Goon Riders in the Sky

Ben Trefry

March 25, 2022

(c) 2022 Goon Writes Publishing Co.

Goon Rider (n): A cyclist who eschews fancy, expensive Fred gear and rides all-out, all the time. As they are fond of saying: “Low budget, high wattage.”

Before they changed my life, the Goon Riders ruined my day. I was ascending South Park Drive, my favorite climb, on a not-too-hot spring morning, like I had done so many times before, when I heard them coming up behind me.

What I first heard—squealing chains drier than the Sahara, knobby tires whining away countless watts, loose quill stems thunk-thunk-thunking with every pedal stroke—was hardly enough to concern me. I slammed another GU, cranked the cadence up to 120, and waited to be carried away from the obnoxious group. In the game of spin-to-win, me and my S-Works always won. I’d even dropped ebikers on occasion, leaving them in slack-jawed surprise atop their souped-up shred sleds.

That’s why it was such a surreal experience to lose to the goons. I felt as if in a dream, spinning wildly yet powerless to stop the clowns mashing by me in slow motion. I switched to the drops and stared down at my front GP5000. I did not want to look up at them, did not want to see another horde of maladjusted mountain bikes, for I could not afford to puke.

But I couldn’t stop myself from looking up when the last rider drew past, and it was worse than my darkest nightmares. Polo shirt. Poorly hemmed jean shorts. Calves even chunkier than the massive 6/7/8-speed chain stretched near its breaking point around the heavily worn big ring. And his generic ‘80s mountain bike frame—the Reynolds 4130 sticker was long gone, but I could tell it was steel from the copious rust. I vommed (that means vomited), swerved, hit a pothole. The GP 5K’s gave out under me, and I barely managed to stay on the bike as I came to a stop.

I wanted to dive off my bike into the bushes and vom some more, but the goon riders wouldn’t leave me alone. They too came to a stop and circled around me with flawless trackstands.

“You OK?” one asked.

“Fine,” I said. I was gasping for air, in a pool of vomit and sweat. If Dad found out about this, would he take away my S-Works? And even if he didn’t—could I ever ride again, after being so absolutely dropped?

“You don’t look fine,” he said, and removed a pickle jar from his bottle cage. “Here, try some of this.”

I slapped it right out of his hand. It shattered and splattered on the ground. Of course, my highly breathable SPD-SL cleats were soaked with the flavorful fluid, but the goon rider, feet wrapped in waterproof electrical tape, was unaffected.

“That was my pickle juice!” He almost lost the trackstand, but recovered. “Why did you do that?”

“Get away from me,” I croaked.

The goon riders rolled their eyes in unison, but thankfully said nothing more. They just leaped out of their trackstands, put on a frame-flexing burst of acceleration, and were gone.

I still had several GU pouches in my jersey pocket, and a patch kit to fix my blown GP 5Ks. Nevertheless—reeling on the side of the road, just halfway up the climb—I could not go on. I walked down to the bottom, and waited half an hour for a city bus so I could bail.

“Both tires blown? You know how expensive those ultra-light race tubes are? Or how much weight it’ll add if we patch the old ones?” were the first words Dad said to me when I brought my bike into the garage attached to his dental office.

He’d moved us to the Bay for the cycling scene—the flat and lonely roads of Kansas where we used to live offered high average speeds, but no variety and one too many run-ins with Rolling Coal—and his dental practice in North Berkeley started small. Just a few hygenists, and only one couch in the waiting room, where I had to spend long hours after school waiting for him to be done with the day’s root canals. There were no toys and no friends, but there was one huge pile of magazines: Cycling Weekly, Road Cycling, VeloNews, and the like. I read those outdated issues, over and over again, till the pages became sticky with stray droplets of slammed GU.

And I think that’s what Dad wanted all along, for me to follow in his footsteps. First mine was a road bike with 24” wheels, then a Frankenstein bike built from a sussy Craigslist carbon frame, then finally—when I earned my first KOM—he rewarded me with the carbon fiber steed I was riding when I met the Goon Riders.

My cycling career was just beginning, and I already owed so much to him. Which is why I knew I had to tell him the truth.

“I hit a pothole,” I said. “I got dropped. By poors on rusty bikes. I don’t want to ride another foot, ever again.”

“Well, I’m sorry that happened. On second thought, forget about the tubes. Maybe we’ll just do that tubeless conversion we’ve been talking about.”

He laid his latex-gloved hand on my shoulder then, and looked me in the eye. It could only mean one thing—he was preparing to give one of his highly toxic inspirational speeches.

