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Group dynamics in cycling, and “half-wheeling”

November 29th, 2009
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phil-alpe-d-huezA few months ago, I wrote about the physiology of spinning, and how it’s different from cycling alone. I also wondered whether spinning is different from cycling in a group outdoors. I recently had an interesting e-mail exchanged with Toronto cyclist Philip Koop [right] on the topic. Here’s some of what he had to say:

In my experience, a road ride has the same psychological benefits as described for spinning – provided I am riding with people who are better than me. In that case, my effort is dictated by factors outside my control: the wind, the gradient, and the whims of those making the pace. I often find myself working harder than I thought possible.

The effects of riding with people of my own ability are more variable; they depend on the group size, pace and length of turns on the front. This type of ride is characterized by brief intervals of hard work on the front followed by longer intervals at lower intensity. At a given level of average power, this is harder work than maintaining a steady power output. But generally, one can maintain higher average power on one’s own. Under different circumstances, one effect can win out over the other. The psychological aspect of the group is diluted because at the points of highest effort one is making the pace oneself instead of striving to match that of another. Read more…