geronimo k

What do you mean this is silly?

Derby Dilemma? (updated 3/20/2011)

Did some edits to the rant below:  Over the past few weeks I have enjoyed some good conversations about the Derby and group rides in general.  I really appreciate the constructive feedback.  I have also observed some genuine awareness too traffic safety and pack etiquette.  Well done everyone!

Here’s a good link to check out:

What the heck is the derby? Videos here and here. Information page here.

Disclaimer: What I typed below (edited from my Facebook post on eightplustwo), if you choose to read it all, is simply an attempt to explain my rationale for riding off the front of today’s derby. Some may find it completely irrational and self centered. No worries. Some may ask why I fret over it so much? Simple: the derby has given much to me over the 20+ years of my attendance: skills, fitness, friends and important life lessons. All from one group ride? Of course not. Cycling as a whole has saved my life (another story), provided me family and community.

My humble beginnings as a rider began on the roads to and from Fleetwood. I’d like to see this silly little ride continue on, give others what it has given me. I also have a debt to pay, more on that below:

Are we not seeing how many people have crashed (and crashed horribly/been hospitalized) over the past few years? I’d like to see, narcissistic I know, the ride to be safe and those that attend become better, stronger and more savvy. We are all there for different reasons, every single one of them is valid and should be respected. However I would like to believe that rider safety and the preservation of the “derby” are primary concerns for all of us.

In the past (which doesn’t make it right but I’d like to believe that my years of participating will provide some useful insights) the regular riders, and I no longer really see myself as a regular since moving from the Valley, were in charge of keeping the ride safe.
One method to create safety was to have a faster pace on the way out.  Pace was usually set by the stronger riders and if it slowed down they were quick to tell those pulling to pick up the pace.   There were even occasions when the ride went single file, starting as early as the quarry!  It was always a personal choice, everyone has different goals and training plans.  If you joined, cool. If not, cool but get out of the way.  This was what the old patrons would call “keeping the ride honest.”

The main reason for going early? Simple: rider safety and ride preservation. We are on public roads, roads to be shared with vehicles, tractors, horses and buggies, etc.. We have been gifted a wonderful ride and the larger it becomes the more self-aware we need to be, not just of ourselves, but of those around us. Separating the ride early, on roads that are less traveled simply is a means to reduce numbers. Cruel? Absolutely, Cycling is a cruel and painful sport. If one doesn’t accept this you won’t be riding very long.

The route has already changed because of police involvement. The whole ride has been pulled over for “taking up the road.” The police have even threatened to “end the ride.” I doubt the police and I are the only ones that think people strewn across the road three, four wide, across the yellow line and blowing through intersections is just silly and dangerous. More importantly the consequences can be disastrous. This is especially on a busier road like Fleetwood/Lyons.

I also have seen a reduction in constructive teaching on ride etiquette and safety. Simple things like: pointing out holes, signaling turns, moving out of the double paceline to allow the riders behind you to continue conversation in the draft, encouraging riders to pull through. If a rider couldn’t pull, no problem, this rider goes to the back and allows everyone else the opportunity to work. I myself take some responsibility for the decline. I’ve watched these courtesies wane and have said little.

Here’s another “old”derby rule that’s gone by the wayside: a rider that doesn’t pull through, didn’t do their fair share of work, did the honorable thing and would not sprint the finale.  It was a sign of respect and a way to say thanks to the very brethren/sisters that delivered everyone to the line!  Riders that choose to honor this rule tend to be more respected.

I do my best to be a helpful instructor but the often unwritten rules of group rides need to be collectively taught. No one person can do it all and I too need reminders. We have to help one another.  Biggest hurdle: will people listen, care and take action?

Here’s an example of the above mentioned hurdle: To encourage more riders to pull through I (and others) have attempted to get some echelons going. Hoping to allow more riders to get a good workout and practice the skill. I’ll move over, tell others to move over and point/wave where the next rider should come through. Then a rider that has been a great mentor, friend, patron and who I respect tremendously, said to me last week, “Geronimo, why should we echelon? Everyone sits on.” He was 100% right. Here I thought I was trying to help the ride when in reality I may have been putting us dangerously out toward the yellow line. Dang, I am dumb sometimes.

My debt: Who am I to take on these responsibilities, to think about this stuff? Another great man, coach, mentor and in my opinion one of the other true “patrons” of the derby told me that it would be, needs to be, riders like myself to one day replace him. To keep things in order, to help and assist younger or new riders. This craggy British guy was a selfless man, giving much and asking for little in return. Even as he was dying from cancer he shared his love for our sport and helped riders whenever he could. His instruction and rule of the derby kept things safe and made me a better rider. Some will want what I’ve been asked to pay forward and some will not. It’s healthy for all of us to question it.

