Black history: Methods to Winning, LLC

February 7, 2021 § 8 Comments

Methods to Winning, LLC, is one of the first bike racing teams in the world founded by blacks for the promotion of blacks in cycling. I called up one of the four founders, Ken Vinson, and talked with him about MTW.

Seth Davidson: What was the motivation for founding Methods to Winning?

Ken Vinson: Our motivation was to have representation in the telling of the story of our athletes, Rahsaan Bahati, Justin Williams, Cory Williams, and Charon Smith. It was unique because we had someone from each generation. 20s, 30s, 40’s, and 50s. That’s a lot of cycling history and there’s a lot to delve into.

Seth: What is Methods to Winning?

Ken: It’s what I perceived to be three of the top African-American cyclists that were around when I came into the sport. They were operating on three separate islands and I talked to them about the leverage of unity and coming together in telling our story and in order to negotiate better endorsements, to attack the industry as a single sum of riders as opposed to as individuals. We came together for that purpose, to try and work together, to have unity and leverage with the purpose of representation in a sport where we have always felt like raisins in milk, and to show the younger generation that there are people in cycling who look like you and that you can do this, too.

Seth: What do mean by tell the story?

Ken: Typically when you are the first at something, or alone, the experiences that one can have that are different from everyone else. Rahsaan being the first black kid from an African-American family with an African-American upbringing in a completely white sport. Something as simple as music, something as simple as “How do I communicate that I like this and not be ostracized because I like something different and be deemed ‘not a team player’?” Those things were important. The other thing was to be able to show kids that this is an alternative to what’s commonly perceived in the inner city. Basketball, football, track and field, rap, and drugs. Here’s a sport that you can do, that we have the ability for if we can get over the cost barriers, and there are people already in it who look like you with your background. Methods to Winning was a way to figure out how to operate within a community that had none of us in there. For me, I saw Rahsaan like Nelson Vails, a pioneer. And of course we always heard the criticism that “You don’t ride in the Tour,” but people don’t understand that they experienced culture shock, ostracism, and no means of communication, that existing processes didn’t work well in Europe, understanding and integrating different cultures.

Seth: What is significant about telling “your” story?

Ken: We’re looking for opportunities to be the ones sharing our story through various media. As you know with our bike racing movie project, “Chocolate Rockets,” the story was getting hijacked. With a story it’s either us telling it from our experiences and pespectives vs. a white person telling us how they perceive our experience. I don’t need you to tell me how you perceive my experience; I can tell you exactly what the hell I experienced, ok? That’s important because with a person telling their own story, if the listener wants to hear them and provide the platform, we can provide the nuance, the detail, the motivations, the hopes and dreams vs. what you perceived it to be. That is dramatically important to us, and Methods to Winning was planned so that Justin and Cory and the younger guys could go off to attack the pro arena; now they have a UCI-registered Pro Continental team. We’re trying to tell our story and create an environment that benefits everyone, we’re trying to give the sport a cool factor to attract people who come from where we come from. Baseball among blacks was deemed slow, hot, and played in the summer, so not many blacks comparatively go into the sport. Cycling has those appearance issues, you have to wear tights for example, we have to get over some things to make it cool. Justin and Cory, starting with Rahsaan, put their flair on clothes and bikes, changing the environment around the races and events. If you let us lead, this is what we can do.

Seth: What was the initial reaction to the formation of Methods to Winning?

Ken: Someone sent an email saying “How arrogant for you to say that you know how win.” I responded, “Well, these guys have won quite a few races, I think they know a thing or two about winning.” But I was pretty hot at first.

Seth: Would that have happened if you’d had a white team made up of riders with as many wins under their belt?

Ken: No. The perception is that when blacks come together it is to exclude everyone else. That’s never been the case. You can look at any movement, MLK, even Malcolm X, who turned the corner and was more inviting of people who wanted to see good for everyone. Coming together means elevating ourselves but not at the exclusion of you. The perception is exclusion and an attack on white people. Not all whites feel that way but some do. Our teams have always been diverse, we have done that on purpose. There was one time early on when we talked about having a team of black riders only but we were shooting it down as we talked it through. That’s not who we are. We wanted talent but talent doesn’t know any one color. The reception of Methods to Winning has been okay but we’ve had issues. You try and help sponsors shine with social media content showing the products you receive, but even so with that we got a lot of negative comments from accepting sponsored high end bikes/shoes/clothing because of the pricing, of Rapha clothing, for example. They expected us to affect the pricing. We still get that today.

Seth: Why is Lance not expected to decrease the cost of Nike shoes and Justin is?

Ken: It’s perceived that we came from nothing and now we have to lower the prices for everyone.

Seth: What about Steph Curry? Same expecations?

Ken: No. These things are perceived as cool but no one expects these guys to lower the price.

Seth: Why is Justin being criticized, then?

Ken: Short of racism, I don’t know. Since George Floyd, in trying to understand things in the era of Trump, there is a lot of subliminal privilege that people don’t understand they have, implicit biases they don’t know they have, and Trump touched on and brought those out of people and that plays a part in people seeing these guys get all this product that, in their view, they may not have “earned.”

Seth: How does Methods to Winning play in with Black History Month?

Seth: It seems like there’s a double standard. Black rides are denied the opportunity to ride during that tiny window of opportunity you have to groom a Pro Tour rider, and then when the door is shut, they’re criticized for never riding in the Tour, for only riding “domestic US races.”

Ken: Since Major Taylor, one of the things we’ve done through the Bahati Foundation is identify a chronology of cyclists of color. There was Major Taylor, there were some black women who did the first major group rides back in 1929, rode 250 miles, then there was Nelson Vails. We’ve been trying to identify riders of color up through Rahsaan. He wasn’t in the world tour but if he’d had the support and resources, could he have been? If he’d had the resources, where would he have been? And for Methods to Winning, if we can get the support and resources, where can we go? That ties in with Black History Month, if we can get equal support, equal laws, equal equal equal, where can we go? We make the sport better. As human beings we enhance the world if we have a fair opportunity.

Ken There’s a video of Justin talking about being in Europe and always being viewed as angry. You’re correct.

Seth: Where is Methods to Winning on its trajectory?

Ken: We said that in 3-5 years we wanted to use contacts first between Charon Smith, Rahsaan Bahati, and Justin Williams, and then with Cory Williams and the Nsek brothers. We started an academy team to identify young talent to fill the gap so that when they don’t cycle out of the training scene at 18/19 because they have nowhere to go. Imeh Nsek was the first rider, and through Rahsaan’s contacts we got him signed with the Arola cycling team in Europe, but then his father died and he returned to the the US. While there he won races. The next rider was through our activities at the Eldo race series, Nigel Desota. His pro contract with Nordisk came through Methods to Winning. He’s in his thirrd year as a pro and doing exceptionally well. Given the opportunity we can have success. The other thing was to go out and find sponsors through Rahsaan and Zwift. Justin formed Legion LA and got the funding to really do what we think the next step is: Produce a team on the Pro Conti level with the goal of seeing talent get picked up by World Tour teams. In 2021 we have an elite pro team with a UCI license, and of course we have the old farts racing around here doing masters racing. Our next step is to try and get the talent on the Pro Conti team seen, and maybe on the World Tour, while putting on events that we’d like to see, events where some of the major world talent will fly here to race. We have dreams.

Seth: How are you adapting to covid?

Ken: Lots of Zwifting and riding in smaller groups. Individual training has continued because of our work ethic. We’re excited to come out of covid and show what we can do if we have the opportunity to race.

Seth: There’s been a big shift from USA Cycling to BWR-type mixed racing events. How will Methods to Winning react?

Ken: The Belgian Waffle Ride is unique and an excellent opportunity to expose hackers to pro riders. Like our MVMNT rides where the fast guys ride with the slow guys. When I was at the BWR, after the ride everyone mingled. Those events are huge and we’re building a relationship with Michael Marckx on Circle of Doom. BWR is legitimate, good, and here to stay. For Methods to Winning, we have people who are now doing more MTB, ‘cross, and that’s through Ama and Imeh Nsek via Imperium Coaching. Ama won the BWR’s Wafer ride a couple of years ago.

