January 1

January 1, 2023 Comments Off on January 1

“Happy New Year!” they command, an odd way to obtain happiness, as if it were the natural consequence of fiat. But I ask this: What’s new about it?

Yes, there’s a new number appended to this strange calculation that began with the murder of a Jewish heretic.

And yes, the relative position of earth and sun have reached the same point, almost, that they did 365.25 days ago, but does that make it new? Especially since it’s been rotating exactly the same way for several billion years?

Last night I fell asleep around 7:30 and was awakened to fireworks announcing the newness. People newly drunk and stoned. People newly welcoming, at this exact moment as I type, the bitterest, but far from the last, hangover of 2023. People celebrating resolutions they will never keep. A tired old earth, not a new earth, grimly awaiting another day of global warming, environmental ravishment, war, poverty, hunger, disease, end times that just can’t seem to ever end, and more avid recreational cyclists squeezed into sausage skins extolling the virtues of gravel.

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9

I won’t enjoin your happiness in this arbitrarily numbered sequence of the earth’s spin, but I can hope for it, and I will.


Build it. They’re still not going to come.

December 29, 2022 Comments Off on Build it. They’re still not going to come.

After the UCI held its debut world championship gravel race, an expanded professional global series for 2023 promises even more venues for people to ride their bicycles in muddy, or dusty, or somewhat unpaved conditions.

That’s nice if you like such things and have as yet failed to find success at cyclocross, BMX, or mountain biking, endeavors that put a premium on bike handling. But it doesn’t mean that pro gravel racing is here to stay, or that it’s even a thing. To the contrary …

In order for sanctioned gravel racing to exist it will require something known as racers. And in order to develop these racers it will require something known as junior racers. And in order to develop junior racers it will need something known as “you are completely delusional.”

The current gravel demographic in the US is old people who suck at bike racing. The demographic for the 2022 gravel world championships was UCI professional road racers, some of whom happened to be the world’s best at cyclocross. This will not change because gravel racing is road racing with some dirt. You don’t need the technical skills of ‘cross or MTB, and you don’t need the wattage of a TdF contender. In essence, it’s road racing lite.

Doubt it? Look at the results. First place, Gianni Vermeersch, rides road for Alpecin-Deceuninck and has placed 7th at Flanders and 15th at Roubaix. Second place, Daniel Oss, is a 2-time world champion in the team time trial, stage winner in the Tour and the Vuelta, and a seasoned road professional with nine Tour finishes. Mathieu van der Poel, in third, needs no introduction, and Greg van Avermaet shouldn’t either, with four Tour stage wins, a Vuelta win, and a win at Paris-Roubaix in 2017.

Pro gravel racers? Maybe you weren’t looking, but the gravel worlds was made up of exceptional and experienced UCI pro road riders, and in 2023 you can be assured that the gravel worlds will be jam-packed with roadie superstars like Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, Remco Evenepoel, and whoever else has seen good results on the spring cobbles. What you won’t see are “pro gravel racers.” If you have the wattage to contend at the Tour of Flanders, you have the wattage to absolutely destroy anyone who’s not a UCI road peer at a gravel race. That’s because gravel racing, sorry to break the news, is road racing.

It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the Tour’s major passes were even paved, and riding cobbles/dirt/sand/slush was part and parcel of road racing. The roads may have gotten better, but the essential qualities that will make you a successful road racer haven’t: endurance, huge watts over long distances, and extraordinary bike handling skills.

This matters because gravel racing is nothing more than retro road racing, and I think we can all agree that road racing in the United States is dead. It’s dead on all levels but nowhere more moribund than in the junior ranks. Yes, the 60+ category holdovers from the 80’s are continuing to turn out, but all the big races are gone, almost all the medium-sized races are gone, and most of the small races are gone. Gravel began as, and continues to be, a venue for people who weren’t any good at road racing to enjoy participating in a faux race where everyone’s a “winner.”

Which is of course a beautiful thing provided you’re down with having to buy a new bike, etc. But if you’re talking about a new sport that will magically grow new riders and provide the excitement thoroughly lacking from all but a tiny number of races, you’re crazy. For one, why would sponsors who have dumped millions into road racing suddenly begin dumping money into an event that their current riders are winning anyway? For another, if road riding is declining around the globe, why would retro road racing spark a craze that is big enough to support a new professional sport, grow for the future by developing juniors, and attract new sponsor dollars?

As the pro gravel scene unfolds without any meaningful interest from or participation by juniors, one of two scenarios will happen. It will either become wildly successful at the expense of professional road racing or it will wither and die because the already impoverished landscape of pro road racing will be unable and unwilling to afford a parallel sport that cannibalizes the events already on the pro road calendar. Yes, top road pros will throw their hats in the ring at year’s end to snag a rainbow jersey, but they’ll be the same top pros you saw battle it out in the spring classics and the grand tours.

At the local level, events will still attract participants, but they will be the same paunchy older men who have made the “spirit of gravel” what it is: white, male, chubby, boring, doped, and drunk. Five years from now the big US gravel events will be a shadow of their former selves, and in ten years most will have gone the way of the gran fondo.

