Blame the customer

February 2, 2016 § 28 Comments

I went to a road race on Saturday with a barely-mended cracked pelvis. It was pouring when we arrived, and raining when the race started. The field had 70 riders, the roads were slick with mud, the race started with two fast downhills, and the back side of the course was on badly paved road that sported lots of potholes.

And, I was scared.

Let me repeat that: I was scared.

And lest anyone misunderstand, I am scared pretty much every time I race my bike. Why? Because bike racing is scary.

It is fun and exhilarating and challenging, but especially it is scary.

Some people aren’t scared by bike racing. They are easily categorized:

  1. Monumental idiots.
  2. Young people (often same as #1).
  3. People with no dependents and seasonal employment (often same as #1 and #2).

Everyone else finds the act of getting on a bike and scrumming, bar-to-bar, with highly excitable people possessing questionable skills at high speeds, frightening. In fact, most people find it so frightening that they never race. Others only toe the lie after great internal struggles and psychological battles of the worst sort. No one races, year in and year out, without repeatedly questioning whether it’s worth the risk, and upon concluding “No way,” shrugging and racing anyway.

I say all of this because after Saturday’s fright fest there was a crit on Sunday. The weather forecast was a 100% chance of rain. The TV weather maps showed an angry red colossus sweeping everything in its path. If you raced on Sunday you were going to get wet.

This caused a lot of people to stay home because they were afraid. Why were they afraid? Because when you race 100% of the time in sunny Southern California on dry roads, going really fast on wet ones that are often coated with oil takes the normal amount of anxiety and ramps it up to “unbearable” on the Scare-dee-Meter. In other words, it’s not fun.

There’s another reason people stayed home. Bicycles nowadays are rather expensive. One fall that busts your wheels is an easy $2k. Frame, $3-4k. Helmet, $250. Most racers don’t like to trash their equipment, and even if you don’t crash it, filthy wet races leave you with a nasty, dreckish bike that takes time and effort to clean. What a fun way to spend Sunday evening after sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 101 …

So I was a bit surprised to read a nasty takedown on Facegag today by a guy in the 65+ category (really), sneering at all the masters pansies and weaklings who got scared off by a little rain. Several other idiots chimed in, lamenting how weak and cowardly the profamateur SoCal masters racers are. And then of course there was the criticism about “not supporting the promoter,” because everyone who chose to stay home was somehow an enemy of amateur bike racing.

Of course this particular critic was also saying “Look at me and how tough I am.” And I kind of disagree. If you’re 65 years old and still trying to prove that you’re tough, you’re about as weak and insecure as they come. The schoolyard taunt of “chicken” loses its jab for most people by about age 15. Any time some wrinkled “master” in his underwear is calling a bunch of other wrinkled masters in their underwear “cowards,” well, we have the subject of a funny SNL skit.

The fact is that the older you get the more carefully you weigh risk and count nickels. For a lot of people, especially those who slogged through Saturday’s shit fest, a Sunday spent pretending that we’re all 20-something Belgian pros just didn’t match up against the risk of spending a Sunday afternoon in the ER getting a new roll of Tegaderm and neck x-rays from three angles.

You may not like it, but masters racers are customers. If you think that calling them names and abusing them and treating them like shit will make them want to show up and race the next go ’round when the weather is nicer, you may be in for a surprise.

END

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Swallow the manure

January 31, 2016 § 11 Comments

The Hungarian picked me up at 5:15 AM. We drove over to the Ex-Military, who wasn’t offended at all by my previous rantings about the USMC’s asinine confiscation of bikes at Air Station Miramar.

Next we picked up Fireman.

Then we had to pick up Sandy Bagger. “Where are we getting him?” asked Major, who was driving the new Mercedes Sprinter van with leather captain’s seats that he’d just bought.

I checked my phone. “Says to pick him up at the Culver exit off the 405.”

“Yeah, but where? He’s not gonna be standing at the fuggin’ exit ramp.”

“Well, no. It says here he’ll be standing at the entrance ramp.”

There were no further directions so we got on the world’s gnarliest freeway and exited at Culver Blvd. Sure enough, there stood Sandy Bagger with his bike and his knapsack and his steel cup of coffee and his Spanish bible, perched on the curb, mere inches away from the 18-wheelers, drunks, and insane people entering the freeway quickly.

“What’s with the fuggin’ bible?” I asked. “The only foreign language you understand is British.”

“It’s from my bike mechanic.”

“He fixes your bike with prayers? Remind me to never get behind you.”

“No, he repairs bikes in that tent behind that shack next to the entrance ramp and his wife sells Spanish language bibles. I buy a couple a week to help them out.”

