Spring is here and that means time to dust the cobwebs off my bike! Every year in October I say “I’m going to keep biking throughout the winter”, and every year March comes and I haven’t seen my bike since October. I just can’t wrap my head around biking in the cold and I love cold weather running so much that it just never works out. So, here we are in a crazy early Spring in NC and with a crazy early Triathlon I’m training for in April so it was time to get back to the bike! Last week Andrea and I eased into a ride with a nice 20 miles on my favorite route Friendship to Shearon Harris. It was windy, but we got it done. I find the first bike of the season successful if I remember what gears work with my big and small ring, my bike doesn’t make any strange noise and I clip in by the 3rd try. With those low expectations I was successful except maybe the clip in part. I’m thinking some nice new cycle shoes should solve that problem. This week I went out with Abby and a different friend Andrea. Andrea was hot off PR”ing the Tobacco Road 1/2 Marathon and has a few big Triathlons coming up. We did the same Friendship to Shearon Harris, but turned on Old 1 because I was running out of time. It was great and a gorgeous over 80 degree day…in MARCH. Crazy. This all leads to a ride I did last night…my first BIG group ride with the Life Time Cycle Club.
I’ve been wanting to try a ride with Life Time for a while. I love the idea of a group for safety and it’s a great way to meet cyclists and get some miles. I did have a few reservations. Never having been on a large structured group ride I don’t know the etiquette and rules and there are definitely things that need to be adhered to keep everyone safe. I also have a Tri bike and my gears and brakes are in different spots. This is tricky in a group when quick changes need to happen. I expressed all my concerns with Karen Giamber the Life Time Cycle Club leader and she assured me I’d be ok so I decided to give it a go. This is the first week of outdoor social rides for Life Time so I thought this would be a great time to start. The mileage is low and everyone is getting back into the groove of evening rides. The Life Time group rides are Tuesday and Thursday nights at 6pm. We depart from the Walmart in Apex. There are three different groups: A (fast and will drop), B and C who are medium speeds and NO DROP. Life Time Cycle Rides are also open to anyone. You don’t have to be a Life Time member….although you should be:)
I went to the Thursday ride. I pulled up, looked at all the people riding around the parking lot looking official in their Life Time cycle kits and texted Brian “I’m feeling a little intimidated!” I also had that pre-race excitement too. I didn’t know a single person there so I got my stuff ready and went to the lineup. Once there Karen gave some general instructions and then we were off. The A group leaves first since they are the fastest. The B group is very large so we left in waves. The faster B’s or B+ leave first followed by B and B-. C’s are last. Lesson #1 became immediately apparent after leaving and here are the biggest lessons I took away from my first group ride.
Lesson #1. Get in the Appropriate Pace Group
I equate this to doing a pool swim triathlon and making sure you put in the correct swim time. If you put in the wrong time you will either be weaving around and waiting or getting passed and holding everyone up. The same happens when you go into the wrong pace group in a group ride except instead of just annoying people you could really put your fellow riders in danger. Example #1 occurred shortly after take off when a rider in our pace group kept surging ahead way above our pace. This confused a few of our other riders who weren’t sure whether to surge of not and left the group a little disjointed. Karen being awesome and not afraid to put someone in their place…always out of love (I relate it to how I scold my kids for running across the road without looking) “lovingly” told this rider to leave our group. She said this phrase several times to riders “If you don’t want to ride in a group then don’t come to a group ride”. Group riding is a different dynamic and not for everyone. There were a few times I questioned if it was for me, but I can see how if you take the time to figure out the rules and get accustomed it could be a really cool thing. Example #2 of knowing your pace group occurred when we hit a few hills and started to catch up to the pace group in front of us. This isn’t ideal because in our set group we ride two astride. Approaching another group makes for some dicey passing situations where there may be three astride. Already at two astride we take up a good portion of our lane. We don’t want bikers crossing the double line into oncoming traffic. It also made for some quick transitions for our group where we were weaving in front of each other. Again, not great since all it takes is a little contact between two bikes and a crash will happen. Example #3 of operation get in the correct damn pace group was hill climbing. Let’s start with the downhill. You should always keep pedaling downhill…even if you are just spinning. I was behind riders for most of the downhills and catching a draft so that was pretty scary to me. I had to ride my brakes down most of the hills. The problem with that is being a girl I like to get all the speed and power down a hill so I can get up the other side. A few times I didn’t get the good speed I wanted down and the up was tough. It’s hard passing on a hill too. We stopped and went over a few things and Karen said if you know you are weaker on hills to stay back and to try to stay at pace as much as possible going up….meaning even if you have to spin it out and go a little slower do it. I’m actually cool with that part! Karen also gave me a personal tip for hills….to go one gear easier and spin at a higher cadence. This actually makes so much sense to me when I think about it. I think of Holly’s hill running technique to run with a fast, short stride up a hill and that’s what I think Karen means with a faster and easier spin. I think like the hill technique you won’t be any less tired, but get up the hill quicker and recover quicker.