“Son, getting dropped is like a root canal—it’s never happened to me, but I can imagine how it must feel. You’ve got to get back out there, you’ve got to find them again, and you’ve got to drop them. It doesn’t matter how hard you have to work, or how long it takes. You’re still young, you’ve got the chance.”

I believed in the creed of the cyclist, and I looked up to Dad—how could I not? So I believed his words, but I also thought of how absolutely I’d been dropped, and how effortlessly the goons had done it. Dad had put himself through plenty of training, plenty of triple centuries (imperial, not metric), and at least five crashes. But by admitting he’d never been dropped, he also admitted he couldn’t understand how I felt, not really.

“I can do it,” I said, but I wasn’t sure. I thought I was doing everything right. A checked-out senior in high school, I was already spending more time training than doing homework, and I had no idea what I could change to get such gains as would be required to contend with the goons.

“That’s what I like to hear!” he said. “Train at night if you have to, I don’t care, but let’s show them what our family’s made of!”

So that’s how I ended up doing South Park repeats a week later, at 11 PM, my second training ride of the day. This new training routine was certainly more painful than my old. The goons had given me a goal to work towards, and in injuring my pride, they’d given me more motivation than ever before.

As I climbed, I thought—what else could I do? I’d already lost a few grams from the tubeless conversion. I could still remove my bottle cage, and dispense with the cable housings. If Dad would let me I could even Dremel some holes in the already-featherweight frame and drop a few more grams, like carbon Drillium!

Before I could get too far down that rabbit hole, the sound of a misfiring engine alerted me to the dented brown van approaching behind me. Even louder, and closer behind, I heard the Goon Noise. They were back! Whether or not I had it in me, I was ready to gas it and at least try to drop them. Perhaps the van driver would be so kind as to act as my pace car.

But I had no chance make my break. The goons clustered around me in a protective peloton, tight as a crit. The van, I noticed, was coming awfully close behind us.

“There’s not much time. But we are the Goon Riders in the Sky,” announced the one who’d handed me the pickle juice last time. He had to shout to be heard over the combined din of the beat-up van and junked-out bikes. “And we gift you the fortitude of steel, the power of tortillas, and the flexibility of a squared-off Thickslick.”

“Gas gas gas!” shouted another, and for the second time, I was absolutely dropped. The van pulled up alongside me, and it was then that I began to freak out.

“Wait!” I said, but I was gasping for air, and they were already pulling far ahead.

Shuddering and misfiring, the metal beast began edging me over. I knew exactly what he was doing—running me off the road, into the gravel shoulder, where every pebble seemed a diamond blade under the copious lumens of my headlight. I also knew that my 23mm GP 5K’s—even with the new tubeless setup—would explode on contact. So I bailed, a decision I’m very proud of. I dived off the bike, left it to tumble, and rolled.

It wasn’t as bad as I expected. My dive cleared the gravel and landed me in the tall grass just past it. But as I came to my senses, I heard the hideous squealing of brakes worn down to metal. The van was stopping.

The engine shut off and the door open, and in my mind I could see it all play out. In a few hours the bike would be found, twisted and destroyed and ditched. In a month my body would be found, just as broken as the bike, halfway across the country.

I looked up to see the driver moving toward me. He was a real piece of work. His torn camo jacket exposed enough white undershirt that it was no longer camo at all. His cargo pants, too, were heavily stained and generally destroyed. He moved with a limp, an ugly one, but closed the distance between us in no time.

“Get up,” he croaked in a voice that exposed a lifetime of smoking in its horrific rasp. “You’re gonna help me get something outta my van. It’s hard with my bad back.”

I didn’t buy it. Fight-or-flight time—I turned to run. Then he pulled a gun, pointed it at me, and flicked the trigger so it clicked. I just about lost my balance, turning back towards him, wrestling my flight reflex under control, trying not to make any fast moves. When he saw the power he had over me armed with his steel six-shooter, he slowed his pace considerably, as if enjoying it. I braced for the bang and the impact. Instead, he lead me back to the van and opened the rear door.

“Will you be a dear and pull out that Cervelo for me,” he said. And there it was. Strapped into a bike rack in the van among empty buckets, food wrappers, oily rags, and the accouterments of a real tramp wagon, the Cervelo gleamed. So out of place—I knew it was stolen—but at least he hadn’t destroyed it yet.

