Mostly free bike racing

March 17, 2017 § 2 Comments

With Daylight Saving Time comes a reset of your body clock, free weekday bike racing, and apparently for some, death. Whether in traffic collisions, workplace injuries, heart attacks, or the receipt of illegal doping shipments for your drug-free bike racing team, the time change can be hazardous to your health and job security.

And rather than being a victim of circumstance, helplessly awaiting the call from USADA, the tightening of the chest, the rear-ender on the 405, or someone dropping a forklift on your foot, I recommend that you proactively select your hazard, which in this case is free bike racing.

Two best free bike races after the Daylight Hazard Time change:

Telo Street Fake Crit: Pay no money, pound your legs and brains into mush for 60 minutes, watch Grandpa Joe show up late, watch the enthusiastic group of 40 get whittled down to a sad-faced group of 20, then 10, then 3, dodge oncoming cars, idling 18-wheelers, antsy moms in SUVs offloading kids at gymnastic class, celebrate Evens Stievenart’s devastating win accompanied by Colin Croston and Shon Holderbaum, watch Grandpa Joe forget to have ordered the awesome winner’s jerseys, go over to Boozy P.’s place for the party that Grandpa Joe arranged, watch the party disintegrate because Grandpa Joe forgot to arrange it, watch 40 thirsty bikers fight to the death over the four beers in Boozy P.’s fridge, and best of all check the winner’s corner on the Telo World Championship’s TWC page on Facebag where Grandpa Joe still slings the best artwork and graphic design on the Internet.

Eldorado Park Free Fake Crit With Surcharge: Pay a little money, zoom around in circles without having to dodge cars a-la-Telo, and best of all watch Gil Dodson, Dave Wehrley, and a host of other kind people donate free entry fees to junior racers, watch kids who come from rough circumstances race their bikes and experience the joy of flying on two wheels in a pack of nutjobs defying death and calamitous injury as they vie for glory, in other words, nirvana.

telo_winners_1_2017

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Old marines never die, they just dig in

August 27, 2016 § 4 Comments

I haven’t done Eldo in several years because it’s too far away in Los Angeles County miles. A Los Angeles County mile is unrelated to the standard English measurement of 5,280 feet. An LAC mile is measured not in distance but by the hour of the day.

For example, a Texas Panhandle Mile measured between Pampa and Canadian (this unit is kind of like West Texas Intermediate Crude, the world yardstick for oil), which is also 5,280 feet (the mile, not the oil), takes roughly one minute if you are traveling 60 miles per hour. There is some math here but I can’t explain it. Ask your father.

However, the same “mile” in Los Angeles County, although theoretically the same distance as a Texas Panhandle mile, changes drastically based on the hour of the day. An LA County mile between Palos Verdes and Long Beach on Tuesday around 5:00 PM has a time value of about 10 minutes rather than one.

I can’t explain that math either but I can explain this: I haven’t done Eldo in Long Beach in years because even though it’s only 20 minutes away measured in standard Texas Panhandle miles, it take about 300 years in LA County miles. Plus, here in the South Bay every Tuesday at exactly the same time we have the Telo crit which, I’m real sorry to inform you, is a lot fucking harder than Eldo. You can laugh all you want, but that just means you’ve never done both.

Eldo has gone through some changes in ownership, but what has continued without interruption is a first-rate bike race that stretches back decades. The difference in the new management and the old management is that unlike old management, there’s no screaming and cursing and hollering and berating, and more importantly it’s a USAC-sanctioned race where you can get upgrade points and huge bragging rights, and most importantly it attracts some of the best crit racers in SoCal like Charon Smith and Dave Koesel, and most-most importantly it has categories for Cat 4’s who can have their own forum for massive braggage and victory salutage and Facebag postage. Cf. Ivan Fernandez.

But most-most-most importantly, the Eldo Under New Management has, for the last three years, provided a forum for the development of junior bike racers, for which we have two people to thank.

One of them is Gil Dodson, a very old marine who is old enough to be your grandfather’s grandfather. He’s so old that when he takes off his helmet you wonder if he remembers the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But then he puts his helmet back on and drops about half the riders who are one-fifth of his age and you STFU. Gil’s foxhole buddy has been Steve Hegg, gold and silver medalist at the 1984 Olympics and current holder of the Genuinely Nicest Guy in Long Beach Award.

