The pelotonic plague

September 24, 2012 § 7 Comments

“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a bird on a plane! No! It’s the space shuttle Endeavor on a plane! Okay! Everybody knock off work to snap photos!”

Life in LA came to a halt on Friday, which wasn’t odd, because nothing ever gets done on Friday anyway when the weather’s good and people are poring over their ride plans for the weekend. What was odd was that people were obsessing about the space shuttle, a rusted out bucket of bolts that cost an estimated $200 billion over its 30-year lifespan.

Quick: Name ONE FUCKING THING the space shuttle ever did for you. Right? Nothing. Squat. It didn’t even give us velcro or Tang.

Quicker: Name 50 THINGS you ever got from a teacher. Right? Reading. Writing. Spelling (some of you). Math (fewer, but okay, it’s still a lot).

Quickest: Explain to me again why we had $200 billion to dump on a fucking engineer’s handjob, but don’t want to pay teachers a living wage?

The flyover hangover

Facebook, Twitter, and the Interwebs overheated with all of the “Go, USA!” and “Proud to be a Merkun!” cell phone photos, as most of Los Angeles paid homage to something they never knew about, cared about, or that ever helped them in any way. I still remember driving out to Ellington AFB in Houston in 1979 with Rick Ellis and his family to look at the shuttle.

Rick’s dad was an engineer and extremely proud of all things American, especially if related to NASA. “This is American ingenuity at is finest!” he proclaimed.

“Wow,” I thought. “A plane strapped to a plane. How dumb.”

Then I remembered the Challenger tragedy. “Wow,” I thought. “What a terrible waste of life.”

Then I remembered the Columbia tragedy. “Wow,” I thought. “All this for NOTHING.”

On the plus side, initial estimates for the shuttle’s operating cost (adjusted for 2011 dollars) was only $54 million per flight, but with hard work on the part of the government and sole-source private contractors, economy-minded planners were able to raise that to $450 million per flight, ten of which would have funded the entire 2013 state educational budget for the state of Oklahoma. Which begs the question, would the nation have been better off with another ten space missions, or with the first generation of Oklahomans able to read on a third grade level?

The infection spreads

Among South Bay cyclists, the contagion of Shuttle Nostalgia began as a minor chest cold, and quickly laid low some of the Bay’s fixtures. First, New Girl was infected and forced to actually miss a group ride. Next, Junkyard himself got sick, with specialists theorizing that the vector was a nick in his titanium elbow that allowed the dreaded disease to attack.

By Friday late afternoon, Shuttle Nostalgia had ripped through the peloton, with Jay Y., Hockeystick, and countless others in full blown shuttle fever. By Sunday, the worst symptoms had dissipated, and I showed up on the Kettle Ride.

It’s been months since I last did the Kettle, and the group was full to busting. Tink was back from her muscle tear; Kimmy had been released from her 36-hour stints as a resident at the ER; Elron, G3, G$, MM, Johnny W., Nick P., Wankomodo, Major Bob, Prez, Jonathan P., Lisa C., Psycho Mike & the Bike Palace Boys, Dan-O, Pistol Pete, Shon the Bomb, Surf City Justin, Suze, Mike and Julie L., and a host of others were at CotKU, later joined by Knoll, Bucks, and a bunch of others at the Ocean Park toilets.

It’s not daaaaaangerous anymore

After a nasty dustup a few blog posts back regarding running the light at Vista del Mar and Grand, the group hauled ass through the stale yellow light with the battle cry “Rolling!” so that those of us at the back of the wankoton got to blow through a light that had been red so long it was about to turn violet.

This bothered me not at all, as it was good to see that the other idiots, when in charge of the insane asylum, were just as inept as I was.

A few hundred yards later, with the group kind of bunchy, a certain individual who will only be named if you send $5 to my PayPal account, decided that rather than going over the hole in front of him that no one had bothered to call out, he would slam on his brakes with about 20 riders immediately behind him.

Everything suddenly shifted into “Fuck, I’m going down mode,” as I too hit the brakes and swerved, with the idiot in front of me rocketing backwards into my front wheel. My back tire locked on the damp pavement and my front wheel skidded as things began to get sideways.

