The Lost Art of the Group Ride

I often find myself reminiscing about these times and while I absolutely advocate joining a cycling club for the meeting of like minds a cycling group is also great for getting you out on those days where you’re struggling.
Search out your local bike shop they may have regular rides. You’ll learn new routes, get riding tips from real people- not the internet and make friends that will support your riding as you gain in experience and confidence.
Here’s the article.

Every so often, I’ll ride a recreational group ride. I love the camaraderie of cyclists, the talk, the last minute pumps of air, the clicking in, and the easy drifting out as a peloton. “I miss riding in a group,” I’ll think to myself.

The magic ends by mile 10. The group will surge, gap, and separate, only to regroup at every stop sign. I’ll hear fifteen repeated screams of “HOLE!” for every minor road imperfection. And then no mention of the actual hole. Some guy in front will set a PR for his 30 second pull. Wheels overlap, brakes are tapped, and some guy in the back will go across the yellow line and speed past the peloton for no apparent reason. A breakaway?!

I curse under my breath, remembering why I always ride with only a few friends. Doesn’t anyone else realize how dangerous this ride is? How bad it is for our reputation on the road? There are clear rules of ride etiquette, safety, and common sense. Does anyone here know the rules? Who is in charge?

But no one is in charge, and the chaotic group has no idea of how to ride together. As a bike crash (not “accident”) lawyer, I get the complaints from irritated drivers, concerned police, controversy-seeking journalists, and injured cyclists. It needs to get better, but the obstacles are real:

First, everyone is an expert these days. The internet and a power meter do not replace 50,000 miles of experience but try telling that to a fit forty-year-old, new to cycling, on a $5000 bike. No one wants to be told what to do.

Second, the more experienced riders just want to drop the others and not be bothered. It is all about the workout, the ego boost, or riding with a subset of friends. But a group ride is neither a race nor cycling Darwinism. As riders get better, they seek to distinguish themselves by riding faster on more trendy bikes; but as riders get better they need to realize two things: 1) there is always someone faster, and 2) they have obligations as leaders. Cycling is not a never-ending ladder, each step aspiring upwards, casting aspersions down. It is a club, and we should want to expand and improve our membership.

Third, different rides are advertised by average speed, but speed is only one part of the equation. This approach makes speed the sole metric for judging a cyclist, and creates the false impression that a fit rider is a good one. Almost anyone can be somewhat fast on a bike, but few learn to be elegant, graceful cyclists.

Fourth, riding a bike well requires technique training. Good swimmers, for example, constantly work on form and drills; so should cyclists. Anyone remember the C.O.N.I. Manual or Eddie Borysewicz’s book? They are out-of-print, but their traditional approach to bike technique should not be lost. More emphasis was given on fluid pedaling and bike handling.

Before the internet, before custom bikes, and before Lance, it was done better. Learning to ride was an apprenticeship. The goal was to become a member of the peloton, not merely a guy who is sort of fast on a bike. Membership was the point, not to be the local Cat. 5 champ. You were invited to go ona  group ride if you showed an interest and a willingness to learn. You were uninvited if you did not. You learned the skills from directly from the leader, who took an interest in riding next to you on your first rides (and not next to his friends, like better riders do today). Here is some of what you learned:

To take your cycling shorts off immediately after a ride.
To start with a humble bike, probably used.
To pull without surging.
To run rotating pace line drills and flick others through.
To form an echelon.
To ride through the top of a climb.
To hold your line in a corner.
To stand up smoothly and not throw your bike back.
To give the person ahead of you on a climb a little more room to stand up.
To respect the yellow line rule.
To point out significant road problems.
To brake less, especially in a pace line.
To follow the wheel in front and not overlap.

The ride leader and his lieutenants were serious about their roles, because the safety of the group depended on you, the weakest link. If you did not follow the rules, you were chastised. Harshly. If you did, you became a member of something spectacular. The Peloton.

