May 30, 2016 § 6 Comments
I don’t listen to music very much any more because of mind control. The last listening binge I went on was Beethoven and there I was being forced to listen to paeans to Napoleon. I hate Napoleon.
But my cousin Josh had just released a new CD and it had arrived in the mail the day before so I put it in the player as I headed off for the races. It’s called “Love in a Hurricane,” and contains some of the best of his astonishing body of work — powerful blues rock, ballads, and re-works of iconic songs like Son House’s “Death Letter.” All of it is built upon incredible mastery of the guitar, and finished with an attention to lyrics that reflects his obvious love of poetry.
Napoleon I can’t dig, but Son House, well, uh, hell yes.
I got to the race and went over to sign-in. On the way there I watched the race that was in progress, the super old man’s category where Thurlow Rogers was mercilessly flogging the shit out of the field, then the break, then he rode off and won. Next I saw my friend Bart Clifford. Bart has only been racing for a few years but he’s one of the best old guy riders out there. He has a blazing fast sprint and if he winds up in your break he busts his balls to make the break stick, and still cans you in the finish. He was talking about the recent crash-fest at Old Fellows’ Fake Nationals in North Carolina. “Worse than a fucking off-season training crit in Ontario,” he said, which sums it up.
I put on my orange-and-black clown suit. Keith Ketterer, hour record holder, world champion, and phenomenal coach, came by to give me some advice. “Wanky,” he said, “just ride in a straight line.”
The 45+ race began and I stuck to my plan. On the way up I’d realized that there are only five moves in cycling:
Since I can’t sprint, and my attack is kind of like a Big Blue Bus moving away from the curb after taking on 150 Cheeseburger Conventioneers, I had made up my mind to sit the entire race and surge to follow anything that looked like a promising break. Then, with ten minutes to go I would attack. Once. Devil take the hindmost.
Two hundred yards into the race I had forgotten all that nonsense and was back to my incorrigible ways, squandering energy, jumping around like a bunny, and making sure that if a legit move ever happened I’d be too tired to respond. Pretty soon the race finished, but in the final lap I ran out of talent and finished third-from-last. Bart won handily, although as a professional actor he had to add some drama by lying down on the grass and panting as if he’d been shot in the liver with a javelin. John Slover got second and my teammate Dave Holland got third.
While deciding whether or not to do the 35+ race I ate six spicy pork tacos with guacamole, figuring a little extra energy couldn’t hurt. The taco euphoria caused me to foolishly sign up for the young person’s race, which was not smart.
In the 35+ race it was the Everyone Do Nothing And Watch While Kayle And Charon Win Show. Although the first few laps were pretty quick, they weren’t nearly as quick as the taco sludge that kept sprinting up my throat, threatening to overflow the drainpipe at any minute. About halfway into the race I turned to the dude next to me and said, “What are all these motherfuckers doing sitting in like this?”
He looked at me and smiled. “They’re watching Kayle race Charon.”
We puttered around for 45 minutes and then Kogut rolled and Charon followed him. “I ain’t doing nothing until you establish the break,” Charon said, which made sense because Charon had 38 Surf City teammates back in the field, which only had 32 riders. Kogut busted a gut to make the break stick, Charon whipping him like he was a dog. “Come on man, we got this,” Charon said, urging Kogut to take the battering pulls into the headwind, but not bothering to explain that “we” meant “Charon,” since in a two-up sprint Kogut had as much chance of beating Charon as I have of growing a third arm.
After that race I watched Megan Jastrab and Summer Moak, aged 14 and 17 respectively, smash the elite women’s field for first and second. I drove back and listened to more Love in a Hurricane, and as soon as I got home I went immediately to work.
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March 14, 2016 § 69 Comments
The recent death of Jonathan Tansavatdi, a local South Bay cyclist and member of my club, Big Orange, has again brutally emphasized the vulnerability of cyclists. Although the cause and mechanics of the collision that took his life remain unknown at this point, it got me to thinking about our collective responsibility as a cycling club.
In other words, what is the obligation of every cycling club with regard to teaching bike safety?
This seems like it has an easy answer. Clubs encourage people to ride. They encourage people to join. And at least our club really encourages people to race their bikes. In addition to that encouragement, any club worthy of the name provides structure to make all those things happen.
Our club provides group ride activities throughout the week, and we have the best grass roots club racing program in America, a program that focuses on getting members to sign up as Cat 5 men and Cat 4 women and race their bikes.
So the question remains. What are we as racing clubs doing with regard to teaching bike safety? As with most cycling clubs, only a minority of our members actually race. Even big profamateur masters squads like Surf City and Monster Media have more actual riders than they do members who show up and race every weekend.
