Learning to fly

March 22, 2019 § 6 Comments

There is some stuff you can only see on a bike ride, stuff like watching an Olympic medalist swimmer and 7-time world record holder launch off a steep muddy descent through the air like a missile, shouting, “I’m fine! I’m fine!” even before she lands with a thud and rolls into the bottom of a deep ditch.

I was in front and everything up until then had been, well, fine. You could hear the tires quietly rolling behind, everyone picking a line down the muddy slope, when suddenly I heard the onrushing sound of an accelerating bike picking a completely careless line off the trail, the sound of quiet tire-on-dirt replaced by the chaotic noise of tall grass being torn aside by the onrushing bike, and then the immortal “I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine!” and thud.

I’ve been good, but I guess I’ve never been fine

Baby Seal was unimpressed with the head sticking out of the ravine, the body twisted the just-so way of someone who was going to be quadriplegic, and least of all impressed by the “I’m fine.”

“Dude,” he said to the Olympian and world record holder. “You can’t crash like that until July. The Tour is in July.”

I was more concerned about having killed one of America’s greatest swimmers ever on her first Wheatgrass Ride, and concerned about how fine she really was, because she kept saying “I’m fine!” even though she hadn’t actually moved after crumpling into the ditch.

Sure enough, up she sprang. “See? I’m fine!”

And then she did what you would pretty much expect from an Olympian and world record holder. She hopped back on her bike and half-pedaled, half-walked, half-swam down the hill in an abbreviated 200m freestyle.

I tried to think of something encouraging to say, something better than, “Good job not dying back there.”

So instead I did what cyclists do whenever one of their own narrowly avoids a horrific demise. I understated. “Not bad for your first time off-road. Pretty solid 4-point landing, that.”

Meanwhile back at the coffee shop

As we sat at the Sckubrats recapping the day’s event, which will never be forgotten, Sippy, who was indeed fine, had a few questions. “How come that other girl told me that it was an easy descent?”

“Her? The one who turned around and went down on the paved road after telling you it was fine and you’d have no problem on the muddy, treacherous, steep horsetrail?”

“Yeah, her.”

“She was on a bike, wasn’t she?”


“So she was lying. If the person is on a bike, he/she is lying.”


“‘It’s only a few more miles. It’s not too steep. It’s not too windy/cold/hot/rainy/snowy. The road is fine. There’s sag. It’s no drop. I’ll wait for you. I’ll lead you out. Convo pace.’ All lies.”

“Oh,” she said. “I didn’t know. But how do I know you’re not lying now?”

“Easy,” I said. “I’m not on a bike. I’m sitting in a chair.”

Jerry wandered up and plopped down, heavily. “Man,” he said to me. “That was a gnarly hard pull you took back there. I was gonna go up to the front and take a pull and help you out.”

I looked at Sippy. “See?”

She nodded sagely. “Got it.”




March 3, 2019 § 2 Comments

I had a good ride this morning. It started at 7:00. It was dry as a bone despite the weather forecast of 100% rain probability. Stupid weather forecast. If you live according to that crap, you miss so many great things in life.

200 yards into my ride it began to rain very hard. Thankfully I didn’t have a rain jacket so I got soaked, but the first few seconds of the ride were awesome, which goes to show how you need to have the courage to ignore the weather forecast, which is always wrong.

I rode with Kristie for an hour in the pouring rain. She hadn’t brought a rain jacket, either. The Wheatgrass 2.0 was supposed to start at 8:00 AM, pointy-sharp, and four other idiots actually showed up.

One of them was Evens Stievenart. He is one of the best riders I have ever had the pleasure of getting shelled by. He was angry at the rain and took it out on us. We had to go full gas to hold his wheel getting up and over the golf course. His rear tire shot a continuous plume of oil-infused, chemical, filthy water, mixed with grit, into my face and mouth.

The rain kept falling.

We decided to skip Stathisridge, the awful climb that punctuates the first part of Wheatgrass 2.0 like a harpoon in the groin but at the last minute we realized that if we skipped Stathisridge, the Wiley Greek, who lives at the top, wouldn’t see us and would think that we, like he, had decided to spend Sunday as pillow babies.

So we climbed it.

Evens waited for us at the bottom. Kristie and Vinnie decided there were better things to do than pneumonia, so that left four of us. Evens towed us to the reservoir and zipped up it. I hung desperately onto his wheel. The plume of filth continued unabated.

The rain kept falling.

Evens charged up Better Homes, but he went slow enough so that I could hang on. My threshold is his warm-up pace. We got to PV Drive again just in time to see the riders who had cut the course, including Stathisridge, showing intelligence.

The rain kept falling.

I got dropped on the wall going up De Luna and pedaled solo to the Domes. Evens was waiting; he had been there for a couple of hours. I ate some nuts and raisins. We waited for the others and then all descended together.

The rain kept falling.

Evens drilled it through Portuguese Bend and up the Glass Church. I jumped him past Terranea, and our remaining passenger rolled off the back like a spent artillery shell. Evens countered and I clawed on. He eased up and let me sprunt by for the imaginary win. By now I had drunk a liter or more of oily, gritty filthwater.

The rain kept falling.

We turned up Hawthorne and Evens rode away, I guess he was tired of babysitting. I got home covered in muck and soaked to the skin. When I showered a huge bolus of black sludge dissolved and ran out of both my ears, volcanically.

I toweled off and looked out the window.

The rain wasn’t falling any more.



Welcome, friends!

January 5, 2019 Comments Off on Welcome, friends!

With the plethora of incredibly hard rides now found in the South Bay, cyclists looking for a Sunday break have nowhere to turn. Whether it is the killer hard FDR, leg-smashing BCCC challenges, Team Lizard Collectors freight train rides to the Rock, La Grunge Horse Dentist beatdown rides, soul-destroying PV Bicycle Club hammer fests, #leavmethefuckalone White Men Only Rides, or crazy-intense training sessions for that 70+ 2-minute track event, cyclists have been getting zero recovery on Sunday in the South Bay.

