Wankmeister cycling clinic #19: Ride stronger now!

August 11, 2013 § 25 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

I have noticed that on big group rides like the Donut, I’m not nearly as fast as most of the others, even though my coach tells me I’m awesome, especially just after the monthly check clears. Even Prez beats me on the climbs. How can I go faster?

Befuddled,
Bimsy Bohunk

Dear Bimsy:

Please push down harder on the pedals.

Assuredly,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I was on the Donut Ride this morning and some dude came up to me who wasn’t, frankly, very nice. He said, “Yo, dude with the Arizona State Champion jersey. Did you win that or buy it at a fucking garage sale?” I was pretty insulted. I told him I’d won it this year. Then, even ruder, he said, “What did you championize, bro?” Championize? He was making fun of me. So I told him I was the Cat 5 state crit champ. That shut him up. So, two questions for you. 1) Who was that asshole? and 2) What’s a guy gotta do around here to get a little respect? They aren’t exactly handing these jerseys out on street corners, y’know?

Proudly,
Petey Puddinhead

Dear Petey:

1) That asshole was me. 2) At a minimum you’ll need to not get dropped by the women on the false flats.

Bearer of bad newsily,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I sure do hate the new Donut Ride route. It sux big greasy donkey hooters. It’s too much climbing and it was already too much climbing. You might as well call it the “Rudy and Stathis Ride.” Total bullshit. At a minimum we should have a no drop “B” ride that takes others’ abilities into account, where we can regroup every twenty minutes or so, etc.

Outragedly,
Patsy Poopsie

Dear Patsy:

There is a place were “B” rides are very fashionable, and where the weak, the sick, the elderly, the infirm, and the lame can ride at a friendly pace while discussing frame angles and wattage. It’s called “San Diego.”

Contemptuously,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I read all your stuff and do everything you say. I went on your kimchi diet and lost 75 pounds, getting me down to about 132 (I’m 6’4″). After a while I got really sick, all my skin fell off, I lost my job from the absences and the giant scabs, then my girlfriend of ten years left me because of those kimchi farts. Now I see that your “new thing” is donuts and beer. I’m really eager to take this plunge, but once bitten, shame on you, twice bitten, you shouldn’t be petting pit bulls, y’know? So what’s the straight skinny? Donuts and beer, is it legit?

PS: I also tried that nose breathing thing you were raving about and now I get bad nosebleeds all the time and that Prez dude still drops me on all the climbs.

Fanboyishly,
Freddy Fapper

Dear Freddy:

Donuts and beer are the bomb, but they only work when you’ve done a 6-month kimchi purge, which you have. So you’re good to go. You should augment the donuts and beer with butter or with foods that are deep fried, like bubblegum or, best of all, deep fried butter. They’re working on a new recipe for deep fried frying oil, so when they get the right mix of mercury and cadmium to stabilize the frying oil to allow it to be fried, you can add that to your power mix. Trust me on this.

Digestively,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

We read your blog from time to time out here in southern Illinois, and everyone pretty much agrees you’re a douchebag farty-fuck. Just wanted you to know that.

Disseminatingly,
Mailliw Enots

Dear Mailliw:

I understand that of the two actual bike racers you have in that part of your fine state, one of them spends all his free time in California, and the other has recently retired due to chronic tenderness of the loins.

Sympathetically,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I was so friggin’ stoked to finally get to do the Donut Ride this morning and ride with that Prez dude! He is the bomb! And he is stylish and cuts a pretty swashbuckling figure! Then better yet (as if it could get any better!!) he talked to me!!!!!!!!!! I was asking him training questions and he totally gave me the scoop!!! I was like, “What’s with the 54 x 11 all the time?” Know what he said? “Power training!” Friggin’ rad!! Everyone sure was powering by him!!! And I was like, “What about nutrition?” and he was like “Muscle Milk plus Muscle OJ plus Muscle Water plus Sweaty Excrescence of Skunk Testicle, it’s the bomb!” Then I was like, “Fashion tips?” and he was like “White and black are your base colors; use purple and pink and gangrene yellow for the accents. Match your kits with custom socks and gloves that also go with your eyeliner.” Eyeliner! How rad is that???

Stokedly,
Mabel Lene

Dear Mabel:

So glad you hooked up with The Man! He’s been in therapy for the last year since his forced upgrade, but has finally come out of his shell and is gearing up for 2014. You might want to avoid following his wheel too closely, though, or mentioning the words “Charon” or “Smith.” He gets pretty agitated.

Experiencedly,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

Down and dirty: Is Froome really on the juice?

Quicklily,
Mumsy Muckracker

Dear Mumsy:

Does the Pope like an all-boys choir?

Cynically,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I’m perfectly happy with my nickname. I love it, in fact, and really appreciate all the time and effort you took to bestow it on me. My fiancee loves it, my co-workers love it (they Googled me last week), and all my teammates think it’s super. I love it so much I’d never think of asking for a new one, ’cause I’ve heard that only results in getting a really BAD nickname, unlike the cool one I really love and want to keep. Anyway (good riding on the Donut and other rides, btw, you’re killing it, you’re a beast and a monster [PS: props on the TV announcing gig, you ROCKED it], I know you’re going to kill it at nationals), so, I just wanted you know how much I love the blog and my nickname. Awesome stuff, good times! (Fist bump, bro!!). My fiancee’s mom is coming into town for the wedding here in a few weeks, and she was Googling me too, and she saw my nickname and was like WTF? I told her how cool it is and that it really means you respect the hell out of me but she’s from an Asian culture and she just didn’t “get” it, you know? There’s no way I’d ever give up my nickname, not even for her. Still, she got to complaining to my fiancee (who LOVES the nicky, as I said), and it’s become something of an “issue” here right before we get married. So, this is a long way of saying that — and this is NOT for me — could you get me a nickname that uses the word “cobra” or “stingray” or “lethal” and we’ll just use it until the MIL goes home, and we’re through with the wedding and things have settled in? You rock, buddy!

Reverentially,
“Sausage”

Dear Sausage:

Done, my friend. Henceforth you are “Cobra Penis.” See you on the road, and give my best to your mother in-law.

