About the KDK: for those who don’t ride road bikes, this won’t make much sense. For those who ride but know not of the KDK, listen up. The KDK is the best ride ever ATMO but the tips apply to any group setting that often turns into a race … and don’t they all?
About this time each year, we end up talking about ride etiquette, pace lines, or other things that will be of consequence this coming Tuesday. A few helpful articles have been posted in the past but usually, we don’t really drill down on it or force the issue. Luckily, we have a pretty good group and transgressions are minimal … but as the KDK grows, sketchy behavior has more grave consequences. So rather than find some blog or website with group ride tips (anyone interested in being better has already searched and studied and those who are unconscience to their own squirreliness or confident in their own god-like group skills won’t bother) I thought I’d just point out a few things that I think we can do better as a group to make the ride safer for us and less obtrusive to motorists. These comments represent my opinions and are simply offered for the betterment of the group. I will not be offended by those who disagree and encourage others offer constructive input and not be offended. Also, in many cases I’ll be talking about the stupid things I do so please don’t think I hold myself to some lofty status.
There is no prize money
Nobody makes a living from the KDK so please think about that before doing something that may seem quite glorious in your mind but in reality is just stupid or egotistical or, more commonly, way out of your skill range. That city limit sign seems like a chance at immortality sometimes but it’s just a stick in the dirt that isn’t nearly as important as the 3200 pound car drifting into our lane, heading towards us at 50 mph as you ease just over the yellow line to lunge for the line to get 4th place IN A FREAKING GROUP RIDE! Please don’t make me tell that story to your family.
When we ride two abreast, the rider on the left should not be on or even near the yellow line. We should use about half the lane with the exception of when the front riders come off after a turn. The left rider moves slightly left, the right rider slightly right and the next pair comes through the middle. I understand the ‘taking the lane’ deal but a group of 20 isn’t likely to be missed and having a bit of cushion between us and the line allows for some margin of error for inattentive drivers and offers some extra room for drivers overtaking us to feel more confident in doing so safely. There will be times where we ride in oddly shaped bunches, 2, 3, or even 4 wide even if we all know that isn’t a good idea. I’m not sure if that’s such a bad thing since it could be easier to pass a shorter, wider group than a line of single file riders but I do feel strongly that drivers only see a narrow corridor in which to pass us so, when we can, we should leave as much room as practicable*.
When you’re done on the front
After your pull is complete in a single pace line, an elbow flick to the side you are moving off to (like a turn signal in a car) is the appropriate notice to give the riders behind you that your turn is complete and the order of action is: elbow flick, move off the front in a predictable fashion, slow down to move to the back of the line. Key here is not slowing down (don’t stop pedaling) before you’re off the front. That just stacks the riders behind up as they grab brakes to keep from plowing into the back of you. I feel it’s important to keep both hands on the bars too. I do not understand the ‘ass tap’** as a signal and disagree with its use, ever. It is always accompanied by a swerve or wobble and a decrease in speed while the ass tapping** rider is still in front of the group resulting in an panicked accordion effect in the line behind. I’ve never seen any positive mention of that habit anywhere and I hope we never see it again at the KDK. Before you explain that you don’t rub your butt until after you’re off the front; a) then you gave no signal before pulling off, b) why are you rubbing your butt then? as we all know your aren’t on the front at that point, and c) I’ve never seen that happen.
Good Citizen (aka, the Greg Persell rule)
The majority of the KDK route is out in rural countryside where slipping through a 4-way stop without really stopping is just not a big deal. However, as we roll out of town and back into town, it is important for us to pay attention to the law. We should be stopping at all stop signs and signals and obeying all motor vehicle laws. Greg has been consistent on this and he’s right. A few extra seconds leaving and returning to town really helps our image with the citizens of a town who’ve been pretty accommodating to us as cyclists. It’s not only the least we can do but it is better/safer for us as well. Our established neutral zone is from the parking lot start until we cross north of Hwy 99 (roughly 1.5 miles) and when we again cross Hwy 99 on the way back in. In those zones, let’s try to stay together.
A final note on stop signs: the one at Sandlin Rd (the Elkmont exit) on the final run into town, where some people who shall remain nameless mostly because I don’t want to out myself, have run the sign to gain an advantage on the group, has become a dangerous point in the ride. There’s a hill to the left over which cars traveling quite fast appear quickly. There are cars coming off the interstate, a bit speed blind, and turning right, towards us often without looking. In other words, this is a dangerous intersection so we should, without fail, stop at this sign. Remember, there may be plenty of time for the first person to make it through but I’m 10 riders back, completely gassed from barely hanging on, and I might be, unwisely, trusting that it’s clear simply because you didn’t stop. And if we’re not going to run it, why not give everyone a chance to get across and get clipped in before accelerating to ludicrous speed again. Really, if you’re that strong, you can afford to be magnanimous enough to let the little folks onto the back of the train before it leaves the station.
