Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ride History IV: Rose Bowl Ride...

But first, a bit as prologue: Though I am down to the final two rides in this series, there have been numerous other rides which I have done off and on, or maybe just a handful of times and am thus unqualified to offer much more than a few words to their respective histories. Among these are the Sunday LaGrange ride, Tuesday Barry Wolfe ride, and the Azteca team ride. Besides these there have been various periodic group rides that did not follow a set route or regular schedule (I guess you could call these invitationals). We will have to look to other riders to fill in the histories of these and untold other rides, some well known, others little known, which have taken place along the tarmac of Southern California.

Right then, the Rose Bowl Ride is one of those grand-daddy's of the region. I has been run longer than most people remember, dating back to at least the 1950s. I started doing the ride in 1992 and continued going around that 3 mile loop until 2003 when relocation allowing me to follow a new career compelled me to bid farewell. So you figure I was there for only a small portion out of the 60 or more years the ride has been in existence. Clearly there are others who have done this ride for far longer and are in a much better position to contribute to an overall history; therefore, this account should be construed as a partial history, a recounting of numerous events covering the years during which I was a participant. If you have done this ride, much of this will sound familiar, if you have never been a part of the Bowl peloton, this may provide some idea of what it is all about.

Up to 1992, my group ride experience was mostly comprised of Wednesday's at Griffith Park and Saturdays with the Bicycle Doctor. I had long been familiar with the Rose Bowl Ride, but was put off by its reputation as one big crash-fest. But, under increasing pressure from various riding buddies I was compelled to give the Bowl a try. I was hooked from that first spin with the Bowl peloton and became a regular on both Tuesday and Thursday nights. For reference (for anyone unfamiliar) the Bowl ride takes place twice a week, starting at 6:00 pm during daylight savings time. The ride officially starts at the time change, but unofficially starts a month earlier with a start time of 5:30. As darkness falls earlier during October, a lap is cut off the ride each week, until the time change when the ride ceases until the following spring. A lap is a little more than 3 miles in length, and ten laps are raced each night. Add to that two to three laps of warm-up, and a half-lap to cool down and I usually came away with a 40-42 mile night. The course is a rectangle with two long sides, one gradually uphill, the other a gradual, but fast downhill, and two short sides at top and bottom. When I say a gradual slope I mean a slope in the range of 1-2%. There were nights when the uphill speed might be 27 or 28 mph, and the downhill speeds approach 40 mph. The Rose Bowl Ride is all about speed.

Sometimes it is all about the effort, and not the finish, where you get your satisfaction. Early on during the Bowl season in 1993 (April 13 to be exact) Thurlow Rogers and co. were out pushing the pace. I learned a lesson about perseverance when caught on the back side of a gap, and then participated in the chase for about a lap until finally succeeding in closing the gap - you never know what will happen up ahead, so keep pushing. On May 11, Thurlow (again), in combination with a wicked wind, devastated the field - the peloton was strung out on the first lap and a good third of the riders found themselves being dropped early on. On May 20 there was a protest ride with the mayor of Pasadena at city hall. Since I did not write about it at the time, I can't recall what the protest was about other than that it was bike related. What I do know is that I was disappointed by the turnout. I noted that "there were only about 20 people there...and considering over a hundred at the Bowl on any given Thursday, there could have, and should have, been more since it affects them." May 25, PAA had a good night, taking the top four spots at the finish. One June 29 a serious looking crash marred the festivities tonight as a driver apparently not noticing the peloton closing in from behind turned into the field as we were going around him, taking out several riders; I was fortunate to be past the car when the carnage took place. Later in the evening I found myself off the front with Scott King, but quickly losing steam; I kept looking back, attempting to will the peloton to close the gap so I wouldn't feel obligated to work. I don't think Scott appreciated my lack of enthusiasm. July 6, after two crashes I decided to not press my luck any further and got out while the getting was good. Bruno (from Switzerland) was not so lucky, and found himself hitting the ground hard during the second wipeout. He got up with one less tooth. July 20 was significant in that it was a crash-free night. Horray! On August 3 a petition was circulating to counter a move by some "nit-wits" who want to shut down the ride. Signed. On September 30, Olin, Gregg (Team Ape) and co. were off the front at the end of the race - I gave chase, pulling the peloton to within 10 yards, but no one else pulled through to help, and the break rode away. I was not happy. Steve Hegg showed up on October 5. And finally, on October 21 my pedal came off in mid-stroke. No damage was done, but for some reason, it was funny as hell.