It is therefore time to resuscitate the rotten old corpse of the Wheatgrass Ride. Historically, the Wheatass Ride, organized and led by Iron Mike Norris, was a time when riders could do a ride of any pace with a friendly group, always assured of a regroup, and finishing with smiles and puke-inducing cups of wheatgrass, always paid for by Dr. Norris.

Once his 401k was depleted, Iron Mike learned what the rest of us have always known: Supporting community and friendship among cyclists is like sharing your hands and feet in a pool of starving sharks.

Putting the “K” back in “community”

The old Wheatgrass Ride took about two hours and was open to riders of all levels. No one ever ran you off because you were the wrong color, gender, or ethnicity, although many were run off because they forced the pace going around the golf course, thereby passing the front wheel of Iron Mike, which led to instant excommunication.

Nowadays the only Sunday ride on the Hill is the Italian Geriatric Ride, a brutal slugfest of the best dressed dandies ever to throw a leg over a top tube. Few can hang with the style, the matchy-matchy color coordination of bike/helmet/gloves/shoes/Medicare card, and the physical toll that this grueling ride takes, and especially when ridden after the BCCC Challenge Ride, it is more than most mortals can withstand.

Therefore, local gentlefellow Mat “Pornstache” Guitar has reinstituted the Wheatass Ride with a few modifications to make it even more friendly, receptive, and recovery-oriented than it used to be. A Strava computer-generated graphic is attached below for data folks who want to analyze the ride prior to seeing if they are likely to lose any KOMs.

The route

  1. Starts at Malaga Cove Plaza at 8:00 AM, pointy-sharp.
  2. Goes gently up the Golf Course, turns right on PV Drive North.
  3. Continues along PV Drive North to Stathisridge, a gentle, 500-yard ascent that terminates in a cul-de-sac.
  4. Descends on a well-maintained, easy gradient (some have insultingly called it a muddy horse path) to Crenshaw.
  5. Descends Crest back to PV Drive North.
  6. Continues on PV Drive North to the reservoir in which there is no water, climbs to the top.
  7. Descends to Miraleste, then does Better Homes to Domes.
  8. Rides the Glass Church rollers to Hawthorne.
  9. Takes Hawthorne to Monaco, to Crest, and then to Whitley Collins.
  10. There is no wheatgrass at the end, but plenty of coffee (paid for by you), at the Starbucks at PV Mall.

Ride notes: The point behind this ride is camaraderie, freshening up, and recovery. Conversation pace at all times. All climbs are short and gentle, no out-of-the-saddle climbing, especially on Sunnyridge oops I mean Stathisridge. Conversational pace up the reservoir climb. Conversational pace up Better Homes. Conversational pace to the Domes. Conversational pace along the Glass Church rollers. No sprunting for the Hawthorne sprint sign. Conversational pace up Hawthorne and Monaco, and especially lots of conversation up Whitley Collins.

Shout outs

We especially want to welcome Baby Seal and his Origin teammates, and encourage them to come conversation with us, not to mention all other riders looking for a chillaxin’ day on the bike with friends.



Baby Seal Special

Making wheatgrass great again

October 9, 2017 § 7 Comments

There used to be a weekly pedal called the Wheatgrass Ride. It left Malaga Cove Plaza every Sunday at about 8:05 AM. The ride was begun by Mike N. It had a nice rhythm to it; everyone would ride in a civil fashion up around the golf course and then ride civilly along PV Drive North, two by two, civilly, to the base of the reservoir climb.

From there it became markedly uncivil and people pushed the pedals, some harder, some less hard, until the whole thing detonated. Then some of the detonators would descend Miraleste, climb Better Homes still pushing hard, and then ascend up to the sacred radar domes. The shrapnel would straggle in and everyone would regroup.

Mike always brought up the rear.

After that there would be a civil descent of the Switchbacks and a civil drop down to the low point, after which many but not all niceties would be dispensed with, and then at the Glass Church all pretense of politesse would be swiftly discarded and fangs would be bared, pedals pushed, gaspy folks dropped, and all would end in the glorious Hawthorne sprunt.

Mike would bring up the rear again, there would be a regrouping at the 7-11, all hostilities would cease, the armistice would be signed, peace pipes smoked, and everyone would slowly soldier in a most civil fashion up the long Hawthorne climb to PV Mall, where huge celebrations would take place in the form of wheatgrass libations, which were nasty but a rite of passage.

This went on for a few years until Mike gave up. Some said he was moving to Hawaii and was tired of hanging out around all the South Bay goofballs. Some said that he had gotten the yips from too many near misses. Some said he had become old and cranky and wanted to be left alone. Still others said he got tired of all the people who showed up on the Wheatgrass Ride and ignored the rules of the ride.

I suspect it was a bit of all of that, plus the fact that every Sunday he spent $50 on wheatgrass, which times 52 times 6 adds up.

Whatever, he stopped coming to the ride and then stopped coming to all rides. It just happens to people. They get old and ride off.

The Wheatgrass Ride first reveled in the absence of its parent, and the little kids turned it into a murderous, go from the gun smashfest, but that didn’t work because we already had one of those the day before, the Donut. The beauty of the Wheatgrass was that you could be a tired old buffalo or a feisty young buck and still get in a workout and be able to spin and chat with friends.

The best part was the apres-ski, sucking down nasty wheatgrass dreck and telling stories mixed with the occasional fact. When Mike walked away all that died. He was missed, but he was never around to hear it, and plus, he didn’t GAF.

Then a couple of days ago Hoofixr sent out a message: Make Wheatgrass Great Again. Hoofixr is a nice guy but he also means what he says. And what he said was this:

  1. The ride will follow the old school Norris Rules.
  2. Anyone wants to hammer on the easy segments, beat it.
  3. Lies and wheatgrass at the end.