Seth: What are Methods to Winning’s plans for 2021?

Ken: Race-wise we are trying to figure out a way to focus on the academy team to develop a diverse group of talent. It has been a challenge to find 18/19 year-olds, and we’ve started thinking about reaching an even younger audience. That’s why we’re working closely with the Bahati Foundation to plant the seeds to sprout the talent. We’ve thought about developing a pump track where kids can ride their bikes and get familiar with bike sports at a much earlier age. Of course in 2021 we’ll have a masters team and continue to try and put on events, including the Eldo race series if Long Beach City will permit it. We suffered a fatality at the end of 2019 and then with covid we’re hoping the city will permit the event for 2021, pushing back the start until late April or possibly May. It depends on covid and the racing calendar. We’re also looking into races at the velodrome, as well as e-racing on Zwift. We’re not sure what the world is going to allow; covid is with us for the foreseeable future.

Seth: Do you think there are structural racial barriers to achieving your goals?

Ken: I’d like to see us with more of a voice in the licensing body. USAC has contracted with EF Cycling to visit historically black colleges to recruit new riders of color. Really? We already have Nelson Vails, Rahsaan, Cory, Justin, Charon, Ayesha, Tanile, why isn’t USAC finding the top African-American talent and asking them to come speak to these crowds? We’ve been contacted by no one. Again, it’s USAC saying to blacks, “We want to tell you how to do it,” rather than having someone who looks like these kids and has the same background as these kids going out there and talking with them. We can do the job far better than they ever could. USAC got Reggie Miller as a spokesperson, but he’s a name from the NBA. Why wouldn’t you get Nelson Vails or a top African-American cyclist? Those things present challenges.

Seth: Does Methods to Winning face racial issues that white teams don’t face?

Ken: Here’s a scenario. There aren’t a lot of blacks in the local LA sport cycling scene. So you have a black guy who is vocal, perhaps there is an argument, and because there are only a few of us, whites assume that the few blacks they know are the moderators for everybody else who is black. We deal with that, being lumped together, and it doesn’t feel very good. If I have an issue with a white person I don’t have a white godfather to go to, and there’s no black godfather. White guy has a problem with a black guy, work it out with him. You’re both adults. What does it have to do with me?

Seth: Do you think that 2020 has affected race relations in the cycling community?

Ken: At first blush yes because I believe that if you can change one person then that’s a bonus. Some people only count change if the number is larger than one but in my personal experience there are several people who sought me out and we had frank and difficult conversations. President Trump motivated and brought an undercurrent to the forefront and that forced a lot of people to have conversations, facing the divide in the road or the elephant in the room. 2020 has opened communications that didn’t exist before, or it has made them more truthful.

Seth: What is it about Ken Vinson that makes Methods to Winning such a mission?

Ken: I was born in 1966 and am a child of the teachings of diversity and multiculturalism, that diversity strengthens us. I grew up with parents who taught us to hold our heads high and be proud of ourselves. Look past the people who treat you poorly to those who don’t. My high school was predominantly black, my college was mostly white, and those experiences were studies in diversity. Then I spent 26 years working in multi-level marketing and that forced me to interact with everyone. I appreciate people and believe in diversity and multiculturalism. I think we are stronger together and we need to be able to listen. An example is law enforcement. You see how whites are treated by law enforcement and a completely different outcome derives with people of color. That is just one thing that reflects that we have to listen and talk among each other, which in my opinion means white people listening to us and believing what we’re saying. In a lot of cop encounters we end up dead. The last four years we had someone who said “American First” at the exclusion of diversity and multiculturalism, it spoke to white people who felt threatened. MAGA spoke to us as exclusion whereas we seek to use the platform of cycling by taking prominent African-American cyclists and using their notoriety for social engagement that benefits cycling and our communities as a whole. MVMNT rides where people pedal through communities they’ve only seen on the news. Cycling interaction, people breaking bread, the All Clubs BBQ, everything we do at MTW is to try to bring people together.

Seth: Thanks, Ken!

Ken: My pleasure.

END

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Free(way) Ride. Take it easy.

November 11, 2019 § 1 Comment

There is no injunction more deeply carved for a bicyclist than this one: thou shalt not ride on the freeway.

But there I was, 115-ish miles in, 80-ish to go, launching down the on-ramp for Interstate 5 at Oceanside, destination Los Angeles. The Marine Corps doesn’t easily let you ride through Camp Pendleton anymore, so if you don’t have a special pass to ride through the base, CalTrans allows you to make the seven miles from Oceanside to Las Pulgas on the freeway.

It is fun, getting passed by 18-wheelers doing 75. However, I had a huge tailwind, most of the freeway was gently downhill, the shoulder was mostly clean, and there was tons of space between me and the traffic.

When I pulled off the freeway to continue along the bike path, heart still pounding, it was as if I’d been dropped off into a cocoon of silence. The path was empty, the day was well on its way to ending, and I still had a big chunk of riding to get home, notching what would be just under a 200-mile day.

The biggest part of the day, though, was the Peter Sagan Gran Roadie-Oh, a 90-mile fondo starring none other than … Peter Sagan.

As Dandy said while we were waiting to roll out, “Gonna be a lot of jock sniffing today.”

To which I said, “Thank dog I’ve got a big nose.”

I could tell you about this epic grand fondue which creator MMX has gone to great pains to NOT call a grand fondue. I could tell you about the start, which was exactly like a ProTour road race in its intensity + Cat 4s.

I could tell you about the bicycle falling off incident in Cousar Canyon, where the leaders all looked like they’d been victims at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre but only had road rash and a broken collarbone.

I could tell you about the VIP Event I wasn’t at or about the amazing night hosted by Bill Walton which I also wasn’t at or bowling with Sags, which I also wasn’t at.

I could tell you about the food, which was amazing, the venue, which was amazing-er, the studly moto antics of Ryan Dahl and Phil Tinstman, or the celeb photo shoot by Brian Hodes.

I could tell you about the perfect weather, the exciting vibe, the immaculate course, or even about Fortress Sags, where PS was holed up in a giant mobile luxury apartment bus in between autograph signings and selfies with fans.

Or I could tell you about getting shelled early, chasing all day, and finally catching the Sags group at a rest stop where they’d been filing their nails and translating War and Peace into Slovak.

I could tell you about riding with Sags and chatting with him for a good 20 minutes, about how his English is better than my Slovak, about his secret tips for how to become a champion masters racer, about his hometown of Zilina (where I almost went once), and about how he pulled over to the side of the road and took a whizz, not to mention getting dropped on the last climb up San Elijo.

And of course I could tell you about riding PCH home on Sunday night and the charms of bumper-to-bumper traffic from Dana Point to Huntington Beach.

But I won’t.

What I’m going to tell you about is excellence, the excellence that was on display at this event, and how it all came from mind to execution by Michael Marckx. It seems like only yesterday, when in fact it was 2012, that Michael left LA for San Diego. He got there unknown and not especially respected–such was (is?) the clannishness of the San Diego roadie scene.

A mere eight years later, he has indelibly branded “MMX” on road cycling in San Diego, in California, and I’d venture to say, in the U.S. What it took to partner up with Sagan on a few months’ notice, pull together the permits, and devise events to make it a three-day show are all impressive. Yet none of those things is as impressive as the vision, because vision is the yin to execution’s yang.

As with every other driven, high-performing mind, working in tandem with Michael isn’t easy, and I’m being nice. This makes it all the more extraordinary, because the team of people who made the event happen couldn’t have been more diverse in temperament, from happy volunteers, to grim number-crunchers, to exhausted t-shirt sales people, to Shelby Reynolds, who personally registered 59,285 people and did every single one with a smile while answering questions like, “Will there be a place to pee?” and “Can I have an xtra small t-shirt with an XXL collar?”

I could go on but should probably focus my admiration instead on the real proof of Michael’s genius: Sags was damned happy with the event. Like any other superstar, he’s been promised the moon often enough to rightly expect stinky cheese when the deliverables roll in. Can anyone say Tinkoff?

