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drafting jitters

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drafting jitters

Old 10-13-15, 12:10 PM
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drafting jitters

Looking for some advice for developing better group riding skills.

I've been cycling regularly for several years (5-6 hours a week, long rides on many weekends, commuting in NYC traffic, plus a couple centuries a year), but I'm new to group rides. I joined a group sponsored by my LBS, open to all levels, for casual laps in a park. Unfortunately, in one of my very first rides with them, I was in a crash. We were in a double paceline on a descent when the two cyclists in front of me touched and went down, and the next thing I knew, I was in the air. Not the best intro to pacelines. Luckily, I wasn't seriously injured, and my bike was fine. I got back to riding on my own again as soon as possible and, a couple weeks later, joined a different group ride with more experienced cyclists to try again, figuring I'd be fine. But I was way more jittery than I'd anticipated, especially as these guys kept pushing me to ride the wheel in front of me closer than I'd ever tried before.

Did I just have some especially bad luck starting out, or are crashes in group rides not so uncommon? Is there anything else I should be doing to get over my new fear of drafting except just keep showing up to the more difficult group, focus on relaxing, and work on trusting the more experienced cyclists?
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Old 10-13-15, 01:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Griffin81
Looking for some advice for developing better group riding skills.

I've been cycling regularly for several years (5-6 hours a week, long rides on many weekends, commuting in NYC traffic, plus a couple centuries a year), but I'm new to group rides. I joined a group sponsored by my LBS, open to all levels, for casual laps in a park. Unfortunately, in one of my very first rides with them, I was in a crash. We were in a double paceline on a descent when the two cyclists in front of me touched and went down, and the next thing I knew, I was in the air. Not the best intro to pacelines. Luckily, I wasn't seriously injured, and my bike was fine. I got back to riding on my own again as soon as possible and, a couple weeks later, joined a different group ride with more experienced cyclists to try again, figuring I'd be fine. But I was way more jittery than I'd anticipated, especially as these guys kept pushing me to ride the wheel in front of me closer than I'd ever tried before.

Did I just have some especially bad luck starting out, or are crashes in group rides not so uncommon? Is there anything else I should be doing to get over my new fear of drafting except just keep showing up to the more difficult group, focus on relaxing, and work on trusting the more experienced cyclists?
Double pace line on a descent with not very experienced group sounds like a big part of your problem. Typically, you don't see double pace lines in casual inexperienced groups.

Biggest thing is just practice; the more you do it, the better you'll get.

A big key is keeping your focus up the road. Obviously you need to keep the wheel in front of you in your vision not to overlap it. but it should be your peripheral vision. Your eyes and ears should be observing what's happening up the road so that you have time to see perceive and react. So keep your gaze up the road past the hips of the rider in front of you.
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Old 10-13-15, 01:31 PM
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The more experienced the group, the better. Assuming that they all know that you're new to group riding and that this is a casual ride, not a race ride ("hammerfest," "Tuesday Night Worlds," etc.).

As Merlin said, do not stare at the wheel in front of you. Keep your eyes up. I look at the jersey pockets of the rider in front of me and scan forward. Be smooth and easy on the brakes.
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Old 10-13-15, 02:05 PM
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Crashing outside of a race environment should never be considered "common." Add to that, double pacelines aren't considered casual rides. The key with group riding is knowing the group you're in and realizing that if you don't know the group you're in, it's better to be conservative.

In my opinion, it's never really smart to do a double paceline, especially in NYC. I hope the group wasn't those that do a version of the "weekend warrior" thing in Central Park and give all of us a bad name. Equally bad are those that race up and down 9W through New Jersey into New York and draw all the police attention, causing motorists to think we all ride like that.

I might look for a different group were I you because the one you're riding with now doesn't sound like it fits you and the way they ride, they're going to draw the attention of cops, resulting in a ticket blitz.
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Old 10-13-15, 02:32 PM
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Next spring (things are slowing down now) I suggest checking out New York Cycle Club (NYCC) for access to decent training rides. You will get competent instruction from experienced group riders about how to behave in a group. You'll learn both double and single pacelining skills. It sounds like you might have a decent pair of legs already, but even still maybe start with some of the slower instructional rides. The faster groups that ride in the park are very welcoming but they expect a high level of comfort and experience with group riding. Doesn't take long, but there are different skills, signals, and and techniques that are not really developed in solo riding.