This promise lured a bunch of the wheatgrass faithful out, and it was a success. Hoofixr laid down the Norris Rules and they were followed. Pedals were pushed, lies were told, wheatgrass was chugged. Just like the old days.

Not that he GAF, but Norris would have approved.



Legally shutting the fuck up with Bob Mionske

February 10, 2016 § 71 Comments

What a sanctimonious blowhard. Bike lawyer Bob Mionske wrote this smoking heap of dung for the bicycle rag factory mag VeloNews, admonishing us to obey the law and be model, upstanding bicycle citizens.

The basic premise is that by riding like scofflaws we make cagers hate us and do the greater cycling community a disservice. Then Miss Manners Mionske admonishes us that the madcap, out of control group ride “creates an enormous public-relations problem for us with the general public and with their legislative representatives.”

Bob then reminds us that, “We have a constitutional right to the road, as I established in my book ‘Bicycling & the Law.'” Founding Father Robert Mionske. Who knew?

Finally, we learn that adrenaline-soaked early season group rides in which someone gets hurt can result in *horrors* lawsuits. Having fallen asleep in his torts class for forty years, Professor Mionske belts us with this legal bugaboo: “Individual riders on group rides that have injured pedestrians, other cyclists or caused a motor vehicles to lose control have personally been sued. Because the injured party in these actions can rarely specify who caused their injuries they will name, in their suit, any riders they can identify from the group. Under a different theory of law lawsuits in these cases will also seek to attach legal liability to clubs, shops and even racing teams that are, in some way, affiliated with the group ride.”

In other words, just being the tongue-in-spokes wanker on the tail of the whip can send you to lawsuit hell where the aggrieved plaintiff will take everything you own.

Which leads to a reasonable question: Whose side is this asshole on?

It’s true, bicyclists shouldn’t break the law. Neither, Bob, should cagers. Or anyone, for that matter. That’s why they are called “laws” instead of “personal directives ordained by the Great Dictator.”

It’s not true that cagers hate us because we break the law. If that were true, cagers would hate each other, gun owners, and motorcyclists a million times more. Cagers mow us down with impunity because law enforcement treats dead cyclists as the price of doing business, cf. Milton Olin and hundreds of others.

Cyclists are hated because laws are arbitrarily enforced against us, and cagers know that they can abuse us and harm us and face little in the way of consequences. Mionske’s wholesale distribution of the canard that we are our own worst enemy is like the apologists who used to explain away the evils of segregation by telling people to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.”

As for the crazed group ride in which every participant is a potential defendant, that is simply untrue. While it’s true that anyone can sue any other person any time for any reason, prevailing is a different matter. And what’s the solution? Stop riding in groups just because one or two yahoos ride like idiots? Newsflash: Webster’s Third International Dictionary defines a group ride as “A conglomeration of idiots on wheels.”

The real solution to bad group behavior is the one that Lawyer Mionske refuses to consider because he himself is so afraid of lawsuits–starting each group ride with a little speech. I’ve seen the guys at BCCC do it every ride. They go over the route, introduce any newcomers, and let people know what’s expected of them. Eventually people get the message and the rides acquire a certain discipline.

The down side is that the person who steps up and gives the speech really does become a potential target, as he could be sued as a “promoter” of the ride. But so what? Are you going to live your life in fear of lawsuits, Bob? And aren’t you a lawyer? And don’t you feel personally responsible for the people you ride with? Are you such a chicken-ass that you can’t do what Mike Norris of our local Wheatgrass Ride does–give a talk each week to warn people about going slow in certain areas and riding with safety in mind?

If every group ride started with a little speech, yes, there would be some incremental increase in litigation risk for the speaker (greatly reduced when the speaker reminds everyone that this is an informal ride, that the speaker isn’t the promoter, and that everyone there voluntarily assumes the risk of catastrophic injury and death), but overall the rides would be much safer. The Nichols Ride in L.A. cries out for this kind of leadership, as do many others.

Instead of blaming cyclists for being victims and exhorting responsible people to avoid group rides because of the risk of litigation, Bob needs to go to Oz, get a pair of courages, and be a leader. Maybe then his status as a former 7-11 rider in the 80’s might actually be something more than a marketing hook.



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Seven cops and a shoe

August 10, 2015 § 41 Comments


I was riding to the start of the Wheatgrass when I overtook the Wily Greek. The Captain then rolled up behind us. We were exactly on time, 7:59:59, and we could see the group massing in the parking lot at Malaga Cove. The downhill from PV North hits about 40 mph, and there wasn’t a single car on the road. We sped through the stop signs as we’ve done a million, make that a billion times before, and saw a cop waiting for us.


PA: “Pull over now!”

Three chunky $350.00 tickets and a long lecture curing which time two more squad cars were called in and a fourth drove by but was waved on. You never know when three skinny underwear-clad bikers, two eligible for AARP and one who weights 120 lbs. might get dangerous on you.

The first cop lit into Wily. “Didn’t I pull you over last week for the same thing and let you off with a warning?”

“Er, uh, duh,” Wily fuddled.

The cop was pissed and the other two stood back, watching this brief entertainment between donuts. Then we received The Lecture. You should know it by heart. I do.

  1. This is for your own good.
  2. Please stop running stop signs.
  3. We are only concerned about safety.
  4. No one here is picking on cyclists.
  5. Have a nice day.

None of us argued. How could we? We’d been caught red-pedaled, and excuses were only going to make matters worse, such as when Wily pretended not to have seen the 12-by-12 stop sign that was so big it blotted out the morning sun.

I certainly wasn’t going to argue, because Cop No. 3 was the same guy who’d ticketed me for blowing four consecutive stop signs a month ago on Via del Monte, and I was praying he didn’t recognize me. “We had to do 60 to catch you!” he’d said as he furiously scribbled the ticket that day.

We finished our ride and went home, sour.