If music is what happens between the notes, bike accidents are what happens between the idiots, and I saw it all happen in the blink of an eye. Me, hitting Idiot. Me, flying over the bars. Me, hitting my shoulder or head or forearm or all of the above at once while the other hapless schmoes behind used my face as a braking surface for their tires or as a landing pad for their giant asses.

The hard whack of the asphalt, the grinding sound of snapping plastic, and through it all the grunts and “fucks” and yells as mayhem ensued.

There it all was, in the blink of an eye.

But it never happened.

My bike straightened, Idiot released his brake and moved just enough so that I didn’t slam into his back wheel, and the other idiots somehow straightened out the mess with no one going down. It was a ballet of club-footed imbeciles, and it was beautiful, as I was the biggest imbecile of all, having chosen to ride in the back third of the wankoton for the only reason anyone ever chooses the back third: The lovely, hunky, sexy, gorgeous, luscious draft created by sixty moving bikes in front of you.

Now, of course, I was awake. Eyes wide open. Heart pounding. Adrenaline gushing. Balls sweating. So grateful to still be upright that I didn’t even bother to curse at the idiot who slammed on his brakes. Another rider was less courteous. “Don’t slam on your brakes in the middle of the pack! Just go over the hole! It’s not that big and won’t kill you!”


Most of the serious racers in the South Bay are done racing by the end of September. This is why I begin my build in August, so that I can peak when no one else is even going hard.

Today’s Kettle was denominated a “noodle ride,” which meant that unofficial orders had been passed out that there would be no hammering.

As soon as the light turned green at Temescal, I hammered. When you’re a wanker, the best time to be fit is when it doesn’t count. This lets you crow about how you spanked 60 of the best (“They were minutes behind! Minutes!”), and more importantly, it sets the stage for proper excusifying when racing begins in 2013.

“Fuck man, I was flying in September and October. Just missed my peak, you know, otherwise I’d be killing everyone like I was doing on the Kettle, beating those wankers by minutes. Minutes!”

Even on a noodle ride, there are always a handful of idiots who can’t resist the challenge of a throwdown, and today was no exception. Pistol Pete, Knoll, Major Bob, Rio Dan, Dan-O (for a while), Treebeard (from Colorado), Hammer Nutrition (Hammernut for short), and a gang of others joined in the stretched out line on PCH while the bulk of the wankoton shook their heads in contempt.

Before long, Pistol Pete, Knoll, Rio Dan, and Hammernut had ground everyone else up into little pieces of biker dung. Roaring into Cross Creek, Knoll jolted away, but soon exploded like a water balloon attached to a 45- jigawatt transmission line. Hammernut and Major Bob sprunted by as I wheezed and watched. Finally Pistol Pete, after having pulled for three days without rest, closed the gap with me somehow finding the energy to suck his wheel as he blew past Bob and Nut. Just as he smelled victory at the bridge, my wheelsucking ways paid the dividend of allowing me to sneakily sprunt by him at the end.

We turned around and rode back to Santa Monica Peet’s where Knoll treated us to coffee. Major Bob and I then returned to the South Bay. The plague seemed to have passed. Whew.

South Bay Rides

May 10, 2012 § 2 Comments

So you’re in the South Bay. Lucky dog! And you’ve got your bike…luckier dog! Here’s a list of the standard rides, including a couple of the “top-secret don’t fucking show up here” ones, which are, of course, the ones you should make a priority.

Dearly Beloved Clusterfuck Of The Ages: The Donut Ride

Begun a long time ago in front of a Winchell’s Donut Shop far, far away, the Donut Ride goes off every Saturday at 8:00 AM in the Riviera Village of Redondo Beach. 8:00 AM means “8:05 or 8:10 or whenever the group rolls out.” It NEVER means “8:00 AM.”

You have your own Donut Ride wherever you live, and this one is no different. Slow start, hammer up a hill, hammer on some flats, hammer along some some rollers, hammer up a hardass motherfucking 8-minute climb (“The Switchbacks”), stop, preen, let the wankers catch up, roll down the hill and then either climb back up from the other side or call it a day and hit the coffee shop.

