Following some chat with our own Safety Officer Colm who led the New to Tri group last Saturday we're going to jump forwards if you don't mind to the subject of “Group Riding” and in the next couple of days, the “Pace Line”.
The post above from Colm explains why we cycle two abreast. There is no doubt that if passed with care and a margin for pot-holes or even a fox carcass like we had last Saturday on the Glenealy road, it is quicker, easier and safer when two abreast. Let's for a moment think about the group that then results, looking at why and how it works and what we ought to be thinking when we cycle as a group.
There is a lot to be said for working as a group, this list is just a few of the reasons from the top of my head but will get the ball rolling:
It is safer
It is very sociable
It is far more efficient
It is a better way to train
It is a great way to learn
We see from Colm's video link that it is safer to cycle in a group and there is no doubt that a long solo training cycle is akin to bashing in lengths in the pool. The tiles won't change much from length to length and if you are out solo bike training nor will the scenery.
How can it be more efficient you ask, all going at one speed? Well find yourself in the middle of a group for a while tipping along at speed and you will soon notice yourself occasionally coasting along or even braking to avoid catching up with the bikes in front. In a group the pair up-front are punching a corridor through the air and the cyclists behind just slip through on a free pass. In terms of numbers I have read that the second pair in a group may expend up to 25% less effort for the same pace while those further back may benefit by well over 33%, nothing to be sniffed at.
It is my own assertion that it is a better way to train. Personally I find it easier to keep the hammer down in a group. Put it an other way, I find it easier to work harder. Unconsciously I believe I do a bit too much sight-seeing when out alone. As a beginner in the New to Tri I found it odd that nobody eased-off like I did cresting a hill, they just kept rolling along, no celebratory cigar! Now I find in group 3 it is the norm to be shifting into longer gears before or as we crest the hills, more like a race scenario I guess? There are lots of little things that one will pick-up just by being in a group of cyclists, simply by observation that wouldn't necessarily come naturally. And finally it certainly is a great way to learn. My first statement in my first post was that we were all new once and I will say that every single time I have cycled with the club somebody has passed some piece of wisdom down to me. If you are new and you have a question, just blurt it out. You have gone to the trouble of buying lycra that is barely large enough to fit your kids AND suffered the indignity of wearing it in public so you are hardly worried about embarrassing yourself with a simple question!
To be at it's most efficient each row in the group should be within a wheel diameter of the bike in front, ideally 1/2 a wheel diameter or even a bit less. That means that you are very close to slamming into the bike in front so it is essential to be constantly aware and cover your brakes. Glance down at the wheel in front but keep your eyes up, over and around the cyclists in front of you. It is equally essential that nobody swerves or brakes any more than is essential as a shock-wave will pass down the group, potentially flattening everybody like dominoes. It is critical when on the front that you are the eyes of the whole bunch. You must focus on any potential hazard and warn the group. This should by by shouting loudly and if you can do so safely, a hand signal. Before you click on the links below, have a look at the mini-lexicon of calls/signals you will be expected to belt out at any time in the group.
“Stopping!” - eg. approaching a junction – Hold a hand high, flat palm forwards.
“Slowing!” - eg approaching traffic – Palm down, raise and lower your hand/fore-arm
“Car down” - A car approaching the group from in front – Shout loudly so all can hear
“Car up” - A car approaching/passing the group from behind – Shout loudly so all can hear
“Hole” - A pothole, drain or other break in the road – Point in the direction of the hole if you can
“Ramp” - Speed ramps are not visible from the middle or back of the bunch
“Car Left/On the Left/Walker Left” - The group must move right to avoid a car/person/hazard
This last one is normally accompanied by gesture pointing or waving your left hand towards the right behind your back. These are just a few to be aware of but you should look and listen carefully.
This link below is to a video, again from the GCN crew which deals with safety and etiquette in a group however nothing will prepare you like the real thing so don't be frightened by all this, get out there and enjoy!
The pace line, wow, it sounds fast whatever it is! So what the hell is it then? In my last post we looked at cycling in a group and before that Colm discussed the safety of cycling two-abreast.
