02

Blog

The Lost Art of the Group Ride

Every so often, I’ll ride a recreational group ride. I love the camaraderie of cyclists, the talk, the last minute pumps of air, the clicking in, and the easy drifting out as a peloton. “I miss riding in a group,” I’ll think to myself.

The magic ends by mile 10. The group will surge, gap, and separate, only to regroup at every stop sign. I’ll hear fifteen repeated screams of “HOLE!” for every minor road imperfection. And then no mention of the actual hole. Some guy in front will set a PR for his 30 second pull. Wheels overlap, brakes are tapped, and some guy in the back will go across the yellow line and speed past the peloton for no apparent reason. A breakaway?!

I curse under my breath, remembering why I always ride with only a few friends. Doesn’t anyone else realize how dangerous this ride is? How bad it is for our reputation on the road? There are clear rules of ride etiquette, safety, and common sense. Does anyone here know the rules? Who is in charge?

But no one is in charge, and the chaotic group has no idea of how to ride together. As a bike accident lawyer, I get the complaints from irritated drivers, concerned police, controversy-seeking journalists, and injured cyclists. It needs to get better, but the obstacles are real:

First, everyone is an expert these days. The internet and a power meter do not replace 50,000 miles of experience, but try telling that to a fit forty year-old, new to cycling, on a $5000 bike. Or, god forbid, a triathlete. No one wants to be told what to do.

Second, the more experienced riders just want to drop the others and not be bothered. It is all about the workout, the ego boost, or riding with a subset of friends. But a group ride is neither a race nor cycling Darwinism. As riders get better, they seek to distinguish themselves by riding faster on more trendy bikes; but as riders get better they need to realize two things: 1) there is always someone faster, and 2) they have obligations as leaders. Cycling is not a never ending ladder, each step aspiring upwards, casting aspersions down. It is a club, and we should want to expand and improve our membership.

Third, different rides are advertised by average speed, but speed is only one part of the equation. This approach makes speed the sole metric for judging a cyclist, and creates the false impression that a fit rider is a good one. Almost anyone can be somewhat fast on a bike, but few learn to be elegant, graceful cyclists.

Fourth, riding a bike well requires technique training. Good swimmers, for example, constantly work on form and drills; so should cyclists. Anyone remember the C.O.N.I. Manual or Eddie Borysewicz’s book? They are out-of-print, but their traditional approach to bike technique should not be lost. More emphasis was given on fluid pedaling and bike handling.

Before the internet, before custom bikes, and before Lance, it was done better. Learning to ride was an apprenticeship. The goal was to become a member of the peloton, not merely a guy who is sort of fast on a bike. Membership was the point, not to be the local Cat. 5 champ. You were invited to go on group ride if you showed a interest and a willingness to learn. You were uninvited if you did not. You learned the skills from directly from the leader, who took an interest in riding next to you on your first rides (and not next to his friends, like better riders do today). Here is some of what you learned:

To take your cycling shorts off immediately after a ride.
To start with a humble bike, probably used.
To pull without surging.
To run rotating pace line drills and flick others through.
To form an echelon.
To ride through the top of a climb.
To hold your line in a corner.
To stand up smoothly and not throw your bike back.
To give the person ahead of you on a climb a little more room to stand up.
To respect the yellow line rule.
To point out significant road problems.
To brake less, especially in a pace line.
To follow the wheel in front and not overlap.

The ride leader and his lieutenants were serious about their roles, because the safety of the group depended on you, the weakest link. If you did not follow the rules, you were chastised. Harshly. If you did, you became a member of something spectacular. The Peloton.

Comments

Mar 25, 2015

Teamwork is the fuel that spins the cyclist’s wheels ever faster. The peloton will always be faster than a single rider. A break with numbers is more likely to succeed than a solo effort. And an individual time trial will never be as fast as a team time trial with each teammate contributing an equal […]

Read More
Mar 20, 2015

Bicyclists from across the country swarmed Washington D.C. last week to attend the 2015 National Bike Summit. At the event, dedicated bicycle advocates discussed the current state of affairs and the future of bicycling in the U.S. Also, this year’s summit marked the launch of a strategic partnership between Bike Law and the summit’s host, […]

Read More
Mar 06, 2015

Earlier this week we posted an article about bike groups and mentioned the Knight Foundation’s $600,000 commitment to improve and increase bicycling in Charlotte. Back in November, the Knight Foundation brought together about 60 of us who are passionate about bicycling in Charlotte. What happened was that: “Key themes emerged: Charlotte needs more cycling events […]

Read More
amybennett
Mar 05, 2015

Earlier this week, another state legislature voted in favor of a bill that will protect bicyclists from being clipped from behind by passing cars and trucks. The Wyoming bill dubbed HB-85 requires motorists to give bicyclists at least 3-feet of clearance when passing them on the road. The bill awaits Wyoming Governor Matt Mead’s signature, […]

Read More
Mar 02, 2015

A few nights ago I/Ann was the speaker for the Boone Area Cyclists’ annual meeting. It was amazing! But I knew that about the club before I went there. One of the things that is so impressive about the Boone Area Cyclists is that they seem to have equally enthusiastic contingents of commuters, roadies and mountain […]

Read More
Feb 23, 2015

Recently I was reminded of how meaningful riding my bike can be. Sometimes we get caught up in the competitive nature of the sport and look forward to riding faster and faster with newer and lighter bicycles equipped with all the bells and whistles we can afford. Yet, there are those who remain focused on […]

Read More
Feb 19, 2015

On one Tuesday each year, the streets are closed in New Orleans while parades roll. Mardi Gras Day showcases the krewes of Zulu and Rex, two of the oldest and most iconic parades, rolling down St. Charles Avenue. Not surprisingly, thick crowds turn out to watch Rex’s procession of hand-made floats (assembled this way since […]

Read More
Feb 10, 2015

As a lawyer representing injured cyclists and President of Team Evergreen Cycling, I attended the Colorado Bike Summit on February 9-10, 2015. This is a great networking event for all members of the cycling community that included members of the State and Local Government, Bicycle Shops, Bicycle Manufacturers, Bicycle Clothing Companies, Bicycle Event Planners, and […]

Read More
Jan 29, 2015

Colorado State Senator Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) has sponsored a bill in the Colorado Senate specifically authorizing the use of state lottery funds towards the construction of bicycle trails throughout the state. This bill specifically adds recreational bicycle trails as one of the enumerated outdoor recreational improvement categories for which state lottery funds may be spent. […]

Read More
Jan 28, 2015

In her August blog post Police & Cyclists, Ann Groninger described some of the problems faced by cyclists when police don’t understand or respect bicyclists’ legal rights. Because most police obtain no special training about bicycling, they share many of the same misconceptions and biases as the general public. So what can be done about […]

Read More
Jan 27, 2015

One frequent bike accident related question I get asked many times a year is “Should I submit a claim for restitution in the criminal case against the person that hit me?” Generally, my answer is “No.” When the person who caused your accident was cited for a traffic or criminal violation, it began a sequence […]

Read More
Jan 26, 2015

It is common knowledge that most bicycles are made in Taiwan or China these days. However, the craft of making bikes has seen a rebirth in Detroit. In the last several years, a number of small frame builders have opened their doors in Detroit, including Motorless City Bicycle Co., Detroit Bicycle Company, Shinola, and 313 […]

Read More
Load More