This super-rad video was taken by local hammer Derek Brauch, beginning near Trump National and going all the way to the top of the Switchbacks. Watch ’em pop and fry!


  • It can be an absolute beatdown, especially when local pros Sergio Hernandez, Rudy Napolitano, or visiting beasts like Mike Friedman or Tyler Hamilton show up.
  • In good weather, which is most of the time, it’s a huge group with lots of places to suck wheel and cower from the front.
  • After ascending the Switchbacks, there are numerous ride variations tailored to your level of wankerdom, including a hard climb up from the Reservoir + Homes & Domes + Glass Church hammer & sprint + Via Zumaya. You’ll be crushed if you eat the whole Donut. It’s never sugar-coated.
  • Best scenery of any Saturday ride, anywhere.


  • It can be a total wankfest if the fast dudes are all off racing somewhere and nobody wants to pull.
  • Stopping and preening is pretty stupid and cools you down prematurely.
  • The LA Sheriff’s Dept. and PV cops sometimes harass and endanger the group in the name of “safety.”
  • It’s no fun getting kicked out of the back at Trump and flailing all the way to the top by yourself with some fat dude wearing sneakers and carrying a floor pump.
  • If you’re one of those people who thinks that everyone’s shit smells bad except your own, it can be a real downer riding with ordinary humans, sitting as you are atop UCI world rankings.
Twice-Weekly Ballbuster Before Work: New Pier Ride a/k/a NPR

This was originally the worst ride in the South Bay. It went along the bike path, meandered through parking lots, wandered over narrow bridges, perambulated along jogger trails, then turned into a series of mad, pell-mell dashes through a deadly gauntlet of traffic lights, stop signs, destroyed roads, and horrific morning traffic. That was the Old Pier Ride.

The New Pier Ride starts at the same place, the Manhattan Beach Pier (a/k/a Center of the Known Universe, “CotKU”), every Tuesday and Thursday, and rolls out promptly at 6:40 AM. “6:40 AM” may mean “6:38” or “6:39.” If you show up at 6:41, be prepared to chase and chase hard. The ride now skips the bike path, rolls through an alley of death for a mile or so, pops out onto Vista del Mar, keeps a fast tempo all the way to Pershing, and then is a complete hammerfest with four laps around Westchester Parkway. Don’t ever do this ride and say “It wasn’t very hard.” That will prove you were nowhere near the front.


  • Distinguish yourself here, and you’ll likely get mentioned on the most influential bike blog in the universe.
  • Guaranteed to get your heart rate up, and then some, before work.
  • Huge group on most days, 70-80 riders, so lots of places to suck wheel and cower.
  • No big hills, just one small bump on Pershing and on the Parkway.
  • If you get dropped you can pick up the pack when they come by in the other direction. And get dropped again.
  • Pros like Rahsaan Bahati, and local beatdown artists like Greg Leibert, Harold Martinez, Eric Anderson, John Tomlinson, Aaron Wimberly, and others will usually show up wearing their best pair of stomp boots.
  • The post-coital coffee chill at the Center of the Known Universe, a/k/a the Starbucks at Manhattan Beach, is the apogee of all that is fun about being a marginally employed bike wanker. We sit. We joke. We check FB updates. We delay going to work. We soak in the sun. We slobber as the local talent slinks by. What’s not to like?


  • Distinguish yourself here, and you’ll likely get mentioned on the universe’s most influential bike blog.
  • Too many places for the frail and the infirm to suck wheel and cower.
  • Too many sprunters sit in and do nothing the entire time, then spank everyone in the sprunt.
  • Unclear finishing line. Is it the beginning of the third traffic island? No one really knows, so it’s usually a case of “raise your hands and declare victory wherever your legs give out.”
  • If you break free, there are numerous riders who never seem strong enough to go with you, but are always strong enough to chase you down.
  • Occasional near-death traffic experiences.
If You Show Up Uninvited You Will Be Crushed And Destroyed: The REMR (pronounced “reamer,” a/k/a Really Early Morning Ride)

This ride leaves every Thursday from the Center of the Known Universe at either 5:30 or 5:45. No one will tell you when. It will be dark. The other riders will materialize out of the shadows and grimly nod to one another. No one looks happy. That’s because no one is.

