I cut my bike racing teeth on Southern California criteriums and road races as a kid in the early seventies, and also participated in a Sunday club ride known as the “La Grange Ride” after the host cycling club Velo Club La Grange Westwood. It is now known as the “Nichols Ride”.
That ride started at La Grange Restaurant on Westwood Boulevard and was known for a long climb up Nichols Canyon, a few miles of knee-busting rollers along Mulholland Drive, a regroup at the 405 Freeway and a sprint on Sepulveda Boulevard before you rolled back to the restaurant to brag about your performance.
Over the decades, sometimes fit for racing and sometimes fit for breakfast, I’ve participated in a few hundred editions of the La Grange Ride. I know the climbs and turns by heart. Seriously, I know the pavement by heart.
It was always fun, if you approached the ride sensibly. Most did, when the club was made up mostly of riders out for a spin and some conversation. But many treated the ride like a race and pretended they were on a closed course: they crossed the center line on Nichols Canyon or ran the red light at Coldwater Canyon and Mulholland Drive. I’m proud of mostly riding it like a social ride but acknowledge treating it like a race from time to time.
Like the riders in this article and video, doing what would get them disqualified or seriously injured even if it was a race.
I’ve got mixed feelings about the article and the analysis of the video. While I understand the intersection of Mulholland Drive and Coldwater Canyon very well, and have surely run that red left arrow, I have a “pot-meet-kettle” reaction to the criticism of only the most egregious behavior (the rider who passes an oncoming car to the left). We can all do better than this. Every rider in that video crosses the line. No matter how confident they are of their safety, there’s no way I’m ever telling a junior rider that any of them is a safe wheel to follow.
Nor would I expect any to say I was always a safe wheel to follow back in my early racing days.
But something happened for me, in the latter part of my racing days: I definitely stopped riding the La Grange Ride like a race.
It wasn’t just because of the danger of pretending it was safe to race bicycles on open Los Angeles roads. I’d like to pretend I was that thoughtful; it just wasn’t the case.
The real reason was, it was poor training.
What?! But, the La Grange Ride is one of the hardest rides in Southern California…
Yeah, well, guess what. It’s still not good training. I learned this from better riders, guys like Kevin Byers or Max Sciandri, European bike racers who got the value of a nice social ride with a competitive aspect, but who had trained with UK and Italian national teams before they came to California and knew better ways to spend Sundays.
These guys weren’t just fast on a ride like the La Grange Ride, they also won bike races. Real bike races.
Kevin explained that you don’t race your bike through inner-city neighborhoods and run red lights. Max explained that “once up a hill and off for a coffee” was just not how it’s done. In different ways they introduced me to real training. For example, a light-tempo but safe ride up Pacific Coast Highway out past Malibu and, then, Latigo repeats. Yes, Latigo repeats. Of course, I was 22.
The La Grange Ride then became a warmup, where Tim Bengston and I would ride it for fun, fast but safe, and then turn right on Sepulveda and head toward Topanga Canyon to intercept Mulholland Highway and some real training in the long climbs of the Santa Monica Mountains.
I’m happy that this is what GS Andiamo is teaching young bike racers. On top of a foundation of traffic safety training, we purposefully do not participate in what amounts to unsanctioned free-for-all racing on city streets, hoping for the best and tempting fate as you race among cars. And even where there are no cars, we proceed respectfully. No illegally fast riding on Back Bay Drive or river trails, weaving in and out of families on beach cruisers. We ride safely to a good safe training location, somewhere with no traffic conflicts and safe pavement, and only there do we ride hard and fast. For example, my son and I ride a safe 20 mile loop out the Back Bay and the San Diego Creek trail and, at the end, we do loops on Spyglass Hill with intense sprints at the top of each loop.
That’s how you train for bike racing and develop safe wheels to follow.