With the exception of on-the-job safety training, where ride leaders and allegedly experienced riders give out tips to the newcomers, I’ve yet to hear of a club that has formalized program to teach rider safety in conjunction with a requirement that all riders complete a safety course before they are allowed to join.
This is weird because:
- Most cyclists suck at safety.
- Although cycling is safe, when shit goes sideways you can die or be catastrophically injured.
- There is already a fantastic educational course called Cycling Savvy that every single bike club in America can afford to have conduct classes.
The reticence to teaching cycling safety, at least among racing clubs, is that the Cycling Savvy teachers are complete dorks. They are the guys with helmet mirrors, flappy arm sleeves, uncool bikes, hairy legs and teeth, and of course none of them race. So there is a huge bias on the part of the cool kids (think junior high insecurity and vanity without the excuse of youth) against sitting down and getting schooled by people whose business it is to stay alive in traffic. It’s crazy to think that one group of dorks riding around in their underwear look down at another group of dorks riding around in their underwear, but Ah, Bartleby, ah humanity!
The benefits to instituting a club licensing program are massive. First, it tells every single person thinking about joining that nothing matters to us more than your life. Second, it tells every single person thinking about joining that we don’t care how many races you’ve won, how many watts you put out, or how many imaginary trinkets you have stored on your imaginary Strava cupboard, THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU KNOW HOW TO RIDE SAFELY IN TRAFFIC. Think velodrome certification: They don’t care how good you think you are. Until you’ve proven you can ride on a banked track without gears or brakes, you’re not allowed to play in the sandbox.
Finally, of course, certification and licensing would begin to disseminate the life preserving skills we all need as vulnerable riders in traffic. It makes us advocates for smart riding and maybe, just maybe, decreases the number of memorial rides even by one.
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December 13, 2015 § 18 Comments
It was a huge bummer to learn that Charon brought his whole Surf City team to the Donut Ride today, knowing he did that because he knew I was on the injured reserve disabled got a boo-boo list. That is pretty much the only way those guys were going to have a chance, was by making sure I was down for the count.
I called four or seven buddies after the ride and got the lowdown on how it went down and it was exactly what I expected, a bunch of fakers who did good because the real hammer was back at home locked up in the toolbox.
So I put all their stories together and applied the principle of equal lying, which says that even when someone is lying and bikers don’t do nothing but lie the only liars who lie worse are surfers and the way the principle works is this. If somebody lies about how hard he went, which is pretty much all they do, then you compare the lie (450 watts) with what you know from having stomped their dicks regularly (180 watts) and get the differential of 270 watts as how much they are lying by.
Then you apply that which is about 2.5 to everything they say in reverse in other words they say “I was tenth on the climb” you know that’s a 2.5-times lie so you bump it down to 25th place. So I figured out how the ride really went and then it was easy for me to figure out what I would have done if had been there which is to stomp everyone’s dick pretty good.
First Tatty-poo takes a flyer out of Malaga Cove and Smasher goes with him. I would have started the attack and dropped everybody if I had been there. Then Frenchy Number Un sneaks up to their rear wheel and doesn’t take a pull because he’s sneaky French which is saying the same thing twice.
I would have stomped so hard I would have rode away from them right there.
Then Smasher and Tatty-poo tow Frenchy Number Un to the bottom of the Switchbacks and they kick it hard. That is where I would have stomped double extra hard and dropped them hard, right there. They would have been crying to mommy and begging for mercy but I would have mercied them with a swift stomp to the gonads. Just rode away. Boom-boom-boom. Suckers.
Then they hammered some more and dropped Frenchy Number Un and got a little ways up and then boom! They got the bum’s rush by the Destroyer, Wily, G$, Strava Jr., Ponygirl, and Junior Jr. If I had been with Smasher and Tatty-poo which I wouldn’t have been because I would have stomped their dicks a long time ago, but if I was I would have jumped in with Destroyer & Co. and then smashed them all.
I would have done it with my tremendous power and ridden away all by myself.
But then they were all together to the top of the Switchbacks and they punched it on the little wall and off came Tatty-poo and Wily and pretty soon Smasher and Junior Jr. That’s where I would have smashed everyone super hard.
If I was back with Smasher and Junior Jr. which I wouldn’t have been I would have taken a deep breath and smashed it hard until I caught the leaders and then I would have double-smashed them and rode off.
Then it was just Ponygirl and Strava Jr. and G$ because they dropped Destroyer using their tremendous power. I would have used my tremendous power which is way more tremendous than theirs combined and would have smashed them.
