Saturday, 7 April 2012

red light racing

I’m a social person, and a bike racer. I like talking to other people and I like to ride my bike with other peopleThis means that I pay money, pin on a number and compete in races where I stand the chance of winning money.
I like to combine the former and the latter by going on so called “group” rides. Call it what you will, weekend worlds, Milano san landfill, the Wednesday ride etc etc. This week I’ve done; the Tuesday morning ride, Wednesday pendeleton ride, Thursday night worlds and the Saturday ride, 4 out of 7 days I ride with a group. It’s a great way to add intensity, and, if you ride a few hours beforehand, it simulates a race. And it’s free. Everyone knows that you train harder with competition and that the best way to get strong is to ride with guys who are strong. The combination of great training, the chance to catch up with all your friends, and the extra element of motivation that a group gives makes training in a group a key part of most cyclists’ training plans.
It has come to my attention that it is rare if not impossible to win any money on these rides. I have never noticed marshals on the course and, last I checked you didn’t have to prove your competency before entering. So they’re rides then. Not races.
This morning I went to a group ride in San Diego. The purpose of said ride is for a group of people to meet up and get a good hard ride in, be home before lunch and to enjoy the sunshine and companionship. Nobody remembers who wins, nobody cares. There are no prizes, everybody respects the guys who pull on the front, who ride away on the hills and who kick it in the sprint. But everybody knows there are parts when you ride hard and parts where the group stays together. Apart from a couple of “elite” individuals apparently.
Now I have no problem with people attacking on group rides, by all means animate. But I have a massive issue with people “attacking” through red lights. If you’re not strong enough to ride away then sit on the front of the group and try to get stronger. If everyone else stops, in order not to get squashed, and you “attack” you are not attacking, you’re illustrating that you’re either A) stupid or B) so unaware of the rules of the road that you have no business being on a bicycle. Likewise the “lateral jump”. Attacking on the wrong side of the road is a great tactic in races, where the roads are closed and the police move parked cars. If you’re not good enough to do races where there is a police escort and closed roads, you’re not good enough to need to attack on the wrong side of the road either.
On today’s particular group ride a couple of the local cat ¾ guys decided it would be a good idea to attack before half the group had even joined the ride and run a series of red lights. I’m sure that Contador does this all the time on his training rides, it’s the way a classy champion conducts themselves. We chased down said individuals in between said lights (see my point above, if you’re not strong enough, being stupid enough doesn’t help). The scenario kept repeating until one individual who doesn’t normally survive the whole ride with the group started to suffer and, rather than sliding backwards with grace, decided to move up as the group slowed for an intersection and then, from his position at the front, plow half the group into an enormous pothole. Thank you sir.
The resulting pothole impact broke the right shifter on my bike. I chased down the group in my 53x25 and proceeded to let the aforementioned rider know that it was unacceptable to cause potential crashes, and even less acceptable to ride away once you have done so. He decided his best bet in this situation was to turn off. Classy. 10 miles in one gear later I came to a shop, they told me the shifter was broken and couldn’t be fixed, a new one would cost more than I have in my bank account (quite a lot more, to be honest a new downtube shifter would cost more than I have in my account). Fortunately I was only 15 miles from Velohangar, so after 25 miles of cross chaining, I rolled into the hangar about ready to weep.
I’ve enthused about the hangar before but there really is something to be said for someone who does what they do well. Gordon took a look at the issue, assessed it and was able to isolate the problem to between the shifter and the adjustor (the adjustor still moved the deraillieur) he then removed the bar tape, identified a break in the cable and replaced it. 5 minutes, done. That really IS classy.

I recall being on a group ride once where a group attacked as a light went orange, and half the ride followed them. i sat up and thought to myself that i was going to miss the intensity, all the fast guys were ahead of me and my workout wouldn't be the same. I was upset but also knew it was the right thing to do. I looked to my left and right to see who i'd now be riding with. To my surprise everyone i respected on that ride was around me, having stopped at the light. two world champions, a top 10 finisher at the tour, several domestic pros and a few guys who are a big deal on the local scene. again this WAS classy. nobody there had to prove anything to anyone by "winning" a ride and risking their life in the process.

So, in summary. If you’re going on a group ride:
· Know where the group rides hard and splits up and where it stays together. Generally most rides do not “rail” through busy urban areas
· NEVER run a red light, it’s one thing to roll a stop sign at a low speed but there is never aplace for riding at full speed through a light clearly indicating that doing so is unsafe. As illustrated by the incident in SF this weekend it’s stupid and it makes cyclists look bad. Despite what you hear, the jersey in the tour de france is for the king of the mountains, not the dude who runs the most red lights.
· If you want to work hard, go on the front
· If you can’t hold the wheel, try to depart out the back without taking anyone else out of the draft. Use the last part of your reserves to pull alongside the rider in front, leading the rider behind onto his wheel. Then move back. In a race, armslings are ok, on a group ride they aren’t
· Always treat everyone else like an unknown quantity, this is, after all, category 6 bicycle racing
· Give carbon wheels a wide berth, if you need 1200g tubs to keep up, you’re doing it wrong.
· If you cause a stack, stop, and say sorry. That’s all people ask of you. They wont expect you to pay bills, just to acknowledge that they, or their bikes are hurt and that you would rather that wasn’t the case
· Listen to the old guys, if they’re keeping up and they’re nt getting any younger it’s because they HAVE got smarter. They know what to do.

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