I'm a big fan of club rides. Besides the good company, they keep me in shape and motivated in the space between brevets and permanents. In my opinion, there is no better physical training for the long rides than relatively short back-to-back training days at red line pace. The short rides don't teach me anything about how my back or butt will feel after 250 miles in the saddle. Instead, they make me a faster rider, and on brevets, speed can be a good thing. You don't have to be particularly fast to successfully complete any brevet -- but it doesn't hurt. Faster times on the course mean more rest, more time off the bike, more time to eat, more time to deal with mechanical issues.
On Saturday, I rode with the North Raleigh Gyros, a sociable and disciplined group that takes its training seriously. The A group typically holds a 19-20 mph pace over distances of 50-100 miles, with an average ride of around 65 miles. The Gyros are everything that is good about a club. They have several strong leaders, including Tony, Bert and the other Mike D, who leads the Sunday tourist rides. The Gyros ride every Saturday, weather permitting. They have a dozen routes that keep things interesting. There's always a lot of chatter while we're rolling. The Gyros put an emphasis on biking skills, like paceline etiquette, and they also exercise a no-drop policy, keeping everyone together until the last 10 miles or so, when the horses begin the inevitable gallop back to the barn.
Saturday's ride was fairly typical, except for the turnout. A 62 miler started with a small crowd of 12, owing to the threat of wet roads and rain. Usually we'd have twice that many. We slipped out during the brief window of opportunity between two vicious storm fronts. An hour into the ride the roads had dried. It was a hilly route, and four riders who weren't up to the pace peeled off early. That left eight of us working together to keep the pace above 19 through the hilly finish. I mostly rode in the dining car, in the protection of the group's slip stream, as Kyle and Rick and Steve and Randy stepped up with several big pulls. It was a fine day to test the early season fitness, and there were lots of thanks and congrats in the parking lot at the end. We all felt we'd had an exceptionally fine team effort as we turned toward home.
Sunday was a club ride of a different stripe. The North Carolina Bike Club held its spring rally, starting at 9 a.m. from a park in Apex. NCBC holds several big group rides throughout the year, but for the most part its constituent member clubs, including the N.C. Randonneurs, do their own thing. NCBC is lucky to have several strong leaders as well, including David, Scott, and Gary and Sara (our randonneuring buddies).
Sunday's weather was very promising on the sunshine front, but the wind was already howling when 95 starters rolled out of the parking lot. Three distances were offered -- 20, 40 and 60 miles. I chose the 40. As a goal I try to get in 100 miles a weekend this time of year. Here's a picture of Jerry and Sara at the start.
I'd plan to do a leisurely ride, but instead I bridged up to the front group. I suspected I'd fallen in with a racing crowd since there were two or three riders dressed in full kits. My suspicions proved to be correct as we hammered along at 22, 23, 24 mph into a stiff headwind. My heart rate was pegged for the first hour and I recorded an average of just over 20 mph.
Thankfully, four of us split off onto the 40-mile route, and I quickly recovered when the pace slackened. We turned and put the wind at our backs for the 20 miles home. I got a chance to chat up David, who hosts the annual Raven Rock Ramble. Leading our little peleton was Marcie, who made cycling look effortless, and Ashley, the local Shimano rep whose bike was equipped with the new electronic shifters. That is smooth stuff and very quiet, but at $4,800 a bit out of my price range.
We finished up just after 11 a.m. with a 19.6 pace, said our thanks and goodbyes and packed up for home. Another fun weekend on the bikes.