Having established that it is safer, cycling two abreast also allows us to charge along in a tight group making best advantage of the slipstream behind the lead riders. As we discovered, the advantage is enjoyed by all except those two heroes out on the front who are doing all the work. Unfortunately however they won't last too long putting out that sort of effort so the polite thing to do in a group is to rotate the group like a chain, moving up one side of the group and back the other to exchange the front row intermittently.
Precisely how we do this will change in detail from day to day and group to group but essentially will always be one line moving forwards and the other backwards. Professional riders and club racers will decide which side goes forwards/backwards based on the wind, sheltering those moving forward. This is all well and good but is likely to cause an accident on a Saturday club spin so (and I may be corrected here) the convention is that we move forwards on the right line and back on the left. It is the way we pass when driving our cars and the right line will have better visibility this way also.
So in the real world how does it work? Spinning along on a Saturday morning you are more likely to go “up and over” than to ride in a “pace line” or “chain gang”. The latter two are the same thing and I will discuss in a moment but “up and over” you ask? Typically and it does depend on the person, the road, the gradient and the weather but typically the two on the front will sit side by side for “a while” on the front, just doing their turn. Some are stronger or more generous, others realistic about their ability or aware of how long the ride is but in any case a couple of minutes, maybe five then the person on the front of the right line cycles up and across to the left, now assuming the front of the left line. The whole right line moves one place forward. Finally the person at the back of the left line moves across to join the back of the right line. This way the group rotates in steps where each person gets a go on the front of the right line, then the left line, then a break sheltering until they work all the way around and up the right line again.
Manners and etiquette make for harmonious group cycles. We are a club of like minded folks and we are all out training on a Saturday but it is the “done thing” for everybody to work their turn. Obviously we are all different in ability so nobody will crack a whip and chase you up to the front if you simply can't sustain the effort. Similarly we are all human so will probably say sweet F.A . if you are churning away up front, clearly in the red for half an hour! Do your best and try to avoid hanging around the back all day. If the group is stronger than you they will know this and probably tell you to take shelter at the back. If they don't, and you actually need to, then you must say so. Trust me people will be more annoyed if they have to nurse you home from the bowels of Wicklow because you were to polite to speak up.
Half wheeling? Now this is a term that doesn't explain itself well. Basically you cycle up the right side and pull alongside the person at the front of the left line. This person is controlling the speed of the group and should just plug away at the same pace. Half wheeling is nudging ahead of the other person on the front of the group, then as they pull along side, you nudge forwards and so on. The result is the group flailing along like a race just trying to keep up with that half-wheel lead. Don't do it!
So what's a “pace line” or "chain gang" then? Understanding how we rest between efforts at the front to extend our range and improve our efficiency, could we do this to an extreme to make extreme progress? Well yes of course and this is how the chain gang works. Like up and overs but a seamless and continuous rolling motion where nobody sits on the front to take a turn. In practice and this is the important part, the speed of the group is the speed of the outside line. The inside or left line if we adhere to our convention is the recovery line. Staying close to the person in front of you on the right line, you match their speed all the way up the right. As they reach the front they gracefully move across to the left, only now are you exposed to the wind where you maintain your speed as you pass up, across and over to the left line. Now you ease off, yes, you ease off a little. The person who followed you up the right will pass across to the left and shelter you as you recover moving backwards. As the person behind you reaches the back and moves across to the right you gradually increase your effort so that you can move gracefully onto the back of their wheel, matching their speed as you move up the right in their slipstream and so on. The pace line or chain gang is reserved for when a group wants to make fast progress as a group. You are very unlikely to see this in the New to Tri group except to try it out at a sane speed, just to get a feeling for it. It is however an integral part of the “Burke Oil Sprint”, an other club tradition where one is best advised to have talent in equal measure to ego! That's a whole other story however and not really for NTT!
Some more GCN for your information and entertainment. The only caveat I offer here is that there is much talk of wind direction in the GCN video which is more concerned with a racing pace line. The video elegantly demonstrates how it works.
And some group etiquette
The following user(s) said Thank You: Paul Evans, audreyp
You'll be grand Audrey. It's really just a case of practice which will build your confidence. You will look back and giggle in years to come!
Some cleats are adjustable and some are not. Basic Look Keo for example are not, I can't be sure about Shimano (the other popular entry level pedal/cleat). Spin by the lads in Cycle Plus or ask one of the more experienced members in the club to have a look at your pedals for you. Post up the make and model of the pedal here if neither is convenient and we can consult Google!