How we look after your bike

The starting point for most of our services is a Free of Charge safety check and inspection.  This informs you, the customer, what is needed to get your bike into a safe and rideable condition.
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If you are unsure of what your bike may need or haven’t ridden it in a while we take this opportunity to find out what kind of cyclist you are or may be.  Riding with the kids, for leisure or with a goal in mind, such as an event.  This will all help us shape what level of service is appropriate for you.
We’ve developed our own safety check/inspection starting at an M-Check.  This is a basic functional check that we all should perform before hopping onto a bike.  It’s a little like a risk assessment; it doesn’t require a vast knowledge and isn’t  difficult to carry out.
The basic premise is to move through the bike starting at the front wheel in a M-shape (see pic); we would always talk a customer through this process when you bring your bike to us for it’s service.
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If during this process you come across anything that makes the bike unfit to ride you should fix that problem or take it to your nearest Independent Bike Shop for repair.  A bicycle is like any machine in the respect that regular maintenance will prolong its useable life.
It is certainly wise to service a bike at least annually.  If your intentions are to ride more often, then service your bike more often e.g 2-3 times annually.
At Steel Town Cycles we focus on quality of service and workmanship.  I treat every bike I work on like my own.  We work with lower quantities coming through to ensure we keep the quality high and our turnaround times lower.
The internet can’t fix your bike it is true and won’t generally give you true experience-based advice for FREE.  We hope that you’ll entrust your bike to an independent at it’s next service.

Winter Riding Advice

A fair few of us will consider not riding once the clocks go back due to the shorter days. Riding in the dark can be great fun though as long as a little thought is given to what we need to say safe, visible and warm.  There are lots of lights and reflectives on the market and Steel Town Cycles will advise you as to what is best for your budget.  Clothing is really just about layering.  If you use a base layer, short sleeve top with arm warmers on the Autumnal days with a shower proof jacket its covering most situations. Layers can be taken off and put back on also.  I prefer cycling tights when the mercury dips into single digits, before this shorts with knee warmers.

As important as making sure you are prepared, your bike needs to be sorted too.  The Autumn and Winter are hard on bikes components and your bike is going to need a little more care to get it though, whereas in the Spring/ Summer we may somewhat neglect bike care, so we recommend washing of the frame, components,  wheels/tyres and relubrication after this.  Again there are many products available to clean, degrease and polish your machine.  A dizzying array of lubricants – Wet, Dry & Wax to name some types of chain lube.  But don’t worry I am going to explain and try and cut through some of the spin.

Bike cleaning & protectBike cleaners aim to soften up muck and light, greasy deposits, and are best used to clean
the frame and wheels/tyres.  Most are designed to be used with the bike already rinsed with water.  So, start with a wet bike, and apply whatever wash you use.  I don’t recommend the use of Washing-Up liquid as this has salt in it which can scratch frames – it happened to me – pick a bike specific cleaner that suits your budget (Steel Town Cycles can advise).  Spray the cleaner on and leave it to work in for 30-60 seconds.  Use a Soft brush or sponge to wipe around your frame and components then rinse it off.

In doing this you are washing off not only the dirt but also any salt that has got to the frame and components during use.  To put this into perspective, if you only wash your bike once a  month during the winter there’s a high chance you’ll need to replace some components come spring.

I like to also use a de-greaser to remove old chain lube and gunk that builds up on your drivetrain – Cassette, Chain, Chainrings and derailleurs – (see pic).  If you think about the combination of oil, dust and soil, mixed together they form an abrasive paste which more quickly wears out your cassette, chain and chainrings.

Dave’s GT Grade.jpgAfter all this cleaning, which can take 15 minutes, or more depending on how thorough you want to be it is important to drive out the water from your chain.  There are several brands here but perhaps the best know is WD-40 Spray.  There are others but they do the same thing.  They are,  in very few circumstances suitable for lubricating a chain, so use of a specific chain lube is advised here.  If you use WD-40 or similar the lubricant part is extremely light and will leave your chain dry and running metal to metal, significantly shortening the component and chain life.

Once you’ve driven off the water make sure you lubricate the chain with a good quality chain oil.  If in doubt about which type to use speak to your local bike shop who will be pleased to advise and sell you the right oil for your purposes.  I prefer the drop bottle type (see picture) and drop the oil onto the chain rollers, working from the rear derailleur forward to the chainrings.  Try to avoid the outer plates and move the chain backwards by pedalling backwards.  Do this a few times until the chain is visibly coated.  Take an old rag (I use old T-shirts or T-Towels) run the chain backward through it with a gentle grip to remove the excess and lightly coat the outer plates of the chain.

Depending on how much your bike is in use repeat this procedure periodically.

If you wish to protect the finish on your bike there are also bike polishes which will protect frame and components between cleans.

Here are some examples of the lubricants I use and sell:





C2C,Cyclocross and fixing bikes

I’ve been a bit quiet of late on the blog here…… the reason…….. lots of bikes to Service -Repair-Upgrade.  The shop has been very busy since the beginning of summer.  Is it the great weather that’s getting more of you out on bikes, or a renewed interest in just getting a little fitter.  I don’t know, but we are very happy to have seen more of you this year; like we have always said, whatever your cycling needs are, Steel Town Cycles are happy to help you all.

