Three years ago, on my very first day at the club ride, the advanced club ride I should add*, a person I’d never met approached me long before much of the club had gotten there. He said that he missed running because running was a lot more social… Now, I may have been a noob back then – heck, to say I was wet behind the green horns would be an understatement – but I’d read up on cycling in a group in preparation for that ride and it had been touted in everything I read as one of the most social of all forms of exercise, certainly more so than running which is much more pace-defined and exclusive (the faster one runs, the harder it is to run slower to be social and vice-versa). I asked the fellow what his average pace was (mine, solo at the time was 20 mph). He answered, “16 mph and they just never wait for us slower guys”. A friend of mine refers to people like this as hostage takers. “I expect someone to hang back with me so I can get my workout and feel like I have a friend, even if that means they don’t get the workout they were looking for”.
I explained that perhaps he was at the wrong ride, that it’s not surprising the advanced group doesn’t wait for anyone – it’s my job to keep up… He rolled away, miffed. He was dropped a mile down the road. I was dropped seven miles later. He never came back, I was hooked.
Funny thing, that.
I’ve learned a thing or two since then. Not much but probably enough to be dangerous. Over time I’ve come to understand just how important riding a bike well is to a group.
I’ve written about another guy I call (not affectionately) “TT Guy”. The dude can bust up a good group inside of a mile. He’s a nice enough guy, he’s just really not good on a bike – then add to that, he’s riding a TT bike. The problem here is that, as much as I’d like to say, “Look dude, you ride like ass. Take a couple of months to learn how to ride in a straight line and come back… With a road bike.”, I just can’t get to that place in my melon where I can choose big-boy words to say it kindly.
TT Guy sucks the fun out of a group, and he will suffer for his poor riding by being dropped at every opportunity and he will be excluded from every invite only ride that we put on. So this post will get into depth on how not to be that person.
1. Job number one is ride in a straight line. You must be able to ride a straight line, even in windy conditions. You won’t have to be perfect, but wild moves to the left and right of more than a foot or two are simply intolerable and dangerous.
2. Job number two is to know thy place in the group. If you ever have to respond, “But I like riding here [in this position in the pace line – usually in the middle of a double pace line].” You. Are. Wrong. You do not dictate to the group where you will ride. You take your proper place in the pace line and hold your line. Period. You get a better draft, riding in between the two lines, yes. But you absolutely screw everyone behind you. They have to eat wind to ride behind you and believe me, you’ll win no friends making them work harder for the unenviable position of riding behind you.
3. Control your speed. Being in the right gear is a necessity. Too hard a gear or too easy a gear will mean that you can’t react properly to surges in the group. This leads to gaps and others having to work harder to make up for your inability to hold the group together. Again, not the best way to win friends to continually make the group work harder than they should have to just to put up with your existence.
4. If you have a tough time holding a good line, if you don’t quite know how everything works or where you fit in, your place is at the back of the group, where you’ll limit the damage you can do. Swallow your pride and stay back there until such a time as you have mastered numbers 1-3.
A cycling pace line is a very funny thing, it’s actually a testament to why Bernie Sanders and the 30% of Democrats who support him (an alarming number indeed) and Socialism suck so much… When everyone knows their place and does their job in a pace line, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. It looks choreographed, even. Everything is efficient and the group rolls down the road much faster than any two or three guys could do on their own. However, as soon as you throw someone in there with an ego who, even though he thinks he’s doing well, screws up the choreography, the pace line falls apart and disintegrates into small pockets of riders. You end up with pockets of fast cyclists getting stuck with slower cyclists who didn’t make the gap to the lead group and those pockets have a tough time working together… Then, the unlucky pocket that gets the poor cyclist has to struggle all the way back, working extra hard because that one hitch in the giddyup makes it so nobody can work as a team. This is Socialism – and exactly why it sucks so bad.
*If you’re getting tired of reading “the advanced club ride” in my posts, I sincerely apologize. Unfortunately, every time I’ve failed to mention this in a post (and sometimes even when I do), I get a no-drop complaining about how I/we should be more like their no-drop ride and Shepherd everyone along like the sweet wonderful sheep they are… Suffice it to say, if I wanted that I’d have joined a knitting club.