Gil has poured money into Eldo by paying for every single junior rider’s entry fee for three years and ending each season with a free bike frame giveaway to the junior at the top of the standings. It’s been a huge investment and it has paid huge dividends. Eldo provides the only regular venue for young riders to compete, earn upgrade points, and sharpen their skills before being tossed into the shark pit. Thanks to Gil, or rather no thanks to Gil, we now have a crop of young riders who show up at other group rides and smash their elders with glee.

The other person who has made Eldo a success is David Wehrly. Like Gil, he has provided significant financial support, without which the race simply couldn’t continue. Unlike Gil, Dave is so far in the background that you might think he’s with the Israel cyber ops NSO Group. But like all of the good works that David does, although he himself may be deep cover, the results and the beneficiaries are out in the open for all to see.

I’d better stop here. This is starting to sound way too happy.

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You can change the world, even if it’s only yours

June 14, 2016 § 24 Comments

We’ve all had post-ride arguments about the “safe” way to handle a particular intersection or stretch of road when riding with our group, and perhaps the finest aspect of Facebag is its ability to get various dissonant voices all screaming at each other simultaneously while plodding through the morning email.

These discussions typically degenerate, or lead to nothing because different cyclists have such vastly different perspectives on what constitutes safety. They have different views because for most riders there is no shared platform of ideas about how to ride other than each cyclist’s personal experience.

“I’ve been riding this way since ’84,” “Don’t pull that crap on my ride,” “I never do that,” and “That’s daaaaangerous!” all represent a rejection of shared riding theories and the primacy of personal experience. In other words, people have little to no chance of ever agreeing.

In most fields there are a series of shared practices that form the basis for operating on the road, or in the air, or on the water. The same is true for people who file lawsuits, conduct medical research, build houses, or cook for a living. Only in cycling does each rider make it up as she goes along, blown by the vagaries of the particular group she happens to fall in with.

I’ve been fortunate enough to fall in with a group of cycling instructors who teach bike-in-traffic principles by borrowing from the same practices and ideas used when you teach people how to drive a car. Whether you agree or disagree, sitting through a bicycling class can have a profound effect on the way you cycle. There are different curricula for bicycle riding instruction, but all share a few core elements.

There are lots of reasons that bike instruction hasn’t taken off in SoCal. One is that it’s not mandatory. Another is that people think that because they can ride, they can ride safely in traffic. Another is because people ride for freedom, and what’s more antithetical to freedom than being told how to do something? (Hint: Getting killed or maimed.)

A bike group that operates in what is arguably America’s most challenging group ride environment, the Long Beach Freddies, spurred by the recent deaths and catastrophic injuries of cyclists in the South Bay, paid for and took a course offered by Cycling Savvy, a curriculum that teaches cyclists how to drive in traffic. Spearheaded by Scott Stryker, Bill Holford, Scott Raymond, Bill Harris, and Gil Dodson, the Freddies have begun grappling with the considerable issue of safety that is posed on every one of their M-F group rides.

This is because their route always travels for several miles along extremely congested stretches of Pacific Coast Highway where there is no bike lane, where the shoulder/gutter are filled with debris, pavement irregularities, and where for long sections riders are exposed to the door zone of parked cars. “It’s only a matter of time” was the sentiment that led this performance-oriented Lycra crowd to do the unthinkable: Take bike riding lessons from hairy-legged dorks on cargo bikes.

Cycling Savvy instructor Gary Cziko gave a tremendous presentation filled with facts, laws, video clips, strategies, and advice for how to conquer the fear of cagers and how to turn the roadway into a safe operating space. None of it involved tossing water bottles at offending cagers or the phrase “Fuck you!” The entire gang of speedsters was awestruck by the opening video clip showing Keri Caffrey, a yellow-shirted commuter on flat pedals, totally owning a fast, congested roadway in Orlando by completely controlling the traffic around her.

We all thought the same thing: “If she can do it, why can’t we?”

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Freddies are on the cutting edge of change. One person can’t change the world, but each person can change her world, and in the words of instructor Pete Van Nuys, “When you see things differently, you change the things you see.”

There are multiple levels of change required if cyclists are going to take their rightful place in the transportation network. Some of those changes are legal, some will require cager education, and in some few cases they will require infrastructure. But the one place that change must also occur is among the cyclists themselves. As Brad House loved to say, “I’m not in traffic, I am traffic.”

