Two points

April 7, 2018 § 5 Comments

In this, our fourth year, we have had more riders on the Flog than ever before. Used to be, ten was a huge turnout and five or six was often the norm. This past Thursday eighteen riders showed up, and it’s common that twenty or more cyclists appear at the Malaga Cove fountain every week at 6:35 AM to flog themselves around the golf course for six laps.

One guy who is there without fail is Luke. He and I battle it out quite a bit, with me usually dropping him up to the top of PV Drive North, and then him surging by and dropping me on the wall. About half the time I catch him and beat him to the top, and about half the time he beats me.

He is very tough. You have to be tough to do the Flog Ride. You have to be a lot of other things, too, none of which are very flattering.

The leaderboard

This year a leaderboard was instituted. The person who got over the top first at the end of the climb got a point. “What about points for second and third?” a rider asked me.

“What are second and third?” I asked him back.

The last lap of the Flog continues past the golf club and ascends La Cuesta, which is an 89% grade and is roughly 12,000 miles long. The first one up La Cuesta gets two points; everyone else gets a selfie.

As you’d expect, the same riders collect all the points, week in and week out, and the rest of us get shelled and are non-first up the climb. Surfer Dan, Kyle, Adam, and a couple of other riders look down from the top of the leaderboard … way, way down.

And of course all the riders who have precious little chance, as in “zero,” of ever being first up the climb, let alone first up La Cuesta, have to settle for disappointment. And there is a lot of disappointment to go around each week, along with the faint glimmers of hope that show up each Thursday, only to be doused by the wattage rained down on them by the Cobleys, Jacksons, Floreses.

A boy can dream, can’t he?

This past Thursday the hitters overslept except for Kyle, who showed up in rare form. He took each point every lap, and he took them by a long, long way.

But after the fifth lap he didn’t stop in the parking lot to regroup, he kept on riding, and when Lap 6 began he hadn’t come back. We all looked at each other and it became instantly clear: Two magical points, the holy points up La Cuesta, were now on offer. You could feel the excitement.

In the past three Flog years, I’ve been first up La Cuesta less than five or six times. And the pattern in Year Four was painfully the same. I’d hit the bottom hard and get passed by Luke. Not passed by a little, passed by a lot. I was the tin can and he was the oncoming freight train. If I was gonna get those two points today, I’d have to beat Luke. And he wanted the points badly, desperately, because even though he is really good, he’s never been able to get a point.

I, on the other hand, through skulduggery, wheelsuckery, riding on blizzard/ice storm days when no one else shows up, and all manner of chicanery, had twelve points on the leaderboard. It would be a battle of ability and honor versus faithlessness and cunning.

Against the wind

Peter was the lead-out goat up to the top of PV Drive North. I was glued to Luke’s wheel as he sprinted over the top of the first climb and drilled it on the downhill and then all the way to the wall. Halfway up the wall I still hadn’t taken a pull, and as Luke slowed, Emily, and Ennis charged by with Lauren in the lead. Luke grabbed onto the back.

Reichmann caught us and sprinted by, cresting the climb and shooting down towards the base of La Cuesta. A few pedal strokes up La Cuesta and everyone fell away except Luke and I. He surged and immediately stuffed me into a place that made the hurt locker look like Club Med.

He wanted those two points so badly, but the knowledge of those points on offer somehow kept me from tailing off in the spots where I usually crumple and melt. We hit the final two hundred yards, which on La Cuesta, at 16 or 17%, feels like the face of a glacier by the time you get there. The cumulative sprinting and 5-minute intervals from the preceding five laps have worked your legs into putty, and there is nothing but pain.

And desire.

With a hundred yards to go, all of my wheelsucking started to pay off. Luke began to go from smooth hammerstrokes to uneven jabs, his speed dropped, his head began to hang ever so slightly. He was digging down into a place where most people not only never go, they don’t even know it exists. It energized me too, in a different way. Something about the sight of raw meat gives a cyclist energy, like a jolt of caffeine injected into the base of your skull.

But then in a brief second I considered everything: He had pulled the whole way. He had zero points on the leaderboard. He had never won a lap. He was one of the ride’s most faithful, strongest, safest, and reliable riders. He was tough as nails. He was a good person. He had never said a cross word, never complained, never pulled a dick move, and every lap he rode his heart out.

I had twelve points. I’d won plenty of laps in years past. None of it made any difference anyway, and what kind of person was so selfish that he couldn’t sit up and let a pal have a taste of glory on a fabled South Bay climb? If there were ever a place for decency, I realized, this was it.