We had our first Tandem customers this month and some great restoration projects, like this classic Specialized Stumpjumper that the customer had sitting around needing a little TLC so we stripped the bike, cleaned it up, and serviced the rear shock.  We then rebuilt the bike replacing a few worn out parts.

My own efforts to get fitter have slid somewhat.  After a great start and good weather to motivate my notion of getting up an hour earlier and out for an hour, better than nothing, reality dawned very quickly and progress has been slow.  I’m still determined to keep up some riding though.  As the Cyclocross season approaches, 1st September, I am determined to race a full season in our STC Cycling kit.  It will be tough as they are fast, punchy events.  Racing is typically less than an hour.  I am making it sound hard but really anyone with a mountain bike can and should have a go.  They are grassroots events and rely on volunteers to organise them.  The North East Cyclocross League races ( are very friendly and everyone is encouraged from kids to adults.  I will report on the STC teams progress, which is: me, my son Alex (7 years),  Dan (11yrs) and Laurence, whom I have known through racing since he was 14 – a bit older than that now.

After the first NECCL round on Saturday I am pleased to report the kids, Dan and Alex were 3rd and 2nd in their respective age groups.  Laurence had a good solid start of 25th, and I managed 35th out of a field of 42 riders.  Room for improvement for Laurence and I.

What I found in this first round though is that while still having a competitive spirit, I was far happier just riding at my own pace and not pushing too hard.  I’d be really happy to see some of you guys give it a try.  Its a great day out for all the family and encourages everyone no matter their ability.  There are folks that have been riding these events for over 25 years and its great to see them still actively enjoying their riding.   Its not really about where you finish as everyone is a winner just for turning up; the kids enjoy the competitive challenge but race with all age groups so at any point in the field, they are simply racing at their own pace, heads down.  Cyclocross is definitely a discipline that can be enjoyed at whatever your fitness level is and its one of the most friendly and accessible to a wide age group.  Go on……… have a go this season.  Further details can be found at or search North East Cyclocross League on Facebook.



STC on Tour

It was great to get away this week with the family for a well earned break from the work-school routine, and escape to one of our favourite English counties for sea-views and cycling.  Cornwall delivered again……some great weather and our third visit to a fantastic little cottage which provided an excellent base from which we explored the area.  It was great to visit Tintagel again, a great English Heritage site which, with some steep climbs up the castle hills, provides some incredible Atlantic views.  We also decided to explore some opportunities for cycle trails, and discovered a ride along a large part of the Camel Trail from Wentford Bridge to Wadebridge and back.  Based along a stretch of old railway line, and even passing by the Bodmin Steam railway, winding through a river valley, it’s almost completely flat with a fair few watering holes along the way.  I can highly recommend the bike themed Snails Pace Cafe as a starting point, or a mid-point break, with excellent, locally produced food, great cakes, and a warm and friendly service.  There is bike hire available, and this stretch of the Camel Valley is really quiet and peaceful compared with the approach further up the trail towards Padstow, but whatever your intention, it’s a great find, and we will all be going back again.

Cornwall has some great roads to ride slightly away from the main drags, and this cyclist will return someday to ride and appreciate a little touring.  Cornwall is a county so well suited to this form of cycling and it was encouraging to see cyclists on the roads and trails enjoying the views in the area from the saddle, leading me to thinking about a return to basics and spending some time this year on some short 2-3 day tours in the Lake District and Scotland.

Though I have enjoyed racing and definitely have a competitive nature, the rides I’ve enjoyed recently have been much more sedate.  The bike I will be building up for myself next will be much more aimed for adventure riding/bike packing and will be a radical departure from how I came into cycling.

I’d like Steel Town Cycles to be the shop that encourages you all whatever you’re interest and reason for getting on a bike.  If I can help you realise your goals then I’m doing my job.  As well as helping get our kids onto bikes that aren’t too heavy and they actually want to ride.  We highly recommend and can supply the Squish premium bike brand.  They get a quality build and a lightweight aluminium frame and from what I’ve  seen of them, I can’t recommend them highly enough.

I received a call this morning from some guys hailing from Liverpool doing the C2C who had run into a bit of a mechanical problem with a damaged cleat on his clip-less pedal, so I thought it was worth opening on a Sunday to help sort them out, and get them back on the last stretch of their challenge.  Quite a long time ago there was a bike shop in Blackhill.  It was oldskool – I remember them mostly servicing and repairing bikes but the chap that owned the shop was so enthusiastic.  This is what Steel Town Cycles are all about.