Mileage: 62 Climbing: 3700’ Route: Downtown--Mercer Island--Lake WA Blvd.—89th—Coal Creek—Jones Rd.—Cedar Grove—Tiger Mountain Store—May Valley—Newcastle Golf Club--Mercer Island—Downtown Attrition Rate: 40% (one for a time commitment)
Just as with Saturday’s Meet the Team Ride, today’s HOWC felt a little discombobulated. We never seemed to get into a groove, and the pace was inconsistent. After six years, we have the HOWC at a pretty refined state, and the ride usually rolls along smoothly. Most of the riders who show up either know the protocol, or they catch on quickly once the ride starts. When the ride flows on auto-pilot like it often does, the HOWC is a hard, safe, and fun group ride.
We have had several off kilter rides since we turned down the pace in September. We always have new riders show up at this time of the year, and “fresh blood” is a good thing. It seems like we have issues when we have a high percentage of riders who are first timers. If there are three or four new riders as part of a 15-20 person ride, there are plenty of HOWC experienced riders to emulate. If we have three or four newbies as part of an 8-10 person ride, that’s another story.
Not only did we have a few riders new to the HOWC today, we had a few riders who were fairly new to riding in general. No matter how strong a rider is; the HOWC is really not a great forum for learning the basics of group riding. So I must keep that in mind when I say that we had some very sketchy pacelines within our group of ten.
It started with a touch of wheels with no damage…while we were going uphill. We had another uphill close call or two, but the real potential for disaster occurred on both Jones and May Valley roads. I got so creeped out that I went to the back on May Valley and stayed there, asking rotating riders to pull in ahead of me. In six years of HOWC rides I have never done that before.
Here is part of Jeff S’s take on the situation:
“It was strange that we started out with a paceline on Jones that pulled apart at the seams, and then went to the other extreme where it seemed too ‘compressed’ and riders were running over each other. I didn't see any reason behind the first slowdown / bump on May Valley. The one that happened climbing up to Newcastle was due to someone behind yelling "Split" and the lead rider in front of me instinctively slowing down with no warning—glad you were able to avoid my wheel.
I think part of the situation is due to moving the ride back down to ‘strenuous.’ A couple of riders were in over their head –one of them has been riding less than a year. Sound similar to the start of Luke's ride last week?
In general, it seemed like there were more inexperienced cyclists than usual out on the roads today—ironic that it's near the end of the season.”
Honestly, what Jeff and I should have done was to call a “meeting” and stop and discuss the situation. Rather than single anybody out, we should have just reviewed paceline strategy, pace, and technique. Ideally, we would get input from all of the experienced riders. If a rider simply didn’t get it, we would then ask that rider to remain at the back, and let rotating riders back in line in front of them. If someone really didn’t get it, we would ask them to leave the ride. Perhaps we should automatically review basic paceline/group riding protocol before the start of every HOWC? Never assume anything, especially when safety is concerned.
Think about this; when we have a rider not up to the pace, we don’t have a problem talking to them, mentioning that we can’t slow the ride for them, and making sure they know their way home. Normally these riders have already figured things out for themselves. When you have an unsafe rider, it puts everyone at risk. Who is more dangerous: a “slow” rider a mile off the back, or an unskilled rider in the middle of a paceline?
One thing the ride leaders have never really done on the HOWC (myself included) is encourage communication amongst the riders. A ride leader can’t be everywhere. Sure, the ride leader does the pre-ride safety talk, and part of that involves reviewing a few procedures that have really helped the ride develop into what it is. I think we also need to encourage everyone to point things out to each other during the ride, and I am not just talking about road hazards. When someone fresh is on the front and is pulling well above the winter pace, someone needs to say, “Whoa, Nellie, save it for the next climb.” Conversely, when a rider hogs the front of a paceline so long that they tire and slow, whoever is near could suggest, “Great pull. How about taking a break?” The safest and smoothest pacelines always have a consistent pace. When big gaps open from a herky-jerky pace, riders scramble to close the gap, and mistakes are more easily made.
Yes, the cycling season is winding down, but it looks like we are going to have people who want to lead the HOWC through the winter months. Our rider count may be down, but it never hurts to take a look at what we are doing out on the ride. I did on Sunday and I didn’t like what I saw, and I left late in the ride and rode home alone.
On Sunday, I was part of the “attrition rate.” I’m hopeful that in the future, that won’t be the case.