That afternoon my new New Balance sneakers tore the tongue. It’s a long story, but they replaced my $35 Target shoes that had seen three months of hard wear and had biked across Germany. I’d gone to the Village Runner in Redondo Beach because of a little Internet blurb I read about how it’s better to patronize real running stores. The price of local patronage was $160, and thank dog I had cash left over from my trip and that there had been a place to sit down to keep from fainting.

As I pedaled to the shop I was worried because I’d paid in cash, and had tossed the receipt and the box. If I’d bought them at Target that would have been the end of it.

Then it occurred to me that I should change my ways, really, I should. So I stopped at every stop sign and stop light. Mostly.

The clerk, Francisco, immediately recognized me. “How do you like the shoes?”

“I love them, but they don’t love me.” I showed him the problem.

“We’ll replace them. We have another pair at the Manhattan Beach store. We’ll have them here for you tomorrow.”

“I can ride over there now.”

“Do you have the receipt?”


“Don’t worry–it’s all good.”

As I pedaled up the Five Corners intersection in Hermosa, which took me twelve years to reach even though it was five miles away because I stopped at every stop sign and light, I felt a faint glow of good civic-hood. I had finally become a mostly law-abiding cyclist. It was good to feel the approval of happy cagers as I stopped at each sign.

Then, crammed over into the nonexistent gutter to let a revving engine pass, a punk stuck his head out the window. “Get a fucking car or get off the road, asshole!”

I flipped him off and caught him at the stop sign. “What did you say?” I asked rather warmly.

“You want to pull over and find out?” he asked. “I’ll smash your fucking face in.”

“Yes, I’m pulling over now, in fact, to photograph your rustbox and call 911.”

He sped off, then did a u-turn. “Pull over, fuckhead, I’m parking and coming for you!”

I pulled over and dialed 911. He parked and came storming over with his two friends, who all began threatening and berating me as I spoke to the 911 operator. “Call the fucking police you fucking fuck fuck duh! We’ll tell them exactly what you did you asshole dickhead fucking fuck fuck duh!”

Three MB squad cars squealed up, then a fourth. A lady cop jumped out. The punkster began yapping as I stood several yards away. “Sit on the curb and shut up!” The color drained from all their faces and it got very quiet as she read them the riot act.

The fourth cop asked for my side of the story, which I told him, calmly.

“You did the right thing, sir, calling us and not letting it escalate. What would you like us to do?”

“Can you shoot each one of them in the head?”


“Then an apology would be great.” The punk was led over and he faked the words “I’m sorry,” but they choked him so badly he won’t swallow solid food for a week. Then they sent him on his way, not charging him with misdemeanor assault or with violating the 3-foot law, I suppose because I was just a bicyclist and the only thing that had happened was that I had almost died. I wondered what the punk would have been charged with if he’d intentionally tried to kill one of the cops.

When I got to the shoe store, the manager, Jeff, quickly swapped out my shoes, no questions asked. A better shopping experience I’ve never had. I mused that shopping local was expensive, risky, and fraught with tension.

“But it was worth it,” I told myself as I crawled home, stopping at every single stop sign and stop light, all 154 of them.

Stopping mostly, that is.



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The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 13: The sitting muscle

July 8, 2015 § 12 Comments

I don’t know if he ever really said it.


Rich Meeker is supposed to have said something like this: “Masters racers train too hard and ride too much.”

Now, then.

Please check in all nasty comments about Rich at the door to the Internet, or refer to one of my earlier posts and pile on there. Just because someone cheated doesn’t mean they aren’t smart about their sport.

For over 30 years people have been telling me variations of “You train too hard and ride too much,” to which I always politely smiled while thinking, “WTF do you know? Where were you on the Donut Ride?” Right, Elron?

Of course on race day those know-it-alls are on the podium and I’m DNF because “no legs today.”

Turns out, they knew a lot. Masters racers, apparently, train too hard and ride too much. “Oh, yeah?” I can hear you Wankophizing. “Too much for what?”

Too much to do well at races, that’s what.

“Well, who cares about racing?” I can hear you shout back.

“Only the people who pay entry fees and show up to race.” In other words, ME. And YOU.

Of course it doesn’t matter what people say to me. My mind is ten million impermeable layers of granite, especially when it comes to cycling. I know everything, and what I don’t know isn’t worth knowing.

“Yeah,” Fields once said, “but the problem is that what you know isn’t worth knowing either.”

Then one day a very helpful pro (“What does he know?”) suggested that masters racers train too hard and ride too much. I ignored him while nodding wisely in assent.

But something made me listen, even though it was a few weeks after the fact. My 51-year-old body, whose recovery slows each year like a tiny pebble rolling uphill through a massive pit of wet cement, refused one morning to do what I demanded of it.

“I wonder if I’m tired? I mean, like, permanently.” I thought about an old blues musician from New Orleans who, in his 80’s, was asked how he felt as he sat on the corner strumming his guitar. He considered the question briefly, and looked at the eager tourist who was desperate for the aged musician to utter some reaffirming words about a life fulfilled from singing the blues.

“I reckon,” the man said, “that I feel like an old worn out shoe.” Was I, too, becoming a Converse All-Star that had been to one hipster convention too many?

I tried to ride my bike that morning and did so, without vigor. And from that point on I started exercising my sitting muscle. Throughout the race season, which in California runs from January 1 to about December 31, I have only ridden hard once, maximum twice, during the week, to wit:

  • Monday: Nothing or easy pedal
  • Tuesday: One 5-minute effort on the NPR or full gas 1-hour effort
  • Wednesday: Coffee cruise
  • Thursday: 60-minute full-gas Flog Ride, or 60-minute easy pedal depending on what I did on Tuesday
  • Friday: Coffee cruise
  • Saturday: Race or Donut with full sprinkles and choco pain glaze
  • Sunday: Easy Wheatgrass cruise

My results are as follows:

  • Still feel like racing in June, as opposed to weakening in Feb., cratering in Mar., and giving up after the BWR in April.
  • Legs feel fresh
  • Reduced reliance on Chinese doping products
  • A baby’s handful of good race results, i.e. a single top-50 and no crashes

They say less is more, which is definitely not true for money or penis length. But for masters racing, ol’ Meeker the Beaker may have known what he was talking about.



