I fucked up the rotation. Twice. It had been awhile since I’d ridden with a group, especially like this. Six of had us met for the Thursday morning ride and now we’re headed South on Lake Washington BLVD toward Seward Park. At first we rode two up, but now we are single file. Sorta. I’m supposed to hit the front then pull through. What I do is hit the front and sit there for a moment, like I’m used to.
I don’t ride with others much anymore. When you are used to fighting the headwind alone, going for long rides alone and free to jump around or over potholes without signalling, one becomes a little stressed when suddenly thrust into a fast moving, well working group. Even when I was riding with others on a consistent basis one of us would hit the front and then sit there until they were ready to pull through. Often times, with my riding friends, we weren’t trying to one up each other, but take care of each other. We worked well together, but in a way that was about protecting the others, not about moving quickly.
I hear “car back!” when I go to pull through, and not knowing what else to do I stay on the front. A moment passes, but the car doesn’t.
“Bob, we hit the front and pull through” Zac, who is on my wheel, tells me.
“Sorry” I say.
I pull off the front start the drift back to the tail of our tight little pack.
I mess up the second pull by not sticking close to the wheel in front of me, taking longer to actually hit the front and take my turn. I haven’t ridden this close, to either the wheel in front of me or the wheel next to me in eight months.
I’m afraid of tapping the wheel a cm in front of me. I’m afraid of swerving around a pot hole and tapping the bars next to me and bringing down the whole group. Which would be infinitely more embarrassing than not pulling through correctly.
Instead of confidently pulling through and coming off the front. I coast or tap my brakes, just enough to not run into the wheel in front of me, but not bring everyone else to a stop. In some ways I still associate the brake levers with control. A behavioral carry over from my life, where I often have to apply the brakes in order to feel in control. That doesn’t work here. I — no we — need the momentum.
“You want to put a little force into the pedals when you hit the front to make up for hitting the wind.” Terry yells from the back.
The Thursday ride is my one chance to ride with people. I wake up early, ride the thirteen miles down to Fremont, do the two hour group ride then ride the nineteen miles up to work. Nearly sixty miles before my eight hour shift and the chance to meet and ride with other people. Can’t really beat that.
A few rotations later, and without much notice, the group is working smoothly. I stop giving the wheel pulling through next to me more attention than it needs, while giving the wheel in front of me just enough attention to stay in its draft. Hit the front and pull through, hit the front and pull through, hit the front and pull through.
Each of us ride low. Hands on the hoods, torsos lowered, pushing or spinning the pedals, each of us finding a way to keep the speed of the group. Each making their own contribution to being the whole.
I’m not fast this season – yet – maybe it will come. Today I can at least fake the feeling. Before my next turn I move to the drops and slide my bare hands down the contour lines of the bar tape till I feel the double wrapped bulge at the end of my bars, which is there for just this purpose. It’s not boxing style, that is my hands in the rounds of the drops, but it feels right. Hitting the front and pulling through feels right. Hit the front and pull through.