Snakily,
Wankmeister

This change is hard

July 13, 2013 § 16 Comments

The world-famous Donut Ride, despised by Jack from Illinois (not his real name) as a preening wankfest, derided by MMX as a one-trick pony that boils down to a single power climb on the Switchbacks, and loved by Wankmeister for both those reasons, has entered a new era. It happened thus.

G3: “Okay, we’re taking a survey. What do folks think of the current Donut route?”

Unison: “It blows.”

G3: “Okay, then.”

Problems with the Donut

A careful analysis revealed the following Donut flaws:

  1. Too much stopping.
  2. Too much wanking.
  3. Too much wheelsucking.
  4. Not enough climbing.
  5. Not enough sprunting.

The Donut’s route has changed numerous times during its illustrious history of more than thirty years. The Oldnut, which went through San Pedro and culminated in a sprunt at the Korean Bell, was a favorite until laziness took over, with large numbers of riders unable to handle the additional fifteen miles of riding. The Korean Bell sprunt was also rendered problematic when that entire side of San Pedro suffered a massive landslide and fell into the ocean.

Even the hardmen of the South Bay rebelled at having to clamber down a cliff, swim four miles, then remount for the finale.

Spicing up the Donut’s honey hole

The new route, instead of stopping at Marymount College and giving everyone a chance to flex and eye one another’s sweaty legs, continues up Crest to the radar domes. The addition of ten minutes’ hard climbing on top of the soften-em-up power climb on the Switchbacks has already changed the dynamic of the ride.

No longer do crazypants riders dash madly away at Trump National, hoping to eke out a sneakaway win on the Switchbacks. Now, the pace stays steady and measured as riders are ground up and and spit out in ones and twos all the way up the Switchbacks, with the final wreckage occurring on the first ramp going up to the radar domes. No longer does a massive attack at the bottom of the Switchbacks blow apart the group.

After some brief preening at the domes and a bit of reciprocal jocksniffing, the ride then descends all the way to PV Drive North and turns right into San Pedro. The descent, rather than being a completely insane dash to the death, is “neutral,” which means that everyone still goes full-on crazypants, but no one is allowed to claim victory.

Putting in some more climbing feet

The group takes PV Drive to Western and goes right, which remains neutral due to the deadly nature of riding a bicycle through the heart of San Pedro, where aggro soccer moms are going full-throttle in their SUV’s to finish picking up supplies at Wal-Mart before game time. At Miraleste the group turns right, the guillotine blade is again dropped, and the survivors climb up Miraleste, go left at Better Homes, and climb back up the Domes.

Whereas the old Donut route played heavily in favor of climbers, the new route is designed to eliminate all but the tiniest, most anorexic of riders. Participants still carrying around a few extra pounds from last Christmas can expect an outcome even more hopeless than usual. After regrouping at the domes, the ride continues back down PV South to Via Zumaya, where the sprunters can finally get revenge on the climbers by going straight home.

Full Donut Ride participants will, after ascending Via Zumaya, have earned their wings, not to mention a fistful of KOM’s. Critics note that the new Donut Ride has even less sprunting than the old one, which had none.

As the new organizers like to point out, all of whom are diminutive, veiny, twig-legged climbers, “Tough shit.”

Break out the wire scrub brush

May 12, 2013 § 14 Comments

…because that’s what it’s gonna take to clean these shorts after the pre-ride this morning.

Characters
Chatty Casey
Gang Boss Buell
Crabs Caron
Wankmeister

The Ride
Saturday AM “Daddy Ride”
Meets at Kelly’s Corner, climbs up from the reservoir conversationally, climbs Better Homes conversationally, climbs the Domes conversationally, ramps it up at the Glass Church, sprunts at Hawthorne, finishes with a cup of coffee at Golden Cove Starbucks just in time to watch the Donut Ride come sailing by.

The Adventure
Crabs tows us up the Glass Church hill, hairy legs pounding. I take an easy pull once we’re over the top, saving my legs for the beatdown that’s up next when I join the World Famous Donut Ride. Casey drags us up the first bump past Terranea. Gang Boss takes over and accelerates on the short descent, then begins to stall as we come up the second bump right before the sprunt.

Crabs, smelling a blow-from-behind sprunt victory, comes out of the saddle and lunges down on the left pedal, all 195 pounds of butter, beef, fine wine, cheap beer, hot dogs, french fries, pecan logs, pizza, sausage, banana pie, ice cream, and peanut butter concentrating on the tiny contact point on his antique cleat. Unbeknownst to Crabs, I’ve been filing my nails and checking the want ads as he and his trusty trio have been doing all the work. Prez-like I look up, note the oncoming sprunt effort, and prepare to easily take the candy from the baby and pop it in my mouth with bike lengths to spare.

At that instant, Crabs’s left foot pops out of the pedal, and his bike crazy-dances in wild discontrol over to the left, the exact place that I’m about to come around. Time becomes extremely relative as I watch the slamming door of his rear wheel move backwards, derailleur and all, and over into my spokes. I see my face, Prez-like, splattering on the pavement. I see my brain, Prez-like, swelling up into a giant bruised grapefruit. I see my attorney drafting the lawsuit against the city of RPV for negligently paving the street in such a way as to make Crabs want to sprunt and thereby crashing me out. I definitely see Slowplay Pedals as a defendant for the negligent design of a cleat and pedal that Crabs has only been riding for fifteen years. I see the long line of speakers at my funeral, each one mumbling words of praise like, “We’re sort of going to miss that wanker, maybe.”

And then I see the impossible: Crabs follows the boneheaded move of the day with a move of parallel boneheadedness…his worn cleats and shredded Slowplay pedals pop his foot out of the right pedal as well. His butt, nuts, and pubic bone slam against the top tube and drive his bike radically to the right, away from my spokes and straight towards the curb at 35+.

The Redemption

This is the point in a bike crash where you and I close our eyes and await the impact. In this case it’s just past the pullout on the right, so he’s going over the bars, onto the gravel, and into the cliff wall. The collision will be severe, and you and I simply clench our teeth, mutter a few religious phrases and hope that Dog hasn’t noticed the lifetime of atheism and religion-bashing, and prepare to instantaneously meet the deductible on our health insurance policy.

