Surviving a Paceline Training Ride

[image via alharbiseye]

Well, I did it. I showed up at the weekly women's paceline training ride that is organised by a local cycling team. The very same one I've been talking about forever. It was the first ride of the season and I figured that I should just go, before I lose my nerve and spend every week telling myself "maybe next time" while the entire summer goes by. So I went, and apparently survived - though just barely. Let me tell you about it from the beginning...

It was overcast and threatening to rain all afternoon, but I checked the team's website before leaving the house, and the ride was on. The meeting point was in Lexington, MA - which is 10 miles from where I live. I rode my bike there, taking care to go at a leisurely pace so that I wouldn't already be tired upon arrival. I was so nervous, that I needed all of those 10 miles just to calm down.

I spotted the meeting location immediately. There was a crowd of several dozen women in roadie attire and as many bikes lying on the grass and propped up against trees. My heart sank as I saw them. I guess I had expected more of a mix: Some women on modern carbon fiber and others on old 10-speeds; some in clipless shoes and others not; some in lycra and others in gym shorts. But no: Every single person there had a super-light modern roadbike with "brifters." Every single person there was wearing clipless shoes. Not a soul had a kickstand, fenders or racks on their bike but me. Not a soul had a bag attached to their bike. No one else had, um, a twined stainless steel water bottle. And all wore lycra - the club-affiliated cyclists readily distinguishable by their team kit. Thankfully, at least I wore my wool cycling knickers and jersey and not something more casual. Reluctantly, I approached.

Greeted by a woman in team kit who looked like she was in charge, I was pointed to a bench where everybody was signing waivers. I made the mistake of starting to read the waiver, but the things described there were so horrible that I stopped and just signed it. When I returned to the spot I'd left my bike, two other women-in-charge were gathered in front of it. Was this my bike? Yes... The one I was planning to ride? Yes... They examined my Rivendell touring bike as if it were a 100-year-old antique or a creature from outer space. There was some debate as to whether it would be allowed: My bicycle was extremely heavy, the tires were too wide, and I did't have the right shifters. I would have trouble doing the ride. Was this even a roadbike? Only roadbikes were allowed. Finally, the senior-most woman was called to resolve the issue. In the end my bicycle was deemed allowable, but I was warned that I might have trouble doing the ride; in the long run I would need a different bike. I tried not to get too intimidated by this. The group I planned to join was described as "paceline learning skills for beginners, 12-15mph." I could ride at that speed with my eyes closed (just a figure of speech, don't worry), so all I had to do was focus on the skills. So I stayed.

The crowd was split into groups and the beginner's group consisted of eight of us: six newcomers and two leaders. The leaders gave us a brief explanation of what it meant to ride in a paceline: The group cycles in a single-file procession, staying close to each other's wheels in a straight line. When the person in front gets tired, they move over to the left and drift to the back of the line, then merge with the paceline in the rear. This gets repeated every few minutes. One thing that makes perfect sense but I hadn't realised in advance, is that you cannot coast in a paceline. Whether going fast or slow, cyclists must keep pedaling at all times, because that is how members of the paceline are able to maintain uniform speed - they synchronise their leg movements. So, coasting is forbidden. Hard braking is also forbidden, as it can cause the person behind to crash into you. To slow down, you need to keep pedaling while "feathering" the brakes. Finally, there is a system of signals that members of a paceline must use - from the person in front indicating that they will move to the left now, to warning about potholes, to asking to merge into the middle of the paceline if you are drifting back on the left and there is a car coming. We were quickly shown all of these, and without further ceremony we set off on our 20 mile ride through rolling hills.

Apparently I am an extremely poor judge of my own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to cycling. I had thought that my biggest problem would be technique. I expected to experience debilitating fear when cycling 6" behind someone's wheel, to be dangerously clumsy at executing paceline maneuvers, and to be slow on the uptake whenever instructions were given. On the other hand, I expected myself to have no problem at all with the pace and terrain of the ride: I mean, 12-15mph? Please!

Instead, the exact opposite happened: I found the paceline training itself to be natural and had no problems with technique. I behaved predictably and signaled appropriately. I didn't coast and I feathered the brakes, modulating my speed smoothly (having ridden fixed gear made this pretty intuitive actually). I reacted quickly and calmly when instructions were given to me. I never once swerved or did anything crazy out of fear or incompetence. In short: all my worries about being poorly coordinated and getting flustered around other cyclists were completely unfounded.

On the other hand, keeping up with the pace proved to be challenging and I wish I could say it was the bike's fault. I don't know how to explain it. Maybe it was the no-coasting thing that did me in, combined with the fact that 15mph was the typical speed on flats, with 12mph being the uphill speed and 25mph the downhill speed (while still trying not to break the paceline). Anyhow, I felt extremely unfit on the uphill portions of the ride, huffing and puffing as I struggled not to lose the wheel of the person in front of me. On these occasions, the leader cycled alongside attempting to reassure me: "You see now?... You're at a real disadvantage with that bike... But you're doing well... Breathe... That's right... Good... Next time, different bike..."

Truthfully, I don't know whether it was the poor bike's fault or mine. All the other girls on the ride were athletes of some sort - runners or "spinners" (i.e. at the gym, on stationary bikes), looking to transition to roadcycling as a new sport to try. My background is very different. I am not an athlete and have never been an athlete. And I have done zero exercise all winter other than riding upright bikes for transportation. So maybe it's really a case of "next time, stronger leg muscles." I would be curious to try the same ride on a modern roadbike and see whether it's any less difficult, but I am skeptical.

There were other problems with my bike on this ride: Namely, the shifters, brake levers and possibly even handlebars. With my friction bar-end shifters, I was at a distinct disadvantage to the other girls, who could shift instantaneously thanks to their indexed "brifters." It was a little ridiculous actually. Moreover, moving my hand to the edge of the right handlebar in order to shift was problematic, because it is a similar gesture to the signal used for indicating pulling over to the left (you have to wiggle your right elbow). In that sense, using bar-ends in a paceline where no one knows what they are has the potential to cause an accident if the person behind me interprets my changing gears as inviting them to move forward.  Do I want to be responsible for that?... As for using the drops: I cannot modulate my brakes well from that position because of how my handlebars are shaped and set up, and so I only brake from the hoods. When going downhill, the leader wanted us all to get in the drops for maximum "aerotuck." She kept telling me to do this, but I refused because it wasn't a safe position for me to feather the brakes from.  So I stayed on the hoods, but bent my elbows so much that my chin was practically on my handlebars, achieving the aerodynamic positioning they wanted. They were okay with it under the circumstances... but it was yet more evidence of my needing a different bike - with shallow drops and with brake levers I could modulate from all positions.

If all of this sounds like a miserable, degrading struggle, then I've done a good job of describing it. It went on for an hour and a half as we cycled past farms, forests and highways practicing paceline maneuvers. But there were a few minor advantages to my bike as well. At some point it began to rain, and the group leaders grew alarmed - contemplating shortcuts back in case the rain continued. At first I could not understand what the problem was, but eventually realised that their bikes were prone to "wiping out" on wet terrain. Thankfully, that is one problem I don't have on my own bike. There was also a fear of sand. Sand on the road was signaled down the paceline as if it were a pothole to avoid. Not something I normally worry about. While these advantages were fairly minor compared to the disadvantages I experienced, they provided at least some relief.

We arrived back at the meeting point just as it was growing dark, and the girls began taking their bikes to their cars. When they learned that I had cycled from Somerville and now planned to cycle back, several of them offered to give me a lift. But I opted for a quiet ride home on the (now pitch-black) Minuteman Trail, to review the evening'e events in my head and relax. I cycled slowly as the lights on my bike illuminated my path. It was a beautiful night, and when the rain started up again the smell of the surrounding meadows grew pleasantly strong. I never, ever had to do the paceline ride again if didn't want to, but could just quietly cycle in the dark like this on my own forever. And yet?...