Your own level of comfort will come from both having more hours behind another wheel, and from learning how to identify a smooth wheel vs. one that will make you want to leave at least a bike length.

My 2c as a member of said club and someone who has done exactly what I describe.
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Old 10-13-15, 02:33 PM
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Was it a double paceline or just people riding double file but not really rotating? That is very common around here, double pacelines not so much.
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Old 10-13-15, 02:33 PM
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Originally Posted by cafzali
In my opinion, it's never really smart to do a double paceline, especially in NYC.
I'll defer to the NYC part. But low traffic situation, double pace line with people that know what they're doing is just fine. We often ride in a double pace line for the start of rides before things heat up. It's efficient, and it's allows people to talk, which can be nice on long moderate rides.

And in situations where it's appropriate to take the lane, a double pace line is arguably safer because it makes the group more compact lengthwise, and easier to pass.
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Old 10-13-15, 02:44 PM
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Originally Posted by merlinextraligh
I'll defer to the NYC part. But low traffic situation, double pace line with people that know what they're doing is just fine. We often ride in a double pace line for the start of rides before things heat up. It's efficient, and it's allows people to talk, which can be nice on long moderate rides.

And in situations where it's appropriate to take the lane, a double pace line is arguably safer because it makes the group more compact lengthwise, and easier to pass.
I wouldn't be so quick to defer.

We are talking about Central Park, not 42nd Street. There's almost no car traffic and early mornings, cyclists have a lot of latitude and room to train. I may just be one of those "weekend warriors" who bothers the poor citizens and bored cops of Piermont through my frequent presence on Route 9W but I would not discourage you from learning to ride in a group safely, which includes being adept in both double and single rotating lines, as there is a place for both as pointed out by merlinextralight. Trying to avoid learning a commonly-applied skill in group riding sort of defeats the purpose. Group riding is fun, but there is a learning curve in learning how to play well with others. Keep it up, it's worth it. And I hope to see you out on the loop some early morning.
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Old 10-13-15, 02:49 PM
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Originally Posted by merlinextraligh
I'll defer to the NYC part. But low traffic situation, double pace line with people that know what they're doing is just fine. We often ride in a double pace line for the start of rides before things heat up. It's efficient, and it's allows people to talk, which can be nice on long moderate rides.

And in situations where it's appropriate to take the lane, a double pace line is arguably safer because it makes the group more compact lengthwise, and easier to pass.
In many states, NY included, riding 2 abreast when being overtaken by a vehicle is illegal. Given that you have to get a good distance out of NYC before you'll find suitable conditions for riding 2 abreast, doing so is going to be difficult and problematic.
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Old 10-13-15, 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by 1991BRB1
I wouldn't be so quick to defer.

We are talking about Central Park, not 42nd Street. There's almost no car traffic and early mornings, cyclists have a lot of latitude and room to train. I may just be one of those "weekend warriors" who bothers the poor citizens and bored cops of Piermont through my frequent presence on Route 9W but I would not discourage you from learning to ride in a group safely, which includes being adept in both double and single rotating lines, as there is a place for both as pointed out by merlinextralight. Trying to avoid learning a commonly-applied skill in group riding sort of defeats the purpose. Group riding is fun, but there is a learning curve in learning how to play well with others. Keep it up, it's worth it. And I hope to see you out on the loop some early morning.
The cops may be bored in Piermont and you may not like their rules, but the fact is riding 2 wide is illegal there too. Signs are posted and if you are caught, they'll ticket you.

I don't like the nature of everything Piermont, but the police chief there is at least approachable and is willing to talk to cycling groups and explain the delicate balance that comes with managing traffic flow in a tiny village with narrow streets that gets flooded with motorists and cyclists alike on the weekends.
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Old 10-13-15, 03:03 PM
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Originally Posted by cafzali
The cops may be bored in Piermont and you may not like their rules, but the fact is riding 2 wide is illegal there too. Signs are posted and if you are caught, they'll ticket you.

I don't like the nature of everything Piermont, but the police chief there is at least approachable and is willing to talk to cycling groups and explain the delicate balance that comes with managing traffic flow in a tiny village with narrow streets that gets flooded with motorists and cyclists alike on the weekends.
Don't get me wrong, I didn't say I do not like or obey the rules in Piermont - but referring to weekend warriors on 9W in a discussion about double paceline riding in Central Park is a bit of a non sequitur and is dismissive of many very good and responsible riders who come from my side of the GWB and ride to your area. I hope you can forgive the bristly nature of my post and will accept my word that I'm writing in good humor and don't mean to sound snarky.

