False advertising

November 17, 2019 § 21 Comments

There’s nothing worse than going on a ride that is advertised as Type A only to find out that it is Type B.

I guess.

Actually, I don’t care how rides are advertised. If it’s too slow I can always go faster, and if it’s too fast I can always go slower.

The problem occurs for most riders when the ride is too fast, the rider wants to go fast, but physics and physiology and fitness result in what’s known in the business as “getting dropped.”

Yesterday Ken Vinson put on one of his amazing MVMNT Rides. If you’ve never done one of these, you should! If your area doesn’t have one, you should start one! MVMNT Rides are slow rides where people talk for 20 miles or so, reach an interesting destination, then chat and enjoy fellowship on the way back.

Ken took us to the bike museum at Velo Pasadena. Hrach Gevrikyan has the best bike museum I’ve ever seen, and he recently added a bike with original wheels and tires that was owned and raced by Major Taylor. More than a hundred of us pedaled leisurely out to Pasadena to enjoy the coffee and snacks offered up by Hrach and his lovely wife Nevrik.

When it came time to leave I raised my hand and said, “I’m taking a different route back. It will be fast paced.”

A lady asked “What’s your average speed going to be?”

“I don’t know,” I answered, “I don’t have a speed thingy.”

Another guy asked, “About? Can you give me an about?”

“I’m going to go about as hard as I can,” I said.

I’ve been riding at a steady commuter pace all week. I like to go slow most of the time. Let me rephrase that: I have to go slow most of the time.

But once or twice a week I like to put in a hard effort, and the 40 miles home along the river bikeway, no traffic, howling headwind, level as a Flat Earther’s dream, well, it doesn’t get more perfect than that. Plus, I had to get home to make pasta.

Out of the assembled crowd, five people joined me.

One of them turned around after about two minutes as we were sailing downhill with a tailwind. A second guy came up to me with a panicked look on his face while we were still in Pasadena. Earlier in the ride he’d told me that he owned forty bikes.

“Are we going back to the parking lot?”

“What parking lot?”

“Where the ride started?”

“No.”

“Where are we going?”

“Far from there.”

Forty Bikes whipped the world’s fasted u-turn I have ever seen. That left Ventoux, Maxissimo, and B Ride.

I’ve ridden with Ventoux several times. He is from France. Rides a shitty bike. Has one tattered kit. Straps an i-Phone as big as a large-screen TV onto his handlebars. Wears a visor on his helmet. Has deep-pile shag on his legs. Is in his 40’s. Rides hundreds of miles a week. Is one tough motherfucker.

I’ve ridden with Maxissimo a bunch. He’s a regular on the Flog Ride. Earlier this year he got a wild hair and rode from SF to LA on a lark. He loves, absolutely loves, to ride his bike. He is from Italy, has a modern steel Cinelli, and wouldn’t think of anything except Campagnolo. He expects to go hard when it’s time to go hard, and let the chips fall where they may.

I’ve ridden with B Ride only a couple of times. Always easy and conversational and slow. He had been up at the front all the way to Pasadena and was champing at the bit to get in a workout.

We turned off onto the bike trail and I said to them, “Okay, motherfuckers. 40-second to 1-minute pulls.” Then I took the first one.

By the second rotation, Maxissimo and B Ride were in trouble. A couple of rotations later Ventoux and I were by ourselves, which kind of sucked because we still had 30 miles to go. Did I mention the headwind was howling?

We passed a bunch of people, some of whom tried to hop on. One dude was back there forever until I drifted next to him. “You gotta take a pull.”

“I’m pretty tired.”

“No free rides. You’re strong enough to sit, you’re strong enough to pull.”

“I’ll give it my best.”

He then refused to pull through, so I let a gap open and he came around me to get on Ventoux’s wheel. Ventoux took a hard pull then slowed so much that Sitter had to come through. Thirty seconds in he was weaving, and after a minute he was draped on the bars like a melted piece of cheese.

Then he was gone. “I just didn’t want him hanging around for free,” I said.