  1. That confirms it. I am so not ready for something like this. I do think it is funny that a beginner is expected to have all the gear and just the right bike. That seems a little counter intuitive to me. It would make more sense for someone to come on their bike, get a feel for what it is all about. And then if they like it, invest in the gear. When you label something beginner, I feel like there should be a spirit of all-inclusiveness. "Crazy" bikes and all.

  2. I think a lot of it was your bike, not your fitness -- especially your tires. Your comments about rain and sand bring to mind the drag tire tread causes. Wide tires aren't helping, either.
    I think you might also be at a disadvantage simply because of your ride to the start. I, too, prefer to ride -- it seems stupid to get into a car so you can ride your bike -- but an 8 mile ride eats in to your energy.
    Don't beat yourself up about this, Veloria. I'd look around for a different cycling group; there must be lots in your area -- or you could start one. There are lots of advantages to riding in a group, and you don't have to treat every ride as training for a race, the way some riders do.

  3. You should probably hang out with randonneurs for paceline practice. They're much less hung up on bicycle fashion than the people you describe , though they might expect that you're perfectly fine with riding a couple of hundred kilometers as part of the training ride.

  4. It sounds to me like you did a pretty good job for your first time. And now the challenges you may have with paceline riding are a known quantity.

    I don't think you need an ultramodern bike to ride in groups like that. But you may need to tinker with the setup of one of your bikes. Would the barends be as much of a problem if the shifting were indexed instead of friction?

    But really, you did it! Congrats! You survived, and you are only likely to get better at it, regardless of your bike, if you do it again. And if you do, you may have a good effect on others, by showing them there are more than one ways to be a bicyclist.

  5. My goodness, my heart rate and blood pressure went up just reading this! I have never had any desire to ride in a group and I certainly don't have one now. Of course, I don't even have a bike with drop bars so I am far from this kind of riding. A fast road bike occasionally appeals to me, but if I did have one I think I'd stick to solo rides where I can go at whatever pace I want. Sticking with a group like that sounds incredibly stressful.

  6. I suspect that the bike might have more to do with it than you suspect. For example, I have a Raleigh touring bike that weighs around 31 pounds ( I keep all of my racks/fenders/etc on it all the time ), and a Specialized Secteur, which is a low-end road bike of around 21 pounds. The touring bike has barcons, 35mm tires, etc, while the Secteur has brifters and 25 mm tires.

    On the Secteur, I can easily manage an average speed at least 4-5MPH higher than the Raleigh over a couple of hours on rolling terrain. The difference in speed is tremendous. On the downside, the Raleigh is far more comfortable for day-long rides.

  7. hey- congrats! That's a big deal. I love the ride home part.

    I was just having coffee with someone I met at yoga. A guy who does early morning long distance rides. It was funny we talked bikes and I talked about my search for the right bike and he began to give the talk about a hybrid being about $400. I interrupted him and said " I'm beyond that" and spoke about the Betty Foy of which he had never heard of and he said " You are talking about the one class of biking I know nothing about!" Funny to come and read your post where your rivendell is looked at as weird other.

    sounds like you are going back. Can't wait to hear more.

  8. Yep, I think that confirms a lot of my stereotypes :)

    It doesn't sound like they were particularly welcoming to newcomers or people without the specialized gear, which is unfortunate.

    That said, I bet you could find a middle ground between a race-specific training group and a group that likes to ride road bikes moderate distances at medium fast speed. A lot of shops have "training rides" which they might not be quite as intense. I guess it depends on whether you want specifically to compete, or just ride further and faster for fun

    The ride home sounds nice though. Given a choice between having a (lovely) bike I can ride home in the dark and rain and a bike I can race on, I'll choose the former any and every day.

  9. I'm so glad to read your report on paceline training -- now I know that riding with roadies would not be for me. I really wouldn't care for the enforced uniformity of equipment and attire. I'll stick to commuting and touring, maybe randonneuring someday -- thanks for the warning.

  10. Yeah, that sounds pretty much awful, and confirms my complete lack of desire to ever get into sport-cycling. Not that I think cycling for sport is bad in any objective sense, just that I think I would personally hate it.

    It does seem odd to me that it was advertised as a "beginner" event, but then you were expected to have all the right gear, bike, appropriate skills, and endurance already.

    And we wonder why people feel intimidated about riding bicycles.... :)

  11. When you wrote the other day that you were going slowly up hills when you were riding with the CoHabitant and Somervillain, and then posted that you wanted to go on a paceline training ride, I thought "Uh oh." Those folks tend to be pretty hardcore roadies, not transpo cyclists. Nothing wrong with being a roadie, or a transpo cyclist, but IME here, there's not much overlap in the two cultures.

    Heck, when I went on a charity ride last month, my bike was almost the only one I saw with fenders and a kickstand.

  12. I think that while your bike may disadvantage you somewhat, it was your lack of training that was the greater problem.

    A month or two of proper fitness-building training rides (which the other riders have probably been doing) makes a huge (HUGE) difference in one's ability to go fast.

    I'm sure that, with just a couple of weeks of focused effort, you'll be able to more easily stick with the group. And the more you do that sort of riding, the faster you'll get.

    (If you decide you want to keep riding with those dorks, that is).

  13. Janice - Exactly.

    I did worry about the hills initially. But then my group ride companions last Saturday were two tall men with muscles of steel. I know for a fact that they are much stronger than me. The training ride, on the other hand, was described as a beginners ride, an absolute intro, so I was hoping all the girls would be weaklings like me : ) Having done it, I have to say that the term "beginners" was used extremely loosely in this case.

  14. Mingling my retro-grouchiness with mainstream roadies has been a generally positive experience. Some riders don't know what to make of fenders and a wool jersey, but these same folks are happy to have your company as long as you are courteous and competent. Taking a nice long pull in a paceline goes a long way.

    It sounds like you learned some valuable skills and insights from this racing club ride, but there might be more compatible groups for you. CRW, for example, hosts nice rides in the Boston area, even paceline rides... open to all comers, including those on non-mainstream bikes. There are other welcoming clubs too. Definitely give it a chance.

  15. It sounds like they might have been trying to keep the pace too high going up hills. Typically 15mph on the flats translates to like 9mph on the hills if you're keeping a constant effort. 12mph up hills is no joke!

    If you enjoy the group riding, but not the attitude, I guarantee there are other groups around who will teach skills but won't drop you on a beginners ride. Randos are nice people but generally speaking they don't know how to paceline.

    I tend to disagree with others who think you need a lighter bike and brifters. You will work slightly harder going up hill, but that just means you're getting a better work out. A 30lb bike is not one and a half times as much work as a 20lb bike, with a 140lb rider it's only 7% more work. Do hill repeats with full panniers and you'll be smoking those roadies in no time.

    The aerodynamic drag of a pannier is pretty large, if they will fit all your stuff a front or saddle bag are nicer in a pace line. A lower posture helps too but not if it's uncomfortable.

    And don't stop having fun!


  16. Ed said...
    "Do hill repeats with full panniers"

    If I plan to go back next week and have no way of getting another bike, that's what I am thinking I need to do. Maybe even go practice the same route.

  17. Velouria, congratulations! You survived a rough initiation and represented Rivendell at the same time! Others have already commented, but I will say that I agree about the tires being a factor. And I will say (again) that I think Rivendell oversells the bar end shifters. You know that I favor STI (and can't stand the term brifters, but what are you going to do?). I don't ride pacelines, nor race, nor even ride in groups much. I never did. But STI makes shifting so easy and automatic (GP thinks that's sort of bad, I guess), that I can't imagine doing without it. Your experience with the paceline illustrates this well, I think. I was noticing on yesterday's ride that I could shift while in the drops without a lot of trouble (the rear anyway). I'm normally on the hoods, and it's easiest to shift from there with STI. I'm not putting down bar ends or anyone who wants them on their bike. I guess that most people who spend that kind of cash for a Riv frame have ridden for a while and really know what they want. That was the case for me, and I wanted STI. Again, good for you for stepping up and taking a risk. Steve in MD

  18. Congrats on surviving the ride.
    Even if you never do it again you can say you had the experience.
    I know of several charity rides where absolute beginners are expected to have the full kit of carbon bike, Lycra, and clipless pedals/shoes. That is a bit much for my taste, but more power to them.
    Next you should try the Lake Pepin 3speed tour.

