Good-bye, old friend
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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Low Fidelity Podcast #4: The Donut That Never Gets Stale
September 30, 2017 § 6 Comments
It’s the weekend. Time for another podcast, directly from my bed.
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PS: Don’t forget the Wanky’s. As if you could. And I may have forgotten to mention that there is free food and beer for the first 300 guests, so get there early.
The Legend of Shirtless Keith
March 18, 2017 § 45 Comments
If you ever meet someone who claims to know what’s up in the South Bay, you can ask this simple question. “Do you know Shirtless Keith?”
The answer will tell you all you need to know.
Shirtless Keith isn’t legendary or even mythical. He’s way beyond that. He is the Holy Grail in bicycling.
Shirtless Keith rides (you’ll never guess) without a shirt. And instead of girlish Italian cycling shoes with fancy clip-in pedals, he rides with boots. Big, heavy boots. Boots that you can use for pedaling a bike or for walking 10 miles one-way to the brewery. Yep, he did that. And after having a few beers, he walked home.
When it comes to nutrition, Shirtless Keith don’t need no fancy-shmancy biker Barbie food. “Cyclists” carefully consume properly balanced foodstuffs made by elves who grew each organic ingredient on a small plot of earth farmed by earthworms and hippies from the 60’s. When Keith starts running low on fuel, you know what he eats?
Yep. You heard me right. And when he gets a hankering for a Pop-Tart he doesn’t reach into his jersey pocket because, shirtless, he don’t wear no stinkin’ jersey. Instead he pulls over, unstraps the bungee cord on his rack that holds down the Pop-Tarts, and eats it on the spot. And Shirtless Keith don’t need no water bottle. When he gets thirsty he rides over to a water fountain and drinks.
You think I’m joking? That’s okay, you’re just proving that you don’t know squat about the South Bay.
Keith rides an old cromoly Raleigh with knobby tires and a steering tube that’s longer than a fishing pole. Keith don’t need no carbon and no 25mm tires. All Keith needs is a 55-tooth chain ring, and that’s all he’s got. If the 55 is too big that just means he has to pedal harder.
And Keith don’t need no Internet coach. He rides 48 miles a day, seven days a week. But his favorite day is Saturday because that’s when the Donut Ride goes off. Keith rides around until the group comes barreling up to the Domes and he hops in with the leaders, goes to the front, drops a couple of people (usually me), then swings off and finishes the climb by himself.
Keith’s signature move is to troll for wankers. It never takes long to hook some mid-40s dude on a $15,000 rig. The dude takes one look at Keith’s boots, 40-lb. bike and shirtless back, rolls his eyes, puts the hammer down, and blows by. Dude looks back and sees that yeah, he passed Shirtless Keith, but now Shirtless Keith is passing him. Fast. Dude hops onto Keith’s wheel and pretty soon he’s stuffed into the pain burrito as Keith gets the 55 rolling.
Then Keith stands up and starts pounding like the world’s biggest mashed potato maker, and pretty soon the dude is gazing down at his $5,000 power meter which is telling him that he left his FTP back in Portuguese Bend and it’s exactly fifteen seconds to detonation time.
Shirtless Keith rides away.
If you talk to him he is humble and polite and the friendliest guy on the Hill. One time he hopped in with the Aussie women’s national team and rode with them around the peninsula. Like the classy guy he is, he asked if he could join before hopping in.
The funny people are the ones who tell him to “get a road bike” because he’ll “be a beast.” These are always people he’s shelled, by the way, like a rotten pecan.
Keith don’t wanna be no roadie. Keith don’t want no road bike and no fancy outfit. Keith wants to ride his bike, troll for wankers, hop in on the Donut every now and again, and enjoy cycling his way, on his terms, not yours. One Shirtless Keith is better than all the Velominati put together.
Like I said, the Holy Grail.
Anatomy of a donut
July 24, 2016 § 23 Comments
I’m a regular on the Donut Ride but hardly very good at it. Eventually the pace picks up and I get shelled. However it occurred to me that there are dozens and dozens of riders who have never even seen the front on the climb, much less struggled for a top-five placing.