“You were doing 27.7 into the wind,” Ventoux said. “I’m not sure that was free.”

We got back to PV and had the best-tasting mocha frap ever. Ventoux, because he only had 130 miles so far, with 45 to go, accompanied me on the vicious finishing climbs up Basswood-Shorewood. “You do this every ride?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“It must be character building. Or breaking.”

We parted company. I got home, cleaned up, ate, and sent texts to Maxissimo and B Ride. “Hope you guys didn’t die. Great riding with you.”

Maxissimo immediately replied. “Great riding with you!”

This made me happy. Shelled early and left to fend for himself in the wilderness, Maxissimo knew the rules and sounded happy to have been on his bike.

I never heard back from B Ride. But a friend did forward me a reproachful screenshot from the Stravver in which I was described as “Seth Every Ride a Race Davidson.”

That’s not true at all. I told everyone I was going to go as hard as I could. I never promised anyone a bottle, a blankie, or a diaper change. But I kind of like the sound of it anyway.

END


The Greatest

October 21, 2019 Comments Off on The Greatest

Those who fail to remember their history are doomed to be bike racers.

Because bike racers, at least in the U.S., have zero knowledge of what went before them, to say nothing of the large public at large.

Did you know, for example, that the U.S.A.’s first world champion was an African-American bike racer named Marshall Taylor? Of course you did!

What you may not know is that Taylor’s bike, complete with original sew-up tires, was recently purchased by Hrach Gevrikyan. Hrach, in addition to running one of the finest bike stores in Southern California for decades, has also been a lifelong bicycle collector, so when the chance came to acquire Taylor’s “Pierce” bicycle, Hrach snapped it up and put it in his museum, Vintage Velo.

That’s right. Hrach has a museum, and on November 16 you can join the MVMNT Ride and pedal up to Pasadena to see the bike in person. I know I’ll be there.

The MVMNT Rides started two years ago when Ken Vinson got the idea that he was slow. This idea was confirmed every Tuesday/Thursday on the NPR. So Ken got to thinking, “If I’m slow, I bet a bunch of other people are, too!” Truer words were never thought.

As Ken looked around, he noticed that, fast or slow, cyclists had one thing in common: They didn’t talk much beyond saying, “How’s it going?” “Good, man, you?”

He also noticed that cyclists tend to do the same old rides over and over and over. The opportunities for experiencing new relationships and new communities were few.

As a result Ken created the MVMNT Rides. In addition to being slow, the rides take people all over L.A. at a leisurely pace and introduce them to parts of town they might otherwise not ride in at all, and the rides have been a huge success. It’s amazing how much people talk and laugh when they aren’t puking.

The next MVMNT Ride, on November 16, will be to see the Major Taylor racing bike acquired by Hrach and now installed in his museum. You can even learn your history beforehand by visiting the Major Taylor Association.

“The Pierce 28,” which is the name of the bike, was raced by Taylor in 1897, approximately five years before the invention of Strava. The Pierce 28, with its wooden rims, was designed, built, and given to Taylor by Burns Pierce, a close friend and competitor who was the son of George Pierce, a car manufacturer.

The ride departs in front of Sika’s in Leimert Park http://www.leimertparkvillage.org/venues—retail.html and follows a route to Sycamore Grove Park, where more riders can join the MVMNT. From there the ride goes through South Pasadena to Trader Joe’s, picks up more riders, and then proceeds to Velo Pasadena. For riders who are wondering how slow this ride is going to be, the answer is “you could probably jog it.”

From Leimert Park the entire ride is 42 miles, and should be completed in 72 days or less.

Please visit the MVMNT Ride page on Facebag and indicate that you’re going so that Hrach doesn’t suddenly have to accommodate 10,000 riders, which, because he’s one of the kindest people earth, he probably would.

See you there!

END


The Pierce 28

Sag of Doom

October 22, 2018 § 5 Comments

I drove sag for the Circle of Doom ride on Saturday. It’s the first time I’ve ever done this and I wondered where the word “sag” came from.