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Helping the younger generation

May 26, 2014 § 16 Comments

One of the things most important to me is helping young folks, especially young bicycle riders. Although I have never coached anyone, whenever I ride I keep an eye out for young, impressionable minds who might need a bit of help with regard to learning the ropes in this complicated and demanding sport.

We started this morning and chugged along towards the base of the reservoir climb. The Wheatgrass Ride, held every Sunday, is an amalgamation of old and slow people who either have an AARP card or soon will. One or two tough guys such as the Wily Greek regularly show up, but for the most part it’s our one chance to beat up on other old people, or to avenge the wounds suffered the day before on the Donut Ride, wounds inflicted by young, strong, fit riders who lack the chub and flab and other indicia of age and inability.

I hit the bottom of the reservoir with a vengeance. Halfway up there was a gaggle of nine or ten riders on my wheel from the original group of about thirty. I swung over and Canyon Bob charged through with a very young rider tucked in behind. A slight gap opened and I hopped in behind Young Pup.

Bob mashed and smashed, shedding a few riders, and swung over. Young Pup swung over, too.

I pulled through and pounded the few IQ points I had left in a mad surge to the top of the climb. At the top I wobbled over to the side, wasted, and Hoof Fixer Man pounded through.

I clawed onto the back and coasted the long downhill all the way to the foot of Better Homes. Hoof Fixer Man accelerated up the hill and there was only a group of five or six left.

Ugly Ankles, who never takes a pull but who is also close to 90, attacked. I strained to bridge, towing the gaggle with me. As I started to fizzle and pop, Young Pup bounded by, dropping us easily, closing the gap, and fastening onto Ugly Ankles’s wheel like a suckerfish attaching itself to a dugong.

Now the chase was in earnest. With four riders on my wheel I pushed and groaned and flailed, and after five desperate elbow flicks Chatty Cathy finally, reluctantly, barely pulled through. He was no match for Ugly Ankles, however, who easily kept the distance.

Young Pup sat tucked in behind the dugong-draft, stick-like legs merrily spinning away.

The climb flattened and then reached the base of the longer, tougher climb to the Domes. Young Pup jumped hard and dropped Ugly Ankles on the first steep ramp, dropped him like a heavy turd from a tall horse.

I jumped too, and was now chasing Young Pup alone. Except for the brief respite by Canyon Bob and Chatty Cathy, I’d been mashing for the entirety of the morning’s climbing. Young Pup couldn’t get any farther away, but I couldn’t claw him back, either. He kept looking back to make sure I was in check, and I was.

Then the Wily Greek came by. He’d spent the better part of the morning twiddling his thumbs, and he overtook the elderly fellows and the elderly me with ease, gliding by on the climb hardly breathing. As he raced up the road, Young Pup jumped on his wheel and held it for a couple of hundred yards before blowing. Still, he’d increased his distance, putting my effort further out of reach, and his insectan recovery rate meant that within a few seconds he was racing off again.

At the top of the climb Young Pup wheeled around to watch us straggle in. I was the next finisher, a long way back. I pedaled up to him.

“Can I give you some advice?”

“Sure.” He was pleased to accept whatever tidbits I had to offer, seeing as how he’d bludgeoned me into a bag of broken dicks.

“When you suck wheel on a gang of old farts, most of whom have children old enough to be your parents, and then at the very end jump by them, fresh as a daisy after they’re worn to shit … no one’s impressed.”

His face fell and his lip quivered.

“If you’re good enough to smush us like a bug — and you are — then you’re good enough to attack early, or take a fuggin’ pull, or do something classier than suck and jump. There’s no honor in strategically out-riding your granddad.”

He looked like he was going to cry, but he didn’t. He clipped in and coasted down the hill.

A buddy came up. “That was a bit harsh, don’t you think?”

“I hope it was. If they learn chickenshit riding when they’re young, they’ll ride chickenshit all their lives.”

“It was pretty good tactical riding.”

“Yeah, except this isn’t a race and there’s no one here on his level except the Wily Greek.”

“He’s just a junior.”

“I’m just an old man.”

We regrouped at the bottom of the Switchbacks and the group rolled at a stiff pace to the bottom of the Glass Church hill. Davy ramped it up the long roller with Young Pup on his wheel. Davy swung over and Young Pup charged ahead. It was a vicious, long, thoroughly nasty headwind pull that instantly put everyone into the red.

He swung over and I came through, trying to match his effort. When I finished my turn, I looked at his face as he hit the front again. His mouth was twisted open in agony. Chunks of spit caulked his cheeks and face. He was gasping as if he’d been harpooned.

Still he hit the front and, after stuffing us in the hurt locker, punted the hurt locker off the cliff.

I would have told him “good job.” But I couldn’t.



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Pass the tweezers, please

November 14, 2012 § 48 Comments

There we were, hauling ass down PV Drive North into the sweeping, slightly off-camber right turn up to the reservoir climb, and sitting on the point I swung out as far as possible to 1) hold max speed through the corner and 2) show off my awesome, ‘cross-inspired cornering skills.

‘Cause when you can rip through loose sand and gravel at speed, smooth tarmac ain’t shit.

Just as I reached max lean, the front tire started to slide. “This is exactly what happens to me in ‘cross,” I thought, out-of-body as it was, feeling the pavement grind up into my hip and right elbow. “And it’s gonna hurt.”

Iron Mike, who had been far enough off my wheel to avoid the crash, couldn’t help staring slack-jawed at the carnage, so instead of neatly avoiding the mess he smacked into the median at 2 mph, tumping over like a clunky lamp, one foot unhooked.

I twisted my neck to see who was going to run over my head.

No one. The braking and hollering were in full force. Thank goodness I’d decided to avoid that dangerous ‘cross race in San Diego and stick to the safety of the Sunday Wheatgrass ride.

