Fresno Follies

Last night on my bike ride through Fresno, a red light forced me to stop at an intersection where a highway exit ramp dropped cars onto the road I was riding. It was roughly 6:30 pm and commuters where coming off the freeway onto the main thoroughfare in hopes of arriving home quickly. It was still hot and my throat begged me for some cool water from my water bottle. In 93degree heat, water won’t stay cold for long when exposed to the suns rays and my water bottle was no exception. Still, I chugged for an eternity as I waited for the light to change in my favor.

I heard a loud ruckus coming from my right and while I usually don’t want to be distracted while riding, I took a quick look to find an individual not only staring at me, but yelling at me as well. He was probably mid 30’s, Japanese descent and wearing a floppy fisherman’s hat, a flannel shirt and huge oval glasses. He reminded me of a Japanese version of Bill Murray in Caddyshack. His arms were flailing as if he were trying to catch flies barehanded, still all the time screaming something at me that I just could not understand. What I did notice was that he had a bottle of water in one hand and while for some reason I found that odd, I decided that once the light turned green, I was good and gone. The light changed and off I went, giving one rearward glance to make sure he wasn’t going to chase me. It was then that I knew what he was trying to say to me, because next to him, hidden in the bushes that decorated the freeway exit ramp, was a blue cooler. He was selling cold water!! I turned around and headed back to him, pulled out a few dollar bills and asked for a bottle. He gave me a smile, said something I still didn’t understand (my Japanese is limited to sushi, tempura and an occasional ebi…and oh yeah..saki) and handed me a bottle out of his semi filled cooler. I was standing face to face with Bill Murray, only I’m not sure he knew that. Once I loaded that cold water into my hot water bottle, I didn’t want to leave. Why? Well, I wanted to wait until that damn gopher popped his head up next to the cooler. It somewhat screwed up my night as I couldn’t get Kenny Loggins singing “I’m Alright” out of my head the entire evening. Ever try going to sleep with dancing gophers floating over you?

Since I live in San Francisco, I never have to worry about getting a sunburn. Why? Because the sun never comes out from behind the fog in San Francisco during the summer time. Tony Bennett is well known for his wonderful rendition of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” As a matter of fact, that song is played after every San Francisco Giants home win. But you know, the truth is this: he didn’t leave his heart in San Francisco, he lost his heart in San Francisco. I really believe he took his heart out one day to get it cleaned, left it on a park bench and never found it again because the fog was too thick to locate it. I mention this because even though I live in a fog-shrouded city, I love the heat. And yet, I’m simply not used to what intense heat can do to city streets.

Riding in Fresno, I have come to realize that the surface of the street actually softens during the high heat of the day. To those of you who live in areas where sunshine is sparse and a high of 63 degrees is hot, then you may not be able to fathom what I’m going to type. The road actually gets soft and if you stand in it long enough, you will sink…and probably get a hot foot for your efforts. If you don’t think this phenomenon actually occurs, go to Youtube and type in this name: Joseba Boleki. To you non-followers of the Tour de France, this name will only bring visions of strange, smelly cheeses. Boleki, however, was a wonderful cyclist who landed on the podium of the Tour for two years before his horrific accident, which was caused by high temperatures and a melting tar roadway. The accident has been memorialized not because of the accident that rendered Boleki a rider that could never return to his previous level of performance, but rather because a trailing Lance Armstrong had to use all of his cyclocross skills to avert running into Boleki. It’s a classic bit of Tour video. In Fresno, what I have found during my rides is that high temperatures = soft roadways; soft roadways + heavy vehicles = ruts in the road. And if you aren’t paying attention while riding your bike on those streets, the term rut-roh brings new meaning. Quickly. Now let me further that by saying that Fresno has to be the California capital for large trucks. Not double rigs or moving van types of trucks, but big trucks used by the common folk to get to work each day. Huge trucks. I’m pretty sure that all of the retired monster trucks (and drivers) live in Fresno. If I ever got sucked under one while riding my bike, I wouldn’t be found for weeks. Probably not a bad place to hide if you were attempting to escape from the local gendarmes.

I’ve also noticed that usually I’m the only bike rider out in the streets of Fresno. Once in a while, you might see a 6’3” guy with baggy pants and skull and cross bones tattoos riding a very small BMX, but roadie types are on the endangered list here. Maybe the locals know something I don’t: that cars and heat can kill you when exerting yourself in their presence with some type of foolish exercise. I’ll keep you posted on that, but if you don’t hear from me again…well, you can figure it out. The other reason might be the dearth of bike shops in the area. There certainly aren’t many. I rode past one today that was shuttered up. Using my trusty camera phone, I managed to take a few pictures of the front of it (http://freakinutz.shutterfly.com/33). My God….is the world coming to an end, because if you can’t sell Nishikis and Raleighs in Fresno, where can you sell them? Hopefully this won’t bring about the demise of both bike companies and they will be able to find other sprawling metropolises such as Fresno to create new dealerships. But then again, maybe not.

