Lessons Learned

by klassman

A group ride is a funny thing. Before today, I’d never ridden with more than half a dozen people.  We’ve ridden hard and we’ve ridden socially, but we’ve never ridden as a cloud of energy.  As I write this evening, I have the feeling that I’ve been to the middle of swarming, churning mass that will change how I look at a bike.  I’ll certainly look at the professionals on television in a whole new light — and that is after riding a single day barely hanging on the back of a group that got spit out of the leading peloton as soon as the work got under way.

We left from Herndon within sight of the WO&D trail.  I was brought into the adventure by a guy named Brian who coordinates rides for Bonzai Sports.  The Bonzai crew consisted of about six to eight people.  We rolled out of the parking lot with some 60 or more riders from the Reston Bike Club.  I was most certainly the rookie.  What follows are observations on the day and they are certainly not fully formed.  I don’t mean to be unfair to anyone; while some of the behavior out there was unflattering it was all fascinating.

  1. The rules — the protocols and cues — of a peloton cannot be understood from outside of the peloton.
  2. The peloton is as rich of a sociological stew — of ego, testosterone, rule followers, rule breakers, kindness, indifference and all the rest — as anything I’ve seen.
  3. Men over the age of 50 who make a point of riding with the fastest group and wearing wool jerseys emblazoned with various famous Italian and French names from the mid-century, care an awful lot about appearances.
  4. Getting dropped can happen to anyone.  If you are me, it can happen many times on a single ride.
  5. After the first 20+ miles, if it feels like you have been 50 there is a good chance that you are going to get dropped as soon as the group leaves the first “rest stop.”
  6. While individuals can and will be kind — offering a gel, previewing the next turn or climb, and keeping smaller groups organized when the group splits — the peloton is cold, bloodless and unforgiving.
  7. Even if you take your turn at the front and in the wind, there will be people who are compelled to enforce the invisible law against having a new guy at the front.  This is usually done by edging him all the way to the back of the paceline.
  8. It is hard to stick to a nutrition plan or for that matter to eat anything at all if you are are constantly chasing the second-to-last person in the paceline.
  9. Wind is hard and big wind saps energy faster than a hill.  It is also more persistent.  Bastard wind.
  10. The triathletes in the bunch — from Bonzai as well as others — were a bit more laid back than the pure cyclists.  I’m not sure why and I got the distinct impression that the cyclists had a bit of disdain for the triathletes.  I found it mildly humorous but I’m sure it would wear on anyone over time.

I won’t be out there every Saturday but I’ll get back out there.  It was a gorgeous day and they way they made me work, I think those 115 miles may count a little extra.