I’ve listened to this debate swirl around
on rides and in our store for years:
Roadies don’t want to ride with triathletes because,
ask any roadie, “You can’t ride in a group with
those aerobars…” and triathletes are worried about
riding with the roadies because the “Roadies are so
People, I call baloney.
Firstly, let me tell you what side of the fence
I come from. I’ve ridden over a hundred criteriums,
won quite a few amateur level crits and road races, won our
state time trial championship in the Senior (Elite) men’s
category (twice) and the Masters category as well as the Cat
IV Men’s Road Championship before I upgraded to a Senior
Cat II. I’ve also raced road bikes in Europe as part
of a small, amateur development team and been part of the
USA Cycling Resident Athlete Program at the Olympic Training
Center in Colorado Springs. So, you say to yourself, I’m
I’ve also done over 200 triathlons including
Hawaii and four other Ironmans. I’ve done Alcatraz,
Nice, Laguna Phuket. I’ve done the local sprint races
and the National Championships and the World Championship.
I’ve won my age category a few times and have done triathlons
in no less than six age categories. So, I’m a tri geek,
I’m a cyclist: A road cyclist and a multi-sport
cyclist; And a cyclocross rider, mountain bike rider (albeit
a rotten one) and a bicycle commuter. I’ve been on both
sides of the debate. I’ve been on group rides when a
bad bike handler (regardless of what kind of bike or handlebars
they had) caused a problem in the group. I’ve been on
rides with a group of triathletes on their aerobars that have
been fast and safe, quite a few of those rides actually.
Matter of fact, I have a message for all you
club cyclist, roadie, know-it-all “I’ve been riding
for thirty years…” types who are telling people
with aerobars they aren’t allowed on group rides because
they are unsafe:
I also have a message for all you tri-geeks
with aerobars, short shorts and those ridiculous looking bikes
who say roadies are old fashioned and stuck up:
The bottom line is we are all cyclists, all bike riders. Segregating
one type of cyclist from another and excluding them from rides
that are likely to benefit them won’t improve the sport
or an individual’s riding skills. It only hurts them.
In the interest of the sport itself, we need to learn to accommodate
each other on group rides.
That is right.
Here in Dearborn we have our Wednesday Night
Ride that is hosted by the Dearborn Cycling Saddleman Bicycle
club. It is a pretty loosely organized group ride of between
15 and 30 people. There are two pace groups; very fast and
relatively moderate. On this ride guys and girls with triathlon
bikes using aerobars mix perfectly with guys and girls on
road bikes. Stuck-up roadies ride with geeky triathletes.
And nothing goes wrong. In the past decade you can count the
number of crashes on one hand with fingers left over. There
simply haven’t been any problems. On our ride triathletes
and roadies ride together without issue.
The truth of the matter is aero handlebars and
triathlon bikes don’t make group rides unsafe, riders
make group rides unsafe, and it isn’t just the people
who show up on tri bikes with aerobars. It’s the stodgy
old stick-in-the-muds who have been riding for thirty years
but haven’t ever thrown a leg over a tri bike themselves.
You know the type: It’s the one who looks at you sideways
when you show up on a group ride with a tri bike and they
start saying things like, “If you’re going to
ride that kind of bike on this ride you have to stay at the
back and don’t use your aerobars.” That kind of
ill-informed, inexperienced (regardless of years in the sport)
attitude is every bit as detrimental to good group riding
as is a first time cyclist trying to join a fast group ride
with no group riding skills.
A correctly fitted triathlon bike does have
greater stability than a correctly fitted road bike. It supports
the weight of the torso differently (skeletally as opposed
to with muscular effort on the road bike). The rider’s
hands are up to nine inches from the brakes. As a result,
you ride a triathlon bike differently than you do a road bike.
And if you ride a triathlon bike correctly, you will be just
fine drafting in a group ride. It is simply a matter of technique
and experience- not a matter of how your bike happens to be
It isn’t the handlebars or the bike- it’s
the rider. The rider determines if a group ride is safe or
dangerous. The rider determines if a bike handles well or
not. A skilled rider can join a group ride on a bike with
sketchy handling and not pose a threat. A poor rider can be
on a perfectly fitted bike with excellent handling and be
One thing I have noticed on the part of most
group rides and clubs is a lack of emphasis on developing
group ride skills. When regulars on group rides express concerns
surrounding new riders joining group rides they hold the very
solution to the problems that concern them. I think cyclists
who frequently participate in scheduled group rides should
organize a group riding skills clinic day to bring new riders
up to speed on group riding etiquette and techniques.
The debate over what riders “belong”
and don’t belong on a group ride has always had an inhospitable,
abrasive tone to it. It smacks of elitism and exclusion. That
has never set well with me. Worse, I know the intimidation
of this keeps people from joining group rides. I know there
is a segment of the group riding populace who is fine with
that, but it is a short sighted perspective. If we don’t
bring new riders into the fray the quality of rides likely
will not improve.
One thing that has always pervaded the cycling
experience and lifestyle has been a sense of cohesion. This
division of riders by bike type and the misinformed opinion
that one group is somehow riskier than the other violates
that sense of cohesion.
A little information and understanding could
go a long way here. If the stodgy old roadies (like me) could
just wrap their arms around the idea that aerobars actually
are safe on group rides (they are), and those pesky tri geeks
(like me) would just learn how to ride on a wheel in a pace
line we’d all get along and be better off. Because ultimately,
like Lance said, it’s not about the bike.