Finally, if anyone wants to road trip with me to Fresno to help me remove the Big Wheel bike sign and permanently mount it on the top of my Honda Element, let me know. I believe a sequel to The Hangover is in the works!

The Cycling Clydesdale

The Cycling Clydesdale

The City That Thinks It Knows How

I was born and raised in San Francisco. I still live there. Not many San Franciscans these days can make that claim. Many have departed for the Peninsula or have taken their belongings over the Golden Gate Bridge for the confines of beautiful Marin County. Still, others have left the City via our other not so famous bridge and have settled in the East Bay. Me? I left for a bit, but now free of marriage obligations, chose to come back to the City that knows how. Or perhaps better stated, tries to know how. Because as much as San Francisco touts itself as the City that can do all, it really can’t. Now, don’t tell the touter’s that, because then they will be out of a touting job. After all, it’s their job to make us believe that San Francisco is the end all to do all. That may be true for people who rent their homes and apartments in San Francisco (landlords don’t stand a chance!), but it certainly isn’t true for individuals who sling their legs over a top tube and pedal the streets of San Francisco each day.

As usual with any changes that are recommended for the good citizens of my fair city, the act may begin innocently enough, but give it enough time and it will assuredly arrive on the steps of the local courthouse. A proposal to add bike lanes to some of San Francisco busiest thoroughfares and heavily commuted streets has been languishing in the court system for years. Why? Because one individual…one, mind you…brought suit against the City because he believed that adding bicycle lanes would do damage to the environment of San Francisco. So here we sit, waiting for the case to appear before a judge. I’m still trying to determine how adding bike lanes can environmentally hurt a city, but then again, I’m simply a tax paying citizen, not a highly appointed official who gets paid to figure these things out, as well as tout.

For years, Boston was voted one of the worst cycling cities in the country. I guess we can thank our lucky stars Paul Revere rode a horse that night, huh? Last year, it was actually voted as one of the “5 cities for the future” based on the fact that Boston Mayor Thomas Menino had taken up cycling and had hired Nicole Freedman, an ex Olympic cyclist and urban planner, to lead the Boston Bike initiative. Nice start, eh? Can you imagine San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom planting a bicycle helmet on his highly gelled head? Neither can I, but obviously Menino is serious about biking in Boston. In the past year, while San Francisco has taken its cycling lanes to court, Boston has taken its cycling lanes to the streets and added 20 miles of bike infrastructure. They have also added 250 bike racks and printed over 40,000 bike maps. Boston Bike Friday is held once a month, where ride leaders lead groups of commuters to City Hall to receive a free bike safety check and a snack before heading to work. In San Francisco, we get to see the politicians once a year stand on the steps of City Hall extolling the virtues of Bike to Work day, all the while wondering if those of us who do ride to work are going to survive another day on the streets of San Francisco.

I rode tonight on the streets of Fresno, the center of the agricultural world in California’s central valley and the home of the Fresno Grizzlies, the San Francisco Giants AAA affiliate. That really has nothing to do with this article, but I just happen to be a huge Giants fan. Now, imagine this: you go out for a 17 mile ride around the city in the middle of commute time and not one…not one…car attempts to cut you off, honks their horn at you, has someone from the passenger seat scream at you or throw their garbage at you. Not one. How about this: the drivers actually pull out to the left a bit to ensure they pass you safely, actually let you pass straight through before they turn right, say hi to you from the passenger side as they pass and you can even receive humorous comments from individuals walking on the sidewalk (You sure are working that bike hard, honey). What is truly interesting, is that this route actually is ridden on very busy, 6 lane roads. The difference, however, between Fresno and San Francisco is that Fresno has enough room on the right side shoulder to allow a cyclist to ride and not impede traffic, so no one has to get upset because I’m not blocking a lane as I ride my bike. Try riding 17 miles in San Francisco and see how bicycle friendly the local drivers are.

I’m lucky in that I get to travel a bit, although most people would say that Fresno and Visalia is not considered traveling. And in those travels, I get to bring my bike. It’s a great release for what ails me after a long day of meetings and in Fresno, during the summer, you can always ride simply with a jersey late into the night. It’s nice. It’s refreshing. It’s different. It’s what bike riding should be like in San Francisco.

