Vacations for me suck. They’re a blast but I almost always have a mess waiting for me when I get back that takes a month to sort out. This year is even worse than normal. I actually thought about sending my wife and kids down alone so I could tend to work. I threw that in the garbage where it belongs and headed down to Georgia anyway…
Every once in a while you need a piece of paradise.
I rode in my normal Tuesday advanced club ride the other night. We had a noob in the crowd and we knew this before we ever clipped our second foot into our pedals. How you ask?
Well, it wasn’t the normal “cargo pants in the peloton” scenario, he announced it as we were waiting to start. The announcement wasn’t necessary, we knew it was his first within 100 yards. He had a nice high-end bike, decent kit (including bibs – I still ride in shorts) but he rode that nice bike like he was on ice. He was all over the place.
Now, before you run off to the comments section to berate me for being callous, hold on a second sparky because you’d be going off half-cocked, on emotion, and you’d be mistaken. I’m a really great guy…ask anyone who knows me! (That’s a joke, you don’t even know me let alone several people who know me. Calm down, take a few deep breaths into a brown paper bag and hear me out for a second).
This is going to get a little sticky because I won’t be pulling any punches (or trying to be politically correct) because this is important.
First, pace line riding is awesome, cool and exciting. It’s also dangerous as hell. People die in pace line crashes, from something as innocuous as a little bump of the tires between two cyclists. Death is very, very rare but that’s not the point. The point is that it happens and if there’s a noob in the group who can’t even ride in a straight line well, the chances of an accident go up exponentially. This is all that matters and it transcends the emotional, ‘let’s feel sorry for the poor noob because I felt a certain way as a noob and it didn’t feel nice to feel that way – and I never quite got over feeling that way so let us apply those emotions to this situation’.
This really gets to another hotly contested debate: Golf is learned on the golf course. Slow play must be tolerated by noobs they say. After all, they’re learning. Nonsense! The game is learned at the driving range, it’s played on the course. If you cannot play the game you have no business on a golf course. Why? Because nobody wants to wait on your slow ass, and if you disagree it’s because you’re selfish and self centered (but I forgive you).
Now add the element of bodily harm and we’ve got a discussion.
So here’s the difference between the right way and the wrong way to prepare for a club ride because the rest is just fodder for discussion. First, what doesn’t matter: The type and year of your bike and the cost of your cycling shorts and jersey.
Let’s start with the improper way:
Buy a bike, clip in and out of the pedals twice, ride it a couple of times and show up to the advanced local club ride and let them teach you how to ride in a pace line at 23 mph!!! Woohoo!!!
The proper way: Learn to ride in a straight line first. To do this, ride alongside the line on the (PROPER!) side of the road. Get to a point where you can do this almost subconsciously, without looking at the line. Get to a point where you can, subconsciously again, clip in and out of your pedals. Put in a couple of thousand solo miles then ask your local bike shop which ride you’d be best suited for based on your average pace – and then pick up a map of the ride so you won’t have to worry if you get dropped.
While you’re out there, zig-zagging, while it may be “fun”, is generally frowned upon. Remember your training, young apprentice.
Now, where cycling in a pace line differs from golf is in the old adage, “if you can’t play good, look good”. You can be entirely decked out in perfectly matched kit, helmet, glasses and have a stellar bike (much as this fella was hooked up) but if you ride that awesome steed… If you ride that thing like you would a mechanical bull, you’ll be dangerous and nobody with sense will let you get close. You’ll be ostracized, have your petty feelings hurt and it will be your own fault.
Now, if you’re riding in a slow no-drop ride, things are a bit more laid back and you’ll have some space to cut your teeth as the saying goes.
So, it’s personal experience time… I rode a road bike for six months and could maintain an arrow straight 20 mph average solo before I even thought about riding in a group. I studied up best I could on the web and I talked to my LBS owner about it before I finally went out… And I still got dropped after 8 miles… Which brings me to my final point. Get a map or a freaking GPS if you want to ride with the big dogs right off the bat and you’re new. There’s a good chance you’ll need it. OR if you can’t keep up, drop with another rider and plan on hanging with them.
Finally, if you’re new to pace lines, the pros make 34 mph look easy. It’s not. That’s is blazingly fast. 23 – 25 is really hard. Pick the right group to ride with. Drafting helps but you had better be able to get within 3 mph solo of the group average or you’re hit… And the advanced group is no place to learn to pedal a road bike.
Riding in NYC is dangerous. Full stop. I am an advocate of making it safer, but unless NYC has a bicycle transportation system like the Dutch, it will always be dangerous. I had two close run-ins again on my commute earlier in the week. One involved a bus (doesn’t it always?) where a bus passed me on the left and then pulled in front of me to let off/pick up passengers, trapping me against the curb. After slamming on the brakes to come to a stop before I hit both the bus and the curb, I then have to put walk my bike up on to the sidewalk, else the bus will run me over when it pulls away. When I ride in the city, I am hyper-aware of my surroundings. As I have said before, when you bike here, you have to leave your front door with the assumption…
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