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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April’s fools

April 1, 2016 § 11 Comments

Our fools here in the South Bay are not limited to April. Every Thursday morning at 6:35 AM we do the Flog Ride, which consists of six loops around the Palos Verdes Golf Course and a finish on Via la Cuesta.

Each lap is very hilly, and the finish on Via la Cuesta is pretty steep.


Via la Cuesta, the cherry on top, at the top.

The ride is pretty foolish year-round because:

  1. It leaves really early.
  2. It is really hard.

I know that it is possible nowadays to quantify “hard” with watts and Strava and kilojoules and TSS’s and amperes and such, but those methods are sterile. The best way to quantify the ride’s difficulty is in human terms, which is to say that hardly anyone ever comes back to do it twice, and many of the best riders in the South Bay have never even done it once.

How hard is the Flog Ride? After the fourth lap yesterday one of the new riders dismounted in the regroup parking lot and began fiddling with his bike.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“I think my brakes have been rubbing,” he said. “I just can’t keep up.”

“It’s not your brakes that are rubbing on the rim,” I assured him. “It’s your lungs rubbing against your rib cage.”

At the Flog Ride, you can say with almost 100% certainty that when someone shows up to try it out, the rider will be a Reverse Terminator. He won’t be back.

The ride is only a year and seven months old, but two riders do keep coming back, and every week they have two goals:

  1. Don’t be last.
  2. Make it to the second turn with the group.

No dreams of beating the Wily Greek, no dreams of holding Destroyer’s wheel, no prayer of following Davy Dawg, no fantasy of ever even coming close to being first atop the climb, no goal of shattering the group on the puncher past the stop sign, no, none of that, just don’t be last and please, please, please dog let me make it the second turn before I get hammered, pounded, Mercury-in-retrograded into a quivering pile of gasping meat and flicked out the back.

But every week, with the precision of autocorrect, Michelle and Tom show up and get mercilessly vaporized. They are friends and teammates and good people, so we crush them.

Until yesterday. It was the last lap. We were all tired and dreading the final climb up Via la Cuesta. We made the first turn and Riddlebarger jumped away. Alan, a Big O teammate commuting to work who had jumped in with us, motored the tiny group into a tiny line. Michelle was second wheel and I was on her wheel.

Three riders launched at the stop sign but the group stayed intact. Atop la Cuesta, while the rest of us sat on the curb panting, Michelle and then Tom rode up. “We made it to the second turn!” she shouted, delirious with joy. Tom’s smile was bigger than a trophy bass’s.

“One and a half fucking years!” she said. “And we finally weren’t the caboose!”

We collected our lungs and got ready to descend to Redondo Beach for post-ride coffee and lies. “You coming?” Michelle asked Tom, who was standing on top of the hill, on top of the world, and gazing off into the distance, pleasure diffusing across his face.

“No,” he said. “I’m going to savor it.”



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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.

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