The "cockpit" of the Bianchi
Since my bike training focuses primarily on triathlon (e.g. me riding alone going as fast as I can), and I have only been seriously riding a bike for a year anyway, I've never taken part in a group ride. In fact I've never ridden with another rider. It's something I keep meaning to do, but I just haven't looked into the local cycling clubs or OC Tri Club rides yet.
Today I was riding south on the Santa Ana River trail, and was about 18 miles into a 30 mile ride. I was about 3 miles from PCH, where I would then turn northwest for home. While pedaling along, I overtook a rider in full kit about 100 yards before the trail becomes a "slow zone" and takes a narrow bridge across the river. Since we where both approaching the bridge, I stayed about 30 feet off his wheel as we crossed.
On the other side, the trail opens up again, and I got ready to pass him. I'm kind of weird about passing on training rides - I hate being "that guy" and just blowing by people, preferring to overtake slowly and exchange a few words before shooting off. But I'm not used to the Bianchi's stiffness yet, and when I pushed down, I accelerated faster than I meant to.
I was a little embarrassed, but this was totally missed by the other guy. I must have inadvertently issued an unspoken pacing challenge known only to pure cyclists, because suddenly he was on my wheel. I'd like to think I know the basic principles involved with leading and drafting. But finding myself suddenly in the fog of war, I really had no idea what to do.
After about half a mile, the guy pulls up next to me with a huge smile on his face and said "My turn, stay on my wheel", and shot off. So I hit it hard, and once I was about 6 inches off the back of his wheel, I fell into his slipstream. It took a lot of concentration to stay there, but when I looked down at my computer I saw I was going 25 MPH on an effort I'd usually need for 19-20 on my own.
We went another half mile but had no idea what to do next - Do I wait for him to drop off, or do I take over? I decided that if the tables where turned, an etiquette infraction involving an unsolicited take-over would be less annoying than leaving me to do all the work. So I pulled ahead and he didn't seem to mind.
We went back and forth a few times until we hit PCH. We chatted for a minute and it turned out he was headed my way, at least for a few more miles. So we took turns pulling and drafting until his turn off.
The light was red where he was turning, so we both stopped. He said that it had been a great ride and thanked me. However, I still exercised my "get out of jail free card" (just in case I had totally blew it) and said "No, thank you. I'm a Triathlete, so I never really get to do that."
He smiled as the light changed. As he started to turn, he looked over his shoulder and yelled "Why don't you check out the OC Velo website? We have a bunch of group rides every week. There are ________ great riders in the group". And with that he was off.
Note the blank space. It's meant for the word(s) I missed because a truck was going by. I think he either said "a lot of", which could possibly suggest that I showed potential but still had much to learn, or he said "other", which could possibly suggest that I had passed muster.
But either way I got the invite, so I'll definitely have to check these guys out. I'd love to see first hand how this all works in a bigger group.