Then at the end Strava Jr. rode away from G$ and Ponygirl and won the whole giant prize. I would have totally smashed him. I would have attacked and jumped and sprinted super hard like a rocket ship they wouldn’t have even seen me I would have gone so fast.
That’s what I would have done.
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September 5, 2015 § 10 Comments
“Here’s your dinner,” I said to Woodrow.
He stared at the plate in fear. “What is it?”
“It’s a sloppy Joe.”
It hit me like a stubbed toe: My kids have never eaten a sloppy Joe. “You’re kidding, right?”
He angled away from the plate. “No. It sure looks sloppy, though.”
“Wait ’til you taste it,” I said, having already sampled it and confident that it was probably the best sloppy Joe ever made in the history of poor people.
“Can’t you tell me what it is first?”
“What, you’ve been going to Chester Karras negotiating seminars? It’s a fuggin’ sloppy Joe, the finest cuisine known to redneckdom. It’s cheap hamburger meat grilled in a pan and mixed with onion, green pepper, garlic, cayenne pepper, some more garlic, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, a bit of garlic, and tomato sauce.”
“That sounds nasty.” He sniffed the plate. “How do I eat it?”
“With a fuggin’ fork, for fuck’s sake! Sloppy Joe days used to be the best day on the school lunch menu back at ol’ Jane Long Junior High. That is some good eatin’!” I cut off a slab of toasted wheat hamburger bun that was groaning under the weight of the sloppy and jammed it in my mouth. “MMMMM, mmmm!” I said. And it was awesome. There is nothing like the rubberized gnawing on cheap ground beef to take you back to your childhood.
He cut off a tiny corner and placed it on his fork, then he sniffed it and carefully put it into his mouth. I waited for him to swallow and got ready to enjoy the explosion of satisfaction on his skeptical face. He swallowed. “Well?” I said triumphantly.
He cut off a slightly larger piece and ate it. “It’s okay,” he said.
“Okay? That’s it? Here you’re eating dog’s gift to American poor folks cuisine, loaded with ketchup and cheap fatty gristle meat smothered in ketchup with extra ketchup and the best you can say is ‘It’s okay’?”
He ate some more. “It’s not bad, Dad. Really.”
“Let me tell you something, Mr. It’s Not Bad Dad Really. I got a friend who is a fuggin’ expert at taking sloppy, messed up shit and turning it into filet mignon.”
“Really?” He knew what filet mignon was = I’ve failed as a parent.
“What’s his name?”
“Charon. Charon Smith.”
“That’s a funny name.”
“He’s a funny guy.”
“You throw him into a nasty, messy, sloppy, fucked up shark tank of idiots and supercharged bad bike handlers and he pounds the motherfuckers into a smooth slurry of fine cuisine and slices through them like a sharp knife through a soft eyeball.”
“Gross,” he said, polishing off the sloppy and getting up to make himself a second one.
“And I’ll tell you something else,” I said. “Ol’ Charon doesn’t let it get him down when someone says It’s Not Bad Dad Really, no sir, he does not.”
“People been telling Charon that he’s a fast old fart crit finisher but he can’t road race and he can’t outsprint the pros.”
“You should have seen him on Sunday. He skipped the leaky prostate race because he knew his teammate Leadout would be with him and he did the pro race. Talk about sloppy fuggin’ Joe. There were 122 sloppy-assed idiots on the line who were messy and aggro enough to eat nails and broken glass.”
“Hundred dollar primes, also known a biker chum. But Charon didn’t give a damn.”
“Nope. He hung on for ninety minutes while the shrapnel flew, the body parts banged, the shit stains squirted, and everyone threw a Hail Mary pass every five minutes.”
“Then what?” The second sloppy Joe was much reduced.
“He took all that sloppy shit and cleaned it up with one whisk of his snot rag. Blew through the youngsters so fast that instead of cash primes, next time they’ll be offering those tykes diaper primes. He won by a country mile, clean as a whistle.”
Woodrow scraped up the last of the sloppy and licked his fork. Twice. “Sounds like an awesome dude.”
“Damn straight,” I said. The plate, it sparkled.
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June 15, 2015 § 14 Comments
When people sniffing around the edges of competitive cycling ask me about bike racing, I always tell them this: Preparation is key.
Not, of course, that there are any such people, but if there were that is what I would tell them.
And of all the critical preparations, none is more important than nutrition. Since Mrs. WM abandoned me for a 3-month orgy of Japanese food and home cooking courtesy of her mom, the world’s best cook in a nation of great cooks, I have been making do admirably because nutritional preparation is key to major races like the CBR crit #6.