10+ years ago I would’ve said that the ride became too cutthroat (E.G. – people sitting on were sometimes “taken off the back”). I really don’t want to see people being purposefully taken of the back on a group ride. However, I can’t help but ponder about how things are currently going. Will another person make a trip to the hospital? Will the derby be shut down by the police? As I typed all of this I remembered a quote: “After you’ve done a thing the same way for two years, look it over carefully. After five years, look at it with suspicion. And after ten years, throw it away and start all over.” ~Alfred Edward Perlman, New York Times, 3 July 1958

Thank you for reading, for your patience and perhaps for your forgiveness. Especially since my grammar and writing skills stink.

Rock on.



  Thomas Armstrong (arm) wrote @

Well put.
I couldn’t agree more. I started riding the Derby in 1983, and its been around far longer than that. I have also noticed a decline in the way the ride is ridden which is one reason I don’t ride it very often. Echelons over into oncoming traffic never happened when the old guard was there. Guys like Ian Jackson, Jeff Rutter and Pete Dreesens would keep the ride sane. I remember many times when the group was large it being single file on the way out and they were leading the charge. No one questioned it because they knew what was happening. The group split up and it was a safe ride for everyone.
I certainly don’t mean to come off like an old timer that believes everything was better back in the day but sometimes there is a method to the madness.

  lunchrider wrote @


You nailed it. It was absolutely a sketchfest on the way out; no one with even half a brain (ok, excludes a portion of the group) blames you for rolling off the front.


  John DeLong wrote @

Great stuff, I agree not enough people are concerned with safety and the image of the sport to non cyclists.

  Jason Meyers wrote @


I did my first Derby ride almost 15 years ago at the ripe age of 14. It was back in the days of David Dew, John Walrod, and before the FCCC/ECV Split. Alaric was my track coach after completing the Air Products program. He told me to show up the next Sunday morning and be ready to ride at 10:00am. I had no idea what I was getting into… I survived the ride until we hit the highway. Alaric told me to grab a wheel and Dewey gave my a superman of a push on my ass, but I was left high and dry.

Yet, I kept coming back… I was eventually able to finish with the front group, though I rarely mixed it up in the sprint to Cycledrome… Over the years, school and work have kept me busy and away from the Derby, I still consider that ride to have taught me how to ride and race a bike. I can still hear Alaric’s and others’ words in my head to this day…

I would hate to see the Derby go away. I believe it would be a massive tragedy and loss to the cycling community.

We have crossed paths in the past and I highly doubt you remember me, but I am willing to lend my hand and wheels to keeping this ride the one I remember…


  eightplustwo wrote @

Lead by example.

What you did showed that you cared and are truly concerned with the derby’s well-being and riders’ safety. I’m glad to have been up the road with you.

And like Army said, the “old way” was safer. Certainly not everything from the past was better; there were negative aspects of the old days but those aren’t what need to come back.

It needs to be safe, and orderly, and organized, and safe.

If people don’t like what you did yesterday, then they can do something about it next week. Hopefully you’ve set the ball in motion.

  Steve Baumbach wrote @

I appreciate the fact that a rider of your caliber has spoken out about the dangers of the derby. I have been doing the derby for several years and have seen my share of dangerous riding and to be honest have done some smacked-ass things as well. It is very easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and follow the group into dangerous situations throwing caution to the wind. I believe it is each rider’s obligation to make this training ride as safe as possible. Geronimo, I promise to do my part in helping you bring this ride back to order. Steve B from Team Cycledrome.

  meg wrote @

While not a Derby lady, I learned the ropes with a similar kind of group–Team Snow Valley. We had a usual loop, but usually started slower, letting the inexperienced riders off the front on the opening downhill section while the old guard sat in the back. Once safely onto the more country roads, the stronger riders would go to the front and back–to the front to maintain a steady pace and to the back to drop further back and pace back up riders, like me, who may be dropped on the early rollers. The big guys controlled the group over the bigger early hill. A hand on a back to aid a struggling rider up, a snarled yell to keep it together, or a fist full of jersey and a “knock it off” kept the pack together until the wind tunnel of Rt. 2. There the real work of the ride began, and if you weren’t on a wheel, tucked in and riding smart, you were gone. The stronger guys usually did the pace-making with those of us not able to pull through left enough of a gap to let folks rotate in front of us.

I do remember when we had a good size group of juniors, and the old guard would put them on the front on Rt.2 and have them pull and pull their youthful legs off.

I was so grateful for a tow up or a hand on my back, and those rides are still my favorites even though I haven’t lived there in five years. The older members of the club nurtured new riders and juniors and taught them how to follow a wheel and how to be a wheel worth following.

Where I live now lacks this kind of old guard, and I’ve stopped going on group rides. They are dangerous, and I don’t want to be taken out. I have spoken up on rides, but since I lack sufficient palmares, I am just a woman.

Damn, I miss those old school rides. . .

  Joey wrote @

Sounds like the Derby should take some tips from Meg’s old ride. I think simple things like:
“A hand on a back to aid a struggling rider up, a snarled yell to keep it together, or a fist full of jersey and a “knock it off” ” go a long way.

Not to mention my pet peve:
“…those of us not able to pull through left enough of a gap to let folks rotate in front of us.”

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