Monday, May 24, 2010

To Live and Train in L.A. #18 TOUR OF CALIFORNIA EDITION

As you couldn’t have missed last week – at least if you read Cyclingnews and Velonews every day like I do – the Tour of California was rocking and rampaging and doing whatever else the promoters say it was doing all last week in our fair state. Me, I’ve been following the Giro d’Italia bigtime – greatest Giro in years and years – and consequently have avoided paying much attention to the Tour of California (with the exception of the Lance-crashes-the-day-after-Floyd-accuses-him-of-doping part, which was and is still grand theater), but then the Tour of California set up shop on Saturday, a couple of miles from my house. I guess when a Pro Tour event – the individual time trial of a Pro Tour event, no less – takes place a couple of miles from a fellow’s house, and the sun’s out, and there’s not much else to do besides maybe stay home and watch oil leaking into the fucking Gulf of Mexico on TV – well, a fellow has no alternative but to mount his trusty cyclocross bike and take up a viewing position on Olive Street in downtown L.A. In case you’re interested in my attire for this occasion: 420 bib shorts and socks and a very hip red Rouge Roubaix 2007 T-shirt, which I am only now able to wear regularly because it used to be, back in the day, that whenever I wore that T-shirt, my buddy Chief would be wearing the same T-shirt, and the Total Dork Factor was too much to bear. Nevertheless, on Saturday, the word ‘Roubaix’ on my shirt gave me a certain sense of cred? Maybe?

Anyway, I was situated in a fine spot for viewing the races – steep hill, about halfway through the lap (they did two laps). This is Jeremy Hunt, two-time British National Road Race Champion, one of the first riders on the course. He started six minutes before Fabian Cancellera, and I swear to God, Spartacus had almost caught Mr. Hunt by this point in the first lap! Sadly, I didn’t take a picture of Cancellara because I was too busy yelling when the big man rolled by – uphill in the big ring, twenty miles per hour minimum.

Here comes Dutch cyclocross superstar Lars Boom. The crowd went crazy for this guy, no doubt because of his name. I mean, can you possibly have a cooler name than that? It’s so cool that I’m thinking about changing my name to Lars Boom Magnuson. You have to admit: that has a definitely sweet ring to it.

Cyclist segregation was strictly enforced in the crowd. Here we see the crowd across the street from me, on the downhill: all single-speed bike-messenger types, a number of whom looked more Swedish-slash-Midwestern than me and somehow spoke in thick Hispanic accents. The single-speeders didn’t care about the uphill so much; they wanted to see the Pro Tour riders bomb the living shit out of the downhill, which is exactly what the Tour riders did. Awesome, no! So these single-speeders were drinking lots of beer and enjoying 420 products and were excellently rowdy and unruly enough so that eventually, toward the end of the time trial, several beat cops took up a position on the corner nearby, making sure these horrible citizens stayed under control. A famous internet cycling blogger, whose name I won’t mention but whose new book I blurbed, spends about three-quarters of his blog bitching about single-speeders and about how they’re ruining cycling, et cetera. You know what? That’s bullshit. The single-speeders love cycling; they’re having a good time on their bikes; who really cares if they wear jeans while they ride? I guess they could wear helmets, but then again, as we see in the next picture (taken before the time trail began), the famous monster-sprinter Mark Cavendish doesn’t seem to wear a helmet when he’s out for a morning spinner with his teammate.

That’s Mr. Cavendish on the right, of course.

I saw this affixed to a single-speeder's messenger bag. That’s a command sentence, with an implied subject (you). I'm sure the single-speeder was aware of this.

Oh well. Much like my buddy The Champ predicted in a text message before I rolled down to the racecourse, I viewed the race on the Livestrong-loving, recreational-rider side of the street. Nobody drank beer or got into trouble on my side of the hill. When Jens Voight and George Hincapie and Levi and all the rest pounded past, we all did the right thing: we cheered and took pictures and said to each other, “Isn’t this a thrill?” A couple of days later, I feel ashamed of myself a little bit, joining the Livestrong throng to cheer on my heroes from the Tour de France. I don’t feel unique. I feel like everybody else.

But you know what? That’s Jens Voight. What a thrill it was to see him racing!

That is all.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Origins Of This Species

I guess I’ve logged a mile or two on a bicycle over the years and maybe in the process have learned a thing or two, too. Maybe. At least I know who the jackasses are – like the jackass whose wheel I took on the L.A. River Bike Path on Saturday, and he tried to attack me downhill on a small bridge and just about T-boned a woman with a baby carriage at the base of the bridge – and I know who the cool people are: anybody who will take a moment out of their busy cycling lives to say hello to another cyclist; anybody who will adjust their riding style to accommodate another cyclist and share in the fellowship of our sport – and sometimes, when the world spins in the proper way, I think I know where I fit in to all this. My official USA Cycling team is Heckawee, and I’m proud to say I’m one of the founding members of this team, which these days has something like five registered racers and probably another five riders sympathetic to the cause. The jersey pictured above is one of two original Heckawee jerseys – obviously, somebody (me) took magic marker and wrote Heckawee on the back of a perfectly fine Pearl Izumi jersey – and the reason the magic marker was needed was because some of us were traveling from Carbondale to St. Louis every weekend to race cyclocross, and we wanted to be Heckawee and race for Heckawee and the only way to effect this was to make our own jerseys on the spot and wear them proudly on the racecourse.