This is a major race even though, despite diligently promoting the hell out of it and shaking the crust off my teammates to get them to show up, CHRIS LOTTS STILL HASN’T COMPED A SINGLE FUGGIN’ RACE ENTRY.
Anyway, I wanted to do well at this race and so I prepared nutritionally for it. However, the day before the race we were running low on food, well, actually we’ve been running low on food for a long time now since I’ve decided to boycott the supermarket until we eat through the stores that MRS. WM HAD LAID UP IN ANTICIPATION OF THREE NUCLEAR WINTERS.
This isn’t a contradiction; we are running low on fresh foods but not on flour, for example. You can’t have enough flour, and we don’t not have enough.
So sure, it’s going to be hard to eat all that flour, but not as hard as it will be to eat the twelve large cans of salt. So getting ready for the race meant preparing some flour and salt. Fortunately, the one thing Mrs. WM had left an ample supply of was Nestle chocolate chips. She bakes cookies once every three years, so we had twelve bags of chocolate chips in case someone needed to get diabetes over the weekend.
“Honey,” I said before she left, “please don’t go to the store and buy anything. Whatever it is, we have enough.”
“Okay,” she said.
Later that afternoon she came in, loaded down with grocery bags. “Did you just go grocery shopping?” I asked.
“I thought I asked you not to.”
“I didn’t buy any ‘food’ food.”
“What did you buy?”
“Toilet paper and chocolate chips.”
“But we already have twelve bags and I’m on a diet.”
She smiled and unloaded the bags.
The night before the race I took out the flour and butter and sugar and salt and baking soda and vanilla extract and chocolate chips and pecans, and I made a giant bowl of cookie dough for dinner. It was getting late and I didn’t feel like cooking because I wasn’t sure how the oven worked so I took out the peanut butter and Nutella jars and the remainder of the ice cream and put it all on top of the cookie dough and ate a couple of big bowls and drank some milk and a lot of coffee and then I went to bed.
The next morning I didn’t feel very good but I felt worse after breakfast, which was more cookie dough. For vegetables I sauteed an onion and some garlic and mixed it with Cheerios because I’d drunk all the milk the night before.
At the bike race I saw Prez, the most well prepared bike racer in history. He always gets to the race early to warm up, and this time was no exception. He’d arrived eight whole minutes before the race started, which is a long time for him. He was in a great mood. “Hey, Wanky,” he said. “Guess what?”
“I forgot my bike bag and don’t have any shoes. And my bike.”
Pretty soon twelve people were scurrying around to find him a pair of shoes. No one would loan him any because his foot fungus is pretty infamous, but a Cat 5 who didn’t know any better offered up a pair of New Bongasnoop Xtra Race Shoes. They were four sizes too big but Prez didn’t care.
“Hey,” he shouted to no one in particular, “does anyone have a helmet I can borrow?”
Someone did, but they knew that no helmet on Prez’s head is safe, so we ended up going up and down the line of parked cars trying to find one that was unlocked. We did and borrowed a really nice $400 POC aero helmet. “I’ll put it back as soon as I’m finished,” Prez said as we checked to make sure the sheriff patrol wasn’t around.
Back at the starting line with one minute to go Prez yelled to the onlookers. “Does anyone have a bike? I forgot my bike.”
He was in fact the only fully kitted out, aero-helmeted guy on the line without a bike. The same Cat 5 guy who just wanted to be nice gave Prez his $10,000 carbon bike with full carbon wheels and 100% carbon. “Be careful!” he said.
“That’s my middle name!” Prez said, pleased that he’d be able to wreck someone else’s machine this weekend.
With two laps to go Prez, who is the key lead-out man for Surf City’s train, roared up through the pack to take control of the lead-out and give his boss, Charon Smith, another lightning bolt pull to victory. “Dammit, Prez!” Charon shouted, “you’re doing it again!”
Prez had boxed in his boss, forced him into the curb, and was about to take out his front wheel. “Sorry!” he said, but not before the sound of screaming, cursing, and twelve broken bikes rent the air. A loose wheel arced overhead, temporarily blotting out the sun. Prez stepped on the gas, took out four people, ran over a pylon, hit a small child on the sidewalk, bounced off a tree, and flipped into a tent. The poor Cat 5’s bike shattered into a billion pieces at the poor kid’s feet.