  19. Re the comments about "roadie attitudes" and all that...

    I did not have a problem with the attitude. This was not described as a recreational ride, but as a training ride. Women interested in roadcycling would be given free coaching, sponsored by the racing team. The reason they sponsor this program is to recruit for the team, to get more women interested in racing. For recreational opportunities, there are group rides. But this was an introduction to a sport. So, on that end I was not surprised. I was only surprised at how strenuous it was even at the intro level, and that everyone except me had a modern racing bike. I did plan to get one in the future if I stuck with it, but I thought that the beginning would be gentle enough for me to do okay with the Rivendell.

    Also, I agree with them that my bike is not appropriate. It's a serious disadvantage if everyone else can shift effortlessly and for me it's a whole ordeal. And there really is a safety issue, should someone misinterpret my taking a hand off the handlebars to shift as a signal to move forward. I think it would be just selfish and unintelligent of me to ignore that aspect and do my own thing no matter what.

    I would describe the leaders of the program as having been welcoming and encouraging to me, within reason. They made it clear that they wanted me there. I was told several times that I seemed like a strong cyclist, that I had good form, that I was doing well with the technique, etc. In my view, it was perfectly normal for them to advise me to get a different bike if they thought that (1) it was in my best interest, and (2) in the group's interest - both of which were the case here. I am not forbidden from showing up next time on the same bike; they understand that it's not easy to just up and buy a new roadbike. But they would like me to start thinking about a solution and to understand their opinion on the matter. I think that's a reasonable attitude.

    It would be one thing had I showed up there on my touring bike, they were skeptical, but then I wowed them by outperforming everyone. However, that is not what happened, and so I need to consider what to do.

  20. For your first ride with a racing club, and with no prior training, no athletic background, and low level of off-season fitness, I'd say you did exceptionally well. The bike isn't that much of a hindrance, except on longer hills if there are any (borrow a road bike that fits and see if it makes a difference). Make sure you and the bike are as aero as possible - that will be the biggest help on the flats. Try doing a ride or two per week with sustained high effort riding and you'll see improvement in no time.
    An added benefit of this kind of riding: It really tones muscles and drops pounds.
    Sounds like you are on the slippery slope toward being a hammer chick!

  21. ^ Oh! That was in response to a now non-existant comment : )

  22. GR Jim - My Bianchi is faster, but worse suited because the DT shifters are very hard to use. It would take me even longer to switch gears on it and I would totally lose speed. The spacing in the back is not wide enough for a cassette compatible with "brifters," so installing them on it is not an option either.

    Yes, I actually *enjoyed* cycling in close proximity like that. Not just "didn't hate it" or "wasn't as scared as I thought," but enjoyed it. I also liked the no-nonsense /coaching style approach to the ride. The only things I didn't like were my suckiness at cycling uphill and my not having "brifters."

  23. I thought it was inappropriate after you laid down the law.

    Steel is real: I think you can cold-set, or bend, the back of the Bianchi for proper spacing. Any framebuilder and a lot of shops can do this.

    You did a good job considering the other girls are jocks. It's always good to get a reality check to know whether to train or bail.

  24. Heh, even the "beginner" shop rides around here are listed as going at 12-16 mph average speeds, and require a "road bike."

    And it wasn't the fact that you weren't keeping up with the stronger guys, it's that you described yourself as going 7 mph up hills. That's MY kind of speed! :)

    I can average 12 mph on a good day, but not if there are many hills involved. So I avoid shop rides. I still ride over 100 miles/week. I just do it slowly.

  25. Some people ride for enjoyment, some for utility, and some just for the suffering...sounds like you went on a ride with the latter.

  26. Janice - It depends on the hill. There are hills where I can do 12mph, there are hills where I can do faster, and there are hills where I can barely manage 7mph. On this paceline ride I did keep up with them and continued to rotate; it was just extremely strenuous for me on the ascents and most of the other girls did not seem quite as bothered. The leaders positively insisted it was my bike and not me, and that is so tempting to believe : ) ...

  27. I think you did a totally awesome job and you should do it again - at least a few times.
    I agree with frozen prarie that specific fitness is much more important than bike in this case. I say "specific fitness" because I have had times when I am in awesome running shape and struggle to go swimming, or vice versa. You need to be in good "hill climbing fast biking" shape, regardless of how good shape you are in other things or other types of biking.
    And to get there I would think you would have to do some "hill climbing fast biking" 3-4 times per week for a little while.
    I guess underneath I just want you to be really successful on the Riv so that you can champion that style bike! The one thing I think that would really help would be index shifting - not for all things, just for this style riding.

  28. Bravo for facing your fears and getting out there!

    My wife and I had a similar experience riding our tandem in a paceline of single bikes in hilly terrain.

    Because we were heavier (riders+bike), and we had a lower power-to-weight ratio, we could not keep up even on a small uphill. OTOH, we threatened to plow into the next bike on the downhills.

    From what I have read about bicycle science, the rolling resistance of your tires and power-to-weight ratio have the greatest effect when you are going uphill.

    On the flat, the aerodynamics become most important, at least when you are at the front of the line. Though, aerodynamics are not as important when you are hiding behind another rider.

    Downhill, any extra weight propels you faster.

    So it would be interesting to see how you would do with a bike similar to the other riders.

  29. Peppy (the amazing aero-tuck in the igloo cat)May 12, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    I keep suggesting brifters for the gazelle, but she just won't listen. Silly humans, my litterbox is indexed.

  30. I disagree. Extra weight does not propel you faster downhill, but it does help slightly with aero drag--albeit you pay for it with increased rolling friction. Ultimately, weight does not factor greatly into descent speeds. Don't forget objects of similar shape but different weights accelerate equally through air due to gravity.

  31. My cat just told me he wants an indexed litter-box for weekend runs, can you tell me where you got it? :)


  32. MDI - I did not have trouble keeping up on the descents, but I was not faster than everyone else either. Average. I was among the faster people on flats. I was among the slower people up hills - and that's after killing myself trying.

  33. Gravitational acceleration might be the same, but an object of greater mass has greater inertia, meaning it takes more force to slow it down...

  34. The bike has a lot to do with it. It's probably safe to assume most of the other bikes there were around 20 lbs or less. Your bike is what... 30+ lbs? Think about it this way: That's like you're all riding the same bike except that you have a ten pound bag of sugar in your saddle bag. Plus you have the added wind-resistance of wider tires, a saddle bag and fenders. More importantly, your wheels are a lot heavier. Wheel weight doesn’t matter much when you're cruising at speed, but when you accelerate or climb, it takes more energy to turn those wheels.

    Just like a carbon fiber race bike makes a lousy transportation bike, your Riv is not the best bike for riding a race-oriented training ride.

    Personally I think your Bianchi is the answer. It most definitely can be converted to use a modern, brifter-controlled drivetrain. As GR Jim says, you can cold set the frame to address the spacing issue, but if it currently has 126mm spacing (which I think it has) you don’t even need to do that. The rear triangle has enough flex to easily accommodate modern 130mm wheels. It’s just a matter of money and a little time swapping parts and rewrapping bars.

  35. are not allowed to use brakes on descents (or something like that) so the increased momentum at the bottom of the hill shouldn't be a problem.

    Until they get to the part of the lessons where they have to skid-stop as a peloton pushing down on each other's locked-up rear wheels. :)

  36. The Bianchi is a good idea, BTW. You can get Harris or somebody to stretch your frame a bit to make space for a wider hub. It is not a big deal. Then you'd have to buy a cassette, chain, brifters, and possibly a derailleur.