The best reason to crash this ride is that, even though you’ll be squished like a bug, you’ll be squished like a bug even if you are invited. It’s hosted by the South Bay Royalty, presided over mainly by Jeff Konsmo and Dave Jaeger. Unless they tell you before the ride that they’re going easy, they will crush you like a tin can. The ride rolls crisply out to PV, buries it up the Reservoir climb, crushes it up Better Homes, then squelches the life out of you up to the radar domes on Crest. When the king and queen are preparing for states/nationals, they throw in a handful of additional brutal climbs at race pace. No matter how good you think you are, you’re not.


  • None.


  • Pain beyond your wildest fears.
  • Darkness.
  • Being dismembered by the fang and claw of nature.
  • Failure.
  • Collapse.
  • Doom.
  • Defeat.
  • Once in the office you will stare at your computer screen with a befuddled gaze until it’s time to go home.
The Biggest Wankfest Of The South Bay: The Kettle Ride

Ride leaves every Sunday at 7:00 AM, or 7:05, or whenever, from the Center of the Known Universe, across from the Kettle Restaurant from which the ride got its name. It is the United Nations of South Bay Cycling, attracting all manner of biker. It can be a big ol’ group when the weather’s nice and junior’s Little League games are done for the year, or it can be tiny when it’s a horribly frigid SoCal winter day, which can mean an unendurably cold 63 degrees and a light drizzle. As C.U. Tomorrow says, speaking for thousands of South Bay cyclists, “I don’t touch my helmet ’til the thermo hits 75.”

The group stops at the “Knoll Loading and Unloading/Pick-up Party Area,” or KLAUPUPA [Pronunciation key: “Clow-poopa”], a/k/a public toilets at Ocean Park on the bike path in Santa Monica. Aged prostates are relieved and the group continues on to PCH, where all heck breaks loose. There is a mad slugfest for 6 or 7 miles to Cross Creek in Malibu; midway some riders turn right to climb Topanga or choose a hillier route. Huge sprunt finish at the bridge in Malibu. Most riders turn around and go home, others continue up PCH for more Sunday frolic.


  • Big ol’ group of wankers, and wankers are fun.
  • Nice warm up and chance to chat with friends if you’re planning on doing one of the hillier routes.
  • Great ride if you just want a brief paceline interval.
  • Beautiful scenery.
  • Excellent beach talent on the bike path return; most sightings of the first thong of spring occur here.


  • The ride’s too easy, especially since MMX moved off to North County San Diego.
  • PCH can be hairy and dangerous.
  • The non-climbing route is pancake flat and boring.
  • That fat dude with the sheer, all-white kit two sizes too small sometimes shows up, and you can wind up having to stare down the hairy brown eye of death if you’re inadvertently on his wheel.
  • Shakes the Clown makes this a regular ride of his.
The Secret Saturday Ride For The Anointed: The Nameless Ride

The Nameless Ride is the Saturday alternative to the Donut. It leaves CotKU at 6:00 AM and comprises the aforementioned royalty along with their retinue. No fucking around. The ride goes north and does a handful of hard climbs. Wankers will be ostracized and dropped. All participants required to know the secret handshake. No one will wait for you after you’ve been cracked on some lonely canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, as vultures circle above and hungry coyotes eye your wretched, stringy body as you lie writhing in the ditch. The ride is as short as 70 miles and as long as 100; 120+ if you’re coming from Pedro or PV.


  • None.


  • Feeling inadequate.
  • Being ignored.
  • Getting dropped.
  • Crying.
  • Death.
  • All of the above.
The Best Ride In America: The Wheatgrass Ride

The Wheatgrass Ride rolls out from Malaga Cove Plaza on Sundays just after 8:00 AM. It’s a short, 1.5 hour romp around the PV Peninsula that goes up the Reservoir hill, Homes & Domes, Glass Church, long climb up Hawthorne to PV Mall, and a post-coital discussion of various things while quaffing coffee, Jamba Juice, and wheatgrass. The ride was started by Iron Mike Norris, a/k/a the Mayor of the Hill, or just plain “Dad.” He provides wheatgrass for all participants at the end as punishment for not going to church.

