The joy of the peloton

There are few times when I ride beyond my comfort level than when I am in a group of other cycling enthusiasts. I usually start my weekend ride once most cyclists have finished theirs. However, on rare occasions I manage to join up with a peloton. This happened a few Sundays ago – a furiously gusty day in which every direction I turned seemed to present a head wind. After a double espresso and toasted HCT croissant, I coalesced with a couple of different teams and a few other soloists, and for maybe half an hour – from Black Rock to St. Kilda – we bunched up tight in double-file and stayed above 30kph in spite of the gale.

Those at the front of the peloton take turns, each swinging out every five minutes to rejoin the pack via a gap that instantly forms to accommodate them. The guy to my right and upwind explains that his deep-rimmed wheels are presenting too great a profile. He drops back a bit so that he isn’t blown into me. We hit a few sets of traffic lights, where everyone sculls down a few mouthfuls from their water bottles before pushing off again. Hand signals cascade down the line, warning of parked cars and slow-going cyclists. We proceed like this until we pass Brighton, where members of the peloton begin breaking off in pairs and individually. Finally, solo once more, I pull off onto St. Kilda beach to fill my bottle, and enjoy the view.

We were as if a group of refugees coming together in spite of our competitive spirit, sheltering from our shared enemy: the elements. I find that one of the ironies of cycling, and sport in general, is that it can be a tough day to ride, and yet we all do so voluntarily. (It is much easier to drive or catch the train to Frankston from the city than to cycle, for instance.) It can take a particular kind of temperament to volunteer ourselves for situations where we must struggle just to stay afloat.

However, I also think that this can be true for professional work, as well as for sport – after all, we do not actually need to buy houses or round-the-world flights any more than we need a trophy for running a marathon, or to cycle around Port Philip Bay. For some strange reason, though, we seem more eager to confine ourselves to the walls of our work place for eight hours a day than we are to a gymnasium for eight hours a week – go figure.

Image by Robert Couse-Baker

A few other parallels between cycling and professional work come to mind:
  • A team is only ever as fast as its leader. We can always jettison the slowest, but the leader is the one that usually shields the rest of the group from the political head wind. 
  • Uniforms have an impact. I might like the idea of living in a meritocracy, but I have often noticed that when riding around the city, I’m a lot less likely to try to overtake someone wearing spandex than in casual clothing (and I figure that a jeans-clad hipster on their fixie is more likely to surge ahead when the lights flick to green.)