So armed with a hand-me-down GoPro from Robert Efthimos, I shot yesterday’s ride so that everyone who’s only imagined what it’s like can see what they haven’t been missing.
Yesterday’s Donut Ride was small, probably 40 or 50 riders. Eighty or more aren’t uncommon. Small groups make it harder because there are fewer places to hide. A number of big progatonists were absent, but the presence of Diego Binatena (pro), Rudy Napolitano (ex-pro), and Dan Cobley (coulda been pro) meant that it would be plenty hard.
People actually get dropped on the first climb out of Malaga Cove, then a few more when we make the run through Lunada Bay. Below is a shot of Lane Reid, pushing the pace. Lane has more KOMs on Strava than pretty much anyone in the South Bay, but he always gets shelled early, which goes to show that being a champion on Strava and beating actual people are two wholly different endeavors. He’s plenty strong, though, but is displaying a key mistake of Donut Ride shellees: Spending energy early. It took me years to learn that every pedal stroke early in the ride will come back to haunt you when the ride tilts up.
He’s got forty riders strung out on his wheel. This is definitely a glory pull, because he’s going to get obliterated.
Now we’ve pedaled for a ways and are approaching the turn up the Switchbacks, the first climb of the day after several miles of undulating rollers that have taken the pop out your popper. In front are all the key players: Rudy, Diego, Dave Jaeger, Dan, and Garrett Bailey. Here’s another place that people make the big mistake of being too far back. The pace will increase on the Switchbacks and people will blow up, forcing you to close gaps.
Only a couple of such efforts and even though you’re with the leaders you will be in the red and unable to respond to their accelerations. I always tell people to pick a good wheel and follow it all the way to the bottom of the Switchbacks. Positioning isn’t that hard as there are lots of flailers, but if you’re inattentive you’ll be too far back at exactly the wrong time.
Here, I roll ahead of the group and actually lead out the climb. This is always unwise, but I’m just keeping momentum, not pushing the pedals. No matter how good you feel at the bottom, you will feel worse towards the top, so no matter how slow you have to go to get other riders to pass you, do so. Some people like to take a quick glance back here but I never do because it’s guaranteed that the hitters are still there and they are NOT pedaling hard. I roll for a little along the fog line giving the next rider plenty of room to come through.
In this case it’s Garrett Bailey, a super strong rider who doesn’t do the Donut often. He typically rides with the Dave Jaeger Morning Crew, but for some reason has decided to come do the Donut today. He’s a fantastic wheel for me. He’s about my height, about my size, and is a former Olympic rower from Georgetown, so he has a mighty engine. Part of surviving on the Donut when you are old and feeble as I am is to pick the right wheel.
Garrett is also a good wheel because he holds a perfectly straight line and when he blows he easily swings over; no crazy death wobbles or scary head-droops. He’s like a mule, steady and strong and I love his draft because I know he’ll never attack from the front, a move that always breaks my confidence.
Garrett has tired, or perhaps he’s realized that everyone is keyed on his wheel and it would be wiser to save energy. In any case, there’s a mini-swarm as all of the hitters push by. I haven’t looked back but there can’t be many riders left. Garret has kept the tempo pretty high so you know that anyone who was too far back is now done for the day. The mini-swarm provokes anxiety because the hitters are accelerating but they haven’t attacked yet. Here’s where you will regret having glory-pulled before the climb.
This is also a good point to take stock of who’s there because it’s essentially how your epitaph is going to be written. With Diego you know he will attack and drop you. With Rudy you know he will attack and probably drop you. If not he will sit up, attack again and certainly drop you. Cobley is a question mark. Sometimes he gives up and is nowhere to be seen, so even though he doesn’t have a super fast attack, which means you can sometimes latch on when he chases, you can’t always count on him to drag you back up to the leaders.
