Sunday, July 12, 2009

7-12-09 HOWC Never Assume Anything

Miles: 44 Climbing: 2250’ Route: Downtown Seattle—Mercer Island—Enatai—Meydenbauer Bay—Medina—Kirkland—Downtown Bellevue—Mercer Island clockwise loop—Downtown Seattle Attrition Rate: 0%

Our ride got off to a really crappy start this morning. Luke fell off just 10 minutes into the ride, and thankfully came away with just bruises and road rash. Luke went straight, and Bob went left, the two of them touched wheels, and Luke took the fall. He also took full blame for the crash, but I wonder if I could have prevented it. All I had to do was say, “Left turn.” It never crossed my mind because we had been at this spot a thousand times, and never done anything but go left. Luke has likely made that left fifty times, and he has even led the ride by himself through there. Bob and everyone else just went left without concern. The problem was that Luke was on the left, and there wasn’t a space for him to squeeze through. We were all chatting, just warming up, not going hard at all, and Luke said he simply wasn’t paying attention.

Inevitably, there is a lesson to be learned when someone hits the ground. The takeaway for me today is to never assume anyone is thinking the same as everyone else, don’t try and read someone’s mind, and always call things out, even if you feel a little foolish. At any specific time in a long group ride, I think it’s safe to say that at least one person is not fully focused 100% on the ride. Riders should intuitively be aware of the need to work as a group and help each other out, but from now on, I’m going to make a point to be a little over the top about this during the talk at the ride start. Not because of what happened today, but because of what could happen down the road.

Despite the pretty low speed, Luke came away a little banged up. I’m glad he’s okay, and that got me to thinking, as I watched the Tour de France today, I wonder how these really fragile-looking little guys hit the deck and, most of the time, bounce right back up. The recent stage from Girona to Barcelona in the wet saw some 30+ rider’s crash, and most of the crashes occurred in the last few miles of the race, when the peloton was just hauling. Riders were hitting the ground like bowling pins at 35mph, and it is always just business as usual. I expected broken bones by the dozens, but the riders just jumped back on. During today’s stage, the camera cut to a rider on the descent of the Tourmalet. His head-to-toe kit was so ripped to shreds that it looked like he had rolled down a scree slope for about a mile. Yet at the end of the stage, there he was with the peloton, bombing through the narrow little streets elbow-to-elbow with the main bunch. I guess one can’t assume these riders are made of glass after all.

There are other assumptions you can never make about riders or about a ride. For example, despite the fact that it’s mid-July, never assume that the ride will be dry. I went 5175 miles on my 09 S-Works Tarmac SL2 without it seeing a drop of rain…until today. Two months without rain, we were due, and it is STP weekend after all. We made a weather-based group decision in Kirkland to modify our planned 65 mile route, as it appeared that we would soon be engulfed by storm clouds if we continued north. We would have made it back unscathed, except we threw in Mercer Island after adjusting our on-the-road weather forecast back to favorable. Nevertheless, riding the last 4.5 miles in a hard rain was infinitely preferable to riding back from some far-off distant land. It’s July—who wants to get wet now? There will plenty of time for that in the winter.

One can also never assume that everyone has actually read the ride description of what it is we do on the HOWC. Not to pick on our out of town guest from Princeton, New Jersey, but clearly he didn’t have a grasp as to what the ride is about. He emailed me with a question, but it wasn’t related to the pace of the difficulty of the ride. There shouldn’t be a question about pace, because it is spelled out loud and clear in the ride description. I’m not picking on our visitor, because over the six years we have been doing the HOWC, we have had a number of out of town guest riders, and I can’t recall a single one that we didn’t wind up waiting for during the ride. Perhaps it is because Seattle’s steep hills breed very fit riders, but we have had riders from San Francisco crack famously, and they have some steep ramps down there. Based on our experience with the ride, one must assume that Seattle riders just ride pretty hard. Yeah, I like that. We’ll go with that explanation.

Last, but not least, never assume anyone has class just because they are riding a bike. On the east side of Mercer Island, we were doing a solid, but not super-hard paceline when we went by a solo rider in team kit. As they often do, he latched on and proceeded to sit back and wheelsuck the entire away around the island. He never asked if he could join us, much less offer to help and take a turn on the front. At the end of the loop, rather than go to the front and take a turn, he hammered up the hill back up to the top of the east I-90 Bridge ramp, using the legs he saved sitting in the draft. For some reason this really was offensive to me, and I dug deep and bridged up to him, catching him at the top of the climb. It took a pretty hard effort, and I didn’t have anything clever to say to him, or a lot of energy to say it. As we rolled down to the ramp, he said something to me like, “Nice ride, thanks for doing the work.” Despite the word, “Thanks,” being in there, I just looked at him in silence. Maybe he got the point, maybe not. But one thing I know is that he didn’t have the satisfaction of getting to that stop sign by himself like he must have been sure he would. I guess the final assumption of the day may have been made by this tag-on rider: We’re a group of unfriendly cyclists. But we’re not.

We’re a really friendly group. We like to ride hard, climb high, and ride fast (as long as it’s not raining). And if you want to hop on, just ask.

I hope to see you on the road.


LB said...

Definitely not a smart maneuver on my part. As someone who has been known to push the pace and help with leading these rides, I feel an extra responsibility to ride safely and alertly. So this mortified me. Credit Bob for nimbleness to stay upright. I'm really glad no one got hurt.

I always try to take a lesson from a crash. Fortunately I have not had to do so for several years. I think my lapse today traces back to a cut on my nose I got right before the ride. I almost drove back home when I got it in the car. I was late arriving and still tending to it as I simultaneously chatted away and then crashed. I hadn’t even got my arm warmers and gloves on (sure would have reduced the road rash). So the lesson for today is all about understanding your responsibility to the group to ride sharp and not let distractions have consequences for everyone. I should have been riding at the back of the pack.

Thanks Tom et all for the medical facilities, Emil for the bike work and everyone else on the ride – and mostly to my wife for surgical work to get all that road ick out. Ouch!

Feeling good now. I was not about to ride wet pavement yesterday – so I did a hard/long run and felt great.

Johny said...

Hey Tom and HOWC cyclist. It's been 2+years since my move to Canada and my last HOWC bike ride. I do miss your ride but I still get a few miles around the great lakes in Belleville, Ontario with maybe 1000' of hills. I am very glad to see that you guys are still going hard at it. 23-25mph pace lines.... it looks like the ride might be getting more energized also. have a good summer of riding. Go Lance!