But this event really set a standard. Like every course MMX will ever design, this one, a pure-roadie only course, even had one tiny section of sand. You can put the boy in the bathtub, but you can’t get the grit out of his jockstrap. And the course was something that only Michael could’ve designed, calling upon what is unquestionably the most detailed, intricate knowledge of North County roads that any cyclist has ever had. Michael knows the roads turn by turn, how they affect the flow of a ride, where they provide vistas, where they plunge into tree-lined country lanes, where they are conducive to sprints, how much climb is too much, and how to leave you beat to shit at the end even if you just tried to “chill.”

You could tell how happy people were at every stage of the event. Unlike many grand fondues, populated by dour and vaguely dissatisfied old fellows grumbling over the entry fee and contents of the swag bag, the post-ride luncheon was like one big happy party. People got their money’s worth, and more importantly, they got their ride’s worth.

Whether they got their Sags groupie photo by hanging out at the bus, snapping it at one of the parties, or whether they did it the ultimate way, sucking the wheel of the greatest rider of his generation, you couldn’t help feeling like YOU’D gotten a tiny slice of getting to hang with a bona-fide superstar.

And it happened because Michael made it happen.

I asked Sags if he was coming back next year, and he said he would like to, which I suppose is Sags-speak for “it depends.” After this event he was flying to Cartagena for his second big fondo, in Colombia. “After I retire from racing I will have more time for these,” he said. Of course I am already circling the month of November for next year. Knowing Michael, the 2020 event will exceed 2019 by orders of magnitude.

And as for Sags having more time in the future? Maybe. When you’re personable, popular, and able to piss on the side of the road into the lens of 30 cameras, you might find out that in retirement you’re even more popular than you were in your prime, Peter.

Just sayin’.

END


BWR, DNF

May 6, 2019 § 26 Comments

“Are you sure you’re okay?” the nice man asked.

“What a strange question,” I thought, lying peacefully on the pavement, swimming in and out of semi-consciousness. “Oh, yeah, man, thanks. I’m fine.”

“Are you sure you don’t want a ride?” his wife asked. They bent over me as my eyes came into focus. My helmet was off and all I could feel was the beautiful sensation of not having to move. No pedaling. No jarring. No falling. Just me and the luscious, sweet, soft cement.

I considered their offer. On the one hand, I really did want a ride. On the other hand, I desperately wanted a ride. What do do? “Are you guys driving back to Lost Abbey?”

“Yes,” said the woman. “But we’re not going directly there. We’re following our son, who is also doing the BWR.”

“Also?” I wondered. “Does she mean that I’m doing the BWR, too? Oh, yeah, me. BWR. I’m a participant, too.” My brain couldn’t hold one single thought for more than a couple of seconds.

Mr. 4.75 Milan-San Remo

Two nights before I was having a beautiful evening on the showroom floor of Canyon Bicycles in Carlsbad. It is an amazing place, stuffed full as it is with beautiful bikes all shrieking “BUY ME NOW!” The showroom is state of the art, by which I mean they have an espresso machine, but on Friday evening we were eating a delicious catered meal, not drinking coffee, and listening to BWR Godfather Michael Marckx describe the intricacies of the course.

Before it had gotten underway Michael had come up and introduced a friend. “This is Erik,” he said.

“Hi, Erik,” I said.

“Erik’s son just won a stage in the Tour of Yorkshire yesterday,” he said.

I looked at Erik again. “Congratulations,” I said. “That’s awesome.”

“Thank you,” he answered.

After a few more seconds I put the face to all of the photos I’d seen over the years; it was none other than Eric Zabel, the four-time winner of MSR, or rather the 4.75-time winner as I like to call him, counting the time he threw his hands up in the air and got nipped at the line by Oscar Freire.

Erik works for Canyon and had come to San Diego to do his second Belgian Wafer Ride, as well as take the pulse of riders in the Tour of California in preparation for Tour selection in July. In addition to Erik, Pro Tour rider Peter Stetina was also there, along with riders like Ted King, Phil Gaimon, Brian McCulloch, and a host of other pros who were racing the BWR for its significant prize purse. By the time the evening had finished there were so many good vibes and so much happiness floating around that it seemed as if I’d already successfully finished my fifth waffle ride.

Was it even necessary for me to show up?

Optimally sub-optimal

My BWR prep had gone perfectly, at least in the category that matters most, the excuse prep category. I hadn’t trained for it. I’d been sick and in bed for the last ten days and had lost ten pounds. My mind was a mess due to ongoing personal drama. The last time I’d ridden off road was when I did the Wafer in 2018. In a fit of insanity I had replaced my knobby ‘cross tires with 28mm road slicks. I had decided to use road shoes and pedals instead of my ‘cross pedals. In other words, my excuse game was strong.

I had been placed in the first wave of riders, which included 310 Pro/Cat 1/Cat 2 racers plus me and Alain Mazer. We looked at each other as we bunched for the start. Alan is one of five riders who has completed (now) all eight Waffles. “How’s your prep this year?” I asked.

“Doubled my mileage from last year,” he smirked.

“How many is that?”

“I’m up to 340 total miles for 2019.” He slapped his belly and grinned.

“It’s going to start out hot,” I said.

“Yes, but as for me, no matches will be burned.”

I knew what he meant. He was going to set the throttle at “finish” and plod his way over 11 or 12 hours to the end. No heroics for him. He was old. He was slow. And he was smart.

Ready, set, sprint

My advice for anyone who plans to do the BWR in the future is this: You better be able to race an all-out, 100% effort for eleven miles before the real race starts, because it’s eleven miles to the first dirt section, and the riders literally race for it. I was gasping trying to hang onto the end, wondering why? Why was I not simply burning matches, but throwing the entire matchbook into the fire at the beginning of a death ride? Every watt used now would be a hundred watts at mile 120, when the ride became truly difficult.

No matter, I’ve been racing too long to sit up when the group hammers, and so I figured I’d cross the bridge of collapse when, not if, I came to it. I’d been here before.

We hit the first dirt section and it was chaos as ten riders bolted up the trail and 300 got off their bikes and waited their turn to enter the single track. One dude dropped his shorts and began taking a huge dump in the weeds.

“Nerves?” someone shouted at him.

“Not anymore!” he said.

Everyone shuddered at what his chamois situation was going to be like for the next 8-9 hours, and worse, anyone unlucky enough to have to sit his wheel.

I waited my turn and struggled up Lemontwistenberg, the line of riders clumping, then breaking apart, then clumping again. By the time I crested the top I was alone and I started to wonder when I’d get overtaken by Wave 2 and another 300+ mad dirt maniacs. Plus, I was exhausted already and my poor tire choice, combined with terrible dirt skills, had already come close to sending me off the edge of the trail and down the mountainside.

“Well,” I thought, “at least I’ve only got 123 miles to go.”

The watering hole

By the time I hit the Lake Hodges trail, the mixed mass of waves 2 and 3 overtook me, long lines of riders screaming “On your left!” as I timidly tried to find a line and give them space to blow by without hooking my bars.

At the bottom of the trail is a low water crossing and it looked like a watering hole on the Serengeti, with more than a hundred people clopping around in the mud, falling off in the water, or timidly trying to figure out how to cross without wetting their socks. I picked the far right mud line and shot through, for the first time all morning feeling confident and good.

And the last.

More dirt followed and hundreds more riders flew by until we dumped out onto Hidden Valley, a murderous 6-mile climb that is mercifully on asphalt. Now my road tires worked wonders and I began passing countless of the riders who had passed me earlier. After the climb I fell in with a guy named Colin Carrington who motored the entire way into Ramona, joining up with a group of about 25. I sat at the back and enjoyed the draft. “This isn’t going to be so bad,” I lied to myself. “It’s going to be over pretty soon,” I lied to myself. “The BWR isn’t as hard as I remembered,” I lied to myself.