Prez staggered to his feet, shading his eyes to watch Charon hit the jets and win his 67th victory of the season. As the poor Cat 5 cried inconsolably, sobbing about the five years it had taken him to save up for his bike, Prez stripped off the fungal shoes and patted him on the back. “Don’t worry sonny,” he said, “next time you just need to be a a little bit better prepared.”
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May 29, 2015 § 47 Comments
Is bad behavior killing the sport?
There was a big Facebag dustup a few weeks ago involving a Southern California rider who allegedly got into a pushing and shoving match during a race in Northern California, followed by much cursing, hollering, and screaming in the parking lot after the race. (Think kindergarten, only not that mature).
If you are a normal person, or even a raving lunatic, you will shake your head in disbelief. Do grown men do this? Is this how you race a bicycle? Are these the only skills you’ve developed for conflict resolution after four decades of existence amidst other homo sapiens? Didn’t your mother ever slap the shit out of you, and if she did, why is there still so much of it left?
You may also be wondering whether the rider was immediately canned by his team for, um, failing to properly “represent the brand” as we say in the delusional world of old fellow bike racing, where we imagine that getting a free tub of nut lube is like repping Nike in the NBA finals. You may also be wondering whether the rider who was allegedly misused has consulted with a lawyer, or whether the offending rider’s team forced him to apologize.
Or, like me, you may simply have moved on because there are more important things to contemplate, like whether or not you got it all on the second wipe.
Still, bad acts have a ripple effect, and as the remnants of amateur cycling swish around the edge of the toilet bowl prior to that final gurgling sound, a lively debate has sprung up over the future of cycling. The gist of the argument goes like this:
The real problem with our sport in SoCal lies with bad behavior, and everyone is afraid to confront it. This failure is just one example in a long line of bad behavior, and it’s this bad behavior that suppresses rider turnout at local races and enhances rider turnoff. Stuff like this hurts cycling worse than handlebar doping, and it furthers the SoCal reputation as a douchebag repository where guys break rules with impunity and the USAC refs, team owners/sponsors, and promoters look the other way, thereby encouraging it.
The problem, so the argument goes, is that bullying bike behavior fits right into the behavior of dominant teams that do little to support junior racing or women’s racing, two areas that everyone agrees are crucial to develop if the sport is going to become something more than a playground for whiny, bratty old men with too much time, too many trinkets, and too much stagflation in the penis length department.
This results in no grass roots event sponsorship, and focuses only on the silliest of all categories—masters men’s racing, a niche within a microfissure whose only growth prospects are at the mortuary. Worse, dominant teams stack the races they do show up for, and those races are almost never hard road races. Who wants to race against ten guys, five of whom are arguably the fastest ones in the state, and who can go with every move, counter every attack, pull back every dangerous break, and deliver their guy with a ribbon on top via a bullet train leadout to win every sprunt?
It’s fun if you’re on the team, but if you’re not, “I’m busy that day” is the way that racers vote with their feet.
If the powerhouse won with class and humility its domination would still be a problem, but what about scenarios where it combines victory with threats and physical bullying? Do you want to come home from a race with your front teeth missing because some psychopath didn’t like what you said? No, you don’t.
In sum, when people are trying to decide how to spend their weekend they get to choose between an informal group hammerfest with friends or trench warfare with bullies who shout, scream, hit, bodyslam, and threaten. Oh, and for that privilege you get to drop $150 and spend five hours in a car in weekend LA traffic.
This toxic environment allegedly deters riders who are skilled and experienced, so imagine how it affects riders just starting out, or riders whose dream day is a top ten finish. They will endure this hazing ritual once and then never return because the rider you call a dork and who you head-butt and threaten with your fists is often a man who signs paychecks, litigates in court, runs a corporation, or lives in the real world with real responsibilities — he isn’t a glorified bike bum who thinks that what happens in a bike race matters in the big picture, and he’s not willing to waste his time being humiliated by a functionally illiterate, too-cool-for-school, marginally subsisting middle-aged man with profound emotional problems.
This brings a negativity to the sport that is a roadblock to progress, and it will only get worse because the one thing we know about bullies is that left unchecked they only get meaner.
Along these lines, the argument continues, we need junior rider development, we need more women in races, we need a more varied race schedule, we need categories and a points system that make sense, we need to be safety minded, and we need to nurture a sport in which events leave participants glad they showed up (can anyone say “triathlon”?), not bitter that they wasted a day engaging in the ritual humiliation of threatened violence and a 45th-place finish. We need more grass roots events and we need to tell the bullies that their bullshit won’t be tolerated. Then, and only then, will the sport be something other than a shit-filled sandbox filled with spoiled and violent old men.
