Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's the Point? (part 1)

  • Bikes don't have brake lights.
  • Pointing out a hole as you pass it means the rider behind you has already hit it.
  • It's not just Courtesy, it's Safety.
  • Give a Shout & Point it Out.
After a grueling Upstate Winter Bike League ride yesterday, I felt totally drained and exhausted.  The legs were feeling great at the start despite the chilly 28┬║ temperatures and icy breeze, but as the day wore on... my body crumpled, and my motivation collapsed.  - nearly totally bonked by the end.

To view complete details of yesterday's ride with comparisons, click here.

Of course, this was no Assault on Mt. Mitchell, and it was slower and flatter than the Assault on Marion... but it was certainly a test of willpower.  After 2.5 hours, we stopped at a store for food/drink.  At that point, I ate what I could (some of my food was a little too frozen to chew), drank what I could (snagging a left-over Coca-Cola from a buddy of mine), and stretched as much as I could in the time given.  Yet when we started back, my muscles burned so deeply that I thought my femurs were on fire!

Two hours later when we finally rolled into the parking lot... I was defeated.  Everyone else seemed okay (or at least better off than myself) - a complete reversal from 2 weeks ago, but I wondered to myself... "Why?  Why do we do this to ourselves, and then return - again and again? Why do we slay ourselves in the name of fun?"  Of course, this is a difficult question to answer... and one which will hopefully be answered through all of these posts (and I will say a little bit about that in Part 2, for sure).

Thankfully, we didn't have to contend with blustery 30+mph winds this time.  Two weeks ago was dangerous and stressful due to conditions.  But this ride was also incredibly stressful!  Again: Why?

What made this ride any more stressful or difficult than any of my other group rides?

One of the primary issues that we had yesterday was a lack of communication.

Just like The Assaults®, there were cyclists at nearly every level of experience participating.  There were novices, mid-pack racers, weekend warriors, and at the front (or in the mix) were Cat1/Pro racers!  A wide range of abilities, mixing together, coursing down the road at high speeds... is a recipe for danger.

And just like The Assaults, the pace was fast - far faster than the usual Wednesday night jaunt through the county that many of us are used to.  Even drafting while sitting-in pushed riders to their limits.  It's good practice to push oneself beyond a comfortable level - that's how we learn and grow.  However, health and safety must always come first (whether you are on a group ride or in the gym, etc.).

With so many on the edge of their abilities, mistakes are bound to happen.  People lose focus, make mistakes, overreact, and bad things follow.

It is incredibly important to communicate completely with our fellow riders.  Yesterday was not a race.  The Assaults are not races.  There is no prize at the finish, and there is no corporate sponsorship deal for crossing the line in front of anyone else.  This sport is one of the few civil sports left!  Good sportsmanship is still highly valued - there is no pride in defeating someone because they had a flat tire, a mechanical, or even a crash.  We've all seen it in the Tour de France: the Best wait for each other and help each other out.  (The consensus is: the handful who act selfishly, do not deserve the prizes they claim to have won.)

After the snow storm that blanketed the southeast a few weeks ago, our local roads were in severe disrepair.  Debris, broken and shredded pavement littered the roads, and we could never be sure where the next hazard would pop up.  For this reason, the people at the front must always be alert, watching for these tire-biting, wheel-smashing, cavernous potholes.  And, rather than swerving around them at the last second - the leaders should glide around them, taking the line of a smooth arc such that the riders behind can follow, and may also see the debris or hole well in advance.

Still, the most important visual communication is The Point.  (I will discuss aural communication later.)  When approaching a hole ...or gravel ...or a turn ...or glass ...or anything that can cause danger and chaos in the peloton:

"give a shout and point it out"

People in the front need to carve a path around while pointing (clearly, and not just a small hand gesture from the bars).  Perhaps more importantly: people in the middle must pass that information along!  True, some of us find ourselves chatting while riding along.  But that does not mean that we can't pass along a Point.

Again, it's not just courtesy, it's safety.

How many text while driving? How hard would it be to point out a hole before riding over/by it? 

"Wag of the Finger:"  If you are an elite athlete or top racer, please don't act "too cool" to help those around you.  Even the top European Pros point out road hazards during the races.  Nothing is accomplished by this self-centered and elitist behavior - the sport of cycling is better than that, so should you be.

As I hop down off of my soapbox for a moment and massage my aching quads and stiff shoulders, I think back to the ride... I was almost hit by a car because nobody relayed an important message about an upcoming turn.  I was almost taken down in a crash because a rider hit a pile of gravel which was never pointed out.  I was almost hit by a car when making a turn and no one clearly relayed the message of oncoming traffic.  More than one of my friends related stories of being cut-off due to people dodging potholes and debris - again not having been pointed out by the riders up front.  And more than a few riders got flat tires (some double flats) due to glass, sand, or holes in the road - none of which was ever pointed out!

  •  Certainly, there is the argument that to avoid all of these incidents, one should ride closer to the front.  Pelotons often sort themselves out, with the strongest and most experiences riders on the front, so much of the antics described occur near the rear.  This is something of a myth: often, it is the case that avid cyclists fight for a higher position (which causes issues in and of itself) and place themselves farther up than their skill allows because they feel unsafe near the back - something that communication could help alleviate.  I spent an equal amount of time at the front as near the back yesterday, and the problems were uniformly distributed.  One vehicle incident happened while I was near the front, one while I was nearer the back.

It was a stressful ride, and I am happy that next week I will be at the Great Escape for our first Official Training Ride for the Assaults:  Let it Roll!



Quick Note about Stress:   Admittedly, I showed up to the ride with work and personal stuff on my mind.  I knew I hadn't hydrated or eaten very well this week, and my sleep patterns had been off kilter for while.  So, going into the ride, my body and mind were already stressed.  This undoubtedly played into it all - but the other factors mentioned above exacerbated the strain to the point of total mental and physical exhaustion.


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