Fred Matheny


Articles by Fred

How to Hold Your Own on Fast Club Rides

By Fred Matheny of

The major activity of any cycling club, racing or touring, is the group ride. As a result, it’s important to know how to hang tough on a given ride and make yourself welcome on the next one. Success is often due to more than fitness.

Here’s a club cycling primer!

Know the group’s traditions.

Some clubs like to start all rides, no matter how fast they’ll eventually become, with 20 or 30 minutes of easy warm-up. If you’re impatient early, you can cause hard feelings by chafing at the bit to go faster. When you know the pattern, it’s easier to be patient.

• Know what kind of ride is planned.

Will it be a fast training ride? A leisurely spin? Paceline practice? It’s disruptive when most of the group is thinking one thing while one or two cyclists are on a different agenda. If an easy recovery ride is scheduled, but you’re out for hard training, people are going to get angry. Be certain of the ride’s goal before the start.

• Don’t be a loco locomotive.

If you’re having trouble taking your pulls at the front, get off quickly and slide back to get maximum draft in the paceline. It’s far better to sit on the back and let others do the work than to slow everyone with valiant but sluggish turns at the front.

• Use a racing trick if you often get dropped on climbs
As a climb begins, be nestled in the front third of the bunch. Get as much draft as possible. If you can’t hold the pace, don’t blow up trying. Let yourself slide back through the group but still be in contact at the top.

• Accept help on hills.

Stronger cyclists may give you a helpful push as they ride by. Don’t be embarrassed by their help. They probably got towed up climbs when they were starting, too. A short push often allows you to regain your breathing and climbing rhythm so you can continue on your own.

• Pick a strong rider to follow.

If you’re really having difficulty keeping the pace, get on the wheel of a good rider and mirror his (or her) technique. Use the same gear, stand when he does, take a drink as soon as he reaches for his bottle, and so on. This teaches you good cycling habits. Plus, emulating his movements takes your mind off your own effort and helps you past the hard spots.

• Don’t be afraid to say the pace is too hard.
It’s a good bet that other cyclists feel the same way but are reticent to speak up—or can’t, because they’re breathing too hard to talk! Perhaps even the riders who are setting the pace are having difficulty, but they continue to go hard out of vanity or because they think everyone else expects them to. A little communication goes a long way in making a group ride a more pleasant and productive experience.

• If you always have trouble holding the pace, look for different group.

Find one closer to your ability level. There’s no shame in rationally assessing your strength and choosing cyclists who share it. You’ll actually improve faster if you ride with a group that you are on equal terms with. You’ll be able to practice paceline cycling, following a wheel, riding in close quarters, cornering in a group, and other important skills.

• Don’t let group cycling hurt your progress.

Frequently riding with a too-fast group will make you tired. You won’t improve as rapidly as you might with more rest. A pace that’s too fast will hurt you mentally, too. You’ll begin to associate cycling with pain, misery and disappointment. Don’t let your ego overpower your better judgment. An appropriate dose of humility now will pay dividends later.

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How to Ride in a Group

By Fred Matheny of

Pacelines are organized. They have specific rules. But in big groups like you find in centuries or charity rides, things will be disorganized. This can intimidate even experienced riders.

Sooner or later you’ll find yourself in a big group amid some riders with sketchy skills. It pays to learn how to survive (and also make yourself welcome) in a crowd.

Look for Risky Riders. These are the unsteady people who wobble, appear nervous, have a tense grip on the handlebar, and frequently grab the brakes. Avoid them! Move up to keep them behind you, or slide to the other side of the road.

Stay at the Front. This is easy to say but hard to do in some groups. At the front you have more control over your destiny because most crashes occur in the rear two-thirds of the bunch. It may take a bit more work to reach the front and stay there, but it’s worth the effort.

Watch the Wind. Wind direction determines on which side the greatest draft is found. If the wind is from the right side of the road, smart riders move to the left of the wheel in front of them for greater protection. If you’re doing this, beware of overlapping wheels with inexperienced riders. They may swerve and take out your front wheel.

Be Wary on Climbs. A major cause of group crashes is riders who stand abruptly. They slow for a second, causing the rider behind to hit their rear wheel and spill. To avoid this danger, let the gap open a bit on hills or ride a foot to either side.

To avoid being the one who causes such a crash, pull your bike forward as you leave the saddle. Don’t lunge and make a hard pedal stroke. Keep your speed steady. When sitting again, push the bike forward a bit.

