Being a part of a double pace-line hurtling down the road at speeds north of 30-mph (50 km/h) is no place for a nervous person. That’s an astounding 44 feet per second – almost 15 meters per second… but I know of nothing on earth more exhilarating that can be done with ones clothes on.
There once was a time I thought my performance in that scenario was based on a razor-thin scientific understanding of body and its fuel, of electrolytes, perfect hydration and a little dash of perfect timing. I would bring supplement drinks on long rides (Hammer Perpetuem was a favorite) and carefully plot out when I would eat relative to riding, loosely attempting to take in the perfect mix of carbs and protein exactly at the right time to achieve optimal results.
I’m twenty pounds heavier today, vastly faster (until we get into the hills – heh), and I’ve chucked all of that “science” to the curb as I rode by. Fastly.
Back then, call it 2015, our average pace on a Tuesday night was roughly 21-mph. A good night was 22. Today we’re regularly pushing 23 & 24-mph on the same course. Back then there had to be a certain amount of hiding, especially when we got to the hills, to maintain that pace. Today, I’m up front at will, driving the pace.
Part of this most excellent rise in performance can actually, believe it or not, be put to equipment. A decent set of deep-dish wheels will go a long way in helping someone to be faster. With lightweight, aero wheels, maintaining those blistering speeds is vastly easier than the old “slightly aero” alloy wheels – the gains are upwards of 20 to 40 watts. This gain is inarguable – the only question is how far one should go. In a wind tunnel, we go with 80 mm wheels. In the real world 38 to 50 mm wheels are the cat’s pajamas – because we have to deal with crosswind as well.
Another advantage is my weight. I roll on relatively fast roads with little “up”. I don’t need to be all light and skinny. Having a little bit of blubber means having an vast power source readily available to burn through. I simply don’t bonk like I once did because I’ve got plenty of reserves.
All of that is “marginal gains”, though. Let’s look at what’s really important.
I’ve got the lightweight bike (16 pounds) with the aero wheels (50 mm) and the sleek setup. I’ve got everything a cyclist could want in a race bike. That’s all really great stuff, but it pales in comparison to what really matters; I’m fast because I know I am. When it comes down to putting the watts to the pedals, I know right down to my baby toes that I can hang with my gang. There is no amount of marginal gain that can top confidence – the difference between walking the path and cycling on it.
And the only way to get and build confidence is to get one’s butt out on the road and earn it.