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Whinge

My Gift to You
posted: 04/12/10

Yep, it took me getting worked up after a bike race to update me blog after six months. Lucky you. Sorry.

Friends, it's time you learned something. Said topic has been on my mind since the moment I came back to bike racing in 2007 and did a group ride. I've thought countless times about writing something up, something brief but pointed, but have always dismissed doing so because, well, it's sort of presumptuous on my part and maybe a little pompous. But, you see, things aren't getting better. In fact, they're getting worse.

When I started racing bicycles in the '80s (yes, here we go again...), there were Old Guys in the bike clubs. Old Guys with experience. Old Guys who thought not a whit about telling you when you were doing something wrong, something inefficient, or at worst, something dangerous. I had many an OG yell at me during a group ride and a fair number of call-outs during (and after) races. And you know what happened? I learned some stuff. Despite the occasional crushing embarassment, I am forever thankful to these Old Guys with their loud mouths and their experience.

These days you have old guys (lowercase here) without experience, but with plenty of money. You know what they say on rides and in and after races? Not a damn thing, because they have little to nothing to offer other than WATTS. In fact, it's pretty eerie out on group rides these days, because no one says anything. Everyone has a really nice bike, they feel entitled to be there because hey, they can afford it, and nobody can tell them anything. Entitlement. Look it up, people. You'll find a picture of an inexperienced old guy unloading a Cervélo from an Audi.

But I'm gonna break the chain. This OG is gonna talk. Get comfy.

Everybody thinks they know how to take a pull.

Some actually do. But... a great number don't, despite having taken many a pull. Still... a lot do. That's great.

Here's what, in my experience, is all too common - and granted this happens a lot more at the club level and in lower racing categories.

It is this:
The guy who knows how to start, but does not know how to complete, a pull.

(Girls are awesome, never fail and are exempt.)

So I give you this, bicycle racers.

LEARN TO COMPLETE A FREAKIN' PULL

First, we need to responsibly dispense with the basics of taking a pull in a single, rotating paceline, which is, like, super common. For the sake of clarity, I'm going to leave out double paceline technique, which really only differs in how one completes a pull. Even so, pretty much same-same. Observe.

  • Get in the paceline. Get. In. There.
  • Keep it tight.
  • Avoid sudden accelerations.
  • DO NOT GO FASTER WHEN ON THE FRONT (though everyone subtly does this to some extent, despite how hard we try to avoid it). SO DON'T DO IT. Everyone hates you when you do this. They actually may hate you anyway, but they really hate you when you do this.
  • Make sure you're clear to come off when you complete your turn at the front. (An excellent resource on this and all the points above exists here. Go read it.)
  • Take short pulls. The faster the speed of the group, the shorter the pulls. Think seconds, not minutes. 5-10 seconds, off. TAKING HERO PULLS IS NOT EFFICIENT. Pacelines are about efficiency. DON'T BE INEFFICIENT.
  • Avoid creating gaps. GAPS ARE THE DEVIL.
  • If you find yourself in a group of weaker riders (or you have a big ego - and this is bike racing, so of course you're in love with you), take double pulls. THIS DOES NOT MEAN GO TWICE AS HARD. It means that if the average pull is 20 seconds, hold your average [not fluctuating, not accelerating] speed for twice as long, i.e., 40 seconds. Let the group know you're doing this or everyone is going to start taking longer pulls unnecessarily. Communicate. If you're on a training ride and everyone wants to do more work, take longer pulls, etc., that's fine. There's a time for that. Agree on durations and stick to them.
  • If you are wasted, just sit on the back. Open and close the door for those in the rotation. It's okay. You're not helping anyone. We understand. Really. It happens. Also, after you recover: Get. Back. In. There. You're going to get more tired from the yo-yo effect.

Wasn't that easy? And I know you knew all that. But here's what, apparently, no clubs or teams, even the really big ones at really big races (hello, NYVELOCITY!) seem to be teaching their riders at the lower end of the sport: HOW TO COMPLETE A FREAKIN' PULL.

It totally mystifies me. It's so basic. But so many people do it wrong. Tell me if this sounds familiar.