Jaeger has little acceleration on a climb, so he won’t go with the big attacks. But he has a massive motor and a high top end so if you plan on sitting on his wheel you need to be super tiny and be able to endure endless misery. He is relentless. You can also see that in a matter of minutes the entire group has been whittled down to six riders and no one has even attacked yet. Dave is now at the front and it’s punishing. Diego is queued up behind him and I’m on Diego’s wheel. This is problematic because Diego can easily attack from the front and Rudy, who’s behind me, can easily follow. The only thing I can easily do at this point is quit.
This next section is funny because even though he’s not the strongest rider, DJ hits the front hard and really pushes the pace. He is probably trying to get rid of me and Garrett, and maybe he’s testing Cobley to see if Dan is “on” or “off.” In any event, after an effort like that so early in the climb I would have been completely done for the day. Another difference between me and Dave … one of many …
Unexpectedly, Dan now attacks. No one responds in the first few seconds and he races away. For me it’s a no-brainer. Chasing will mean droppage, and it’s unlikely I can go with Diego or Rudy, the only two guys strong enough to chase him down. So I have to wait and see what my fate will be, like a lobster in a tank trying to figure out whether the customer has chosen me or my buddy.
These attacks don’t look like much, but in real life they happen more quickly than lightning. You’re already totally on the rivet, and a speed differential of even a couple of pedal strokes feels like the difference between strolling and running a 100m dash against Usain Bolt. Everyone struggles here, and the only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that no matter how fit Dan is, he’s going to ease off soon. “Soon” being a relative term, unfortunately.
As expected, Diego counters and this isn’t one I can even think about following. It’s also disheartening. I know I’m pegged. I know that he’s light years better than I am. And he waltzes away with what seems like effortlessness. My momentum keeps me going, though, and suddenly I’m out ahead of the others; Diego’s acceleration has splintered the group.
This is utter hell because now I’m off a wheel. I’m not strong enough to ride by myself and mentally I’m too weak to push on and try to cover Diego. So I have to wait and play lobster again. Unfortunately the others are way back now, so I calculate that in a few seconds Rudy will come rocketing by (uncatchable) and then Dan/DJ/Garrett. My only hope is to soft pedal until they catch me and suck wheel some more. We’re not even halfway up the climb.
In a few seconds Rudy punches through and bridges to Diego. This is unthinkable and demoralizing. I watch them turn into pinpoints. My breath is pretty heavy about now.
About now is when you have to have a mental trick box. These are the tricks you use to fake your body into doing what it wouldn’t otherwise do. All your adrenaline has subsided and there’s nothing left but lactic acid and searing pain. “Why am I doing this?” “This is stupid.” “I’m too old,” etc.
Sure enough Garrett comes by and I latch on. My mental trick is simple. I call it “One equals ten.” This means I tell myself that for every pedal stroke I can hang on, the fuckers chasing have to do ten. It may not be true, but it works for me.
Garrett is steady and strong and although I don’t exactly get any recovery, my heart rate drops a couple of beats so that I can at least hear myself crying and convince myself that the worst is past even though I know that it’s really only just getting started.
Cobley is intent on catching Rudy and comes through hard, then attacks from the front. Diego has pulled over somewhere and is no longer in the picture, and Dan knows how demoralizing it is to attack someone from the front. He’s also under a little pressure here because he’s riding with the Depends contingent. Cobley is 35, DJ is 55, and Garrett is in his 40’s. I’m 52, so there’s no honor for Dan in smacking around a gang of geezers. He can’t just beat us, he has to leave us in tatters.
This is his second monster effort and I can’t imagine how he can do another one, which is okay because after towing us around like a ski boat hauling an inner tube we’re going to hit the wall on Crest and I won’t have to imagine how he’s going to conjure up another attack because he’s going show me.
A lot of the time I will see people pull this move on the wall and I’ve done it a zillion times myself. It almost always fails because it takes so much effort to go fast enough to drop your companions that when it flattens out you have to slow down and catch your breath. The droppees, however, not having gone completely into the red, peg you back and then with a slight counter they can dust you off. So 99% of the time it’s a bad move to attack hard here, unless of course you’re Dan, in which case you can punch it and then keep the gas on while the droppees wonder who switched out the lights.
