Summoning the courage to suit up for your first group ride can be very difficult and when that first experience goes horribly wrong, it can be heartbreaking. But after hearing quite a few interesting stories over the past five years I can safely say that that rider always comes back! I don't know what it is about the group ride but there is something magical about it. In an effort to help you get out on the bike this spring and hopefully out on your first group ride, my team exergy teammates and I have put together a Peloton Initiation Series to share some of those humbling moments. We'll be putting out a story each week sharing our own embarrassing moments and I strongly recommend you share as well.
PS. Listening to this while to write this and it is blowing my mind! Can you say 20 minute interval.
Richmond, BC Sunday Group Ride: October 27th, 2002
I grew up in Vancouver, Canada and started riding my mountain bike for alpine skiing cross-training at fifteen. At seventeen I suddenly had a great urge to try road biking so after an unplanned trip to Hood River (during a wind-surfing day-off from ski camp at Mt. Hood), I had my first set of wheels. I couldn't believe how fast the slick tires were! Before I knew it I was sprinting past buses and ripping around town in a Primal racing jersey with flames on it. After a great autumn of training, I was feeling great on the bike so a high school buddy of mine decided to join me for the local Sunday group ride. My math teacher at the time (who is still a prominent figure in the Vancouver cycling community) also encouraged us to come out and ride so despite saddling up under an ominously dark ceiling of clouds, I was stoked to ride with real cyclists. The plan for the day consisted of a 40km loop around Richmond plus a 10km tail out to Iona Jetty, of course I neglected to account for the 24km commute to and from the meeting spot (total 73km).
Equipped with no rain fender, no hat, no gloves, no rain jacket and no food (but I did have leg warmers, booties and wood-working eye glasses!) I started in the middle of the thirty rider pack. As we navigated the bumpy industrial streets of Richmond's north side, road spray spit up into my face, covering my glasses and jersey. My right foot, covered by an extra layer of fabric after I'd clipped an old pair of wool socks into makeshift toe covers, suddenly acquired that puddle feeling as water sloshed around between downstrokes. A few seconds later, my left foot followed suit. Without a fender, the rain spray also covered my butt and after only a few minutes in the group I was soaked. I was told to stay off the front so I just focussed on keeping a safe distance from the rider in front. Instead of looking at that rider's wheel, which was hard to see as my wood-working glasses did a great job of capturing just the right amount of foggy condensation to guarantee horrible depth perception, I focussed on the body of the rider in front. Of course learning to listen and watch for the small directions from those directing us through the twisty, pot-holed roads was also an entirely new experience. Looking back at the whole day, riding in the group was just as stressful as driving along the freeway during a busy friday afternoon.
At half distance, (which was actually very near my house) we turned into the headwinds and towards the docks of Steveston. I was starting to feel comfortable in the group, looking far enough ahead to see where to turn left and right while staying a safe 1 ft distance from the rider in front. Apparently the group usually begins to shatter this point but one of the group's leaders took a nature break so everyone soft-pedaled for a few kilometres. By the time the rider caught back on we had made it back to the stoplight-rich transition leading to the ride's finale at Iona Jetty. Despite 2.5 hrs in, I was at that ideal happy place of warmth despite wet clothing, an open feeling in the legs and just enough energy in the tank to get me home. Unfortunately I had no idea just how bad you can feel on a bike so my friend and I decided to continue through the end of the ride.
As soon as we made in onto the Jetty's access road, the hammer it the floor. The group took off like a bunch of F1 cars and I was caught totally off guard. After a few minutes, I realized our seven rider group was not going to pull back the dozen or so front group so I attacked! Why? Who knows! Of course halfway between the 300 metre gap I started to fall apart and within minutes was back in the second group. Ten kilometres later the shattered remenants regroups and started back towards the ride's starting point. Shortly thereafter I overlapped wheels with the front row as they pulled off and down I went, skidding along the wet pavement. By the time the group made it back to help me pick up my bike, the roadrash on my hip had already started to sting; luckily I hadn't marked up my shorts because it was raining so hard! This is of course when the group realized I was rocking a big cast on my left hand. I had broken my thumb three weeks before but was still determined to train hard for the ski season so I made sure to match my cast color with that of my bar tape. I almost got away with it!
Once back at the meeting point, I parted ways with my mathematics teacher. My buddy and I, soaked to the bone, started our 12km commute home. Out of water, out of food and feeling a bit bonkish, I knew it was going to be a crappy ride home. Then, for some extremely stupid reason, my friend took a different route, later claiming that he was so wrecked he didn't want me to see him pedaling so easily. But I was wrecked too! Then I decided to try to cut my travel time by riding as the crows flies instead of taking the roundabout bike route way. Big mistake! A short excursion on the freeway and a few more poor decisions later, I approached home. I had the checklist all set: 1) find keys 2) open door 2) dump bike in garage 3) eat the whole fridge 4) turn on the shower as hot as possible 5) then put on every pair of wool socks and long underwear I have and dive into the couch with as many blankets as I could find. I woke up three hours later in a drunken stupor, mouth parched as I'd cooked myself after leaving the gas fireplace on during my nap.
Then in classic newbie style, I got a cold three days later. Not bad for my first try.
* * *
Check back for new entries soon! Or email your own story to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also below I've included an intricate look at the life of the racing peloton never seen on television. Riding in the group can be stressful but racing can be downright insane! Can't wait for the season to start on Thursday at the Calville Classic in Las Vegas.
A view from inside the peloton with British Cycling's Rapha Condor Professional Team providing a unique view of racing never seen on TV. Enjoy!