And for what it's worth, I share your opinion about cyclists who don't think they have a responsibility to play by the rules of the road, wherever they may be, as they do give a bad name to the rest of us.

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Old 10-13-15, 03:08 PM
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Originally Posted by 1991BRB1
Don't get me wrong, I didn't say I do not like or obey the rules in Piermont - but referring to "weekend warriors on 9W" in a discussion about double paceline riding in Central Park is a bit of an non sequitur and is dismissive of many very good and responsible riders who come from my side of the GWB and ride to your area. I hope you can forgive the bristly nature of my post and will accept my word that I'm writing in good humor and don't mean to sound snarky.

And for what it's worth, I share your opinion about cyclists who don't think they have a responsibility to play by the rules of the road, wherever they may be, as they do give a bad name to the rest of us.
For sure, the total numbers of bad actors are a relative few, but the etiquette of the racing teams is the thing that ties everything together, in my opinion -- whether it's in NYC, the 'burbs, etc. It's the large, aggressive groups that wear team apparel that people remember and they associate those guys with cycling, whether or not they constitute a true representation of cycling.
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Old 10-13-15, 03:11 PM
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Originally Posted by cafzali
For sure, the total numbers of bad actors are a relative few, but the etiquette of the racing teams is the thing that ties everything together, in my opinion -- whether it's in NYC, the 'burbs, etc. It's the large, aggressive groups that wear team apparel that people remember and they associate those guys with cycling, whether or not they constitute a true representation of cycling.
Can't argue with that at all - if the loudest, lycra-est, fastest guys don't set a good example then we all get a bad rep. Well said.
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Old 10-13-15, 03:47 PM
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Originally Posted by cafzali
In many states, NY included, riding 2 abreast when being overtaken by a vehicle is illegal. Given that you have to get a good distance out of NYC before you'll find suitable conditions for riding 2 abreast, doing so is going to be difficult and problematic.
In Florida, you can ride 2 abreast, unless it impedes traffic. So if there's room to legally pass in the lane, you can't be two abreast with cars behind you.

My point is where you have a right to take the lane, i.e. a substandard lane that does not allow a pass in the lane while giving 3 feet, then it is both safer, and legal for the group to be in a double pace line, making the group shorter and easier to pass.

Admittedly, this might take awhile to explain to a traffic cop.
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Old 10-13-15, 07:38 PM
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Originally Posted by merlinextraligh
In Florida, you can ride 2 abreast, unless it impedes traffic. So if there's room to legally pass in the lane, you can't be two abreast with cars behind you.

My point is where you have a right to take the lane, i.e. a substandard lane that does not allow a pass in the lane while giving 3 feet, then it is both safer, and legal for the group to be in a double pace line, making the group shorter and easier to pass.

Admittedly, this might take awhile to explain to a traffic cop.
And that last point is the key issue. We've actually had cops come to my cycling club in NYS who don't fully know the law themselves. Only after we point out specific sections in the NYS Traffic Code do they basically do an "Oh!...." This is a small example of how we have willingly allowed a "cops are always right" mentality to be established and once it is, good luck walking that back.

Lastly, taking the lane may be your right, but you also have many situations where it angers people and will lead to confrontations. So you have to balance your thinking sometimes. Not to be overly dramatic, but you have to ask yourself "Is it better to be legally correct or is it better to be able to ride safely and with fewer threats from crazy motorists in SUVs who are accustomed to getting everything they want in so many venues and think they're going to win this fight too.?"
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Old 10-13-15, 07:57 PM
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OP, while descending in a double pace line, I'd suggest to allow for an increased distance between you and the wheel in front. If someone goes down you have no options. Try to leave yourself a few options for escaping in the case of a crash. This is easier said than done.
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Old 10-13-15, 08:39 PM
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Yep. Ideally you want to be very close to the wheel in front of you on the level or moderate climbs. But leave a gap on descents, and increase that with speed.
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Old 10-14-15, 04:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Griffin81
Looking for some advice for developing better group riding skills.

