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 crash (not “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. 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 ona  group ride if you showed an 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

Biking After COVID 5
Ann Groninger May 28, 2020

What will biking after COVID be like? Before COVID, it seemed like there was a handful of people in my city who rode bikes to get places, and we all knew each other. We’ve always had a robust recreational road riding community of people who gather after work and on weekends to head out to […]

Read More
Bike Advocate
Bruce Hagen May 26, 2020

If you’ve ridden a bike anywhere in Atlanta, chances are you’ve met Atlanta bike advocate Angel Poventud.  If you’ve stopped for a post-ride beer, been to an important advocacy event, or to any major Atlanta gathering, chances are you have met Angel Poventud.   It may only seem that Angel is everywhere, but when you […]

Read More
Bicycle accident lawyer group riding in COVID
Kurt Holzer May 15, 2020

Idaho’s Governor Little has issued the State’s planned staged transition away from his Stay-at-Home health order.  Road cyclists continue to wonder how we should engage in group riding under COVID. As a bicycle accident lawyer who deals with the negative aspects of cycling, I have been thinking a lot about when and how to ride safely […]

Read More
Felix Mayer Cyclist killed by car. NO VRU law
Bruce Hagen Apr 30, 2020

On May 1, 2020, the City of Dunwoody’s new Vulnerable Road User (“VRU”) ordinance will take effect, the first such law to be enacted anywhere in the State of Georgia.  Hopefully neighboring municipalities like Sandy Springs, Roswell and Chamblee will follow suit, and more importantly, the State of Georgia.   VRU laws recognize and prioritize […]

Read More
Minnesota Cycling
Daniel Brazil Apr 23, 2020

On March 6, Minneapolis released a 252-page Transportation Action Plan. The plan’s ultimate goal is to expand transportation options for those walking, biking and taking public transit to get where they need to go.  Through this expansion, Minneapolis hopes to reduce the number of vehicles on the road, lowering greenhouse gas emissions. One of the […]

Read More
Bike to Work Corona
Daniel Brazil Apr 14, 2020

Not long ago, I published a post highlighting the great efforts being made by the co-chairs of the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition. One of the co-chairs, Andy Singer, has garnered attention not just for his work for the Coalition but for his policy-based cartoons.  I asked Andy if he’d oblige to another interview to highlight […]

Read More
Load More