I hit the gas as hard as I could and sprinted to the top, the sound of his labored gasps echoing in my ears.



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Flappy happy

October 10, 2015 § 14 Comments

Some things make you smile. Big.

On Thursday morning it was pitch black as I rolled down PV Drive North to the start of the Flog Ride. Just before making the left turn to go up Via Campesina my headlight caught the edge of a pink t-shirt flapping in the wind. The rider blended into the dark better than any owl. She had no headlight, no taillight, was wearing black tights and riding a black bike. Did I mention it was pitch black outside?

She had earphones in so I didn’t say anything as I turned and started up the golf course climb. Halfway up I heard the sound of tires and glanced off to my left. She was charging past me, full gas, long legs spinning the hell out of those pedals. I’d planned on an easy warm-up but she passed with such authority that I couldn’t let it go.

I picked up the pace a bit, sitting about ten yards back. Pretty soon I was breathing hard and not closing any ground. “Ah hell,” I thought. “I don’t want to chase anyway.”

At the right-hander she went straight and I turned right, summited, and started the descent. Then I heard those wheels again. This time she bombed by, buried in the darkness, gone before I could see much more than the flapping edge of her shirt. “She’s gonna die,” I thought.

At the 180-degree turn she’d slowed down, a lot, and since I had a light I easily went by, going straight and starting the long climb up Via del Monte. Pretty soon I heard those tires again. But I had some momentum and matched her pace as she pulled alongside me, covered in sweat.

“Hi, there!” I said.

She pulled out her earphones. “What?”

“Hi, there!”

“Oh. Hi!”

“Where are you headed in such a hurry? You’re fast,” I said.

“I’m just doing a 45-minute ride before I have to work.”

“You’ve got talent,” I said. “I can see that in the dark.”

She laughed, embarrassed. “I just finished my first Ironman and am kind of new to cycling.”

“There are people who are real old to cycling who couldn’t keep up with you.”

She smiled again and we chatted going up to the stop sign, where I pulled over and gave her my card. “Hit me up if you ever want to go ride with some cyclists. You’ll get mansplained to death, but you’ll get faster and better. And it might even be fun.”

“Thank you!” she said. “I’d love that!”

That evening I got home and had an email waiting, an email filled with the enthusiasm and excitement and joy of a young person discovering that she can ride fast, and that there are other people out there just like her.

Grinning at my keyboard, I tapped out a reply.



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Birth of a bike ride

December 5, 2014 § 26 Comments

Rides come and go, mostly go. When the New Pier Ride was ruined by construction on Westchester Parkway, a new ride was subbed in. Dreamed up by local rider Junkyard, the new Thursday ride has now reached a point of such viciousness that its founder not only gets shelled in the first three minutes, but it’s gotten so hard that he can’t even get out of bed.

Now that, friends, is a hard bicycle ride.

The Thursday ride leaves at 6:35 AM sharp from the fountain in Malaga Cove. The route is simple:

  1. Right on PV Drive.
  2. Right on Paso del Campo.
  3. Right on Via Campesina.
  4. Right on Via Chico, through the arch, and back to PV Drive.
  5. On the sixth lap, left on La Cuesta, where the ride terminates at the top and you vomit.
  6. Back to Riviera Village for coffee and lies.

The awesomeness of the ride is expressed by the fact that it immediately starts with a climb, so people immediately get shelled. No imagining, no hoping, no fantasy that you actually had sort of a good ride. You start and if you don’t have the legs you’re gone. There is something beautiful about this type of summary execution, where the usual habit of lingering, wheelsucking, and flailing by at the end becomes a nasty sort of trial, judgment, and punishment within the first few hundred yards.

However, the fun doesn’t stop there because the beginning climb isn’t that steep, and the following climb up around the golf course isn’t that steep. So with practice you can get strong enough to hang on, although the humiliation and crushing sense of defeat that comes from getting repeatedly shelled the first few times you do the ride is usually enough to make people go away and never come back. The net effect is that after a few laps are three groups.