We reached the aid station at the bottom of Black Canyon, a 6-mile brutal dirt climb that is thankfully on hard-packed, well-graded dirt. I blew through the aid station while the mortals and weaklings stopped. “Water and food,” I sneered, “what a joke.”

Fear and loathing in North County

In less than a mile I had slowed to a crawl. Someone had forgotten that the road was supposed to be hard packed; instead it was a deep sand pit–no problem for everyone with tubeless gravel tires, no problem for everyone with mad dirt skills, but a massive problem for me, who had neither.

My tires slid and twisted and there was no good line. I was knotted atop my bike like a fist, but that was nothing compared to the descent, which my knife-sharp, rock-hard tires turned into a free fall. And the riders bombed by me at twice or triple my speed, some with more speed than skill, as one dude fell in front of me, putting his neck immediately in front of my tire.

Fortunately I was going granny slow and steered around his terrified face before stopping. “You okay?” I asked.

He hopped up. “Yeah, man!” and zoomed off, seeking death around perhaps the next curve.

A bit farther another rider was seated on a rock with a broken arm, covered in blood as a CHP moto radioed for the ambulance. I was already stiff and frozen from being in a constant clench of fear. At the end of the dirt there was another aid station, but somehow I wasn’t contemptuous of the water and food anymore, and not simply because all the riders who had stopped earlier had passed me ages ago.

My food prep for the morning had been a cup of coffee and two eggs, all of which had been incinerated in the first 11-mile TT.

The better you feel, the closer the collapse

I got on the asphalt again and fell in with a group of about 20 riders. Suddenly my legs came around. It was magical and I throttled it, shelling rider after rider until there were only four left in our group, the other three unable to take a pull.

“This is odd,” I thought. “Why do I feel so good? How long can it last? How much farther is there to go? Maybe I should slow down?”

We turned off the highway and went through the back side of the dam until we hit more dirt. My companions left me, easily, and so did my legs. By the time I finished the dirt descent all of the riders I’d so gloriously shelled had blown by me forever, which is another truth of the BWR: If you can’t go well on all surface types, you will be miserable.

Out of water I stopped at a VeloFix van and got some drink mix. The VeloFix people saved a bunch of lives yesterday …

Laboring up the deep sandy pitch, barely staying upright, I was passed by Dandy Andy. We chatted. He’d stopped for over an hour to help the guy with the broken arm and still caught me. Confidence builder … then he easily rode away.

After what seemed like twelve hours I reached the end of the dirt climb, descended through more soft dirt terror, and hit another aid station. Nature called. I answered, and I hope to never be as happy and as at peace with the world as the fifteen minutes I sat locked in the little blue can, where everything was quiet, where I didn’t have to pedal, where I could just not move.

Only 35 to go!

That’s what Ken said as I staggered out of the next aid station at the end of the Mule Trail. “You got this!” he said.

I knew I didn’t have it. 35 miles meant another three hours because it was more huge dirt. The Lemontwistenberg sector that had started the madness now, along with the Serengeti Watering Hole, got ridden in reverse along with a horrible rock garden. If you survived that, you still had Questhaven and the monster of Double Peak. Survival wasn’t looking likely as I pedaled away.

On the rock garden section I continually unclipped, and my road shoes made it hard to get out, hard to get in. Every line I chose was the wrong one. My tires had quit pretending. I was now cursing out loud and going so slowly that at times I was barely faster than a walk.

Then I noticed that my bike was tilting to the right. No matter what I did, it tilted to the right. How as that even possible. And my glasses weren’t working properly anymore because everything was doubling up. I made a note to get new glasses, and at one point I got off and actually checked my bike to see if it was really leaning to the right.

I caught myself. “Bikes don’t ‘lean’ to one side or another, Seth.”

The reverse section of Lemontwistenberg has a steep wall punctuated with sharp, large rocks, and I fell, slowly and heavily, on my right hip. I lay there, eagerly awaiting the pain to hit from my shattered femur, because as much as I knew I would hate breaking my hip, it was far preferable to continuing even another foot forward on this miserable bike ride.

A guy came by. “You’re hurt,” he said.

I didn’t say anything, hoping the pain from the broken leg would kick in.

“Can you move?” he asked.

“Let me see,” I said.

He helped me get unclipped and to my horror I hadn’t broken anything. A scuff and a bruise and now I had to continue.

Another mile on I passed a big wall of vegetation on the right. “I bet at least one idiot has ridden off into that today,” I mused. At that instant my front tire hit a patch of loose gravel and I shot off into the bushes, ass in the air, just as a group of twenty riders pedaled by. No one said a word. I lay face first in the shrubbery, breathing in the smell of the fresh green leaves and the thorns in my side. Heaven.

No mas

A long time later I finished the tailwind section on Del Dios Highway and made the left-hander that would take me to Elfin Forest and then Questhaven. That’s when I spied the nice lady whose husband gave me some water and who was now looking over me, asking if I wanted a ride.

I knew that even though it would be awesome to quit, I’d have to sit in their van while they followed their successful son, cheering him for his perseverance and for not being a quitter as I said in the back, quitting all over again at every stop.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”

They drove off and I pondered what I had really meant by “fine.” “Dead,” I thought. “What I meant was ‘I’ll be dead.'”

I lay on the soft cement for another few minutes and remounted. Less than a quarter mile later I rode over a nail and got my first ever BWR flat, to go along with the slow leaks I had going in my right and left legs. I cursed some more and started changing the flat. Riders passed and no one made eye contact. It was so late in the ride, people were so drained, and the end was so near-yet-far that no one even pretended to care.

“Sucks to be you, you non-tubeless wanker,” they must have thought.

In mid-multi-syllabic curse a red car with a bike rack drove by. I flagged the guy down. I was done. “Can I get a lift?” I pleaded.

“Sure. Where to?”

“Lost Abbey Brewing.”

“Yeah, of course. We’re actually driving by there.”

The guy and his wife, Jason and Rebecca, listened appreciatively as I rehearsed my well-prepped list of excuses. “Well, you did good getting as far as you did,” he said.

I thought about that for a second. The ride was over. I hadn’t broken anything. No one gave two broken fucks about whether I finished or not.

Maybe he was right.

_________________________________

END

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BWR, DNF

May 6, 2019 § 26 Comments

“Are you sure you’re okay?” the nice man asked.

“What a strange question,” I thought, lying peacefully on the pavement, swimming in and out of semi-consciousness. “Oh, yeah, man, thanks. I’m fine.”

“Are you sure you don’t want a ride?” his wife asked. They bent over me as my eyes came into focus. My helmet was off and all I could feel was the beautiful sensation of not having to move. No pedaling. No jarring. No falling. Just me and the luscious, sweet, soft cement.

I considered their offer. On the one hand, I really did want a ride. On the other hand, I desperately wanted a ride. What do do? “Are you guys driving back to Lost Abbey?”

“Yes,” said the woman. “But we’re not going directly there. We’re following our son, who is also doing the BWR.”

“Also?” I wondered. “Does she mean that I’m doing the BWR, too? Oh, yeah, me. BWR. I’m a participant, too.” My brain couldn’t hold one single thought for more than a couple of seconds.

Mr. 4.75 Milan-San Remo

Two nights before I was having a beautiful evening on the showroom floor of Canyon Bicycles in Carlsbad. It is an amazing place, stuffed full as it is with beautiful bikes all shrieking “BUY ME NOW!” The showroom is state of the art, by which I mean they have an espresso machine, but on Friday evening we were eating a delicious catered meal, not drinking coffee, and listening to BWR Godfather Michael Marckx describe the intricacies of the course.

Before it had gotten underway Michael had come up and introduced a friend. “This is Erik,” he said.

“Hi, Erik,” I said.

“Erik’s son just won a stage in the Tour of Yorkshire yesterday,” he said.

I looked at Erik again. “Congratulations,” I said. “That’s awesome.”

“Thank you,” he answered.

After a few more seconds I put the face to all of the photos I’d seen over the years; it was none other than Eric Zabel, the four-time winner of MSR, or rather the 4.75-time winner as I like to call him, counting the time he threw his hands up in the air and got nipped at the line by Oscar Freire.

