Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Team Needs Training

The Wonderful Century, 100 miles, 4,000' climbing. Ride around the lake and over beautiful forested hills. Support includes 4 rest stops with great food. Enjoy riding four across the road while yapping with your friends, oblivious to anyone calling out "on your left," and then wobble into anyone who has the temerity to pass your riding klatch. SNELL approved Giro Atmos helmet and a LIVESTRONG bracelet on each wrist required.

A frequent reference in my ride reports is Team in Training sightings, usually blocking the road while bsing riding three to four across--oblivious to anyone else, kind of like the Volvo or Prius going 5 miles under the speed limit in the left lane. Well there was a possibility that I may just be "grumpy," though many in our bike club have the same observation. I thought about this on a recent training ride-BBQ up the easy side of Mt. Hammy--the road was covered with some organization in a light green jersey when we first started driving to the starting point. My first thought--"Oh shit, Team in Training is everywhere blocking the road." Luckily the group was on an Arthritis Ride, who apparently were taught very well how to stay to the far right when a car or bicycle approaches & how to pass safely on the straightaways and not a blind curve. Why can't Team in Training ride like this? (to be fair the ones clad in purple from the Redwood Empire seem to be more aware than their green clad Bay Area cousins.)

As you know by now I'm a crappy writer, and I love when I come across a good writer who expresses the same idea/ has the same opinion I do, but says it so much more eloquently. Also helps when the author has a "good guy" reputation so no axe to grind. So I was dazzled when I came across this column by long time bike culture author Maynard Hershon, where one of his underlying themes of his excellent books is that cyclists should "be friendly." It sounds like I consulted on the column. Anyway, as written by Maynard:

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Disease Riders
Written a few years ago just after the annual November El Tour de Tucson, this piece made the good folks who train Team in Training uncomfortable and defensive. In theory, those riders are taught exhaustively about road safety and pack etiquette. In practice...

Don't get me wrong. I admire the thousands of cyclists who collect pledges and attempt long, hard charity rides. I think it's great that people use cycling and other athletic events to raise awareness and money to combat disease.

Many of these people do 100-mile rides after decades of smoking, drinking and TV-watching - and five non-consecutive weekends of training. They're examples to us all.

Not only do they get out and get themselves into shape, they help countless others. They support medical research. They keep many annual charity rides alive. They support the bicycle industry. They are the salt of the cycling earth.

They scare the s--t outta me.

No Sigourney Weaver film frightened me the way a "pack" of disease riders can. In the theater, no matter how afraid I am, I know it's just a movie. On the road, stuck in or behind a gaggle of disease riders, I know the danger is real.

Let's say I'm 65 miles into a 100-mile charity ride. I'm sharing the road with hundreds of bicyclists. It's a narrow road, or merely a single lane set off by a row of orange cones.

In the coned-off lane, I'm rolling at a conversational pace, a typical pace for a fit cyclist who’s not on a mission. I'm catching a cluster of people in disease rider jerseys going somewhat slower - not quite two-thirds my speed.

You can read their home states on their jerseys. They’ve come from all over. You're aware that they've raised money for a worthy cause and conquered their personal fears of tough physical challenges. They're here to celebrate those victories. They deserve our congratulations.I admire these people. I'm petrified of them.

I have to pass them; Jeez, they're going 11 mph. Spread completely across our narrow path, they're laughing and chatting, unaware I'm behind them. They’re oblivious. I have to ask them to move over so I can pass.

I wait for the right moment to request passing clearance on the left side of the group. Surprising them is not a good idea. Anything might happen.

Eventually I ask. Though I speak in an unthreatening tone, I watch the group wobble and weave in the road. I pray no one locks bars with his buddy; no one brakes suddenly; no one screams and freaks and takes down Western Civilization.

I pass that group safely. I feel relieved, but my relief is short-lived. There's another group just like it up the road, as sure as patch glue dries in the tube.

Danger pedals with the disease riders, I think. A chill runs through me. There's no hospital for miles, but I smell antiseptic. Smells like Urgent Care out here.

Don't get me wrong. I'd never want to discourage even one of those fine people from collecting pledges, attending training sessions and coming to Tucson for the big ride, the big finishing medal and the big feeling of accomplishment.But I wonder: Has anyone mentioned to them that there will be OTHER people on the ride? Has someone suggested that some of the other people will be faster and some slower? Has anyone told them that the road will not be exclusively theirs, and that they should devote a tiny bit of attention to safety?

Evidently, no one has so much as whispered the word safety to the hundreds of disease riders we welcome here every November.

Their trainers teach them about eating and drinking. They learn about pedaling cadence. Surely someone on their training staff could introduce the idea of safety. It's a foreign concept for sure, startling, but worthwhile, huh?

Someone should mention that it's good to be aware of what's going on around you. Someone should mention that it's good to look behind you once in a while, good to practice looking back over your shoulder without veering across the lane. Someone could be gaining on you.

Someone should mention that if you aren't (honestly) going very fast, you might want to stay to the right so people can pass you without watching their lives flash before their eyes.

Someone should mention that creating a lane-wide rolling roadblock is not all that courteous or safe. And that while your group is having fun bonding, doing the brave, hard thing together, others are cycling that narrow road too.

If you (in your joy, fraternity and disregard for safety) contribute somehow to one or more of them crashing, those real people may sit rocking slightly on the road, hugging themselves around their knees and bleeding.

It's great to raise all that money. It's great to come to Tucson or wherever and do the long, challenging ride. It's great to hang with new and old friends, good folks from everywhere America who've done the same unselfish good things.

Those are great things, but they're not the ONLY things.


Anonymous said...

I've seen this behavior also, but it's not limited to "disease" riders. That's one reason I don't do too many organized centuries. The organizers of these rides need to impress upon the riders the need to stay right and not unduly obstruct traffic. Their behavior generates ill will between cyclists and the locals as well.

Anonymous said...

But it's dirty by the side of the road, and I want to keep my tires clean! (Do I sound fat?)