I recently had my bike at my favorite bike shop for a minor repair. While there I asked if they still hosted a Wednesday night ride. I had seen a reference to their hosted rides on their website and thought I would check it out if the schedule worked out. The ride was still on so I planned to try it the first convenient Wednesday.
My weekly ride schedule usually included Tuesday & Thursday rides during the work week. After another commitment prevented my Tuesday ride, I loaded my bike the next morning so I could head over to the bike shop after work.
The shop is kind of on the other side of town but near an area I lived in through junior high. The shop’s website described the ride as follows: “Join us every Wednesday evening at 6:00 pm for a night ride. We will have an optional shortened route for a few weeks until we gain more light back. Bright clothing would be a good idea too. We will ride out and around . . . 20-25 miles total. This is a quick pace ride (17+ average) with the fastest group doing 23+ average. All paces are welcome, someone will keep up the back-end to make sure no one gets lost.” Sounded good. My usual Tuesday/Thursday ride is 20-25 miles and we average 17-19 mph.
As I’m unloading my bike, a large vehicle pulls in behind me with a bike mounted on top. I glanced up and then had to take a serious second look to see a 1980’s Buick Regal hearse with a Yakima rack mounted up top. Talk about serious re-purposing of a vehicle. Several puns came to mind. The”cycle” of life, “spinning” in the grave, “dying” to ride, etc., etc.
If the driver had climbed out with a Rock Racing kit, the look would have been complete.
With any unfamiliar ride and group of riders, there is a tendency to measure one’s self against the “competition”. It was a mixed group of about 30 riders. About 2/3 had matching racing team jerseys but, overall, it looked like I would hold my own pretty well. This was based largely on the “knowledge” that the ride would be about 20-24 miles with a 17+ average speed for those not planning on being in the “fastest group”. Although not very familiar with the planned route, I was secure in the knowledge that there would be a regular rider around who knew the turns.
I’m used to group rides being fairly social but this group wasn’t very chatty. No discussion of the route or ride leadership. We just started pedaling when one guy decided it was time to go. Shortly after we started out, I asked the guy next to me who was sporting one of the race team jerseys, “So, what’s the general route?” “The general route?”, he replied. “Yeah, what’s the route? I’ve not done this ride before.”
Uh, oh. A rookie mistake on my part. This guy wanted no part of playing guide and rattled off a half dozen road names while accelerating away. Ok, then. Plan B would require staying with the pack. This was still not considered a problem as I was confident in the knowledge I can hold a 17-19 mph pace.
This is where ride description ran smack into ride reality with the description left to eat reality’s dust. After negotiating a few neighborhoods to get to the main route, the pace picked up to about 25 mph. I’m still feeling pretty good. The route was pretty flat and 20-25 is within my skill set depending on the elevation and conditions. After about 15 miles, I’m thinking it’s at least that far back to the start and there had not been much direction change to suggest we were ready to head that direction. I had fallen back into a group of 5-6 with a slight gap between us and the main group. The gap was just enough to force us to miss a traffic signal change. Waiting cars on the cross street prevented a sprint through the light and we had to wait for it to cycle through its progression as the main group kept spinning away at 20+.
The light changed green and I gave it everything I had to start closing the gap. I could still see the group ahead and was hoping they would get snagged at a traffic light ahead. Didn’t happen. With my legs protesting the approach of my anaroebic threshold, I take a peak over my shoulder to discover the rest of my small group had bailed somewhere. There was no one behind me. Myth #1 (20-25 miles total) was history. Myth #2 (17+ average pace) died within the first 5 miles. Myth #3 (All paces welcome. Someone will keep up the back end) was now equally false. This ride now boiled down to the fastest group (23 average) and me (hanging on at an average speed of about 19).
I can just barely make out the group ahead as they hang a right. By the time I get to the turn, they are long gone and lost to sight by a series of rollers. The good news is that I recognized the name of the road and had a rough idea of a way back to the start without simply backtracking. I made another turn on a road with another familiar name but never caught sight of the group again.
Concerned about waning daylight and diminishing cell phone power, I hustled in the general direction of the start until I intersected with an early part of the route. Up ahead, I see riders from the fast group. Apparently having cut the corner on the ride route, I was back on track. One minor course correction later, I’m back at my vehicle and loaded up. Final tally: 27 miles with an average speed of 18.3. From what I gathered, the main group had done 30 miles with an average of 23-25.
Looking back at the store web site, I found a link to a route map for their “long ride” which is what they had done. With the right conditions, I think I could hang on a little better and longer but can’t guarantee I can put together a 30 mile ride at a 23 mph pace. Maybe. . .if I drop another 5 lbs. and upgrade my wheelset. . . . A guy can dream, can’t he?