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Why the Group Ride is the Center of the Cycling Lifestyle

If you had to pick just one aspect of cycling that most accurately characterized and encompassed the cycling (specifically the roadie) lifestyle, what would it be? This was the debate around the table at a popular cycling magazine’s headquarters many years ago.

Red Kite Prayer is my favorite cycling blog, hands down. Padraig (author’s pen name) was a major contributing writer to the iconic, cult favorite Belgium Knee Warmers blog and branched off on his own to pursue RKP as his own creative endeavor and tribute to the sport we love. And are we glad he did! I would argue that few know as much about this great sport we love than he does. Just a quick view of RKP tells you that this guy possesses a wealth of knowledge on almost every aspect of the sport. The writing is compelling and there’s always something new. There’s my best recommendation. It’s just great stuff. Subscribe.

Each Friday, Padraig sends the world his Friday Group Ride posts. Topics vary but last week’s caught my attention. He writes that many years ago he was in a staff meeting at a well-known cycling mag and the question of how best to depict the Roadie lifestyle came up. Racing? Commuting? Centuries? This was his conclusion:

My opinion is the same now as it was then: The center of the bullseye of the roadie lifestyle is the group ride.

Not only do I agree wholeheartedly, but I’ve written HERE, HERE, and HERE (among other places) about the innumerable benefits of riding in a group including the fact that Group Rides are the center of any local cycling scene. If you haven’t guessed by now, it’s the major theme of this blog. Regarding Group Rides, Padraig said it well:

As the day-in-day-out social nexus of the riding community anywhere I’ve ever lived, group rides do more for cyclists than provide a great way to train. They offer the community a valuable way for riders to get to know each other and form bonds beyond the sweat that drips off them. I could never live some place that had no group rides.

If you’re a regular on a Group Ride, of course you already know this to be true. If you’re not a regular on a ride, you should seriously consider getting out there and finding a ride that suits your aspirations. You’ll be happy you did – not only for the training but also for the benefits listed in the RKP post: community, insight, motivation, and inspiration.

Head over to RKP now to read Friday Group Ride #58 and follow the comment thread as people weigh in on their local Group Rides from around the world. And subscribe.

It’s late right now as I type. Gotta get to bed. Group Ride in the morning.

Ride on…

Sometimes a Solo Climb is Just What I Need

Old La Honda.jpg

There’s nothing like a long solo climb to clear the head after a busy week. I skipped out on the Spectrum Group Ride yesterday morning to spend some time with my family. I thought I might not get a ride in but my wife and son headed down for a nap in the afternoon. What to do? I could grab a few hours of down time, even nap, or head out for a solo spin. I chose spin.

It’s been a busy week at work and all my riding has been flat and fast with the local Group Rides so for yesterday I decided to head out to one of my favorite local climbs – Kings Mountain Road (map HERE). Spinning in an easy gear, it takes me a little under 30 minutes to cover just over 4 miles to the top.

I love riding this climb alone. It switchbacks through an old-growth Redwood forest with views of the San Francisco Bay and across to the East Bay. Sometimes when I ride solo on back country roads I’ll listen to music in one ear, but not today. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts and the steady cadence of pedaling and breathing, pedaling and breathing.

And, the trees! Before moving to NorCal, I had never spent any time among the Redwoods. They’re gigantic and breathtaking. As I pedaled around switchbacks, I found myself staring back down the road into the forest searching for the biggest trees. Mammoth and imposing, silent and stoic, possessing hundreds (maybe thousands) of years of history. I worked through my thoughts and got clarity on some issues that bad been eating at me during the week. It was therapy. Emotional, physical, even spiritual therapy.

I got to the summit and looked out over the Pacific some 10 miles below. I collected my thoughts and made a promise to myself to remember the clarity of mind I experienced while climbing when I got back down into the city.

The descent down Rt 84 is rip-roaring. I have to remind myself not to chase cars. I smiled a bit when a car at the top honked behind me before the first corner. Two turns later it was gone. It’s one of those descents where it’s much faster on 2 wheels than behind a wheel. While there’s time to think on a climb and the mind is free to wander, on a descent like this there’s nothing but the moment. All that matters is the moment. Head down, eyes up, corner ahead, scrub some speed, accelerate out…it takes all of 7 minutes to descend a 30 minute climb. And back to reality.

How about you? Is there a climb or road that you love to ride solo and just have time to think? I love Group Rides for reasons listed HERE but sometimes a solo climb is just what I need.

Ride on…

Philippe Gilbert Can’t Be Stopped at Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Philippe Gilbert is simply brilliant. He’s now won the past 4 major races in a row: Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. And he’s done it in a number of different ways – sheer power, tactics, even a sprint. If you’re unfamiliar with Gilbert, I did a short write up on the Amstel Gold HERE. Belgians, and Gilbert in particular, are on a tear this year.