Timing is everything

I came to rest in the middle of the lane and was surprised to see my good friend Bruce, clad in jeans, leaning over me. “You okay?”

The South Bay Wheelmen were staging their annual club hill climb, and I had arrived just in time give a lesson in safe bike handling. The whole team had paused to watch bits of flesh, tattered kit, and a thin sheen of blood spatter up in the air.

The guy in charge of sign-in said in a loud voice. “See? That’s what I don’t want any of you idiots doing.”

The bike crash on the group ride is a beautiful thing. Everyone’s personality leaps out in high relief at the moment of crisis, and our group was no different. Neumann sprinted away up the hill with another IF wanker, thrilled to finally have a chance at getting KOM and putting into practice his lifelong motto of “All for me, and me for me!”

Patrick sequestered my bike, straightened the brake, and had soon loosened the bolts to straighten the stem. Craig and Bruce were fixing the front flat that had caused the crash, and Bob, after giving me the physical once-over, stood ready to air up the tire. Chris stood at the ready to help, and Fussy, after making sure Iron Mike was okay, provided running commentary highlighting Mike’s awkward fall. Joe stared at my elbow, in the throes of broken-joint flashbacks from the fall that had cost in excess of $75k to rebuild his elbow joint.

As Bruce carefully checked the brand new Gatorskin, he said, “Aha!”

We all looked. “There’s the culprit!” he said.

We couldn’t see anything. “Here, run your hand on the inside of the tire.”

Sure enough, a sharp pin prick was coming through, almost invisible. After more working and worrying, we got it slightly out, but not enough to grip and remove. It was a tiny piece of wire from a car tire.

I tried to pull it out with my teeth, but after scrimshanking a few deep scores into the enamel, gave up. Bruce looked around. “Anyone have a pair of tweezers?”

People guffawed. “Yah, sure, man, right next to my pedicure set.”

“Fuck, Bruce, nobody carries tweezers on a bike ride.”

Bruce surveyed the group, unfazed. “Anybody have a pair of tweezers?”

Silence, and a few more laughs ensued.

Then New Girl said, in her small voice, “I do.”

We were stunned. In a moment she produced a perfect pair of splinter-pulling tweezers, and in another couple of moments the wire was yanked.

I looked at her. “Why in the world are you carrying tweezers on a bike ride?”

“Because…” she said.

“Because what?”

“I thought somebody someday might get a super tiny splinter or piece of glass or wire in their tire and wouldn’t be able to get it out without some tweezers. Isn’t that great?”

“No,” I said. “It isn’t great. It is awesome beyond belief.”

Onward and upward

I pedaled up to Norris, who was glumly waiting for the ride to resume. “Sorry, dude. You okay?”

“That’s gonna cost me.”

“Oh, crap. How come?”

“My front derailleur is broken.”

“Really?” I looked at his front derailleur, which was in pristine condition and appeared to be completely unharmed. “What about you? You okay?”

He pointed to his shin, where he had already affixed a small band-aid, covering up the tiniest of nicks. “Wow, dude. Heal up.”

I felt a horrible stabbing pain in my right leg, and finally looked at the gaping hole in my shorts. The skin facing the hole didn’t look so bad, but I peeked under the fabric higher up and saw a nasty strawberry smear that was going to be oozing and draining and scabbing all over my pants for the next week or two.

Then I took a deep breath and looked at my elbow. I’d gone down so fast at such a deep lean that the fall had peeled my long jersey sleeve right up to mid-bicep. The road, or something, had ground a neat hole through the armwarmer I’d been wearing under the sleeve. I bent my arm and looked. Down in the hole was something kind of white and pale looking, along with big clots of blood and bigger flaps of skin.

Did I mention I’m a wimp?

There are wimps, and then there are wimps

I have the pain threshold of a 2 year-old. The dentist has to give me morphine just to clean my teeth. I hate the sight of blood. I feel waves of pain at even the thought of broken bones, stitches, surgery, needles, you name it.

The time I got my thumb caught in my track bike chain and ground off the tip was as horrible to me as if someone had slowly burned out my eyes with coals, or forced me to vote Republican. When I had a tiny cavity drilled out in Japan, the dentist sternly told me to “stop quivering like a child.”

Yeah. I’m a gutless wuss.

Fortunately, so are most other male cyclists. No matter how brave and tough they are when attacking, or climbing, or sprinting, the minute they get a boo-boo they whine and wail and complain as if they’d lost a leg to an IED. With the exception of my buddy who broke his neck, spent five months in a halo, and then had screws bolted into his neck and never said anything other than, “I’m fine,” when asked about his condition, most cyclists are whiny hypochondriacs who milk their injuries, minor or major, into the finest whiny cream.

Nonetheless, there was a ride to finish. So we set off up the hill, and I noticed for the first time that we had a new member. He was riding an orange steel Volkcycle with cantilever brakes, rakish chromed steel forks, lazy brakes, and bar-end shifters. He was a teenager, and this was his first group ride, apparently.

“Yeah, dude,” I thought. “Welcome to cycling. We crash on the first turn, it’s just how we roll.”

Craig, Bob, Paul, Vince, and I  emerged together from Homes and Gardens, and then Bob and Craig towed me to the top of the Domes. I went down to the bottom of the Switchbacks alone and checked out my elbow again. “What’s that white shit down there?” I thought. “Blood isn’t white, is it? Unless those are white blood cells…” I wished I knew more about biology.

Glass Church and home

Bob, Craig, and I escaped on the Glass Church roller, were brought back for the sprunt, and I turned off at the top of Hawthorne to go home.

“How was a ride?” Mrs. WM asked.

“It was awesome.”

“It don’t look on no awesome. How come you butt meat hanging outta that biker flap?”

“I took a little spill.”

“Don’t get all those blood pieces onna bed and carpet. How come you always falling offa bike? Every since cyclingcross you coming home all bruising and cutting and bleeding and falling offa bike. And tearing up onna biker outfit butt flaps and that’s costing big money.”

