If you know a newbie aspiring pace line rider, please pass this on to them… For all of our sake.
It’s a rare day that I see a bad cyclist riding with us on the advanced ride. Most noobs simply can’t keep up with the pace so we usually have a fairly legitimate crowd on Tuesday nights. This was not the case last night, and nothing rattles a good group more than a shaky rider. He was so bad that one of the otherwise reserved riders mentioned something to me about it as the kid fell back after a pull that lasted entirely too long at about 23 mph. Technically it was more like 23 to 25 to 22 to 21 to 23 to 20… You get the idea The poor guy behind him was on his brakes constantly while I managed to stay far enough back to absorb a lot of the back and forth. In addition, once the kid started running out of gas, instead of falling back to rest, he tried to stay up front even though his counterpart (we run a double pace line) had fallen to the back. That’s when the mistakes started. From where I was it looked like he shifted two gears down two gears instead of one so all of a sudden he couldn’t spin his feet fast enough to keep the pace up so he slowed and then freaked and his bike started shaking as he tried to regain composure. Ideally he’d have been in the back resting up a half mile before all of this happened. He was so bad that I actually said something to him when I got back by him.
If you’re a noob, as I was not long ago, you absolutely want to ride with a group that is either faster than you or that you can just barely keep up with… It’s going to make you a faster rider, but when people tire out, even experienced riders, mistakes happen. For instance, a friend of mine had his rear wheel taco’d when a fairly experienced rider, who had been riding with us all day, cramped up and ran into his wheel while we were stopped in a rest station parking lot. The other day after 58 fast miles, pulling slowly into another rest station, a very experienced cyclist who appeared quite gassed bent my rear wheel up pretty good when he accidentally got his wheel stuck in a crack in a sidewalk and fell towards his clipped in foot. He fell into my wheel and knocked me over into a ditch. Fortunately my wheel wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t continue – I just had to release the brake lever about half way to get the wheel to spin freely.
So here’s a simple list of noob mistakes that get the group in trouble:
1. If you’re in a large organized group and you’re completely gassed, stay to the back and take advantage of the draft to recharge.
2. You want to pull a little bit longer than you feel comfortable with because doing so will make you stronger – just keep it within reason.
3. Don’t pull so long that you become fidgety – your chances of hurting someone else go up exponentially.
4. Take a good long pull at the front but don’t over stay the welcome. If you gas yourself to a point you’re unstable you will be viewed as dangerous, not tough.
5. Keep your head up if you’re getting tired. One of the first things that will go will be your desire to keep your head up (I know this for a fact). You mustn’t ever take your eyes off of the group in front of you – you’ll end up running into somebody in front of you when the group makes a turn or stops for a light or stop sign.
6. Be extra careful in a parking lot or at a rest station. Get out of the way as soon as possible (I made this mistake the other day – I should have dismounted and moved faster).
7. Smooth the groove when you’re up front. Keep a constant speed on the flats, pedal your ass off downhill and be careful not to slow too much uphill.
8. Speaking of downhill – if you’re up front going down a hill, you will be pedaling for almost all you’re worth while the group behind will be coasting – the draft works that well.
9. Don’t sweat being a noob. I found getting my ego out of the equation the best policy here. The tough part, of course, is realizing that we’re not just talking about riding a bike – anyone can do that. We’re talking about riding a bike at more than 20 mph, with mere inches between cyclists – simply standing up at the wrong time to stretch your legs could send someone to the hospital.
Eran over at Velo Quips came out with the best, most influential post I’ve read in well over a year. I needed that shot in the arm – and the whole premise was a 20 year old kid telling me, a guy damn near 20 years his senior (and everyone else) that we’re doing the club ride wrong… And he’s right.
Here’s the part that changed my view of the club ride forever: “The reason why group rides CAN be an effective training tool is their similarity to race conditions. You have a bunch of “similarly” skilled guys going head to head for all the glory. What makes a group ride nice is the lack of consequences. It is training, you didn’t pay 40 bucks and drive 2 hours to be there and the outcome of your ride should really be irrelevant. While you might think that if Joe Blow beats you in the town line sprint your life will be over, but trust me it won’t!
The key thing to do is use other riders to push you to levels of training stress you could not achieve on your own. When you are on the front pull a little harder and a little longer than you think you should. Let’s say everyone is avoiding the front because the big climb is coming up. GOOD! Get on the front and drive it all the way there, and then when the climb comes, ATTACK!!! You will certainly get swallowed up and when you do, hold on for dear life!
Do everything that would seem silly in a race. Attack off the front, attack on top of a failed attack, ride too long on the front. Make sure when it gets easy for you, you make it hard again. If you are sitting on the back of the paceline and you are “chillin” go up the side and get on the front again. Who cares what the local team thinks of your lack of discipline, you are here to work hard! When everyone else sits on you for that sprint drive it hard to the line, don’t worry about people passing you, their glory doesn’t extend beyond strava and their cubicle! FITNESS WILL CONQUER ALL!
The group ride is your chance to work on all your weaknesses, blow yourself up a bit and still have a tiny peloton around you to keep you rolling and motivated! If you are really lucky you will find a group that you can just barely hang on to and they will drive you deeper than you have ever been before. If you choose between the slower group and being king or chewing on your handlebars only to get dropped from the faster group, pick the faster one! Next month you may be holding on longer and longer and longer!”
Well damn if I didn’t do that on Sunday for the Assenmacher 100 and I made it 83 miles with cat 2&3 racers and a bunch of Master’s as well. I tried it again today and I had a blast! Attacking off the front, chilling out when I pulled too hard, I did it all – just to blow up and ride back with a small group of friends, where I did the same again. I was giddy when I packed my bike up afterwards and I laughed my ass off about it. I can’t remember ever having so much fun on a Tuesday night ride.
Just like Eran suggested, it’s a group that I can’t hang with, but I’m making strides in getting there – and after reading that post, I’m having a blast doing it.
UPDATE: Steven Francisco has a companion piece (same blog) that I linked to above that I look at as required reading as well.