You will start to see the return of these on the timetable on Thursday mornings (unless its recovery week – and unless you’ve got an Ironman coming up) and be thinking to yourself, “I wonder what this all means, and why do I have to be an Intermediate or Advanced standard of rider in order to be able to do it?”
Well, for a start I’ll tell you what it isn’t! It’s not a special kind of dance you can get in one of “those” clubs in King St!
It’s riding laps of the Albert Park Lake road circuit, at speed, in a close-knit group.
Generally, it consists of a 5km circuit consisting of two sides (we call them front straight and back straight) with two connecting bits at each end. The front and back bits are done hard, usually the back straight being the harder and faster, while the two end bits are for some recovery and regrouping.
OK when I say, “at speed”, we can get up 50kmh, depending on conditions, and so you start to see why it’s important to be a competent rider, who can ride strongly, in a group, close to the rider in front, fast, and most importantly, safely!
This takes some knowledge, experience and strength! Everyone in the group relies on everyone else, so we need to be able to rely on each member of the group to be competent.
Well, I can’t give you the strength and experience, but I can give you some knowledge so I’ll try and explain a few of the fundamentals.
Let’s start by talking about group riding.
Keep your eyes up, look ahead, look for anything that may be a hazard and call it out, or point it out, or both!
Look and Listen: you can hear cars coming, and bikes, you can hear them change gears, you can hear some bikes brakes, you can see if someone ahead has stopped pedalling, or is taking a drink, or gets out of the saddle.
Anticipate what the riders in front are going to do, be prepared to brake or stop or change direction, but never do any of these things suddenly. Have your hands near the brakes but don’t jam then on, if you anticipate what’s coming, you won’t need to! Act early and gradually. Before you pull out to pass someone have a quick glance back to see if someone’s there.
DO NOT RIDE ON YOUR TRI BARS IF YOU ARE IN THE GROUP
If you insist on doing it, ride by yourself. If you are in a team TT fine, but not on an open road, with traffic and other bikes and pedestrians!
You shouldn’t need to if you’re drafting properly anyway!
ROCK, HOLE, BUMP, BRANCH, RIDER, DOG…
…and don’t forget, LIGHTS, STOPPING, SLOWING, CAR (CAR BACK, CAR UP or *ahead*), call it out, no one will care if its something we didn’t really need to worry about, err on the side of safety.
Basically anything you see coming that may be a hazard you call it out (LOUDLY) and point to it.
Remember the riders behind you probably won’t see it coming, they also don’t know if your braking because we don’t have brake lights!!
On some occasions we will come to a set of lights just as they are changing for green to red. In this situation the lead riders make a call as to whether to stop or not!
They need to make the decision fast, and will call, “ROLLING” if we are to continue through, or “STOPPING”, if we are to stop!
Whatever the call, we follow it! Again if we see it coming and anticipate it, it won’t be a problem.
And its close, but disliked brother, GAPS, and of course how this closely relates to CORNERING!
Some of you will realise I have a thing about gaps, and in this context it’s the gap between one rider and the rider in front of them.
The bigger that gap is, the harder it is to ride! As the gap increases, the power you need to keep up rises exponentially!
Every time you leave a gap going round a corner, and then make it up again, it costs you loads of energy. If you multiply this by 3, 6, 9, 12, 20 times you corner, you’ll soon see why you can’t keep up.
So you’ll hear me say to people, “sometimes you need to spend energy in order to save energy”!
It’s the same principle as before, you have to anticipate what’s happening.
So when we corner, as we approach we’ll slow a bit into the corner then accelerate out of it!
If the group is reasonably large, it means the riders at the front will be accelerating out of the corner while the riders at the back are braking into it.
Do you see what’s happening here?
The speed differential between riders at the front to those at the back is increasing, FAST!
So what do you do about it?
The simple answer is, you accelerate BEFORE you think you need to! Not only this, but when I say accelerate, I mean ACCELERATE!!!! Wham you hit it, remember the rider in front of you is doing the same thing, and if they aren’t, get in front of them!
You can see from this, I hope, that the best place to be in a group riding like this, is near the FRONT!
Don’t think, “I’m not that good, I’ll try and hide at the back, its easier there”. WRONG!!! Worst place to be! Apart from the above cornering issue, you’re relying on everyone in front of you to not leave a gap, otherwise you’ll end up with constant heavy accelerations to close these gaps, which will result in you being dropped from the group as you detonate trying to catch up!
So check how the rider(s) in front of you are riding, if they are leaving gaps and having to make them up after cornering, get ahead of them.
The Good riders don’t leave gaps, don’t have constant accelerations and decelerations, hold a steady line and pace, and are hopefully large enough to block the wind so you can hide behind them.
These can easily be spotted because that’s who I will generally place myself behind!!
Just a few words about cornering.
You’ll hear people talk about the racing line, and the apex, and straightening out the corner!
What’s this about?
Ok corners slow you down! The gentler you can make the angle of the corner, the faster you can go through it. So the fastest way, or “LINE” through the corner has been termed the racing line.
In order to do his, we can approach the corner from out wide, then follow a line past, and close to, the apex, then leave the corner wide again!
WIDE -APEX -WIDE
The apex is the half way point between the directions of the road you’re leaving and the road you’re entering.
So I’ll take you through the process of going round a corner, in a group, at speed, without leaving a gap!
As we approach the corner the first thing to do is, LOOK at it! Turn your eyes and even turn your head to the direction you will be going through the corner.
You will find the bike will follow where you are looking!
Pick your line through the corner, visualise it, all the while keeping your eye on the wheel in front of you. I tend to keep my wheel a fraction outside the wheel in front of me so I can swing wide (away from the corner) if I have to.
As we enter the corner we lean into it (towards it) and lift the inside pedal. This is firstly so the pedal doesn’t hit the ground, and also lowers our centre of gravity (COG)! (the lower you are the faster you can corner). We can also poke our inside knee out further lowering our COG.
Just as we are hitting the apex we hit the accelerator and punch it out of the corner. All the while watching that wheel in front, and what’s happening ahead!
Straightening up, following the wheel in front, not letting a GAP form.
As an aside here you’ll hear me say a couple things now and again, like, “ride like a leech”, or “the wheel in front of you is your best friend”!
The amount of energy you have is finite, save it at every opportunity. Every little bit of energy you save you can all on later in the ride (or race)! Tiny bits add up!
But remember the opposite is also true!!!!
Above all CONCENTRATE!
So the triathletes amongst you are going to say, “why should we be drafting when we don’t do that in a race”?
Firstly sometimes you are allowed to draft, and if you do these things well, you’ll have a massive advantage over those that have no idea about them.
(There’s lots of other stuff to learn here but that’s for another time)
Also all these things I’ve been talking about are skills. Bike riding skills!
Any time you improve skills in any sport you get better at it!
There’s no surprise that the people that do these things well, are the better riders.
Mastering these skills makes you a better, faster and safer rider.
And if you don’t concentrate I’ll get cross!
I know you’ll all find that hard to believe!
“Hot Laps, for Intermediate and advanced riders only!”