The scenery is spectacularful. There’s regrouping at the radar domes. The pace is only as hard as you want to make it. The group is very welcoming. No one gets snobbed on or ostracized, even Bike Toss Mike when his lechery gets the better of him. If you want to race like a madman with Stathis the Wily Greek or G3 the Mad Scientist, you can. If you want to test your mettle against Tink (and have your mettle wilt like a butter pat in the sun), you can.

Best of all, Wheatgrass is the ideal place to make your blogging debut. Something funny’s sure to happen, and you’ll be surrounded by the legends of the Hill. Iron Mike, Sunshine Rich, Big Bowles, Junkyard, New Girl, Pilot, Canyon Bob, Carlos, the Godfather, Vince di Draftlio…they’re all there. Most awesomely, you’ll get to meet Fussy, the human encyclopedia on everything that has ever happened in the South Bay. You’ll hear about the dude who used to take a mannikin to all the races and dress it with his jersey so his number would be pinned on perfectly, and that’s just the beginning. More funny stories per minute will be told than anywhere since Abe Lincoln was a circuit lawyer.


  • The ride is short.
  • No matter how hard you go, it’s not that hard.
  • Tink will drop you and step on your manhood.
  • You’ll be forced to drink wheatgrass at the end. Unless you’re Pretty Boy.
  • You won’t be able to brag to your SO that you “did a hundred.”


  • The ride is pure fun.
  • People treat you like a real person.
  • Everyone’s welcome, even Crazy George with the gym shorts, the saggy socks, and the rock collection he carries in his backpack.
  • Someone will always stop and help you change your flat. Or your diaper.
  • You’ll feel like one of the group your first time out.
  • Nothing is as much fun as a sunny Sunday morning catching some rays, spreading some manure, and enjoying some post-coital smack talk with like-minded friends.
Doin’ The Double: TELO Tuesday Training Race

After doing the NPR on Tuesday morning, you have the evening option of the TELO Training Race, which goes off every Tuesday at 6:00 PM from the spring time change to the fall time change. It is named after Telo Street in Torrance, a feeder road that leads into a lovely little office park.

The first lap is neutral, and the race lasts for an hour or until an errant vehicle takes out the field, whichever comes first. Packs are as small as 30 and as large as 60. As recently as a couple of years ago the pattern was this: Fast pace for a few laps, slow down, hard attack establishes break, pack chills for the rest of the race, breakaway hammers it out for the win. This rarely if ever happens anymore. The pace is so fast that breaks just can’t make it. There’s almost always a bitter headwind on the back half of the course, which is two long sides with a chicane and two short sides. Sprinter wheelsucks are always waiting in the wings.


  • Super fast, super hard way to end your Tuesday.
  • Close to South Bayers and free.
  • Great way to get in a double workout if you do the NPR in the morning.
  • Generally very safe racing. Crashes are rare, traffic knows about the race and is generally very considerate.


  • It’s a crit. Yawn.
  • If it comes down to a sprint between you, Aaron Wimberly, Paul Che, and Christian Cognigni, there’s no fucking way in hell you’re going to win.
  • Wheelsuck sprinters who treat training races like the real thing. Yawn.

No, Virginia, Halloween isn’t a holiday: The Holiday Ride

When there is a national holiday, whichever day it falls on is the Holiday Ride. This often creates confusion on the part of most people in Manhattan Beach, and quite a few others in the South Bay who don’t really have jobs, and for whom every day is a holiday. So I get emails and texts from them like, “Hey, is there a Holiday Ride tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow,” of course, is usually Halloween, or Gothic Rune Day, or National Prayer in School Day, or the day We Honor Our Teachers but Still Pay Them Shit Day. These are not national holidays, however much you like to use them as an excuse not to finish those three shaping orders that have been 80% completed for the last six months, and therefore, no, there won’t be a Holiday Ride.

If it’s Christmas, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, MLK Day, 4th of July, etc., everyone meets at CotKU at 8:00 AM and leaves super promptly at 7:59. You’ll never catch if you show up late. If the weather’s sunny expect 200+ idiots.