“But ‘cross is really upping my skills.”

“It’s upping onna doctor repair bills, that’s what it’s upping on. Oh goodness! What’s onna elbow?”

“That’s just road rash, but it’s a little deep.”

“Here lemme see onna that. Oh goodness! You get onna doctor now! That’s blooding everywhere!”

“I think it’ll be fine with some Tegaderm and a little peroxide.”

“You musta hit onna head with a hammer. Thatsa blood hole with a bone pieces inside I can see white bone pieces! Oh goodness!”

“Will you give me a ride?”

“Onna doctor? You fall offa your bike without none of my help, you can get onna doctor without none of my help.”

She had a point, so I showered, doused the hole with peroxide, slapped on some Tegaderm, ate lunch, and went to the Doc in a Box.

Sorry, I’m just a licensed physician with 20 years of training

The Doc in a Box wrinkled her nose. “Ewwwww!” she said, peeling back the Tegaderm. “When did you do that?”

“This morning around 8:30.”

“Why didn’t you come right here? It’s almost one o’clock.”

“I wanted to finish the ride.”

She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Didn’t it hurt?”

“Hell yes it hurt. Canyon Bob and Craig were ripping my legs off the whole way up to the Domes.”

“I mean your elbow. Didn’t it hurt?”

“Oh, that. Yeah, it hurt like hell. That’s why I’m here.”

“But if it hurt so much why didn’t you come directly here?”

“Because I don’t like pain. And I knew that whatever you were going to do, it was going to hurt.”

She shook her head. “No, it’s actually not. This wound is too deep for me to suture, especially because of all the gravel and grease down in the puncture. I’m sending you to the ER where someone with more experience can sew you up.”

On to the next one

Doc #2 didn’t flinch. “Yep, that’s going to need a deep scrub. Lie down.”

I lay down.

“If it really hurts let me know and we’ll anesthetize it for cleaning.”

“It hurts like a mofo.”

“But I haven’t touched it yet.”

“So it’ll hurt even worse once you do. Shoot me up, doc.”

“Okay. This is going to hurt a little bit.”

He lied, of course. It hurt like having a needle plunged into your elbow joint.

The numbness took over and he started to scrub. I could feel the pieces of meat being soaked and rubbed and washed and sponged. Even though it didn’t hurt, I imagined how much it would have hurt without the painkiller, which made it hurt awful bad.

“Okay, we’re done.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes. You did great.”

“I didn’t feel a thing!”

“That’s why we use anesthetic, you know.”

Crash. Bleed. Publicize.

Fortunately, I’d had the foresight to take grisly photos before the suturing and post them on Facebook. The comments came rolling in, from the heartfelt “Get well soon!” to the “Wanker!” to the prize-winning reminiscence of Marco Vermeij about the time at the Kenosha crit in ’89 when he sewed up Randy Dickson’s gaping wound with a needle and thread from a tubular patch kit. Randy, of course, needed the quick repair so that he could do the next race.

I reflected on my own frailty when compared with the broken necks, shattered elbows, snapped femurs, and on-site surgeries performed with nothing more than spit, callused fingers, and the implements found in a cyclist’s toolbox. I reflected on the faux toughness of the modern rider, equipped with all the latest stuff, but sorely lacking in the oldest stuff: Grit, tolerance of real pain, the will to keep going, and the tight-lipped contempt that tough guys have for acknowledging injury or pain.

I never had been, and never would be, one of those few men who Fields used to approvingly nod towards and declare that they were “made of stern stuff.” But maybe one day, if I kept falling off my bike and doing those nightmarish ‘cross races, I’d at least be made out of semi-stern stuff.

That would be something to brag about, wouldn’t it? And no one would have to know that I’d gone out and bought myself a nifty little set of ladies’ eyebrow tweezers…would they?

Softmen and the kittens of Flanders

April 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

Early yesterday morning, California time, the hardmen were fighting for glory on the roads to Roubaix as the heir to the mantle of “Lion of Flanders” equaled Roger deVlaeminck’s four wins in the Hell of the North.

As Tom Boonen rode a star-studded field of classics specialists off his wheel in a stunning attack 50km from the finish, a different group of cyclists, still bleary from the early hour, sat around the TV at StageOne Sports World HQ in Redondo Beach. Cheeks pooching out with chewy, tender, sugary muffins, tummies expanding just a tad bit further with each swallow of the buttery croissants, we, the softmen of SoCal, represented the kittens of Flanders. At our feet bounded Zeke the Wonder Dog, snarfling up whatever scraps hit the floor, clearing the table with his 40-lb. tail, nuzzling the crotches of the embarrassed ladies, emitting periodic blasts of wonderdogfarts, and feeling generally pleased that so many people had showed up at such an early hour to scratch his back, rub his head, and titillate his olfactories.

Thoughts determine words. Words determine actions. Actions determine character.

The only thing that anyone with a brain could possibly think after watching Boonen’s tour de force was, “I’m a weak pussy.” In that vein, our small group that included Sparkles, Junkyard, Toronto, Big Bowles, Hockeystick, and VV pedaled up to Malaga Cove to hook up with the Wheatgrass Ride.

We met up with Iron Mike, Clodhopper, Wild Carrot, Ihatetherain, Mephistostaphipapadopoulous, Nimrod, Canyon Bob, Pilot, Sumo, Cutiepies, Psycho Mike, Dutchy, and Fishnchips. And although we were prepared for an epic pedal, we weren’t prepared for the tire.

By tire, I mean Big Bowles’s tire. We had started the pell-mell dash towards the glass church, with Clodhopper bulling away on the downhill like a giant load of dirt that had been dumped off a cliff. Clodhopper’s former self is a waif-like shadow of his current self, as sitting on his wheel is affectionately known as the “Cadillac draft.” The only down side is his backside, which peers out from beneath the threadbare lycra shorts whose expiration date passed in ’97 to reveal the unblinking evil eye of Mordor, so awful to look at but from which it is so impossible to avert your gaze.