I did everything he told me to. I got in, released the straps, rolled the Cervelo back out with the care befitting such a bike, and it felt so wrong. This rubbertramp deserved a Roadmaster, or maybe an ancient exchange-student machine. But I didn’t have a choice.

Once the Cervelo was out, he thanked me, then with an awful cackle unzipped his cargo pants. When they fell around his ankles, I saw spotless white Rapha bib shorts, not unlike mine. Then he unzipped and removed the camo jacket, all without dropping his gun from its aim at my chest. Far from the tattered white undershirt I’d expected, underneath the jacket was revealed a spotless Rapha jersey with the words “Murder Cycling” across the front.

“Name’s Fred—Freddy Fazbore.” He said it with a hint of Italian pronunciation, and none of the rasp that I’d heard before. A sick man, some sort of psychopath probably, dressed to impress and ready for race conditions. “We’re gonna have a little race. Get that bike of yours.”

Digging the gun into my back, he shoved me over to the bushes. But where I thought my carbon fiber steed should be lying with scratched paint and twisted cables, I saw only a green-and-white cruiser bike. Not rusted yet, but it had to be steel. Just like the handgun barrel pressing into my back. What an awful material.

“That’s not your bike,” he said, and shoved the gun even harder. “Where is it?”

For a second I was just as confused as he was. Then I felt something like adrenaline, driving me to go full-send. It was the Goon Riders—it had to be. I looked down at the bike, then at my body. Gone were my full kit and SPD-SL cleats. I didn’t know when it had happened, but I was now wearing basketball shorts and a plaid button-down shirt, with shredded tennis shoes.

“This is my bike, and I’m racing on it,” I said.

“Fine. You lose, you die,” he cackled. “We’ll start at the bottom.” He mounted his Cervelo and motioned for me to descend first, so he could keep his gun trained on me.

After a quick and somewhat harrowing South Park descent (owing to my unfamiliarity with the coaster brake) we lined up just past the gate at the bottom. What a surreal scene—a high-school kid in baggy clothes on a cruiser bike, next to a rubbertramp-turned-racer pointing a gun at him. Perhaps it’s a shame there were no spectators or TV cameras, but this was my fight

“On my shot, we start. All the way to the top,” he said. He raised his gun in the air, counted down, and fired a bullet straight up into the night sky. The bang was deafening, but he was obviously used to gunshots and his stiff carbon steed allowed him to accelerate instantly. Me, I took a couple seconds to come to my senses and start pedaling. Even in first gear, it was a monster mash.

The Rapha Rubbertramp was soon several hundred feet ahead of me. In his competitive lust, he’d forgotten all about menacing me with the gun—I could’ve escaped then and there if I cared to. But the race was only just beginning, and I wasn’t going to back out. Something told me a goon rider always came up from behind. I was being conservative, saving my energy. I reached into the front pocket of my polo shirt, and was delighted to find a neat bundle of tortillas stuffed in there. I slammed one, two, three tortillas, grip-shifted the Nexus into second gear, and gave the customary shout I’d heard the goon riders use.

“GAS GAS GAS!” And like magic, I started gaining on him at an increasing rate. I didn’t need a Dura-Ace power meter to tell me I was putting out more watts than him—more watts, in fact, than I’d ever put out in my cycling career—and yet, I didn’t even feel like I was pushing hard. I might’ve been racing for my life at midnight, but it felt more like an easy morning Joe Jaunt.

As I got closer, Fred Fazbore looked up at me with a frightening, twisted look. There was no menace in it, only a world of pain. The gun was tucked into his jersey pocket, and despite his already slammed stem, he was gripping the drops. This highly aggressive fit offered a compelling explanation for the back problems he’d mentioned earlier, assuming they weren’t just a lie to get me to enter the van.

Poor old fellow. But he deserved what he got for running me off the road and pointing a gun at me. So, with no remorse, I absolutely dropped him. He tried to draft behind me as I pulled ahead, but I was gone before he could even move onto my wheel. The distance widened, and so too did my grin.

I looked behind me again, perhaps to see Fred Fazbore’s look of absolute defeat one more time. Instead, I saw him wrestling that gun out of his jersey pocket. I gassed it even harder, trying to get away. Every fiber of muscle in my legs strained for the real race of the evening–a goon rider versus a goon’s bullet.

But that bullet was never meant for me. I heard the bang and felt nothing. Then I heard Fred and his bike fall over; the carbon Cervelo shattered on the sloping tarmac. The man from Murder Cycling had blown his own brains out.

Sore loser, I thought. And pressed on to the summit. That South Park KOM had my name on it.