I’ve run out of ways to describe pain by now, but we all stood up and nothing happened. In a little bit Dan had bridged to Rudy and we were fighting for old man scraps. I don’t have a lot of options here. I’m not strong enough to attack Garret and I’m sure as hell not strong enough to attack Dave, so I cast about for another wheel to suck. Happily, Garrett obliges for a bit and I get over the worst part of the wall and the subsequent gradient.
Somewhere along the way DJ gets it into his head that Garrett and I really suck and that what he wants to do is catch Dan and Rudy. This is a problem for me because if I follow Dave’s wheel I’m not going to get much of a draft, but if I follow Garrett’s wheel he’s going to blow and I’m going to have to close a nasty gap.
Choosing expediency over strategy, I hunker down behind Garrett and await the inevitable. Garrett works like a Trojan to stay on Dave’s wheel, but like Hector getting slain by Achilles, he’s no match for the Argonaut.
Garrett explodes gracefully, head bowed, hand waving me through, and I have to go bathyscaphe-deep to claw my way onto Jaeger’s wheel. Dave could drop me anytime now, but he settles in and begins banging away at every nerve in my body with a steady, relentless drilling. The thing that’s so awful about this is that even though I’m on his wheel and getting the benefit from his draft, mentally it is horrible to think that I’m completely pegged out and haven’t done a lick of work all day. DJ has attacked, covered, accelerated, and pulled, and he’s not done yet, while I’m younger, slower, weaker, and hanging on like one of those baby teeth about to come out but for a tiny string of fleshy pulp still holding it into the gum.
DJ also sees Dan and Rudy up ahead and they’re riding side by side, chatting. We’re all in simply to keep them in the viewfinder as they chattily discuss gear ratios and the silliness of old farts trying to keep up with young men. Then Cobley accelerates and they vanish.
Now my goal is simple: Don’t quit and let DJ drag me to the end. What could be easier? The hardest part is over! All I have to do is dig deeper and hold on! He’s older than I am! I’ve done nothing all day! I CAN DO THIS!
Except no, I can’t.
See? The Donut is the same for everyone, after all.
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May 3, 2016 § 26 Comments
Sometimes you see things that you don’t think you saw until somebody comes up to you afterwards and says, “Did you see that?”
This happened on the Donut Ride a couple of weeks ago. We had come out of Lunada Bay pretty hard and it was strung out in a line, with clumps of wankage already getting pinched off and flushed out of the bump past the elementary school. I was gritting my teeth and sitting about sixth wheel up against the right-hand curb.
I heard the whoosh-whoosh of full carbon that I’m pretty sure was 100% carbon and it was whooshing good except it was whooshing on the wrong side, my right, where there wasn’t but a handlebar-width between me and the curb. I moved over a fraction and sure enough, through came a pair of handlebars as smooth as a Brazilian wax job and the dude’s body language was “There’s plenty of room, plenty of room” which there was but only in retrospect and only because he had skilZ with a capital “Suicide.”
He passed me easy as butter and then moved over to the left and I opened up some space for him to slot in but the guy in front of him had started drifting back and the guy on his left, whose rear wheel he was now overlapping, hadn’t budged so that his front wheel was boxed in on either side.
Dude could have pedaled less hard and drifted back so that his wheel was clear but there was a super narrow gap he’d wedged into already and he decided that where he wanted to be was more ahead rather than more behind so he reached out to the guy on his left and gave him a pretty violent hip-shove in the universal bikespeak of “Move the fuck over now.”
Problems with this move:
- I was behind him starting to dribble poop because when this went south I was going to go south along with it.
- He was pushing on the wrong hip.
Wrong Hip happened to be Frenchy the Axe, an MTB phenom who absolutely shreds on the climbs. Wrong Hip, who would be my second oldest kid age-wise, has always been nice to me and let me sit on his wheel when he’s blowing people’s knees out on the Donut Ride. He sets it at tempo and you’re going along encouraging yourself, “I can DO it, I can DO it, I can DO it,” and then suddenly it’s, “No, fuck this I’m done,” and then you’re spiraling backwards hoping your eyes will come into focus before you veer into oncoming traffic.
