From the Tour to the Torrid: It's Getting Ugly Out There

The Tour de France starts a week from Saturday and I just can’t seem to get excited about it. And it’s not because of the incessant doping scandals, or the mind-numbingly boring transitional stages, or the fact that three weeks is a really long time to pay attention to anything that’s not an HBO miniseries. No, it’s because Levi won’t be there. Sure, Levi may be boring, but boring ingredients are essential. Flour is boring, but can you make delicious cakes without it? No, you can’t. Levi may be the plain dry cracker of bike racing, but sometimes you need plain dry crackers. Think of Levi as a big piece of Matzoh, and then imagine the Tour as a Passover seder. If I understand Judaism correctly, you can’t have a seder without Matzoh. It just doesn’t work!

So in lieu of the actual Tour I’ve decided instead to focus entirely on Robert Mackey’s “The Climb” blog on the New York Times. Sure, I may have been hard on Mr. Mackey a few weeks back, but I have to admit his dogged determination, his indomitable spirit, and his seemingly bottomless pocketbook have finally won me over. (And by “won me over” I mean I no longer have any ambivalence in my disdain for him—it’s now complete.) You’ll be glad to know that Mr. Mackey has just returned from the four-day Tour du Mont Blanc in the Alps. That’s right—Mr. Mackey has taken a European bike tour in order to prepare for his upcoming European bike tour, thereby breaking through to a new level of excessive expenditure I had heretofore thought impossible even for him. This is akin to spending a week in St. Barths in order to acclimate yourself for your weeklong vacation to Turks and Caicos, or to the dentist who buys a Madone while he waits for his custom Serotta to come in. Then again, I suppose we can excuse Mr. Mackey. I mean, he is going to be riding the Tour, and every Tour contender needs his Dauphine, right?

If you’d rather not go through the trouble of reading Mr. Mackey’s blog yourself, I’ve gone though the trouble of skimming it, and here’s a summary of the last eight installments. It’s kind of cute to watch him discovering things most cyclists have long been aware of as a natural consequence of simply riding their bikes:

24 Days to Go:

Discovers numbness.

23 Days to Go:

Discovers that John Kerry is the World’s Most Famous Fred. (As opposed to his counterpart, George W. Bush, the World’s Most Famous Barney.)

20 Days to Go:

Discovers riding in a paceline and learns how to eat and drink on the bike. (Yes, it's possible!) He also discovers roadie anorexia.

19 Days to Go:

Mackey makes the leap to SRAM, ditching his 12/27 Ultegra cassette for a 12/28 SRAM cassette. The extra tooth may help him get over the cols, but will he ever get over himself?

18 Days to Go:

Mackey can’t be bothered to rent “Breaking Away,” so he watches highlights on the internet instead.

17 Days to Go:

Mackey arrives in Europe. Let the Euros fly!

16 Days to Go:

Thanks to his Thule case, Mackey’s bike arrives unscathed, and he enlists a bike fitter to help him put it back together. Yes, putting a seatpost back into a frame and tightening a bolt can be quite difficult.

12 Days to Go:

Mackey may stop in London on his way back to Europe for L’Etape to buy some custom insoles.

Whatever. In the course of writing his blog Mackey may cross the Atlantic four times and the rubicon of monied excess infinitely, but I’m totally over bike racing anyway. As usual, the Times is about eight years behind the curve. Everybody knows that bike commuting is the new bike racing. I see more exciting cycling in a single morning going over the bridge to Manhattan than I’ve seen in the last three Tours combined. If you haven’t experienced the thrill of hitting the base of the Manhattan Bridge bike lane at a blistering 15 MPH with an elite group consisting of a young guy on a Bianchi Pista with chopped flat bars, a middle-aged gentleman on an dayglo mountain bike with thumbshifters and a chipped and yellowed pie plate, and a woman on a Bianchi Volpe with fully-loaded panniers and a blinky light on the back of her helmet, then you don’t know what a real shot of adrenaline feels like. Who will take the KOM is anybody’s guess, and the drama on the descent is twice as gripping. (My money’s always on the woman with the Volpe due to her ability to coast coupled with the weight of the panniers.) I’m seriously considering building myself a little crow’s nest and broadcasting blow-by-blow commentary on weekday mornings. It would make Versus Tour de France coverage look like the "Antiques Roadshow."

Even alleycat racing is totally over. I mean, how many fliers spoofing album covers, movies, and pop culture references can you look at anyway? With commuting being the new racing, I’m also in the early planning stages of a PracticalityCat, where the essence of commuting is distilled into a single day of grassroots competition. Contests will include:

The DorkStand (who can stay on his saddle at a red light while keeping the bike upright with his tippy-toes the longest);

The Splashback (contestants ride through a puddle and see who gets the least amount of mud and water on their business casual outfits—it’s all about adequate fender coverage!);

and of course the gruelling Bike Path TT. Bar ends allowed, helmet mirrors encouraged!