Remember those?

A casual glance at the advertising, sales, and actual ridership irrefutably proves that it’s not just lame adults kitted out in the latest costume literally “motoring” up hills, but it’s also kids who don’t ride bikes anymore. They ride e-bikes, an affectionately nostalgic name for electric motorcycles with optional-use pedals. If the future of gravel has any future at all, it’s motorized. Just don’t call it bike racing.



December 26, 2022 Comments Off on Wagonfall

I’ve been drinking again, three nights in a row now.

The first night we stopped into the brewery to get growlers filled for our guests. On the menu was their award-winning IPA “Citra,” brewed twice yearly in small batches.

“Let’s get one while they’re filling the growlers.”

“Okay,” Kristie said, looking at me strangely. “Are you going to be okay?”


I had the beer, which tasted wonderful because ethanol is addictive and I’m addicted to it. After seven weeks of no ethanol, the effect was immediate and awesome. I had that one pint and we went home. Everyone else was drinking at the cabin except Pepper but I’d had enough.

The next evening I joined in the drinking. I had two beers and got pretty drunk. The next morning I felt bad because of drymouth and I’d slept poorly. “I really don’t want anymore beer today,” I said making breakfast. “It tastes like shit.”

Last night I returned to the shit, drinking two and a half pints and getting sloshed. I sobered up before bedtime but sat around the Christmas lamp with my head disconnected. It had been an amazing day, and Tiana had baked an incredible cake. Even though you know the ethanol adds nothing good, somehow I drank it anyway.


I got up this morning and felt okay. Another year older but no wiser and certainly no smarter. At this point, as long as there are people and fresh beer around, it’s impossible not to join in.

Ethanol is the most addictive chemical we know of, twice as addictive as heroin.



On the way to my life one morning

December 22, 2022 Comments Off on On the way to my life one morning

It’s true; you are the person you wake up with every morning. That’s because when you open your eyes, the day’s realities haven’t come raining down on your psyche. There’s the briefest interregnum between the moment of sleep and the moment of waking in which everything isn’t merely fresh and new, it’s the unvarnished you.

Riding my bicycle in the darkness en route to the daybreak AA meeting, I thought slowly about why I’m still going. The principles of AA don’t fit me at all. Of the twelve steps, ten involve religion, one involves proselytizing, and one demands I call myself an alcoholic, an undefined word that seems to mean “anyone who has ever had a problem with alcohol to any degree.” The meetings themselves start with religion and end with religion and have liberal doses mainlined along the way, and the more I read about AA, the more I realize how anti-science and ineffective it is as a long-term treatment for substance abuse.

But on the other hand, it has been very effective for me. There’s something that goes on in my AA meetings that never really went on quite the same way in any other facet of my existence, which is “life.” At AA meetings there are tears, mostly genuine. There is death, so much death, and sickness, fear, sadness, remorse, anger, rage, laughter, despair, hope, affirmation, negation, support, the occasional brutal cruelty of the strong against the weak, the defiance of the weak against all odds, iron sincerity from some, and forgiving awareness that settles on you like a blanket.

When I walk out of the meetings I’m drained from listening to the concatenation of pompous preaching, bitter defeat, brave victory, wisdom, foolishness, pain, balm, and that ineffable thing called “community,” the crazy-quilt of emotional soup that happens when people meet and, as best they can, share shards of their own truth. And I walk out feeling something else: accepted.



December 16, 2022 Comments Off on Nuggets

I’ve been reading “Spark” by John J. Ratey, and it confirms what I’ve always known about exercise: Go hard.

I was hammering down PCH in Long Beach, on my way to the cleaners to pick up a pair of shorts, when I passed my favorite liquor store, Junior’s No. 2. I’ve never been inside but almost every time I go by, the parking lot is either filled with cop cars, or people are trying to beat each other up, or someone with a shopping cart is screaming at someone else with a shopping cart.

Because it’s the holidays which means even more sadness and therefore even more alcohols than usual, as I passed today I got to watch a car stop in the middle of PCH as a fat, bald, giant of a man got out of his car to have a posturtation with a smaller but equally furious man whose pride had been mortally wounded to the extent that he was willing to kill someone and go to jail over the slight. Tender is the ego. Mine, too!

They both called each other awful names, raised giant fists, threatened lots of “ass whuppin'” and postured so vehemently and violently with so many neck veins and so much shouting that there was absolutely no fucking way anything was going to happen because exhausted. The posturtation concluded, both badasses declared ass-whuppin’ victory without having to actually whup any ass, traffic resumed, and I continued on.

I reflected how happy I was not to be in the thrall of alco-anger, and I reflected on a few of the wise nuggets I’ve picked up going to AA. They aren’t just for people with a drinking problem; you can use them, too. My application in parentheses.