You're in a paceline. There's a guy on a $9,000 bike in front of you, taking a pull. You're second wheel. And you're sitting there, enjoying the draft. But something seems a little wrong. You've been second wheel for... gee, I don't know... at least two decades by now. And the guy in front of you is just sitting there, not pulling off the front. In fact, that guy is going harder and harder and harder... and he's starting to seem really tired, so now - uh oh - he's going slower, and slower. He's looking over his shoulder every once in a while, yep. He might even be motioning, perhaps wildly, because he saw a Belgian guy do that on Versus once or 20 times (hello, Leif Hoste!), for you to PULL THROUGH! COME ON! PULL THROUGH! He might even be yelling. Yes, that was definitely yelling. But you can't really hear him clearly, because he's yelling into the wind. And the draft is really nice. And it will be until that guy in front of you has a heart attack, crashes in front of the group and takes 20 riders down. Yay.

Who's doing it wrong? The rider on the front? Or the rider in second wheel? I'll tell you who doesn't get it: THE GUY WHO DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO COMPLETE A FREAKIN' PULL.

NEVER make the rider in second wheel come around you to the front.

Let me say that again. I don't want you to miss it.

NEVER MAKE THE RIDER IN SECOND WHEEL COME AROUND YOU TO THE FRONT.

Never ever ever ever never ever never ever do that. When you make the rider in second wheel expend the energy to come around you to take a pull YOU HAVE DEFEATED THE PURPOSE OF A PACELINE. The energy that it takes to come around a rider on the front is a big effort compared to the energy that it takes to simply now be on the front because the guy in front has efficiently COMPLETED A FREAKIN' PULL and has fallen back in accordance with the ascribed freakin' rules of cycling, for chrissake. I will be the first to admit that I'm not the world's strongest rider, but I am one thing in a paceline: I am smooth, and when people aren't pissed off about being behind me because I'm built like a chihuahua and give negative draft, they are loving me because I am a sexy beast, and a sexy beast whose wheel they can trust at that. Forcing a rider in second wheel to come around you to complete your freakin' pull more often than not creates a gap between that second rider and the rest of the paceline. Think about that. Gaps are NOT EFFICIENT. Even David Letterman knows this.

[Okay. There's an exception to the rule. If you're trying to disrupt a chase, you slow things down on the front. But trust me, if you're doing that, you already know how to complete a freakin' pull. Let's get back to reality.]

Please, this is easy stuff.

JUST
SWING
OFF.

That's it! Just swing off. Be obvious about it. Get off the front. One way (left) or the other (right). Preferably into the wind. If you don't know which way the wind is blowing, do what the rider who was in front of you - hopefully seconds and not hours ago - did when they completed their pull. Or just go off to the left. Just get off the front. Complete your pull efficiently. Drift to the back like a deflating balloon. Don't half-wheel the rider beginning to take over at the front. Disappear, RECOVER and do it again just like that next time it's your turn. And again, and again... Thing of beauty. Don't be an idiot. Don't be inefficient. COMPLETE THAT FREAKIN' PULL.

Learn this stuff, people. If you see someone Doing It Wrong, please school them. It's absurd that riders don't know how to do something fundamental like this, and they are racing bicycles quite some little bit regardless. If you try to force me to come around you to complete your pull I will promise you one thing: I will sit there on your wheel as long as it takes. I WILL LET YOU FRY IN THE WIND. Because it's ridiculous that you don't know how to complete a freakin' pull. Maybe you'll learn. Maybe you won't. Maybe you'll call me a wheelsucker. That's fine, because you're an idiot. I probably won't hit you in the back of the head with a pipe in the parking lot, because hey, that's not my style. But I will find where you live and I will poop in your mailbox. I have frequent flyer miles. I'm not afraid to use them.

Yes, this has been brewing for some time. You are welcome. Bye everybody!

Postscript: I've made a few edits for clarity. Less automatic writing, more paragraph breaks. I had a lot of coffee at lunch yesterday. Sorries.

I will say that I don't mean to give off the impression that all old guys (that would be 30+ in bike racing) with nice bikes are inexperienced, well-moneyed assholes. That would be untrue. There are plenty of nice old (and young) guys out there who are reliable wheels and who are happy to impart their knowledge and experience when asked. The sport has always attracted those with a few dollars. It's an expensive pursuit. Having nice stuff doesn't have to mean you're a douche. But if you're not willing to listen and learn the basics of the sport, if you willfully ignore the lessons set forth by those who came before you, you're a jackass, regardless of socio-economic status. Bike racing is freakin' hard. Don't make it harder. Keep it beautiful. Learn efficiency and economy. These are useful things.

Now, my minions: go and evangelize this message.

Next up: IF YOU CHOP ME IN A TRAINING CRIT AND YOU'RE RUNNING CARBON HOOPS I WILL UPROOT YOUR BEGONIAS UNDER COVER OF NIGHT.

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April 2010
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Last updated, fixified, or otherwise jiggered: 04/12/10.