Bodega to Russian River
Group Ride / Race
Nothing beats riding in a group to build your confidence, esteem and explosive power. In order to stay on with a group you must be strong, and more importantly, smart.
Group riding is unpredictable. If you’re in a group with members you’ve never ridden with, even more unpredictable.
Changes in intensity vary over the course. Everyone wants to demonstrate what they own in their bag of tricks. Climbers will push the pace on the hills, time trialers will open up on the flats, sprinters will slingshot to the front off of high speed drafts. Where you are in all of this activity is based on several factors, strength, smarts, strategy and your ability to modify on the roll!
I want to approach this discussion with the assumption that you are an amateur rider. The discussion with evolve from amateur to more advanced tactics as we progress through the workout.
I will be riding along with you, trying to keep up with the pace and working right alongside with you.
This particular course is pretty tough. The hill profile looks like a saw blade. Not only will we be constantly making changes to resistance because of the topography, we also have changes do to wind and accelerations and decelerations in the group. This workout will require a lot of focus and a lot of changes to your bike if you’re shifting, or to your spin bike if you’re twisting a knob. If you’re on a spin bike and the changes come to frequently, I would focus on modifying your cadence instead to increase or decrease your workload. Look for those climbs and when you see one coming, add resistance. If you’re on your bike, you have no excuse. Shift away and keep up!
Sometimes the efforts drive up considerably high and things just don’t look difficult on the screen. Be aware that we are trying to keep up and accelerations are due to the guys up front giving me what I requested. I began the ride with them and told them to “give me a challenge!”
If the intensities get too high, slow up the cadence, or, use a smaller gear. This is a really tough ride, don’t blow up at the start. We have 2 hours to go!
The first and most important thing to talk about when riding in groups is, safety. Nothing will end a ride faster than touching tires and crashing in a heap of flesh, bone and carbon fiber. Being safe involves several things:
1. Bike handling
How well do you know you and your bike? Many of us don’t actually take the time to practice bike handling skills, yet, this is critical to being safe, not only in a group, but, alone as well. The difference is, in a group, poor bike handling will not only potentially injure you, but, more importantly, take out several riders behind you. There are many mistakes that beginner riders make and I’m going to point them out, not to insult you, but, to help you stay alert to those things when you see other people doing them around you.
The squirrel : A squirrelly rider is generally unpredictable. He’ll see an obstacle and swerve to avoid it ignoring those around him. He won’t hold a straight line and is typically more interested in showing off than being predictable and communicative. This guy thinks mostly about himself, ignores the rules, traverses over the double yellow, runs stop lights, stands up in a group, or brakes without signaling. Don’t be a squirrel.
How slow can you ride? A great skill to learn is slow bike handling. How slow can you comfortably go and still be able to maneuver your bike? You should be able to, at some point, be able to come to a complete stop, then, reaccelerate into motion. While a trackstand (complete standstill) is a great skill to learn, you don’t need to be this adept to be considered a good bike handler. You should be able to go slow enough to navigate around cones spaced 1 bike length apart. This is easy enough to practice.
This is important to learn especially when a group comes to a stop sign or stop light. You don’t want to have to unclip and clip in each time you slow down. Both clipping in and out makes you squirrely. If you unclip, it should only be after coming to a complete stop. Don’t remove your feet from the pedals until the wheels have stopped. Don’t coast with one foot out of the pedal. I’ve seen more crashes involved when stopping, and starting up, than in any other time during the ride. Practice this in a safe area. Slow your bike and stop it. Remove your foot and place on ground.
Cornering: knowing your limits is important. How hard can you lean into a corner without the front wheel giving out and you crashing to the pavement face first? Nobody wants to really learn this limit, it’s a painful one. However, practicing cornering is a great skill. You should be able to transition from a left turn to a right turn smoothly. Abrupt turns cause instability and crashes. Practicing your turns safely requires a open safe place to practice, like a parking lot. If you push the limits, chances are, you will crash, so, wear your helmet and keep an eye out for oils, paint, debris and increasing temperature as all of these will create a loss in traction.
Descending: descending in a group can be hairy. Once again, best to practice this alone. The biggest reason for crashes during a descent is simply being uncomfortable and nervous. Tensing up and tightening muscles results in a front wheel wobble that can be very difficult to recover from. If you experience wheel wobble that goes out of control, you lose directional control and may drift off the road or into another rider. The best way to recover from a wheel wobble is to relax and remove pressure from your hands.
Braking: The other big problem with nervous descents is braking. If you brake a lot, someone behind you might tap your back wheel and go down. If there are others behind, the crash could be a big mess. Any time you are in a group ride, minimize braking to only when needed to avoid an emergency collision. Do not brake. Sit up, coast, go around the guy in front, but, try to stay off your brakes.
Transitioning from sitting to standing: I see collisions happen all of the time when the person up front goes from sitting to standing. The bike lurches backwards, slows and the rider behind hits. Practicing this is easy. Climb alone, and on the downward stroke, focus on applying the same power to that leg and while pushing down, stand up. What people do wrong is that they stand up on the leg that is already all the way down and the bike surges backwards.
Bumping: this is a more advanced technique and should only be practiced between two experienced cyclists. When you’re in a group, or a peloton, bumping is almost inevitable. You’ll bump shoulders, elbows, handlebars and wheels. If you are uncomfortable in this situation, there’s a good chance that you’ll crash and take someone out. If someone bumps your handlebars and you don’t know how to correct for it, down you’ll go. If you ride into a wheel in front and don’t know how to bump away from it, you’ll most likely crash and take out others behind you. I’m not going to tell you how to bump, however, you should know how to avoid it. Simply put, give yourself enough margin of space between yourself and other riders so that you can react to changes in their position. You don’t have to follow a wheel by 6″ to stay in the draft. Three feet is plenty. At higher speeds, you can effectively draft further behind. If you’re too far off the wheel in front and you piss off the guy behind, let him go around. Not only do you stay safe, but, you’ll have another body in front breaking more wind.
Hopping your bike: this is a handy little skill to have and is more for the advanced rider. You would never want to do this in a group unless you’re in the back. Often times the front of the group can see things that you cannot and all of a sudden you’re milliseconds away from hitting a rock or going over a pothole. You don’t have enough time to swerve, but, you can hop right over it. The goal of hopping is to get both the front and back wheel off the ground at the same time so that when you land, both the front and back wheel land at the same time. It’s a coordinated effort using your hands to pull up the bar and your feet to pull up the pedals at the same time. It’s tricky, so, practice with caution like in a grass field or something.
2. Communication is a must. If you are not actively communicating with the other cyclists, you are inviting danger for yourself and the group around. These are some of the common signals and phrases that you will hear.
Car back! – car approaching from behind
Rider up! There is a cyclist up front and you’re on a narrow road or path. Or, you are catching up to another cyclists. Hand signal. You point to the cyclist and swing your arm to behind your back.
Gravel! Glass! Gravel or glass on the road. Hand signal, fingers pointing down and the hand sweeps back and forth
Single file! Stay single file, road narrows
Stopping! Group is stopping – Hand points down, elbow at 90 degrees, fingers spread
Slowing! group is slowing – palm flat, elbow bent, palm pumps up and down
Other debris and objects like pot holes, point to the side of your bike that these conditions exist.
Rider off! If you are in a no drop ride and there is a rider who was pedaled off the back of the pack, do the guy a favor and tell the group to slow down.