  • Does it need to be said? By you? Now? (Shut up, think, then shut up some more.)
  • Are you unhappy or simply bored by tranquillity? (Do you have a problem or are you just a drama addict?)
  • Is your behavior an obstacle to someone else’s growth? Or your own? (Are you standing on some important principle or just holding other people back, including yourself?)
  • Did you really let it go? (Have you forgiven/apologized/accepted, or are you waiting to punish them/yourself later?)
  • Do you really know what’s going to happen? (Are you as smart as you think you are?)
  • Are you getting what you deserve? (Is your situation a logical consequence?)
  • Do you want what you deserve? (If not, why don’t you want something better?)
  • Do you know that change happens in the pauses? (There are no revolutions, only small changes that add up.)
  • Why judge? Why critique? (Are you that much better than others, or better at all?)
  • Life never gets easier, but if you’re doing it right it does get better. (Life, inevitably followed by death, is hard.)
  • Do you really know what the other person is thinking? (If not, maybe you should withhold judgment.)
  • Instead of seeing and judging, try observing and concluding. (Why do you always have to be right?)
  • No one wound up in AA on a winning streak. (If you were perfect you wouldn’t have problems.)
  • Did you know that your feelings are what make you human? (Don’t fear what you feel, embrace it.)
  • Are you just suffering from a problem of abundance? (Is this as a big a problem as you’re making it out to be?)
  • Are you clawing at a locked door while equally good or better ones stand open? (Why seek what you can’t have?)
  • The way you do one thing is the way you do everything. (Habit matters.)
  • What has happened to YOU to make you so angry as opposed to what’s happened to others? (Did anything actually happen, or are you reacting to what has happened to someone else?)
  • Maybe you just need to get right-sized. (Does your reaction fit your actual importance?)
  • Are you just pulling a geographic? (Are you making space or just running away?)
  • Did you know that the only cure for self-obsession is helping others? (Self explanatory, I hope!)
  • How can you live if you cannot heal? (Pain and sadness are necessary and okay.)


Embassy closed, consulates shuttered, diplomatic credentials revoked permanently

December 15, 2022 Comments Off on Embassy closed, consulates shuttered, diplomatic credentials revoked permanently

It was with a sense of disbelief, shock, disappointment, and sad-facey-ness all ’round when Specialized’s brand ambassadors were notified that their amazing marketing work for this amazing bicycle brand was no longer needed, wanted, or appreciated, effective immediately.

Ambassador from the Republic of Badass, Sarah Swallow, was informed she’d have to leave The United Kingdom of Specialized immediately, with barely enough time to clean out her panniers, while she was on an incredibly badass bikepacking tour of Baja, a rugged and unknown and remote and risky and amazing and mysterious destination that is otherwise immediately adjacent to San Diego.

Specialized’s Dictator for Life Mike Sinyard brought in new propaganda and defense ministry officials who, after reviewing the ambassadorships, immediately terminated the relationships with a total of 40 nations including Ride-Aroundistan, Unemploydia, Phukinoff Onmybikeico, SocMedistan, the Goofin Republic, Hashtagola, and the Federation of Bikebums, among others.

Specialized’s Vice-Dictator Scott Maguire and its Minister of Propaganda Armin Landgraf issued the following joint statement:

It is with a sense of disbelief that, upon taking the helm, we learned that for the last eight years our glorious nation has been subsidizing brand ambassadors, none of whom has ever done anything remotely noteworty in the world of cycling, to fuck around the globe, diddling off on social media with stupid hashtags like #iamspecialized in the bizarre hope that anyone gives so much as one twisted fuck about their carryings-on, much less that it would ever stimulate someone to go out and buy one of our abusurdly overpiced bicycles.

To the contrary, ever since beginning this stupid endeavor, we’ve been besieged by other similar social media whores who are requesting/proposing/demanding that they too be given a $15,000 bike, salary, and equipment in order TO DO NOTHING.

Our ROI on this “program” called “Seek and Enjoy” has been nonexistent, whereas the money we spent on Peter Sagan quintupled with each rainbow jersey. Going forward we will place our sponsorship dollars on actual athletes winning actual races against other actual, legitimate competitors. How you did at the Gran Fondo (196th overall, 3rd in your age category) will remain a personal high watermark for you but will no longer entitle you to be our employee, spokesperson, or in Shakespeare’s words, “caterpillar of the commonwealth.”

Further, our analysis of “Seek and Enjoy” brand ambassadors revealed that far from creating a cadre of committed customers who wanted to “Fly Like Sarah,” it created a cadre of skeptical cheapskates who, in the words of one ex-customer, said “What the fuck do I need a fancy bike for just to pedal around and be a bike bum? I’m selling all my shit and getting a used Surly.”

This de-motivation of the customer base, as well as the utterly silly notion that customers want to emulate people who don’t do anything of note, along with declining sales, the rise of e-biking, the death of road racing, and the general disgust that more and more people feel about doing exercise, has led us to revoke the credentials of these lazy diplomats, apologize to our loyal customers, and see if we can more effectively promote the lie that in order to enjoy bicycling you need to spend more money.