Taking the time to take a class, think about it, and apply it to your own regular rides will bootstrap safety discussions from “I think therefore it is,” to “This principle suggests that the best choice is [x].” And once you’re educated it’s a tiny step to asking others to take the time to get educated, too.

Shared principles among cyclists for riding in traffic that don’t include flipping off cars? Well, yes.

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Freddies on the edge

April 27, 2016 § 47 Comments

I got a message from Scott S. the other day. He had heard about the collision from two weeks back in which South Bay cyclist Steve Shriver was run over on PCH, suffering catastrophic injuries. Coming hard on the heels of Jon Tansavadti’s death in March, as well as a rash of near misses in Long Beach, Scott was concerned.

“Anything we can learn from these tragedies?” he asked.

My answer was simple. “I don’t have the answer, Scott, but I can tell you this: What we’re doing now isn’t working.”

Then we talked about the gaping hole in our cycling experience, otherwise known as the utter lack of formal cycling education. Steve had been run over riding single file, up against the edge of a construction zone. Jon had been killed by a right-turning moving van.

We can argue all day about where they were and where they should have been, but we can’t argue about this: Neither rider had ever taken a formal bike education course–one, with more than 30 years of experience, the other, with less than twelve months.

Perhaps education isn’t the answer, but it sure seems like a great place to start. Moreover, whether education can save any one person is less important than the grim recognition that collectively the cycling community spends way more time on gear and clothing and equipment than it does on education. We encourage people to ride, help them select a fancy bike and a cool kit, and throw them to the wolves.

“Would you come ride with us next Wednesday and talk about this?” Scott asked.

“Sure,” I said. “What time?”

“We roll at 6:00 AM sharp.”

I gulped because that meant a 4:50 roll-out from PV, and there was only one other person in all of Los Angeles crazy enough to get up at 4:30 so he could meet me at 5:15 and pedal through the bowels of the nation’s biggest port at daybreak to ride with the Long Beach Freddies.

In short, this was a job for Major Bob, the grumpiest guy with the biggest heart in all of cycling. “Can you squire me to the Freddie ride on Wednesday?”

“Sure,” Bob said when I explained the misssion. He didn’t mention that on Sunday he’d be doing the 145-mile Belgian Waffle Ride, and that on Tuesday he’d knock out a cool 90 doing the NPR beatdown and a legstretcher up the 6-mile Mandeville climb.

At 5:15 sharp he was there at the corner of Vermont and Anaheim and Gaffey and PV Drive, and a happening place it was.

7-11

I was apprehensive about proposing education to the Freddies because despite their name they ride with some of the best people in cycling. Tony Cruz is one of the Freddies, as well as Olympic gold medalist Steve Hegg and Rio aspirant Nate Koch, and their fast Fridays are, well, fast. Very fast. One of the walls in cycling has always been between the fast people in lycra and the slow people with mirrors. Needless to say the one don’t always take kindly to advice from the other.

Problem is that the mirror dorks are the ones who have actually studied  riding in traffic from a perspective more sophisticated than “bunnyhop the curb, flip off the asshole driver, and keep going.” Going to the Freddies and pitching a dork session was, I feared, going to be a hard sell.

It was anything but. Unlike most clubs, which operate with multiple levels of decision making atop glacial epochs of implementation, the Freddies have a “Fuck it, let’s go,” attitude. They politely listened to my speech.

“So where should we start?” Scott asked after I finished.

“Maybe four or five of you should take the Cycling Savvy Dorkcycle and Autopsy Avoidance Course like we did at Big Orange, see if it works for you, and then think about encouraging some of the other members to do it.”

“Nah,” said Scott. “We’re in, all of us.”

I blinked. “All of you?”

Bill H., not known for his lengthy speeches, stood up. “This is important and we need to do it. We’re in.”

So as far as I know, the guys down in Long Beach are the nation’s first speed club to take formal cycling education as seriously as they take their clothing. Which is, frankly, incredible, and which, if it prevents even one collision or saves even one life is worth it a million times over.

I’m humbled and awed.

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I have a heart condition

October 17, 2015 § 8 Comments

long_beach_freds

The first time I rode with Stryker was on the Palm Springs Century, a nasty, windy, hot, unpleasant slog through the desert in February that I’ve done my best to forget. We were seventy miles in and he said, “You know, I’ve got a heart condition.” I immediately eased up and let him sit on, afraid I’d kill the kindly old soul.