The ride goes north to Santa Monica, turns right on San Vicente Blvd., makes another turn or two and then hits Mandeville Canyon. From the light at Mandeville, it’s game fucking on. The speed instantly snaps the mob into a single file line of death. If you think you’re a contender (you aren’t), don’t be more than ten wheels back.

People begin frying and charring immediately. It’s an endless climb, never very steep except at the last few hundred yards, where it turns into a wall. The finish rarely includes more than two or three people. The remaining 200 or so are flogging the little meat in ones and twos all the way back down the hill.


  • It’s the ultimate “see and be seen” ride
  • You get to see all the rich folks’ houses in Brentwood, or at least the ones you can see with your fucking face plastered to the stem, your eyes watering like a firehose, and sheet snot pouring out all over your face
  • The climb up the canyon is intense and humbling
  • It’s always a full-on beatdown


  • Too many idiots
  • Angry canyon residents have tried to kill cyclists using “their” road
  • It’s always a full-on beatdown

Pedals of anger and love

January 8, 2012 § 2 Comments

“You up for the La Grange ride? It’s fuckin rad, dude. You’ll fuckin love it. It’ll be your new favorite ride.” Fukdude was amped and up as we massed at the Center of the Known Universe for the Sunday Kettle Ride.

“I feel like shit. I’m still trashed from yesterday. I’m flailing. FTR is next Saturday and I’m already overtrained and cracked.”

“So you’re coming, right?”

The choices were bad and awful. I could go with Fukdude and the mixed-Ironfly contingent of Toronto, JDawg, Vegemite, Newlywed, Gonzo, M8, Danc, and Becker Bob, and get thrashed into a pulp on the La Grange Ride, or I could roll north with Roadchamp, G$, McRibs, and TF, and get squished and smeared along the roadway up Latigo.

I ended up going with my team, as I suppose it’s better to get your beatdown surrounded by friends, and the La Grange Ride is one of the most famous rides I’ve never done. As usual, Fukdude had a plan. “You’re going to get on my fuckin wheel, dude, and I’m going to drag you over the wall. Once you’re over the wall just grit your teeth and hang on. It’s all mental after the wall.

“You’ll be rolling out looking at all these fuckin dudes and thinking ‘Fuck, who are all these fuckin dudes ’cause you won’t fuckin know any of them because they don’t race but they’re strong as shit and this is their race. It’s a fuckin beatdown, dude. You’l love it. Just hang on.”

From paradise to Tin Pan Alley

We sheared off from the Kettle Ride at Marina del Rey and headed to West L.A. It was nasty and gnarly, and went down roads that, six and 3/4 days out of seven, were choked with cars. At the rendezvous point, the corner of Westwood and La Grange Avenue, riders began showing up in dribs and drabs until there were about eighty of us. The La Grange cycling club has a description of the ride on its web site which is a masterful expression of understatement and non-disclosure.

The first part of the ride is described as “purely conversational” as we started off by slogging  through what seem like dozens of traffic signals, and continue navigating potholes, avoiding treacherous splits in the asphalt that run parallel with your tire, and staying far enough forward that the guys flaunting hairy buttcracks were behind us, not in front. The “conversation” is a variety of “fucks,” “shits,” “whatthehells,” and “oh-oh-oh-oh-heyfuckitHOLE!” as the menagerie bumps, whacks, brakes, stops-and-starts its way to the throwdown.

I turn to JDawg. “When does this fucking ride get hard?”

He looks and grins. “Oh, about…now.”

We begin rolling up Nichols Canyon, the road kicks straight up, Danc spins off the front, and I’m fifth wheel, tucked behind Fukdude per the plan. A few minutes into the climb I’m laughing to myself. “This is nothing.” The group is strung out single file, I’ve got my high cadence on, and Danc is playing rabbit just up the road. The climb continues. What could be easier than this?

We hit a couple of turns and the guy on the front pulls back Danc and it’s full throttle. The easy climb that was perfectly suited to my cadence goes from totally doable to on-the-fucking-rivet-holy-mother-of-Dog-I’m-gonna vomit. Danc latches on, I struggle for another minute, the oxygen debt becomes an oxygen Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, all power to the engines is instantaneously lost, and it’s Teblow Time.