The year 1994 saw the official Bowl season get off to an early start, when on Thursday the 31st of March Thurlow Rogers and his Miller Lite gang came out, revved things up, and had the peloton strung out in pursuit for much of the evening. The year saw some infrastructure changes at the Bowl, and on Thursday, April 24, the mayor of Pasadena came out and rode with the peloton for a lap as a ceremonial dedication of new lane improvements. It was also a good night for me, as I was able to sneak inside the elusive top 10 at the finish. The first of the year's inevitable biggie crashes hit on May 26th; it was one of those massive pile-ups that tend to happen in the middle of the field, and usually with me behind it so that I would have to give chase. Tuesday May 31 saw a fight break out in the middle of the peloton involving a Warner Velo rider; words and blows were exchanged, causing a lot of swerving, cursing and split the field momentarily, but caused no major damage. The Rose Bowl hosted World Cup matches in 1994 which brought in more traffic and gawkers than normal but did not really seem to slow the peloton down much, if at all. It is always funny who you might find on your wheel - on July 7, a night that was not particularly fast, I made a push up to the front along the inside of the group, as I was fond of doing, and was surprised to find that I had pulled both Thurlow and Olin Bakke up in my wake. D-o-m-e-s-t-i-q-u-e! A crash this same night, on the final lap involved a couple buds; "Dennis ran over Roberto, but besides some scraps and cuts and scraped up bikes there was no major damage." "Someone stop this crazy train, I want to get off" - Tuesday August 30 was another of those crazy fast, runaway locomotive fast nights, which had the peloton strung-out most of the time due to an average speed of over 28 mph - one of those nights when hanging on and surviving for all ten laps was a reasonable goal. Thurlow and team were not the only pro's to ride at the Bowl this year; on September 20 the Chevy-Sheriffs, including Jamie Paolinetti were in attendance, and I had a miserable night, contributing nothing to the effort. In mid-October I managed two more top-10 finishes, of course things were slowing down by then, and the peloton was a more manageable late-season size.

Kevin of Team Xtreme between turns #3 and #4 (1995)

The first big crash of 1995 did not arrive until May 9. When it did land, it did so in turn 3 on the final lap, completely blocking the road so that the 20 or so riders in front had an easy, lightly contested finish. Meanwhile the rest of us either fell to the pavement or came to a complete stop. Meh, we did not have far to go to get to the cars that way. I have commented previously about how the Bowl is one of those rides which are great for learning how to read the peloton. Such an occasion presented itself on May 18 when after riding the "first couple laps at the front...I got a pretty clear picture of how the night was going to go - no successful breaks was my prediction. So, safe with this knowledge I slid back into the peloton to remain comfortably among the masses until the final lap." On Tuesday May 30 I was cruising around, after being dropped, when I "came upon a group of Folgore's standing around an agonized Joan who had crashed and broken her collarbone". The fast night of the year came on Tuesday, June 27; three tandems and Thurlow in attendance ensured a good sound thrashing. At lap 7 we were averaging 29.3 mph, and by the final lap, 28.5 mph. On September 7, there was some sort of motorcycle stunt show taking place in the middle of the road and so the ride took a long detour out to Sierra Madre and back, "a nice change from the monotony of the Bowl". On September 19, the final crash of note for the year brought down Bill, our fearless leader at Team Xtreme.

