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Dog Breath: Are you talkin’ to me?

By Patrick O’Grady

A biker? Kind of. A brawler? Nuh-uh.

A biker? Kind of. A brawler? Nuh-uh.

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I smashed his face. He got wise. He called me a punk. He must have been stupid.—a Hell’s Angel in Hunter S. Thompson’s “Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs 


I hear it’s OK to punch doctors in Utah. Almost makes a guy want to move to Salt Lake City. Throw in the lawyers, politicians, telephone solicitors, customer-service robots, televangelists, talk-show hosts, pundits and publishers and I’m there, man.

Too bad this relaxed attitude toward assault didn’t prevail in Colorado when I was a teen-ager. A friend had come down with infectious hepatitis and a bunch of us had to get gamma globulin shots. When my turn came, at an Air Force dispensary, this nurse brandished a hypo the size of a 12-gauge Remington pump, squirted a pint or so just to make sure it was loaded, gave me an evil grin and hissed, “This is gonna hurt.”

And it did. And I thought about punching her, briefly. But I was a 140-pound, 5-foot-10 hippie wanna-be with small, delicate hands and she was a burly African-American woman with fists like George Foreman. Fight her? I was scared to write about her until 40 years later.

Today I’m 35 pounds heavier, a couple inches taller and not a bit smarter, so from time to time I still find myself yearning to clock someone who has offended me somehow. But I still have small hands and not much in the way of an upper body, so I’d have to hit the guy a whole bunch of times, really fast. And maybe it hurts my small hands more than it does him, and I wind up in the ER with both paws in casts and money flying out of my wallet like bats out of John McCain’s belfry and I can’t draw or type or even punch a doctor, not even in Utah.

Which brings me to my point: Bicyclists have no business punching anyone, not even other bicyclists. We’re not qualified. Stick to what you know, which mostly involves spinning your expensively shod feet in furious circles for hours on end and complaining about things, like the entry fee, the size and depth of the prize list, and how you’d be racing in Europe instead of this crappy industrial park if everybody but you weren’t on dope.

I mean, think about the great velo-confrontations we’ve seen over the years. Jeroen Blijlevens vs. Bobby Julich. Pee-Wee Herman vs. the biker gang in “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.” And now Marty Jemison vs. Prentice Steffen. None of these rumblettes would make a suitable undercard for Andy Dick vs. Tucker Carlson, even if the Lifetime Channel decided it wanted to branch out into boxing lite.

The only way to make velo-combat even remotely worth watching is to break out the heavy weaponry. The old “Breaking Away”-style frame pump in the spokes is passé in these days of CO2 canisters and minipumps, but Roberto Gaggioli may have been onto something when he got all Barry Bonds on Jonny Sundt with a chunk of police barrier.

So if you must escalate a war of words at a bike race like some schoolyard punk with a chip on his shoulder, why not drop your bike’s weight below the UCI minimum and pack a blackjack, some brass knucks or a roll of quarters in a jersey pocket? Or improvise with what comes to hand at roadside — a chair from some patio café, a piece of police barrier, a broken Old English Malt Liquor bottle from the gutter. Don’t throw a punch; that’s just half-stupid. Go whole hog and really hurt somebody. Make it worth watching, writing about, even videotaping.

We could use the TV time — even if it’s only a passing mention on the 5 o’clock news in Salt Lake City.

Was that a stiff uppercut or a limp-wristed slap with a purse? Give us your best shot at webletters@competitorgroup.com