  37. re: descending. I'm lightish and have the skills and position to descend rapidly. I simply can not catch a big hoss of a guy with the same skillset even if my ped rev's are topped out. This applies to fast descents, 35+.

  38. re: hillclimbing. Something I forgot to mention...if a girl is fit and outfitted w/all the modern stuff 15 mph on the flat is really slow in a paceline. No doubt it was a warmup. You are working way harder already due to your bike. Once you hit the climb the others are fresh, and your tank is emptier. This isn't accounting for fitness. The others can simply hit it harder because they're rested.

    The coach is right because you can hang and sees the potential for more speed. She knows you'll get discouraged if you're always the slowest and won't come back, so a new machine will make you faster. A faster machine will let you push harder and longer too; psychologically it's way easier. When you push harder you get faster, thereby justifying the expense of the new machine.

    I've had this self-justification worked out for years.

  39. Portlandize, your physics is wrong. Gravitational acceleration is the same on all objects. A heavier bike will not descend faster, except as a consequence of the interaction between aerodynamics and road friction.

  40. I think you might be more at home with the New England Randanneurs, at least when it comes to bikes, attitude and appreciation of the classics. Though pace lines aren't common on brevets, except maybe at the lead.

    Pace lines were first developed on classic road & rando bikes. And given the interest in classic bikes around here, I bet we could put one together. I would enjoy learning how to ride in a pace line better. How about going as a group to a CRW ride as Stevep33 suggested?

  41. Steve - I had a saddlebag on the bike with a sweater in it, an apple and some other stuff. Counting everything on the bike including water, it was probably right around 30lb. Their bikes were extremely light, under 20lb for sure.

    I agree that it is not the right bike. I don't have a modern racing bike with combination levers (or whatever the non-offensive and brand-neutral word for brifters is). And I cannot afford yet another bike right now.

    Here is why I am reluctant to convert my Bianchi:

    1. It is kind of heavy itself. This is a 1983 bike a size too big for me. It is only a bit lighter than my Riv.

    2. It's going to be fricking expensive. I will need to buy: brifters, a new cassette, a new rear derailleur, possibly whole new drivetrain? It could be like $800 when you honestly count it all. Do I want to do that to a 1983 bike that's seen better years and is not quite the right size for me anyhow? Not to mention that it would destroy its collector cache to get rid of the original Campy parts. All things considered, I don't think it's a good idea.

    As I see it, I have several options:

    1. Have a fire sale of everything I can think of and with the proceeds buy a sub-$1K decent modern bike. I don't like this option, because I don't think I will be comfortable on such a bike (most likely aluminum with carbon fork?), but it's an option none the less.

    2. Go on my Rivendell minus saddlebag, and make it a point to practice hills 2-3 time a week before the ride. See if that helps. Warn everyone in the group about my shifters at the start of every ride and clarify distinction between changing gears and elbow-wiggling. This could be doable, but I will be miserable and working harder than anyone else. Is it worth it?

    3. Find a way to borrow or rent an appropriate road bike locally, for the summer or even for a month - long enough to know whether I am willing to commit to this type of cycling. If I knew how to do that, this would be my preferred option.

    4. Stop going. I am not prepared, I do not have the right equipment, it's a bad idea. A valid option as well.

  42. I bet someone in the group you rode with has an older bike they would be happy to loan you. Racers are always getting new equipment. They go through bikes the way people go through computers.
    Ask around -- you're famous. Won't anyone lend this woman a bike?

  43. I like #2. And maybe thinner tires?

    I loved your other-worldly description of how they looked at your bike and clothing. A scene out of Woody Allen's _Sleeper_ or an old Star Trek episode when they go back in time in disguise. I can just see all those women in their slick lycra looking at you as if you're from the 19th century. You should've started using funny old words like... "bully!" or bloomers (?!), or asking where they stable their horses or something, or when the ice buggy comes to their neighborhood...

    And, I guess it goes to show you that jocks come in both genders.

    The good thing is that you like riding in groups and it felt natural.

  44. I would have thought that somebody in that club would have a suitable older bike they wanted to sell; roadies always seem to need this years model.

  45. You are right about converting the Bianchi. To put a cassette on the bike would also require a new hub, and that means a whole new rear wheel. That wheel could be transferred to a new bike later, but at a la carte pricing.

  46. TS - All sorts of tests show that these specific tires (Grand Bois Hetre 650Bx42mm) are actually supposed to be pretty fast, so I don't think narrower tires would help.

    Re buying an older model from one of the women in the group... Would you not be worried doing that with a used CF bike? What if there is a knick in the fork they don't know about? Since these bikes have been raced and retired, that seems like a distinct possibility, doesn't it?...

  47. Yeah, I always worry about hidden CF cracks, but, honestly, I would be more concerned if you were planning on using the bike for a long time. Thats why I think a loan is a better option than buying. Also cheaper. If I were in that group I would think it would be pretty cool to loan my old bike to Velouria, maybe get a mention on Lovely Bicycle, etc.

  48. Oh they don't know about LB : )
    No time for nonsense on those rides!

  49. I'm so proud of you. Exerting ones self in a new way is always three times as hard the first time as a result of the adrenaline surging at the prospects of the unknown. Knowing what you now know, the exact same ride would seem half as strenuous. Additionally first rides of the season are always tough, that is why there is a "season" to build up over its duration.

    Lastly, from Grant's "Tips for Happy Cycling"

    "Don't think you'll go faster in a significant way if you and your bike become more aerodynamic."

    "Never blame your bike or your health or anything else if you're the last one up the hill or in to the rest stop."

    "Feel comfortable mixing high tech and low tech, old and new parts and technologies, and don't apologize to anybody for it."

    "Never apologize for buying something that's not quite pro quality by saying, "I'm not going to race or anything."

  50. Look, call the ride organizer, refer her to this discussion, and ask if she can help you find a bike. You'll have one by the end of the day. You've got to learn to work your fame.

  51. This story reminds me of something that happened last summer.

    I was on a fun group ride that was going from a neighborhood park to a location called Rocky Butte, which has a really fantastic view in clear weather. There's at least a mile of unrelenting steep road to get to the top.

    This being your typical Portland fun ride, there were several dozen people with all kinds of bikes, with a lot of older 10-speeds, a few newer commuter-style bikes and road bikes and touring bikes... We were in the usual combination of normal clothes/fun clothes, and one person had a sound system in a trailer. We spread out and took our sweet time, but we all got up the hill.

    When we got to the top, there was a picnic and we were having a great time, and someone doing a training ride showed up on a racing bike with the spandex getup. He looked startled at the bunch of us, and said to someone with us, "Wow, I can't believe all of you got up here on THOSE bikes!"

    I'm sure he meant it as a compliment, but I wanted to punch him.

    We all love our bikes just as much (if not more) than this guy. We may not be racers (although some of my friends do also have racing bikes and race, usually cyclocross), but we got up that damn hill, and in the end I think we worked harder to do it than he did. It's also entirely possible that we enjoyed it more than he did.

    I do plan to do cyclocross at some point. Part of why, though, is because (at least around here) it's the most welcoming to rank amateurs, and people seem to be having the most fun. I have friends who started their own official team, and they're hardly hardcore racing folks. They named themselves Team Slow and one of their sponsors is Sock Dreams! (Sock Dreams = locally owned online purveyor of every kind of fun sock imaginable.) I think half the fun of their team name is cheering them on: "GO SLOW!"

  52. Oh, and! I could never do a ride where I can't brake going downhill, that would be utterly terrifying, as I tend to ride my brakes downhill.

    And I just got bar-end shifters, but the right one at least is indexed. It has the option of being friction if it gets out of adjustment, but I admit I find myself shifting more often since it's just an easy "click."

  53. Familiar feeling. I tried a paceline a couple of times and it is just no what I am looking for in riding. To me it felt like I was having to concentrate to hard on riding and the other riders and was not able to enjoy the rides. And I see you noticed that what they state as the average speed is actually he uphill/minimum speed.

