Drafting makes a HUGE difference!

Sara called today and invited me to go riding and of course I said yes. What a treat since she normally works on Sundays. My legs were a little “heavy” from riding long (1.5 hours) hard at the velodrome on Saturday and it was chilly enough that I was thinking that I might not ride outside at all today. But once I committed to go, I was excited about the ride and knew that it would be both fun and challenging.

Originally, I thought we might do an hour-long ride past the flat Lon Hagler reservoir, but Sara had different plan. She was thinking of climbing up the front side of the hogs-back. “OK, fine.”, I said. “We’ll do the hogs-back loop instead.” It was chilly, and there was a light wind out of the northeast. Lately it has been very calm on my rides and wind hasn’t been a factor at all. Today, the wind was at least 10 mph and because it wasn’t quite 40 degrees, it had a bite too. As we headed north towards the hogs-back turn-off, I tucked in behind Sara to get relief from the wind. As I did this, I immediately felt the benefits of drafting. Even though my speed didn’t drop (it may have actually increased a mile or two per hour)  my perceived exertion dropped significantly and I noticed that my heart rate quickly dropped about 10 points. The power demands from my sheltered position were quite a bit less than when I was in front breaking trail. If I were to estimate my energy savings, I’d have to say it was somewhere between 10%-25%.

I occassionaly practice riding in a tight paceline at the velodrome, and I’ve certainly ridden in pace lines before when I’ve toured with friends.  With the cross country tour being over 3,500 miles, there will be lots of opportunity for riding in pace lines. The trick will be finding riders who 1) ride about the same pace I do, 2)  understand how to ride safely in a pace line and 3) themselves ride well in a pace line. Given the intensity of the tour and the number of miles each of us will have under our belts (so to speak..), I think the search will boil down to looking for folks who ride my pace.

In my research about training for long distance touring, I’ve read several times about the importance of riding YOUR pace and not getting caught up in trying to grab a wheel as it speeds by or pushing yourself harder than you might otherwise in order to ride with some new friends. Everything I’ve read also suggests that I should ride at a pace that I can maintain all day long…day after day after day. For me, this probably means that on a day that has minimal hard climbs, and includes 3,000 or so feet of elevation gain, (and I’m not drafting) I might expect to be riding along at an average speed of 12-14 miles per hour. Now, if I can find a paceline to work with, I would expect my average to be at least a mile or two higher. A paceline will have an even bigger impact on my average speed if there is any sort of head or cross wind to deal with.

My approach is to train so that I can comfortably ride the entire way without the benefit of a paceline. That way, if I have to,  I can!  Tucking in behind Sara every once in a while is OK too because she is strong enough to keep a pace that still makes me work plenty hard and I can get more comforable riding close to the wheel in front of me.