Zen and the art of the bicycle rotation

One reason most people suck at rotations is because they never do them.

What is a rotation? It’s almost like like a reverse definition of pornography “I know it when I see it.” I can tell you what a rotation isn’t …

A rotation isn’t sitting tenth wheel in a big group while the lead five or six flog themselves and you sit on.

A rotation isn’t a searing meatgrinder that relentlessly kicks everyone out the back.

A rotation isn’t easy.

A rotation isn’t hard.

A rotation isn’t immaculately clean.

A rotation isn’t raw and ragged.

What a rotation is, is a search for equilibrium, that point on a bicycle where your legs are spinning hard and there are sensations of discomfort but you are also in tune with a small number of riders around you, each idiosyncratic, and there is a conscious group will to find the interstices in the idiosyncracies of strength, age, fitness, savvy, style, talent, ability, knowledge, and concentration so that the moving parts all fit together in a single moment where everything seems suspended in time and space, where you are an electron in a slightly irregular orbit, governed by macro and micro forces that, although beyond your control, are within your power to slightly affect.

That moment of equilibrium can never be sustained for more than a few seconds because the road surface, the irregularity of the rider pulling through or swinging off, your own vagaries of motion and energy, the externally distracting noises and sounds and sights, the maw of the wind, and all of the things trying and succeeding to interrupt that elusive, perfectly suspended moment. But the moment the equilibrium jilts you out of kilter, you fall back into the search, and the contrast between those perfect seconds and the grinding of mismatched interstices makes you want the equilibrium even more …

The perfect rotation is flawed of course, but seems to hit equilibrium most often with a group of 5-7 riders, and it’s funny because no matter how well you know them it always starts ragged and rough with big gaps and speed yo-yos, but the rotation is also a function of survival because you’re going fast and don’t want to get dropped and as exhaustion/pain registers, perforce the gaps become smaller, going from feet to inches to millimeters, and the yawing speeds go from miles-per-hour to buttery accelerations just enough to get you through and over, and bit by bit proximity, instead of screaming danger, beckons safety from the wind, the cruel wind!!

When it’s done you are empty, not from the effort but from the wave radiating outwards from the center.



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23 thoughts on “Zen and the art of the bicycle rotation”

  1. Well written definition. I’d add that a rotation isn’t silent and it isn’t shouty. It communicates internally via a well placed word or two. In its perfect form it appears to have the nervous system of a flock of birds.

  2. I was in one of these, one time. Probably the fastest 50 miles I’ve ever ridden and the most pleasant, despite that. I think you’ve captured the essence of it, perfectly. Well written, WM!

  3. When it’s done you are empty, not from the effort but from the wave radiating outwards from the center.

    Almost like the afterglow from porn

  4. Aha! Now I see why I am a solo cyclist. I am too shallow to understand the intricacies of group riding.

  5. Dude, this is awesome. This piece is what you give to somebody to attempt to convey the beauty and grace that is a pace line when it’s clicking.
    When it’s working and in balance you know it. It seems the awareness of it is fleeting with only occasional glimpses when you’re in the moment. Afterword you think, that was pretty cool.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Yup, 5-7 is best for a crosswind eschelon due to road width. Can have much larger rotating packs in direct headwinds. What I call fancy riding.

  7. I’ve tried, a few times, to explain the visceral grace of a well executed paceline, but the words always fell well short of my experience. Now, for a nominal fee, anyone can understand the experience. Nice piece of writing sir.

  8. I love watching a pursuit in the Velodrome. Centimetres from the other wheel 50-60/kmh and in the aero bars, with changes smooth as silk.

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