  54. It is hard to survive a group ride going at 12 mph uphill if you don't have the cardiovascular capacity or the power-to-weight to sustain it.

    When cruising on the flats, a heavier bike doesn't matter as much since group accelerations tend to be gradual. A lighter bike makes a big difference during attacks (sudden accelerations) on the flats or when riding uphill.

    People who ride Rivendells are outliers and non-conformists. If you like the paceline experience, it is best to do like the Romans when in Rome.

  55. Wow I think it's cool that you tried it. I'd be afraid of riding so close to another bike too. I did one all day event ride (no paceline) in a massive Target mountain bike and maintained a 13- 16 mph speed throughout with my husband, which I think surprised some relatives on nicer bikes, because we only ride for fun. I'm not that into big group events- I usually run alone- and almost felt like a reverse bike snob, inwardly rolling my eyes at all of the lycra, fancy gear, and posturing. I was most impressed by the guy who rollerbladed the whole thing. Of course, he almost kept pace with me.
    But in the end, I did go farther than I ever would have alone and rode to places I'd never been. And I couldn't get lost, so I was glad I did it and might again.

  56. I commend you for trying. Now you know first hand I suppose.
    It may be a good idea to try it out on a 'modern' light-frame bike and see if that helps. The visual aesthetics may be somewhat lacking, but modern road bikes are built for what they are built for...speed.

    Also, the clipless pedals really help. Especially with going uphill as you can use the upstroke too.
    Once you get the hang of using them, you won't want to go back to normal pedals.

    I hope you give it another go. On the other hand, have you considered other forms of sportive cycling? Track racing or even bike polo?
    I've not tried any so can't really say. But hey...just an idea. :)

  57. If you are wondering where the other 50 comments went, Blogger is having a malfunction. I did not remove the comments. Blogger promises that all the comments from May 12th will re-appear shortly. Thanks for putting up with this!

  58. I guess if you want to hang with the race crowd and do race things, you have to follow the group rules, which means ride a race bike and wear the approved uniform.

    If you want to go anywhere and enjoy the ride while you're at it, ride the bike you like and wear what you want.

    For me, it's the latter, and any group that doesn't approve is not one I need to be a part of. Of course, my riding has nothing to do with training ... that sounds like some kind of "work" thing, and I already do enough of that, so I reserve the ride for fun time to refresh my mind and body ... and to enjoy nature.

    Your desire to try all kinds of riding is admirable ... but it's a shame you have to ride a bike you'd otherwise never ride and wear clothes you otherwise wouldn't be caught dead in. Just guessing about that, but it appears obvious, given the depth of material covered in your blog.

    Perhaps there's a group of more classic rando-style cyclists that would let you come along. Those folks would likely be more in tune with your sense of style and desires in riding.

  59. If you're not racing, riding a steel framed bicycle won't make a noticable difference compared to the approximately 75 other ways a bicycle can ride well or like a stone. I've got friends who can, on their 35+ pound miyatas with 28mm (700c) or 38mm (650b) wheels, punch their way a 10% grade at at least 10mph. Antecdote, not data, but if you're fit 12-15mph is not the sort of speed that you need a lightweight bicycle to maintain.

    I always read that one of the advantages of a paceline was that the people in the slipstream didn't have to drop into as much of a tuck as the leader does. (I've certainly never noticed any difference, and I find that if I want the wind to slow me down -- at 185 lbs, I *will* overrun my more bikey-weight friends if I wheelsuck them on a downgrade -- to slow down, I need to move to one side to get partially out of the slipstream, because even sitting up won't do it for me.)

    I must admit that I don't see how you can go from the hoods (or even from the drops) to a bar-end shifter and wiggle your elbow enough to have it be considered a pullout signal. I'd hate to see how those people would deal with someone who likes to move their hands around over the course of a bike ride.

    And, certainly if this is a training ride, you've got an excellent rejoinder to the "you've got to get a carpet fiber bike!" conversational opener: "I don't want a superlight bicycle while I'm training." If you're keeping up with 12mph uphill *now* on 35 pounds of Rivendell+stuff, you're already in better shape than your comrades on the ride.

  60. To each their own, but I don't think I'd enjoy that kind of thing AT ALL. I don't do well with rules, I don't cycle for the exercise/weight maintenance (although it's a nice side effect), and the idea of people driving to the ride (and I bet some of them live even closer than you) encapsulates everything I hate about gym culture. From the first time I heard about "spinning," I wondered, why not just ride a real bike? I guess at least these women are out in the sun, which is a step up from the gym.

  61. Wow, I was surprised at the reception you got but I guess it makes sense. There really is a lot to learn about fast pacelines and if that's what this group is all about it would have to be so.

    The more I think about it the more the idea of intentionally coaching pack technique makes good sense. I learned by just going and doing it with a bunch of others who were just learning by doing. Some of them were pretty far along in the process and were great teachers but we sure did dumb stuff... I wonder if I would be able to ride in this group or if someone would have to politely tell me to just shove off and go have my crash somewhere else.

    I know what you mean about even a 12 to 15mph pace being tough. It can be hard work to ride in a pack, the effort required to maintain a steady speed and keep the spacing tight is high wether you are going all out or 7/10ths.

    Your current bike is probably a lot more capable than they think, it's never going to be a racer but with a some experience and dropping some of the extras you might show them something. If you do spend some time on a seriously light racebike I think you'll learn to really enjoy it. They aren't practical for much but they will bring on the "Red Mist". Your posts about fixies and track riding make me think you might have a latant speed gene.

    Was the stainless steel waterbottle a problem? I use metal bottles mostly for looks because I can't drink from them with one hand. Can you use yours "on the fly"? Maybe a squeezy plastic bottle will have to join that new helmet...


  62. I ride a Sam Hillbourne too. The reason I do this is Grant Peterson's saying 200,000,000 people worldwide ride bikes for transportation every day resonates with me. The percentage of those doing it in full kit on plastic bikes with 23mm tires has to be less than one half of one percent.

    I think it's easy to get distracted by bicycle industry marketing in the United States and other developed countries. Bicycle Magazine is monthly touting the latest and the greatest, Bicycle Quarterly gets around to what things cost as an afterthought. It boils down to who you are as a rider and what your values are.

    Most people drive around in cars doing routine errands, taking trips, or using them to commute to work. Far, far fewer use them to race around in for the thrill of speed and competition. The way the bicycle industry would have it in our country, you miss the point if you don't wear Lycra, blow away a lot of money on gear, and regiment time to training like you are somehow deficient if you don't know how many watts you burned this week. I am not under the impression they are content to simply let you to go out for a ride.

    I read your blog because I share your appreciation for the beauty of the bicycle as an art form. It is satisfying to me to be able to use art as a tool to abet my journey over the surface of the earth from one beautiful place to another. There's artistic spillover into the use of natural products like wool, leather, and, with a nod to the French contribution of the 50's, hemp twine and shellac too. Either one opts for the classics in life, or one is a slave to first bike was steel, I loved trying carbon, but I'll stick with steel (my terrific looking wardrobe is mostly 25+ years old, too).

    To Thine Own Self Be True, Veloria. Friction Shifters Forever!

  63. I don't know why I feel this way because I'm just a person who reads your blog, and I don't know you personally, but I'm extremely proud of you and admire your courage for putting yourself out there. Something tells me that you may give this a go again and I hope you do. I agree with your comments, before Blogger went down, that you understand why an appropriate bicycle is required. I hope you consider giving it a try again with the right bicycle. I recall you expressing one time an interest in Velodromes track cycling, which took me by surprise. So, who knows where this may lead. I'm curious if you've ever seen the movie "The Flying Scotsmen?" Best of luck with whatever you decide.

  64. You can drink from a steel bottle by tipping it, but Klean Kanteen has a so-so sport cap. The spigot cover is hard to open with one hand, and using teeth is gross since it's covered with road crap.