Flail and flog

JDawg whips by me. “Spin, buddy,” he says. I try to focus on the blur as it races past, and try even harder to decipher his words. “Spin.” I know that word. “Buddy.” I’ve heard that before. What can he mean? Who is he talking to? Where am I? What am I doing? What is this hand grenade that has detonated in my chest?

Then there’s a hand on my left leg as Danc gives me a huge push. “Just a couple more minutes, buddy,” he urges. “Minutes.” I know what those are. One minute on Nichols Canyon at full throttle is a time interval equivalent to a billion years. Two minutes is twelve billion years. I gasp, choke, drop my head, and shoot off the back.

The second group comes by. I struggle on as the road continues up, up, up. A few seconds’ rest and we hit the Wall. This is the part of the ride that Fukdude described thus: “We’re gonna hit this fuckin wall, dude, it’s like straight fuckin up and you’re gonna already be on the fuckin rivet and you’ll come off a little but you’ll have to give just that extra bit beyond what you’ve got and then you’ll hitch back on and can just suffer the rest of the way. It’ll just be a few dudes and if you don’t hook on there you’ll be flailing by yourself the rest of the ride.”

He was right about the “on the rivet” part, but he was way wrong about that “extra bit” part. I would have needed a new set of legs and a hoist to close the 50 or 60 yards that now separated Group Flail from Group One. They crested and were gone.

My group of wankers included Newlywed and Vegemite, the 17 year-old team vegan who, like me, was doing the ride for the first time. The other six guys were La Grange, and they punished us mercilessly until Newlywed curled up in a fetal ball and launched back to the next chase group. Vegemite put in one good attack, then melted down into a puddle, but manfully hung on.

Adding to the fun of having your heart up in your throat for about 40 solid minutes with zero recovery was the thrill of trying to hang onto the wheels of the guys who knew the route, a fair chunk of which involved shooting through stone red lights, drilling through narrow corridors of cars at 40 mph, blasting into the middle of high speed intersections, and my personal favorite, doing it all while navigating massive potholes big enough to swallow you whole, jumping giant road cracks, edging through piled up rocks and gravel in the gutter, and stomping full power on the pedals with each punishing roller.

I flogged and flailed as two of the Mexican La Grange guys discussed the sprint finish strategy. “Hay un semaforo, y despues, los mailboxes y el sprint finish.” From my college Spanish, I knew that “semaforo” meant “fat older sister,” and “despues” meant sitting. So the one guy’s sister was sitting on the mailboxes to cheer us for the sprint finish. I was onto their strategy now.

Ahead of us, Fukdude, JDawg, and Danc had three Grangerites in their breakaway. In a well-timed urination on La Grange’s home fire hydrant, Fukdude nailed the sprint, with JDawg taking second. In Group Flail, I waited until the slight rise that presaged the mailboxes atop which the sister would be sitting. I saw the mailboxes, but no sister–and by the time I realized my error the Grangerites had sneaked by, narrowly beating me to the line by a hundred yards or so. Vegemite crept in slightly OTB, and Group Flog, containing Toronto and Newlywed, arrived in the next wave looking quite fresh, strong, healthy, fit, and fast. Had we done the same ride? I staggered over to the bushes at the Skirball and assisted with some emergency shrubbery hydration while all the Grangerites stood around and looked daggers at Fukdude, JDawg, and Danc.

Pedals of love

After fueling up at the CotKU with coffee and a chicken sandwich, I headed for the Hill and for home. In Redondo I was passed by Don and Dustin Webb. Dustin sits in the front of his dad’s customized rig, carefully belted in and wearing a very cool Livestrong helmet as Don does the tough work of pedaling the bike and his 115-lb. son up and around the hills of the peninsula.

As we hit the steep part of the pitch coming out of Redondo, Dustin looked back at his dad in pure happiness as Don cranked the bike up the hill. “He loves it when I suffer,” Don laughed. The customized fairing kept the headwind from chilling Dustin, who was warmly dressed in long-sleeved jersey and tights. As we crested the hill, Don took out Dustin’s water bottle and helped his son have a drink.

