Races are the best time to measure yourself up against others and get a real sense of your fitness and cycling abilities, but with the Arizona road racing season all but over (even though the rest of the world is really just getting going), where else can local cyclists going to test their mettle?
Group rides, that's where. Group rides are not only the best training, but they are usually the best indicator of where you are as a competitive or enthusiast cyclist because they are always ridden with a competitive sensibility without that "leave it on the road" edge of a race. And they run all year 'round without an entry fee.
Cycle will be joining in some local group rides over the next few months that cover different routes about town and offer different riding experiences, starting with Scottsdale bike and triathlon shop Tribe Multisport's Saturday Morning ride.
Group rides almost always blend social camaraderie and balls-out riding, a mix of easy and hard, with never more than bragging rights or "who's picking up the coffee" on the line. These are the times when teams and clubs plan to get together and push each other while also enjoying a breather from the stress of a race pace, not to mention everyday life.
Not all group rides are open to all riders, so it's good to understand the dynamics of who you're trying to jump on with. That's why shop rides are usually a good first step in group riding. Virtually every shop sponsors a club or team, but they're also looking to add customers, so shop rides are typically open to everyone.
REAL DEAL BIKE TIP #16 - Know thyself and respect the group. There are very specific protocols while riding as a part of a group. The biggest is understanding that this is not the time to show off. Don't try to ramp up the group's paceline speed to show how strong you are or move in and out of the line, crossing wheels and disrupting the rhythm of the group. To paraphrase Spock, the safety of the many outweigh the glory of the one. And never, ever huck a loog or blow a snot rocket onto a fellow rider in the group.
The Tribe group ride meets at the shop every Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m. from May through September (7 a.m. during the cooler months). The group runs anywhere from 10 riders to 60, depending on race schedules, and appeals to a broad base of riders, from strict roadies to "tri geeks".
Tribe will always try to have a shop employee or team member lead the group, and if one can't accompany the ride, Tribe offers free flat repairs to anyone who suffers an untimely puncture along the way.
The route heads of from the shop at Indian School and Miller and cuts northeast through Paradise Valley and Scottsdale to its high point and turn around at the top of Via Linda Road/145th Way on the western edge of Fountain Hills. It's a steady push uphill for the way out, with a gain of 1,000 feet, which means it's a good downhill run back to the shop. But that also means a fast run home.
The first five to seven miles are treated as an easy warm up with the pace holding around 16 miles per hour. This section is the prime social hour with riders catching up on the week's happenings and new riders making introductions. Newbies will quickly get a sense of where they fit in with the group.
The pace will quicken when the group cuts through the Camelback Golf Course and heads east on Doubletree Ranch Road and cuts through McCormick Ranch. This is where the real paceline work kicks in and everyone works to keep the pace high. If you can't take a turn pulling the group, don't worry and just make sure to hang in the back half of the group.
After meandering east along Mountain View Road, the route turns north on 124th Street and the real uphill effort begins. Once across Shea Boulevard, the group will begin breaking up and everyone rides for themselves at their best pace. Just know that if you fall off, the group will be coming right back along the same path and you can pick right up for the return trip.
From the right turn onto Via Linda, it's four miles up to the top. This is a popular stretch run with several other groups making a push along this street as well. The group drives past the Sunrise Trail parking area and through the gate for the Hidden Hills neighborhood, pushing up to the end of the cul-de-sac. Feel free to take a quick breather here or start heading back down, but beware the speed bumps.
If you need water at this point, there's a fountain at the trailhead or it's a quick seven mile drop down and to a gas station back at Mountain View and Via Linda. The group will be more than happy to make a stop for anyone in need.
It's the same route back with the pace kept high through at least the Camelback Golf Club. Once through there, the pace typically eases up for the final five miles to the shop where you can purchase all sorts of energy foods and drinks to get that post-ride recovery underway.
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Tribe also offers a Thursday night ride for those who can't get past sleeping in on Saturdays, but be warned - it's a faster ride. Special thanks to Cody, John and Braden for leading the way for our group.
Next week, Cycle will have a report from the Tour of California and a great wine country route to check out while escaping the summer heat.
Tribe Multisport: 7624 E. Indian School Rd. Suite 101 (northeast corner of Indian School and Miller Roads)
Trip Distance: 39 miles
Trip Duration: 2 hours
Difficulty: Fast and challenging with a good uphill push midway
Route Map: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/12647166