Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Smack-talk? No! Pack-talk!

A blog post about intentional contact while racing led to comments about other ways to effectively communicate in a pack, and Aki mentioned something that I've realized for a little while: bikers can be vulnerable. He wrote:

I stopped yelling for a while, but I do it if it's a critical point and no one's moving. Usually someone does because the cry is enough to put them over the "should I go or should I stay" cusp.

A field can be so large and the dynamics of the pack can confuse a racer; people trying to make sense of a race situation through the haze of speed, fatigue, efforts, and recovery can be manipulated. Many people just feel better about doing something when they're told to - when a command to do something resonates with their inkling that something must be done, it overrides their deer-in-the-headlights instinct toward inaction. People are susceptible to suggestion. "Close that gap!" "Go go go go!" Oh, I'm supposed to go now! That guy said it, so everybody must know it, so it must be true!

A track racing buddy of mine pushes a large gear and fairly regularly makes strong, late accelerations, going off the front with around two laps to go. They are exciting moves that don't usually stick, but do shake things up a lot. Knowing his tendency for this, I've been able to use him to my advantage a few times. "Wind it up!" I'll say at the right point, calling his name and hopping on his wheel. I get a generous draft from his tall frame as he runs the field ragged once he gets his 49/14 turning.

Beyond manipulating my fellow racers, I find vocalization to be helpful communication. At one of the first track meets I went to, one of the older racers was talky on the banking and I found it to be a good way to ground myself in a tight pack - I know where Luke is, because he is telling me where he is. So I do it, too: "Hup hup hup" if I'm moving up and want somebody to know that I'm on their hip; or, "inside, inside, inside." It doesn't really matter what I'm saying, just having some volume so that people don't assume it's safe to move off their line to follow another wheel forward.

Maybe this would be obsolete in a more advanced field than Category 4, but I approach packs full of strangers as dangerous until proven otherwise, and will take all precautions to make my location known. I've heard people express the sentiment that talkers are bothersome. I don't care. I'm a talker. Chatting with a teammate on the way back from a Watermelon Crit, he told me that another member of the club had identified me as "that small guy who couldn't stop talking" while racing.

I laughed. Right on the money.

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