Anyway, this is how the argument goes, and I disagree with it.
With regard to the dustup mentioned above, it is a tiny problem and there are plenty of mechanisms to deal with this and similar scenarios. First of all, where were the officials when all this was happening?
I’ve said before that SoCal officials do not take safety seriously, and that their tolerance for bullying and aggro racing has made both acceptable. Apparently the officials have similar attitudes, because this all happened up yonder, not down here. Second, where was the promoter in all this? Promoters put on races by selling sponsorships. Is this how you want your marquee event remembered, as the place where spectators with their little kids got to see grown men throw public tantrums?
Promoters sometimes say they hesitate to take action because they want to avoid controversy, but imagine this happening in a grocery store. Can you see a Safeway manager letting someone push and berate a little old lady who has too many cans for the express lane because they’re afraid of the “controversy”? Of course not. They’d call security and throw the bum out.
Race promoters like Chris Lotts do exactly that. If you pee in the bushes, cheat, give his volunteers a hard time, disobey race director orders, or act like an idiot he will toss you out of the race and enjoy it.
And where was the Big Sponsor? Presumably there was a sponsoring bike brand. Do they think this is how you sell bikes? If they don’t, getting back the bike and jersey is a phone call away, you would think.
Where were the teammates? Allegedly a couple of them had their hands full while restraining the rider in the parking lot, but why did their intervention stop there? Why didn’t they vote him off the team if he behaved this way? Why was there no show of solidarity, emphasizing that the good guys on the team will not be associated with violence, threats, and awful behavior, if that’s what happened?
Where were the other riders in the race, and indeed, where are they ever? Why didn’t all twenty or thirty people who supposedly witnessed the incident make their voices heard to Kayle, to the officials, to the promoter, and to anyone else who would listen? Why didn’t the rest of the peloton behave as if this reflected on them, which, if it happened, it did? Why was everyone lathered up on Facebag but not in the flesh? And who’s the big chicken who took down the thread?
In other words, there were a lot of people who could have immediately punished this behavior if it really happened, and who could have made enough of a stink to warrant a suspension or a fine or a spanking with a soup spoon or a timeout in the corner with a dunce cap.
But regardless of how this incident played out, the rider in question is just one guy and his team is just one team. Cycling always has a bad boy team and that’s part of the fun, apparently. These antics may scare some people out of one race, but it’s not the reason that rider participation is anemic in all categories. I raced a handful of 35+ masters races last year and they were safe and drama free. The “bad boy” was even in a couple of those races, and he was fine in every respect. And even if it’s the 35+ (now 40+) category that is suspect, what about the other categories?
The 45+ category (it’s been changed to 50+ this year to make sure everyone stays angry and confused) is safe, fun, and a blast, yet turnout in those events is hardly thriving. Most importantly, the areas where turnout really matters, i.e. junior racing, women’s racing, Cat 4 and Cat 5 racing, aren’t affected by what goes on in masters racing whatsoever. Those people couldn’t pick Kayle out of a fresh vegetable aisle, and their numbers are not good.
Nor is NorCal some mecca for racing participation. One of their most storied and challenging road races, the Mt. Hamilton Classic, had twelve guys race the 45+ 1/2/3, and the race didn’t even bother with categories for juniors or Cat 5’s. Are the SoCal crit bullies scaring all the NorCal roadies away from that race, too? And the NoCal crit fields are so tiny that events like the Lodi Criterium combine the 35+ and 45+ fields. Last year’s Lodi Cycle Fest had twenty-six riders in the 35+, and a pathetic nineteen in the 45+. Is that SoCal’s fault as well?
The idea that SoCal is a dungeon of cheaters and terrible racers that kills the sport is also wrong. One SoCal racer who went to Mt. Hamilton this year and raced with the elite P/1/2 racers got to witness this: After the initial ascent of Mt. Hamilton the road becomes a hair-raising downhill. One of the Mike’s Bikes riders missed a turn and went off the mountain. Mike’s Bikes, by the way, had seven riders, or 20% of the entire field.
Later on Mines Road this same rider came flying by the SoCal racer’s chase group a good 15 mph faster, tucked in behind his team van. The racer made it back up to the leaders where he finished far ahead from where he otherwise would have, and worse, where he added firepower to his teammate who won the race. When the SoCal rider complained to the officials, they shrugged.
I’d argue that this kind of local favoritism and refusal to enforce the rules turns off just as many people as parking lot name calling, maybe more, because name calling doesn’t affect the outcome of the race and name calling doesn’t require the collusion of race officials, organizers, team bosses, and follow cars. As a fun note, the race flier said that follow cars weren’t allowed and that anyone receiving help from one would be DQ’ed.