I've been cycling regularly for several years (5-6 hours a week, long rides on many weekends, commuting in NYC traffic, plus a couple centuries a year), but I'm new to group rides. I joined a group sponsored by my LBS, open to all levels, for casual laps in a park. Unfortunately, in one of my very first rides with them, I was in a crash. We were in a double paceline on a descent when the two cyclists in front of me touched and went down, and the next thing I knew, I was in the air. Not the best intro to pacelines. Luckily, I wasn't seriously injured, and my bike was fine. I got back to riding on my own again as soon as possible and, a couple weeks later, joined a different group ride with more experienced cyclists to try again, figuring I'd be fine. But I was way more jittery than I'd anticipated, especially as these guys kept pushing me to ride the wheel in front of me closer than I'd ever tried before.

Did I just have some especially bad luck starting out, or are crashes in group rides not so uncommon? Is there anything else I should be doing to get over my new fear of drafting except just keep showing up to the more difficult group, focus on relaxing, and work on trusting the more experienced cyclists?
Yes, bad luck. There are the jitters that folks get from riding close the first few times, and the jitters one gets from having experienced a crash. Sounds like you got a double whammy, which is really too bad.

Riding in a paceline is a matter of trust, and those who ride straight, smoothly and consistently are MUCH easier to trust. What I always try to keep in mind is that no one has a better view of the road and what's ahead than the guy in front. If he's conscientious like a good leader, he's not going to ride over any potholes or swerve around any debris, and if there is a stop ahead, he won't grab the brakes, he'll slow down gradually. Just follow his wheel and you'll be fine; unless he's a squirrely wheel, you actually increase your risk by not trusting and varying from it.

As for riding double: with the NYCC, the easier rides in Central Park (16 mph pace and below) are typically double, and work well to keep everyone together and communicating, fostering the group ethic. Typically, with less-experienced riders we would break up on the descents before and after Harlem Hill, to allow wider, more comfortable margins, and rotations only occurred every couple of miles, when the "coast was clear," where the front riders would pull off to the outside and the group would pass through with pairs "hip to hip," close together. I'd say riding double in that context was good training and not unduly risky for those inexperienced with close group riding and drafting. So, even if you are comfortable with a higher pace, I'd give NYCC B rides a look, and their SIG programs in the spring offer exceptional training.

Last edited by kbarch; 10-14-15 at 04:14 AM.
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Old 10-14-15, 04:15 AM
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I can't stand double pacelines. On a decent in a city? No. There's no need for that.
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Old 10-14-15, 05:26 AM
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Definitely get some more group rides in. Hang at the back with a comfortable distance, maybe a foot, wheel to wheel from the one ahead unless the group is fairly quick. If it is, the back of the line can sometimes be awful with surging to keep up and if you're not ready for that, you'll be dropped and discouraged. In those cases, mid pack is better as long as you can keep up the pace. Group riding is fun and and should not be scary.
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Old 10-14-15, 06:57 AM
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Thanks for the tips, everyone!

Incidentally, the group I crashed with was riding in Prospect Park, early in the morning when traffic isn't allowed and it's not crowded. I guess it wasn't actually a double paceline, as we were just riding casually in two lines but not rotating except to change leaders at the top of each lap. No one was hammering, breaking any laws, or riding recklessly. From what I saw before I went down, the crash was caused by a rider getting too close to the rider next to them and overcorrecting. They made shoulder contact and couldn't recover. In retrospect, I think the real problem with this group is that it's open to all levels without enough consistent participants and without enough structured guidance.


In that regard, a big "thank you" to those who mentioned NYCC. Their B rides and SIG training look exactly right for where I'm at, so I'll definitely check them out next spring!
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Old 10-14-15, 07:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Griffin81
Thanks for the tips, everyone!

[FONT=arial] From what I saw before I went down, the crash was caused by a rider getting too close to the rider next to them and overcorrecting. They made shoulder contact and couldn't recover.

No reason to fall from getting close to the rider next to you. Even if the rider next to you smacks into you that shouldn't cause a fall.

The reason that rider fell in all probability was panic, and riding too uptight.

I realize it wasn't you that caused the fall, but it's an opportunity to learn from their mistake.

When you're riding close to others, stay loose, elbows flexed, even flared a little. You can absorb a lot of contact that way without it throwing you off line. Realize that getting bumped is no big deal, and if you're relaxed and don't panic it's a non event.

Bumping drills are great practice for this. Ride with others slowly in the grass, and purposefully lean into each other to get use to contact and learn how to deal with it. As you get into it, you can bump harder, and even make it a game; last person to not put a foot down wins.
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Old 10-14-15, 08:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Griffin81
Looking for some advice for developing better group riding skills.

