Every local scene has a hell ride.
Not the full-gas races or grinding sportives. These are brutal, bastard bunchies. Chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out chaingangs. Rides that have the sole intention of weeding out the weak, ditching the unfocused and crushing the ambition of the pretentious. Sprints that are contested as if the lives of the riders, their families and assorted animal babies depended on the outcome.
So it was that on a week of work in the US I unwittingly stepped into the gates of hell, Miami style.
I’d hooked up with a local bike shop near my hotel in Coral Gables to rent a bike. I didn’t want to risk taking my own through US airport security after seeing many horror stories, so the bike which has bravely been to Cape Town, Rio and Mumbai didn’t dare cross the Atlantic.
They were a very new ’boutique’ style shop called Ziel CC with their own training rides and very helpful people so I was able to tag along with Pedro on his morning route to join the Ziel ride along Key Biscayne. A welcome change from March in the UK.
Of course there’s the usual sizing up of the new guy. They didn’t know me from Adam but Pedro is a handy local crit racer and he soon worked out that I didn’t just pull on a Sky jersey last week. So he tells me about the hell ride.
He hadn’t mentioned it in the emails about the rides they planned but now he says ‘So tomorrow, there’s this ‘Other’ ride.’ It’s not their disciplined shop ride he says, it’s a pretty hard ride with a big sprint at the end of each lap but if you want to come along…
That’s the thing with hell rides, they’re not secret but they’re not open. If they had a meme it would be that one of Sean Bean saying ‘One doesn’t just DO hell rides’. You have to be asked or told by someone who thinks you can hack it.
At this point though I’m still blissfully unaware. It’s just a big group I guess, and we arrange to meet in time to ride down and pick up the ride the next morning as it goes through Coral Gables.
As we ride slowly towards the meeting point Pedro starts to be more explicit. “You have to be ready when the ride comes, we’ll be in a spot where we can see them.” he warns.
And then more cryptically: “Just try to stay on my wheel, and if not then just don’t lose the bunch. They don’t stop for anything.”
In case any of you saw the word Miami and are picturing sunshine and warmth let me also mention that it’s 6am in the morning and it’s March. Sunrise isn’t until nearly 7am so it’s quite dark. It’s not exactly cold but the locals are wearing arm-warmers and gilets and I’m wishing I’d packed some too. And the rented bike is a size too small.
So, in the cool, dark morning we see the unmistakable flashing lights of a bike group coming rapidly towards us. We start picking up speed ahead as they catch us and whoosh… blow past like a truck.
Suddenly it’s like a crit, trying desperately to get in the line and on a wheel. There are maybe 50-60 riders, at this point I can’t tell and I don’t want to be far enough back to count. There’s early traffic in this suburban area but they just pour around it and through it. Red lights mean nothing, it’s a mad rush to preserve momentum and stay in the wheels.
Pedro is way up the front and I lost him in the first 30 seconds. I’ve been dropping back bit by bit. I just don’t know enough about what they’re doing to be confident. Will they slow at bigger intersections, where do they turn, what’s coming up? I manage to stay in the main body though and not slip to the back, from where it’s just a moment’s inattention to be cast adrift forever.
My Strava entry from the day records it quite succinctly: “Like a race, in traffic, in the dark, on unknown roads on a rented bike that’s a bit too small.” Yep.
My profile is just like a race. 500-600 watts for a few seconds, a bit longer at threshold then glass pedal and do it all again. It only lasts about 10 minutes but it is truly mad. After that we reach Key Biscayne and the ride changes into more of an all-out chain gain. Skimming along at 50km/h in this big bunch taking up a whole lane, fighting to get to the front and stay in the draft. I make my way up to Pedro to let him know I survived and he warns me about the big sprint at the end, up over the bridge and down. I’ll just watch that one thanks – there’s only so much crazy you can start a day with.
If nothing else it ticks off another place I’ve ridden and reaffirms my faith in the worldwide cycling community. I love that we can basically pitch up anywhere and find friendly people to have fun with just because we all ride bikes… and shave our legs, obviously.