Speaking of commuting, there’s a new menace out there. Scooters:

(Born to be Riled: I hate scooters.)

True to their mandate of telling readers things they already know, The New York Times recently reported that more people in New York are turning to scooters in the face of high gas prices. Tell me about it. Dealing with moronic drivers, moronic cyclists, and moronic pedestrians is bad enough, but now we’ve also got to deal with the newbie scooter owner. This is a distinct breed from the Mod or Ska scooter dork of old who rides his two-stroke Vespa to the bar in a cloud of smoke or tunes his Lambretta so it can reach blistering speeds of up to 48mph. I mean, I hate those people too, but I hate them in the normal, friendly way that I hate any subculture that’s not my own. Every subculture knows it is hated by every other subculture, and vice-versa. In fact, this truth is so universal I think it’s time people simply acknowledged it by greeting each-other with a friendly middle finger when they pass. The world would be a better place for the honesty. “Screw your two-tone side panels and your Davida helmet.” “Screw your Deep Vs and your Chrome bag.” “Uh, wanna grab a beer?” “Sure!”

No, the new scooter owner is a different breed entirely. This is the person who has just bought a brand-new twist-and-go Vespa complete with matching helmet and hard cases and has just gotten comfortable enough on it to start splitting lanes, cutting between cars, and darting into the bike path when the traffic gets heavy, but not comfortable enough to actually handle the thing well and ride it without it going all wobbly. Suddenly this flaccid, foppish metrosexual advertising copywriter is on your turf—and he’s dangerous. A truck unloading in the bike lane makes me angry, but a Vespa in the bike lane makes me furious. Even more infuriating is when they come bearing down behind you. At first it sounds like someone’s mixing a margarita or firing up a vibrator in a convertible or something—then you realize you're not in a Van Halen video and it’s actually the diminutive whirr of yet another dandy on a neutercycle. These people can barely handle machines that have been mastered long ago by 90 lb. European women, and I hate them. If you want to break traffic laws, ride a bicycle like the rest of us.

In closing, I’d like to share with you something that made me sicker than even scooters do:

As I bicycled by, she turned, and our eyes locked - m4w - 27 (Fifth Avenue, Park Slope) [original URL:]
Reply to: [deleted]
Date: 2008-06-25, 2:44AM EDT

As I bicycled by, she turned, and our eyes locked, one, two, three...

At the end of the street, I wondered whether I should stop. Should I go back for her, tell her our eyes had locked, that we might be meant for each other?

Follow my gut at least one time this week, right?

At the next block, the light turned red against the night. I knew this corner. The park ahead to my right, the bar across the street on my left...I stopped. I turned onto the sidewalk, a slow semi-circle. Would she catch up? Yes. There she was, walking this way, her skirt catching the evening breeze, her brown hair like streamer ribbons.

Okay. I'll wait.

The light stayed red, thank God. And here she almost was.

I called out, "Our eyes locked. That was intense!"

And she was here before me.

She wanted something. We were dancing, somehow, with our eyes, my bike, her skirt and hair.

"Give me a ride?" she said. The words were new to me, I'd never heard them before, ever.

"What?" "Give me a ride? On your bike?" She was on my left side now, about to clutch and leap on.

"Sure." I moved forward somewhere. She positioned herself to sit in front of me, yet sensed something.

"You ever done this before?"

"Given a girl a ride on my bike? No. Never."

"You think you can?"

Of course I could give her a ride on my bike. If she could get on.

"Sure." How hard could it be?


I opened my left arm, she climbed over the bar in front of me. She squeezed her butt back, almost on to the seat.

"I'll sit on the bar."

"You sure? I can move back."


"There's a hill," she asked me, looking several blocks ahead at the rising pavement.

"If we can get to the hill, we can get up the hill."

She smiled.

She sat on the bar, lifted her legs off the ground...

It was so easy! Is that all? A girl sits in front of you on the bike, and lifts up her legs off the ground, and you can give her a ride?

She was light, a steady weight. Not super-light, but a real presence, a real girl.

I pushed off the ground, my feet on the pedals. Quickly I realized her body was inside my thighs, so I opened my knees wider, and pedaling, we were off.

Her shoulders brushed inside my arms, her hair and head was in front of my mouth.

I will skip the dialogue, since the thrill was all body. Her name was Marta, she was coming from tango, she was going home to 17th Street. My name was Alex, I was coming from the Tea Lounge where I was writing a little book, I was going home to 45th Street. I'd never given a girl a ride on a bike before. She'd gotten many rides, of course, how else do you get home?

What, no mention of your erection poking her in the back? You, sir, are Park Slope. I hope you are attacked by a swarm of Vespas.

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