I just finished reading Boys in the Boat the other day.It is a great story about the University of Washington crew team that won the rowing gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. There were many memorable things about the book, but one thing stuck with me that could translate to cycling was the “swing”. In rowing, “swing” is a rare condition of harmony and perfection; where all rowers in the boat are seemingly in a state of perfect harmony. They are so in tune with each other that they operate as a single entity of power, speed and grace. Everyone is in “the zone”.
This “swing” thought has been with me for a while but I only put a name to it after reading the book. A few weeks ago, I decided to help with a Gruppetto ride and I had the opportunity to talk with Steve Ward about group riding dynamics. This was a great eye-opener as Steve shared some great thoughts about group riding that gave me a new appreciation of how fun a group ride could be when that group truly subordinated themselves to ride as one group rather than a bunch of cyclist riding as individuals in close proximity. He talked about the idea of every rider working for the group and adjusting the effort to match the group’s capability. This was fascinating as it opened up this new potential for elevating the enjoyment of cycling to a new plane; a breakthrough in understanding and clarity.
Could cycling have its “swing”? Could we develop group riding to the state where we all ride in perfect harmony with each other? The pulls up front are just the right duration. The lead rider pulls off just as everyone expects. The pace is perfect for the distance to go and matches all riders’ abilities. The dropping rider catches back on without any wasted motion. The group sacrifices personal needs and subordinates absolutely to the group. Could this happen? Could I ride in a group for a long effort in a cycling “swing”?
I have experienced some great group rides where this seemed to happen in moments. Some of the best rides were the night rides on the South Canal led by Vu and Mel. I have had many other experiences like this in various group rides, but the moment of perfection is usually broken by a single act of personal need. A rider pushes the pace, misses a turn, does a “hero” pull, has bad group riding skills, or many other reasons.
Many times I have experienced the “non-swing” rides were everyone seems like strangers on the same road. Rider leaders are trying to “herd cats” on bikes who have left their group riding skill and knowledge at home. Well organized pace lines get busted by self-minded individuals looking for a few minutes of rest on someone’s wheel. You get the idea.
We have all learned the skills and techniques for group cycling, but the more I ride with a group the more I realize how much I have yet to learn about the true potential in a group of cyclists workingin harmony. I think this will be a new goal of mine – to find some CF riders who want to ride in the “swing”. Maybe riding in the “swing” could be the norm. It will be interesting to find out.