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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- Ditto. See above.
- 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.
The Noon Ride got a little chippy today as tempers flared. Essentially, the issues centered around basic Group Ride etiquette. Without going into too much detail about today’s ride in particular, there are some basic, unwritten yet clearly understood rules that apply to all Group Rides. That being said, we’re all competitive beings and sometimes the adrenaline gets going and riders take unnecessary risks. Hopefully not too many, too often as unnecessary risks put not only the offending rider in harms way but the rest of the group as well.
Riding bikes in fast moving groups has certain inherent risks but when individuals take unnecessary risks on a regular basis, this is where the group must step up and point out the offense. Here’s a short list of basic etiquette based on what I saw on the Noon Ride today. These rules should really go without saying but I’m still amazed when they’re not understood or flat out ignored.
Here’s an additional thought after the original post: I want to clarify that these points of etiquette have not been invented by the author. Actually, all of the posts on this blog having to do with Group Ride etiquette are simply collective wisdom that’s understood by most cyclists who frequent Group Rides of all sorts. In other words, my comments here are based not only on my personal thoughts and experience but also on what I heard expressed from other riders during the Noon Ride. If you disagree with any of the points of etiquette below (or any listed in previous posts), I would actually love to hear about it. This blog is open to all kinds of questions and comments are encouraged (see comment box below). I would ask that comments keep a generally positive tone. My purpose for writing this post is not to bash, judge, or call out anyone in particular but simply to re-emphasize that it’s up to the Group to keep things in line and safe. Furthermore, I’m also not claiming to be perfect! At one time or another in my riding life, I’ve violated different rules and etiquette. My hunch is that we all have at one time or another. When possible I try to own up to any of my offenses and apologize when necessary. When the air is clear, we can all get back to the business of having a great, safe ride.
- Riders should never blow through stop signs. That being said, it would be hypocritical to say that we never run stop signs. There are a few stop signs on this ride in particular that we roll through (the front riders calling out “all clear” or “car” whichever the case may be) and everyone knows which ones they are. For example, there’s one at a dead end right turn deep in the back roads with little traffic (I’ve never actually seen a car there). The stop signs I’m talking about are at busy intersections where the Group is clearly slowing and stopping for other traffic on the road.
- If sitting 20 wheels back when the group slows for a stop sign, it’s considered poor etiquette to fly up alongside the group and blow past the front riders in order to gain an advantage as the group accelerates slowly out of the stop .
- If a rider is in a paceline and finds themselves on the front, that rider must do work like everyone else. If a rider is in a break, everyone must work. If a rider isn’t strong enough to work in a paceline or in a break like everyone else up there, then that rider should sit in the bunch rather than upset the tempo on the front.
- If a rider wants to hang around on the front but isn’t strong enough to do an equal share of the work, there’s a simple solution: Ride more and get stronger.
- If a rider is on or near the front, it’s the duty of that rider (and others up there) to point out branches, soda cans, traffic cones, baby strollers, etc for the rest of the group. It’s not optional. It’s the responsibility of the leaders of the ride. The best Group Rides have trustworthy leaders.
- If the majority of the group has to slow for a car or other obstruction, it’s poor etiquette to attack. If the group splits because of an obstruction, it’s good etiquette to wait for everyone to safely pass before dropping the hammer again. The last riders to pass through the obstruction should give an “all here” call.
- Don’t get tactical. There aren’t any trophies, podium girls, or photogs waiting for us at the end. “I’ve got a teammate in the break” is not an excuse for not doing work. Which brings me to my final point…
- I’ve written HERE about what a Group Ride is and HERE about what a Group Ride isn’t. Bottom line, it’s not a race. It should be hard, competitive, and challenging but it’s not a race.
When these things happen, my personal feeling is that it’s up to the group to hold one another accountable to safety and basic etiquette. I’ve written previously HERE and in other posts about the character of Group Rides. The character of any Group Ride is defined over a long period of time by a well-known psychological concept called Group Think. This can be a either a really good or really annoying truth. No single rider defines the character of the ride, but rather it’s the collective consciousness of the group itself. And it’s this collective consciousness that needs to define and enforce safe parameters for a fun, challenging, competitive and safe ride.
The Noon Ride is a great ride with great group of riders – and it’s generally safe and very challenging. A few guys stepped up today and pointed out to offending riders where unnecessary risks where being taken and poor etiquette was being displayed. It usually comes down to the veterans and leaders of the ride to speak up. We’re all out there to have fun and get some good training after all.
Be respectful. Ride safe. Ride hard. Everyone wins.
This post is Part 5 in the series Anatomy of a GREAT Group Ride. I highly recommend that you read PART ONE, PART TWO, PART THREE, and PART FOUR (below) before launching into this final addition. Along the way, we’ve taken a detailed look at the different phases of a great Group Ride, starting with the Meet Up and ending with what you read below. So here goes, the wrap up to a GREAT Group Ride:
- The Roll-Back – The Roll Back happens after the Lead Out and Sprint where usually there’s a regrouping of the pack. This is an often over-looked aspect of any ride but I contend that it’s actually the most social aspect of any Group Ride. The ice has been broken. The riders have shared an experience. First, conversation focuses on the ride and the sprint. Tactics are discussed, close calls are dissected, and memories of similar rides come to mind. Then talk drifts towards the days activities, work, family, etc. It’s during the Roll Back that I get to know the folks that I’m riding with and catch up with old friends. This also happens at the Meet Up but if it’s an early ride I’m usually still just waking up when the ride departs. At the end, it’s a different story. Adrenaline from the ride wakens riders up and chatter is usually louder and more animated. We’ve had the best possible start to the day: a great ride.
- The Coffee – The ride’s come to an end and a GREAT Group Ride usually winds up at a great coffee shop. Cycling and coffee just go together. Try Googling “cycling and coffee” and you’ll get almost 20 million search results (at least I just did). Great coffee after a great ride is just right. After a Group Ride, I don’t always have the time to sit and chat as work and the day’s activities are bearing down. But when I do have the time, hanging around the coffee shop with other riders feels like a luxury. For those who are self-employed, set their own work schedules, or just have more time on their hands, conversations over coffee can go well into the morning. Along with the Roll-Back, if you’re looking to get to know your fellow riders, grabbing a cup o’ Joe or espresso after the ride is the best way to go.
- Character – Does the ride remain true to what it is? Is it meant to be a recovery ride or hammerfest? There’s nothing more annoying than waking up fresh with a desire to go hard and find out that someone decided that this particular morning we weren’t going to break 18mph. On the other hand, if I roll out to a Monday ride that’s well known as an easy spin because everyone’s usually recovering from a weekend of racing and a few riders skipped the races and decided to make our recovery ride a hammerfest, that’s my cue to find some other place to ride. A great, long-standing ride sticks to it’s character…or riders will go find another ride.
- Aesthetics – Finally, great aesthetics do matter. A Group Ride through the urban jungle may be all that’s available during the week but make sure to find a Group Ride that gets you out into the country at some point. The landscape of a ride, where the road takes you, across rolling fields, up a beautiful climb, adds to the adventure and sense that the bicycle is taking you somewhere. We all fell in love with the bicycle as children because it was this vehicle that allowed us to leave behind the 4 boring corners of our neighborhood and opened us up to a world of adventure. That feeling doesn’t have to go away just because we’re all grown up. The bike can still take you to beautiful, less traveled places that most people have never even seen.
Well, there it is! Hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Here are links to the series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. Is there anything I’ve missed? Anything else that should be included in what makes up a GREAT Group Ride? Thanks for reading.