Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Bike Nazis

Ahh, the Saturday morning group ride.

As any roadie with a social bent and a club licence knows, this tradition stretches back into the hazy golden past of Binda straps, Clement sewups and wool shorts. Throughout the U.S., any LBS (local bike shop) desiring to promote riding and sales of high end equipment generally sponsors / hosts a Saturday morning group ride.

To the uninitiated tyro, the concept of a club / LBS organised group ride seems on the surface to be an innocent way to socialise, meet other cyclists, work on pack skills and get a fun, relaxing workout in, right?

Eh... mostly. Enter the Bike Nazis and their conceptualisation of group riding, which we fondly refer to as the 'Tour De Testicle'.

In my... ahem... extensive experience (I meant bike related, no snide comments, please... well, unless you're a hot dude, in which case email me your digits and we'll discuss it offline) every local road cycling community in the nation engages in this quaint tradition. Descriptives vary, but when I use the jolly euphemisms 'testosterone-fest', Testicle Tour', "Weekly World Champs' 'Pain Locker Festival', etc... any experienced roadie reading this is gonna nod and smile in understanding. I've been riding and racing road bikes since 1991, and have since lost count of the number of Tours De Testicle, Weeknight World Championships, etc, etc, bla bla... I've been engaged in.

So now, dear reader, I'm sure you're scratching your head in puzzlement. If I willingly, nay, eagerly engage in these weekly rolling cage matches, then what in the Nine Million Names of Dog am I bitching about?

The simple answer is: it's my blog and I'll bitch if I want to. The complexified answer has to do with a tangled litter of social and training factors, not the least the fact that I am, and have been a cycling coach for years. In a nutshell, it's just depressing to see the Bike Nazis time and again engage in selfish asinine behaviour that serves little benefit except to drive off perfectly cool rookies, usually those of the female and/or junior persuasion; individuals we can least afford to lose.

I'm sure I'll offend more sensitive readers with the arrant generalisations, but to quote the estimable wit Marshall Mathers:

"I just don't give a fuck".

::Denis Leary Mode::

On your typical fast public group rides, you are generally dealing with a bunch of what the Mad Dog so eloquently described in one of his many Foaming Rants; IOW most of the time they kinda resemble an asterisk when you set it in a really big font:


Now I'll grant that these as(s)terisks come in all shapes and flavours, but generally you're dealing with one of the following subclasses:

1) The Pseudo-Racer: The bulk of the "racers" in team jerseys on these rides are the sorts of club racers and/or tri-geeks who are too chickenshitted to show up at a mass start event. They thus limit their actual race days to one or two ITT or hillclimb events per year, and often do quite well at these since there's no denying they're strong, plus they don't have to focus on any sort of skills or tactics besides riding one speed as hard as they can for a predetermined length of time. Pseudo-racers will go on every group ride their club holds because a) they aren't training for anything besides the weekly Testicle Tour and the annual Mount Doom Hillclimb, thus they're not suffering dead legs from having done a brutal race the previous Saturday, Sunday and/or Tuesday night; and b) To justify their existence and the "team" jersey they've bought, they feel compelled to prove to everyone else just how tough they are. These sorts of riders almost universally have terrible pack skills, know (and care) zilch about safety and love to ride around pretending they're Europros by blowing stop signs and riding three and four abreast blocking traffic. They'd ride without helmets if they could get away with it, thankfully most LBS hosted rides forbid it.

2) The Century King: Another subset are your fast recreational types. These guys don't care to race, and they don't give a crap about training in any organised fashion. They just want a hard workout, and in the process of doing this, they like to feed their own egos by boasting about how high an average speed they can maintain, and what "real racers" they are able to drop on any given ride. These guys have even worse group skills and manners than Subclass 1. They are often to be seen sporting permanently attached aerobars, helmet mirrors and Nashbar closeout deal jerseys. They generally don't give a snowflake on a hot stove about "development" (their own or anyone else's) or "encouraging new riders". Screw that noise, their goal is to get their workout in by dropping as many riders as they are physically capable of, and everyone else else be damned. I've actually heard one of these prats boasting how hard they "dropped" former Euro-pro Jonathon Vaughters (who happened to be riding in old CA kit, hence recognisable). I know JV pretty well, so what this donkey probably didn't suss onto is that JV had almost certainly been out 5 hours to the asshat's one (not to mention on a recovery lap from an interval set, to boot).

3) The Wannabe: A third subset are essentially poseurs who do group rides to facilitate their personal sense of identity. These are often has-been or never-was racer groupies who are now well-upholstered fiftysomethings. These guys show up with matched Euro team kit straining over their ample midriffs, World Champion edition shoes, on the latest unobtanium frameset. Considering said frameset was originally designed for a buck-twenty Basque climber, it creaks ominously beneath their Biggie Sized buns. These are the guys who either 'forget' their lid at home or let their handlebars wear it at any and all opportunity. They wag their jaws ceaselessly about how fast they "used to be" or "are gonna be". They typically get dropped like a bad habit on the first climb though, so at least you won't have to listen to it for long.

4) The Henpecked Spouse: These are the riders who do race occasionally througout the season, but who are only able to negotiate a "hall pass" to do so on a limited number of weekends, due to family / lifestyle constraints and a nagging spouse with limited understanding of their partner's desire for personal fulfillment, and Gestapo-esque control of any expenditure not directly targeted towards home improvement or personal haberdashery needs. These riders must achieve their race-pace miles and group skills building whenever and wherever they can, and ad hoc training is difficult to impossible to work around their 40+ hour/week jobs, in-law requirements, and the obligations of serving as social coordinator and taxi service for the offspring. The LBS group rides at least offer an acceptable schedule / structure for them to get a regular workout. These are the guys sporting faded, ripped local team kit circa 1997, shoes they bought during the Clinton administration, ride ten-year-old knackered Cannondales, and are damned fast by virtue of being pissed off at the world in general.

::/Denis Leary Mode::

So... you're still wondering. If I have such an issue dealing with a stack of douchebags on a weekly basis, then why the heck don't I just go do my own ride. Well, quite a bit of the time, I do. I ride solo to work every day. I do long solo interval workouts when I need specificity in my training. And I know this is really hard to believe, but I do get sick of myself (it's easy, trust me).

Honestly, I'm fortunate. The club I belong to has a couple of motivated, sane individuals who either work at the LBS or show up regularly on rides. These guys are strong AND smart, a rare combo in the cycling subspecies Lycratus microencephalus roadii roadii They generally take it upon themselves to alternately praise, bust heads and enforce the 'first hour no-drop' rule. This is why I do this ride. I know that the first hour of the ride will, indeed, be a proper warm up and social klatch. After which we can let the dogs out, have fun, and all bets are off. The transition generally occurs after a pee break, at which time neophytes are warned that the gloves are gonna come off; the wise ones typically elect to turn for home. It's a positively civilised idea: a friendly group ride where one can still indulge in some good old-fashioned head-banging anaerobia. Usually without pissing anyone off.
In a nutshell, I've found a group of generally good dudes. Besides which, riding by myself, I certainly don't get the chance to gaze at lovely scenery such as this:



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