“What do you do with the bibles?”

“Leave ’em in the Starbucks.”

“Kind of a Gideon’s Bible program for Spanish-speaking coffee addicts?”

“You could say that.”

Four hours later we reached Santa Maria, which is an agricultural town in Santa Barbara County, not to be confused with any of the nice places in Santa Barbara County such as Santa Barbara.

Santa Maria’s chief feature is the cow shit that gets dropped out of the cow shit trucks which ply the various ag fields. The other chief feature for today was rain. It was pouring. The rain mixed with the oil on the road and the cow shit so that Major’s new white Mercedes was soon covered with a thick layer of shit sludge.

Thankfully we had all cleaned our bikes the night before. We parked by registration, covered the soles of our shoes with mud and cowshit, then lined up for the port-o-potty and covered our soles again with human excrement and fresh urine and toilet paper all of which we tracked into Major’s new van which formerly had white leather seats.

As we waited in the rain at the starting line, the women’s Cat 4 race finished with a huge crash. Bodies and bikes flew everywhere and women bounced and slid through the cowshit, peeling off prodigious amounts of skin but no one died even though they bled a lot and howled in pain and said, “Is my bike okay?”

Our race started and there were 70 riders and we were all terrified. No one’s carbon brakes worked on the 100% carbon wheels made all of carbon and the race started with two screaming descents and the rear tires were machine gunning shit spray until we were covered in it and blind and gagging. Three riders attacked about four miles in and that was the winning break.

We hit the back side of the course which was filled with more liquid shit and giant crevasses and chug holes. People flatted and skidded but no one fell off his bicycle. I sat at the back and quivered in fear, adding my own blend of shit to the mix. We hit the first and only real climb which was only a few minutes long.

The strong guys at the front were stretching their legs but at the back it was mayhem. Big fat dudes and tall dudes and dudes with all the wrong muscles and dudes who had drunk one mouthful too much of shit spray were lunging for wheels and choking and swerving and roaring backwards. Andy Jessup was there, making a return after a bad crash three years ago at Redlands where he had severed a femoral artery and almost bled out. The moral of that story is that after you almost die racing your bike it’s best to make your comeback in a wet shitstorm with screaming downhills and no brakes.

We crested the climb and a bunch of people were shelled for good. The break was a hundred yards ahead and three riders went across. I straggled at the back and watched the action as if it were a different race on a different planet, which it sort of was.

So far I’d completely fucked up my coach’s instructions, which were simple: 1) Stay in the first eight or ten wheels to mark any dangerous moves or bridges. 2) Start the climb forward so if the pace is hard you can float back.

Instead I’d missed the break, missed the bridge, and almost gotten shelled behind the Chee-toh riders.

The next lap was better because the shit had dried out a bit and wasn’t as slick. More people flatted in the Valley of Cracks, and the second time up the climb more people contemplated the evils of snack foods in lieu of asceticism and hard training.

On the third lap we hit the back side and the terrible pavement and I rolled up to my teammate, Chuck. My legs felt good despite the fractured pelvis and shooting pains up and down my nutsack and hands. “Hey, man,” I said. “Want to roll to the front and try to bring back the break?”

It was *only* three minutes up the road, but before he could say, “You’re insane,” I hit a gash in the asphalt and flatted. Everyone rode away. I reflected that this was better than my finish in 2015, when my saddle fell off and I had to ride five miles to the finish with a carbon post stuck up my butt.

I pulled over to the side of the road and tried to flag a vehicle. No one stopped but lots of drivers did scowl at me. The wind picked up and I shivered inside my soaking wet clothing. Finally a pickup stopped. I explained my plight and the driver had that “I don’t want that soaking wet bundle of shit-sopped rags in my cab” look.

“No hablo Ingles,” he said.

So I busted out my Grade-A Spanish and begged for a ride. “Sorry, man,” he said in perfect English. “I’m late for work.”

A sag wagon eventually came and took me back to the start/finish, where I learned that Major had flatted, Fireman had flatted, teammate Robert Itoh had flatted, and those who didn’t flat had finished as 94% lean ground pack meat.

We drove home and spent four hours discussing and critiquing everything that happened, including why our team jerseys were so ugly even without the patina of cow shit, oil, and mud. Some of the most insightful comments were:

  1. You guys are a bunch of idiots.
  2. I’ve never seen such a crappy bunch of racing.
  3. You missed the break. You missed the bridge. You were too weak to chase. You suck.
  4. It’s not a win just because you didn’t crash.
  5. Please wipe the shit off of my new seats.

In other words, it was a great start to the road race season. Especially if you like shit.

END

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