The Cycling Clydesdale

The Cycling Clydesdale

Yeah. I know. Funny name for a blog and I agree. Truth is, The Fat Cyclist would fit me better, but that name is already taken (www.fatcyclist.com). No argument here. He started his blog first and so to the fat guy go the spoils….or something like that, although a Clydesdale is used as the basis for his website and clothing design. I guess I could title this blog “When Pigs Fly,” but I’m a bike rider, not a pig in space and so The Cycling Clydesdale sticks…like mud on a pig.

I came to the name of this blog rather innocently. I was breathing heavily up a 2% grade next to my house the other day and my mind started to wander. Actually, it really didn’t wander, but rather, it went straight to my lounge chair, where I pictured myself seated with a slice of pepperoni pizza in one hand and a cold Bud in the other. And because this is how my mind works, I immediately thought of myself pulling the Budweiser Beer Wagon into the Budweiser garage, where I was rewarded by being allowed to shower under buckets and buckets of wonderfully cold beer.

Reality jolted me out of my daydreams when the grade jumped to 3% and the sound of my panting woke a slumbering infant in a stroller whose mother had just passed me as she was walking up the hill. No longer able to take pleasure in my daydreams, my mind harkened back to a time when I first heard the word Clydesdale associated with cycling.

I was out for a ride one Saturday afternoon and came upon a series of crit races that were being held in my city. Of course, not knowing they were crit races caused me to ask to no one in particular “Wow…what’s going on here?” A middle-aged couple was straddling their bikes a few feet from me and looking at the expanse of titanium under both of their crotches, I realized that they might have just a few more dollars than me. Actually, a lot more dollars than me. The alpha male, while continuing to gaze at the riders at the distance, stated, “It’s a criterium. You know what that is, don’t you?” “Of course, I do” I thought, but before I could answer, his impeccably dressed cycling trophy cast her eyes at me, gave me the total up and down glare and stated in her best Thurston Howell III voice “ They have a Clydesdale division, in case you want to try it.” Now of course, I was elated because here was someone I didn’t even know who just by looking at me thought I could race, but time didn’t allow it as I needed to get home to watch the current rerun of Family Guy. I thanked them both for not only their information, but also their insight (me, a racer!) and slowly trudged home.

When I arrived home, my excitement got the best of me, so I decided to spend some time on the internet instead of the TV. Googling Clydesdale and cycling, it took me a while until I found what was I looking for: an upcoming race with a Clydesdale division. My joy was short lived when I discovered that Mrs. Howell mistook me for Peter, the loveable husband on Family Guy. I mean, no one would ever mistake me for Twiggy, but a Clydesdale? I immediately put down my post ride jelly donut and swore that I would lose enough weight to place me in a division under Clydesdale…maybe not Stallion, but certainly not Clydesdale.

And so for the next few weeks I did everything I could to lose weight. I dieted; I drank enough water to drain a small reservoir; I peed enough to fill a small reservoir; I rode longer and sometimes harder, but mostly longer. After all of that…nothing. You would think that just all of that walking to the bathroom would result in some weight lose, but nope. I replaced the battery in the bathroom scale…twice. The same number still stared at me every morning when I gingerly stepped on it. Reality finally sank in. I knew that no matter what I wanted to do, I couldn’t alter fate. A Clydesdale born is a Clydesdale through life. Sure, I have pictures of Lance and Eddy in my workshop, just as I’m sure the Budweiser Clydesdales have pictures of Secretariat and Seabiscuit plastered all over their rec room in the Budweiser barn. But those pictures of Lance and Eddy aren’t going to make me a racehorse anymore than the pictures of Secretariat and Seabiscuit will change the Clydesdales. We are what we are. But…here is the key difference: in the world of horses, those Clydesdales are beloved. What man in America doesn’t see one and immediately think of Budweiser beer? Next to the Chihuahua and Taco Bell, no other animal identifies better with its sponsor. Heck, those Clydesdales even play football. But in cycling? Hah…you might as well be a one legged, three foot troll riding a tricycle.

The good news is that I’ve been told that I’m a great guy to draft behind, because just like a fullback blasting a hole in the defensive line for his halfback, I create lots of free air space. Lots. I mean lots. You could probably put the entire Tour de France peloton behind me and they would be shielded from the wind. And not to brag, but today my ego received a tremendous boost: I actually passed someone going up a hill. Ok…sure…he was walking and he almost took me down with a wild swipe of his white cane, but still, it was my own personal victory. Baby steps…baby steps.