Cycling isn’t a contact sport, but it’s not uncommon to have your arm brushed when riding near others in a group. It pays to learn how to bump into other riders without swerving or falling. It’s easy when you practice this drill used at the Carpenter-Phinney Bike Camps.

First, go with a cycling friend to a large grassy area like a soccer field. Ride side-by-side at a walking pace. Keep both hands on your bar. Start by gently touching elbows, then shoulders. As you gain confidence, lean more vigorously on the other rider. Soon, you’ll be bumping each other with abandon and throwing in a few head butts for fun, all without going down. (Of course, always wear your helmet just in case.)

Riding relaxed is the key to absorbing contact without swerving. Have slightly bent elbows, a firm-not-tight grip on the bar, and loose arm and shoulder muscles. If you’re relaxed, your body can absorb the shock before it gets to the handlebar.

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How to Ride in a Paceline

Solo rides are a great part of the cycling experience. Nothing beats cruising along and looking at the scenery, or attacking a climb at your own pace and intensity.

But riding with a small group can be even more fun. You cover ground faster, meet people, and experience the thrill of shared effort.

Paceline riding isn’t difficult to learn. Here are the basic skills:

1. Riding a Straight Line

Start by learning to ride like you’re on a rail. Practice by holding your line during solo rides. Put your wheel on the road’s white edge line and keep it there. Relax your upper body, keep a light grip on the handlebar, and fix your peripheral vision on the line. Keep your actual focus 20 or 30 feet in front of the bike. Remember, the bike will go where your eyes go.

2. Following a Wheel

Drafting another rider saves you at least 15 percent in energy output. It’s foolish to be bucking the wind all the time when you’re with other riders. Share the work by drafting them and letting them draft you.

Position your front wheel 1 to 3 feet behind the rear wheel you’re following. The closer the better, in terms of the draft, but closer also requires a lot more attention. When necessary, turn the cranks without putting pressure on the pedals (“soft pedal”) to maintain correct spacing.

Use the brakes sparingly. Jerky braking creates chain reaction problems for riders behind you. If you need to brake, feather the levers lightly instead of clutching at them.

If a gap opens, don’t make things worse by accelerating too hard, overrunning the wheel in front, then grabbing the brakes. Instead, ease back up to the rider in front. If you don’t become proficient at following a wheel, you can waste more energy than you save by constant yo-yoing.

Look past the rider directly in front. Don’t stare down at his rear wheel or you won’t see things that may cause him to brake or swerve.

3. Paceline Pointers

First rule: Be predictable. Close riding demands that everyone be on the same wavelength. There must be a basic understanding of what is and is not expected behavior in a given circumstance. Experience helps.

Don’t accelerate when it’s your turn at the front. Note your cyclecomputer’s mph and maintain the group’s speed when the lead rider pulls off.

After your own bout against the wind, pull off to the side agreed upon and stay close to the others as you soft pedal and slide back to the rear of the paceline. This enhances the drafting effect for the whole group. It also keeps everyone as far out of the traffic flow as possible, making paceline riding possible even on busier roads.

As you come abreast of the last rider in the line, pick up speed and then slide over behind his wheel as he comes past. When done correctly you won’t need an energy-wasting acceleration in order to latch back on. Once in the caboose position you can take a drink or stand to stretch without disrupting the paceline’s smoothness.

Protect your front wheel. If your rear wheel is struck a fall is unlikely because it has nothing to do with steering the bike. However, if your front wheel is contacted it will often be twisted off line faster than you can react. You’ll almost certainly go down. Help prevent this by never overlapping someone’s rear wheel.

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How to Survive Road Hazards

By Fred Matheny and Ed Pavelka of

Cycling is a unique sport because its arena is the open road. That’s the same place frequented by traffic, potholes, snarling dogs and absentminded pedestrians.

But sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. Inattention and poor technique can put us on the pavement as fast as any hazard. Use these tips and you’ll be less likely to take a tumble.

Always ride with your head up. While cruising along, it’s tempting to stare at the whirling pattern of the front spokes or fixate on your cyclecomputer’s numbers. A momentary downward glance that lasts just a second too long can mean riding into a problem that could easily have been avoided.

Focus. The smooth and rhythmic motion of pedaling can have a hypnotic effect. Daydreaming cyclists have crashed into the back of parked cars, wandered far into the traffic lane or blithely ridden off the road. Don’t let yourself be separated from the outside world by the vivid canvases created by your imagination. Keep your head in the game.

