give my friends a draft.
- I want to run interference to alert the riders about the cops.
- I want to carry snacks to hungry riders so they can eat if they get hungry.
Number one? Yeah, buddy, don’t we all? Problem is, to do it you have to have the legs, and once you do it, you’re done.
Number two? Please. We still got pulled over.
Number three? You’re kidding me. What’s next? Bringing a stash of clean diapers?
The real problem with cheating
When you bring an electric motorcycle with goofy footpegs to the Donut Ride, it’s my opinion that you are cheating. Why do I consider it cheating? Because you are using an electric motor to pedal your bike while everyone else is using their legs, and as the steam drill showed John Henry, the machine is stronger than the man.
The problem with cheating is that it is unfair. But that’s not the only problem. Once you cheat, other people will imitate you, and they will cheat, too. Soon, it won’t be cheating anymore, it will be the new rule. And in one fell stroke you will have killed a ride that has been around for more than forty years. How many of the people who were there on Saturday will show up when it’s a pack of e-bikes?
What’s so brazenly bad about this is that you, dude, have enjoyed this ride for at least two decades, being the beneficiary of participating in what is surely one of the best hard group rides in the country. And now, because you’re older and your nutsack is droopy, instead of bowing to physics and physiology like thousands have done before you, you are bringing a motorized cycle to a bike ride, and what’s more, using it to kick everyone’s ass.
If you doubt that cheating changes the rules, look at the President. By lying multiple times every single day about every matter big and small, people have gotten used to lying. And once they get accustomed to lying, they stop insisting on facts, because the liar is never held to account. And once they stop insisting on facts, it becomes a contest of who can lie the biggest, the boldest, the most outrageously. After the shouting contest? Of course, disagreements are settled with fists, because without facts it becomes the rule of might makes right. Do away with laws, and you’re left with the law of the jungle.
Which is what will happen on the Donut, and every ride like it where electric motorcycles with goofy footpegs are allowed to drive the front, chase the break, and lead the charge up the climb. You’ll win, all right. But when you get to the top to celebrate your awesome purchasing skills, you won’t find that special thing inside you, the residue of having given it your all called satisfaction. You’ll find something entirely different.
You’ll find that you’re empty, and that you’re all alone.
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