I've been cycling regularly for several years (5-6 hours a week, long rides on many weekends, commuting in NYC traffic, plus a couple centuries a year), but I'm new to group rides. I joined a group sponsored by my LBS, open to all levels, for casual laps in a park. Unfortunately, in one of my very first rides with them, I was in a crash. We were in a double paceline on a descent when the two cyclists in front of me touched and went down, and the next thing I knew, I was in the air. Not the best intro to pacelines. Luckily, I wasn't seriously injured, and my bike was fine. I got back to riding on my own again as soon as possible and, a couple weeks later, joined a different group ride with more experienced cyclists to try again, figuring I'd be fine. But I was way more jittery than I'd anticipated, especially as these guys kept pushing me to ride the wheel in front of me closer than I'd ever tried before.

Did I just have some especially bad luck starting out, or are crashes in group rides not so uncommon? Is there anything else I should be doing to get over my new fear of drafting except just keep showing up to the more difficult group, focus on relaxing, and work on trusting the more experienced cyclists?
First thing to realize: crashes, while not common, are a part of road cycling. Anyone that tells you differently is setting you up for exactly your reaction to your crash. You are riding in close proximity to other cyclists, on a machine that is balanced on two wheels. Crashes, while rare, are inevitable.

That out of the way, the way experienced cyclists and racers mitigate the risks is they learn how to read their fellow riders. Bicycles, being two wheeled vehicles, are very expressive. You can tell which way a cyclist is going to drift just by how their bike is leaning, if you know what to look for. This is what allows the racers to ride in tight packs at 50mph on downhills and 35-45mph in sprints. It is not uncommon, in experienced racing fields, to have two people in the middle of the field cross wheels right in the middle of the pack and have only those two people (and maybe an unlucky third) be the only ones who hit the ground.

Skill wise, the most important things to do is 1) learn how to protect your front wheel, and 2) keep your head up and anticipate the movements of the cyclists around you. Protecting your wheel involves keeping your wheel in a spot where another cyclist is unlikely to cross it. Anticipation means you learn how to predict where cyclists will be around you by the way they are moving their bike and why they are moving their bike. If you do it right, pack riding, or pace line riding, is not just a matter of trust and you should be able to ride with quite squirrelly riders safely. Mostly it's an experience thing; just keep your front wheel out of trouble and anticipate the movements of cyclists around you rather than reacting.
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Old 10-14-15, 08:20 AM
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I think this is more post-crash jitters and not specific to drafting or pacelines.

when i see a cyclist coming head on, i used to assume they saw me and aware of passing me correctly because they're cyclists. not anymore after a crash when a cyclist drove her bike into mine in a narrow stretch (you really have to pay attention and she wasn't) sending me to the hospital.

i'm not a pace-liner or group rider in that sense, but i have friends who are and i learned you can be in a really experienced group of cyclists doing a paceline and it can still go south very quickly. a friend who rides centuries on the regular had a very nasty fall b/c there was an obstruction on the road which caused the cyclists in front of him to go down. he went down as well and we saw it all play out on camera.

i've heard great things about NYCC, the friends i have that do rides are a part of NYCC.

on a separate note, i'm a bike commuter and have come into contact with other cyclists re: bumping drills it is kind of annoying but i think city cycling prepares you for that (close quarters, not much room in many spots). it's quite apparent that keeping your line is important. that said, there are many cyclists who would not be able to handle this, i definitely don't ride near them and give them clearance. when i cycled in Amsterdam several years ago, i felt it was like that too, there is some brushing going on in tight spots. it does seem to be a matter of practice and exposure to that.
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Old 10-14-15, 10:52 AM
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Originally Posted by kbarch
As for riding double: with the NYCC, the easier rides in Central Park (16 mph pace and below) are typically double, and work well to keep everyone together and communicating, fostering the group ethic. Typically, with less-experienced riders we would break up on the descents before and after Harlem Hill, to allow wider, more comfortable margins, and rotations only occurred every couple of miles, when the "coast was clear," where the front riders would pull off to the outside and the group would pass through with pairs "hip to hip," close together. I'd say riding double in that context was good training and not unduly risky for those inexperienced with close group riding and drafting. So, even if you are comfortable with a higher pace, I'd give NYCC B rides a look, and their SIG programs in the spring offer exceptional training.
Real world and Bike Forums overlap. Are you still riding CP laps? I ride with the A group in the park now but I started with the B16 in the spring of '14. We may well have ridden together.
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