Keep your bike in top mechanical condition. Repair or replace faulty parts sooner rather than later. It’s a loser’s game to milk “just one more ride” out of worn brake pads, a frayed cable, or tires with a threadbare tread or bulging sidewall. Your first line of defense against the challenges of the real world is a bike with all parts in good working order. You’ll find easy, at-home bike maintenance procedures in the RBR Publishing Company eBook, Bike and Gear Guide for Roadies.


It’s every rider’s fate to flat. But it’s relatively easy to limit the frequency.

Choose your line with care. The best way to avoid punctures is also the easiest: Steer around broken glass, road rubble and potholes.

Use tires with a Kevlar belt under the tread. Kevlar does a good job of stopping nasty things from penetrating. Inspect the tread after every ride for embedded debris. Remember, most punctures are caused by something sticking to the tread and working through during numerous wheel revolutions. Replace tires before they become so thin that they’re virtually defenseless against pointy things.

Check inflation pressure every couple of days. Tubes are slightly porous and may lose several pounds of pressure each day. Soft tires slow you down, corner poorly, wear fast, and don’t protect your rims against metal-bending impacts.


Hitting potholes can bend your rims beyond repair. If the chasm is deep enough, it will send you hurtling over the handlebar when you bury the front wheel and the bike suddenly stops. Here’s a primer on pothole evasion.

Note where potholes lurk on your normal training routes. Plan your line well in advance to avoid them. Don’t expect the road to be in the same condition every day. Potholes have a habit of sprouting up out of nowhere, especially in the winter and early spring due to the daily freeze/thaw cycle.

Treat potholes like glass. Ride around them, first checking behind for traffic. Be mindful of riding partners when you change your line. Newly minted pot–holes present a double hazard—the chasm itself, and the chunks of shattered pavement around it. If the pothole doesn’t bend your wheel, the sharp bits of rubble might puncture your tire. Give these highway craters a wide berth.

Jump your bike over a pothole, if you have the skill and are unable to ride around it because of traffic or adjacent riders. Learn this move on a grassy field. Level your pedals, crouch off the saddle, then spring up and lift with your feet and hands. Start by jumping over a line on the ground, then graduate to higher but forgiving objects such as a rolled-up towel or a shoebox.

Railroad Tracks

Unlike most dangers, tracks can’t be ridden around. You can suffer an instant crash if your tires slip on the shiny steel rails. Ride with extreme caution and follow these safety tips.

Slow down! Tracks are rough, and even if you don’t crash you could get a pinch flat. This happens when you ride into something abrupt, like a rail, and it pinches the tube between the tire and rim, slicing two little holes in the tube.

Rise slightly off the saddle. Have equal weight on your hands and feet. Let the bike chatter beneath you. Use your flexed arms and legs as shock absorbers.

Cross tracks at a right angle. If the rails are diagonal to the road and you cross them at an angle, your front wheel can be twisted out from under you. A perpendicular passage is essential in the rain. Wet metal tracks are incredibly slippery. The slightest imbalance or abrupt move can send you sprawling.

Jump if you’re real good. Racers who need to cross tracks at maximum speed will jump them. They use the same technique that works for potholes, but with more speed and lift because they must clear two rails. Coming down too early means the rear wheel will hit the second rail, guaranteeing a ruined rim or a pinch flat. In most cases, jumping isn’t worth the danger. It’s better to slow down, square up, and creep across.

Additional Slick Spots

Painted lines. These can be slippery, especially the wide markings for pedestrian crossings at intersections. The paint fills in the asphalt’s texture, producing a surface that’s uncertain when dry and deadly when wet. The danger is worse when the paint is new.

Dry oil slicks. These may be nearly invisible, but you can spot them as darker streaks on a gray pavement. Be real careful in corners. You aren’t safe if you ride through oil on the straights. The greased tread might slip in a corner just ahead.

Wet oil slicks. If it rains, a small oily patch can grow until it covers the whole lane. Be on the lookout for the telltale multi-colored water. There’s no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, only a black-and-blue meeting with the pavement.

Wet metal. If it’s been raining and you come upon anything metal in the road (manhole cover, steel-deck bridge, road-repair plate), it’s as treacherous as riding on ice. Cross it with the bike absolutely upright. Even a slight lean can cause the wheels to slip. Smart riders walk their bikes across wet steel bridges.

Wet leaves. Be very careful in the fall, or you will. Even if the road is dry, there can be moisture trapped between leaves littering the pavement. When you see leaves in a corner, slow down and round the bend with your bike upright, not angled.

Sewer grates. Some old ones have bars that run parallel to the street and are wide enough to let a bike wheel fall through. If this happens, you can look forward to plastic surgery and possibly a lifetime of lawsuit riches. Many municipalities have replaced such grates with bicycle-friendly versions, but be careful in case a town hasn’t gotten the message yet.