Not Crabs.

Nuts crushed, gut impaled on the stem, and both gout-plagued feet sailing free in the wind, he looks away from the place he doesn’t want to go (Hades) and looks towards the place he does want to go (the road). His right foot hits the gravel and he jerks the bike away from the curb just before impact, trailing his left foot like a rudder, throwing up a shower of sand, gravel, and dirt with the right. No longer a player in the drama and merely a spectator, I watch with approval as he somehow avoids death. Gang Boss is looking over his shoulder, mouth agape, and Chatty Casey has for once stopped talking.

Crabs clips back in. Chatty regains his breath. “That was the most awesome save I’ve ever seen!”

“That was the stupidest move I’ve ever seen in my entire life since Tuesday,” I added.

“I suppose it’s time to replace the pedals,” Crabs suggested.

“Yes,” I agreed, “it is.”

What you’re really made of

May 7, 2013 § 27 Comments

It is part of our bicycling delusion that we are made of the qualities we reveal “on the bike.” The power meter tells you that you’re a badass (the opposite of which is what? A goodass?) Showing up for the NPR when it’s raining toxic sludge in 40-mph sideways sheets proves that you’re a tough guy, whether or not you’re even a guy. Hanging onto Rudy Napolitano’s wheel for the first 50 yards of his acceleration on the Switchbacks makes you a fighter.

That’s who you are, right? Watt pumper, road tough, and a competitor.

Bicycling may or may not reveal character, but it sure is replete with characters. And the character of those characters, in my experience, is most often revealed not on the bike, but off it.

The cast of characters

G3: I still don’t know what “G3” stands for, and I’ve been riding with this wanker for years.

Stathis the Wily Greek: Only smiles for money.

Little Sammy Snubbins: Baby seal pup who loves to ride his bike.

Stitchface: Cat 4 adventurer who’s already gotten 100 sutures in his face this year.

Anonymous Steve: Generic bicycle rider whose chief characteristic was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Cast of Dozens: Amalgamated Idiots, Inc., a/k/a Usual Donut Ride Crew.

The route

Portuguese Bend is a hallowed part of the Donut Ride. It connects Palos Verdes Estates (a fancy enclave whose denizens’ shit doesn’t stink) with the Switchbacks, the epic 8-minute climb that punctuates this weekly beatdown.

Portuguese Bend is so geologically unstable that a permanent road crew is assigned to the 2-mile stretch of twisting roads, which shift and crack daily. The instability is such that sewer lines are placed above ground and  re-paving the entire roadway is done multiple times each year. The crews make weekly repairs to gaping crevasses that open up overnight as this side of the slope slides relentlessly into the sea.

With steep ups and downs, cracks that appear suddenly, narrow lanes, speeding traffic, and a long downhill from the Switchbacks, of course it’s the perfect place for the weekly gaggle of idiots to charge through the area at speeds exceeding 40 mph.

What could possibly go wrong?

The delicately choreographed Dance of the Club-footed Oafs

Cold logic, or even cool reason, don’t live in a peloton (“peloton” is French for “speeding gaggle of imbeciles.”) When you drop off the Switchbacks it’s a straight plunge several miles long to the bottom of Portuguese Bend. You wind up tightly bent into a densely packed anthill of carbon and meat and wires and metal, crammed into a tiny bike lane with livid pickups passing on the left three inches from your bars, your nose jammed up the next rider’s rear end, your front wheel an inch out of the next rider’s spokes, the busted and uneven and pockmarked road rattling your wheels and your frame and your legs and the tiny pea inside your skull but instead of sitting up and braking and letting the crazies dash off to their doom you bury yourself into the heart of the swarming beehive where there’s no escape hatch and the slightest waver will slam you to the pavement or worse catapult you off your bike into the oncoming traffic where Suzie Q whose shit doesn’t stink will mow you down in her Range Rover while talking on her cell phone and sipping a latte, as she’s wholly untrained to avoid catapulting bicycles flying across the road onto her grill which is pretty much what happens in the next instant when Little Sammy Snubbins, tucked deep in the hive at tenth wheel, hits a crack and, because he’s Little Sammy Snubbins and still on the lower part of the learning curve is rocketing along the jarring bumpy roads with his hands loosely gripping the bars instead of clenching them like his life depends on it which in fact it does and the crack that he smacks full-on with his front wheel jolts his left hand off the bars and his right hand steers him t-bone style into the side of Stitchface who, at 40 mph, is hit by Generic Steve full force in the rear, taco-ing Stitchface’s rear wheel and tossing him into the air like a rag doll and hurling his bike and him into oncoming traffic but actually against all odds Suzie Q WAS expecting a flying bike and Raggedy Andy biker to come sailing airborne over into her lane from thirty feet away and she locks up the ABS and doesn’t squash Stitchface like a bug or even hit him but down goes Generic Steve and down goes Little Sammy Snubbins and the Dance of the Club-footed Oafs goes from being a sort of delicately clumsy waltz to a screeching, screaming, clattering, skittering, pandemonic mishmash of smoking rubber and hands filled with maximum brake and, miracle of miracles, no one else chews the asphalt and Little Sammy Snubbins only breaks his bike and Generic Steve barely gets a scratch and Stitchface peels his body off from the pavement and declares himself unhurt even after the shock wears off.

Unfortunately, someone has to be the grown-up

So for the moment the bicycling is over. Everyone stops; well, almost everyone. There are a handful for whom getting in their miles is more important than stopping to see if Stitchface has been gored to death or to find out if Little Sammy Snubbins needs mouth-to-brain resuscitation, and…

…there is no “and.”

It’s now, off the bike not on it, that character is revealed.

The character is revealed of G3 who swings back, gets the riders off the road, orders others to control the traffic, and swiftly calls the rescue wagon with Nurse Jeanette and Nurse Ava to come and haul back the broken bikes and thankfully unbroken bodies.

The character is revealed of Stathis the Wily Greek, who despite his stone-faced demeanor is one of the first to dismount and leap to the aid of the fallen, though he was on Generic Steve’s wheel and narrowly avoided catastrophe himself.

