Fallen Timbers Monument, April 1976: My second ride with the Wheelmen. Fewer complaints about my riding, though everybody blasted me with a hold your line! or two. It must just be something they all yell to let newcomers know there's somebody behind or alongside.
Southland Shopping Center, May 1976: Dave Skiver asked me to help with the Kroger Bike Rodeo. The police handed out "Rules of the Road," local bike shops did safety checks, and Skiver and I were rodeo clowns. My station was a traffic-cone slalom course. Skiver's was 16 feet of 2x6 laid flat on the blacktop. The kids had to negotiate without slipping off, something like a balance beam without the high-wire act. Skiver rode across it when things were slow. "It's not that easy," he said. I tried it; he was right.
Southfield Civic Center, Southfield, Michigan, June 1976: Finally made it up to the famous board track. Skiver helped set up this monster maze of trusses, tresses and plywood panels in this ice arena airing out for the summer for minimum wage and he's been up here with his bike every night since. When we got there, Skiver introduced me to Mike Walden, the Wolverine head coach. "Ever been on a track?" the burly, bear of a man asked. "Y-y-y-yea," I lied. I decided to wait until the practice session died down and there was nobody on. Walden watched without comment from the bleachers as I mounted Tyson's Paramount track bike. Skiver gave me instructions for the umpteenth time: "get up to speed on the infield, enter in the middle of the straightaway, maintain at least 18 miles per hour, stay at the bottom, and, HOLD YOUR LINE!" What a rush! 58 degrees in the corners. 20-something in the straights. 120 meters; six-second laps. They’re gonna start racing here in two weeks. And they need riders!
Dorais Velodrome, Detroit, Michigan, June 1976: The Wolverine's track night, what a scene. The first half of the workout(?) was all low-intensity stuff. Skill work. Mike Walden behind the megaphone, barking out orders. We did a paceline, slow for a lap, then moderate for a lap, then a slow lap, and so on, with a full bike-length between riders. And did I hear it from Walden when I got too close and overlapped.hold…your…line! Then we were all called to assemble at the start/finish line, newcomers up front. Walden gave a lecture on the difference between "steering" and "turning." He told us we had to steer each time we moved up the track, twist the handlebars as if we were steering a car and keep our bikes perpendicular to the surface of the track. Walden was looking straight at me when he said: "If you don't steer up the track, you'll stick your right pedal in the concrete and land on your ear." I'm talkin' t'you, sir, Mister y-y-y-y-yea, I've been on a track before, Mister I wanna race on the boards.
Then Walden sent his lieutenant off to lead everybody in something like a snake dance, gentle arcs up and down the track. Walden followed me around with his megaphone: "Steer up! Turn down! Maintain two bike-lengths! Steer up! Turn down! Steer up!" After a few laps the lieutenant laid down a more difficult path, nearly straight up, and then back down the steepest parts of the track. Walden on me all the way, "Steer up! Turn down!"
Athens, Tennessee, Saturday, 22 March 1980: Green! Green! Deciduous green! That was our signal. Asti and I got off I-75 at exit 49, parked my Subaru Brat off the side of the road, and got out our bikes. Riding in shorts after another Toledo winter felt great. We didn't ride long; our goal is Atlanta by nightfall and sunny F-L-A in time tomorrow for the early bird check in at Mike Walden's Wolverine Cycling Camp. A whole, uninterrupted week of riding--only warmer.
Apopka, Florida, Sunday, 23 March: Spartan accommodations here at camp, to say the least. Doesn't matter, we're here to ride, not call room service. Orientation, introductions, schedule of events. Each morning session is going to be videotaped and the tape will be reviewed each evening.