Lesson #2. Communicate
This was the hardest part for me because most of the communication happens quickly and with strange hand gestures. So, picture a group riding two astride. When the person in the front wants to head to the back they pat their bottom a couple times and get out of the pace group. Everyone else moves up and that person moves to the back. I seemed to do best with this system when I was on the inside. When I was on the outside I didn’t know whether to just keep going forward or go inside. When I made it to the front I actually found it was easiest just to stay there until we had to stop! Then I would just conveniently go back to the middle or back. My goal next time is to successfully bottom tap and move out of the pace line. Other things you should do and I know you should do these things because I didn’t…is point to the right if you want to go right and just communicate everything. If there is gravel point to it…or a pothole. If a car is approaching and passing say so. No communication is too little and this is the part I think is the hardest because it seems to require quick reflexes and I think I pretty much lack that. I at least need to work on my awareness around me. Riding alone or in a small group my focus is pretty much just me and I need to remember my actions now affect others and the last thing I want it to put anyone else in danger!
Lesson #3. Buy a Road Bike
I have a Triathlon Bike because I really just ride because I do triathlons. I don’t do 4o mile fun rides ever. If I’m on my bike it’s pretty much because I have a race coming. A tri bike is totally fine in a group ride as long as you don’t go in the drops in the middle of a pace group, but it did present some challenges for ME. On my bike the gears and brakes are in different places. Several times I had to very quickly get in the correct gear and then pop up to my brakes. I would love to have those both in the same spot for a group ride where transitions can be fast. Again, this is probably more personal since I do think my reaction time is slower, but I think a proper road bike would make me feel a lot more comfortable. Also, keep this fact in mind as you read all of the prior challenges. I think a Tri bike made things a bit more challenging for me as a new group rider.
Lesson #4. Keep At It
With all that being said I really want to keep at it! First, besides feeling like I was quite close with my fellow riders at times I felt very safe with the cars and traffic. I know we aren’t cars favorite people ever, but we are so visible to drivers in a group that I felt very safe in that regard. I have to remember that I went out on an early season ride. There are beginners like me and people who haven’t been on bike (indoor or out) all winter. We were all a little rusty and Karen says “optimistically” that by June we should all be riding smoothly. There were many moments when we were all in sync and I was able to chat with the person next to me and it was so nice. There were also some exhilarating moments when we were catching the draft and effortlessly cruising. I can’t say enough about how amazing Karen is! She is the mama bear of the group and she wants us all to be the strongest rider we can be and have fun. I was also lucky to catch up to Troy at the end. He’s another group leader and had some good tips and encouragement. I’m even planning to buy myself a cycle kit so I look legit.
If you are a brand new rider Life Time Cycle Club has a great event happening Thursday March 24th, 6pm at Walmart. Here are the details for this event from Life Time Cycle Cary Facebook Page.
And for our newer riders just learning about group rides we will have a special educational group this coming Thur. March 24 6p at Walmart which will roll out separately from all the groups with Karen Giamber assisted by Steve Kaminski Bike Technician from one of our Bike Afiliates: The Apex Bicycle Chain. We will teach you all the in and outs of why group riding is so much fun and safer than riding alone. Also learn the how to’s of changing a flat tire and other mechanical issues that may occur on the road and how to deal with them in the most efficient ways.
Another great opportunity for newer riders is Performance Bicycle in Cary offers free Saturday group rides. They do a no drop ride at 10am of only about 10 miles. There is a ride leader and they even will check out your bike for you. I have used Performance for bike maintenance many times and they always do a great job. I also got the best bike fit by John at The Bicycle Chain in Apex. We have some great bike shops all around us for sure! If you want anymore information of group rides contact Karen Giamber at 919-467-7779! Happy and safe riding!