  1. Stathis the Wily Greek.
  2. Everyone else.
  3. The fragments.

But it gets better because there are no stoplights. On the NPR, indeed every group ride in L.A., the ride is controlled partially by stoplights, and largely by stoplight whiners. Essentially, when you’re off the front on the NPR with one other wanker and you have a pack of 85 chasing with a tailwind and you’re pedaling harder than teakwood and you approach a red light and you run it, at the end of the ride all the wheelsuckers and never-seen-the-fronters and wait-til-the-end-sprunters and why-are-we-hammering-it’s-Novemberers will berate you for scofflawing. Never mind that there was never any danger, and never mind that the whiners are the very people who will pull the craziest death-shit in the middle of a pack fighting for a wheel. The point is that they want to detract from your awesomesauceness and your heroic brokeaway antics. Plus, they’re pissed that their sprunt didn’t count because you had already crossed the imaginary line in a fantasy victory.

Not so with the Thursday ride! There are no stoplights to run, only stop signs, and the stoplight whiners never, ever, ever show up for the ride. It’s like killing two birds with one stone, then fricasseeing them and eating them for dinner.

The ride offers up lots more goodness, for example racing tactics. There is always one idiot or two who will attack from the gun and establish a healthy gap. Said idiot, who often writes a daily blog, then gets reeled in and crushed. But rather than simply floating to the back to regroup and attack again, the torrid pace and the constant rolling climb punish the would-be attacker to such an extent that the next hard acceleration, typically unleashed by Derek, or by EA Sports, Inc., or by 26, obliterates the hangers-on so that Sausage, Spivey, Fireman, and I wank along until they shell me, too.

In short, you can get all the misery and failure of a race every single week without paying a nickel or driving a mile.

But wait, there’s more! Repeat riders get stronger (can you imagine that?) so the ride gets even harder. 26, who never finished without getting shelled, put the wood to everyone yesterday. When a big boy like that gets as comfortable on rolling power climbs as he is in sprints, it’s going to mean mayhem.

Best of all, with the exception of the time that Sausage got dropped, turned around, and hopped back in with us as we came by, there is no cheating. Once you get unhitched, you’re on your own to struggle and suffer and try to catch the little red blinking light in front of you. Or you pair up with another wanker and suffer in tandem.

The ride is short; just under one hour long, and after finishing the climb on the last lap you jog left and go up La Cuesta. It’s only a little more than a quarter-mile long, but at 12 or 13 percent it feels like a light-year. Now if we can just get the ride’s founder to start showing up again.

Thank dog for flats and King David

August 31, 2014 § 11 Comments

I rang the doorbell. “Come on in,” said Eric, so I did. The Donut starts at 8:05, he lives about ten minutes away, and it was 7:45. “Want some coffee?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

He ground the beans and started boiling water as he leisurely poured some cereal into a bowl. I wasn’t worried about being late, because Eric’s never late. I was worried about the pain.

At 7:55 he ambled off to fill his bottles and “get ready.” I went outside and waited. I was shaking because I knew what was coming.

At 8:00 he rolled down the driveway with me. “We got plenty of time,” he said. “That ride never leaves on time anyway.”

What he meant was, “We’re going to go really fast now.”

It’s a long gradual downhill after climbing from his house up to PV Drive all the way to the start of the Donut Ride in Redondo Beach, with only one brief bump. You know what it’s like when you go, cold legs, from zero to thirty-five in a few pedal strokes? It was like that.

Hanging onto his wheel for dear life, a black Suburban came up behind us but wouldn’t pass even though we were on the shoulder. I kept flicking it to come by, but it wouldn’t. We were doing forty, and finally it came through. No wonder it wouldn’t pass: Clodhopper was at the wheel. “Hop on, boys,” he shouted.

Eric dived onto the bumper as Clodhopper wrapped it up to fifty. I came off at fifty-five and Eric vanished. I caught up to him at the start of the Donut, legs completely blown before the ride even started.

The 80-strong ride tore out of Malaga Cove lickety-split, mercilessly kicking the weak, infirm, and hungover riders out the back. A month or so ago we started doing “the Alley,” a vicious little wall-and-rest-and-steep-kicker that comes early on in the ride. The Alley has eliminated the safe-haven wheelsucking that has always plagued the Donut Ride by allowing wankers to coast along until the big climb up the Switchbacks. Now, the group separates early. One group does the Alley and pays for it the rest of the day; the timid and weak avoid it, only to be swept up and spit out later in the ride. Those who consistently do the Alley get stronger or they quit cycling, what’s known in the business as a “win-win.”

Although initially despised by all who did it, the Alley is now not so much despised as it is thoroughly hated.