  65. If you showed up next time on a lightweight carbon bike they would then start in on your clothes and how your non-lycra wardrobe was slowing you down. After that it would be something else you are doing that is different from their idea of proper cycling. I say stick to being yourself. I will never understand the whole group-think thing. Neither will I ever understand why anyone would want to ride a bike which causes them to fear for their lives when traversing a little bit of sand. But lot's of respect to you for giving it a try.

  66. James - To me, racing, touring, and transportation cycling are completely different things and my interest in one does not undermine my love for the other. It's not a marketing influence, but something inside me that is curious to experience cycling in its radically different forms.

    I've never done anything like this paceline ride before. It was different and it was tough and (in my opinion) I did have the wrong bike for it. That does not mean there is anything wrong with the bike, but simply that it was not the best choice for that particular activity. Similarly, a racing bike would be a poor choice for touring, whereas the Riv is ideal.

    Ron - I don't think so. They were okay with my Power Grips for instance, as well as with my eccentric mount and dismount technique (as long as I could do it quickly - which I could). I think to them, my showing up to a training ride on a touring bike was the equivalent of had I shown up to skate-skiing practice wearing regular XC skis. Sure it can be sorta done, but it's not standard equipment. I think that stance is reasonable.

  67. Good for you in giving it a try. I bet after you do a few rigorous group rides, pacelines, etc. you’ll settle into it just fine. I recall my early similar experiences, and I also remember getting dropped off the back. No matter how hard I tried I could not get back up onto that wheel. Then of course watching them disappear up the road ahead, and leaving me to creep along solo and lonely to the end. Figuring these things out can be humbling initially but many things worth learning are that way.

    Sounds like the heaviness of the Rivendell handicapped you in the climbs.

    If there’s a crosswind, kind of a cool paceline experience is to ride in echelons or even rows of echelons. Rather exhilarating when it’s done well. You have to take up a good amount of the road though, which of course is not often possible.

  68. My first paceline was 1966. Things don't change much. I appeared on an inappropriate bike, a Schwinn Continental. Slow tires, 800gram steel rims. Suffered. Two weeks later I was loaned. or issued, a crusty old Wastyn. No one had heard collectable. Just iron. Three speed freewheel on 1/8" chain with Simplex shifter on the top tube. Wood rims with silk tubulars. Those wheels flew. Top gear (46x15) was considered excessive for my young legs so top gear was blocked. I had two gears with a lot of crunch and slop in between. Did not matter. I had light wheels and I could keep up, even play.
    Hetres are low rolling resistance for what they are and devilish fast in dirt and gravel. They are dogmeat slow for a roadie. Jan Heine or Peter Weigle have the mass to get a 400plus gram tire going and you better believe if they paceline on Hetres they are not covering every little acceleration or bothering to close every half-length gap on someone else's timetable. As the rookie, you are kinda obligated to close every tiny gap in the line if you want to be welcome, that's the discipline and the drill and why you're there. Doing those accelerations on Hetres would break anyone's legs & I am impressed as heck that you stayed in. Don't do it again.
    Brifters are sweet & I love mine & would not go back to Simplex on the toptube. But not the issue. Human anatomy somehow allowed Eddy Merckx to cope with downtube shifters rather well and the NEBC line is not gonna crush him in the hills 'cause they got brifters.
    The Bianchi has some kind of utility commuter rubber on it. If you can say Hetre and fast in the same breath you've never experienced fast tires. If you don't believe me (why should you) borrow a pair of live wheels even long enough for around the block & see what the Bianchi can do.

    There are a couple good reasons for racer types to want to be all the same. Sitting in a paceline a lot of time is spent doing nothing but noting the relative speed and relative position of the other riders. Simple automatic stuff, only takes a few neurons. It's even soothing. When an object pulls into peripheral vision you want it to be another bike and rider just like all the others. And just like me. If something "other" pulls into view, you just gotta break rhythm and look at it. And when all the wheels seem to be going towards the same spot all at once & the options for keeping wheelside down do not look good, the last thing you want to see is something "other". And of course the other will be blamed for the crash.
    Contrariwise if the "other" shows up for ride #2 on a nice new "normal" bike everyone gets this buzz of group solidarity and group identity. Simple how that works. To be accepted while remaining an individualist and an oddity is improbable - best bet is to be blindingly faster than everyone. If that's not an option there may be no easy route.

  69. One more thing: No one there suggested that I should ride a CF bike per se. Just a bike that is lighter, more aerodynamic, with road/racing geometry, and with combination shifters. A steel bike can fit that description just as well. I remember picking up a fully built up Peter Mooney lugged steel roadbike and it weighed like 16lb including saddle and pedals.

  70. Wow, Velouria, that does not sound like a fun group to me. If you want to actually race on one of those ugly aero bikes, go for it.

    Consider looking for some other groups, though. I'm on a rag-tag team of varying skill levels -- people who can maintain 20+mph for four hours to people who ride 13 on a good day. We welcome anyone and our bike standards are not so rigid. On a 30 mile training ride, yes, we would discourage a beach cruiser. But the bikes range from carbon and titanium to aluminium and vintage. One rider has the most beautiful Vitus. I definitely ride the heaviest, crappiest bike. I hear exactly the opposite of what you heard, though -- "don't get a real road bike; we'll never catch you."

    If I can find a group like this here, in the middle of nowhere in a very cycling-unfriendly town, there must be tons of them there. I met these people through a weekly social ride.

    I totally lust after a Rivendell Roadeo now, though.

  71. Way to hate on roadies, people.

    That Mooney is 5k, I'd bet. No need to defend CF - it speaks for itself. It's really good now and what you get for your $ is way more than two years ago. Modern CF is comfortable, compliant and effin fast.

    I don't understand comments that are designed to keep you down. People have always been threatened by strong women, I guess.

  72. I agree a good steel road bike is fine for these types of activities, and it doesn't neccessarily have to be under 20 lbs.

    No one has ever picked on me for showing up to a group ride on a steel (or aluminum for that matter) frame, or for what I was wearing. However I have been chastised for showing up on a filthy bike. I learned my lesson.

    In Belgium if you show up at a race with a dirty bike they may not allow you on the start line, and might even fine you. I think that's wonderful actually.

  73. there is a reason why one uses the proper tools to successfully remodel a house. there is a reason one purchases the proper ingredients to make a great meal. there is a reason people wear lycra and ride light bicycles. it's not about being 'in' or 'out' its about maximizing and using the proper tools and ingredients for success. this is not to say you can't use the wrong tools or ingredients, the result just isn't as good.

  74. Congratulations for going out and trying it! You held your own and discovered some shortcomings that aren't anything to be ashamed of. If you really want to go this course go for it, but on the other hand-don't sell yourself short or try be something you aren't. You've got lovely bikes that have all the potential to be speed demons. You ride pretty much all the time. You might have felt exhausted, but you do have stamina and endurance because you bike most of the year in all weather on much heavier bikes than they probably would ever ride. I'd find it very intimidating. Are there perhaps women(and men) you could ride with that have a wider variety of bikes and skills? Hows about a rando club? Randonneurs have a huge variety of bikes from traditional lugged, to carbon, to titanium, aluminum etc.. Not sure if I'm into biking for 300-600 km in one go though. Maybe more like slack rando.
    EEks no way would I be able to go down a hill without using my brakes.
    How would your bianchi do? Would it get a better response from the other riders? I picked up a beautiful reynolds 853 bike that was parked somewhere out of lustful envy and it was soooo light.
    I see roadies out in their lycra and insanely expensive bikes on nice days and they zip by. I feel lame, but I have to remind myself they only ride on nice saturdays or sundays. They do not bike everyday. They probably spend a great deal of time indoors at the gym spinning hence their good spinning skills. I am carrying everything under the sun in my panniers!

  75. Velouria...

    I admire your spunk and tenacity... joining a pace-line training ride... you should be quite proud of yourself.