Erik works for Canyon and had come to San Diego to do his second Belgian Wafer Ride, as well as take the pulse of riders in the Tour of California in preparation for Tour selection in July. In addition to Erik, Pro Tour rider Peter Stetina was also there, along with riders like Ted King, Phil Gaimon, Brian McCulloch, and a host of other pros who were racing the BWR for its significant prize purse. By the time the evening had finished there were so many good vibes and so much happiness floating around that it seemed as if I’d already successfully finished my fifth waffle ride.

Was it even necessary for me to show up?

Optimally sub-optimal

My BWR prep had gone perfectly, at least in the category that matters most, the excuse prep category. I hadn’t trained for it. I’d been sick and in bed for the last ten days and had lost ten pounds. My mind was a mess due to ongoing personal drama. The last time I’d ridden off road was when I did the Wafer in 2018. In a fit of insanity I had replaced my knobby ‘cross tires with 28mm road slicks. I had decided to use road shoes and pedals instead of my ‘cross pedals. In other words, my excuse game was strong.

I had been placed in the first wave of riders, which included 310 Pro/Cat 1/Cat 2 racers plus me and Alain Mazer. We looked at each other as we bunched for the start. Alan is one of five riders who has completed (now) all eight Waffles. “How’s your prep this year?” I asked.

“Doubled my mileage from last year,” he smirked.

“How many is that?”

“I’m up to 340 total miles for 2019.” He slapped his belly and grinned.

“It’s going to start out hot,” I said.

“Yes, but as for me, no matches will be burned.”

I knew what he meant. He was going to set the throttle at “finish” and plod his way over 11 or 12 hours to the end. No heroics for him. He was old. He was slow. And he was smart.

Ready, set, sprint

My advice for anyone who plans to do the BWR in the future is this: You better be able to race an all-out, 100% effort for eleven miles before the real race starts, because it’s eleven miles to the first dirt section, and the riders literally race for it. I was gasping trying to hang onto the end, wondering why? Why was I not simply burning matches, but throwing the entire matchbook into the fire at the beginning of a death ride? Every watt used now would be a hundred watts at mile 120, when the ride became truly difficult.

No matter, I’ve been racing too long to sit up when the group hammers, and so I figured I’d cross the bridge of collapse when, not if, I came to it. I’d been here before.

We hit the first dirt section and it was chaos as ten riders bolted up the trail and 300 got off their bikes and waited their turn to enter the single track. One dude dropped his shorts and began taking a huge dump in the weeds.

“Nerves?” someone shouted at him.

“Not anymore!” he said.

Everyone shuddered at what his chamois situation was going to be like for the next 8-9 hours, and worse, anyone unlucky enough to have to sit his wheel.

I waited my turn and struggled up Lemontwistenberg, the line of riders clumping, then breaking apart, then clumping again. By the time I crested the top I was alone and I started to wonder when I’d get overtaken by Wave 2 and another 300+ mad dirt maniacs. Plus, I was exhausted already and my poor tire choice, combined with terrible dirt skills, had already come close to sending me off the edge of the trail and down the mountainside.

“Well,” I thought, “at least I’ve only got 123 miles to go.”

The watering hole

By the time I hit the Lake Hodges trail, the mixed mass of waves 2 and 3 overtook me, long lines of riders screaming “On your left!” as I timidly tried to find a line and give them space to blow by without hooking my bars.

At the bottom of the trail is a low water crossing and it looked like a watering hole on the Serengeti, with more than a hundred people clopping around in the mud, falling off in the water, or timidly trying to figure out how to cross without wetting their socks. I picked the far right mud line and shot through, for the first time all morning feeling confident and good.

And the last.

More dirt followed and hundreds more riders flew by until we dumped out onto Hidden Valley, a murderous 6-mile climb that is mercifully on asphalt. Now my road tires worked wonders and I began passing countless of the riders who had passed me earlier. After the climb I fell in with a guy named Colin Carrington who motored the entire way into Ramona, joining up with a group of about 25. I sat at the back and enjoyed the draft. “This isn’t going to be so bad,” I lied to myself. “It’s going to be over pretty soon,” I lied to myself. “The BWR isn’t as hard as I remembered,” I lied to myself.

We reached the aid station at the bottom of Black Canyon, a 6-mile brutal dirt climb that is thankfully on hard-packed, well-graded dirt. I blew through the aid station while the mortals and weaklings stopped. “Water and food,” I sneered, “what a joke.”

Fear and loathing in North County

In less than a mile I had slowed to a crawl. Someone had forgotten that the road was supposed to be hard packed; instead it was a deep sand pit–no problem for everyone with tubeless gravel tires, no problem for everyone with mad dirt skills, but a massive problem for me, who had neither.

My tires slid and twisted and there was no good line. I was knotted atop my bike like a fist, but that was nothing compared to the descent, which my knife-sharp, rock-hard tires turned into a free fall. And the riders bombed by me at twice or triple my speed, some with more speed than skill, as one dude fell in front of me, putting his neck immediately in front of my tire.

Fortunately I was going granny slow and steered around his terrified face before stopping. “You okay?” I asked.

He hopped up. “Yeah, man!” and zoomed off, seeking death around perhaps the next curve.

A bit farther another rider was seated on a rock with a broken arm, covered in blood as a CHP moto radioed for the ambulance. I was already stiff and frozen from being in a constant clench of fear. At the end of the dirt there was another aid station, but somehow I wasn’t contemptuous of the water and food anymore, and not simply because all the riders who had stopped earlier had passed me ages ago.

My food prep for the morning had been a cup of coffee and two eggs, all of which had been incinerated in the first 11-mile TT.

The better you feel, the closer the collapse

I got on the asphalt again and fell in with a group of about 20 riders. Suddenly my legs came around. It was magical and I throttled it, shelling rider after rider until there were only four left in our group, the other three unable to take a pull.

“This is odd,” I thought. “Why do I feel so good? How long can it last? How much farther is there to go? Maybe I should slow down?”

We turned off the highway and went through the back side of the dam until we hit more dirt. My companions left me, easily, and so did my legs. By the time I finished the dirt descent all of the riders I’d so gloriously shelled had blown by me forever, which is another truth of the BWR: If you can’t go well on all surface types, you will be miserable.

Out of water I stopped at a VeloFix van and got some drink mix. The VeloFix people saved a bunch of lives yesterday …

Laboring up the deep sandy pitch, barely staying upright, I was passed by Dandy Andy. We chatted. He’d stopped for over an hour to help the guy with the broken arm and still caught me. Confidence builder … then he easily rode away.

After what seemed like twelve hours I reached the end of the dirt climb, descended through more soft dirt terror, and hit another aid station. Nature called. I answered, and I hope to never be as happy and as at peace with the world as the fifteen minutes I sat locked in the little blue can, where everything was quiet, where I didn’t have to pedal, where I could just not move.

Only 35 to go!

That’s what Ken said as I staggered out of the next aid station at the end of the Mule Trail. “You got this!” he said.

I knew I didn’t have it. 35 miles meant another three hours because it was more huge dirt. The Lemontwistenberg sector that had started the madness now, along with the Serengeti Watering Hole, got ridden in reverse along with a horrible rock garden. If you survived that, you still had Questhaven and the monster of Double Peak. Survival wasn’t looking likely as I pedaled away.

On the rock garden section I continually unclipped, and my road shoes made it hard to get out, hard to get in. Every line I chose was the wrong one. My tires had quit pretending. I was now cursing out loud and going so slowly that at times I was barely faster than a walk.

Then I noticed that my bike was tilting to the right. No matter what I did, it tilted to the right. How as that even possible. And my glasses weren’t working properly anymore because everything was doubling up. I made a note to get new glasses, and at one point I got off and actually checked my bike to see if it was really leaning to the right.

I caught myself. “Bikes don’t ‘lean’ to one side or another, Seth.”