United Kingdom of Specialized, Edict No. 8,231,211, Public Law 32-981


On the way to church one morning …

December 6, 2022 Comments Off on On the way to church one morning …

It’s a commonplace that the worst drivers are people on the way to church, surpassed only by the angry people on the way back. How many times I’ve been riding and been buzzed, flipped off, cut off, or otherwise harassed by someone going to church I couldn’t count if I tried.It was always so puzzling. How could someone en route to goodwill and love for humanity try to kill you? And even harder to understand, how could someone who’d spent the morning reflecting on religious messages be completely indifferent to the life of, to say nothing of being wholly enraged by, a person riding a bicycle?As it so happens, I found out.There I was, riding my bike to an early morning AA meeting, which is very much like going to church. There’s a lot of talk about dog and spirituality, and the bulk of the meetings are built around the fellowship of people sharing mutual problems and providing support. I was thinking about the meeting and of course, on my bike riding along PCH during the morning traffic, I was in a hurry. For me, in a hurry always means paying zero attention to anything except cars except cars that might hit me, and in the process going as fast as I possibly can.Shooting up the gutter, splitting lanes, running lights as long as the coast is clear, anything to obviate having to brake, slow down, or pause for the other guy. As I shot across Torrance Blvd., an irate motorist honked and flipped me off. “Fuck you,” I thought smugly, acing the intersection and continuing without having to so much as ease off on the pedals.This behavior continued all the way to the meeting, where, arriving a few minutes early, I was able to compose myself and really focus on the upcoming event. That’s when it occurred to me: had I been doing anything different from all those drivers I’ve cursed so many Sundays past? Though my bike hadn’t really endangered anyone but myself, this behavior had infuriated, confused, startled, and perhaps even frightened a whole bunch of people. On a bike, the worst thing that can happen to the rider is getting hit, but for a lot of motorists, hitting someone can also be incredibly traumatic, and it’s safe to say that no one that morning had gotten up hoping to start the day with a cyclist on their hood.As I began to string together the countless instances in which I have outraged drivers and violated the traffic laws, it dawned on me how that morning my single-minded mission of reaching a place of sanctuary and healing somehow justified being a dick to everyone outside the sanctuary’s walls. How would I have felt if one of those drivers had been a fellow AA member? I’d have felt stinging remorse.This rumination led to another, which is that a lot of what passes for cycling is thinly disguised, poorly executed anger management. Dropping your “friends,” establishing a hierarchy, shelling people out of the lead group, combining with allies to frustrate your enemies, and a host of other actions are, at base, not much more than polite aggression, and not even all that polite. And when the fireworks result in someone falling and getting hurt, how many times have I seen the group ride away? How many times have I been in one of those groups? Many.Two units of knowledge that I’ve picked up in AA have helped me understand better what’s going on. One is this question: are you simply rebelling? I latched onto this bit of wisdom from a guy who described how he’d come home to find that the police had cordoned off his street due to a crime scene. Enraged at not being able to park in his own garage, he did the logical thing (for a madman) by crashing the police barrier and getting charged with a couple of felonies. In my case, the fuck-you shown to motorists as I sped to my meeting was just another way of setting myself apart from the herd, letting planet Earth know that I was so special I didn’t have to abide by their silly vehicle code.The second nugget I picked up is this: you need to get right-sized. A woman was talking about her anger and about how furious she was at some inconsequential thing, when a friend called to tell her about how the friend’s spouse had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. “That,” she said, “got me right-sized real quick.” As much as being rebellious simply to stick it to some Imaginary Man, holding myself out as too big to bicycle normally in traffic was a case of having seriously delusional ideas about my importance. Why was I more important than some guy who’d been sitting patiently at the light for several minutes? Why was my timeliness to get alcohol counseling more important than a nurse on her way to the hospital? Why was I so big, so outsized, so terribly awesome that several hundred people on the way to work had to get the fuck out of my way, lean on the brakes, get scared out of their skin?And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that laying down rebel arms and shrinking the ego isn’t the worst thing that could happen. Especially on the way to church.


The crazy look

November 26, 2022 Comments Off on The crazy look

I was listening to a guy in AA talk about the crazy look. “You know what I’m talking about,” he said. “You’ll say something or do something and people will stare at you for a second, maybe they’ll blink their eyes like ‘Did he just say that?’ and then they’ll be looking at you like you are completely fucking crazy. Well, I’ve learned something about that look,” he concluded. “It means you’re acting crazy.”

I pondered that for the rest of the meeting, thinking about all the things I’ve written and said and done, and how often people have stared at me in disbelief. I’ve always interpreted that stare to mean “You’re amazing,” or “You’re brilliant,” or “That’s so funny,” or “Wow, I wish I could be like you,” but upon reflection it was none of those things. They were looking at me like I was completely crazy because I had done something that was, well, completely crazy.

After considering this revelation I resolved to start paying attention to the crazy look and using it as a cue. “Maybe if someone is looking at me like I’m crazy, I should stop doing what I’m doing and see if they stop looking at me that way.”