Today was no exception. Boy Wonder Diego Binatena led the charge; Sausage, Rudy, Aaron, and a handful of others roared after him. Everyone else was pinned, by their foreskins, with rusty carpet tacks. Shortly after the first stop light, the Wily Greek attacked and took Derek, Rudy, Boy Wonder, and a couple of others. We came close to catching them, as in “the three-legged dog came close to catching the cheetah.”

Chatty Cathy, who had hopped in at the stoplight with a bunch of other course-cutters, came up to me after the break escaped. “Nice new kit you’re wearing!” he said.

“Why don’t you shut up and get your sorry fucking ass up to the front and chase down the break instead of hopping in after the hardest part of the ride and sucking wheel like a leech?”

Chatty Cathy shrugged. “Okay,” he said. Then he went to the front and obliterated about twenty people who were already hanging on for dear life. Then he ramped it up even more and came within 200 yards of pulling back the break. He swung over. “How was that?” he asked.

I spit blood and pooped a little poop. “Urgle,” was the best I could manage.

On the way down from the Domes I spied my teammate Derek on the side of the road with a flat. There is nothing better than being on a ride, feeling destroyed, looking for an excuse to quit, and spying a friend with a flat. I pulled over, and a few other broken souls did, too. The ride roared by.

We spent the next hour riding slowly and enjoying the day. On the final climb up Via Zumaya, a miserable, steep, and endless slog, I was alone and tired and didn’t care. Midway up the climb there was another clump of riders, also changing a flat. More happiness ensued as I dismounted and sat on the curb. Some lady from the neighborhood was walking her poodle and had stopped to chat. She had a very strong South African accent.

“Are you from Texas?” I asked.

“South Africa,” she archly replied.

“Oh,” I said. “You sound like a Texan.”

She laughed politely and the conversation seemed poised to end, which was bad since the flat had been changed and that meant I would have to remount and keep riding. “Where did you go to high school?” I asked her.

“In Johannesburg.”

“Really? I had an old girlfriend who went to high school in Johannesburg.”

The nice lady could now tell she was being hit on by some idiot who didn’t know South Africa from Texas. She raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”

“Yep,” I said. “She went to King David.”

The lady’s jaw dropped. “You’re joking.”

“Nope,” I said. “But you wouldn’t know her. You’re way too young; she’s fifty now.”

“And how old do you think I am?” she coyly asked.

I looked at the landmine and deftly stepped over it. “Early 30’s max,” I lied.

She blushed. “I’m fifty. What was your girlfriend’s name?”

By now the other bikers had regained their composure and stood there, laughing. “I like your style, Wanky,” said Aaron. “Ride up and swoop in. Nice work.”

I ignored him. “Her name’s Annette. Annette Davis.”

The blood drained out of her face. “This can’t be happening. We were best friends.”

By now I had thrown a leg over my bike and got ready to pedal off.  I looked at her intently and paused. “Yes,” I said. “I know.”



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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…

Unlaboring for nationals

September 2, 2011 § 4 Comments

Monday is Labor Day, a time of celebration and rest for those whose efforts and occupations keep this great country moving. It less well known that the Friday preceding Labor Day is also celebrated as “Unlabor Day,” a time when we doff our hats to those who have been able to milk the system so that they may enjoy a wonderful lifestyle without having to lift a finger. One among our small cadre of South Bay cyclists stands particularly tall in this regard (not naming any names), and today a stellar lineup including Rodley, Marcus Aurelius, King Harold,  Howard Hughes of the South Bay, the Chief, and Jaegermeister spent Unlabor Day morning on the stoop drinking coffee, telling lies, and watching a dog urinate on the bikes leaned against the hitching post. My bike.

Big Mike accompanied us from Malaga Cove, but turned back at MBSB in order not to be photographed and therefore publicly associated with the unwashed. Mr. I’m In Trial was in trial, and the Honey Badger sent his regrets. Jack from Illinois (not his real name) was a no-show, but with us in spirit. A very angry and evil spirit, might I add.

Jeff K. made a cameo ride by and nodded in our direction without actually saying “hello,” “good morning,” or “fuck you, losers.” That’s okay; I’m sure at least one of those thoughts crossed his mind, and that’s good enough for me. Jeff and G$ are representing the slackers of the South Bay at Master’s Nationals in Bend this weekend, and in further celebration of Unlabor Day we gave thanks to those godlike men willing to labor in the saddle for glory even as we ordered a second round of scones. The Chief, who is in serious training for MT4, got in a particularly hearty ride by going all the way back with us to Hermosa Beach  before heading home, which gave him a total of five miles for the morning. Unlaborers of the world, unite!

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