On the Club Ride, Part Two
By Maynard Hershon
Ed note: This is part two of a two-part conversation between Maynard and his friend Corey Levenson. Last month they were talking about club rides and the advantages and disadvantages of participating in them.
MH: I figure many riders do group rides exclusively because they feel insecure riding alone. I suspect that many can’t do basic repairs like replacing a dropped chain or fixing a flat. They count on someone in the group offering mechanical help; thus they do not need to develop those skills for themselves. I feel sure that some have been riding for a decade and can’t fix a flat, either not at all or in half an hour.
Many would never ride with more experienced cyclists. They’re afraid they’ll embarrass themselves when they can’t get a wheel off their bike and fix a flat in a reasonable time — while 15 people fidget and watch. If you can fix a flat, you know how easy it is. If you don’t know how, think of how liberated you’d feel if you did know. Why, you could ride with anybody!
CL: Our club, the San Antonio Wheelman, has a New Rider Program; they teach folks how to fix flats and when to shift gears, etc. They probably don’t tell them how to form an echelon or that certain combinations of chainring and sprocket will accelerate chain wear. Hopefully, they tell them not to overlap wheels. I think that local clubs can make an effort to bring new riders up to speed, as it were, so the riders learn to be confident and self-sufficient. Does the club in Denver have an education program? Where are the bike Yodas?
MH: Bike Yodas? Because we’re all adults on these club rides, all people who have made our way in the world, we treat one another as equals. We are polite and respectful. No one wants to act superior or undertake sharing his or her cycling knowledge as if they’re an expert or Jedi or something. So there’s no format for teaching anyone anything. What riders know after three months in the saddle is what they’ll know after ten years.
For instance, no one reminds anyone that bicycles, unlike cars, do not have brake lights. Riders behind you can’t tell that you are stopping abruptly in the middle of the bike trail. No one suggests that holding out an arm, palm down, or yelling “stopping” might be appropriate alerts.
Few think to warn others (Rider up! Rider back!) of riders quietly passing the group, or of riders approaching on short line-of-sight, narrow bike trails that wind through the trees. No one suggests that instead of stopping on the bike trail, you might want to roll off the bike trail, so that riders don’t bunch up behind you, blocking the trail and causing close calls among those who weren’t paying strict attention.
And no one talks to the ride leaders about pace. The club stipulates average speeds for the various levels of rides, but often the suggested speed is somewhat unrealistic and absolutely (and surely purposely) un-athletic. Because of the club-mandated low average speeds, the ride leaders can spin along in the middle chain rings of their alpine triples, pedaling and coasting, pedaling and coasting.
If speeds were slightly higher, consistent pedaling in a moderately harder gear would mean a smoother, safer ride, not a nervous, irregularly spaced out line of what looks like stragglers, each wary of the herky-jerky pace of the rider immediately in front. I don’t mean to make a Fun-Intermediate club ride into a Tour de France stage, but a little bit of effort in the form of steady pedaling means a more confidence-inspiring group.
I feel sure that many club riders would disagree with my pace suggestion, insisting they’d be dropped and left on their own, but I don’t believe that would happen. A smoother, steadier ride demands less effort, not more. A steadier ride is emotionally soothing. It’s better for you. Trust me.
CL: We ride pacelines when it’s windy and we like to chat as we ride. Mostly we’re getting a little exercise and fresh air and not training for anything in particular. One of my favorites catchphrases is: start out slow and taper off. A few people complain that sometimes no one will wait for you on our club rides and you might get dropped. Yup, that happens. However, if you flat, folks will stop and keep you company until you get rolling again.
Not only do I not mind getting dropped, I expect it. It’s just a matter of time. The more fitness I have, the longer I can hang. Once I’m dropped, I don’t mind riding alone. Sometimes I’ll catch another straggler, sometimes someone will catch me. No biggie.
I will say that I’m nervous about riding in groups where I don’t know the other riders. I’m not sure I can trust them not to do something stupid. The last several times I’ve crashed, someone went down in front of me and I had nowhere to go.
MH: For our rides, I suggesting no drafting at all. That’s a cuss-word, drafting, on these rides, I’d say. If I were the ride leader or club coach, I’d suggest a steady pace, single file, one or two bike lengths between riders, just fast enough so each person has to pedal consistently. Let’s pedal for 60 seconds every minute, whattaya say? Isn’t that the idea?
If you coast for 20 seconds of every flat-road cycling minute, Coach Maynard would add, the slimming, life-enhancing or aerobic benefits you hope to gain from your riding are illusions. If you pedal and stop, pedal and stop, the rider behind you has to watch you every second to maintain a consistent gap. It’s exhausting.
You want to feel comfortable but exert some effort, I’d tell them. Keep your cyclometer number as steady as you can. Pedal lightly down gradual grades so you’re already pedaling when the road begins to rise. Shift early. Maintain your momentum. Your legs will thank you and following riders will thank you, even if they’re a bike length or so back. Someone may comment on how smooth and easy you are to follow.
Nice to get out on a Saturday morning in any case, huh? Nicer yet to practice smooth riding and develop good habits.
CL: Like you said, I’m happy that folks get out and ride. I wish I could ride more than I do. I manage about one ride a week after work and then one ride on the weekend. I know I’m not likely to get stronger this way, but I just like being outside spinning the cranks. The riding isn’t something I need to do to get somewhere. I enjoy it while I’m doing it and it makes me feel good afterward.
Maynard has been writing about cycling for the Bicycle Paper (and the Rivendell Reader) almost forever. He says he’ll keep doing it as long as he can get away with it. “I do it for the money,” the Denver-dweller says, but we think there must be something about cycling that interests him.