Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Rules of the Road

When social scientists study legal systems, they distinguish between the "law on the books" and the "law in action." The former refers to the written law in statute books and judicial decisions; the later refers to the rules around which people are actually observed the organize their behavior. Not infrequently, the laws in action deviate from, and effectively overrule, the laws on the books. The reason I mention this is because I notice something similar with respect to cyclists' training rides.

Frequently, a ride will be called for a certain average speed and/or as a "no-drop" ride - meaning that the group will stay together and the pace of the slowest rider will determine group speed. On some occasions, the ride leader may even specify power zones to be worked, as I did with a ride this morning. When the size of the group of riders is small, the specified rules are generally observed; but as the size of the group grows, it becomes more likely that the specified rules will, in effect, be overruled by one or more of the riders present, who will then encourage other riders to ignore the specified rules. The result is often the opposite of what was originally intended: instead of a no-drop ride at a speed determined by the slowest rider, ride speed is determined by the fastest of the hammerheads who show up, and the group becomes splintered into several small groups or individual riders strung out over a mile or more.

It is an interesting, if regrettable, phenomenon. It creates a problem for marginal riders (like me) looking for rides where they won't be dropped, which is a demoralizing experience. If riders cannot trust that a ride will be as advertised, their interest in participating is likely to diminish, and they will spend more time riding alone instead of with their friends.

That's why the leadership of my club, Team Nebo Ridge, has tried to improve "ride integrity" as a truth-in-advertising campaign about rides. Unfortunately, because of my increasing frustration over my teammates' inability or disinterest to enforce "ride integrity," I have decided to resign from various leadership positions on the team. The competitive race mentality increasingly is dominating the team despite the best efforts of leaders such as Larry Stevens, Dave Fouts, and Tim Wozniak to welcome non-competitive riders.

I should add, finally, that even if Team Nebo Ridge were  purely a competitive racing team, the almost pathological obsession with hard and fast riding is probably unconstructive. Too many riders spend way too much time riding in the high power zones (4, 5 & 6), when they would be better served, particularly during the winter season, to spend a fair amount of time on base (power zones 2-3) training.

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