The character is revealed of numerous other riders whose first and only impulse was to stop and help.

And the character is revealed of those who couldn’t have cared less.

The little drama plays out again, reminding us that it’s not about the bike, it’s about what happens on the bike, and what happens off it. The unsophisticated and uninitiated might even go so far as to call it “life.”

KOM-munism

March 31, 2013 § 9 Comments

This one had merit. Out of 14,304 times and more than 2,000 riders, he convincingly took the 1.2 mile KOM by three seconds. The segment is regularly ridden hard and the contingent yesterday, as it often does, contained continental pros, former pros, national champions, state champions, and some of the the best active racers in California.

Strava KOM-munism is mostly standing in front of a mirror admiring yourself. The rider picks a segment, hones the conditions, and repeatedly goes for it until the little crown pops up. The segments are mostly minor in terms of the number of riders and the number of times the segment has been ridden on Strava. KOM-munism is self-glory that is only rarely vindicated through actual racing.

Sometimes, though, the right rider on the right ride with the ride mix of fellow flailers pulls it all together. The result? A mass clubbing of baby seals and a new King Clubber.

That happened yesterday on the Donut. MMX came to town from North County San Diego, and the ride included Rudy Napolitano, Danny Heeley, some pro dude from Champion Systems, and a host of other hammerheads. Aaron Wimberley exploded out of Malaga Cove. MMX bridged up to him, followed by a tiny chick named Flavia. She was so small that hunch over as much as I might the only thing that got a decent draft were my knees.

Aaron kept the heat on until Flavia fried off the back, and I with her. As we rounded the bend, MMX hit the front with such power and abandon that Aaron, who had set the KOM-winning pace, was busted out the back. MMX pulled away, quickly becoming a tiny speck of churning, pounding pain levers. By the time he sat up there was nothing left of the 100+ wankoton, and he would find out at ride’s end that he was the new KOM of this segment: http://app.strava.com/segments/753144.

This, of course, is how it should be done. It should be done from the sharp end of the spear, not lollygagging in back and “making up time” by racing through the group to the front when the pace picks up. It should be done amidst a field thick with accomplished riders. It should be done convincingly and with strength, not by hanging onto the wheel of a breakaway and pushing through at the last second to snag the KOM by a wheel. Most of all, it should be done the way this one was done–not to get the KOM, but to break the legs and spirits of those behind, the KOM being a secondary reward that only came as surprise after the ride.

Hats, then, off!

Remains of the day

December 22, 2012 § 5 Comments

Too many days there are too many things that happen for me to organize them into a theme or even a coherent thought, so the day goes by and so much that needs saying goes unsaid, or in my case, unblogged!

Today, in no particular order except the first item:

  • Prez showed up for the Donut Ride in full Santa kit. No, you don’t understand. I mean full Santa kit. His tall black Santa boots were fitted over his cycling shoes so that his cleats could lock into the pedals. His Santa hat was fixed to his helmet so that it flopped but the helmet was rock solid (protecting what, we’re not sure). He had red cycling shorts. Yes, red. As in the color red. He had a red jersey. He had red gloves. Aside from being the most amazing get-up I’ve ever seen on a bike, he did the genuine Santa impersonation by Going to the Front as we rolled out of Redondo Beach, then pulling the other reindeer (all 100 of them, including Dopey, Stinky, Lazy, Bashful, Twitchy, Flinch, Crazy, Stupid, Slothful, Sexy, Naughty, and Embroey) up out of Malaga Cove and all the way to Lunada Bay. Santa, I’ve been naughty this year. I hope that means I get a whip or some handcuffs.
  • Stathis the Wily Greek unleashed a tour de force on the Switchbacks. The wankoton sucked eggs all the way to the bottom of the climb. Then he let loose. I followed for ten seconds before blowing. It shattered the entire field. None could follow. John Hall, Craig L., and several others duked it out for the scraps. Mark Alvarado got shelled, but then blasted by me at the end in an amazing show of speed. Eric Anderson climbed with the climbers. Keith, Marco, Rico, others all represented.
  • Marshall P. rode like a champion up Zumaya. At the tail end as I was about to overhaul him he gave a big kick and was gone. Kudos!
  • Tink is riding “at power.” This means she goes faster than 99% of all the other riders but doesn’t ever accelerate or attack. 2013 is going to see some scalps hanging from her coup stick. Glad I don’t race against her.
  • The Serfas handlebar-mount headlight (500 lumens) is awesome. More about that in a separate post.
  • Nite Ryder lighting systems just went from fave to frown. More about that in a separate post.
  • Todd Buckley and Rahsaan Bahati put together an all-day ride to Camarillo. All-star cast included Charon, Suze, and many others. Wish I could have made it.
  • Pischon Jones is down at least 15 pounds. I saw more lean meat on that boy than you could find at a Weight Watchers convention. Dude has the discipline hat on. Props!
  • SoCal cyclists are so weather-wussified it’s hilarious! MS, before the Donut started: “Gosh, I’d forgotten how cold it is here in SoCal!” It was about 50 degrees. He’s coming from two years of school in Jamaica, and after the holidays is moving to Chicago. Does it ever get below 50 in Chicago in the winter? Har!
  • Joe Yule got the hardware out of his elbow this week, and he and Manny Guzman got into a “Whose 13-inch elbow scar is gnarlier?” photo contest on FB. Not for the queasy of stomach…
  • Great bike sales and seasonal deals in the South Bay at Bike Palace, Sprocket Cycles, PV Cycle Center, and Manhattan Beach Cycles.
  • Super nice waves this morning at the Cove. Indicators was breaking, and so was Lunada Bay. SoCal cyclists may be weather wussies, but it’s pretty cool to be pedaling your bike in late December in sunny, warm weather while gorgeous sets roll in on the point.
  • Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride approaches. It’s going to be grim.
  • SPY Optic and Ride Cyclery have two big holiday rides, one on 12/24 and one on 1/2. The 12/24 ride will be a swords-drawn survival of the cruelest. You have been warned!