Why it’s worthwhile to endure the stare of the hairy eye

In addition to the gigantic swath he cuts through the wind, Clodhopper is a great wheel because when the going gets nasty, no one can suffer like he can. Beneath the layers of walrus-ite and packed into the chest cavity of this enormous lunk are the heart and lungs of a former world record holder in the 1600m relay. You can see the video here.

Now I know that you’re really proud of that podium in the Cat 4’s, and I know that it really meant a lot when you got that colorful jersey in the masters road race, but can we please put your lameness in perspective? Clodhopper once held the fastest time over 1600 meters ever recorded by any human being who ever ran.

Unlike bicycling, which is available at the elite competitive level only for people who can afford to spend on their bicycle a sum equal to the average annual income of the average human being in 2012, running is available to everyone with two legs. Whereas the competitive pool for cycling is a tiny genre within a microscopic niche inside a practically invisible crevice, the competitive pool for runners puts the poorest on a par with the richest. Got legs? You can play the game.

So you can forgive (maybe) Clodhopper’s pennypinching on the shorts, you can forgive his slightly expanded waistline, and most of all, you can appreciate the strength, power, and ability to suffer of this pedal-mashing, hairy-assed, cupcake-snorting leviathan.

It seemed like a good idea at the time

As Clodhopper drove us through Portuguese Bend, the ragged line of desperate wheelsucks clawed and gasped as they clung to whatever vestiges of Clodhopper’s draft were still available after about sixth wheel. And as the menu always dictates, Big Bowles had found shelter against the wind nestled in behind the portly protection of Fishnchips.

This time, however, Big Bowles’s recipe for survival hit a snag. The protection afforded by Fishnchips’s posterior was so vast that it blocked out Big Bowles’s view of the road. It blocked the shoulder, the hillsides, the Pacific Ocean, and, if you had sat behind him long enough, it would have eventually caused a solar eclipse, so total, wide, and complete was the gigantitude of the Welshman’s gluteus maximus fatticus.

Somewhere near the turnoff to Artiste’s house, everyone swerved to avoid a giant piece of asphalt lying atop the tarmac. Big Bowles, blinded by the hugeormity of Fishnchips, discovered the asphalt piece by striking it at 32 mph with his front wheel. Oh, how quickly the joys of a snug draft turn to terror and destruction! He managed not to crash, and for a brief moment those who hadn’t cared enough to alert him to the asphalt voiced concern regarding his wheel. “You okay, dude?” they asked just before they accelerated over the final hump, dropping him completely.

“I’m fine,” Big Bowles wailed. “These are self-sealing tubeless tires!”

There is no such thing as a self-sealing bicycle tire

The romp up by the Glass Church resulted in a shattering of sorts, with me pedaling an itsy bit, Ihatetherain taking a dig, and Clodhopper making one massive, cetacean-like pull all the way to the next-to-last bump. Ihatetherain jumped away, followed by Iron Mike, and then all were sent packing by El Peruano, who had joined us in Portuguese Bend and decided to put the group to the sword.

I sucked wheel as long as possible before ditching El Peruano and racing first to the sign, ahead of Sumo and Mephistostaphipapadopoulous, only to find that our finish-line “No Parking” sign on a wooden post had been replaced by four “No Parking” signs on metal posts. I reached the first sign and sat up, declaring victory.

By the time Big Bowles limped up to the group, his self-sealing tire wasn’t sealing all that great. “Gimme a shot, Bobby,” he said to Canyon Bob, who always carries a hand pump so that he can bail out the other wankers who use all twelve C02 cartridges on their first flat. Canyon Bob gave him the shot, and Big Bowles’s self-sealing tire continued its leaking frenzy.

“What’s with this darned thing?” Bowles asked. “I’d better go ahead and put in a tube. These tubeless tires can be ridden with a tube if you have to. They’re pretty cool that way.”

What was with that darned thing

The next thing I knew, Big Bowles had taken off the wheel and removed the tire from the rim, and the green slime tire sealant was covering his hands, quickly spreading to his face and then even his feet so that he looked like Brer Rabbit cagefighting with the Green Tar Baby from Mars.

The green slime sealant picked up bits of glass, rock, gravel, dirt, gum wrappers, cigarette butts, used condoms, and even an old gas cap, so that by the time Big Bowles was finished with the surgery he looked like a punk rock Christmas tree. We stuck him back on his bike and continued the plod up Hawthorne.

Clodhopper and I got mostly up the climb and then pulled over next to the bus stop across from the Ralph’s to wait for the others. As we stood there, up whizzed one of those Chevy’s that they made to look like a PT Cruiser, only with better velour seats. Out jumped a fellow in a three-piece suit and red necktie, stopping his car smack in the lane of traffic, and dashed over to the trash can next to the bus stop.

After a few quick rustles and dives, he ran back to his car, hands filled with a few bottles and a couple of cans. “That’s a hard way to earn seven and a half cents,” I marveled.

“After subtracting the cost of gas he’s losing money,” mused Clod. “Massively.”

We watched as the PT Chevy zoomed up to the next bus stop and repeated his cash collection, marveling at how unbelievably cheap and poor the rich people were in RPV, and how you’d never see such a thing in PVE, as they do it late at night.

After a while we got to the Jamba Juice, where Iron Mike and Psycho Mike treated everyone to multiple rounds of wheatgrass, a foul concoction that “cleanses the blood,” which is another way of saying that your turds are bright green for the next few days.

Psycho Mike had brought along a buddy, Cap’n Jim, pilot of a San Pedro tugboat, who almost caused StageOne to have an aneurysm by wearing a pair of Bike Palace shorts and a white/green/brown jersey that had the outline of a human skeleton (front and back) with all the organs in perfect Gray’s Anatomy placement.

We savored our wheatgrass, and called it a day. Big Bowles called a cab.

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