Wednesday, October 8, 2014

When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout. (Laurence J. Peter)

Disclaimer Statement: This post has nothing to do with doubt, danger, screaming, or shouting. But it is about going in circles. (And I just happen to love the quote.)

At last Saturday's Everglades Bicycle Club 20+ inaugural group ride, the ride leaders introduced the rotating pace line. We used it Saturday and again at an informal group ride (with many of the same people) on Sunday. Up to now, I've learned single pace line (quack, quack, ducks in a row) and double pace line (two by two, handlebar to handlebar, but still quack, quack, ducks in a row). In the rotating pace line formation two lines of riders rotate in an oval like a bicycle chain. One line is moving faster, the other line is moving slower. So there isn't any two by two, handlebar to handlebar action going on. Like a link in a bicycle chain, a rider moves forward in the faster line, reaches the front, passes the lead rider in the slower line, and slides over to become the new first rider in the slower column (soft pedaling to slow to the speed of the slower column). As other riders move from the faster to the slower line, he eventually becomes the last rider in the slower line. He then moves over into the last position of the faster column, and increases pedaling pressure to match the speed of the faster column, and moves forward again in the faster column. Easy peasy. Lots of fun.

May I just say, "Whoo-hoo!" The rotating pace is a game-changer for puny-wimp riders like me.

I love the cycling jargon about engine size. ("He is such a strong rider. He has a big diesel engine.") My engine is your basic wind up rubber band affair. My riding is based on tenacity rather than strength. I get destroyed when I have to be at the front of a faster pace line for more than a brief stay. (We're talking seconds here, not minutes, guys.) The rotating pace lets me move with the group without burning out by the end of a long ride. And I don't have to hide in the back of the group, which is, frankly, a bit of a bummer. Also, I quickly learned something very important. Because I have not spent a lot of time at the front pulling, I have never learned to keep my speed very, very constant. It was harder than I thought.

I asked Al about it since he pulls for me all the time, and I know that he can hold a very precise speed. "What's the secret to keeping my speed where I want it?" I asked him. He told me to start by paying more attention to my bike computer read out. "When you soft pedal you put almost no pressure on the pedals." But the rest of what he talked about made me realize it was more art than science. OK. It was something I could work on.

Like learning to dance, the rotating pace line requires practice. I'm obviously a newbie, but here's what I picked up so far:

  • Make sure you know what speed the fast line is supposed to go and how fast the slow (recovery) line is supposed to go. Make sure you ride at that speed. Watch your bike computer. If the ride leader says the line speeds are 20 and 18, keep it at 20 and 18. 
  • When you get to the front of the fast line, don't continue pedaling fast line speed when you pull over into the lead of the slower line. Glance at your bike computer speed. Soft pedal right away. Only a couple of pedal strokes at fast lane pressure will put a gap between you and the second guy in the slower line. Then he will have to surge to close the gap.
  • When you are in the slower line, focus on keeping a very steady speed. If you are all staying at the same slower speed, you don't really "drift back". That's just an illusion because the faster line is passing you.
  • When you get to the back position of the slower line, move into the faster line and immediately increase your pedaling pressure to move your speed up to the faster line speed. 

With the rotating pace line the whole group has to ride at the same level. This was really shown during our two weekend group rides. On Saturday the group was made up of riders in the same speed group, and the rotating pace line worked fairly well. (And got better as we went along.) Speed changes at intersections, traffic circles, and traffic lights caused some difficulty. We also had to learn that, unlike the other pace line formations we've used, we couldn't just willy-nilly hop out and sprint when we felt the spirit descend on us. It caused chaos and confusion. On Sunday, however, the group's composition was more diverse. We had riders from several speed groups. This meant that speeds that were fine for the stronger riders were exhausting for the weaker riders, particularly since we had a headwind issue going as well. It can work if the whole group understands that the weaker riders will have to work harder, and the stronger riders will have to hold back.

Is it better than the double pace line? Heck, yes.

A round of applause please, for the rotating pace line and the EBC 20+ ride group and ride leaders who introduced it!