Five years later Major Bob called. “Hey, wanna go ride with the Long Beach Freds?”

“Are those the guys Stryker rides with?”

“Yep.”

“Sure,” I said. “As long as it’s easy. The intergalactic Donut Ride championship and celebrity beatdown with Steve Tilford is tomorrow and I’ve been training for this since June. So I need to go real, real easy.”

“Come on. When the club name has ‘Freds’ in it, how hard do think it can be?”

“Good point.”

Major Bob picked me up at my apartment at 5:20 and we drove to Long Beach, which is only ten miles away as the crow flies. But unless you’re a crow you have to drive or ride over there, and it takes forever. We went through the pre-dawn haunts of Long Beach, past smoking piles of slag, cadmium, mercury, lead, cesium 137, and strontium 90.

“Breathe deep,” said Major Bob.

We passed a group of youths gathered around an elderly fellow with whom they joked and chatted as they robbed and beat him with a tire iron.

The ride began in the pitch black but everyone had a light. “Where does this ride go?” I asked Gil.

“PCH.”

“Yeah, but I mean the ride. Where do you ride?”

“PCH.”

“PCH?”

“Is there an echo out here?” someone piped up.

PCH through Long Beach is clogged with cars, stoplights, trucks, glass, rocks, sand, manhole covers, open manholes, trenches, and smoking piles of slag, cadmium, mercury, lead, cesium 137, and strontium 90. “As long as we go easy,” I said.

Hegg laughed. “It’ll be plenty easy.” [Note to self: When Olympic gold medalist says it’ll be easy, he might mean something different from you and me.]

Shortly thereafter the speed increased to 30, with only a few of the 40-odd riders doing any work as the rest gasped and lunged for a wheel. By the time Lotts ran into an open manhole and exploded his tube with what sounded like a rifle shot, the group was in tatters, spattered in ones and twos for more than a mile.

I had taken exactly three pulls, and each time it had felt like the final 200 meters of an uphill sprint after a 100-mile road race that you did on your hands.

We regrouped and the insanity began again. It stopped briefly as we turned around and rode home, this time in a rotating paceline. The twelve riders of the forty who began the rotation while the others sat on dwindled to ten, then seven, then six, and then five. Each time he pulled through, Lotts would punch another person out the back.

Dutifully doing my turns until the remaining five riders all began breathing like winded water buffaloes, we came to a red light. One of the dudes looked at me angrily. “Quit pulling through like that! It’s too fast!”

I apologized for making him tired and slunk to the back, as the shards of the group rolled up to the light. First among them was Stryker. “Hey Seth!” he shouted. “Ease up. I have a heart condition, y’know!” Then he pounded off the line, dropped ten guys, and would have won the final sprunt to the bagels and cream cheese if he hadn’t flatted.

“Can you give me a hand?” he barked. “I have a heart condition.”

I did my best to put his wheel on backwards, but couldn’t. About this time a huge deluge arrived. A giant forklift that had been riding on the shoulder while its operator smoked a bong saw us changing the tire, hit the brakes, and watched in amusement as his 40-ton piece of equipment with bald tires began to go sideways. “Ever had a forty-foot forklift prong stuck up your butt?” asked Stryker.

“No,” I said.

“Me either. And thank dog we’re not gonna start today,” he said as the forklift came to a stop inches from our huddled pooping group.

At the coffee shop Major Bob and I were treated to a cup of Long Beach’s special blends; you could choose strontium or cesium flavor, depending on which half life you liked best. Now that no one had to actually pedal, the shit talking assumed epic proportions. “Next time you chop my wheel like that I’m putting a fucking bullet in your nuts,” said Lotts, which was his polite way of saying “don’t move over so quickly.”

Each person recounted a version of reality completely at odds with what we all had seen, but the stitched-together delusions gradually began to replace actuality. Instead of a hot burning in my thighs, raspy lungs, and the feeling that tomorrow I’d be lucky to get out of bed, I was beginning to recall an easy, pleasant spin with friends.

“We went easy today because of my heart condition,” said Stryker. “But come back on Wednesday and we’ll make sure you get a workout.”

I spit up a pair of ribs, hobbled back to the car, and went home. Freds, indeed.

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