“It never gets easier. You just go faster.” – Greg LeMond
There I was on Sunday morning, minding my own business and raking leaves in my back yard. I looked up and saw my neighbor, Steve, pedaling up my driveway in full cycling regalia. This was rather odd in that he has never done this before. Although we’ve occasionally talked about cycling, Steve is an uber-cyclist and triathlete and thus we’ve never hooked up for a ride on account of the fact that I value the absence of heart attacks, aneurysms and other medical setbacks a ride with Steve would invite.
“Did you get my message?” asked Steve.
“Nope,” I said. “I’ve been in my back yard, minding my own business and raking leaves.”
“My friend called and wants to go on a ride,” said Steve. “We’re leaving in 20 minutes, if you’d like to come.”
Well, I couldn’t very well say no, could I? I couldn’t withstand the shame such a refusal would incur. So I quickly bagged my leaves, filled my water bottles, pumped my tires, grabbed my Garmin, jumped into some Fall riding clothes and was off on my first paceline ride.
It turned out that two of Steve’s friends were coming along, making it a group of four. I felt obligated to give a Public Service Announcement that I had only ridden with other human beings on two occasions (minus some family “neighborhood jaunts”) and neither of these involved significant amounts of teamwork. I was therefore prone to otherwise inexplicable actions that could create annoyances or far more significant consequences. This news was greeted with good-natured smiles and assurances that all would be well. Then we were off.
The paceline moved as advertised. We were flying. Whereas I can maintain a 20 mph on flat roads with some effort, we were moving at 23-25 mph with ease. When I wasn’t in front (or “pulling,” as the cool cyclists say), I found myself coasting as much as pedaling. My heart rate dropped 40 bpm at times and yet the high speeds continued. When I was pulling, well that sucked. These guys were clearly a notch or two beyond me and what they considered a nice, crisp, ride was about all I could handle. Still, I was fresh and did my fair share at the front. We easily passed by four or five individual cyclists on our route, who would appear half a mile ahead of us and minutes later would be left behind our group with a friendly hello and a wave.
Fortunately, I didn’t do anything that caused damage to people or property. I found that paceline riding requires considerable concentration and communication. Guys in front are constantly pointing out potholes or other problems in the road. The guy in back is required to monitor the road behind the group and let the gang know of approaching vehicles. This is especially important as the time draws near for the lead cyclist to pull off. This maneuver is executed by moving toward the center of the road (and thus into any cars coming from behind) and letting the paceline pass him on the right. When not in the lead, you must be especially vigilant of the wheel of the bicycle in front of you. Once or twice, I appreciated the passing scenery a tad too much and almost made contact with the guy in front of me. That would have been bad. Very bad.
After 22 miles, we roared into our rest stop – a country store on the corner of Elk Road and Courthouse Road. Our pace was around 20 mph. Smoking fast for me. Two of the guys wanted to continue on, giving them a 65 mile ride for the day. I was ready to turn back and Steve decided to go with me. I think he wanted to press on with the group but felt obligated to stay with the guy he invited. I assured him that I had logged over 1,700 miles by myself this summer and could manage these 22 miles just fine, thank you. But Steve insisted on staying with me. Steve’s a good guy.
With only two of us now cycling, our pace slowed a bit. Also, we often found ourselves cycling side by side so we could more easily carry on a conversation. As we hit the busy Aden Road at Mile 30, we once again fell into file and the pace picked up a tick. Six miles later, we hit the hills after the Occoquan River and I was toast. Steve still had plenty of energy left for the four miles of climbing and I was simply trying to survive. My turns at pulling the paceline at 23 mph and cycling with Steve at a faster-than-normal-for-me pace left me with nothing. Steve flew to the top of each hill then puttered along until I could catch up, each time with me announcing my presence with a witticism like, “Hey, remember me?”
(I find that my ability to make good jokes decreases markedly when I am in Heart Zone 5)
Steve stuck with me all the way home. He really is a good guy. Despite my severe bonking and the 10-minute break at the country store, this ride was still the fastest pace I have ever gone for such a distance. As we neared his house, we exchanged fist bumps and I thanked him very much for the invitation. Then we split up and went to our homes to shower and watch NFL football.
So do I like pacelines? I dunno. Going fast was fun and I believe I got an excellent workout, primarily because the guys I was with were in better shape than me. But it was VERY hard to carry on a conversation and the concentration required to avoid other cyclists and be aware of traffic and road hazards meant casual sight-seeing was out of the question. I guess the enjoyment of a paceline all depends what your ride objectives are. I think I’ll be up for the occasional paceline, but I’ve grown to enjoy solo rides a great deal and I’ll probably stick with those for the most part.
And I’m returning to that country store. There’s a historical marker there!
Australian Historical Marker Segment
This marker is typical of a series emplaced all over Canberra. They all contain the slogan, “Canberra Tracks: See How Far We’ve Travelled.” This marker is at the top of Mount Pleasant at Royal Military College – Duntroon and details the history of one of the area’s oldest settlements. I was left wondering what, exactly, is a “pastoralist”…