No one knows, of course. Some say it means “support and gear,” some say it comes from “supply and grub wagons” from WWI, and some say it is to support “sagging riders.”

On Saturday, “sag” referred to the physical and mental status of me, the driver. If I hadn’t been sagging before the ride, I sure would have been after watching the cyclists ascend the 30-mile climb up to Crystal Lake.

When you sag a ride it is pretty awful in the beginning. All the happy cyclists stage and roll out and everyone is FRESH and HAPPY. You feel like you’re in kindergarten and you can’t play during recess because you wet your shorts or you spit on the teacher. But then when you see people falling apart at the seams a few miles later it doesn’t feel bad at all.

Mixed picture

Like a dream, where images of the King of Sardinia are mixed in with images of your parents, a cow, and a flock of termites, after the ride there was an amazing admixture of stories. Every single person had a tale, not unlike Sausage, who pithily said “This ride had two phases. Pre-cramp and post.”

One rider almost got taken out by a huge boulder that bounded down the mountain, another got a bee sting in the belly, etc. Like every fondo, people go way too fast too soon, and you could see them hit the bottom of the climb full gas, after which there was 2.5 hours of shrapnel and grimaces all the way to the first feed station.

Sorry, I meant to say “Bacon Station,” because the Flawless Diamonds were at the top of the pass frying up endless pounds of bacon and potatoes. I heard one guy say he was vegan. “Well, sonny, those pigs ate nothing but veggies their entire lives, so chow down.”

Dan Chapman was everywhere snapping pictures, including one of my sagging gut and droopy chest which he sent me as a memento. Methodist Winning and VC La Grange were everywhere. On the trip down the hill I passed Dan Funk battering the brains out of a small group that was trying to hang onto his wheel.

Sag means giving back but you also feel like a coward. People ride by and they are either on a mission (often unclear to anyone, including them, what the mission is), or they are happy and grinning and high-fiving. Sag also means appreciating the skill with which a hangry cyclist can scavenge a couple of crates you have told him is “empty” and come up with a bottle of pickle juice and a half-emptied packet of drink mix.

Sag means encountering a bunch of different attitudes. Grateful, angry, happy, miserable, cheerful, demanding, kind, confused, energetic, nine toes in the grave. Most of all, when you’re doing water sag, which I was, you realize that Water is Life. And maybe you also think of truly dreadful music like this.

For some reason lots of riders took to the pretty rough road with their ultralight, supple crit tires, inflated to 140 psi. It is pretty satisfying to see the look on some guy’s face as he is bent over in a cactus-filled ditch, T-rex arms flailing as he tries to air up his tire with a mini-pump, and then you hop out with a floor pump.

After the ride there was a massive lunch and party at the Mercedes-Benz of bike shops, Velo Pasadena. More stories were told, and people got progressively happier as the food and beer were served up.

It was weird going home from a big ride and not being exhausted, cracked, destroyed.

I kind of liked it.

END

———————–

 

 

The Armenian way

April 19, 2018 § 35 Comments

It was 1980. The young immigrant stared with envy at the two riders and their shiny new Colnagos in Central Park. He’d been in the U.S. for two months and was riding to work every day on his beater bike to the body shop that paid him $80 a week. “Look at those bikes,” he said.

“You should go talk to them,” said his friend.

“I don’t speak English.”

“Bicycle,” his friend said. “You can say bicycle.”

The Armenian actually knew two English phrases. A relative had told him before he left his home in Yerevan, “In New York if they look at you friendly, say ‘Thank you.’ If they look at you bad, say ‘Fuck you.'”

He walked over to the two riders. “Thank you,” he said hesitantly. “I’m a bicycle.”

The two riders laughed. “What?”

“I’m a bicycle. A Russian bicycle.”

The two riders kept smiling. “What?”

The young Armenian, eighteen years old and a former member of the USSR’s national  junior road team, pointed to his thighs. “I’m a bicycle. Russian bicycle.”

The two racers conferred for a minute. One of them pulled out a slip of paper and dug a pen out of his saddle bag. “Call this number,” he said. Then they rode off.