As I’ve gotten fatter, I’ve been able to spend more time off the back of the main group after I’m dropped. I always wonder why we roll along alone or in twos and threes when there’s 10 or 12 of us trailed off the back? It seems safer and way more fun to me if we’d look around and get together with others to form a group – like the sprinters do in the Tour on mountain days, a groupetto – to work together, rider harder and faster than we would alone. Mostly, it seems safer and more fun that way. I think one of the more dangerous scenarios is riders spaced out by a few hundred feet. As a motorist focuses on passing a straggler, they fail to see the next straggler or group just up ahead.
Surging or Attacking
This one is tough because of the nature of the KDK. Generally, a pace line is meant to maintain a particular pace. See, that why it’s called a PACE line and not a ‘show us what a stud you are by surging for 3 seconds before you get blown off the back’ line but with the KDK, maybe you’re just attacking when you surge when it’s your turn to pull so who am I to point out that it isn’t working? Not so cut and dried when we’re out to suffer I guess. Mostly, I think of the KDK as a fast group ride where it is completely acceptable to try to blow up the group with an attack at any point outside of our neutral zones. But as a cyclist who desperately wants to be able to attack, I think a half ass surge that only serves to dislodge the poor sap who just gave his/her all to maintain the pace for a few seconds is just poor form. Attack or don’t, but surging for a few seconds every stinking time you get to the front and then pulling off is just a Fred move in my book. Please note, what I describe here is different than giving the person who just pulled off a few seconds to get on, then lifting the pace for a legitimate pull. That is a proper infliction of pain and makes us stronger. A similar move to the surge is the down hill attack where you assume the super tuck, passing us every time the road points down only to block the road as soon as the next rise in the road appears. It’s possible you don’t realize what you’re doing … so read this section again.
Pull through or sit on
If you are able, you should really pull through. Trying to sit on the entire ride hoping to win a sprint or attack on the last hill is poor form especially when, as I’ve mentioned, there is no prize money on the line. Do you really want to win a fake race that way? That said, if you’re suffering, there is no shame in sitting on*** for a while or taking a very short pull. If you can pull through and maintain the pace for 3 seconds, that’s better than nothing and it helps the group by maintaining the momentum. If you’re on the rivet, skipping turns or just sitting on is fine in my book. I think it helps us get stronger when we stay as close to the front as we can. However, I urge you to consider your contribution when it comes to a sprint or an attack. If you’ve been a passenger the whole ride, attacking those who’ve worked for 2 hours is poor form for sure … so be sure you can make it stick if you decide to take that route. I’m kidding. Don’t do that.
Lighten up Francis
The Krusher evokes emotion so it’s understandable when we get a bit wound up sometimes. We can write stuff like this all day long but really, we will only make substantive improvements by correcting things as they happen and that means one person asking another person to change. Remember, it’s an effort to improve not an effort to embarrass or harass anyone so do your best to take constructive criticism as such and get better. For instance, once Tom politely told me I was making way too many watts. Now I could have told him to mind his own business but I knew he was trying to help so thanked him and told him I’d pedal one legged for a while so he didn’t feel so inferior. See how that works?
It’s supposed to be fun. As the wise Mitch Danner put it, this ride is awesome because of the ‘vibe of the tribe’. Yes, the route is great, the traffic is light, and there is ice cream at the finish but what has allowed this ride to thrive is the welcoming, positive attitude of all of you. So, let’s make sure we keep that going.
*Practicable is a word we should know since it appears in the state laws concerning bicycles on the open road. It means ‘able to be done or put into practice successfully’.
**Yes, I’m giggling like mad every time I type ‘ass tap’ but in all fairness, I do that every time I see someone tap their own ass in a group ride. Who in the world came up with that and decided it made any sense at all. All I can think is why is that person tapping their butt? Should I look at their butt? Does it mean they intend to move left or right or are they just letting me know that they slowed down on purpose in front of me so I could test my brakes in the middle of a pack of riders?
***The art of properly sitting on, especially in a double echelon (rotating) pace line without disrupting those working in front of you or those hanging on behind you is something worth learning.