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How to Deal With Bad Dogs

By Fred Matheny and Ed Pavelka of

Dog attacks are high on the list of cycling fears. Maybe you can’t stop Fang from giving chase, but you can outsmart him if you know how dogs think—assuming that stinkin’ mutt even has a brain!

Know dog psychology. The majority of dogs who chase cyclists are merely defending their territory. When you pedal off the section of road that they consider their turf, you no longer pose a threat to their ancestral instincts and they lose interest. Incidentally, this is why you’ll rarely be chased by a dog you encounter way out in the boonies. He’s not on his turf so he couldn’t care less about you.

Know dog tactics. Dogs want to attack from the rear, coming up from the hindquarter. Even one who sits up in his yard ahead of you may wait till you pass before giving chase. You can use this to your advantage in the next tip because it gives you a head start.

Sprint! You often can outsprint Fido when he’s more interested in fooling around than in actually attacking. You can tell his intent by how hard he’s running and his expression. An easy gait with woofing and ears and tail up, no problem. A full-out sprint with ears back, tail down and teeth out, problem. Still, the territorial gene can save you. If the road is flat or downhill, stand up and sprint to get past the dog’s invisible boundary.

Guard your front wheel. When a dog sees you coming, he might make a beeline for your bike, then attempt to turn up beside you. The danger here is that his poor little paws will skid on the pavement and he’ll plow into your wheels. If he hits the front one, you’ll crash. Sprint so that you move forward faster than he expects, and give him a margin for error by steering farther into the road—if traffic permits!

SCREAM! Most dogs know what happens when a human is angry with them. A sudden shout of “No!” or “Git!” or “Stay!” will surprise Fluffy and probably make him hesitate for just the second you need to take the advantage. If he’s hard of hearing, raise your hand threateningly as if it contains a rock. Outlaw mutts usually have had experience with bad things flying at them when a human makes a throwing gesture.

Play douse the Doberman. If you see big, fast Prince up ahead and know that he sees you, sprinting might not work. Especially if the road is tilting up. Take out your water bottle. Just having it in your hand may make him stay away. If he does come near you, give him a faceful and a loud yell. This distraction will slow him down, though he may come back for more. Just don’t distract yourself and ride off the road.

Some riders swear by Halt pepper spray that they clip to their handlebar. This stuff works great—if you hit your target. That’s a big if when you and Spot are going different speeds, the air is moving, and you’re trying to stay on the road. Pepper spray stings a dog’s eyes, nose and mouth, but it doesn’t cause lasting damage. It also works on human attackers, but that’s a different story.

Give up and get off. If nothing works and Toodles has the upper hand, dismount quickly and hold your bike between you and those sharp teeth. Swing it like a weapon if necessary, and start calling for help. Someone may eventually come out of a house and yell, “Oh, he won’t hurt you!”

Call the cops. If you are attacked and bitten, report it to the county sheriff or other authority as soon as you get home. Include the location, a description of the dog, an account of what happened, and the owner’s name and address if you know them. Then get medical attention without further delay.

If the same dog accosts you every time you ride the road, report this to the authorities, too. You have a right to use public roadways free from fear for your life, liberty and pursuit of cycling happiness. Keep following up with calls to make sure steps are taken to put PupPup on a rope.

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Three Essential Techniques for Roadies

Pro athletes develop simple techniques that become automatic. A three-point shooter’s follow through or a golfer’s silky stroke are techniques they’ve honed until they no longer think about them.

Pro cyclists, too, develop characteristics that separate how they look on a bike from the rest of us. It’s not simply a matter of appearance. Unlike golf, when you’re riding, you can get scuffed up out there. Looking like a pro means safety as well as style.

Want the look? Master these three techniques and you’ll be on your way.

1. Relax. Great athletes in any sport let it flow, making impossible moves and extreme effort look easy. Here’s how to be loose as a goose on the bike:

Face Off. If your facial muscles are tight, your whole body follows. Consciously relax your face and neck. Loosen your jaw muscles. Don’t clench your teeth in grim-faced determination.

No Turtles. Tense riders hunch their shoulders until their ears disappear. Drop your shoulders and relax the muscles that run from the top of the shoulder to your neck. Don’t look like a turtle hiding from danger.

Get a (Light) Grip. Bend your elbows slightly and relax your forearms and hands. If you hit a bump or get bumped, loose arms absorb the blow without affecting the front wheel. You keep your line and stay in control.