Down at the supermarket we have the awful self-check scanners, you know, those things they put in to 1) lay off employees 2) increase profits and 3) make you do the work you thought you were paying someone else to do.

I hate them because I hate machines and computers and because I hate doing what I’m paying someone else to do and most especially because the little machine always tells me I’m doing it wrong. Replace the item. Bag the item. Take the item off the scanner. Confirm the quantity. Re-weigh the item. Key in your number. Don’t remove your card. Insert your card. Nor am I the only idiot; they have one full-time person whose job it is to manage us idiots, which is of course lots cheaper than manning six checkout lanes.

One of the Idiot Managers is named Samuel. He hates us and I think we hate him. When we get stuck on the machine he walks over and begins giving us instructions as if we’re kindergartners, although no kindergartner would be as inept as I am on this thing. To make it worse, his voice is fake friendly and he never explains anything. Instead of saying “Hey, dumbshit, you have to press the start button first to get the thing to work,” he says “Remove your items from the scanner,” and then when you fumble trying to make the thing work, he repeats it again, just like the machine, and he won’t get to the next step until you’ve done exactly as he instructs.

He is relentless and merciless and no matter how many times you’ve been there he never says, “Hey, moron! Back for some more grief?” No, he’s always friendly-hateful and he beats you down until you have obeyed his every step. When the process finishes, Samuel, who has been standing behind you the whole time, walks away to the next poor soul. “Have a nice day,” he says, which means “You are very stupid and we both know it especially those people next to you who scanned 50 items and a small cow in the time it took you to buy a coke.”

Yesterday, though, my head was still swimming from the Thanksgiving traditions of grief, conflict, abuse, sorrow, and rage, especially rage. I had told myself that my only goal at the supermarket was to get in and out without getting angry, and there I was, locked in a lost and hopeless battle with Samuel. As he said, “Remove your items from the scanner,” for the fourth time, I put up my hands, which were shaking.

“I can’t do this,” I said, and walked out. The saddest part of it was that in addition to my onion, bottle of shampoo, and bell pepper, I’d also left one of my greatest personal treasures, a purple shopping bag from the 99-cent store that I’d found on the side of the highway on a bike ride, adopted, and brought home to raise as my own.

As I held up my shaking hands, out of the corner of my eye I saw Samuel, and you know what he was doing? He was looking at me like I was crazy. And although I continued on out the store, I learned a very valuable lesson when he gave me that look, and I employed it the following day when I returned to re-purchase the onion and the bell pepper and the shampoo: I used the checkout lane, which had a smiling lady at the register and a pleasant older fellow in front of me chatting about something pleasant. The sacker even asked me about my Thanksgiving and happily told me about spending the day with his family.

I wished him a happy holiday season and New Year, and the smiling checker handed me my receipt.

No one looked at me like I was crazy.



November 19, 2022 Comments Off on Yulogy

I was thinking about Joe on my way home from my second AA meeting this morning, a place I refer to as “Church for Drunks.” AA might have helped him; dog knows he had a drinking problem. I was also thinking about the multitude of ways he had inspired me and wish that I’d been able to connect with and inspire him. That’s the thing about death, it makes you think about life. And I suppose vice versa.

In that vein, I wondered about Joe’s life and how to represent it?

The general method is to put together as many kind phrases as you can, omit the bad truths, and speak to your own hopes and fears about the future. I’m not sure that does the dead justice. I’m sure it doesn’t do justice to Joe Yule. If you can’t talk boldly about how someone died, how can you talk at all about how they lived?

When Joe headed out the exit door, he left a one-word note, economical with words to the very last: “Sorry.”

The easy conclusion, and the narrative that got pushed, was that Joe was clinically depressed, and somehow this darkness brought about his demise. It may be true, but I never saw it. In fact, I never saw anyone more typically in good spirits than Joe. I saw some very hard drinking, maybe there were other things as well. Whether it was alcoholism, drugs, clinical depression, or some combination, or something else entirely, makes little difference. In the end, he succumbed to a disease of the mind. In the end, no one could help him. And in the end, he left a lot of sadness and a lot of loss.

This is hardly how he should be remembered. The demons should be acknowledged, but Joe deserves to be remembered for his success. It’s not just a matter of the tired old trope “that’s what he would have wanted,” it’s a matter of how he actually lived. His successes, great though they were, are less important than the fact that he lived life successfully. He decided what mattered, hewed to it with little or no compromise, and called it quits when, in his mind, it was quittin’ time. Success isn’t monuments or bank accounts or lines in Wikipedia. Success isn’t a point in time. Success is a process.

From my vantage point, Joe was always succeeding, no matter the setbacks. He claimed his life as his, delegated it to no one else, lived and died accordingly.

When I met Joe in 2006, I didn’t even know that I’d met him. It was a remote introduction, so to speak. I had just moved to California, and the lawyer I was working for had just purchased the building in San Pedro that Joe had sold as part of his divorce. It may not mean anything to you, but the interior of the building was so unique, so beautiful, so elegant, so tasteful, so open, so relaxing, and so quiet that the new owner changed absolutely nothing aside from hanging a couple of new pictures. Even the posters in the bathroom were left as-is.

