So there I was, enjoying a nice spin atop Sourland Mountain. My pace was moderately brisk, about 19 mph, and pretty soon I felt a presence. Sure enough, I look down at the road and can see the shadow of a rider behind me. I glanced back to see if he was someone I knew. Nope. He didn’t say anything…no greeting, no expression on his face. I waited for a short time for some kind of friendly “hello,” but there wasn’t one. Yet, he just sat there….drafting, riding along in my slipstream. I soon realized this guy was breaking one of the (many) unwritten rules of cycling: If you want join someone, especially to draft them, at the very least say hello. Even better, introduce yourself and say something like, “Hi, I’m Bob. I see you’re faster than me, and I’m not really interested in pulling my own weight, but I’d like to suck your wheel for a while. Okay?”
I realized recently that I’m never going to get back that top-end speed I had 10-15 years ago, nor will I ever see my blistering 40 mph sprint again. I have discovered, however, that I can be a pretty good diesel. It’s pretty common for me to sit on the front of a group, stick my nose into the wind, and make a pretty good strong pull for longer than my riding buddies. What I have lost in speed I have gained in accumulated strength and endurance. What’s especially fun is enjoying this experience on my first group ride of the year, when everyone else is just starting to find their legs. 60 miles at an average speed of 19 mph? Got it. Just tell me what speed you’d like to go and I’ll sit on the front for a while.
For both of the above scenarios I give credit to the Spring Payoff. Now, I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on this in the winter months. I commute year-round, and I do it for many reasons. “Training” for the upcoming season is pretty low on the list. I gave up training when I let my USCF Cat III license expire a long time ago. But I enjoy being fit, and I vividly remember getting on the bike in the spring when I hadn’t commuted all winter. The first 4-6 weeks was always miserable, and took much of the pleasure out of riding.
The simple consistency of riding from October through March pays off in huge fitness dividends. Sure, I taper my overall mileage in the winter. I rarely ride more than 20 miles at a time. I don’t sprint or do hill repeats. But riding 12 miles a day means that when I ramp up my mileage in the spring, or want to jump into a 60 mile group ride, my body is ready and I’m often stronger than my peers. Nice.
So what happened with Wheel-Sucker Bob? He never said anything. I was able to execute a lovely tactic used in road cycling called “riding someone off your wheel.” I gradually ramped up my pace, eventually cruising along at about 25 mph. I could hear him gasping for breath behind me, and then he was gone. Yes, I’d ridden all winter, and I was out for a solo spin. All he had to do was say, “Hi, I’m Bob. I see you’re faster than me, and I’m not really interested in pulling my own weight, but I’d like to suck your wheel for a while, okay?”