Even though every member of the Heckawee holds an advanced university degree, this doesn’t mean we can spell worth a shit. The origin of Heckawee owes to F Troop, the classic TV show, where the Indian tribe was known as the Heckawi, because they were once lost and when they wondered Where the Heck Are We, they got their name. Which was our idea, too, except we didn’t spell the word the same way. We used to head out on long, long rides on Sundays in the summer, with the idea being we would explore the vast network of empty roads in southern Illinois and we wouldn’t care if we got lost or if we essentially had no idea where we were going. To the jackass cyclist, and maybe to most cyclists - particularly the type with the Joel Friel training programs complete with downloaded power-meter data and various effort-level zones that have as much to do with joy on a bicycle as Chicken McNuggets have to do with fine dining – yes, indeed, to the by-the-numbers jackass the idea of a ride with no purpose, a ride where the idea is to get lost, is stupid at best. But you know what happens to people when they get older? They get in ruts. They will only eat their spaghetti cooked in a certain way. They only like to watch their TV shows while sitting in a certain chair. They will only ride bicycles on a certain route on Tuesday evenings because by God that’s the route they always take on Tuesday. Et cetera. And Heckawee’s master plan, as it were, was to ride in a way that took the ruts out of life’s road, I guess. We didn’t give a shit where we were. We just wanted to ask the question: Where the heck are we?

Here’s something amusing about cyclists, by the way. I saw this video floating around on Facebook last week – probably it’s a few years old but it seemed like number of other folks were seeing it for the first time. I certainly hadn't seen it before. It’s really fucking funny, too. No doubt. I watched it a few times and laughed my ass off. When the guy gets away? Awesome! Then I started reading what cyclists were posting about the video on Facebook. Like this: “This video is obviously a fake. Nobody could ride a bicycle that fast.” Or: “This clip proves that many cyclists have no respect for the law.” Heckawee says, “No shit, Sherlock.”

Anyway, the Giro is on TV. Heckawee thinks that nobody can ride a bicycle that fast.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Aliens in the Sun

I dreamed a spaceship travelled to Earth from a lifetime away in the starry void of my cycling past and landed in Southern California and began sending me messages in strange, crackly languages that somehow, when I listened to them carefully, I could understand. The messages said the Heckawee Chief himself had arrived from Illinois and he wanted to ride bikes along the beach and to be inspired by the West Coast way of pedaling.

But I worried I had fallen far from the Cyclist’s Code since leaving Carbondale. I worried The Chief might not appreciate my new attitude toward our sport. For example, I had trained my dog to chase bicycle commuters.

And I had been storing bottles of urine in my freezer. J

And boo-hoo-hoo, I had been working too much at my desk and not riding enough and instead staring too many French cheeses in the eye and eating them and in general whining constantly about not caring enough to send my very best in life, which is to say, whoa, look at my freezer, people. Is that not a sign of something profoundly wrong, or what?

I met with The Chief, in any case, and we had an inspiring ride. Really. We rode from Manhattan Beach to Venice Beach and drank coffee and ate French Fries and then rode back.

This is a video approximation of the ride’s vibe:

Pretty fucking awesome, no?

The next day, after The Chief had left Southern California on his spaceship of happiness and goodwill, I couldn’t remember much about the ride I had taken with him. I knew there had been music and laughter and I had a vague sense that my cross bike was thumping along with the music during the whole ride, thumping on the every-tire-revolution basis, in fact. It so happened that I had hauled the cross bike in to the shop just prior to The Chief’s arrival – I had snapped a cable and was too lazy to fix it myself and while I was in the process of being lazy (enjoyable, really) I handed the shop mechanic four Ritchey brake pads for my Frogleg brakes.

The mechanic did a good job with the installation, except for the fact that he obviously had never installed pads on Froglegs before, and he set them up essentially like road bike brakes – tight to the rim and with the assumption that the rider would be running maximum rock-hard tire pressure at all times, et cetera.

Obviously, I am an aging citizen who is incapable of rock-hard tire pressure (aren’t you impressed with my openness and honesty?), which means that if the brake pads are mounted too tight to the rim, the pads will rub against the soft, flaccid, cushy tire.

And if the brake pads rub against the tire’s sidewall, the sidewall tears all to hell. Is this sidewall tear not equally as disturbing as the nightmare scenario in my freezer?

It is a miracle that this tire didn’t completely blow out during my ride with the Chief but maybe because The Chief was here, things turned out okay.

The luck of the Heckawee, they say, is with you wherever you go.

Oh well. Corny as it may sound, there’s nothing better than riding bikes with old friends.

The Chief has returned to his haunts now – to group rides and races and out-and-back rides to Von Jakob’s in a quiet countryside a half a country away.

And I have returned to my haunts along the Los Angeles River.