As I delve into my examination of Road Cycling Culture, Thursday Nights Ride at Joe Pool Lake was an excellent case study of cyclists just following the wheel in front of them.
When the daylight allows it, a group of bike racers and strong recreational riders assemble in the parking lot of the Oasis at Joe Pool Lake. We venture into a hammer fest up Lake Ridge Road, climb Texas Plum, do a long loop south of Highway 67, and return to the Oasis. On a good night, I average over 20 miles per hour on the 31-mile course. I am not that strong in this group and usually finish in the chase group; I am far from an alpha cyclist on this ride, but this group views me as an “elder statesman.”
Last night we had a problem because Texas Plum was under construction and the route has to change. Since this is a leaderless ride, the group had to come up with a different route. There was much discussion and I suggested Route A. There was some consensus and then someone suggested Route B. Everybody seemed to agree on Route B and they turned to be as one of the “elder statesman” and said your call. I decreed, “Let’s do Route B” and off we went.
We got on Lake Ridge and headed south. We were fighting a tough head wind and it was hot. I felt I was riding into a blast furnace and my thermometer read 108 degrees off the road. We climbed Lake Ridge at a heck of a pace. We were surging up Lake Ridge and I was spat out of the back on the last pitch to the top. Three of us regrouped and began the chase. We could see others had fallen off and we were going to end up in the chase pack again.
We started to gain on the groups in front of us when the turn appeared that made Route A and Route B different. Somebody attacked the lead group, made the turn to do Route A instead of Route B. I saw some hand waving from the back, but the whole lead group just responded to the attack and changed the route. All the people that were chasing did the same thing.
Not that any of this is bad, but it just shows that the in a group ride, everyone is just going to follow the wheel in front of them. Democracy gives way to the alpha cyclist. I was quite amused at the end of the ride when we all reassembled at the cars for the “after action” reports, a few of my buddies came up to me to apologize for doing the wrong route. I noted I was not in position to give directions when the turn came.