The godfather of New York cycling

The young Armenian took the note over to his friend. “We gotta call this number.”

The two boys got back home and explained what had happened. The next day the friend dialed the number. “Hello?” answered an older man.

“I have friend, racing Russian team. Bicycle team. He got number Central Park.”

“Russian? Okay. Send him over then. I live at 72nd and Hudson.”

“What is your name, sir?”

“Mengoni. Fred Mengoni.”

The young Armenian showed up and rang the door. An elderly Italian gentleman dressed in silk pajamas answered the door. “Russian, eh?”

“Armenian,” said the boy’s friend. “We are Armenian. He rode Russian team, road bicycle racing.”

“That right?” Fred reached over and gave the young man’s thigh a hard squeeze. “Okay. Come on in.”

They went into the millionaire developer’s home and into his garage. “This is about right for you.” It was a 56 cm Benotto. “And these, too.” He handed the young man a pair of shorts and a jersey that said “G.S. Mengoni,” adorned with a pink collar signifying the Giro. “There’s a race in two weeks in Central Park. See you there.”

The young Armenian and his friend stood out in the street, wondering what had happened. Some stranger had given him a pro bike and a racing uniform and hadn’t even asked his name. Was this even real?

Big day

The Armenian, whose name was Hrach Gevrikyan, showed up on race day. It was a national class race, stacked with U.S. national team members. Hayman, Nitz, and a host of other legends rolled up to the line. With two weeks’ training on his legs, Hrach knew it was going to be a hard race; he suffered through to thirtieth place.

Afterwards, Mengoni came up to him. “You are terrible!” the old man said. “Thirtieth place? You’re no good at all.”

Hrach’s friend translated and the young man’s face fell. “Come over here,” he told his friend. “You translate every word I say. Every word.”

“Sir,” said Hrach. “You are a very kind man. You gave me a bicycle and a uniform and you gave me a chance to race for you. Thank you very much for your kindness. Here is your bicycle back. I will give you the uniform later, after I wash it.”

Mengoni stared, unmoved.

“But I have to tell you something, sir.” Hrach paused while everyone watched. “You don’t know shit about bike racing! You don’t know shit! Not even one tiny little piece of shit! I have two weeks training on my legs and I got thirtieth in this national race, with your best U.S. racers? You don’t know shit! I tell you this, old man, I didn’t get thirtieth. I got first! You understand that? First place!”

Silence reigned as the friend translated. Mengoni’s face never changed. “Are you finished?” he asked.

Hrach nodded.

The old man exploded. “You little motherfucker! No one ever talks to me like that! You little bastard! Who do you think you are?”

Hrach eyed him back. “I’m Hrach. And I know how to race a bicycle.”

Mengoni eyed him, suddenly calm again. “Nobody ever talks to me like that. I like you, boy. You can keep the bike and the jersey. There’s another race next week. Let’s see how you do.”

Paying for coffee

The following week’s race was also in Central Park but it was a local race. Hrach attacked early, rode the break, and made sure that every time he passed Mengoni he was driving the break. In the end he sprinted for third and Mengoni was ecstatic. “Coffee on me,” Mengoni waved to the assembled post-race crowd.

They followed him across the street where everyone ordered coffee and pastry. Mengoni went to the bathroom and while he was there Hrach quietly picked up the tab. Mengoni came out and asked for the check.

“It’s taken care of, sir,” said the waiter.

Mengoni was taken aback. “By whom?”

The waiter pointed to Hrach. “By him.”

Mengoni walked over to Hrach’s table. “All my life here I give to the races and to the racers. No one ever paid my bill.” Outside the cafe Mengoni asked him, “How much you make?”

“$80 a week, sir.”

“Here,” said Mengoni, peeling off eight hundred dollars. “You are on my team now.”

Hrach had made a friend for life.

Coors Classic and California

In 1981 Mengoni sent Hrach to the Coors Classic. Although teams were limited to six riders and he didn’t ride for Mengoni, a composite team out of Santa Barbara took Hrach on. He finished 16th overall in a year dominated by the Russian national team and won by Greg Lemond.

