On Saturday we rode with a group of triathletes from the City of Naperville out to Yorkville and back. The first few miles are classic white bread suburbia. Boulevards and subdivisions. Ride in a bunch and watch out for minivans.
Then the roads thin out and the course turns west. And west. And west. Sod farms give way to cornfields. Some are plowed under. Others jut with last year’s stubborn stalks. The signs of harvest hang on until spring when another set of homogenous genetically engineered grain gets plunged into the ground.
Finally, the course zigs a bit, then zags south toward nothingness and flat ground. Then we turned west again into a SW crosswind and kept low profiles to avoid too much drag.
It’s never really fair to push road bike pedals when everyone else in the group is slung across a tri-bike frame with backs parallel to the ground. I rode in the drops for long periods and drafted when I felt like it. What I give up in position. I make up by sucking the wheels of the aerodynamically superior. Tit for tat. Let them pull. They don’t care anyway. It’s not cheating if no one actually cares what you’re doing.
In fact, it hardly matters they ride in a group at all. There are no real team or peloton dynamics among triathletes. Everyone just gets low and hammers. For many of them, drafting is actually a sin because it is outlawed in racing. So it’s every rider for themselves.
As a roadie, these are elements of the triathlon culture I find a bit offensive to the sensibility of what one might consider a “group ride.” But the compromise and purpose of the group ride among multisport people is “company.” Triathletes ride in “groups” for different reasons than roadies. It’s not about sharing the load so much as it is having a measure of effort by which to measure your own progress, for better or worse.
Which is why the sinful part of me so enjoys drafting on triathletes. It’s a little harder than it is drafting on a cyclist on a road bike. The wind shape is not the same.
Yet quite often our group of triathletes has been passed by a solid pack of roadies working as a peloton. 3/4 of them might even be sitting up. Yet they cruise by at 26 mph as if none of them were straining. This might be better known as “peddling pushes” as “pushing pedals.” No roadie can afford or expect to ride off the front for very long. The bunch just sucks them back in.
Whereas with triathletes, a solo rider can push off and grind away. And without the benefits of a draft, no one can catch them or keep up.
I get the reasons for both cultures. I swim between the two in many respects. My Specialized Venge is set up for racing either hard crits or triathlon time trials. When I want to pedal like a roadie, I push back, focus on the pull back on the pedals and let the hamstrings do the work.
And when I ride with the triathletes, I nudge forward on the saddle, get as close to aero as I can get and spin a bigger gear, especially into the wind.
On Sunday we rode with a different group of triathletes. The ride was supposed to be a Zone 2 effort. So I tooled along towing a pair of riders who were not the fastest or most experienced in the group. One of them has not ridden much in groups, and the other doesn’t really like groups. So we pedaled along together in a loose trio while I explained the hand gestures common to group rides so that our newest progeny would not find it all mysterious.
We went that way for 15 miles into a headwind. I pulled the whole way. But not faster than 16-17 mph the whole way. We climbed some long shallow hills and a couple actual inclines. Then we turned north on a newly paved road and let it open up a bit.
The ride east was entirely with a tailwind. Four of us dialed it up and let it fly. We topped 30 for a while without much trouble. Up and down hills we went. My Strava never clicked on for the ride that day but I’m glad of that. The segment time on a popular strip of road going east would not have been accurate to my ability or fitness. That would have been the equivalent of “fake news” when it comes to Strava. Pushing pedals with a tailwind that strong is not an honest assessment of one’s true ability. Peddling pushes that aren’t real is as dishonest in cycling as it is in the “real world.” An honest person my take the seemingly imaginary significance of a good ride seriously, lest the cheating side of our consciousness creep into other pursuits. Cycling is hard. Going fast is harder. Leading others to believe that you are faster than you are may be the ultimate lie.
So I choose honesty. In cycling. In golf. In business. I make mistakes it’s true. We can shade the truth on purpose and by accident.
But then it’s our job not to hide our mistakes, but to confess them. It’s the only way to live. And push so that others appreciate there are principles in this world to abide.