The perks of riding with mates

We’ve all been there once, twice, a million times: the alarm clock goes off on ride day, but all you want to do is throw it across the room and disappear back into your duvet.

I’ve been there many, many times, but there’s one thing that always drags me out of my cocoon and down to the kitchen for my pre-ride brekkie (Froome-style avo and omelette or Yates-style Weetabix and banana depending on how far I’m riding and how ‘bleurgh’ I’m feeling). That one thing is company, a group ride, a training partner.

As I write, March is taking its curtain call and we’re enjoying bright sunshine, light breezes and dry conditions, so my excuses not to ride have well and truly run out. At the same time, cycling friends have come out of the woodwork, visited from overseas, returned from university keen to ride, even, and seemingly especially, when I wasn’t.

Group of friends cycling together along country road, one waving at camera

In the past week, I have pedalled upwards of 140km, which might not sound like much to some of you but is a lot more than I’ve done in a long time. The big difference this week compared to the last – oh, I dunno – twelve months, is that I’ve been motivated by friends – friends who respond to my demotivated rambling the night before a solo ride with the five magic words: “Would you like some company?”

YES!

This morning, just like Sunday, my alarm set with two hours to spare for breakfast, proper digestion and ample faffing, I did not snooze the alarm (okay, I snoozed it once). Instead, I unfolded myself from my nice warm bed, sparing but a moment to wish I could stay put. Alex would be waiting.

So, what have I found, or rediscovered, in this past week of renewed vigour on the cycling front, riding with friends in fair if not good weather?

The first and most important thing is clearly that they’ll get you out of bed, if not literally, then figuratively. For me, a fair-weather cyclist whose training log has been patchy at best for a long time, planned group rides have proved especially valuable as a means to sustain my streak. Had I been back down to solo rides after that opening number last week, I’d have done less than half of what I’ve done since, I promise you. Without that accountability, I’d have dismissed my alarm and rolled over or I’d have looked outside to assess the wind situation and called it off.

As it happened, Alex and I met, both experiencing that uncanny zinging ache of slight fatigue in the legs that becomes permanent if you cycle enough – I’ll soon forget what it feels like to climb stairs without a mild discomfort – and got on with a decent 40-miler. We had fair winds, mild temperatures (knees are still under wraps until the mercury cracks 15°), and great company. Even when the effort and strain got a little too much for conversation and our windy ride became a Flandrian through-and-off, company was key. Which brings me to my next point.

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Went for a pedal in the *ahem* “negligible wind” with one of my favourite humans. Felt a lot better than earlier in the week but oh boy, I’m no Tim Declercq/Adam Hansen/Luke Durbridge able to put the hammer down for hours into a block headwind. I did spend some time on the front though… . P.S. Two rides in a week?? It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to say that… . #justride #roadcycling #roadslikethese #bluesky #laprimavera #trainingpartner #cyclinglife #stravacycling #norulesjustride #goodvibes #wahooligan #inmyelemnt #foreverbuttphotos #thatwashard #letsdoitagain

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With friends, you can go longer, further, faster. That sounds like the slogan for a scientifically-loaded energy gel, but it’s true. There’s the actual aerodynamic advantage of slipstreaming, but there’s also the mental game we all play in an effort to seem fitter, more up to scratch, worthy of their company.

Studies have shown that even when your group is only two-strong, the second rider can benefit from drag reductions of anywhere between 25% and 50% depending on things like the comparative sizes of the riders, the exact position of the riders in relation to one another, wind direction and speed, etc. Positioning and size are all just as important in larger groups (you don’t want to be last wheel) and you can find a more consistent reduction of around 44% if you are suitably placed mid-pack. Of course, it’s always worth remembering that the larger the group, the fewer turns you’ll be required to take in the wind at the front – at least assuming everyone is at roughly the same level and can sustain pack riding.

Staying with science for a moment, the lead rider of a group can also expect a drag reduction of around 2% thanks to a kind of pushing effect from behind. That is, the following riders fill the space behind the leader, causing the air to flow efficiently around the whole group rather than snagging the rider in the wind with a streamer effect of turbulent air.

I have a more abstract (unproven) theory where the lead rider’s efficiency and pace are concerned: through a combination of mutual motivation and paceline adrenaline, the leader rides at least 5% faster than they would alone, if only to feel a little more like Tim Declercq on the front of the pro peloton.

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Win or lose, leave it all on the road #waytoride #rookutdebuzze #painface

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Finally comes the finish line. Literally. Riding with others, especially others who roughly match your own level, adds a little competitive edge to proceedings. By extension, you will be faster, more immune to the stress and strain of hills and headwinds, and more highly motivated. The person I ride with most is a similar type of rider to me. We’re mentally in tune, we can pretty much measure our own fatigue by comparing with the heart rate of the other, and whoever is second wheel on the approach to a town sign will take advantage of the lead-out in a sprint across the line. Targeting Strava segments is one thing, but it’s nothing compared to the physical presence of a training partner and/or rival.

Although it hurts a little to sit – those damn silly super-stiff road saddles – I’m enjoying the regained aches and pains of being a semi-regular cyclist. But my questionable self-discipline has played only a cameo role in my own renewed motivation; the co-stars of this reboot are Alex Petter and la primavera itself. Long may it last.

Words by Emma Nicholson.

If you want to track my riding exploits, find me on Strava. Or follow me on Instagram and Twitter for day-to-day ramblings.