A couple Saturday's ago I made it out to the SDBC Saturday ride for the first time in eight months. It was great to be back to see everyone from the bike club. I'm sure many of the regulars never thought they'd see me on a bike again.
A few days previous I began feeling like I was ready to try getting back into group riding. For those who've never ridden in a fast moving group, there are a few realities that make it a little intimidating:
1. You never really know what the skill or experience level is of some of the people that attend these rides. When you're speeding along at 25 or 35 mph in close quarters things can go very wrong very fast. Last year when I crashed at one of the Ontario criteriums I never really realized an accident was happening around me. All I knew was that I was suddenly on the ground and people were using me as a speed bump. So you've got to be fairly careful.
2. The toughest part of riding in a group is the unpredictability of speed. Riding in a rotating pace line is pretty easy, the speed is steady and the group moves as one. When you're riding in a free flowing peloton you are exposed to a constant accordion-like effect. Whenever the pack slows, for a corner, hill, etc. you can be sure that the acceleration that is going to follow will require you to stand on the gas pretty darn hard.
3. A group of riders can ride much faster than one person can on their own. Therefore, if you get dropped off the back of the group, your chances of catching back up are pretty remote.
Because I hadn't been on a group ride since my injury I was expecting that the surges of the group were going to be pretty tough for me to respond to. The fact that I can't really get out of the saddle and hammer on the pedals like I used to, means that I'm much more of a Steady Eddie sort of rider these days. Big surges don't come easy to me, at least right now.
The SDBC Saturday ride is in fact about 5 or 6 different rides:
- An all out, 45 mile, hammerfest "A" ride (no stops, no regrouping, 26 - 30 mph over flat ground), which I used to do prior to injuring myself.
- Nearly as fast "B" ride that includes a number of regrouping points. Same route as the "A", just goes closer to 24 mph
- A number of development rides that range from about 15 miles to 35. All at varying levels of granny-like speed.
I did the C+ development ride the first time I ever went out to the SDBC rides and I knew that I wasn't going to be happy to ride at 15 mph like they did back then, so I opted to do the B ride. My thinking was that at least if I got dropped I could catch back up at a regrouping point.
I managed to hang with the B ride for just about the entire ride. As we turned south on the 101 from La Costa (mile 35 or so) I found that I didn't have enough strength in my legs to hold on. This is where the ride starts getting cranked up as it approaches break time at the Java Depot.
No worries though. I got a ton out of this ride. This was the first time I've seen my heart rate go above 190 since I injured myself; I was able to pass a couple guys on stud-loop, one of the toughest parts of the ride; I was able to do my fair share of pulling during the pace lining the B ride does through Fairbanks Ranch; I rode up Torrey Pines for the first time since injuring myself; and I was able to hang with the group up most of the hills. It also took me two or three days to fully recover from the ride, so I'm not sure that I'll be heading back for a little while yet. We'll see.