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Roadies and Tri-Geeks.
By Tom Demerly.


Henry Rides a little bike in our new store

 

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 stuck up”.

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 a roadie.

Wrong.

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, right?

Wrong.

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:

Wrong.

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:

Also wrong.
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 shaped.

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 a menace.

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.

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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