    Now as everyone knows... I am probably the world's grumpiest... carnkiest retro-grouch... I proudly ride a heavy old Peugeot with technology from the mid-1900's... refuse to wear anything that remotely looks like cycling apparel... and I aint changing for anyone...

    But... the first thing I would do if I decided to get back into racing is ditch the Peugeot... I would pick the right tool for the job... a modern CF bike with a mid-line Campy group... and never look back.

    Using the Peugeot for racing and pace-line training is like using a sledgehammer to install a drywall screw... possible... but not pretty... there is nothing wrong with picking the correct tool for the job... more efficient and often safer...

    Having said that... nothing I like better than torturing a bunch roadies with my Peugeot and panniers... after they cannot drop me... then I go to the front for a pull and tear the peloton apart...

    Just because you don't ride with lycra, clip-less pedals and carbon... does not mean that you are not a fast, hard rider...

    The Grouch

  76. You don't have to spend a lot to get a bike that would be appropriate for this sort of riding. A Surly Pacer with decent wheels and Tiagra components (perhaps even clipless pedals?) would be just fine. It sounds, by the way, like you want to do this sort of riding, and if so you should.

  77. Yikes! That sounds miserable. I've been thinking about going on rides with my local women's cycling club although they don't do pacelines on their beginner rides.

    I just discovered your blog today and I've gone through several of your posts. It's been an invaluable resource and I'm excited to come back again! I was extremely thrilled to find someone with more bikes than me. Everyone thinks my fiance and I are crazy. Six bikes between the two of us plus a tandem.

  78. Back around the mid 1980s when cycle racing was being 'discovered' in the USA, the Los Angeles Olympics contributed to this, I was enthusing about the development to a frame builder acquaintance. I assumed he would share my enthusiasm. But his reply was deeply perceptive; he said, "The only question is whether 'bicycling' will survive cycle racing's popularization." As the decades have gone by since I have come to understand just what he meant. PS-I get the same response your practical and enjoyable Rivendell got from the paceline group when I show up on my 25+ year old Italian and French bikes with their upright bars at the bike shop full of carbon fibre plastic bikes.

  79. Yeah, I have to admit... that sounds bloody terrible! I don't like being coached, though, so that could be one reason it sounds so brutally yucky. I hate people yelling at me, and I don't care why they're doing it.

    Good for you for trying it. I'll be curious to see if you keep doing it. I certainly wouldn't have even tried, so that's something!

    Besides, I have no desire to a: go fast, or b: go at the same pace as other people. I like stopping when I want, slowing down and speeding up as my body demands. I can't imagine something designed to make me hate biking more than what you just described!

  80. Velouria: I never thought I'd see your, my or anyone else's blogs again in the wake of the Blogger outage that lasted the better part of three days!

    What you say about the experience is remarkably similar to how I felt about my first paceline ride more years ago than I'll admit. I, too, found the technique surprisingly easy (or surprisingly less difficult than I'd imagined). But, even though I was young and in relatively good shape, the speed left me exhausted.

    Ash: Only six bikes! ;-)

  81. Justine - That is encouraging to hear!

    And yes, I too for some reason felt the blogger disruption to be possibly catastrophic. The way it happened was just so sudden, especially with data disappearing. Hopefully it will be completely resolved soon.

    The funny thing was that some assumed that the earlier disappearance of this post had to do with something sinister. My inbox was filled with emails this morning asking why I removed this post. Thank you for that, Blogger!

  82. Riding in a pace line can be fun and dangerous. Several years back I was clipping along about 25mph, with about 10 in the line, the guy up front sat up and all of us crashed. I ended up in a ditch with helmet cracked in two, I separated ribs which never healed and wore off a lot of skin and bent up my prize bike. But after a few rides you will find the right group that rides at a good pace for you.

  83. One good thing about modern roadies and their desire to have the latest and greatest is that you can find great deals on gently used bikes. Of course it is helpful to know the frame geometry that fits you. I got my carbon go-fast bike for a fraction of it's retail price. Although all my other bikes are steel and I love the looks of classic bikes, for my fast paceline rides I love my carbon rocket. That said, I road for years on a lugged 853 frame with modern components and brifters and kept up just fine in the paceline.


  84. When I was in college, years ago, I wanted to take skiing for PE and you had to take this ski fitness class first to strengthen your legs. I lived with these two guys who were good skiers and I was telling them about these workouts and they looked at each other quizzically and then one said to me: "You're doing all this just to get down the bunny hill?"

  85. I used to ride a double paceline (two abreast and 10 deep), every Tuesday evening in Providence with the University bike team. I was really hard work but we did manage to do 30 miles in no time.

  86. Velouria I think you are too hard on yourself. This was your first time and you did not know what to expect. You wanted to try it and you did it. At least now you know. You should try it again maybe with a bike closer to a racing bike geometry.

  87. Have you looked into Randonneuring? It is non competitive distance cycling and people ride Hillbornes and beautifully equipped fendered (steel!) bicycles.

    I'm sure since you read Bicycle Quarterly that you've been exposed to it.

    Thanks for writing about your experience. It sounds like you learned many things and I enjoyed reading about it.

    Personally, I'm aspiring to participate in Randonneur rides and enjoying reading about people preparing for the famous Paris Brest Paris this year. Maybe you could find some like minded folks in a local Rando group.


  88. Wow...Thanks for sharing this experience. All the times you wrote of wanting to go on a group ride I pictured the social group rides I've been on in Austin. Similarly, those can be intimidating and you have to learn how to ride with lots of other bikes in close proximity - however they are super friendly and fun.

    I love that you want to learn and experience the various sub-cultures within biking, and that you aren't afraid to admit how hard and scary it can be.

  89. Congrats for going and surviving it! I hope you keep it up and keep reporting to us about your experiences. :D

  90. I don't know why the internet seems to have the idea that rando clubs are full of people tooling along on Rivendells and BQ-approved bikes with lovingly touched-up twine appointments. The vast majority of riders on most brevets are go-fast types on typical racing bikes. Which isn't to say that you won't be welcome turning up with a fancy steel bike, of course.

  91. Glad to see we can post again! I hope you are as proud of yourself as you should be. Even if the training didn't go as you might have fantasized, think what an amazing accomplishment it was, particularly in light of the inherent disadvantages of your bike. When you started this blog you often described yourself as not at all athletic and as a person who could NEVER use drop bars (impossible!), foot retention of any kind (lethal!), narrow tires (razors!), ride a fixie (ludicrous!), and certainly would not have entertained the notion of a paceline. You've done it all! We're all very proud of you. : )

  92. Hi,
    Am quite new to your blog and it's one of my first go to sites when I boot up the computer. Really enjoying it.
    On to the post. Road racing has always struck me as very image and status conscious. Just curious on your thoughts about mountain biking. I know you already have bikes for off road purposes, but just curious about your interest in that area of cycling. I've always found competitive/serious mountain biking far more inclusive. There is still an obsession with gadgets and gear but snobbery is almost illegal in that world.

  93. Last year I completed a 25 mile tour (it was my first time) on my single speed all steel bike Princess. I was second to the last (the last person was on a tricycle.) But I probably worked harder than all those people on the fancy bikes. Next week I'll do it again. I'll try to complete the 50 mile one on a much lighter, but still old steel Spalding roadbike. The people that race looked at me like I was crazy. Maybe I am, but I saure enjoyed it.

  94. By the way - could someone explain what it means to be on top of the pedal stroke?

  95. So I googled this phrase and found out now one in the new millennium uses it. So sad.

    Say you are laboring on a climb in too high of a gear. Every pedal stroke you’re heaving all you weight onto one leg, then the other. Sure you can get up the climb, but not very fast. The other extreme is spinning like a maniac, kinda like those spin class peeps. Staying on top of the stroke is using just the right gear to balance your lung/heart power to leg power. If you use too low a gear your legs get overtaxed; too high and the lungs & heart get hit hard. Keeping on top of the gear also means you can allow your trailing leg (the one not doing the pushing) to do some pulling-up work.