I also disagree that one team is the cause of low racer turnout in SoCal. In many ways, the current dominant masters team, Surf City Cyclery, exemplifies the very best things about amateur racing. First and foremost, they actually show up and race their bikes. Second, when you look at their race day setup with a motor home, gigantic tent, trainers, bike racks, and directors’ chairs, it’s impossible not to notice how cool they look and how much fun they’re having. These guys love to race their bikes and it shows. Isn’t that why people are supposed to go to bike races and hang out? Because it’s fun?
Third, they’re led by Charon Smith, a rider who is non-confrontational, who never curses, who praises you when you beat him, who encourages everyone, and who, despite his impressive accomplishments is accessible and friendly and willing to share. He also invests huge amounts of his personal time helping junior racers. In the heat of battle I’ve seen him reach out and push struggling riders to keep them from getting shelled, riders like, um, me.
Fourth, one bad apple doesn’t ruin the bunch. The other riders on SCC are fair, fun, dedicated, and friendly. I don’t believe that one aggro racer negates the positive actions of everyone else, and if you think the contretemps mentioned earlier is the first time this has ever happened in cycling, you probably also believe that the earth is 4,500 years old and Jesus rode on a dinosaur. There have been numerous parking lot screaming matches in the last few years, not to mention the post-racing screaming matches on the cool down lap.
SCC boss Mike Faello has his hands full with one masters team, and he has apparently made the decision that he’d rather have one team that’s run great than three teams that are run mediocre. Who’s to say he’s wrong? Not I. And who’s to say that he should spend his marketing money in one way rather than another? If his business is focused on selling bike stuff to delusional old men, then shouldn’t he be allowed to do that without being criticized for not also spending his money on kids, women, young people, recumbents, unicyclists, gravel grinders, ‘cross racers, BMX, trackies, or adaptive vehicle riders?
It’s his money, it’s his marketing budget, and by all accounts he throws his heart and soul into running his team. Isn’t that the kind of investment and partnership we want at all levels of cycling? Yes, it is.
Moreover, people forget that it wasn’t always like this at SCC. The first time I ever saw Charon he was sitting on his ass in the middle of the panicking peloton at Eldo, where he’d rolled a tire and taken a fall in the middle of the field. Charon worked his way up from Cat Fred to Cat Stud over a period of years that have involved hard work, hard work, hard work, and a lot of hard work.
The team that he now captains wasn’t always flush with money and stacked with great riders; it’s been a building process that has overcome lots of obstacles. Now that they have a hierarchy, a strategy, and the discipline to implement it, people are suddenly complaining about Surf City’s dominance — don’t worry — a few years ago it was Monster, then Amgen, then before that it was someone else, all the way back to the days of Labor Power. When you kick everyone’s ass they don’t like it, ever, period.
So if we can’t pin the tail on one rider or one team, whose fault is it that the sport has stagnated and that it can’t seem to grow?
Well, I’d suggest that the fault is yours. Yes, yours. If everyone who had a license did five races a year, which is hardly a challenging schedule in virtually any state but an especially low hurdle here in SoCal, our races would be bursting at the seams. Instead of complaining about SCC’s dominance, if teams that had big rosters actually showed up and raced like a team, Surf’s patented lead-out train and chase-down-all-breakaways would not own the 35+/40+ category. They’re not only beatable in theory, they get beaten in fact every year at nationals. Ask Matt Caninio if Surf can be beaten.
However, it’s easier to complain about Surf’s race tactics than it is to organize your team, train together, and implement strategy.
I was slackjawed a week ago when I showed up at the Torrance Crit and saw embarrassingly tiny fields in all categories. This is a challenging but safe course. It’s well run. It offers lunch money and trinkets. It’s smack in the middle of the South Bay of Los Angeles, home to the world’s greatest concentration of preeners and fakers, and a 30-minute drive or 50-minute pedal from West LA, where weekend rides easily garner 100+ faux racers with genuine $10k rigs.
Where were all the racers?
They certainly weren’t scared off by SCC. Surf City wasn’t even at the race, a fact you could have easily confirmed by looking at pre-registrations on USA Cycling’s web site. And this brings us to the real problem faced by amateur cycling: Bike racing has mutated from an activity where people want to grow up and be like Thurlow or Fields and has become a posing activity where people simply want to accumulate cool stuff.
Labor Power realized this years ago and wore hideous clothing, rode rusty-edged equipment, and rubbed plutonium into the wounds of its victims with the motto “Gritty, not pretty.” They won races by being cunning, vile, despicable, infighting, foul-mouthed bike racers, preening not allowed unless you knew how to climb a podium.