So for clipping in:
Ideally your pedal should hang with the back edge down under it's own weight, that way the top of the pedal will be facing you with a "loop" uppermost. The objective is to put the toe of your shoe on top of the "loop" at the front of the pedal. Slide your foot forwards and the cleat should catch that loop. Hold the brakes on and push your foot forwards and downwards, you should hear the pedal "click"
The second foot requires that you push off hard enough with the first leg to roll fast enough to balance while you repeat all of the above with the second cleat. Like you say, it is a lot to do all at once, probably getting across a junction in traffic etc. so practice is your friend. It pays to work out which foot you are more precise with as this would be the logical second foot to clip in.
For clipping out:
Let's assume your cleat is adjusted correctly. A firm outward kick of your heel should not only release the cleat but because of how they are profiled, it should actually eject your foot. As I suggested before, practice unclipping on level ground, maybe in the Park & Ride on a quiet day for example. Typically stop pedalling with the foot you plan to put down first at "12 O'Clock". Give your heel a good kick outwards and hopefully your foot will eject first go. Stand up taking your weight on the other foot which is at "6 O'Clock". Get used to leaning the bike just a hint towards the foot you unclipped. As you roll to a stop should you even tip the tiniest bit towards the foot still clipped in, well you will topple over in unfeasibly slow motion like a giant Redwood tree taking seemingly hours to fall over and splat embarrassingly onto the road. Obviously this can be dangerous on the road so while embarrassingly funny it is something to get used to. Last hint is to clip out early and with enough speed to give you time for a second attempt if necessary. Level ground or downhill is your friend here. Avoid stopping on an uphill until you have the hang of it!
Have a look at this maybe, a picture speaks a thousand words!
It's all about the bike, or so any bike expert will tell you so what precisely will you need? As with most decisions in life this will depend on a lot of factors, these just being a few that spring to mind:
Do you already own a bicycle?
Is your bicycle suitable for a triathlon?
How competitive do you hope to be taking up triathlon?
What budget do you have to buy a bicycle?
How old and inflexible are you? (I was never leaving this one out!)
Also into the mix we must consider how you have arrived into the sport of Triathlon? Let's take a case such as my own. I had a bicycle and was happy with my cycling then started swimming only to have my arm twisted into doing the “King of Greystones” as a challenge and so it began. Then there are others in the club who are strong swimmers or runners broadening their interest to triathlon? If so you probably want to be at least competitive on your bike leg so would justify a faster bike. And of course there is the case of the blank canvas with somebody who is new to the sport of triathlon and equipping them self from the very beginning.
So how do we classify types of bikes? Well here there are basically three generic types which you, a beginner are likely to be offered in a bike shop and within each type there are going to be more choices regarding exact specification. So lets kick off with the generics:
Mountain bike – A more robust looking bike with wide “knobbly” tyres and possibly suspension Hybrid bike – Not dissimilar in size an layout to a road bike but with flat handlebars Road bike - A race styled bike normally fitted with dropped handlebars or time trial bars
These may seem to be in the exact wrong order but bear with me as I propose to discount the types from top to bottom. Let's consider them in this order so Mountain Bike first.
If you have one already you either bought it with no intention of doing a triathlon or you were badly advised in the shop. The width and construction of the tyres for a start will not roll well on a road surface so this will tire you and hold up your progress. If the bike has suspension, then this is very good to keep the tyres in contact with a bumpy trail as you hammer down a mountain side. Unfortunately it is just an other point of energy loss that will tend to tire you more than necessary and slow you down on the road. Lastly consider the shape and cycling position which will be very upright. This will allow you superb control over the bike as you thread it along a rocky forest trail but will be like towing a parachute at road speed. So can you use a mountain bike for triathlon or training? In a bind perhaps yes if smooth commuter tyres are fitted and you are doing a single sprint distance race or training on your own. In a group cycle you will have difficulty maintaining the same pace as others on more suitable bikes and in a longer race you will find it exhausting to cycle 40km at speed on a mountain bike. In essence then a mountain bike is not really suitable for triathlon racing. If you have one however and can afford to keep it and have space to store it then there is a strong cohort within the club who train on mountain bikes through the winter. With my limited experience mountain biking on trails I will say straight up that it really is a decent full-body workout so absolutely perfect winter training.
