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,
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.