Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Pace Line

Going fast with less effort is fun. In fact, if you can pull it off, I recommend always doing it. It is for this reason (and others, I'm sure, but this is the one that comes to mind right now) that I like nice things on bikes. I like to go fast. I like it taking less effort.

It turns out losing weight also helps you go fast with less effort, but losing the weight actually takes a lot of effort. Just consider that the next time someone suggests losing 10 lbs when all you want to do is buy a better bike or part.

But, this post isn't about weight loss.

Riding in a pace line--or for those day-dreaming types, a peloton--is another way to go faster with less effort. This is one of those phenomena that simply amazes me. It takes so much less effort to ride a bike behind someone (even just one person) than by yourself. I didn't even know I was creating such a useful wind draft behind me when I rode. It is as if you are cheating nature. "You call that wind?! I have a skinny cyclist in front of me. I am invincible!"

Saturday's long ride started out with a group ride. Now, besides the major benefit I've just mentioned of riding in a group, though, there are some drawbacks.

1. It is a bit nerve-wracking to ride really close to someone on a busy highway. I understand this anxiety will probably fade with time as I ride more often in a group, but it took some concentration to keep the proper distance behind the guy in front of me--not too short and not too long.

2. Which leads, of course, to the second negative to riding in a group. You have to watch the backside of another cyclist. I find that, at least in the group I was riding with, if I don't keep an eye on the person/bike in front of me, I'll either get too close or fall back too far. Also, in order to be informed of road hazards coming up, this is especially important. The riders in front have the obligation to, by making use of hand signals, inform the riders behind of potholes, glass, roadkill, etc. You don't want to miss those signs.

3. I don't get to look at the beautiful Utah countryside. This is really just a corollary to the previous one, but when looking down, you can't enjoy the world around you nearly as well. Fortunately, there are times when you can enjoy it. Namely, when you are in front. Of course, when in front, I spend a significant amount of time trying to keep up a pace that just moments earlier I found slow and tedious.

All negatives aside, there is something almost super-human about riding in a pace line. We did almost 50 miles with an average of 21 mph. I can't do that by myself. It was pretty cool.

That being said, the pack aerodynamics didn't make up for all of the gap between my normal average speed and this one. In other words, riding with a group forced me to ride harder than I would have on my own. Perhaps this should be number 4.

4. This isn't the pace I asked for.

There. Anyway, normally, I'd be fine with this, but on Saturday, I was in it for the long haul. That pace, even sheltered from the wind, was tough to do before adding another 70 miles on my own.

Why would I ever ride in a pace line, then? Well, with the right pace line, going the right speed, I could go much further. I could go further and faster. I could probably do 206 miles with a total average (including stops) of 16.5 mph. At least, that's what I'm counting on.


tkp said...

Heh. Congratulations on your group ride...aren't they fun?! You've got to love the effortless speed and the company.

Keep at it...the spacing will come more naturally as you practice. Of course, the level of riders around you plays a part in that too.

James Sharp said...

"That being said, the pack aerodynamics didn't make up for all of the gap between my normal average speed and this one."

Maybe that testosterone... er nicotine patch, and um... other stuff -- what's really in Cytomax? -- made a difference.