For somebody doing their first Gimbels ride it can be a pretty intimidating experience. It becomes even more so if the person just moved here recently. The wonderful thing about USI is we really try to take care of newcomers. So even if one of the hammerheads brings someone new out for the ride he will make sure that someone from the club will look after that person. This past Sunday I was the go to gal to make sure the newbie didn't end out in Albany instead of New Rochelle. Since I was doing Otto's route I was a perfect candidate to show Lynn the ropes.
Lynn just moved out here from Michigan a few weeks ago. Like any cyclist moving into a new area she found herself a bike shop. Where there's a bike shop there is always a salesperson who can hook up the newcomer with all the group ride info. So why start small when you can do the infamous Gimbels ride? The ride was featured in the July issue of Bicycling as part of an article on 25 wildest group rides in America. Yep, it can be pretty wild, but Otto's route is the sanest of the three routes. It's where most all newbies begin their Gimbels career.
The trick to mastering this ride is knowing the roads, and knowing where people will attack, and where they ease up. Fortunately since the number 1 rule of Otto's route is Wait for Otto at the top of "American Can"* hill, it gives people on that route a chance to catch up. The other two routes have no rules. You get spit off the back, you're on your own. You better know where you're going or have a map handy.
*Different parts of the ride have names based on where they are, topography, or landmark. This hill is so named because it comes goes up past what used to be the corporate headquarters of American Can Corporation.
I've kept a number of newbies company in their inaugural Gimbels ride, and I tell every single one of them the same thing. "When we get stopped at a light in North White Plains roll up to the front." By moving up to the front one can avoid the chaos in the middle and back of the pack. Also if one doesn't climb so well, when we get to the "bridge hill" and start getting passed by people who can climb one won't be OTB (off the back). I learned early on that to have half a chance of surviving the ride you need to stay near the front. When you're doing Otto's route it's not as essential as when going regular or long.
If your idea of a huge group ride is 20 riders then Gimbels can be rather scary since on a nice summer's day the initial group can number close to 100 riders. That mass does divide up according to route and then sub-divides as people get spit off the back or break away off the front, but heading out of North White Plains on Rte 22 it's a mass of cyclists. The pace at that point is still such that most people can sit in comfortably, even those without the best of cycling skills. Since Rte 22 is not in the best of shape one has to be wary of potholes. The Gimbels veterans know where most of the potholes are so they know to stay left, right or center in certain spots. Despite holes being called out, there's always someone who ends out overreacting when trying to get around one of the craters. At times this causes one rider to bump another. Skilled pack riders are used to the jostling and bumping, but in a pack this large there are those who aren't so skilled. Sometimes a rider will panic when bumped, go down and take somebody with him.
I've been bumped and jostled a number of times over the years, but after an accident it can take time to get used to the pack again. July 4th was my first Gimbels ride since my accident last year. It was difficult psychologically riding up Rte 22 with all those people around me. There were times I thought I'd have a panic attack, but I just tried to keep smooth and avoid the holes. Even though I do more pack riding then the average triathlete, I still am more comfortable being in time trial mode. The combination of trying not to be in the thick of the pack, and making sure I won't get spit off the back I try to get to the front by North White Plains.
After the North White Plains train station we finally got stopped at a light so I told Lynn to move up to the front. We were able to stay up near the front heading out of North White Plains. One thing I had neglected to tell Lynn was to be in an easy gear after we crossed the reservoir and climbed the "bridge hill". She was having a bit of trouble getting out of the big ring to climb the hill. I was afraid I was going to lose her there, but she managed to recover and get back to me by the time we were heading down the other side. Lynn has an advantage in that she's young and fit. I'm two years older then her mother. Enough said.
After the bridge hill faux pas, I made sure I warned her about appropriate gear changes. The next necessary gear change is the climb up American Can hill. It doesn't matter how many times I climb that hill it never seems to get any easier. Though in comparison to "Tour de Torture" last month it's nothing. Fortunately we get a respite at the top waiting for Otto. Some people will roll easy down the other side and let the rest of the group overtake them. Lynn opted to do that.
My goal in cycling is to still be doing a ride like this when I'm in my 70s and have the "youngsters" in their 40s and 50s waiting for me. Some want to be like Mike. I want to be like Otto. Otto is 74, and still rides his bike 200 miles a week. He rides all winter. I'm a wimp in the winter. He also still rides pretty damn fast on the flats. I've watched him blow by younger riders to move up to the front where somebody will push him up a hill. My yardstick for seeing how I'm progressing fitness wise is Otto. When I can get up the hill ahead of him then I know I'm just about back in shape.
The next tricky part is what we refer to as the double whammy. It's two hills on Purchase Street. Neither of them are steep, but it's a spot where people like to attack and if you're not alert you'll get dropped. Otto's group doesn't attack, but I've gotten dropped there when I'm not fit. If you're not with the group when they crest the second hill you better hope they hit the red light at Anderson Hill Rd, otherwise they're gone. From the crest of that hill down into Rye it's pretty much all downhill. On the regular and long rides the pace is very intense. It's also where there tend to be accidents on the ride. I've seen some pretty scary accidents along that stretch of road. There's also a sprint that's contested before crossing over I-287. Most of the time with Otto's group nobody sprints. But Roberta took off so I decided to chase her down. Woo hoo! I "won" the sprint! Big whoop. Only means something when you're racing a bunch of people for the sprint on the other routes.
Though the part of the ride that scares me the most is going down Highland into Rye, and making the two right turns in the middle of town. With Otto's group it's not so bad. We take the two corners in a reasonable manner. In the larger groups you have hordes of riders weaving around cars and taking those corners going very fast. When I've been in my finest condition those two turns either make or break me. If I can get through them with the group I can hang on. If I'm gapped off, I have to bust my ass to try to get back on. If I'm having a good day I can get back on. If not, it's a lonely ride down to New Rochelle.
Even if I do get back on there's one more difficult spot. Again it's sort of nothing hill heading up to Rte 1. However somebody always attacks there, and if I've expended a lot of energy trying stay with the group through downtown Rye, it may be the proverbial straw. If I survive there then I'm not so concerned when the sprint occurs at the Rye/Mamaroneck border. After that it's an easy roll down to New Rochelle. Though when the weather is cold people race down to there to get the hot cup of coffee.
By coming with me on Otto's ride Lynn got to experience all these little topographical challenges without 50 testosterone fueled guys hammering through them all. For a newbie coming from the Midwest where there aren't so many cars and crazies on the road this ride can be unnerving to say the least. A few weeks on Otto's ride gets the Gimbels rookie used to the course. Lynn has youth and fitness going her way so it shouldn't be too many weeks before she's ready to have Tommy or JP take her on the regular ride. Mental fortitude will be the determining factor.
The regular ride has gotten much faster since I last did it, so I'm not sure I'll get back to that type of speed. Even if I do get back to that speed, I'm not sure I'll be able to hack the insanity. I think the older you get, the harder it is to come back psychologically after an accident. Also there are just too many stupid riders out there. We had two of them on Otto's ride. Neither of them can ride in a straight line. In a small group they're easier to deal with, but I couldn't believe it when one of them tried to move up by cutting through the group diagonally. I called him a f#$%ing moron. I don't do that very often, but when someone deserves it, I'll let them have it.