‘Nuff for now. Gotta shop. My, uh, favorite family activity…

Hard man’s cookies

December 1, 2012 § 31 Comments

New Girl’s eyes flexed open at 5:00 AM, beating her alarm clock to the punch by half an hour. A broad smile crept over her face.

She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and reached for the elastic band on her nightstand, quickly tying her hair into a ponytail. She pulled the ponytail tight and smiled again.

Her clothes were neatly laid out on the cedar chest at the foot of the bed. She’d chosen all Donut, and not just because it was the Donut Ride, and not just because it was her favorite kit, and not just because Junkyard, who’d designed it, would be riding with her. She had also chosen it because rain was not only in the forecast, but it was lightly beating down outside her bedroom window, and she’d learned the hard way not to wear white kits on rainy days.

She smiled again.

In a few minutes the oatmeal was bubbling on the stove. It had that roasted smell, like coffee, but more wholesome, with a creamy foaming and bubbling on the top. She loved to watch it swirl and make patterns, but most of all she loved to laugh at it, because oatmeal was so funny.

Here she was, starting each and every day with oatmeal, even though she’d gone out of her way to poke fun at Wankmeister’s FB posts that regularly featured images of gray-as-death oatmeal with raisins bubbling in the top like rabbit pellets. Oatmeal was funny, she decided again, and smiled at the pan. It foamed and bubbled in a way that, if you cocked your head right, looked kind of like it was smiling back at you.

The meeting place

New Girl kitted up and pulled on her clear plastic rain cape. She’d spent thirty minutes in the bike shop picking a rain cape, and went with this one because even though it wasn’t very snazzy, it was clear, and clear was what she wanted so that the Donut Ride logo would shine through, even in the rain.

She went into the garage and ran a cloth over Princess. She’d cleaned it the night before, and she smiled at the sparkling cogs and well oiled chain. “Enough to lubricate it, not bathe it,” Junkyard had told her. It sparkled, just in time to get covered with muck and filth and grime and fun, especially covered with fun.

She rolled out of the garage, each foot clicking with that solid life-affirming lock of pedal on cleat, binding her to the machine, making them one, turning their mutual admiration into codependency. Now, the decisions she made were binding. Now, whatever happened to Princess would also happen to her.

The simple rain beat harder against her, but inside her three skins she was dry and warm and smiling at the shiny, muffled world. The thought of meeting her mates made her push just a little harder. As she came up the slight bump, eagerly looking into the parking lot at Catalina Coffee, her smile fell. The lot was empty.

Calling in sick

New Girl got off her bike and stood under the concrete arch. She looked at her phone; Tumbleweed and Madeline had texted to say they were opting for less rain and more bed. New Girl smiled again and texted back, “OK! I’m at CC and pedaling anyway! HAGD!”

She sat back to wait, realizing that she was early, as usual. Very early, as usual. Her first surprise came when Tumbleweed and Madeline appeared. “Not going to let you ride alone!” said Madeline.

Then Gussy appeared from out of the light rainy fog, his jersey halfway unzipped and carpets of wet chest hair spilling out. He was already laughing. “You can call me ‘Gorilla in the Mist,'” he said, and everyone laughed.

As the other riders appeared, Gussy’s monologue of jokes, tales from the old days, observations on Krispy Kreme, and predictions about how the Donut Ride beatdown would unfold kept everyone grinning. But New Girl grinned biggest, because she was smiling on the inside, too.

With Toronto and Junkyard in formation, they all rolled out for a pre-loop, destined to get them to the start of the Donut with just enough time for coffee and a bathroom break.

Warming up for a beatdown

New Girl loved the pre-loop best of all, even in the rain when everything was shiny and trying hard to jerk her wheels out from under her. The road striping, the BOTS dots, the oily runoff, the slicky leaves and fallen pine cones and magnolia cones all conspired to knock her over, but she smiled her way through it, so happy to be pushing up the little kicker by the golf course that she forgot to talk or chat or do anything other than grin.

Now they were soaked and back in Redondo’s Riviera Village for the final call-up before the massacre. New Girl wheeled up to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and smiled some more as she saw more of her buddies. There’s the Pilot; there’s the Bull; there’s Arkansas Traveler; there’s Sparkles; and oh! Look! Over in the corner looking all sour and out of sorts but really not sour or out of sorts at all…it’s Wankmeister! She smiled big, and he smiled back in his finest Donut morning scowl.

The group pushed out, the rain had stopped, and fifty or so riders filled out the peloton. New Girl smiled at Suze, at Wolfe, at JP, at Dawg, at Marco, at Erik, and at Prez! She thought she might run out of smiles before they hit the first climb out of Malaga Cove, but she didn’t.

New Girl didn’t know it in words, but this is the secret of the congregants of the Church of the Spinning Wheel: The faces, and backs, and bikes, and legs are as familiar to you as you are to them, and with familiarity comes trust and with trust comes the elemental core of us to the surface, our humanity, in other words our belonging to and place in the tribe.

Legs to brain: We’re not part of the tribe anymore

Up the climb out of Malaga Cove, New Girl felt the sting and then the throb and then the fire in her lungs. She wasn’t smiling anymore as she locked onto the wheel in front of her, praying she’d make the climb with the group, hoping that her ride wouldn’t end here as it sometimes did, before it even started.

A split second of inattention and she wobbled, smacking into Junkyard who was alongside her. He gave her a friendly smile, but she was terrified. She’d almost knocked down her best buddy, what was she doing here, she was redlining, she was a hazard to the group, the road was incredibly slick and it had started raining again.

She’d been kicked out the back so hard the week before that by the time she reached Hawthorne, alone, she’d had to pull over into the parking lot of the 7-11 and sob, and here she was again about to get her ticket punched. At the moment of disconnecting, Wolfe, who’d watched the whole mini-drama, reached over and gave her a hard push, gloved in five words of encouragement and faith: “You can do it, dig.”