Upon returning to NYC, Mengoni met with Hrach. “I have a good connection with the Fiat development team in Italy,” he said. “They will take you and develop you for two years, then sell you to a professional team. This is your chance.”

“Can I think about it?” Hrach asked.

“Of course.”

The next day he went over to Mengoni’s. “I can’t do it,” he said.

“Why not? This is the chance of a lifetime.”

“My mother is ill and I have to stay with my family.”

Mengoni looked at him for a long time. “Then I have two things to say to you. One, I am sorry for you, giving up this thing that many people would die for. But two, as an Italian, I respect you for being a man who puts his family above all else.”

By 1984 Hrach had settled in California, where his family had moved. He had had serious knee problems that left him unable to race, despite surgery paid for by his friend Doug Knox. He began working at a friend’s bike shop in Santa Barbara, learning the trade.

Pasadena and family

A few years later he was working at a bike shop in Pasadena, and by 1988 he had opened his first shop and married his wife Nevrik. The shop was 580 square feet, and his wedding came at the same time he was struggling desperately to make ends meet. His friends from New York arrived for the wedding celebration a couple of weeks early, but Hrach was overwhelmed with his work. He had opened his shop with $5,000, an amount he considered a small fortune, and was facing harsh economic reality.

After a few days of being in town, a friend took him aside. “Hrach,” he said. “Where have you been? We are in town and we never see you.”

“I’m trying to keep my business afloat,” he said.

“What is the problem? Do you need money?”

“Yes, I’m trying to keep the doors open.”

“How much money do you need?”

“I guess another $5,000 to stay afloat.”

The friend pulled out a checkbook and wrote him a check. “Here,” he said. “You can repay me later.”

Hrach looked, astounded. It was for $20,000. “I don’t know what to say,” he said.

“You don’t have to say anything. But can we have some of your time now to celebrate your wedding?”

Deep roots

Thirty years later Hrach’s shop, Velo Pasadena, is one of the strongest, most well-known, and most successful independent bike shops on the West Coast. In addition to a glittering sales floor, crack mechanics, and knowledgeable salespeople, the shop still has the warm feel of a family affair. Every bike comes with a two-year free maintenance plan. Hrach works out of the same small office in back even as he is deeply involved in his Armenian community.

Above his head are photo albums from his racing career in Armenia and in the U.S. “I didn’t build my shop selling bicycles, I did it building customers. I have customers who have been coming here for thirty years. They trust me and here it’s a place they feel welcome. Before cell phones I would always get calls from their wives. ‘I know he’s there, Hrach, put him on the phone.'”

Over the years few people have done as much for the country’s cycling development as Hrach. In 1990, when Armenia split from the collapsed Soviet Union, he helped fund the team’s first national appearance in Bogota, Colombia. He also designed the national team uniforms, a design that the team still wears.

Hrach has donated bikes and clothing to youth cyclists throughout Armenia, and on May 2 of this year he is traveling there to accompany a shipment of 220 donated, brand new folding bikes as part of a community development project. “You can’t do good things in life and expect anything back. If you do, that’s not giving. But it always comes back, you just don’t know when or how. If you never give anything in life, you never get anything, either.”

And what about Armenia?

“As soon as I was able to do a little bit, I did. I want to help young people there, to give them a chance. This is where I am from, you know? I tell my son,” Hrach said when we spoke, “you can forget anything you want about your life. But never ever forget that you are Armenian.”

END

———————–

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The Armenian way

April 19, 2018 § 35 Comments

It was 1980. The young immigrant stared with envy at the two riders and their shiny new Colnagos in Central Park. He’d been in the U.S. for two months and was riding to work every day on his beater bike to the body shop that paid him $80 a week. “Look at those bikes,” he said.

“You should go talk to them,” said his friend.

“I don’t speak English.”

“Bicycle,” his friend said. “You can say bicycle.”

The Armenian actually knew two English phrases. A relative had told him before he left his home in Yerevan, “In New York if they look at you friendly, say ‘Thank you.’ If they look at you bad, say ‘Fuck you.'”

