Posted by: wheelywonka | August 22, 2010

Anniversary of the UB, Teams vs. Pods

…Well, it was exactly one year ago this weekend that I experienced my first crash on a bicycle, an event I will henceforth refer to as the Überbonk.    It was during the 2009 Pancake Ride.   I was going through a phase where I was not really feeling the love for cycling or working out, and I developed a number of very bad habits.  For example, 

  • Sleeping as late as possible, and then racing to the ride start without eating breakfast and just in time to gear up and hit the road
  • Skipping the planned rest stops, in an attempt to get home as soon as possible
  • Not riding in a pod (more on this later), and spending most of my time riding solo, forcing myself to set the pace and battle the headwind
  • Not studying the route ahead of time, so that occasionally I’d wander of course and add miles I did not prepare for to the ride
  • Listening to very loud and distracting music on the buds

All of these things conspired against me 12 months ago.  I got to the ride start late, and then pedaled like a demon to catch up with everyone.  I caught them right as they were leaving the last scheduled rest stop.  Instead of stopping at the rest stop and refueling, I tried to keep going.  Well, I was quickly dropped, left alone to ride in 100 degree temperatures on very black pavement that was so hot I felt the heat all the way up to my knees.   A few miles before the finish line, I was rolling down some uneven pavement on Foster Road, hit a bump, and lost control.  I flew off the bike, skidded on the pavement, and ripped a couple of deep gashes in my elbow and leg.   I was already close to bonking because of the lack of calories, the exertion, and the heat, and the mild shock brought me even closing to passing out.    I was sitting on the hot pavement, bleeding heavily, when a truck pulled up beside me and the driver inside asked, “Do you need some help?”     This kindly old man helped me load my bike into the back of his truck, and drove me to the finish line.  I felt so bad, because I bled all over his truck, but he left before I could thank him or reimburse him for what would surely be an expensive cleaning job.  My buddy Chuck took me to a clinic where I had the gashes cleaned and stitched up, and within a week, I was back on the road.    And I can tell you – since then,  I’ve been much more serious about preparing for rides, pacing myself during them, and turning down the music.  

Experienced cyclist pays the price for momentary lapse in reason

 Yesterday was the 2010 version of the Pancake Ride, and I assured Nurse Donna (who organizes the event each year with her husband Mark) that I would not bonk this year.    I got plenty of sleep the night before, ate two breakfast tacos and a Cliff Bar before the ride, and stopped twice during the 54 miles, each time long enough to get my heart rate down, get some fluids and calories into me, and to enjoy the camaraderie of my riding companions.   (Having fun while you’re riding is not a bad thing, even if it means you get home a little later.)   This year as I was racing down Foster Road just north of Calavares Lake, I was feeling strong and confident.  I was riding in a pod of riders, leading them in a 22 mph pace line that felt like a hot knife blasting through butter.  What a difference a year (and some common sense) makes!   I tell you this story as a gentle reminder that even the most experienced riders can make mistakes, and when doing long distance endurance rides in the South Texas heat, mistakes can be very painful.  

…I’ll end with a working definition of a cycling pod.  There are teams, of course, with a cool name and flashy team jerseys, based on some sort of  community or work-related affiliation.    The team has a Captain who organizes training rides and social events, and keeps everyone focused on upcoming events (for example, the 2010 Ride to the River).  I’m a big advocate of the team model, having been a member of Team Velo Valero for  11 years, a Board Member for 6 years, and Captain of the that mighty cycling and fundraising organization for two years from 2007-2008.    If you’re not on a team,  either join one, or form one and recruit your friends, co-workers, and family members to join it

A cycling pod is something else entirely.  (NOTE:  I just made up the term cycling pod, based on my personal experince riding and one too many Fat Tires.)  This is a group of 2 to 5 riders of similar skill, experience, and conditioning that you ride with on a regular basis.   This is your personal posse when you are on the road.  The ideal pod has a complimentary set of skills that makes everyone in the pod that much more successful.  For example, someone can be great at navigation, and insures the pod never gets lost on a long ride.  Someone can be the pod mechanic, who can fix a flat or braking problem in 60 seconds or less.  Someone can be the mule who pulls the pod for miles on end at a constant pace.  Finally, someone can be the comedian, the ride jester who keeps the mood light by unleashing a constant stream of yuks during those long hours in the saddle.  You put all this together, and you have a formidable group of cyclists able to complete any event, and do so safely and in a reasonable amount of time.  On a big team, you may have lots of different pods – they start and end together, but on the road, they separate as they find their own unique pace and personality.  And, this is not a bad thing. 

I’ve worked hard the last month to get back into riding shape, so I can start and end a ride with my good companions Chuck and John, because I feel a sense of comfort and ease when I’m riding with these two guys that I never feel when I’m by myself.  Chuck is the mule who can ride for hours at a cadence so regular you can set your watch to it.  John is both a great mechanic and so good at navigation I refer to him as the “Human GPS”.     I love being on the road with these guys, and feel much safer when riding with them – they always get me home.  

See ya’ (and your pod ) on the road! 



  1. […] group I will henceforth refer to as the Band of Brothers (and a Sister).   As I pointed out in a previous blog when I presented the concept of a cycling pod,  you develop the three Cs when you ride with a group […]

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