She dug as hard as she ever had, hanging on by a thread until she was over the bump. She caught her breath as the sucking of the peloton dragged her through Paseo, along the bluffs and the billion dollar mansions with the trillion dollar views that they all got to enjoy for the price of a bike and some pain, until she found herself on Pilot’s wheel. The next big acceleration came through Lunada Bay, and this time the kick was hard and sharp and on top of the several jumps already in the account which meant it was every man and woman for herself, and so New Girl was out of the neighborhood and by herself.

She was still smiling, though, and when Madeline and Sparkles came by they rode a steady paceline up to Trump National, the gateway to the Switchbacks.

As she gathered herself for the big push, New Girl felt her rear tire go soft, then flat. The rain had started up again. The group atop the Switchbacks wouldn’t know she’d flatted and they’d continue on. For the first time that morning her inside smile frowned.

If you have to grow up, be like the Fireman

A handful of people in the South Bay are larger than life. The Fireman is one of them. He looks gruff and road-hardened and ready to take whatever the hell you can dish out and pay you back double then drink you under the table plus beat you in the sprint or give you the lead-out from hell that you’ll remember for a thousand years if you ever manage to come around it, but it doesn’t take anything at all to get underneath the callused exterior and find a heart as large and kind and generous as any, anywhere.

Maybe it’s because his day job involves roadside visits to catastrophic freeway collisions, or because his night job takes him to blazing infernos venting poisonous gas and smoke and death, or because his summer holidays take him to raging wildfires throughout LA County, maybe that’s what explains him, but I think there’s more to it than that; I think there’s something of the man, the husband, the father, the patriarch who opens his door to friends and feeds them from his table until they can eat no more and swallow not another single drop, this is what explains him, he is a throwback to the days of the tribe, he would have been the leader of the clan, the first one to throw the spear or lead the charge or repulse the invading horde, the first one to christen the infant or bless the newly wedded couple or mark the newly conquered ground as hallowed, it’s this, his Stone Age mantle of hunter, gatherer, and leader of the tribe that makes him what he is, the one we all look up to without knowing why.

Which is a fancy, long-ass way of saying he stopped to help New Girl change her flat.

In a flat fucking jiffy.

Then he paced her up the Switchbacks to a new personal Strava record.

Then he continued on his way after perfecting her day and restoring her smile before she could even say “Thanks.”

Mud stockings

New Girl got home from her Donut, legs covered in mud, and after cleaning up she got to work.

An hour and a half later she was knocking on the firehouse door. A burly fireman answered. “Yes?”

“Here,” she said. “These are for you guys.”

“Oh,” said the fireman. “Is it something we said?”

She laughed. “It’s something you DID, silly.”

“You gonna let me in on the secret?”

“No,” she said with the biggest of smiles.

The firehouse dude smiled big, too, the circle now complete.

It’s the off season!

September 16, 2012 § 21 Comments

Okay, wankers, take a deep breath. It’s not the off season for you. Why? Because you don’t have a “season.” So it’s impossible for you to have an “off season.”

Off seasons are for other people. Not you. What kind of people? Take this handy dandy quiz to find out if you’re entitled to an off season. If you answer “yes” to each statement, then and only then do you get to have an off season.

  1. You are a professional road racer with a contract.
  2. You did five Pro Tour events in 2012, or at least 50 UCI races ranked 2.2 or higher.
  3. You logged 10,000 km in last year’s off season.
  4. You will have logged at least 30,000 km in 2012.
  5. Your team manager has said, “Okay, it’s the off season for you.”

No “buts,” please

I can hear you wailing already.

“But I did 47 Cat 4-5 events this year!”

“But I did two dozen double centuries!”

“But I did all the races on the 45+ SoCal calendar!”

“But I’m completely worn out, mentally and physically!”

“But I need a break!”

These are all great reasons to take a break, or to ride easy, or to hit the gym, or to spend more time with your significant other or cat. They are not reasons to call your cat time, or your gym time, or your break time an “off season.”

Why not?

For the same reason it’s not okay to call your club kit and bike discount a “pro deal”: Because it’s not. Pro deals are where you get everything for free as part of your contract and are obligated to wear and use the gear no matter what. Club deals are where you get a discount and then get to go to all the races using different gear and talk shit about the stuff that’s part of your “pro deal.”

There’s another reason it’s not okay to call the next four months an “off season.” It implies that your dedication, seriousness, effort, and commitment to your bicycling hobby is equivalent to what professional athletes do.

Pro football players have an off season. Pro basketball players have an off season. Pro road cyclists have an off season. You think that if you can just borrow the word “off season,” it will get you, along with your pro kit, your pro bike, and your pro coaching regimen one step closer to being an actual pro.

Guess what?

It won’t. No matter what you call the next few months, you’ll still be a flub-along bicycle hobbyist like the rest of us, which is fine.

What’s not fine

What’s not fine is that once you start bandying about “off season” like it’s some sort of professional injunction mandated by the pro cyclist’s union or the terms of your contract, before long you’ll be trying to impose your “off season” on the rest of us.

“Hey, slow down! Don’t you know it’s the off season?”

“Yo, Wankmeister! Quit hammering! It’s the fucking off season, you idiot!”

“Ah, you guys need to chill on the NPR. It’s the off season.”

“Look, it’s the off season, so let’s go easy on the Donut, okay?”

Nah. It’s not okay, because it’s not really the off season. What it may be is time for you to rest your worn out, arthritic, creaky old joints and give some recovery time to your weathered and withered and beaten down body so that you can do it all over again come January.

But that doesn’t mean that the rest of us wankers have to follow suit. Most of us don’t ride or race enough to be tired by September, and since it’s not “off season” at the job where we still have to sweat and slave and toil and stress, these weekend flailfests are still important times for us to go out and forget about life for a while. Moreover, it’s hardly the off season for the wankers who are just now getting geared up for ‘cross. That whole exercise in insanity goes full bore through January…a few hard efforts during the week are just what the doctor ordered.

So what’s a fellow to do?

Rather than loudly proclaiming your off-season-ness to the world and trying to make everyone else go slower, you should find a group of like-minded, equally deluded imaginary pro riders (trust me, that won’t be hard to do), and go spend your off season with THEM. Or, you can go ride by yourself at your “off season” pace.