When you’re done watching the final 4 minutes of the race posted in the video above, head on over to Red Kite Prayer to read a great write up on this monumental race.

Below, here’s a great insightful video from Leopard-Trek’s resident leg-breaker, Jens Voight, on what makes Liege-Bastogne-Liege unique and what Andy and Frank Schleck needed to do…turns out they were there in the end but maybe too much wasted energy led to their demise? Then again, they wouldn’t have been there together in the end if they hadn’t made the race like they did. Either way, according to Jens, it all comes down to taking a chance and being “brave.” No question the Schlecks rode bravely but in the end another man was simply stronger.

Ride on…

The AGR Daily Newspaper – April 25, 2011

Click Image to View the AGR Daily

Time to catch up on all the past weekend’s cycling news (including race results from Liege-Bastogne-Liege) with the AGR Daily Newspaper. The AGR Daily aggregates all the news from around the world of cycling, allowing you to view in one place. If this is your first time viewing the AGR Daily, you can read a brief explanation of how it works HERE. Just click on the above image to view the newspaper!

Ride on…

Rediscover the Little Kid in You

This is my son, Greyson, on his very first bike ride. He lasted as long as he could until he literally hit the wall.

Remember when you were a kid learning to ride a bike? For many of us, it was our first taste of adventure. At first, the bike was transportation. In 2nd Grade, I started riding my bike to school. Then, my brother and I started riding all over the place on the weekends. Not for training mind you (we were kids!), but for adventure. The bike was a ticket to a world beyond the 4 boring corners of our neighborhood. We would spend all day out in the sunshine riding bikes from one destination to another, basking in the freedom that a bike provided. This lasted for years.

Then I got my drivers license and the bike hung on the wall in the garage. There were new adventures to be had and I all but forgot about the bike. But somewhere in my 20′s, I rediscovered the adventure a bike can bring. Sure, now I have goals when I ride and usually have to hustle home as real-world adult responsibilities await. But somehow, riding a bike as an adult put me back in touch with that little kid that simply loved the wind in my face and the freedom and adventure of riding all over God’s creation on two wheels.

A childhood without a bicycle is a sailboat becalmed. A bicycle has the grace and style to give a billowing gaiety and a transcendent innocence to the fragile moments of childhood. In later years, those moments may be recalled for refuge, however evanescent, from the fits and frights of life. – James E. Starrs, The Noiseless Tenor (taken from “The Quotable Cyclist” by Bill Strickland)

Whatever your motivation for riding, you can’t help but benefit from reconnecting with your inner little kid. Remember that little you that longed for the weekend where you could throw your leg over a bike and ride off for hours on end? Try finding that little kid this weekend. See where he or she takes you.

Ride on…

8 Ways a Group Ride is Like “Fight Club” – Part 2

Yesterday, I posted Part One of 8 Ways a Group Ride is Like “Fight Club.” I encourage you to read the introduction to this series from yesterday’s post before launching into today’s. This post won’t make much sense otherwise. Here’s the continuation, Rules 6, 7, and 8, with adapted explanations for a Group Ride:

#6 – No shirts, no shoes.

  • There are some rules when it comes to basic, essential attire in a Group Ride. That’s just the way it is. You don’t need a $5,000 bike, a pair of $500 Assos bibs, or the hottest Italian shoes in order to fit in but don’t expect someone to let you in out of the wind if you show up in board shorts and running shoes. You know who I’ll think twice about making room for in a paceline? The dude that shows up on the huge Saturday ride in a skateboarding helmet and t-shirt. Why? ‘Cause if he hasn’t made the basic investment in clothes that work then he’s tipped his hand that he shouldn’t be out there. And he’s probably riding a bike with loose skewers. I don’t want to follow that squirrely guy around a 90 degree downhill corner at 30mph.

#7 – Fights will go on as long as they have to.

  • Some of the best advice I received about cycling came from a 55 year old friend who’s been racing for 40 years and owns multiple national and world masters championships. He told me to take a long-view of this cycling thing. There will be seasons of life where the miles and hours come freely. Other times, he told me, you have to scrap and fight to simply get out on the road a couple of times a week. A bad race or limited training time used to get me down. It would affect other parts of my life and leave me grumpy and pissed off. But you know when I’m most passionate about cycling? When it doesn’t own me and when it’s in its proper, prioritized place in my life. My 55 year old sensei told me that cycling tends to breed or bring out obsessive tendencies in us when it comes to getting the miles in but first things must come first, whatever that means in your life. Unless you’re riding the bike to pay the bills, time off the bike can actually be a good thing for regenerating your passion for riding. So take a long-view. The fight will go on. The road will still be there when you get back. Just make sure to get yourself back in the fight when the time’s right.
#8 – If this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.
  • This is initiation. If you’re headed out to your first big Group Ride, just know you will get dropped. I don’t mean your first Group Ride in a new area if you’ve been doing Group Rides for years in your old hometown. I mean, your very first Group Ride ever. Dropped. It’s ok. You’ll have aspirations, you’ll hang on as long as you can dangling off the back. But you won’t know where the ride twists and turns or where the regular surges go down. When I first started riding, it took me 2 months just to finish with the big Saturday ride and another 6 months before I started to feel comfortable in the pack. Six months! You may adjust more quickly. Just don’t beat yourself up if you can’t keep up for a few months. Keep at it. You’ll come around. You’ll get stronger. That’s why Group Rides are so awesome. A great truth about cycling that I’ve mentioned before: the best way to become a better, stronger rider is to ride with better, stronger riders. Just know that every single person in the Group Ride including the hot local pro and the old grizzly veteran had to start somewhere. And we all took our turns in those early days getting shelled and dropped. The best fighters at Fight Club have just been at it longer than most, persevering.