Tom (stoker) and Enrique on tandem approaching Turn #4

The 1996 season kicked off on April 9 with several pro's in attendance, a crash in the first 50 yards, and a pace that never really slowed the entire night. "Furious" was the word I used to describe the pace on April 23 which saw the average speed reach 29.9 mph for the ten laps. Some "bizarrities" kept me on edge - not sure what I meant but, on a ride like the Bowl, it could have been any number of things. May 21 was another fast one, with the winning break going clear before one lap was even in the books. Seven days later all five of us from Team Xtreme finished in the top 20, and no, that does not mean it was a slow night. There was a big pile-up on June 19 about half way through the race going into turn #4; this, of course, meant a lot of extra work for those of us caught behind it. Two, count them, two crashes on July 23. On September 19, after a few break attempts were thwarted I initiated one of my own. It attracted the attention of Mike of Team Ape, Andre, Enrique and Devon on tandem, and several others. Unfortunately, I gave it too much effort, and the winning break rode away from me. It was kind of a slow year for me, I had gone back to school (night classes) so was only at the Bowl half as often, and just don't have as much to say about it.

For me, 1997 continued where 1996 left off. Classes and marriage limited my time in the peloton. In an effort to reclaim some motivation I switched teams, but just was not fit enough to really be involved. During my limited time there I was able to witness the usual close calls with cars and pedestrians, and each other, breaks riding away, and of course, crashes. One "grande crash" took place on July 17 on lap #8. This took down many of my new Squadra Folgore teammates, including Andre, who busted his collarbone. The local pro's continued to make regular appearances, one of the few I witnessed was August 14 when Olin Bakke split the peloton by powering away on the final lap. On a personal note I was having some back pain and decided to downsize my cranks from 172.5 to 170 - I rode much better after the change. Olin was back on September 11, showing off and making things difficult for the rest of us. A couple weeks later, the 23rd, Olin was joined by many of the other big guns, Thurlow Rogers, John Wike, Pam Schuster, and it was unsurprisingly, quick. I started getting frustrated with the tandems this year, they seemed to be out more frequently; since I was already struggling due to lack of training, I saw them as making things unnecessarily difficult for me (you hear that Enrique, Tom, Devon). Hell, even Thurlow got into the act, riding with Mark Rich on October 7.

Once you have the Bowl figured out, and you maintain a certain level of fitness, you rarely have problems and the ride can become familiar, maybe even routine. On opening night of 1998 I noted that "not much changes in the grouppo from year to year - rougue cars, squirely riders and all, but things go on without much problem." Unfortunately, with my son being born in March, my training had hit a new all time low, and for the first time I contemplated the possibility of finding myself a member of the "laughing group". On May 21, with the fast guys of Team Mercury out, I misjudged the finish, taking 4th in the sprint, and then realized there was still one lap to go. OOOOPPPPs. June 25th Mercury were out again - within no time Thurlow and company were untouchable. Later, a couple numbskulls ahead of me had a little water-bottle-throwing squabble. I didn't see the outcome when they pulled off to the side. June 30 was a slaughter, Thurlow struck fear into the hears of everyone, and poor slobs began to be  dropped on the very first lap. July 23 the peloton was blown to bits - three separate groups, and I was with the laughers. Then on the last lap we rode upon a scene of absolute destruction, a mob, the largest crash I had seen in a long time. The whole road was blocked, both directions of traffic. Four Squadra rides were bloodied and Enrique had broken his collarbone. "I guess there is something to say for riding at the caboose." August 6th - Rasafarian riding tandem without a stoker, I guess he jumped off somewhere along the way? At some point during the ride on August 20 I overheard a couple of wise guys making a crack about being at the back with the Folgores. Ha, ha, then get off the back you slackers. There were more fast nights with Mercury in attendance, more breaks and chases, more crashing - as I said, not much changes from year to year.