What you can’t do is show up on the group ride with instructions that the rest of us quit riding like today is the biggest race of our lives. Well, you can do it…but don’t be surprised when no one listens. The Switchbacks weren’t put there for “easy.”

Crown Jules

July 22, 2012 § 6 Comments

All year I’ve been hearing about Jules. It usually goes like this.

Wanker: Some little kid showed up on the Donut and kicked everyone’s ass.

WM: Huh?

Wanker: Yeah. Little 12 or 13 year-old kid. Rode everyone off his wheel.

WM: Yeah, right.

Wanker: I’m serious.

WM: Twelve years old? No way.

Wanker: That’s what we thought. No way a little kid would have the lungs for that kind of sustained effort.

WM: Not possible.

Wanker: Why don’t you come out and see for yourself?

WM: I’m busy that week.

The overture

I rolled out this morning flanked by Charon Smith and Tony Sells. The sunny weather and beautiful skies meant a huge turnout for the world famous South Bay Donut Ride, although some of the key assassins such as Miles Jr. and Tink were cavorting up the slopes of the Santa Monica mountains with Jeff Konsmo and his merry band of pain merchants. Dan Cobley, John Hall, Paul Che, Derek Brauch, and a couple of other hard hitters were there, though, so it was going to be hard.

“Hey Charon, see that kid?”

“What kid?”

Jules is so short that he was almost invisible off on the edge of the peloton. “That one up there with the national champion shorts.”

“Yeah. What about him? What’s he doing here?”

“He’s going to ride away from everyone in this hundred-man group on the Switchbacks with the exception of about seven dudes. Everyone else will be put to the sword. You, Tony, me; we’re all going to go home today and say ‘I got my ass handed to me by a 13 year-old.'”

Charon gave me that look as if to say, “You ain’t fooling me with your foolishness.”

“I know it sounds crazy, Charon. Just watch. He’s gonna run a hot poker up the middle of every tender, middle-aged ego out here. You’ll see.”

Up, down, and around the bend

I watched Jules for a couple of minutes, marveling. He navigated the pack with ease and skill. Giant men on giant bikes bounded by him, around him, and in front of him with all the kookish, wankerish bike moves that infest the Donut at every turn of the pedal once you get more than about ten wheels back. Jules expertly avoided the freds and then hit the edge of the road, rocketing up into a solid position as we climbed out of Malaga Cove.

I wondered why no one was talking to him. Here’s a kid with the confidence, skills, and proven ability to go out on a big boy’s ride and smash people’s heads in. This isn’t just precocious, it’s pre-precocious. Maybe you wankers should talk to him and get to know him now, before he starts peering out at you from magazine covers.

“Hey, man, what’s your name?” I asked.

“Jules,” he said. Totally cool. Totally grown up.

“I’m Seth. Nice to meet you.”

Brief smile. “Yeah.”

He told me about his recent trip to Trexlertown, where he scored some impressive results on the track. That explained his great bike handling. A bit of later research showed that Jules is an omnivorous cyclist: he races track, crits, road, time trials, and ‘cross…and is good in every single discipline. His long string of firsts and seconds from 2011 have been depressed as he’s moved up into the next age bracket, but his winning trajectory being what it is, that should take care of itself in the next year or two

Calm before the storm

No one wanted a hard run-up to the Switchbacks this morning, so it was one big, lummoxing group as we rolled up Lunada Bay and on to Portuguese Bend. At the beach club, where the pace is often single file, the ride continued its leisurely pace. I heard chatting behind me, a giveaway for the difficulty of the ride.

Of course, an easy run-up to the Switchbacks just means that the actual climb will be exponentially faster, as people will have fresh legs when the climb starts. A couple of attacks went just past the beach club, but it wasn’t until Paul Che opened up the throttle that the ride began in earnest.

Paul dragged a small contingent of seven riders all the way to the base of the climb, then swung over. The pack was a tiny speck. Just before cresting the first level spot, shortly after beginning the climb, I blew. The six riders in the break rolled off. As I dropped back into a rhythm, I heard the sound of an approaching bike.

It was Jules.

Do you have an ego? Are you a grown man? Do you consider yourself fit? Have you ever thought that “but for” you’d have been a pro? Is your weekly slugfest a validation of your ability and strength? If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, then the realization that you’re hanging for dear life onto the wheel of a barely-turned-thirteen-year-old child will devastate you.

Though he provided precious little draft, it was enough to latch on, and this kid proceeded to take out his bullwhip, inspect the tip to make sure the knot was properly tied, and beat the shit out of me with it. He had his eyes glued on the break, and would periodically get out of the saddle to jam it even harder. I know that my exhalations, both the sound waves and the bursts of air, were pushing him on somewhat. So, as Knoll would say, “There’s that.”

We overtook a dude from Big Orange, who jumped on my wheel. I blew after the first hairpin as Jules got out the saddle again and just lit it up. The other grown man and experienced racer hunkered down and let Jules pull him for quite a way until he could recover, then he attacked the kid and dropped him. Nice.

I kept Jules in sight until the final turn, and then he was just flat out gone. By the time I rounded it, he had already reached the top of the hill and I never saw him again. Of course the short tow I’d gotten from this dynamo had put me so far ahead of the chasing peloton that I’d overhauled my bottom bracket by the time the next shattered group rolled up.

So if, a few years from now, you hear the name “Jules,” and it’s spoken with a trembling voice, in fear and awe, don’t say you weren’t warned.

And for those of you who think I’m blowing smoke, here’s the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quvjpPVv1zY

The wind in my hair

April 14, 2012 § 4 Comments

I got out of bed at 5:00 this morning and it hit me like a thunderbolt: “I gotta feel the wind in my hair.” Unprotected cycling, like its procreative counterpart, has fallen out of fashion in the last twenty-five years.

For good reason, as AIDS and catastrophic head injuries just aren’t that much fun.

Or for good reasons, all of which roared their loudest to drown out the perfectly on-pitch note of bad judgment urging me to ditch the lid.

Voice of prior opinions: “You’ve blogged on the wisdom and necessity of helmets, you hypocrite!”

Voice of prior criticism: “You repeatedly hassled Knoll for riding without a lid! Repeatedly!”