This was one of at least two offices Joe put together that I had the pleasure of being in. The other was on Catalina, when, at the height of his design business, he had rented office space. This small office too was exceptional beyond words. It was as if a design fairy had flown in the window, waved her magic wand, and left the interior so cozy and welcoming that you never wanted to leave. It’s easy to say that things ooze taste, but his spaces, whether personal or business, did.

Joe had that sensibility, the sensibility of real taste. Not the affected adoption of modes and images in order to impress others, but an innate vision of the external world that screened out the sharp edges, the odd, the awkward, and the ugly, and spit back a refined image of how things should look and, if you followed his fucking advice, would look.

In this attitude resided Joe’s vanity, a vanity born of having had what he always described to me as a rough childhood. His belief that in the design world everyone else was off the back, and in Joe’s case, having the sensibility to back up his own talent, was always an integral part of his outlook when it came to his field of graphic design. As he liked to say, “My goal in kit designs is to beautify the roadways.” He succeeded, wildly.

Joe was a first-rate bike rider, despite his legendary falls. I actually nicknamed him “Junkyard” because he had so much metal in him, the result of so many surgeries. His worst recent crash, about ten years ago, occurred as he rode to Telo along Lomita. There is a short section overhung by trees, and the sudden darkness makes it hard to see the road, which had a brick up against the curb. Everyone saw it but Joe, who fell and horribly broke his elbow.

He recovered of course, but the fall wasn’t an accident. For years Joe had refused to wear prescription glasses in public, and had refused to buy the thick prescription sunglasses that would have prevented this and other falls. He fell that particular day, as he later admitted to me, because though he might have terrible vision, but he couldn’t bring himself (yet) to wear glasses. Joe cared how things looked, and Joe cared how Joe looked, but he didn’t ever blame that fall or any other misfortune on anyone but himself. He had a kind of total responsibility for his life in that way. Who doesn’t want that success?

Joe worked incredibly hard to succeed, just as he worked hard to be perceived as successful, yet he never talked about money or even seemed to be impressed by, or in search of it. Joe always drove a nice car, dressed impeccably, and rode the nicest bike. If there was ever any desperation in Joe’s life, you had to know him intimately to see it. Few of us did; he owned a hip cottage just a stone’s throw from the beach and exuded confidence in what he had done and where he was going.

The worst medical issues, the direst financial problems, the toughest break-ups, he bore them all stoically and with good cheer. If you were looking for a depressed shut-in or for someone who took life on the chin, it wasn’t Joe, though he had every right to be. The son of a firefighter who Joe told me had beaten him throughout his childhood, Joe used to ruefully, though also somewhat proudly, tell of the time that rebellion against his dad began when he started a forest fire. Now that’s the Joe I could relate to.

I could relate because he had the tenacity and fight of an abused kid who somehow made it through the flames of childhood to actuate his dual loves of cycling and art. He graduated from Denver’s most prestigious art school and at a fairly early date moved to California. Joe didn’t become the kit design icon until the early 2010’s, when his designs for Cynergy and Ironfly, and his legendary Donut Ride kit made big waves. From that point on, everyone wanted a Joe Yule kit. Turning down work was just as big a part of his job as accepting new projects.

Before that, however, he was an accomplished bike racer. I’m not sure if he ever won a race, but the reality about cycling is that if you’re racing against your peers, you rarely if ever do. When I met Joe, he was a fixture and a force on the Donut and on the Sunday ride up PCH to climb the canyons. He was never first, but he was always in the front, and what speaks more to his character, he never shirked.

Many a time we’d be drilling it home on PCH with only two or three people willing to take a pull. When Joe’s turn came, he always hit the front hard and gave it his all to keep the pace, even if it meant getting shelled when he couldn’t latch back on. I respected that so much more than the people who were content to sit and let others do the work.

Joe exhibited that same approach on NPR, a ride he did up until the last few years of his life, and a ride he helped start in the early 1980’s when it left from Hermosa Pier and was simply called “The Pier Ride.” Joe was no sprinter but he knew that real bike racers ride their strengths as well as their weaknesses. He took more hard pulls on NPR than anyone that I ever saw, the more impressive due to his climber’s build. When it came to descending, Joe was extraordinarily good. I never, ever came close to following his downhill line or holding his wheel on a descent.

Whether it was his Colorado background or, more likely, his decades spent memorizing every twist of every LA canyon, he went downhill like no one else. He was without fear and couldn’t be beat on the technical descents.

As a bike racer he believed that if you’re going to prance around in race kits and ride a nice bike, you should pin on a fucking number. Into his late 50’s Joe could occasionally be seen, not especially fit, toeing the line at the local CBR crit or at Telo. I respected his commitment to bike racing and his willingness to race even when it was going to hurt like and hell and there was no possibility, none, of a good outcome.