Apopka, Florida, Monday, 24 March, AM: I should have known; it's the same Wolverine show, skill work, with Megaphone Mike. We did a road version of the Dorais paceline. Relief line on the left, a full bike-length apart, 16 miles per hour; paceline on the right, bike-length apart, doing about 18. The two lines were told to stay tight to each other, a shoulder-length apart. I guess it's ok to bang butts, bodies, and bars, just don't touch wheels. Walden rode on the back of a Honda Dream 160 with the ubiquitous megaphone. "I said a bike-length apart. hold your line!"
Clair Young rode on the back of a 305 Super Hawk with the video camera. He went up and down the peloton, shooting each rider all the way through one rotation of the paceline. Film at eight.
After about 20 miles of this, Walden held up the peloton at a crossroad. Then he walked down the ranks and paired riders up, shuffling a few incompatibles here and there. "We're going to pair up, spread out, and practice bumping and grinding into each other the rest of the way home."
Walden took one last look at the constitution of each pair and sent them off at measured intervals. Then he and Clair mounted their motorcycles and got back to work. Both said good when they passed me and my partner. Pretty basic stuff. Skiver introduced me to this drill a long time ago.
Monday, 24 March, PM: Everybody gathered in the dinning hall for the mandatory film section at 8 PM sharp. The film rolled and Walden critiqued each rider's position--hands, arms, shoulders, head, knees, heels, toes, seat position, saddle height--you name it; he had something to say about it. I waited in agony for the celluloid me. Walden's eyes met mine when it appeared. "Where do I start with this guy?" Walden asked. Clair Young mercifully suggested he start with my upper body. Walden assented, mounted an imaginary bicycle and demonstrated an exaggerated hands-too-close-together, arms-extended, elbows-locked, shoulders-hunched-up, stiff-necked (lack of) style. And did I get tortured.
Apopka, Florida, Tuesday, 25 March, AM: Déjà vu. I was back at the Kroger Bike Rodeo slalom course. Walden sent each rider through a line of cones, at speed, steering, instead of turning. He said our bodies should run a straight line--through the cones. We were to steer our bikes beneath us, upright, without leaning, twisting the bars. And we had to use every handle bar position we normally use, and negotiate the course to Walden's satisfaction with each before we rode back for lunch. I was the last one there, me and Walden. He wouldn't let me try it slow. He said it wasn't the same thing; I need to be able to do it all the time at speed without thinking. It is the essential skill of bike handling. If I have to make an evasive maneuver around a wheel or an obstacle in the road, turning will take the whole pack down. If I steer around it, I won't even move out of my line.
But it's impossible, Megaphone Mike. You can't steer a bike without moving it. You can't STEER in a straight line. Wrong answer. He decided that my problem was position. "Didn't we get your position straightened out last night?" He moved my hands to a wider stance, adjusted my arms to reflect an adequate bend at the elbow, massaged my shoulders until they drooped, and worked over my neck until my head was relaxed. Then back through the cones I went. It was getting late when he begrudgingly said I was getting better.
Apopka, Florida, Wednesday, 26 March, AM: We went back to that same service drive where we did the slalom thing. This time it was a new skill drill, switching. Walden told us all to pair up. Each pair was sent to the end of the drive and told to ride back at 20 miles per, 30 meters apart. When they entered megaphone range, Mike gave the signal for the rider in the rear to switch the rider in the front. "Run right at the rear wheel, hold your line, and don't decide which side you're going to pass on until the absolute last moment," he said. I thought I'd be The Ace at this one. I couldn't believe it, but Walden said I was turning away too soon; I wasn't getting close enough.
Wednesday, 26 March, PM: Film doesn't lie. According to Walden, nobody was really switching. A true switch occurs only when you are already maxed out accelerating and then get the extra boost of riding through every inch of the slipstream. He said that it takes lots of practice. He said that we should do a reverse paceline with 3 to 5 riders when we get home: 18 to 20 miles per hour, each rider 30 to 40 meters apart. The rider at the back takes a run at, and then switches each rider on his way to the front. When he clears the last rider, he lets up and settles into the pace. Then the next rider in the rear makes his run at the paceline.