The reverse section of Lemontwistenberg has a steep wall punctuated with sharp, large rocks, and I fell, slowly and heavily, on my right hip. I lay there, eagerly awaiting the pain to hit from my shattered femur, because as much as I knew I would hate breaking my hip, it was far preferable to continuing even another foot forward on this miserable bike ride.

A guy came by. “You’re hurt,” he said.

I didn’t say anything, hoping the pain from the broken leg would kick in.

“Can you move?” he asked.

“Let me see,” I said.

He helped me get unclipped and to my horror I hadn’t broken anything. A scuff and a bruise and now I had to continue.

Another mile on I passed a big wall of vegetation on the right. “I bet at least one idiot has ridden off into that today,” I mused. At that instant my front tire hit a patch of loose gravel and I shot off into the bushes, ass in the air, just as a group of twenty riders pedaled by. No one said a word. I lay face first in the shrubbery, breathing in the smell of the fresh green leaves and the thorns in my side. Heaven.

No mas

A long time later I finished the tailwind section on Del Dios Highway and made the left-hander that would take me to Elfin Forest and then Questhaven. That’s when I spied the nice lady whose husband gave me some water and who was now looking over me, asking if I wanted a ride.

I knew that even though it would be awesome to quit, I’d have to sit in their van while they followed their successful son, cheering him for his perseverance and for not being a quitter as I said in the back, quitting all over again at every stop.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”

They drove off and I pondered what I had really meant by “fine.” “Dead,” I thought. “What I meant was ‘I’ll be dead.'”

I lay on the soft cement for another few minutes and remounted. Less than a quarter mile later I rode over a nail and got my first ever BWR flat, to go along with the slow leaks I had going in my right and left legs. I cursed some more and started changing the flat. Riders passed and no one made eye contact. It was so late in the ride, people were so drained, and the end was so near-yet-far that no one even pretended to care.

“Sucks to be you, you non-tubeless wanker,” they must have thought.

In mid-multi-syllabic curse a red car with a bike rack drove by. I flagged the guy down. I was done. “Can I get a lift?” I pleaded.

“Sure. Where to?”

“Lost Abbey Brewing.”

“Yeah, of course. We’re actually driving by there.”

The guy and his wife, Jason and Rebecca, listened appreciatively as I rehearsed my well-prepped list of excuses. “Well, you did good getting as far as you did,” he said.

I thought about that for a second. The ride was over. I hadn’t broken anything. No one gave two broken fucks about whether I finished or not.

Maybe he was right.

_________________________________

END

BWR: To tubeless or not to tubeless?

April 23, 2019 Comments Off on BWR: To tubeless or not to tubeless?

Hi, Wanky Dude!

I am doing my first ever Belgian Waffle Ride in a couple of weeks and am super excited about it. I like waffles and I like riding and Belgians are okay as long as they bathe occasionally, so this seems like the perfect ride for me.

Question–what kind of tires should I run? Thinking about switching to tubeless but I’m not sure it’s expensive, new wheelset and everything and I’m pretty handy changing a flat, so with your extensive BWR experience what do you recommend? Tubeless really seem to be the way to go here.

Tirelessly,
Tony Tipsnitch

Dear Tony:

Lots of first-time BWR-ers ask this question because it diverts from the real question, which is, “How much have you actually been training?” when we know the answer is “Hardly at all but I’ve been spending a lot of time on the chat forums and Amazon.”

Essentially for you it won’t matter what kind of tire you “run” because you are doomed to DNF and are in fact a pretty solid candidate to DNS. Tires don’t have anything to do with the Belgian Waffle Ride. They don’t matter at all.

Incredible as that may sound, let me give you a brief history of bicycle tires. They used to be made of leather before they were “improved” into iron. Yeah, you read that right. The first velocipedes had spoked wooden hoops covered with iron on the outside, and the roads, if they had any paving at all, were cobblestones. And the bikes weighed 70-80 pounds or more. And the cyclists rode them for a lot farther over lots harder ground than sunny San Diego in May.

Progress being progress, Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber, which allowed ingenious people who didn’t like having their bones shattered every time the pedals went ’round to put a thin solid layer of rubber around the steel wheel. Mind you, there was no air inside the rubber. It was just hard fucking rubber and miserable beyond words but quite a bit less miserable than steel. Migraines, yes, stress fractures, fewer.

During those days, when the penny-farthing was the only game in town and people rode hundreds, then thousands of miles on roads so horrible you can scarcely imagine, cyclists didn’t worry about their “tires.” What they worried about were “headers,” where you tumble off the front of the penny-farthing head-first and get a permanent brain injury or a spot of death.

Eventually John Dunlop came up with a bike tire in 1887 that was inflatable by using an inner tube. Everyone agreed then, and has agreed ever since, that a cushiony inner tube beats all hell out of iron tires and brain injuries.

My point is not that you are kind of a whiny, spoiled wuss for nattering about your tires, which you clearly are. My point is that the word “tire” is an abbreviation for the word “attire.” Yes, back in the day the “tire” attired the bare wheel. It was a kind of froofy dress-up thing, like guys with plucked eyebrows. Frivolous but hey you are in L.A. and so I guess it’s okay.

This is kind of the same thing with your question about what tire to attire your BWR wheels with. Since you are a froofy kind of person, I’d go with whatever is froofiest, which is probably tubeless, a thing that pairs well with chicken, Bearnaise sauce, and words like “brainless,” “gutless,” and my favorite for BWR first-timers, “hopeless.”

On the other hand, if you want to do the BWR in the spirit with which it was created, you should consider attiring your wheels with leather or iron. You will not get far but people will GTF out of your way when you come screaming down the Lake Hodges rock garden on leather tires. And when you hit Lemontwistenberg with those iron hoops you will not need to hop the curb because your tire will smash the cement into sand.

So to sum up, tubeless for froof, leather/iron for hard people.

Your call.

______________________

END

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BWR: To tubeless or not to tubeless?

April 23, 2019 Comments Off on BWR: To tubeless or not to tubeless?

Hi, Wanky Dude!

I am doing my first ever Belgian Waffle Ride in a couple of weeks and am super excited about it. I like waffles and I like riding and Belgians are okay as long as they bathe occasionally, so this seems like the perfect ride for me.

Question–what kind of tires should I run? Thinking about switching to tubeless but I’m not sure it’s expensive, new wheelset and everything and I’m pretty handy changing a flat, so with your extensive BWR experience what do you recommend? Tubeless really seem to be the way to go here.

Tirelessly,
Tony Tipsnitch

Dear Tony:

Lots of first-time BWR-ers ask this question because it diverts from the real question, which is, “How much have you actually been training?” when we know the answer is “Hardly at all but I’ve been spending a lot of time on the chat forums and Amazon.”

Essentially for you it won’t matter what kind of tire you “run” because you are doomed to DNF and are in fact a pretty solid candidate to DNS. Tires don’t have anything to do with the Belgian Waffle Ride. They don’t matter at all.

Incredible as that may sound, let me give you a brief history of bicycle tires. They used to be made of leather before they were “improved” into iron. Yeah, you read that right. The first velocipedes had spoked wooden hoops covered with iron on the outside, and the roads, if they had any paving at all, were cobblestones. And the bikes weighed 70-80 pounds or more. And the cyclists rode them for a lot farther over lots harder ground than sunny San Diego in May.

Progress being progress, Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber, which allowed ingenious people who didn’t like having their bones shattered every time the pedals went ’round to put a thin solid layer of rubber around the steel wheel. Mind you, there was no air inside the rubber. It was just hard fucking rubber and miserable beyond words but quite a bit less miserable than steel. Migraines, yes, stress fractures, fewer.

During those days, when the penny-farthing was the only game in town and people rode hundreds, then thousands of miles on roads so horrible you can scarcely imagine, cyclists didn’t worry about their “tires.” What they worried about were “headers,” where you tumble off the front of the penny-farthing head-first and get a permanent brain injury or a spot of death.

Eventually John Dunlop came up with a bike tire in 1887 that was inflatable by using an inner tube. Everyone agreed then, and has agreed ever since, that a cushiony inner tube beats all hell out of iron tires and brain injuries.