There you have it! Any reactions? Any insights to add? Would love to hear.

Ride on…

8 Ways a Group Ride is Like “Fight Club” – Part 1

There are all sorts of Group Rides out there. Some are recovery rides, some tempo spins, some hammerfests. My favorite Group Rides are like a boxing match. Not literally, mind you (though I’ve seen it happen). In the figurative sense, a great Group Ride should be great training. And great training is hard. Head down, pushing to hold the wheel in front, trying to coax another ounce of power from somewhere deep within. When it’s like a boxing match, someone hits out off the front and the group hangs on or chases. Then, there’s barely time to recover and BOOM someone else hits out. Over and over it goes. Barely hanging on. 101% of your maximum effort. Suffering. Too many cyclists ride too many miles in the comfortable, medium tempo zone. These kinds of boxing-match rides balanced with off-day recovery spins are the only way to get stronger. Easy recovery days should feel too easy. On your hard days of training, it should be really hard.

If you’ve seen the movie, “Fight Club” you know that the fights aren’t so much a boxing match as an all-out street brawl. Before you think I’m going all machismo here, let me point out that it’s not a movie about fighting for fighting’s sake. For the characters in the movie, fighting becomes therapy. As the story unfolds, fighting is a metaphor (I guess the screenwriter could have chosen some other backdrop like fly fishing or something but Ed Norton and Brad Pitt punching each other in a basement sell more tickets). I’m obviously not advocating fighting but I am saying that competitive, safe Group Rides are therapy and even a metaphor if you want to see it that way. My favorite Group Rides are like Fight Club.

Here are the 8 rules of Fight Club with adapted explanations for a Group Ride:

#1 – The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club.

  • It’s usually difficult to find information about Group Rides except for possibly a start location and departure time. Occasionally a bike shop website will list rides. Apart from start location and departure time, the listing might read “fast” or “challenging” or “B group” for a slower ride. But when it comes to what the ride is actually like (friendly, competitive, hardcore, etc), you don’t know what the ride is really like until you get out there and do it. Regulars or veteran riders might be able to give you a few insights or tips but experience is the best way to find out. Because outside of the Group, regular people don’t really talk about it. Not because it’s some big secret but because most of the world doesn’t really understand the allure anyway. Kinda like Fight Club. So get out there.
#2 – The second rule of Fight Club is, you DO NOT talk about Fight Club.
  • Ditto. See above.
#3 – If someone says stop, goes limp, taps out, the fight is over.
  • If someone goes down, usually the ride stops unless it’s one of those huge Saturday morning Group Rides. In that case, a small group of riders will stop, usually the friends of the fallen rider, but the rest of the ride will most likely continue. I’m not saying it’s right but watch what happens if there’s a crash on a ride with more than 50 people. If it happens towards the back, the front of the ride won’t even know what happened. However, on a morning ride (where the riders are usually more well-known to each other) or smaller Group Rides, when there’s a crash then the group stops. If it’s a really serious crash involving multiple riders or a car/truck/large stationary object, then the entire ride stops. Game over. Time to take care of a fallen comrade.

#4 – Two guys to a fight.

  • Group Rides like Fight Club are competitive. And it is possible to be competitive and safe at the same time. It just means that riders are pushing each other. The best kind of Group Ride is one where you’re in it with riders that are stronger than you. I’ll say it again because it bears repeating: Ride with riders that are stronger than you. That’s the only way to get stronger.

#5 – One fight at a time.

  • Get in the fight and do something. Don’t be a passenger. Go with the break. Chase down a break. Initiate a move. Pull through in the paceline. You’ll take your licks and you may even give a few. Maybe you’ll win a town-line sprint. Maybe you’ll get dropped. Either way, make sure you do something.  As long as you went to all the trouble to wake up early, kit up, and take precious time away from your family, at least make it worthwhile. Ride hard. Get in the fight.

That does it for Part 1. Part 2 is HERE.

Ride on…

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