Myra Does Speed (Rides)

I met Taylor on a Bike Club of Philly C ride in early July. The rankings are sort of like this: A = racers, B = pretty good riders, C = casual riders or out-of-shape B riders, D = your grandmother or lazy C riders. I'm the textbook definition of a B rider. Or at least I was; I think I may have moved up to B+ recently. I occasionally go on C rides, but usually for the company, not for the exercise. Unfortunately, the bike club has very few B rides, so I often end up going out on my own or with non-bike-club friends in order to get a ride that's just right for me.

On this particular ride, Taylor had tagged along because he was the only one that had shown up for a show-and-go ride (ie, leaderless ride) that started close to the same time and place as our ride. We got to talking, and he got to complaining that the ride was too slow. I agreed with him, but told him that I was planning on going on the afternoon ride as well in order to get something of a workout. Anyway, he told me about a ride that he goes on that might suit me. It's called the Vino Velo ride, it goes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings (with different courses; the Thursday ride is hillier) on 5:45 and 6pm both days. The 5:45 version is quite a bit slower than the 6pm version, tho' they follow the same routes. So I thought that the 5:45 Tuesday ride might be something that I could try. I wasn't sure I could keep up, but at least I wanted to see if I could. And Taylor said that he'd ride with me to make sure I stayed on the course, even if I couldn't keep up.

I showed up at the appropriate spot Tuesday evening, found a group of bikers and asked them if this was the ride I was looking for. They promptly gave me the impression that yep, this was the right ride, but I was still in the wrong place. Let's put it this way -- all these people have light racing bikes, skinny tires, clipless pedals, and brightly colored and patterned jerseys. So here I am with my 6 year old touring bike, complete with fenders, rear rack, cantilever brakes, granny gear, toe clips and touring shoes, and plain dull colored Coolmax jersey bought on sale from Performance. They told me "You can't keep up on that bike". They warned me "But this is a 30-mile ride" "But there are hills". Ha, twice a week I do 35mile hilly rides. I told them "The hills and the distance won't be a problem; the speed might". They wondering what would happen when I lost them, and how I would get back, since I didn't know the route. Just then Taylor showed up and told them that he'd take care of me, and they said "Oh, OK".

On the way out a woman (Erica) showed up, also not sure if she could keep up the pace. Taylor and I said she could ride with us. Well, we took off, and the pace was mild to start off. But, after a couple of miles, it picked up. I almost kept up with the pack up the first hill, and I caught back up to them after it levelled off. Then I looked around. Erica and Taylor were not in sight. Oooops. I slowed down, and several people (who hadn't quite been able to keep up on the first hill) passed me. Still no sight of them. I stopped, and eventually they showed up. Taylor was staying with her because he'd said that she could ride with us. And so the three of us stuck together until the end, with Taylor and I waiting on hills for Erica to catch up. I was surprised that she wasn't faster. After all, she had a racing bike and clipless pedals, and looked very fit (more than I do), but I guess she's just not as used to biking as I am, in fact she said that she was mainly into running and had just picked up biking...

The course is actually quite nice. It weaves in and out of Fairmount Park, then goes thru' some shady suburbs, then along some more open roads, and then thru' the nicest part -- wide open green fields, and then back to Philly via the bike path and Kelly Drive (both quite flat). It's 29 miles in total. And the hills are really quite mild. My definition of a hill is something that I really have to work to get up, something that requires me to shift to the granny gear if I don't want to wear myself out too quickly or destroy my knees. And this ride had none of that -- I could go up all the rises quite comfortably in my middle chainring. Anyway, since I'd been able to keep up with the pack at the begining of the course, and since I liked the route, and since Taylor offered to ride with me again, I decided I'd do it the next time. According to Taylor, their average speed over the course is 17-something mph.

Next week I came back. This time no one questioned my touring bike. I started out with the others, but by the second hill I was dropped. I was giving it my all, biking so hard it hurt, but it wasn't good enough. Oh, well. But Taylor stayed back with me, and we went on. By the time we reached the end, we'd gotten caught back up to some people who'd fallen off the back of the pack, and we rode in a pace line on Kelly Drive. This was the first time I'd ridden in a real pace line, and I didn't quite realize what was happening. By the time I realized that I was in the lead it was too late for me to do anything about it... And then it was over.

The third week on the ride I felt better after that first hill. It didn't completely whipe me out, as it usually did. So I had some in reserve and stayed on longer than before. Even after I dropped off the back I never completely lost sight of the front of the pack. In fact, they had to stop for one of the guys to pump up his tire, so we (Taylor was still staying with me when I dropped back) got caught back up. They got ahead again later, but we still never completely lost sight of them.

Last week, by the time the first hill was over I knew I was doing better. I knew that I'd be able to keep up much longer than before, maybe even to the end. And I stayed with the pack. Even with the head of the pack -- the group split up and lots of people peeled off from the leaders, but I fought hard and kept with the leaders. Taylor, of course, went with me. The leaders would get ahead every now and then, but not by much, and I'd get caught back up. Success! I felt good. Part of me kind of dreaded those Tues evening rides, since there was so much mental and physical pain involved -- physical pain trying to keep up, and mental pain at getting left behind despite my best efforts. But no more... I could do it. I realize that part of my success was all the new parts on my bike that week -- chainrings, freewheel, chain, rear wheel, areo brake levers, and the efficiency of the new drivetrain (the old one was quite worn) must have helped alot. But also, I think part of it was my additional strength and speed. I also noticed that I was taking hills better than Taylor -- I'd just sit down and spin up in a low gear, and he'd be pushing along in too high a gear, and I'd pass him.

This week, more success -- I kept up again. This time, Taylor and I were the leaders for part of the ride. I'm actually beginning to like these rides. It's no longer do-or-die, embarassment at being left behind, continually striving at trying to keep up. It's still a good workout, but I no longer have to put everything I have, mentally and physically, into just trying to keep up. Now I know I can keep up, and that feels a whole lot better. And I'm still the only one with a touring bike, cantilever brakes, granny gear, fenders, a rear rack, and touring shoes, but I can ride as well as anyone on that ride.

But there's still the 6pm crowd, who usually pass us 5:45 people about 4 miles from the end, going in a pace line at 26-27 mph. But I don't think I'll try to keep up with them this year...

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