    Brifters help immensely in keeping you in exactly the right cadence by allowing you to shift often and rapidly, so it’s no mental or physical effort.

    I’m sad to not see this term in wide usage because it automatically keeps you pedaling at the right cadence and the rider doesn’t have to remember a lot of things.

  96. Si vous n'avez pas un bon coup de pedal, ces "brifters", ca ne fait rien.
    Le coup de pedal, c'est tout.

  97. Le bon coup de pedal est plus important, sans doute. Si on n'a pas la puissance et souplesse dans le paceline, les brifters son plus importants.

  98. Thanks for posting this. I now know for certain I will never have the urge to try it!
    I am a little perplexed why you were so surprised by what you found, however. You said it was an intro to racing ride. It seems to me that the vast majority of people who would be interested in racing would START by buying $5k worth of kit! Then, and only then, move on to learning how to use it. Likewise your surprise that people drive to ride. Those of us who read this blog are in the very small minority of "lifestyle" bikers - those who ride out of what might be described as an "ideological conviction." To everyone else, biking is a sport. Like going to the gym. Everyone drives to the gym, right?
    Finally, there is probably no better symbol of rigid conformity in cycling than a paceline. There is reason road racing bikes exist and have evolved the way they have. They are a tool optimized for specific jobs - pacelines being one of them. Not only are you supposed to synchronize your cadences, but this only works if you can be reasonably sure everyone in the paceline has exactly the same gearing. And, as you found, assume also that everyone can shift at the same time to a NEW gear that is the same as the rest of the line.
    Thanks for being brave enough to try this and share your experience. Many of us have now had the benefit of learning from it!

  99. I would think the ideal paceline bike for Velouria would be a Sweetpea 'Little Black Dress'. Not cheap. Not suggesting that you *need* one to satisfy that itch you want to scratch. But if you really decide that you *Like* riding hard in a paceline with other riders, and you want to invest in something that will last a while, but you aren't competitive enough to need to break away and beat the field... that would be it.

  100. Velouria,

    All too many new cyclists, particularly those who have cultivated a cycle chic/ riventwee self-image, indulge themselves in a kind of overly defensive disdain for road cycling culture. You have not, so good on you.

    You can ride pacelines with bar end shifters, it just takes some practice and skill. That's not to say you shouldn't get a road bike, because everyone needs to get a road bike.

  101. Good on you Velouria for giving paceline riding a go. I think the point that may be overlooked here is the level of fitness required to be comfortable riding paceline with the racing fraternity. When I used to race the saying was that unless you rode for 8 hours a week you were wasting your time. If you are not committed to riding that sort of amount the paceline just becomes a kind of weekly excercise in humiliation and pain. You have to ask yourself if you have a) the time and b) the desire. If you do, then a quality steel frame from the 80’s onwards with reasonable groupset and quality wheels would not hold you back. A world of warning though, if you get really fit you will want to race and then you will be looking at carbon fibre in no time.

    Love your blog, keep it up.

  102. All the comments are back, excellent!

    Phil Miller - My poison would be more along the lines of Peter Mooney or Circle A. Or Seven!

    Anon - I agree that paceline rides can be done with bar-ends. But it helps if at least some of the others have them too. If every single other person is shifting without moving their hands from the hoods but me, it introduces confusion and also gives me something extra to struggle with.

    rustygman - If I were ever to pursue cycling as a sport, I would use whatever equipment was necessary to give me an advantage or at least equal footing with my competitors. Otherwise, why do it? So I am not at all against CF for racing. But will I ever pursue cycling as a sport? Very unlikely.

  103. Very interesting thread... I am captain of a CAT 3/4 women's race team and was looking up on how to conduct training rides because every since I started this it has been a nightmare. We want to welcome everybody that wants to give the ride a shot but cannot wait for every rider or it disrupts the "training" aspect of what the ride is about. I advertise the ride as "intermediate" with average speeds over the entire ride as 18 mph over hilly terrain. Many of the women that get dropped get angry that we don't slow the pace down or regroup every 5 miles. Therefore we get labeled as "roadie snobs" and many never come back. The girls I love are the ones that never give up. They come back week after week wanting and trying to get better because that is what their overall goal is. They are OK if they get dropped. It makes them work harder and they benefit from that in the long run.

    What I don't understand from reading all these posts is why so many women riders that are more casual recreational in nature have against those of us that want to be faster and want to race. In the back of my head it sounds of pure intimidation and jealousy. I feel I can say that without arrogance because I was in the same boat at one time. I was scared or group rides, going fast, pacelining, racing, and mixing it up. One day I decided what the heck and went out on a bikeshop ride. It was fast and scary but I didn't do too bad. I kept going back and working on speed, riding next to people, pacelining, and whatnot and the next thing I found myself racing. I'm not the greatest racer and usually finish mid-pack to below midpack in road races but it is fun and for these people on here knocking us, until you get out there and try it don't hate on what you do not know.

  104. Anonymous Captain - I agree with your method of conducting the rides and with how you describe them. The key to training is for the members of the group to improve, which cannot be done if they aren't challenged - i.e. always waiting for the few who are too slow to catch up.

    I've been going to the training rides that I first described here for over a month now, and am now in the intermediate group (having moved through beginners, then advanced beginners). Although these are advertised as no-drop rides, what happens is that each group usually splits up in two by the middle of the ride, so that the faster people and the slower people can cycle with those closest to their own abilities. It works extremely well, but the thing is to make sure that each group starts out with two captains.

    Anyhow, I am very happy that I stuck with the rides, and will probably be joining the team soon. If I ever get good enough, I would like to race.

    Not sure I agree with your comment about jealousy (i.e. that the women dissing roadies are jealous), as it would imply that roadcycling is inherently desirable to everyone. I do not think that it is. More likely, I think that "roadcycling culture" is widely misunderstood, and that the women making negative comments don't really process that it is a *sport* and not a social activity.

  105. You never replied to my question about women's group dynamics, but am pretty sure I know the answer.

    My pet theory is negative social reinforcement exists even at the highest professional cycling levels.

  106. Ha! Great story, hilarious!
    I ride a bike similar to yours, steel, but with downtube shifters and a moustache bar.
    Bikes like these are plenty fast, you've just got to believe it. Just about everyone I ride with is on carbon and I hang with them just fine. I remember showing up on a lunch time ride where nobody knew me except for the guy who invited me. Someone quietly said to him that they weren't going to wait for "him" meaning waiting for me to catch up. It turned out that I was the second fastest of that day.
    I've got a jillion stories like this. It is totally true, it's not about the bike!!!

  107. 1: sounds like your bikeclub sux! Sorry to say. I met up with my club today, second time ever. There were a dude on flatbar-hybrid bike, several dudes with low end modern bikes, me with my high end steel bike and last time I even had my 70th steel barendshifterbike. But we know everyone is a beginner in the beginning. And we Talk instead of lousy easy to missunderstand waves. We ofcourse have the pothole-wave and the lets-turn-left/right-in-that-korner-wave and the "railwaytrack"wave (from sweden, many trains) but that's all! Otherwise we watch and talk to say what to do! And what? one paceline? We do atleast two so that you can chat.

    About your bike, well, you could use your bike - definitely - and barendshifters rock - you just have to install them right! Put the levers so that you can easily reach them, learn to use your shifters with the last two fingers (litle finger and ring finger they´r called here). Also EAT! If you have no carbs in your blod your gonna get tired, clumsy and freaking slow! I so well recognize your feelin and it just screams to little suger! And fuck the weigh, when you work out you have to get suger and the body won't store it anyway.

    Good luck next week!

    1. Not at all, the bike club is awesome. (This is not my own club though, I have since joined the Ride Studio Cafe club - but NEBC is awesome in its own way.) Anyhow, I picked up more bike handling skills after 2 of these paceline rides than I had over the previous 2 years of cycling. In the end I joined a different club, but I will always be thankful to these military-style rides for the skills they taught me.


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