Guest Article: Get it together

photo: Tim De Waele

It is my great pleasure to introduce this guest article, penned by my long time friend @Rob. I’ve know the lad since we were both in short pants. We both discovered cycling as something more serious than transportation at the same impressionable age. For Rob, his discipline gained from martial arts, his fearlessness on the bike and his innate enjoyment of the pain cave made for a potent Pot Belge* of a bike racer. His cycling career progressed up through the categories, high enough to see the rear wheel of Steve Bauer and throw his bike alongside Davis Phinney.

He has taught me many bike handling skills, including the pleasure of riding shoulder against shoulder in a casually deliberate manner, a skill of mine sadly lost through lack of group riding. Some may even have the pleasure of riding with him at the 200 on 100 Cogal this summer.

Yours in Cycling,
Gianni

The Worlds are long over, summer up here is a distant memory and now it is that bitter time of year where the life of a seasonal cyclist descends to the third or fourth level of trainer/spinning hell.

While the late fall kilometers are still fresh in the little gray cells, I would like to remonstrate my fellow riding companions. No names will be used. Many I do not know, many deserve no criticism. I am the first to acknowledge that cycling is not intuitive. One can ride for years, be an animal, comfortable at 29kph for many, many kilometers and still do things wrong – like be in such a bad position on your bike you can never go faster than 29kph.

So what am I exorcised about? I speak of good riding habits or put another way, the Art of the Bicycle. I was taught it by others who showed me and sometimes explained to me but more often I saw that this was the way to do it and only later did the reason and logic become apparent.

One is told, “don’t overlap wheels.” It’s simple- you the overlapper, will find yourself face down as the overlapped happily disappears in the distance never having felt a thing, wondering why it got so quiet behind. You can overlap and sometimes I do -but usually on the gutter side of the road and I’m always ready to bail right into the gutter or deal with my wheel connecting and I’m ready to throw my weight left on the disconnect.

If you have any doubt about what I am talking about or if you are not comfortable riding 2 inches from the gutter or edge of the road and are not comfortable looking 2 -3 bike lengths ahead as you keep your line while doing this, then do not try this at home. Do Not Overlap.

I was not a pro. I am not an expert. I have a long history on the bike and these things are just the foundations of good riding. How do you explain, “keep your line,” “stay close,”  “be smooth?”  These are the things that all my companions in the summer pace lines should know. Most of them are riding strong and well but there are subtleties that a few are missing.

Eddy, Fast Freddie, hell, even Sean in Ireland with no tracks (I don’t think?) would have learned these things before puberty. I do not blame my paceline friends, they have very little reference. There are so few role models, clubs, tracks, and training races, that they are not at fault. In fact most of them deserve huge praise for being out there at all. I had it easy- I was introduced to a 3 time Olympian and he rode morning training rides with me for the better part of two summers. Tuesday and Thursday training races and later group rides with teammates were constant practice.

If I have any point to make here it is that although I was brought along by others, I still trained myself to be smooth, ride close and keep a straight line. So next time you are in an informal paceline and you’re having trouble with those skills, go home and practice them. If you see the kid/adult next to you in a 2 up paceline who isn’t comfortable and is hanging out in the middle of the road, let the rider know they want to get comfortable next to you, shoulder to shoulder. Perhaps you explain as you ride, that if your shoulders and forearms are touching, it’s OK because that way your pedals or handle bars won’t get tangled, which really would suck.

Learn to ride between the white line and the edge of the road (4-6 inches – easy) better yet- learn to ride on the white line – for miles, casually without effort, because if you have to try, you are still not there. Do you really have a round pedal stroke? No, really? Can you stay smooth as you accelerate? Do you know how to look through the legs, under or around those in front, to be aware of the road even before the guy in front of you is? Can you sprint and look down and back between your legs to see who is coming up on you (or if you’re Cav,  who you’re dropping) without changing your line so you do not get DQ’ed?

None of this is rocket science but it is, as I said above, the foundation of our sport. Many here are already one with the V. Pass it on to those guys in your Tuesday night rides who don’t yet see it. One last thing- my skills are still being polished and I do not think it ever stops, because riding has a habit of catching you out when you least expect it. To me that means I will always keep learning. Part of having experience is passing it along to those who do not have it so that. as they say, we can keep the rubber down and be safe.

*Again, a disclaimer from the Velominati Legal Department, the term “Pot Belge” is being used here as a descriptive noun only and in no way is a reflection of @Rob’s cycling career.

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64 Replies to “Guest Article: Get it together”

  1. @LA Dave
    Cheers on your memories, I too loved those mid week club races and at one point had one on Tuesday and one on Thursday in the Boston suburbs! My memories of my first ones are of getting dropped out the back after a few laps then next race more laps until finally being able to hang in for the whole thing thinking how will I ever be able to sprint?

