I haven’t been on my bike since September. I had full intentions of a leisurely New Years Eve ride with some of the Chaser girls but I discovered I had a puncture (I tried for an hour to get the bloody tyre off but it wouldn’t budge) so I didn’t make it.
The problem is, the more time I spend not riding, the more I find my confidence drops and my bike seems like a big scary monster.
On Saturday, I went to a Surrey League ‘Race Preparation Training Session’. In all honesty I had absolutely no idea what I was in for but it was positioned as being suitable for all levels and a session to improve group riding skills so I thought it would be perfect, especially as it took place on a circuit with no cars. Despite being ‘suitable for all levels’, I was by far the most novice rider in our group as I made my way to Ardingly with some of the most speedy and experienced Chasers on earth. The very thought of this made me so nervous that I almost didn’t turn up, but I reasoned with myself that the best way to gain cycling confidence is to surround myself with confident cyclists and, anyway, they’re all lovely people so there was nothing to be scared of.
I almost fell at the first hurdle when I arrived at the train station and discovered I had another sodding puncture (and yes, I rode the 2 miles from home on a flat without noticing…) I knew I couldn’t fix it on my own so was very grateful when Warbo said he would fix it on the train, it was as good as new by the time we got off (THANK YOU).
The next ‘hurdle’ was the 4 mile ride from the station to Ardingly showground. How exactly do you keep up with the most experienced and speedy Chasers on earth when they’re riding at ‘an easy pace’, in the rain? Well. You don’t. But, as I said, they’re a lovely bunch so they didn’t leave me behind (THANK YOU!)
When we arrived (soaking wet and freezing cold I might add) I was surprised at how few women there were, maybe about 8 of 45-ish, I always thought cycling was a much more mixed sport but it would appear not. The first thing I learned was that there’s a difference between a cycling ‘sportive’ and ‘race’. A sportive is a mass participation cycling event which, although use timing chips, is a non-competitive event and attracts riders of all levels. A race on the other hand, is exactly that, a race, and requires you to be a member of the British Cycling Federation as well as attending two of these Race Preparation Sessions. For the record, I have no intention of competing in a race anytime soon.
The session, which was run by cycling coach Paul Butler, was split into two sessions with an indoor theory bit and an outdoor practical bit. It was still raining and it was still cold. It did not being rainy or cold allllll day. Luckily Anna gave me a spare pair of tootsie covers (is that what they’re called?) which kept my tootsies warm and my shoes clean (THANK YOU!)
After going through the basics and importance of a good warm up, we learnt about cornering, when to break, the correct position of your pedals and where your body weight should be. Out on the road, we went in a rectangular circuit (well, a circle would be no good for cornering would it…) and practised taking the corners, more in the correct position that at any speed, on the drop bars (I rode the drop bars and didn’t fall off!)
One Handed Riding
I still haven’t mastered the art of drinking and cycling at the same time, and signalling right is somewhat an issue, so when we were told to pair up and ride with one hand on someone elses shoulder I wasn’t overjoyed. Luckily Ruth was a rock and we got through it without me hurting anyone!
Next we had to form a peloton and the rider at the back had to make their way through the middle of the group to the front, not round the outside, straight through the middle. This was my least favourite bit of the day, shouting at people that I was coming through whilst trying not to knock myself or anyone else off their bike AND trying and ride fast enough to get to the front was a tad stressful. I was happy when that bit was over. Plus I could no longer feel my fingers.
Chain Gang & Paceline
After another short theory bit we were back out practising how to ride in chain gangs and pacelines in small groups. After a few hiccups (such as Dude A who insisted we had the push the pace so the group fell apart, and Dude B who rode straight into a cone…) we totally nailed this part.
The Puncture Crew
Despite the rain, the wet muddy lycra, the mud on my face, and the frozen limbs, I had a really good day out. I learned A LOT, gained some confidence, and had fun. Even though I have no intention of participating in a race, this is a really worthwhile session for anyone looking to improve their group riding skills, if nothing else it will make you safer.
Also, I don’t want to show off or anything, but I can pretty much ride like this now…but I wouldn’t…cause that would be silly…and the very opposite of safe.