The whole thing unfolded in an amazing dance of daring. Wrong Hip felt the hard push but he didn’t do what I would have done, which is roll over like a servile cur and give up the space. Nah, this was the world famous Donut Ride where every foot is fought for like it was real estate between enemy trenches at Verdun. You want to be where I am? Then you better not push and you better not shove.
Wrong Hip never glanced back. Ever so casually he reached back and grabbed Pushy McPusher’s left brake hood with his fist. Now, when the dude in front of you has his fingers wrapped around your hood, you are officially fucked. It’s like having your nuts in a pair of eunuch pincers and a 300-lb. bruiser getting ready to stand on the handles.
There was a massive clenching of sphincters because everyone saw the move and what had led up to it and now the only question was how many dozen people were going to chew a few plugs of asphalt tabacco. Then the magic unfolded. Wrong Hip slung the brake hood backwards, but Pushy didn’t do what everyone else would have done, which is a sideways flip-launch.
Instead, anticipating the push, he leaned slightly left so that his entire bike slid back about two feet, clearing the two overlapped wheels. We adjusted as he moved back.
Wrong Hip never even bothered to see who the poor slob was that he’d just owned in fee simple. And as awesome as the hood-check was, Pushy’s cool acceptance of the rear-shove and his casual readjustment was (maybe) even more amazing. Unfortunately, the testosterone was about to spill over and I saw Pushy get out of the saddle as he prepared to have words with Wrong Hip, words, I was pretty sure, that would be hard to take back.
I grabbed his jersey. He jerked his head around. “Easy, pal,” I said, “it’s only the Donut Ride.”
He looked at me for a second before deciding not to punch me out. “Yeah,” he said. “Right.”
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The head Donut guy
October 23, 2015 § 19 Comments
His head was tilted to one side, he was slurring his words and gesticulating.
So I stood there in my tuxedo and listened.
“Ya see,” he said, “There’s a bigger chain ring they’re gonna make for me, see? Now I’ve only got fifty teeth, ya see? But the new one, it’s gonna have fifty-four or five or six, ya see?” He shaped the bigger chain rings with his hands.
“Yes, I see.”
“And they’re gonna put that on my bike, ya see?”
“Yes, I see.”
“And then you know what I’m gonna do?”
“Pay for it?”
“No,” he said. “I mean of course I’ll pay for it, but you know what I’m gonna DO?”
“I’m gonna beat the head Donut guy.” He paused for effect. “Ya see?”
I didn’t see at all. Not even a little bit. “How? I mean, the way things stand you can’t even beat Prez.”
“The head Donut guy, ya see, I can’t catch him on the flats. He’s got me there. But with this bigger chain ring, ya see, I’m gonna catch him on the flats. I can already beat the head Donut guy on the hill, don’t worry about that, I can beat him there.”
I wasn’t worried at all, but I was curious. “So who’s the head Donut guy?”
The slightly unusual fellow who had walked from San Pedro to the Wanky Awards in North Torrance, an eight-mile slog one-way, and who was going to walk all the way back, cocked his head a bit more. “The head Donut guy? He’s the guy always wins the Donut race. Don’t you know him?”
“But the first rider up the hill every Saturday is different a lot of the time. There’s not really any one head Donut guy.”
He shook his head vigorously, then nodded vigorously. “Oh yes there is and I’m gonna beat him at the race next Saturday.” The head Donut guy was apparently an apparition, or a symbol, or a metaphor. Or maybe he couldn’t tell us apart because of our glasses and helmets. Or maybe he just meant Wily.
This fellow was well known around the peninsula for riding a 40-pound MTB, shirtless, in baggy shorts, and sporting giant clodhopper work boots. He was a seal clubber of sorts. Despite his appearance he was viciously strong and loved nothing more than trolling for kitted out baby seals. He’d approach them slowly, out of the saddle, then pass them slowly.
