Brandon called me up a couple of weeks ago. “I want you to write a column for CyclingIllustrated.com.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“No. For real.”
“The shit I write’s toxic, dude.”
“I know. Can you have something for Thursday?”
So on Wednesday night at 2:00 AM I realized that, uh, it was a problem. What the fuck was I going to write about? There was that great TV newstory on cycling and hemorrhoids…nah. That wanker who crashed into a Suburban trying to take back his KOM and now his widow’s suing Strava…nah. Turdy France? Yawn.
The best stories are in your own backyard
The only problem is that my backyard is a giant parking garage. The apartments above it house a gaggle of urchins who look down into our apartment and practice saying “You suck!” and “Fuck you!” then running back inside. The pellet gun hasn’t stopped them, but they’re quicker than they used to be.
What to write about? When you’re faced with a challenge, a hard and odious job, something you’ve been putting off but finally have to knuckle down and do, I did what people all over the world do: Checked FB for status updates. Sandwiched in between my friend Millicent who’s just uploaded a new selection of her favorite 258 cat photos, and right after my buddy Toots who wants me to look at his new page for real estate, I spied a story worth storifying.
The subject is Rahsaan Bahati. The story concerns his recent travails and triumphs at the America’s Dairyland race series in Wisconsin.
Rahsaan went to Cheeseland, USA, raced a bunch of hard races, placed highly in several of them, and won the big one on the last day. It was awesome. He is a badass. End of report.
To most Americans, Wisconsin is a very white place. It’s covered in twelve feet of snow from early October until late May. Almost everyone there is white, regardless of their skin color. They can’t dance. When they sing in church everybody’s a half-clap off the beat of the person next to them. Their favorite food is cheese. When asked if they’ve ever done the Dozens, a typical Wisconsite will say, “Sure; did ’em all the time in elementary school. 12 x 1 is twelve, 12 x 2 is twenty-four…”
You might think that a black dude with a twelve-foot afro, skin as dark as night, and an avowed goal of coming to Cheeseland and kicking the snot out of the local boys on their home turf would be met with hostility.
You’d be wrong.
Black dude schools cheeseheads
The challenge that Rahsaan faced in this race series was simple. He was by himself. In the first seven races, the Kenda pro team stacked every field with ten guys. Their mission was to either create a breakaway without Bahati, or to beat him with numbers if it came to a mass sprint. Time and again he would bridge to the winning break only to have everyone sit up, unwilling to face him in a sprint. Compounding the problem, he knew he didn’t have the miles in his legs to handle eleven straight days of racing, so he planned to do the crits and avoid the road races.
The first race, at Shorewood, ended catastrophically. On the last lap, two guys fighting in front of him chopped his wheel. He crashed, his bike exploded, he landed hard on his wrist, and left the race battered, bruised, and bikeless.
Rahsaan didn’t race the second day in East Troy, but when he watched the pro race he was able to see who was going well and who had been going too heavy on the donuts. He couldn’t wait to get back in the race the following day…but then again, maybe he could, because he didn’t have a bike.
The third day, at Grafton, Time USA overnighted him a bike. SRAM technical support was going to put it together, and they worked on it all day. At 4:30 PM, with the race starting at 6:30, they had no chain for the bike. At the last minute the folks from Wheel and Sprocket rushed over a chain from their nearby shop, and he sped to the line. In the final turn on the last lap he dove beneath Cole House, rocketed to the line, and pulled a pedal. He clicked back in, went again, and pulled the pedal again. Post-race he realized that the cleat had been broken off in the earlier crash.
Brokedown House began yelling and poking after the race, trying to win after the race had ended what he couldn’t win during the competition. Rahsaan resisted the urge to return the insults and pokes, and continued on. On the fourth day in Waukesha, he managed seventh. Kenda continued to control the race with their superior numbers and firepower.
Rahsaan rested on the fifth day, a road race, and picked up again in Schlitz Park on day six. Before the race, he got to talk to some inner city kids and share with them the excitement of bike racing. “Kin we race wichu?” they eagerly asked, proud of their K-Mart bikes and ready to rumble. The race didn’t pan out, but he continued to throw down, ride aggressively, and mark moves.
The last four days were all NCC events, and although the size of the field decreased, the quality increased. Teams were limited to six riders, and heavy hitters like United Healthcare showed up. Whereas the earlier races were balls to the wall, once the big teams arrived the racing became negative. On the last day, Rahsaan sat second overall in the NCC omnium. He prepped hard for the race by going to a nearby lake and tubing so hard that his arms almost came off. At some point in the trip he had also run into racing legend Jeff Fields and his sidekick Randy Dickson, which can only mean that his tubing training was also enhanced by beer intervals as well.
The final race in Madison came hot and humid, with temps over 100 and 90% humidity. After getting stuck behind a crash with seven laps to go, he sprinted back up to the field, backed off into turn three on the last lap, railed the corner full-bore in his 53 x 11, and sprinted uphill around the last turn and took the win.
Not bad for a California dude with no team and not enough miles on his legs and one awful crash and no one willing to work with him in the breaks.
No man is an island
As Rahsaan will tell you, though, he was hardly alone. From day one his presence attracted all kinds of support from the crowd. Shouts of “Ba-ha-ti” fired him up when his legs were fading, and provided ammunition when the local crowd was pulling for him instead of Ramshackle House.
Madison is like downtown LA, and he found the local black people coming up, talking, and getting excited about his presence in the race. Many of them had been watching the races all day and hadn’t seen a black guy yet. His rainbow coalition of fans kept him going even during the times he was ready to quit. Everyone from announcers to course marshals and flagmen to fans to the tech support people wanted to see him on the podium, and with their encouragement he finally got there, on the top step no less.
There’s a message here somewhere.
What it’s all about, Alfie
Some people wonder why the riding and racing in SoCal is so good. It’s the weather. It’s the sheer number of riders. It’s the varied terrain. It’s the long history. It’s the access to great drugs, beautiful beaches, and smokin hot babes in tiny bathing suits batting volleyballs as you try to stifle a boner while pedaling on the bike path.
I think there’s something much more than that, though. It’s the community. People like Rahsaan do more than go forth and battle in the toughest races among the nation’s best racers. They show up on the local wankfests and teach the local freddies and aspiring wannabes the best way possible: by tearing their fucking legs off and chilling with them after the ride.
The fact that pros like Rahsaan are willing to ride down on the level of the local hackers creates an enthusiasm and energy that makes people want to ride harder and race better. Up and coming riders know that they’ll have a chance to test themselves against the very best simply by doing the local backyard rides. To the people in Wisconsin he’s a superstar climbing up on the top step. To us he’s the dude who thrashes us on the New Pier Ride, then gives Prez the leadout from hell, and lets him win.
That’s one hell of a backyard.