Voice of insurance coverage: “Comparative negligence for failure to wear a helmet will greatly reduce your recovery in litigation when you get whacked by Mr. Mom on her way to church.”

Voice of aggravation: “Where’s your fucking helmet, dude?” [Repeated by friends a thousand times.]

Voice of love: “Your family depends on you!”

Voice of vanity: “How you gonna blog with the back of your head staved in?”

Voice of experience: “Which nursing home would MMX et al. be in today without one?”

Voice of responsibility: “Think of the message you’re conveying to beginners!”

Voice of derision: “You going to  be the new CC, or the new Guillermo on the block? What’s next, a penis piercing and full-body tattoo?”

Voice of fear: “This is gonna be the day you go down. On your head. You dumbass.”

And of course the Voice of Fear was shrillest of all.

Did someone say "Happy face"? I think they did!

The only voice that counts

With a rapidity that only comes from practice, I ignored the cacophony of reason and sound judgment and listened only to the on-pitch note, which sounded exactly like Martin H. You see, a couple of weeks back I’d posted an old photo of myself on FB, happily zinging helmetless down a hill in 1987. Martin’s comment? “Damn I loved riding without a helmet.” Oh, siren, how you do call.

From the moment I read his comment and looked at the picture, the memory of the wind whistling through my hair grew stronger and stronger. Then, out of nowhere, came the Supreme Court’s ruling that it is reasonable to strip search and probe the anus/vagina of anyone in custody, even people in custody for terroristic crimes like walking a dog without a leash, or driving with an expired license.

The justification for dispensing with the Fourth Amendment is the same one we’ve used to jettison the right to habeas corpus and other trivial rights that have been around since the time of the Magna Carta: safety, or more properly, safety in the jails. That pesky Fourth Amendment, like riding without a helmet, makes us unsafe. And which would you rather have? Freedom or safety? Wind whistling through your hair…or safety?

One order of wind whistling through my hair, over easy, with bacon on the side, please. And kindly shove the safety up your ass. They’ll pull it out the next time you’re in custody.

This morning it was plain as day. I wanted wind through my hair. Why? Because people like Prez and Howard Hughes and Glass Hip and Leo Castillo don’t have any. They could take their helmets off all day long and never have the flow of the wind broken by anything rougher than a glass ball.

And truth be told, like most of the other fellers in the peloton, each year my acreage is getting rockier. Patches of dirt are cropping up where there once was nothing but thick vegetation. Danger and recklessness and bad morals and disapproving stares be damned, this morning I was going helmetless.

Are you really?

Someone left the apartment hallway window open last night, and a 40 mph breeze almost blew me off my feet as I waited for the elevator. So let me get this straight, Mr. Meister. You’re going out in a monsoon to participate in the South Bay’s iconic idiot parade and fredfest, i.e. the Donut Ride, and you’re doing it without a helmet? Is that right?

Yes. And I actually shook with a little bit of fear. That’s how deeply I’ve been enslimed in the protective coating of Safety At All Costs.

Once I actually began bolting downhill at 35 mph, however, I realized that the helmetless thing was totally unnecessarily, at least for today, as the wind was so strong it would have blown through my hair in a full facemask moto GP helmet.

But as the descent kept descending and the wind kept howling and my hair kept whistling and my scalp kept tingling, I knew that I’d done the right thing. There’s something about unprotected cycling…if you grew up on it, it’s still down in your bones.

Unprotected cycling is no magic talisman

The Donut was pretty small, less than 70 wankers, probably due to the incredible wind storm. When Major Bob and I caught the group, which had left while we were watching Rodley spill coffee on his crotch at the Bean & Leaf and listening to Fussy tell us about the guy with the little penis who showered five times a day and the monster Caddy that Joe B. and his Vietnamese buddy used to drive to races that had a trunk so big that they could put both bikes in it without taking off the wheels…

When we caught the group I noticed that Sergio Hernandez was with us. Sergio on ride bad. Sergio on ride much big pain. Sergio on ride you get droppy-droppy quicky-quicky, after ride no braggy-braggy, dick draggy-draggy in dirty-dirty.

Out of Malaga, Sergio heaped on the coals and towed us to Paseo del Mar. Josh from PVCC took a two-mile pull that decimated the group, as the effort was into a howling, and I mean howling, crosswind. Sergio kicked it through Lunada Bay and rode away with Josh. They got stopped at the Hawthorne light. We caught them and waited three minutes. Only then did the tattered remnants of the ride catch up.

Sergio began flogging the dog again through Terranea. I kept looking down at my legs, wondering why I was getting dropped, wondering why everyone was riding single file, wondering why there was no everyone. I kept getting almost dropped on the downhill to Portuguese Bend, and then, just as I thought I couldn’t possibly get dropped any more, Sergio took out the whip and beat us all into another single file of crackage and droppage.

Now there was hardly anybody left, and shortly past the PB Beach Club, Tom M., Marco C., and others just sat up, giving me the “Fuck this shit,” look. Major Bob and I hung onto Sergio briefly, until he dropped us, taking Josh and Backpack Eric with him. They was gone.

On the Switchbacks I chased down Kurt A., who dropped me after getting caught, and we went back and forth all the way to the top, when just after the final turn he imploded, coughed up a lung and a kidney, and went from pedaling squares to pedaling something made with a Spirograph.

My Donut was harder than yours

I know that each week the Donut is harder than the week before, with the absolutely hardest and most epic and most incomprehensibly hideous ones always being the ones I wasn’t on. So I heard that last week it was so hard that they’re thinking of accepting Strava times as substitutes for a race resume if you’re trying to get a wildcard into the TdF, and even so, this week’s was even harder.

As the shards from the group staggered in, minutes, hours, days, sidereal months later, it was clear that the main thing on everyone’s mind was “How do we make sure we don’t have to do this again with a legit UCI pro?”

Unsafe maneuver safely executed

I’m happy to report that I survived the death-defying stunt of riding without a helmet, much as I survived it for most of the years I’ve been cycling. I’m also happy to report that next time I go out, it will almost certainly be with a helmet. Almost.

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