Outraged, they’d give chase on their $10k rigs and he’d dangle. After a minute or so they’d be on the rivet and he’d pull away, leaving their self image in ruins.
But he couldn’t hang with “the Donut race” so he’d hop in with various shellees ascending the Switchbacks, pound for a while, and get dropped.
“The head Donut guy,” he repeated. “I’m gonna beat him. You’ll see.” He wandered off. Wearing a shirt and long pants he looked halfway normal.
But what weird ideas he had bouncing around in his head! What strange fixations were propelling him around the hill, driving him to walk sixteen miles in a single evening just to tell me his strategy against the head Donut guy, whoever that was! He was ricocheting around in an alternate universe, delusional, trying madly to find a wormhole back to reality.
Just like me.
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September 27, 2015 § 16 Comments
Every Saturday morning the best riders in the South Bay assemble to contest the legendary Donut Ride. They are young, they are shaven, they are tiny, they climb very fast. And they are wearing their finest clown underwear, except for Wily, who showed up this morning in culottes and a tank top.
Ostensibly the goal of the Donut Ride is to be the first rider to reach the radar domes. But roiling beneath the stated objective is a deeper, more fundamental objective, one driven by horror and terror and the fear of humiliation: Don’t get beaten by the creaky old wanker with hairy legs.
No one has ever said it to me directly, but they don’t have to. Being ridden off my wheel is the most demoralizing thing that can ever happen to a cyclist because it means you really aren’t very good, and it can destroy the future dreams of an aspiring young athlete. Therefore, it is with especial relish that I target the young, the bright, and the upcoming.
For them it is lose-lose. No possible excuse can make up for getting stomped by a wrinkled prune who is old enough to be the father of most, the grandfather of many, and almost the great-grandfather of one or two. “It’s the off season,” “I’m going easy today,” “My coach told me to keep it in Zone 3,” … at the end of the day getting whipped by a senior citizen on a challenging climb is simply a deal-ender.
For me of course it is win-win. As soon as I’m shelled I can chalk it up to biology. “I’m almost 52, he’s 25. I was lucky to stick around for as long as I did.”
And of course by simply hanging around and hanging around, once in an incredibly rare while I actually pick off one of the targets on my list. I still remember and savor the day a couple of years ago when I caught and dropped Wily. The afterglow from that is as strong and fresh and warm as peeing in the shower.
And who can forget the time (singular) that I shelled Ponytail, a 25-year-old climbing phenom with the draft of a knitting needle? And how the wonderfulness of the victory was punctuated by his comment that he thought I was in my 20’s, and how crestfallen he was to learn I had an AARP card.
Then of course there was the time I scampered away and beat Derek the Destroyer, an accomplishment so drenched in fantasticity that I didn’t ride for a month afterwards. In my checklist there is even a mark next to Tony Manzella’s name. One mark, one time, to be savored each night with incense before I go to bed. That’s kind of my scorecard, after about 450 Donut Rides, with an asterisk for the time in 2008 that Rudy dragged me up to the Domes on my steel Eddy Merckx and intentionally didn’t drop me.
One of the unstated rules every week is “Drop Wanky.” I’ve seen guys take years off their lives rather than have me beat them. I’ve seen riders spent, dead, and ready for the retort when, looking back and seeing me, they come back to life like the undead and sprint away from the embarrassment of getting wankied.
But for the last three years there has been a very rare bird I’ve been trying to tick off my list, a kind of California Clapper Rail that has been elusive, cagey, and hell bent on thwarting me. He has beaten me in every possible configuration, and has beaten me when I’m riding my best and he’s riding his worst. And he’s always done it by generous margins. No bike throws, no last-second surges, just a smooth swing of the executioner’s axe and bam, he’s gone and I’m tied up in knots going backwards.
I’d go so far as to say he’s sworn a blood oath and it looks like this: That repulsive old faker will never finish anywhere near me.
And I never have, until today, of course.
Julien had sandblasted the pack of about twenty that still remained at the bottom of the Switchbacks into a small group of seven. My quarry had attacked hard just before we hit the wall on Crest, headed to the radar domes. Julien pulled him back and only Wily, Ponytail, Strava Junior, my quarry, and I remained.
