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

Sep 03, 2015

An irresponsible piece of journalism about biking injuries and deaths was published yesterday by National Public Radio under the headline, As More Adults Pedal, Their Biking Injuries and Deaths Spike, Too. The story noted the fact that the number of people biking regularly has substantially increased over the past several years, while spotlighting a “striking” […]

Read More
Cargo
Aug 18, 2015

Thursday, September 3rd, Bike Law will launch its 2015 National Tour. For two weeks, Bob, Timmy, and I are loading up the cargo bikes in our Sprinter van and visiting (and picking up) Bike Law lawyers from Charleston to Denver and back. In each city, we are throwing a party, visiting shops, buying beer, joining […]

Read More
Aug 17, 2015

“There are two types of bicycle riders, those who have crashed and those who will crash.” I recall being told this when I first began cycling and time has proven it to be true. In my case, the crashes have been numerous. As my dad has pointed out, I have a need for doing everything […]

Read More
Aug 12, 2015

So a driver just cut you off, flipped you off, or otherwise harassed you. It’s happened to all of us. I have had a blaring horn scare me and nearly cause me to crash. I would have loved to pull the minivan driver from his seat and give him a piece of my mind or […]

Read More
Aug 12, 2015

Bike Law Georgia has entered a strategic partnership with Georgia Bikes to be a Presenting Sponsor for the 6th Annual Georgia Bike Summit in November 2015.   The Bike Summit will be in Milledgeville and starts with a First Friday Street party, followed by a day of workshops, discussion and speakers all revolving about ways to […]

Read More
Aug 06, 2015

To horseshoes and hand grenades I would add bicycling in traffic to the list of activities in which close may be enough to do damage. While riding a bike, coming close to physical contact with a vehicle, i.e. a car door, may be enough to cause a crash and serious injury. In a video making […]

Read More
Aug 06, 2015

What happens if you are injured after being hit by a car on your bike? In Ontario, a cyclist can claim what are known as no-fault accident benefits and he or she is also entitled to pursue a potential legal action against the negligent driver. Many individuals think that no-fault means they cannot sue. That […]

Read More
Aug 05, 2015

We (Bruce Hagen and Ken Rosskopf) met with a group of Atlanta-area bicycle commuters recently at an event called “Two Wheel Tuesday.”   The questions that came up were great, and are ones we get a lot.  We decided to write them down and maintain a regularly updated list of FAQs. Q: A car makes […]

Read More
Jul 30, 2015

This week, a Kansas Jury rendered a verdict in a criminal case that should give cyclists great reason for concern. The Johnson County District attorney charged and prosecuted Paul Hanley of Olathe, Kansas with Aggravated Battery, a felony, following a car bicycle collision last fall near Heritage Park. The cyclist (my client) was riding alone and lawfully using […]

Read More
Jul 28, 2015

When the Beatles were in the studio recording what has gone down in music history as “the most important rock & roll album ever made,” Paul McCartney, working on one of his songs, sang “it’s getting better all the time”… to which John Lennon replied “it couldn’t get no worse.” Bicycling advocacy is like that. […]

Read More
Jul 17, 2015

There is an old saying in journalism, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” The legal profession is no stranger to this standard of diligence. You very well might get every lawyer to admit his or her favorite word is “allegedly.” Take the first policy I learned when clerking for Freeman Kevenides […]

Read More
Jul 15, 2015

CBS is reporting that a bicyclist was killed in Des Plaines last night by a hit-and-run driver.  Apparently, the driver was a United Airlines employee driving a company SUV.  At approximately 9:40pm the SUV, allegedly driven by United Airlines worker Daniel Wehr struck a bicyclist, 25 year old Jose Gomez of Des Plaines.  The collision […]

Read More
Load More