We chatted about gearing and about upcoming plans to convert the sturdy but heavy rig into a carbon fiber frame, all the while enjoying the sunlight and the beautiful view as we rolled out atop the Cove. Watching Don’s smooth, almost effortless power as he propelled his customized assistive cycle up the slope, I reflected for a moment on the morning I’d just spent smashing and bashing up Nichols Canyon, and compared that effort to the lifetime that Don has devoted to caring for, and enjoying the time with his son Dustin. My efforts felt small compared to their companionship and love.

We parted at Coronel, and I hit the climb up Via Zurita with a vigor and strength and freshness and happiness that I hadn’t had before.

Would you please smash in my head with a block of concrete? Thank you.

August 28, 2011 § 3 Comments

I was coming back from the Kettle Ride today with Taylor and Mike on the bike path that connects Washington Blvd. with Admiralty. A couple of hundred yards before the crosswalk on Admiralty there was a lady sitting in the grass, her beach cruiser flopped on its side not far from where she sat. Three firemen were hunched around her–there’s a fire station right across the street–and the howl of an approaching ambulance got louder.

I glanced at her as we passed. Beginning at the top of her forehead, where a properly fitted bicycle helmet would have covered her skull, and running down to her lower cheek was a giant pulpy smush of blood and skin and meat. It looked like an angry stonemason had punched her in the face with a large, steel-encrusted ham. Her boyfriend, similarly helmet-less, stood off to the side wringing his hands.

I reflected for a moment on the fate of a friend who had been taken out by a left-turning motorist who “didn’t see” the bicycle as she was texting behind the wheel. He had shot over the hood, into the windshield, and then straight up into the air, landing on the back of his head. The difference between him and the gal on the bike path is that he was wearing a helmet, and it had absorbed the entire blow, leaving him with a mild concussion. The girl on the bike path was going to need reconstructive surgery to put the top of her face and head back together.

Ain’t No Bicycle Crit Like a Hypocrite

I got suspended by the USCF back in the 80’s when they introduced the hardshell helmet rule for bike races. Not for failing to race with a hardshell, but for sending nasty letters to Richard Degarmo and the USCF staff protesting this outrageous violation of my constitutional rights to be a quadriplegic or dead. I was kind of like this concatenation of idiots, only more so, since there was only one of me. It took about twenty years to realize that helmets work, and that they save lives, and that people who ride around without them have either never been told of the hazards of riding without them, or they are total fucking crazies, or Noel.

When I moved back to Houston in 2005 and started showing up on the Sugarland ride sans helmet, I was subjected to a constant barrage of friendly comments by total strangers concerned about my safety: “Where’s your helmet, dumbass?” “You forgot your helmet, dumbshit.” “Don’t come on this ride, dumbass.” “You are too stupid and dangerous to ride with us.” “Why don’t you wear a helmet, stupid?” “You should wear a helmet, idiot.”

After a few rides I started wearing a helmet.

Now, each time I see someone pedaling around without one, I wonder, “What’s going on in that person’s head? Aside from nothing, I mean.” So over the course of the last few months I’ve been stopping people and asking them. Their answers are enlightening.

Guy on beach cruiser watching volleyball at Manhattan Beach: “Fucks up my hair, dude.”
Me: “Do you think it’s going to be easier to get your hair back in place after you take off the helmet, or to get your brains scooped back into your skull after they’ve spattered all over the pavement?”

Little kid pedaling down by Santa Monica Pier: “Get away from me, mister, or I’m calling the police.”

Me: “What happens when someone throws your head on the ground, poser?

Tattooed bike racer: “I just rode you off my fucking wheel. Shouldn’t you be more concerned about your pathetic lack of fitness?

Me: “Good point.”

Frankly, My Dear, I Don’t Give a Damn

And, I suppose, neither do the people who ride with the whistle of the wind in their hair. There’s something about the carefree, rebellious, whipping feel of wind on a bare head that simply can’t be beat by anything. Except the solid whack of pavement, of course.

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