Monday, March 21, 2011

Always practicing, always learning

It became pretty clear to me after this weekend that we need to continue the conversation we started last week regarding group ride etiquette, or more importantly, general technique and skills practices. But we need to take a bigger step back. This past weekend we had a really big group, in Omaha terms, and I got to thinking that most riders have probably never ridden in that big of a group on that kind of a ride.

We've all raced in big groups, or raced along during the Wednesday worlds rides, but how often do you roll out of town for a LSD (long slow distance) ride with 20+ people? That's how I started riding as an eager fourteen year old. Lucky for me I had some really great guys teaching me the ins and outs. Kevin Burke, Jeff Hansen, Dave Cech, Hajo Drees, these were my mentors in the peloton. When I started I was lucky to stay with the group until we hit the first real hills (about 6 miles), but each week, I could make it one hill further before getting dropped. In these early days the first thing I learned was how to ride in a double paceline. The riders didn't go on the attack at the first sight of open county road. Instead we practiced riding in a group for the first half of the ride, skills training. The double paceline is the basic building block for pretty much everything road cycle racing.

The double paceline is great for a couple reasons. First, with riders riding two abreast it cuts the length of the group in half making it easier for cars to pass. This weekend we had 6 or 8 guys riding two abreast up front but after that people were dropping into a single file line which really stretched the group out and made it difficult for cars to pass.

Second, it teaches you to maintain a steady tempo. This is very important because it will make you a safer rider. Abrupt accelerations or decelerations in a group are what causes a significant number of crashes. We had a couple close calls while I was at the back of the group this weekend, all caused by someone accelerating too fast and then approaching the rider in front too quickly. Learn to increase and decrease your speed gradually, this will help you in a race situation too when there is even less organization in the peloton.

Thirdly, it teaches you to ride confidently while in close proximity to others. The ability to ride just inches away from the rider next to you and in front of you will help you save energy and you'll need this skill even more during the next step of learning how to ride in a group. In addition, the double paceline is great for beginner riders that aren't the strongest. Because the group is not constantly rotating, it let's the newbies sit sheltered in the group for a longer period of time while the stronger riders can take long pulls at the front. Don't ever be afraid to go to the front and take a pull, just keep it short if you're unsure of your strength. If you're feeling strong, sit on the front a little longer (if you have a strong partner too). I always like the one hill pull. Pull to the top of the next hill and then file to the back.

That "next step" I mentioned above comes quickly. Eventually the ride pace will increase as the group size drops and you'll find yourself riding in the more technically challenging circular paceline or echelon if there is a crosswind. The tighter you ride in these formations the more energy you'll save.

It was pretty awesome having such a big group this weekend.  Hopefully we can keep it going and it gets safer and more fun each week.


Noah Marcus said...

Thanks for the primer(s). As one of those people with little group ride experience I'll take all the guidance I can get. I spent a lot of time on saturday near the back just watching what was going on around me and trying to figure out what everyone was doing and why they were doing it. With all of the potholes and crap in the road I still find riding inside a big group a bit unnerving.

Jer said...

Mark and Noah it was a bit unnerving riding in the back on Saturday. I did so b/c my legs were already thrashed and I didn't want to do a lot of work at the front.

That said sometimes at the back when the group isn't riding smoothly I was really wasting more energy with all the accelerations and decelerations going on ahead of me.

Personally I was confused why all of a sudden someone near the middle of the group started riding single file and it just continued backwards. With the cross wind it wasn't nearly as effecient as the double line.

I think the other thing to point out in that regard is if your a weaker rider and the dbl line is operating in a cross wind, take a position in the lineup that puts you opposite the wind. If you do rotate to the front then your still not going to face the full brunt of the wind.

Finally, one other thing if the group is large, calling out obstacles for riders at the bike is extremely important!

Noah Marcus said...

I bunny hopped/lightly rolled over some road kill on saturday that wasn't pointed out ahead of time. That freaked me out a bit.

Jer said...

yeah mark and Bernardo were riding to my right and both had to avoid some road kill...Bernardo almost lost it entirely but kept it upright.

MOD 2.0 said...

I always feel like I'm pointing out too much stuff. Roads are kinda bad right now. Problem is, very few people behind me point anything out.

Jer said...

I think the problem is making sure stuff gets repeated down the line.

Rich Pearson said...

We older riders should have spent more time helping the newbies with group riding techniques. An organized system makes it a lot easier especially on a windy day. Maybe next time. Also its ok for weaker riders to stay at the back just as long as you announce your intentions and don't let a gap open up; let the strong ones do the work in front then when they rotate to the back signal that they should go ahead of you. that way both strong and weak riders can ride together and have more fun.
Mark I like your diagrams