He walked over to the two riders. “Thank you,” he said hesitantly. “I’m a bicycle.”

The two riders laughed. “What?”

“I’m a bicycle. A Russian bicycle.”

The two riders kept smiling. “What?”

The young Armenian, eighteen years old and a former member of the USSR’s national  junior road team, pointed to his thighs. “I’m a bicycle. Russian bicycle.”

The two racers conferred for a minute. One of them pulled out a slip of paper and dug a pen out of his saddle bag. “Call this number,” he said. Then they rode off.

The godfather of New York cycling

The young Armenian took the note over to his friend. “We gotta call this number.”

The two boys got back home and explained what had happened. The next day the friend dialed the number. “Hello?” answered an older man.

“I have friend, racing Russian team. Bicycle team. He got number Central Park.”

“Russian? Okay. Send him over then. I live at 72nd and Hudson.”

“What is your name, sir?”

“Mengoni. Fred Mengoni.”

The young Armenian showed up and rang the door. An elderly Italian gentleman dressed in silk pajamas answered the door. “Russian, eh?”

“Armenian,” said the boy’s friend. “We are Armenian. He rode Russian team, road bicycle racing.”

“That right?” Fred reached over and gave the young man’s thigh a hard squeeze. “Okay. Come on in.”

They went into the millionaire developer’s home and into his garage. “This is about right for you.” It was a 56 cm Benotto. “And these, too.” He handed the young man a pair of shorts and a jersey that said “G.S. Mengoni,” adorned with a pink collar signifying the Giro. “There’s a race in two weeks in Central Park. See you there.”

The young Armenian and his friend stood out in the street, wondering what had happened. Some stranger had given him a pro bike and a racing uniform and hadn’t even asked his name. Was this even real?

Big day

The Armenian, whose name was Hrach Gevrikyan, showed up on race day. It was a national class race, stacked with U.S. national team members. Hayman, Nitz, and a host of other legends rolled up to the line. With two weeks’ training on his legs, Hrach knew it was going to be a hard race; he suffered through to thirtieth place.

Afterwards, Mengoni came up to him. “You are terrible!” the old man said. “Thirtieth place? You’re no good at all.”

Hrach’s friend translated and the young man’s face fell. “Come over here,” he told his friend. “You translate every word I say. Every word.”

“Sir,” said Hrach. “You are a very kind man. You gave me a bicycle and a uniform and you gave me a chance to race for you. Thank you very much for your kindness. Here is your bicycle back. I will give you the uniform later, after I wash it.”

Mengoni stared, unmoved.

“But I have to tell you something, sir.” Hrach paused while everyone watched. “You don’t know shit about bike racing! You don’t know shit! Not even one tiny little piece of shit! I have two weeks training on my legs and I got thirtieth in this national race, with your best U.S. racers? You don’t know shit! I tell you this, old man, I didn’t get thirtieth. I got first! You understand that? First place!”

Silence reigned as the friend translated. Mengoni’s face never changed. “Are you finished?” he asked.

Hrach nodded.

The old man exploded. “You little motherfucker! No one ever talks to me like that! You little bastard! Who do you think you are?”

Hrach eyed him back. “I’m Hrach. And I know how to race a bicycle.”

Mengoni eyed him, suddenly calm again. “Nobody ever talks to me like that. I like you, boy. You can keep the bike and the jersey. There’s another race next week. Let’s see how you do.”

Paying for coffee

The following week’s race was also in Central Park but it was a local race. Hrach attacked early, rode the break, and made sure that every time he passed Mengoni he was driving the break. In the end he sprinted for third and Mengoni was ecstatic. “Coffee on me,” Mengoni waved to the assembled post-race crowd.

They followed him across the street where everyone ordered coffee and pastry. Mengoni went to the bathroom and while he was there Hrach quietly picked up the tab. Mengoni came out and asked for the check.

“It’s taken care of, sir,” said the waiter.

Mengoni was taken aback. “By whom?”

The waiter pointed to Hrach. “By him.”