Joe’s ethos meant that he knew what few do, the joy of what it looks like from the front. He reveled in it and gave it up only at the very, very end.

This attitude, his consistency, his ability, his willingness to train, his good looks, and his affable nature all came together with his breakout kit designs to make him a leader. In a few short years Joe began designing for the World Tour through Jonathan Vaughters’s Garmin-Chipotle team, and I’m not sure anyone ever understood what that meant to Joe.

It wasn’t simply the big time, or even the biggest time. Vaughters is obsessed with fashion, looks, and design. His own clothing reminds me of fashion plates like the Duke of Windsor or Tom Wolfe, eccentric, daring, bizarre, sometimes miraculously good, other times not so much. For Joe to have the approval of such a design-sensitive boss at the World Tour level was the ultimate mark of success in his field.

And Joe was ahead of the design times. He pushed the concept of complete design integration, matching everything from helmet, clothes, gloves, socks, frames, even bar tape. The World Tour started looking different after Joe began working with Garmin, and his relationship lasted for years.

Domestically, everyone took notice. People copied his designs and more importantly they copied his simplicity. Slapping ten fonts and twelve sponsors in seven colors on a jersey was out, and has stayed out. Like aping Columbus’s sail to the west, once people saw how kit design could look and should look, it was easily copied. But having the sense to create and innovate, well, that’s why we remember Columbus instead of Vespucci.

It’s easier to understand his gifts when you know how magnificent he was as an artist. His sketching was unparalleled, his drawing magnificent, his typography stunning, and his light touch with colors were all hallmarks of a life dedicated to beauty and interpretation of beauty. He often moved slowly, but his strokes were so deliberate, so well considered, that it was always, always, always worth the wait.

If Joe was an innovator in design, he was a leader of the cycling community as well. Joe was the person who first set up shop at the Manhattan Beach Starbucks, after which it was reverentially called the Center of the Known Universe. People were attracted to Joe because he was funny, ironic, understated, a remnant of the Golden Age of Cycling in the US, wise, unimpressed, always willing to listen to your bullshit, never mean or gratuitously cruel, had a very clear idea of his Old Guy Riding a Bike status, and happy to help make you look good. With Joe around, you felt successful. If anyone invented cycling in the South Bay, it was Joe. Everyone else, me included, simply copied badly. And by the time we started copying, he’d already moved on. He knew what success felt like and preferred new challenges to old laurels.

No one laughed harder at Joe than Joe himself. His last few years in LA he formed “Team Big Banana” with the slogan “Stay moist!” It was a casual ride that went off on various days, and which was usually accompanied by a hilarious e-poster invitation, sometimes with ridiculous people dressed as bananas, always with a quirky phrase or slogan to let you know that he was serious, but please, please, don’t take this too seriously. His kit designs for Big Banana were classic Joe: striking in their understatement. His Friday coffee rides were the highlight of the week for many, and however casual the faux club, there were plenty of 100-mile days up and down PCH to test your legs. To see people happily following him as if he were the Pied Piper, dressed in his designs and looking way better than they deserved, you had to acknowledge his success with people and the energy he got from being around his friends.

Which brings up that other facet of Joe’s personality: he was fascinated with the appearance of success and having money, but cared relatively little about either. Everyone who ever worked with Joe, especially his business partners, eventually threw up their hands in frustration because of his allergic reaction to deadlines and because, more importantly, he was stubborn about letting clients get too involved in the design process. He took your input, never your direction. So many people never got their hands on a Joe Yule design because if he sensed you were too much of a meddler, you never heard from him again.

Joe’s attitude to design was that he knew best and if you interfered too much, you’d simply never get your design, ever. Joe was an artist and had huge issues with selling his work and with letting other people unduly influence it. I always had great working relationships with Joe because I told him generally what I wanted, and he did the rest. And the funny thing was, he rarely sent a bill no matter how often you’d hound him for one. I’d always have to ultimately ask him the price and send him a check, and I think many people knew that about him and took advantage of it. These things, the very characteristics that made him so good, hurt Joe’s business and kept him in a perpetual financial squeeze.

This was part of his spiral: less work, so less money, so less work. By the time he died, he had mostly run out of clients, and, typical Joe, he wasn’t about to ask for help. He took responsibility for his affairs in the most brutal way. He hung himself because he couldn’t scrounge up the $100 he owed for back rent.

Of course, what Joe needed wasn’t more admiration and more money, though he would have survived with both. What he needed was therapy second, and a way to quit drinking first. AA might have helped, and for all I know he tried it. It’s hard, though, to imagine Joe entrusting anything to a “higher power” or submitting himself to a god in whom he didn’t believe. Joe made a living out of what he believed in, and he didn’t see fit to change things up at the end. In a way he reminds me of Christopher Hitchens, dying of cancer, and just as much an atheist facing death as he had been facing life. When the process is a success, the outcome is nothing more than a footnote.