Julien turned the screws and I popped. Strava Junior must have come off before then, because I was alone as my quarry and the three others pedaled away. Just before the turn to flat spot there was another flurry of attacks, and my quarry blew. He was within range. I pulled him back then came around him hard, listening for the telltale signs of having someone on my wheel. It was dead silent.
When I finished, the only three riders ahead were all younger than my children.
I hurried home and made a tick mark on my checklist. Then I logged onto eBay and put everything up for sale, because that’s as good as it’s ever going to get.
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They’re all different, but not really
September 19, 2015 § 8 Comments
Rolling out of Redondo this morning I was talking to this dude. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Roberto,” he said, then he paused. “I pay you.”
I loves me a blog subscriber! Instead of insulting him as I’d planned, I patted him on the back, asked about his wife and children, and exchanged pleasantries. “Another day, another Donut, same old, same old.”
“No,” he said. “The rides, they are all different.”
“Yes,” he said. “You just have to do them enough to find out the differences.”
I tried to count how many times I’d done the Donut Ride. “After five hundred times, this still seems like a ride where one guy climbs up to the top faster than anyone else.”
“But it is a different guy, eh?”
“Yeah. Sometimes it’s Stathis, sometimes it’s Sakellariadis, sometimes it’s the Greek, sometimes it’s Wily, sometimes it’s Dr. Swerve.”
I looked around, but didn’t: the Greek was down for the count after slamming into the front of the guy behind him on the NPR. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself. “Maybe this really will be different.”
Without Wily to attack from the gun and make everyone chase until they vomit and quit, it was leisurely. Hoofixerman scampered away with Roberto the German with the Spanish Name, then later Rico went, and eventually the pack started to chase. We all came back together at Terranea, but no one was tired.
An Airgas Safeway pro from from Santa Barbara had rolled out with us, and notice therof was duly taken. Surfer started surging in Portuguese Bend, and some new skinny kid from Norcal named Sean began taking digs, and Les Deux Frenchies began stretching the rope.
I cowered and hid, trying as best I could to tuck behind Jules. At age 16 he’s one of the top prospects in America, and recently added three more national track titles to his sagging trophy shelf. Jules began dropping pretty much everyone on the switchbacks when he was 13 and hasn’t let up since.
We hit the bottom of the Switchbacks with a massive pack of about thirty riders, testament to how slow it had been–this point of the ride rarely has more than ten riders in the lead group. The down side to a slow start is that once the climb starts, it goes very fast.
Surfer Dan ramped it up, and then the Airgas-Safeway pro hit the front. The group immediately snapped in half, and after a couple of minutes there were only eight riders left, Les Deux Frenchies, Derek, Surfer Dan, Norcal, Strava Junior, and Jules. We got to the top of the Switchbacks and Airgas was gassed; he hadn’t known that the ride continued up the wall to the radar domes. Course knowledge is key …
Surfer Dan took the bit and charged up the wall. We all hung on. Frenchy Sr. kept pulling through, but everyone else hunkered down and rubbed their rosary beads. For me this was all miraculous. Not being a climber, and not being very fast, and not being very smart, it was shocking to think that I’d survived so much misery so far with so much cruel, pitiless talent. Before I knew it, the final curve was in sight.
No chance at a sprunt.
No chance with an attack.
So I jumped, shook free, and eased off the gas, hoping to latch onto whomever came by.
As luck would have it, the bad kind, Jules rocketed up the right-hand gutter. I could have easily gotten his wheel if I’d been on a motorcycle. Otherwise, no bueno.
Frenchy Sr. and Derek came by, then caught and dropped Jules. I looked back and the broken pieces were strewn way out behind me. I crossed the imaginary finish line marking the end of the imaginary race, and thought about all the beer I hadn’t drunk in order to reach this imaginary level of success.
“Roberto was right,” I thought. “They are all different.” Followed by “Shit, I’m thirsty.”
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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.
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.”