My point is not that you are kind of a whiny, spoiled wuss for nattering about your tires, which you clearly are. My point is that the word “tire” is an abbreviation for the word “attire.” Yes, back in the day the “tire” attired the bare wheel. It was a kind of froofy dress-up thing, like guys with plucked eyebrows. Frivolous but hey you are in L.A. and so I guess it’s okay.

This is kind of the same thing with your question about what tire to attire your BWR wheels with. Since you are a froofy kind of person, I’d go with whatever is froofiest, which is probably tubeless, a thing that pairs well with chicken, Bearnaise sauce, and words like “brainless,” “gutless,” and my favorite for BWR first-timers, “hopeless.”

On the other hand, if you want to do the BWR in the spirit with which it was created, you should consider attiring your wheels with leather or iron. You will not get far but people will GTF out of your way when you come screaming down the Lake Hodges rock garden on leather tires. And when you hit Lemontwistenberg with those iron hoops you will not need to hop the curb because your tire will smash the cement into sand.

So to sum up, tubeless for froof, leather/iron for hard people.

Your call.

______________________

END

Slog

April 14, 2019 § 2 Comments

It is hard to keep going.

The road doesn’t always seem like it’s going to end.

And when it does, the finish may be … not good.

Some people keep pushing while others fall by the wayside. It’s not a matter of superiority. Often it is simply a matter of being unable to quit. Always, it is a kind of perverse doggedness, seen by some as an attribute, by others as a foul curse.

The slog started in 2012, in an industrial parking lot in Carlsbad, California. How it finished and all that stuff, who started, who quit, who purple-carded, that has all been catalogued somewhere and mostly forgotten.

But in 2019 the slog continues, still rolling out from an industrial parking lot, but now accompanied by well over a thousand riders and the extraordinary infrastructure and planning that it takes to launch the annual Belgian Waffle Ride. Most people rightly think that the ride is the slog. Those who have completed it know that “slog” understates it by orders of magnitude. Those who have won it stay mostly silent. The beating speaks for itself.

The bigger slog, though, is the focus, dedication, and sense of purpose that have driven the ride’s progenitor, Michael Marckx, to keep pounding on. Because the moment each year’s production ends, the next year’s begins.

The gran fondo world is a competitive one. Iconic rides such as Levi’s Gran Fondo once sold all 7,000 spots in a matter of hours. Today that same ride is not much larger than most others, and smaller than many.

The Belgian Waffle Ride, however, continues to attract, year in and year out, well over a thousand riders–and more than the numbers, the breadth and the depth of the event continue to grow. Tour de France riders, current professional road racers, international caliber ‘cross racers, and local talent of the highest order fill out the fast end of the BWR’s ranks every single year.

Why? Because the BWR’s course, which changes every year, can’t simply be cobbled together by looking at a map and “going out and doing it.” It’s a ride where an overarching plan backed with coordination by local, county, and state agencies is the backbone upon which the event is hung.

People who want to combine the speed of road riding with the rough-and-tumble battery of sand, rocks, and lots of dirt know that this is the only ride in America where you can get all of that plus well over 12,000 feet of climbing in a marked, supported, turnkey adventure. And it really is an adventure in the true sense of the word: You have no idea how it’s going to end.

This is all by design, because the one thing that Michael has hewed closely to in every single edition of the BWR is that it will be like no other day you spend on the bike, even if you do it every single year. The difficulty, the changing course, and the variations in your own preparation will leave you spent–hopefully intact, but you do sign a waiver.

Slogging your way through eight years of vision to consistently produce a better event is its own kind of mania, especially when you consider that the BWR is executed by a tiny handful of people supported by a vast staff of volunteers. Leaving aside the difficulties of obtaining permits, some of which in past years came through on the eve of the event, and forgetting the vagaries of weather which can be catastrophic, putting together something of this scope means dealing with an infinity of details, not to mention personalities.

Why the singular focus? I’ve never asked Michael, but I’ve ridden with him enough to know that the BWR reflects his approach to cycling. Don’t take the easy way. Don’t tap out when it’s grim. Do your part.

The BWR is as far from the easy way as you can get. Tapping out is of course up to you. And when the ride fractures into grupettos early on, some will do their part and some will sit in for as long as they can. Yet the DNA of the ride is one of a slog, some fast, some less so, and some riders wrapping it up long after the sun has set.

After years of watching the BWR issue forth and then issue forth again, I can also say that it reflects Michael’s obsession with quality. It’s not enough to have a good ride where things mostly go right. The ideal is almost like one of Plato’s forms, an idealization of “ride” in which reality partakes of the ideal to obtain its identity.

Each year is a new attempt to reach perfection, to deliver something better, harder, more challenging, yet still more satisfying than the thing that went before. The willingness to slog is more common than we recognize and the annual BWR roster proves it. But the willingness to slog coupled with the drive to slog in perfection … that is a rare, rare thing, and it’s the ethos of this ride.

_______________

END


Slog

April 14, 2019 § 2 Comments

It is hard to keep going.

The road doesn’t always seem like it’s going to end.

And when it does, the finish may be … not good.

Some people keep pushing while others fall by the wayside. It’s not a matter of superiority. Often it is simply a matter of being unable to quit. Always, it is a kind of perverse doggedness, seen by some as an attribute, by others as a foul curse.

The slog started in 2012, in an industrial parking lot in Carlsbad, California. How it finished and all that stuff, who started, who quit, who purple-carded, that has all been catalogued somewhere and mostly forgotten.

But in 2019 the slog continues, still rolling out from an industrial parking lot, but now accompanied by well over a thousand riders and the extraordinary infrastructure and planning that it takes to launch the annual Belgian Waffle Ride. Most people rightly think that the ride is the slog. Those who have completed it know that “slog” understates it by orders of magnitude. Those who have won it stay mostly silent. The beating speaks for itself.

The bigger slog, though, is the focus, dedication, and sense of purpose that have driven the ride’s progenitor, Michael Marckx, to keep pounding on. Because the moment each year’s production ends, the next year’s begins.

The gran fondo world is a competitive one. Iconic rides such as Levi’s Gran Fondo once sold all 7,000 spots in a matter of hours. Today that same ride is not much larger than most others, and smaller than many.

The Belgian Waffle Ride, however, continues to attract, year in and year out, well over a thousand riders–and more than the numbers, the breadth and the depth of the event continue to grow. Tour de France riders, current professional road racers, international caliber ‘cross racers, and local talent of the highest order fill out the fast end of the BWR’s ranks every single year.

Why? Because the BWR’s course, which changes every year, can’t simply be cobbled together by looking at a map and “going out and doing it.” It’s a ride where an overarching plan backed with coordination by local, county, and state agencies is the backbone upon which the event is hung.

People who want to combine the speed of road riding with the rough-and-tumble battery of sand, rocks, and lots of dirt know that this is the only ride in America where you can get all of that plus well over 12,000 feet of climbing in a marked, supported, turnkey adventure. And it really is an adventure in the true sense of the word: You have no idea how it’s going to end.

This is all by design, because the one thing that Michael has hewed closely to in every single edition of the BWR is that it will be like no other day you spend on the bike, even if you do it every single year. The difficulty, the changing course, and the variations in your own preparation will leave you spent–hopefully intact, but you do sign a waiver.

Slogging your way through eight years of vision to consistently produce a better event is its own kind of mania, especially when you consider that the BWR is executed by a tiny handful of people supported by a vast staff of volunteers. Leaving aside the difficulties of obtaining permits, some of which in past years came through on the eve of the event, and forgetting the vagaries of weather which can be catastrophic, putting together something of this scope means dealing with an infinity of details, not to mention personalities.

Why the singular focus? I’ve never asked Michael, but I’ve ridden with him enough to know that the BWR reflects his approach to cycling. Don’t take the easy way. Don’t tap out when it’s grim. Do your part.

The BWR is as far from the easy way as you can get. Tapping out is of course up to you. And when the ride fractures into grupettos early on, some will do their part and some will sit in for as long as they can. Yet the DNA of the ride is one of a slog, some fast, some less so, and some riders wrapping it up long after the sun has set.