2. Pedal Smoothly. It’s easy to spot the smooth pedal stroke of a pro compared to a novice’s lumpy plodding. Here’s how to get supple stroke:

Practice Slowly. A rapid cadence of 90 to 110 revolutions per minute is efficient and stylish. But it’s hard for your brain to keep up with your feet going that fast. Practice at a slower rpm of 60 to 70 so you can concentrate on your stroke all the way around.

Remember Mud. Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond first gave us this tip in 1985, and it’s just as helpful today: When you pull your foot through the bottom of the stroke, imagine you’re scraping mud off your shoe. This will help you pull your foot through smoothly with added power. Try it and see how well it works.

Knee the Bar. As your foot comes up and over the top, pull your knee forward like you want it to touch the handlebar. This adds power to the weakest part of the stroke.

3. Recover Quickly. Pro riders can do a three-week race and go just as hard on Day 20 as in the prologue time trial. Here’s how to recover like a stage racer:

Pump Fluids. The loss of as little as one percent of body weight as sweat can compromise your performance. So drink at least one bottle of sports drink each hour you’re on the bike. After the ride, drink more until your weight is back to normal. If you aren’t getting up twice each night to urinate, you aren’t sufficiently hydrated.

Replenish Glycogen Supplies. A 150-pound cyclist needs 80 to 100 grams of carbohydrate in the two hours immediately after riding. An energy bar contains about 40 grams of carbo, a bagel and banana about 60.

Rest. Pros sleep nine or ten hours a night and often take an afternoon nap after training. We can’t do that because we have real jobs and the boss would frown. But because sufficient rest is crucial to recovery, try to fit in at least eight restful hours of sleep each night and catch a 15-minute “power nap” in the afternoon.

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Three Advanced Techniques for Roadies

Got your basic riding techniques well in hand? Now learn three advanced moves that come in handy and raise your skills to a new level.

1. Ride No-Hands

Pro cyclists can ride no-hands in the middle of the pack on a twisty descent. Don’t try it! Sometimes, however, you’ll need two hands free to peel an energy bar or peel off a vest. Here’s how:

Pick a Place. Look for a straight stretch of road without obstacles like potholes or side streets. Sit up and take your hands off the bar, ready to grip again as you test your balance. When you’re ready, sit up fully and drop your hands to your sides. Most riders find it easier to maintain balance while pedaling smoothly than while coasting.

Steer With Your Butt. In other words, control the bike with the pressure of your inner thighs against the saddle. Look down the road at least 30 feet rather than directly in front of your wheel. Relax.

Be Careful. Riding no-hands where you live may be illegal, and it certainly can be dangerous. Practice in an empty parking lot or back street before taking your act on the open road. Unless you have pro-level skills, don’t ride no-hands in a paceline until you’re last in line.

2. Remove Arm Warmers While Riding

Now that you can ride no-hands, it’s easy to remove arm warmers without stopping. The only problem might be losing one while stuffing them into your jersey pocket. Here, courtesy of seven-time Tour de France rider Ron Kiefel, is how to keep them together.

1. Pull down warmers. Riding with one hand on the bar, pull down that arm’s warmer to your wrist. Switch hands on the bar, then do the same with the other warmer.

2. Remove first warmer. Ride no-hands. With your right hand, grasp the cuff of the left warmer and pull it off so it hangs from your right hand.

3. Remove second warmer. Use your left hand to pull off the right warmer while still grasping the left arm warmer in the right hand. Voila! One arm warmer is neatly tucked in the other. Fold the resulting sausage in thirds and tuck it in your jersey pocket.

3. Hop Over a Pothole

Ever get trapped near the curb by a passing car or other riders—and there’s a gaping pothole right in your path? The only escape is up and over. Here’s how pro roadies fly above obstacles (including fallen riders).

Assume the Position. As you approach the obstacle, coast with crankarms horizontal. Stand on the pedals with your butt several inches off the saddle. Your weight should be evenly distributed between your hands and feet. Think of being like a cat—or a basketball player in a defensive stance—ready to uncoil.

Spring and Lift. As you reach the obstacle, crouch rapidly by bending your knees and elbows, then spring upwards like you’re jumping. Pull up equally with your hands and feet so the bike comes with you.

Time It Right. If you jump the bike too soon, you’ll land on the obstacle you’re trying to avoid. Too late and you’ll plow your front wheel
into it.

Practice! Lean this technique on a soft grassy field using something soft like a rolled-up towel as an obstacle so you won’t crash if you hit it. It’s a good idea to practice with a mountain bike—the fat tires and sturdy wheels are less likely to be damaged in your initial attempts at flight.

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