Mengoni walked over to Hrach’s table. “All my life here I give to the races and to the racers. No one ever paid my bill.” Outside the cafe Mengoni asked him, “How much you make?”

“$80 a week, sir.”

“Here,” said Mengoni, peeling off eight hundred dollars. “You are on my team now.”

Hrach had made a friend for life.

Coors Classic and California

In 1981 Mengoni sent Hrach to the Coors Classic. Although teams were limited to six riders and he didn’t ride for Mengoni, a composite team out of Santa Barbara took Hrach on. He finished 16th overall in a year dominated by the Russian national team and won by Greg Lemond.

Upon returning to NYC, Mengoni met with Hrach. “I have a good connection with the Fiat development team in Italy,” he said. “They will take you and develop you for two years, then sell you to a professional team. This is your chance.”

“Can I think about it?” Hrach asked.

“Of course.”

The next day he went over to Mengoni’s. “I can’t do it,” he said.

“Why not? This is the chance of a lifetime.”

“My mother is ill and I have to stay with my family.”

Mengoni looked at him for a long time. “Then I have two things to say to you. One, I am sorry for you, giving up this thing that many people would die for. But two, as an Italian, I respect you for being a man who puts his family above all else.”

By 1984 Hrach had settled in California, where his family had moved. He had had serious knee problems that left him unable to race, despite surgery paid for by his friend Doug Knox. He began working at a friend’s bike shop in Santa Barbara, learning the trade.

Pasadena and family

A few years later he was working at a bike shop in Pasadena, and by 1988 he had opened his first shop and married his wife Nevrik. The shop was 580 square feet, and his wedding came at the same time he was struggling desperately to make ends meet. His friends from New York arrived for the wedding celebration a couple of weeks early, but Hrach was overwhelmed with his work. He had opened his shop with $5,000, an amount he considered a small fortune, and was facing harsh economic reality.

After a few days of being in town, a friend took him aside. “Hrach,” he said. “Where have you been? We are in town and we never see you.”

“I’m trying to keep my business afloat,” he said.

“What is the problem? Do you need money?”

“Yes, I’m trying to keep the doors open.”

“How much money do you need?”

“I guess another $5,000 to stay afloat.”

The friend pulled out a checkbook and wrote him a check. “Here,” he said. “You can repay me later.”

Hrach looked, astounded. It was for $20,000. “I don’t know what to say,” he said.

“You don’t have to say anything. But can we have some of your time now to celebrate your wedding?”

Deep roots

Thirty years later Hrach’s shop, Velo Pasadena, is one of the strongest, most well-known, and most successful independent bike shops on the West Coast. In addition to a glittering sales floor, crack mechanics, and knowledgeable salespeople, the shop still has the warm feel of a family affair. Every bike comes with a two-year free maintenance plan. Hrach works out of the same small office in back even as he is deeply involved in his Armenian community.

Above his head are photo albums from his racing career in Armenia and in the U.S. “I didn’t build my shop selling bicycles, I did it building customers. I have customers who have been coming here for thirty years. They trust me and here it’s a place they feel welcome. Before cell phones I would always get calls from their wives. ‘I know he’s there, Hrach, put him on the phone.'”

Over the years few people have done as much for the country’s cycling development as Hrach. In 1990, when Armenia split from the collapsed Soviet Union, he helped fund the team’s first national appearance in Bogota, Colombia. He also designed the national team uniforms, a design that the team still wears.

Hrach has donated bikes and clothing to youth cyclists throughout Armenia, and on May 2 of this year he is traveling there to accompany a shipment of 220 donated, brand new folding bikes as part of a community development project. “You can’t do good things in life and expect anything back. If you do, that’s not giving. But it always comes back, you just don’t know when or how. If you never give anything in life, you never get anything, either.”

And what about Armenia?

“As soon as I was able to do a little bit, I did. I want to help young people there, to give them a chance. This is where I am from, you know? I tell my son,” Hrach said when we spoke, “you can forget anything you want about your life. But never ever forget that you are Armenian.”

END

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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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