When you can join a team that gives you a steeply discounted pro bike, when you can wear clothing that is professionally designed and customized for Team Wank, when you can pedal from coffee shop to coffee shop advertising that YOU ARE A RACER without having to actually go to a race and fall off your bicycle, then why would any rational person actually race? Answer: You wouldn’t, and they don’t.
The toy/gadget/rag merchants are perfectly happy with this because they would rather have the streets of Brentwood and Manhattan Beach overflowing with non-racing racers decked out in their logos on Saturday morning than they would have those same people crammed into an office park in South Compton battling over a $25 prime. In other words, the sponsors and teams themselves don’t care if you race as long as you’re pimping them on social media and playing rolling billboard.
How do I know? Because week in and week out it’s the same guys and gals. There are people on my SPY-Giant-RIDE team who, after four and a half years, I have never seen at a race, and my team this year had 80 members at last count and bills itself exclusively as a “racing team.” You couldn’t beat people away with tear gas and rubber truncheons at team camp in January when the freebies were being handed out and the new outfits were being unveiled, but at the Barry Wolfe Grand Prix on Sunday I counted ten teammates across all categories. More embarrassingly, the CBR Crit the following day had one rider from my team in the 40+ Category, and two “helpers” who had already done the 50+ and whose help consisted of hanging on for dear life.
It’s true that Surf is hard to beat, but they will never, ever, ever be beaten like that.
You can say whatever you want about Surf City, but they show up and they pay entry fees and they race their bikes. What promoter would boot out a team that comprises 15% of the field when hundreds of local racers who could be there are too lazy or too chickenshit or too cheap to pay and race, even when it’s in their own backyard?
Why won’t we call bullshit when we hear it, and stop accepting all of the lame excuses about how the course is too long, or too short, or too hard, or too easy, or too far away, or too hilly, or not hilly enough, or you can’t find a ride, or your wife won’t let you, or you’re peaking for something else, or you’re in a build phase, or your Internet coach says, or blah fucking blah fucking blah?
The mentality won’t change until the teams and their peers pressure them to. Where are the pre-race emails, the phone calls, the gentle urgings that often make the difference between sitting at home and going to the race? To put a nice ending on the Torrance Crit story, this same course is utilized as the TELO training race, a Tuesday ride where “racers” show up at 6:00 PM to get in the speed work that will prepare them for race day. The Tuesday before the Torrance Crit, TELO was packed. The Tuesday after, it was packed. There’s even a Facebag page dedicated to bragging about the exploits of who “won” the training ride each week, and riders love to tout how tough they are when they “do the double,” i.e. do the morning NPR and the evening TELO beatdown.
But on race day the Torrance Crit was a ghost town, and please don’t tell me people stayed home to protest Surf City. They stayed home because no one called them up and called them out. They stayed home because they’d already gotten their participation ribbon on Facebag and that, you know, was enough to justify the fancy bike and fancy outfit and four crates of electrolytes.
The problem with race participation numbers lies at the feet of the riders themselves. We know who our teammates are, we know they’re AWOL on race day, and it’s not a complicated problem that needs more secret USAC meetings to anguish over. It’s a simple problem that requires you to get off your ass and go race your fuggin’ bike. It’s a simple problem that requires team bosses to tell their prima donnas that the gravy train comes with an obligation: You want to wear the stuff and ride the rig, you have to race, no exceptions, and if five weekends out of the year is too tough on your schedule, maybe you don’t belong on something called a “racing team.”
And while we’re at it, let’s not take our eyes off the ball by blaming USAC or SCNCA. These organizations have never figured out how to grow the sport and never will because it’s not in their DNA. They exist to skim money off license fees and soak money from race promoters so they can pay officials and promote the national team and pay their own salaries. They do not care if the sport grows because it’s currently big enough to fund their existing pork projects. If amateur cycling has ever had a constant, it’s that USAC and the local organizations cannot and will not increase membership and will not make it easier or cheaper or more profitable for promoters to put on races.
At the same time, I don’t think physical racing and violent confrontations should be tolerated, but bike racing is a sport, it is dangerous, people do get worked up, and at least in the above-mentioned case no one fell off his bicycle or had to make a detour to the dentist to get a fist removed from his gums. But these problems aren’t what ails our sport. What ails it are the thousands of SoCal cyclists with valid racing licenses who don’t show up.
We have met the enemy, and he bears a striking resemblance to the guy in the mirror.
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