How about a hybrid bicycle? A sort of half-way house between a mountain bike and a road (race) bike you will have a much easier time on a hybrid but it too has it's faults. The hybrid will typically sport narrow wheels similar to a road bike, most likely a standard “700c” (622mm) wheel which rolls with little resistance by comparison to others such as mountain bike wheels. The frame will look like a race bike with similar sized tubes but it's geometry is far less “rakish” and aggressive than a race bike. The gearing you will find will also be a half-way between the mountain bike and road bike. By this I mean it will have between about 18 and 27 gear ratios but will not have ratios as short as a mountain bike designed for cliff like trail ascents but it won't have a high speed ratio you can pedal along at 50+kmh unless you are bionic! The comfortable geometry I mentioned will make the bike very easy to cycle but it really is intended for leisure riding or short commuting. It is indeed a better option than a mountain bike for a “first sprint distance triathlon” for example and would suffuce but if you intend to enter a few races, particularly olympic distance or longer, then you are not really helping yourself too much.
And that leaves the road or race bike. This really is the right tool for the job in its many many different specifications. Books have been written about race bikes so this will be a very superficial examination at best. A race bike is always going to be aggressively proportioned to position you as best as possible to gain optimum purchase over the pedals while minimising your frontal area (your silhouette viewed from the front) and hence your wind resistance. This is a very important point and the primary reason you will be looking at a race bike for triathlon. Bear in mind the fact that every race you do (OK, there are new rules for elites, but...) is an individual time trial with drafting (slip-streaming) of other riders prohibited. Also consider the technical brick wall, the physics of aerodynamics stating that: “aerodynamic drag is proportional to the square of your velocity”. This is where the debate hots up really as every extra kmh you can do increases your drag exponentially and hence highlights your bike position. The only answer for anybody racing triathlon therefore is a wafer thin time trial bike costing as much as a family car where you lie low over the front wheel. OK, then in theory it is but in reality it does take a very accomplished, fit, strong and practiced cyclist to extract the benefits available from a top spec TT bike. For the vast majority of triathletes between those first-timer challenge types to the stronger and more dedicated racers then a road bike is the only option. Anything more in depth than this is beyond the scope of this post but the range within this generic type is huge and very specific to different applications or cyclists.
Having looked at the bike types and concluded that a road bike is the way to go, then the only advice I would feel happy to offer is to get good advice! I won't leave it like that but really there is a lot to be considered in purchasing a road bike. Within our midst we have some very experienced bike racers and triathletes. Perhaps the best thing you could do is to get out on the club's Saturday spins to establish where you are in terms of ability. Do not consider yourself too weak to try as the speed of the new to tri group will be the speed of the slowest in the group, even if that is you! That IS the purpose of the group. Get on the road and get talking to others, you will have 2-5 hours every Saturday to ask and learn. You will soon see how you compare to others you cycle with and will tend to notice what your contemporaries are cycling. In most cases these people will be forthcoming with information about where and why they bought their bike.
Ask your bike shop for advice but pre-qualify the shop by talking to others about their form. Thiathlon is booming in popularity across the globe so no self respecting bike shop will either not know what is suited to triathlon or stock such bikes already. Obviously a shop stocking triathlon specific bikes is where you should be. We have great resources within the club, just to mention a couple, Velomotion at Base2Race in Ballymount or CyclePlus in Greystones. I mention these shops only as I have had positive experience of both but they are very experienced tri bike suppliers, and both shops as I say have strong connections to the club. There are many more shops which I don't exclude so please ask around for peoples experiences!
Be sure to know before you visit any shop:
Just how strong a cyclist are you?
What sort of races you intend to enter?
What type of bike you believe you need?
What budget do you have for a bike?
Be sure to ask in the shop:
Who is buying what bike?
Does the bike geometry fit you correctly?
How fragile or robust is the bike?
What sort of warranty is offered?
To wrap up it is safe to say that you may at a pinch use an other type of bike as a stop-gap but in reality you should be on a road bike that fits you correctly and suits your ability and budget. If there is one piece of advice to take from the above, then get talking bikes on a Saturday morning. You will enjoy the spin, you will learn what works and you may even spot an upgrade opportunity within the group so happy out!