Saturday, May 19, 2012

1974: Drafting a pair of Holdsworth's

At the start of DALMAC `74 in East Lansing, MI.
I have dozen’s of distinct memories from my first DALMAC in 1974. Not only was it the culmination of months of anticipation and preparation, it was a total immersion in so many first time cycling (and life) experiences for me. It was five consecutive days of riding and camping in all new territory, all on my own. And it was the first time I truly experienced the thrill of a drafting in a group of strong, steady riders.

I knew about drafting and pace lines from my reading, and had seen it in a few on the rides I had been on, but up to that time, I had really never had chance be in a pace line or really draft. I knew the benefits of drafting and working together, but almost all my riding had been alone, or on small group rides. And the steel wheels of my first bike didn’t exactly put me on a machine built for speed, especially when I was still riding in cut-offs jeans and tennis shoes.

DALMAC `74 Patch
But by the summer of `74, I had new bike with alloy wheels, along with cycling clothing and shoes. That summer had included over a thousand miles of riding, including my first century and double century.  So I certainly felt the part as DALMAC left Lansing, with 600 riders spreading out over miles of rural Michigan that sunny August morning. We rode in a party-like atmosphere, enjoying the day and the open road, until we finally reached the first overnight.

It was on the second day, somewhere north of Alma and about 25 miles out that my chance came. There was a little bit of overcast, and only light winds, and we were all riding in light jackets on a still cool morning, with about 10 miles left until the town indicated for lunch. I was riding alone when this couple, husband and wife, over took me at a slighter faster pace. The first thing I noticed was they were on a pair of matched road bikes by the builder Holdsworth. They were also wearing matching wool warm-up jackets, bright blue with “Holdsworth” embroidered in orange across the back. Their outfits were complete with wool shorts and cycling shoes. And they just looked like very good riders.

I was already a fan of English/UK made bikes and I am sure I said something like “nice bikes”, trying to make small talk. The man replied they had just gotten the bike this summer, directly from England, and DALMAC was their first tour with them. I wish I could remember more, or had asked more questions, but this was all happening at a pretty quick pace. He said I could draft them, I dropped in on their wheel behind the wife, and started to follow along, for 25 minutes of great fun.

Looking back, it was probably just about perfect conditions, a long gentle downhill grade, favorable winds, and no intersections. The riding was all about the wheel in front of me, maintaining an interval, and riding smoothly. Minutes turned into miles, and we smoothly moved around other riders, at a pace that kept them from jumping in.

I knew I was going fast, but it wasn’t until after almost 10-15 minutes that I saw the 5-mile marker for the next town. I had connected with them about 10 miles out, and now it was over halfway there. We riding at well over 20 miles per hour. (Remember, this is about 8 years before electronics for bikes). My cyclometer peg was pinging like crazy on my front wheel as the tenths of miles kept rolling by. I had never ridden with a group this fast for this long. It was almost like a count down, as the water tower first came into view, and then the first signs of more buildings. The husband never broke pace, and just kept up his fluid spin, his chrome toe clips and shiny black shoes flashing in the sun with each revolution, and the distinctive buzz of their high pressure sew-ups (of course) on pavement. And then we hit the city limits and eased up. We had just covered 8 miles in 24 minutes, 20 miles per hour, not even breathing hard.
All I need is a wheel to follow.

I said thanks for the ride, and shyly drifted back, not wanting to intrude anymore on their day. I soon lost them in the town, but remember seeing them again over the next couple of days, with just a nod of hello. As distinctive as a couple on a pair of Holdsworth bikes was, I don’t recall ever crossing paths with them again on any subsequent rides. I have often wondered how long they kept riding, and where they might be today. For the rest of the week, I had many more chances to draft and ride in pace lines, sometimes with 20 or more bikes finishing up the day’s miles in the late afternoons.

In my club riding over the next several years, I was fortunate to ride with some very good mentors, who taught me more of the courtesies of drafting and cooperative riding.  These were rides where everyone finishing together was always more important than finishing first, something that, unfortunately, seems to get easily lost on so many “training” rides today.

A good smooth pace line is still one of my favorite places to be. I don’t mind the long pulls and conceding a little bit of speed to keep a few extra riders along. From DALMAC, to TOSRV to STP and club rides, it is one of my favorite parts of riding. And every time is just another payback and thanks to the couple on the Holdsworth's who allowed an unknown, novice teen-ager along for the ride.