After years of watching the BWR issue forth and then issue forth again, I can also say that it reflects Michael’s obsession with quality. It’s not enough to have a good ride where things mostly go right. The ideal is almost like one of Plato’s forms, an idealization of “ride” in which reality partakes of the ideal to obtain its identity.

Each year is a new attempt to reach perfection, to deliver something better, harder, more challenging, yet still more satisfying than the thing that went before. The willingness to slog is more common than we recognize and the annual BWR roster proves it. But the willingness to slog coupled with the drive to slog in perfection … that is a rare, rare thing, and it’s the ethos of this ride.

_______________

END


Report card

July 29, 2018 § 8 Comments

I finished my 2-week intensive German course at the Vienna branch of the Goethe Institut on Friday. It’s hard to compare courses because I’ve never taken one before. On the whole it was really good and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to dive into German for a couple of weeks while enjoying an amazing European city.

The program has 4.5 hours a day of classroom instruction, which is a lot, by which I mean completely draining and exhausting. But the lessons are only part of the program. The other half of it, or more, are the daily events and tours arranged on your behalf. This is where you really get to put into practice all of the things you’ve been doing wrong in the classroom.

If you were to do the entire program from tip to tail, it would be a 12-hour day most days, because the events continue into the evening. As with most things in my life, I wasn’t really able to take full advantage of all that was on offer because, bike riding. It is really hard impossible to do a 7-hour beatdown, then class, then attend a Stammtisch. Oh, well.

For many of the other students you could probably replace “bike riding” with “massive consumption of alcohol.”

Goethe Institut v. Belgian Waffle Ride

The easiest way for a cyclist to understand anything is to compare it to cycling. In this case, the 50-hour course of advanced German approximated the BWR. So if you’re considering something like the Goethe Institut, here is a handy-dandy list that will let you compare, contrast, and do something else.

  1. Distance: Comparable. 50 hours of intensive German coursework with lots of grammar and 19th Century reading selections is like doing the dirt sections on the BWR … for 140 miles, backwards.
  2. Pain: Legs empty. Head throbbing. Throat dry from extreme dehydration. That’s how it feels to listen to a presentation in German on “Hydroelectric Power in the Swiss Alps.”
  3. Cost: BWR, about $150 for 8-12 hours. Goethe Institute, about $950 for approximately 120 hours.
  4. Sense of accomplishment: BWR gives you a t-shirt that says “Participant.” Goethe Institut gives you a certificate that says “Participant.” Neither organization is about to call you awesome just because you gave them money.
  5. Gewgaws: BWR gives you a bag filled with gewgaws of varying utility. Goethe Institut gives you a textbook with CD, neither of which you will ever use again.
  6. Course: BWR is a well thought out, impeccably planned route that includes a lot of pain for everyone and ultimate collapse. Goethe Institut follows a careful plan of helping you realize that mastery of German is within your grasp if you can only live to be 200.
  7. Food: BWR food is nourishing. Goethe Institut offers you coffee from a vending machine that is better than Starbucks, which isn’t saying much.
  8. Scenery: BWR scenery is fantastic even though you don’t see any of it. Goethe Institut scenery is world class and you get to see all of it plus panhandling plus as much secondhand smoke as your heart desires.
  9. Music: BWR offers pop music on the PA. Goethe Institut offers Vienna, e.g. Mozart.
  10. Comrades: BWR fellow riders are all self-flagellating nutjobs. Intensive German students are, too.
  11. Sag: BWR has frequent sag stops with pro hydration. Vienna has cappuccino every 100 steps.
  12. Comrades: BWR riders are mostly Usonian, male, white, middle-aged, and delusional. Goethe Institut students come from all over the world and are of all ages. Also delusional.
  13. Recovery: BWR, about a month of drooling and aching. Goethe Institut, no recovery required.
  14. Shame quotient: At the BWR you are only moderately ashamed of sucking because you’re alone most of the time and you can cut the course. At the Goethe Institut you are surrounded by people as you endlessly make a fool of yourself, like telling to the waiter “Pay my bill, please!” instead of asking him for the “Bill, please.”
  15. Pride quotient: BWR is “I suck but at least I did it.” Goethe Institut is “I may be a dumb American but at least I’m dumb in the local language.”
  16. Overall awesomeness: You’ll never forget either.

END

———————–

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Report card

July 28, 2018 § 8 Comments

I finished my 2-week intensive German course at the Vienna branch of the Goethe Institut on Friday. It’s hard to compare courses because I’ve never taken one before. On the whole it was really good and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to dive into German for a couple of weeks while enjoying an amazing European city.

The program has 4.5 hours a day of classroom instruction, which is a lot, by which I mean completely draining and exhausting. But the lessons are only part of the program. The other half of it, or more, are the daily events and tours arranged on your behalf. This is where you really get to put into practice all of the things you’ve been doing wrong in the classroom.

If you were to do the entire program from tip to tail, it would be a 12-hour day most days, because the events continue into the evening. As with most things in my life, I wasn’t really able to take full advantage of all that was on offer because, bike riding. It is really hard impossible to do a 7-hour beatdown, then class, then attend a Stammtisch. Oh, well.

For many of the other students you could probably replace “bike riding” with “massive consumption of alcohol.”

Goethe Institut v. Belgian Waffle Ride

The easiest way for a cyclist to understand anything is to compare it to cycling. In this case, the 50-hour course of advanced German approximated the BWR. So if you’re considering something like the Goethe Institut, here is a handy-dandy list that will let you compare, contrast, and do something else.

  1. Distance: Comparable. 50 hours of intensive German coursework with lots of grammar and 19th Century reading selections is like doing the dirt sections on the BWR … for 140 miles, backwards.
  2. Pain: Legs empty. Head throbbing. Throat dry from extreme dehydration. That’s how it feels to listen to a presentation in German on “Hydroelectric Power in the Swiss Alps.”
  3. Cost: BWR, about $150 for 8-12 hours. Goethe Institute, about $950 for approximately 120 hours.
  4. Sense of accomplishment: BWR gives you a t-shirt that says “Participant.” Goethe Institut gives you a certificate that says “Participant.” Neither organization is about to call you awesome just because you gave them money.
  5. Gewgaws: BWR gives you a bag filled with gewgaws of varying utility. Goethe Institut gives you a textbook with CD, neither of which you will ever use again.
  6. Course: BWR is a well thought out, impeccably planned route that includes a lot of pain for everyone and ultimate collapse. Goethe Institut follows a careful plan of helping you realize that mastery of German is within your grasp if you can only live to be 200.
  7. Food: BWR food is nourishing. Goethe Institut offers you coffee from a vending machine that is better than Starbucks, which isn’t saying much.
  8. Scenery: BWR scenery is fantastic even though you don’t see any of it. Goethe Institut scenery is world class and you get to see all of it plus panhandling plus as much secondhand smoke as your heart desires.
  9. Music: BWR offers pop music on the PA. Goethe Institut offers Vienna, e.g. Mozart.
  10. Comrades: BWR fellow riders are all self-flagellating nutjobs. Intensive German students are, too.
  11. Sag: BWR has frequent sag stops with pro hydration. Vienna has cappuccino every 100 steps.
  12. Comrades: BWR riders are mostly Usonian, male, white, middle-aged, and delusional. Goethe Institut students come from all over the world and are of all ages. Also delusional.
  13. Recovery: BWR, about a month of drooling and aching. Goethe Institut, no recovery required.
  14. Shame quotient: At the BWR you are only moderately ashamed of sucking because you’re alone most of the time and you can cut the course. At the Goethe Institut you are surrounded by people as you endlessly make a fool of yourself, like telling to the waiter “Pay my bill, please!” instead of asking him for the “Bill, please.”
  15. Pride quotient: BWR is “I suck but at least I did it.” Goethe Institut is “I may be a dumb American but at least I’m dumb in the local language.”
  16. Overall awesomeness: You’ll never forget either.

END

———————–

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