Notes from the Grup­petto

Why you shouldn’t treat a ride like a race

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Bart Eg­nal

The grumpy grup­petto rider’s pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ment

Fol­low­ing the events of Sept. 11, 2001, air­lines were briefly grounded. For months af­ter, scared trav­ellers opted for the seem­ing safety of car trips. I say seem­ing be­cause though air travel sud­denly ap­peared more dan­ger­ous, car trips were and re­main a much more dan­ger­ous mode of trans­porta­tion. Ten years af­ter the at­tacks in the U.S., The Guardian re­ported on a study by Gerd Gigeren­zer, a Ger­man pro­fes­sor who spe­cial­izes in risk. Gigeren­zer found that in the 12 months fol­low­ing Sept,. 11, 1,595 more Amer­i­cans died in mo­tor-ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents.

Why am I shar­ing a story about the evils of cars in a bi­cy­cling mag­a­zine? Not for the usual rea­sons, but to high­light how poorly we mis­al­lo­cate risk. We fear things that are sta­tis­ti­cally un­likely to hap­pen to us (like light­ning strikes or shark at­tacks), while par­tic­i­pat­ing in ac­tiv­i­ties that are risky and dan­ger­ous (like tex­ting while driv­ing).

The same ap­plies to rac­ing your bike in a sanc­tioned race and rid­ing your bike in a club ride. I can’t tell you how many times peo­ple tell me they avoid pin­ning a num­ber on be­cause of how dan­ger­ous rac­ing is, and then cut the yel­low line while they are on the limit of a morn­ing club ride, put­ting them­selves and their fel­low club rid­ers at risk and mak­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence less en­joy­able for all.

Just this past year, I saw or heard of many risky be­hav­iours on group “ride.” There were rid­ers who “at­tacked” their group ride – which con­sisted of a few laps of a lo­cal cir­cuit – and bragged about how they wanted to get rid of the pre­tenders in their group. There were rid­ers, go­ing hard on cir­cuit, who passed a stopped car (wait­ing to turn left) by go­ing into the lane of on­com­ing traf­fic. The rid­ers got hit when the obliv­i­ous driver turned left. A rider hav­ing moved up to Group A in our morn­ing club ride was on his limit on a de­scent that fin­ishes with a 90 de­gree right turn. The rider slid out, took out a friend of mine and was lucky there was no on­com­ing traf­fic to run him over. There were rid­ers who didn’t want to wait to re­group 30 km into a ride af­ter a sprint sec­tion. New mem­bers of the club were dropped and stranded in an in­dus­trial park. They had to find their way home – and pre­sum­ably an­other club.

These are just a few ex­am­ples of what hap­pens when you try to turn a group ride into a race. Now, I’m not say­ing there isn’t risk in rac­ing – just look at a sprint fin­ish in a crit – but al­most ev­ery race I did this past year had a lead car and a fol­low car, some or all closed roads, a set fin­ish line and a sense of struc­ture that en­sured peo­ple un­der­stood how the group would be­have. When these con­di­tions ex­ist, the risks are con­tained and mit­i­gated.

Sketchy rid­ing in a group is not only dan­ger­ous, but it makes the ride un­en­joy­able for those who aren’t rac­ers. Rac­ers who aren’t out for a race that day won’t like it ei­ther. When I do these group “races.” it’s rarely the high-level mas­ters or Cat. 1s who be­have badly. In­stead, I find it’s the Type A rid­ers who skip rac­ing, but ride 15,000 km on Strava. I have a few close friends who are pros, ex-pros and na­tional team mem­bers. They aren’t the ones try­ing to drop me 6 km into a 120 km route while we are still in the city. It’s nei­ther safe nor en­joy­able (for me at least) to do a group ride with a group of peo­ple who want to at­tack each other con­stantly. Of course, I’m all for ham­mer­ing on the climbs or hav­ing a go of it at safe sprint points. But a group ride is sup­posed to be just that – a ride.

I fell in love with this sport when I got in the draft and dis­cov­ered how much more en­joy­able – and ef­fi­cient – it is to ride with a well-col­lab­o­rat­ing group. So as you en­ter your spring sea­son, chill out and ride hard with good peo­ple on bikes. If you have that urge to drop some­one, there’s a full race cal­en­dar com­ing up. Just re­mem­ber: if there’s no num­ber on your back, it’s not a race. Han­dle your­self ac­cord­ingly.

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