People flocked to Joe because he was lovable, funny, brilliant, a curmudgeon. Known for his design skills, I’ve never heard anyone praise his writing, but some of the funniest things I’ve ever read were in emails from Joe. He was scathing, scalding, witty beyond belief, well read, and surgical with the pen. He carried this wit to so many of his kit designs. The back of his Donut Ride jersey had a pocket that said, “Officer Knox Foundation,” a crack at the jackass deputy who made a career of ticketing cyclists on the hill. Joe was funny, funny, and then funny some more. The harder you looked at anything he did, the more you appreciated his keen sense of humor and his irony.

People loved Joe because he didn’t play the victim. Bad shit happened and he usually chalked it up to his own boneheadedness, like refusing to wear prescription glasses on his bike. And they loved him because he didn’t make a career out of attacking and tearing down others. He might have thought your kit design was ugly and you should have your Photoshop confiscated, but he never said it, certainly not in public.

When things had really gone to shit, Joe shocked everyone by deciding to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, backwards, at the end of summer. It ended predictably, with a friend picking him up and helping coordinate his final removal to Colorado with nothing left except a few possessions, a rental car, and a U-Haul.

Joe dug a deep hole and the only person who could have ever dug him out was Joe. If I’m sure of anything, it’s that Joe’s mother, siblings, and family loved him deeply and did everything that they could to help him deal with his ailments. Though Joe never asked for help, he was the recipient of it from many people. No friend was ever truer, was ever more of a friend in need, than Gus Bayle. And people like Bob, Michelle, and others did what they could, if not to dig him out of the hole, at least to unstintingly give him enough shovels to start a digging museum. As tellingly, Joe’s circle was so large that there were countless others who would have come if called. Waiting for Joe to call, though, was a bit like waiting for him to ask your help designing a logo. You were in for a long, long wait.

This candle had a large dose of self-respect and lived by its own drumbeat. The bright light he shined on us was intense and brief, and now that it’s out, it’s out forever. We can learn from the light that was, and love Joe for what he really did, how he really lived, and for the success he left behind. We must.


Welcome back, Kotter

November 15, 2022 Comments Off on Welcome back, Kotter

Kristie and I went for our first ride together in the South Bay since I don’t know when. We had just turned off PV Drive onto Via Anita when we heard voices behind us.

Via Anita is a little steep and if you bear left, which we did, it’s a little steeper. The voices behind us trailed off as they chose to continue the flatter, easier way, and we peeled off to the climbier juncture with Via La Selva. It was nice, just the two of us pedaling slowly along.

After a bit we saw the riders ahead of us who had taken the shortcut. There is the smallest of inclines and they were going even slower than we were, if such a thing was possible, but it was, so we passed by.

Now here are three facts: 1) cyclists hate getting passed. 2) cyclists hate getting passed by a guy in wool pants, sneakers, and a raggedy beard. 3) cyclists really hate getting passed by a skinny chick in tennies and Lulu’s. 4) cyclists are basically dicks.

Okay, that’s four, but you get the point.

The gaggle must have felt silly in their expensive fat suits and pro bicycles, because they pushed hard to catch us, but since they were already on the limit going slower than a broken bus, it wasn’t going to happen, especially since there is a steep little pitch that their combined assets weren’t getting over without a winch.

So they did what wankers everywhere do, which is take the shortcut and try to head us off at the pass. That failed, and they found themselves chasing hard on Via Campesina leading up to the golf club as Kristie and I gaily chatted. We had completely forgotten about them until we heard the telltale wheezing of ancient duffers making a last stand on Flog Hill, where Kristie happens to hold the QOM out of about 25,000+ attempts by other riders. We looked at each other. “Really?” our eyes said.

As we crested the top, Duffer No. 1 answered with an emphatic lunge, pulling Wank Move No. 2, which is sit and gag to the top then lunge and hammer on the downhill. One by one they passed us, heads down, assets in the air, and downhill victory pretty much strewn all over the pavement like a blown diaper. Last in the straggle gaggle was a lady I’ll call Ms. Nose on Stem, because she was so pinned matching our snail’s pace, then having to catch her speedy slug-buddies that she couldn’t even raise her eyeballs in their sockets, which was a problem because this road that she rides multiple times a week has a giant chughole that’s big enough to swallow small children, and with her head drooping and assets swaying she rode straight into it with a “Wham!” heard ’round the world, or at least ’round the peninsula, or at least to us it was loud enough to sound like carbon being detonated by dynamite.

Caught unawares by her own unawareness she wobbled just in time for her front tire to go “Kapow!’ as the whole bike shimmied like a 15-lb. toy being manhandled by a 175-lb. blind child, causing her to pull the pro biker move of slamming on the brakes. In front of Kristie. Who shouted, “Hey! Don’t slam on your brakes!” To which she yelled back, “Fuck you, bitch! I got a flat!”

You know, like they do in the Tour.

Mutual fuck yous were exchanged all around and we continued on as Battleship Nishiki, listing badly to starboard, ran slowly aground on the side of the road.

So nice to be back. I bet it’s going to be nothing but hugs and lullabies from here on out.


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