Are you familiar with American Indian winter counts? Basically, a significant event during the year is designated to mark that year. Well, that is what you get for 1999. I had basically reached the low point in my cycling and made very few notations. So, August 17: "all of a sudden from up ahead came the dull thud of rider hitting car. A car stopped in the middle of the peloton is never a good thing, and when the riders in front fail to call it out disaster is bound to hit. As the PAA rider laid in an expanding pool of blood some people gathered up the broken pieces of his bike while the rest waited for the paramedics. Amazingly only two people went down and only one stayed down. The docs in the peloton seemed to think his wounds were superficial, probably a broken nose too, thank goodness for that. I made up the remainder of my miles in the hills wondering why we sometimes do this racing thing, but knowing that everyone will be back come Thursday."

Not much to say for the year 2000. I do know that Thurlow Rogers was riding with the Mercury team this year, and they could often be found at the Bowl in the evenings causing a pain in the legs of anyone else there. Or, was it just mine. If you do not have direct experience with the Bowl Ride, you have probably figured out by now that crashes and the Bowl go hand in hand. Knock on wood, I have been fortunate to have never gone down there. Sometimes an initial crash will cause a second reactionary one. Such a series of incidents unfolded on August 7. And I quote: "Smash-up derby night at the Bowl tonight. It was lap three when the fun began. Someone up ahead went down accompanied by the usual yelling and crashing sounds. With all that going on someone behind uttered the most irrelevant words of the night, when he said "what's going on up there?" Obviously not paying attention, the question was followed by more yelling and crashing sounds." Usually by the time October comes around, the ride tends to become more relaxed, there is less pressure to perform, and you can maybe notice other things taking place. On the 4th of October I happened to see Horatio (named changed to protect the guilty) cop a feel of the rear of a woman on roller blades, and said I hoped it was his wife. He said "no, just liked the look of her butt". 'Nough said.

The year 2001 was notable for the little game of chicken the police seemed to be playing, at least that was my interpretation of the activity. A patrol car when approaching from the opposite direction would hug the yellow line daring anyone in the peloton to cross over. As I already mentioned, an individual rider in the group rarely if ever has any control over what the larger group would do, so anyone with half a brain could tell this was a game that, sooner or later, was not going to end well. Sure enough, on April 23 on the 4th lap while making our way around turn #1 there was a loud smacking thud followed by the usual yelling. Rounding the corner I see a patrol car with smashed front windshield (the cyclist was on his feet, and seemed to be okay). "The little nightly game.. finally paid off. Now they can paint a little bike on the side of their car."

In 2002 I began to make a switch over to mountain biking, and so that year, as well as 2003, spent less and less time on the road and at the Bowl. Over the succeeding years since then I have missed the Bowl ride, wondered if it changed, who was still there, who, like me, had left. Finally, last year I was able to return for one night. I found it to be little changed. The start of the Bowl season is fast approaching now, and I have hopes that I can make a few more appearances this year.

For more you can search youtube for any number of videos of the ride. There is also a Facebook page dedicated to the ride which, while not all that active, will have some interesting comments from time to time, especially from some of the "older" guys, like Steve Lubanski, who have been doing it for a while. Feel free to post your own notable remembrances as a comment here.


  1. that was a thoroughly enjoyable read. I've never ridden the RB peloton myself (my even suggesting I could is laughable) but I've had them boys whiz by me on many occasions when I use to ride over there at night. I would just stare at their hard, lean bodies and lick my chops, but I never could imagine what it was like to be in that moving mass of pure speed or their thoughts. now I do. ;-)

  2. Glad you liked it. It's a long season, so there is plenty of time to jump in. One of the good things about the Bowl is that you can jump onto the back of the group as it goes by, hang on as long as you can. If you get dropped, just keep circling and wait for them to come around, and have another go. You build fitness, adjust to the speed, and soon you are lasting longer each time. In fact I've talked myself into it, I think I will head out there tonight.


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