  2. Nice one, Rob! Coming from such a seasoned rider it’s great to read that even you are still polishing your skills. That gives us neophytes a lot of inspiration.

    I’ve only been riding in groups for a few years but have done my best to make some really steady progress. I think I’ve gone from having no clue to being able to sit in comfortable, and safely, in most groups. I really, really worked at it for a few years though, watching everyone, asking for advice and help, and having a thick enough skin to deal with guys who yelled more than coached you along.

    I did a group ride this weekend that was full of unsteady, loopy riders. Plus, there were tons of attacks. I smiled to myself as I realized it was best to just sit at the back, go with any moves, but not even come close to mixing it up with these guys. Didn’t really want to get home on Christmas Eve with a missing tooth and a bent front wheel.

    It does amaze me how many people ride in groups & are completely unsafe. I think you owe it to the other riders to not join decent-paced rides until you’ve a) really upped your stamina and speed on your own through hours in the saddle b) worked on your handling on your own.

  3. @rob

    @Buck Rogers
    I raced in New England in the early 80″²s. Putney (it snowed once) VT was a great spring race back then, Stowe was another through Smugglers Notch – I think I saw god on that climb!
    @xyxax
    Hey very cool, thanks, thats the kind of roller racing I’m talkin about! I now live in down state NY so I will have to check those out if they have a masters category. Any other Velominati in the area in??

    Raced both of those races multiple times. Too funny. Suggs was a KILLER going up through the Notch. My all time max speed was descending the back side of Smuggs. I hit just under 100 kph in the pack, bumping elbows. Man, great memories!

  4. @xyxax

    @Rob

    Buck R – I love the rollers and the thing I miss the most from the day was winter roller racing – not on stationary bikes but your own fixed track bike on rollers side by side flat out 1 kilo!

    Were you here, in an article featured in today’s NYTimes?

    Nice! I will have to look around here and see if I cannot find one of those in San Antonio!

  5. @Rob
    I have to say, this article reinforces everything I thought I knew about you. The best athletes and people are those who never stop believing they have something to learn.

    Every time you throw your leg over a bike, remember two things: you can get very seriously hurt that day if you’re not paying attention, and you have a lot you can work on and get better at.

    Never, ever stop trying to get better. Great article, mate!

  6. @Rob

    When you are with a group of mixed talent pick the best wheel if you get stuck behind some one shaky get off as soon as is safe. Group rides are one of the best ways to push yourself and an A ride can be race like training so if you are in the B ride skills wise occasionally try the A ride and just sit in the back until you no longer get dropped!

    Yeah, my plan last summer was to ride more with the faster groups, as I thought that they’d have better bike handling skills and I’d have to really work at going faster to keep up. This summer was fairly busy for me though, so I only wound up riding with the club twice, so my plan never materialized.

  7. @Buck Rogers
    Drum-struck! The kreitlers have landed. Just in time for 10 weeks of paternity leave. Rides the length of a nap.

    @rob
    How far downstate are you? There are a couple of us way down here in New York’s cloaca.

  8. @xyxax

    @Buck Rogers
    Drum-struck! The kreitlers have landed. Just in time for 10 weeks of paternity leave. Rides the length of a nap.

    Nonsense and poppycock! Learn to ride the rollers without hands, then simply swaddle and rock the baby while you ride. I’m sure the wife won’t mind, and your rides will be able to last more than an hour or whatever.

  9. @xyxax
    During the 1998 World Cup, I engineered my son’s naps from two one-hour naps to a single two-hour nap at midday in order to catch a full game. It can be done. Enjoy parental leave!

  10. @mcsqueak
    Ha! And we’ll both be wearing bibs.

    @Steampunk
    I like it. Oddly enough, infants seem to find me convincing.
    However, instead of “parental leave” which sounds like I have to get a note from my Mom to go on vacation, I will prefer “Closing the Child-rearing Gap: A Sabbatical.”

    @Oli posts an iconic cycling photo in 3….2….1….

  11. @xyxax

    @mcsqueak
    Ha! And we’ll both be wearing bibs.

    And both infant and cyclist sometimes spit up while engaged in their respective activities. The similarities are striking.

  12. @Buck Rogers
    Yes on great memories of racing N.E.

    “>@xyxax

    @Buck Rogers
    Drum-struck! The kreitlers have landed. Just in time for 10 weeks of paternity leave. Rides the length of a nap.
    @rob
    How far downstate are you? There are a couple of us way down here in New York’s cloaca.

    Kreitlers and an infant at the same time – Priceless!

    I am 2 hours from the city.

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