The better part of my time here in Slovenia I find myself going out for solo rides. There were not many, or any group rides during the winter and early spring so finding folks to ride with was not very easy. I would see plenty of others out on the roads but, like me, they were usually solo. Heading out to explore the roads around Ljubljana on my own was certainly not a bad thing. My routine was to get on the google machine and study the roads that would eventually become my route for the day.
The beauty of having my road bike with me here in Slovenia is that I find myself riding on roads that I would not otherwise have any reason to be on. There are small roads that head off in all sorts of random directions and many head into small valleys or up to hilltop villages or simply come to an unexpected end. For the most part there is no reason to be on those roads except for the simple pleasure of exploring or occasionally getting lost. The other unintended consequence is finding plenty of interesting and unique place to go hiking with my family on the weekends.
With spring finally arriving the group rides have also begun. I met a fellow rider at the top of a pass between Austria and Slovenia. He and I were headed back the same way in to Slovenia so we had the chance to get to know each other. He invited me to come join his club’s group ride the following week. I have not been on a group ride in ages. I don’t know when the last time was I joined in the “Hell Ride” or weekend rides in Missoula. I was eager to join a group again.
I showed up Tuesday evening and found a group of about forty riders waiting to depart. If it has been a long time since my last group ride it has been even longer since I have been in a group this size. Aleš, the ride leader, was happy to have me join the group but was also very clear that I had to follow the rules of group etiquette. To ensure that I knew what I was doing and not cause any problems in the group he would ride next to me. He made sure that I knew to point out (the very rare) obstacles or debris or bumps in the road. He made sure I didn’t pull through to slowly or too quickly. After several Km’s I think he decided that I was able to handle myself. We rode next to each other the entire ride. Aleš it turns out is a professional sports photographer and he has been to the last 14 summer and winter Olympics among all the other sports events he photographs. He is a super interesting fellow. It was a blast riding tempo and sitting behind a few wheels waiting for my turn at the front. Just as all was going well I promptly managed to crash on a round-about. I’m not sure how it happened. I was near the front of the group as we entered the round-about and I felt my bike slip. I looked at my front wheel and in super slow motion I watched it lose purchase and every so gracefully glide off to my right. In a matter of a fraction of a moment I remember the impending embarrassment flooding in and thinking “hmmm, this is not good” and “oh man, are they going to want me to still ride with them after this?”
It was such a weird crash. The pavement was super smooth so I just slid a bit, feet still locked into my pedals and my bike shorts providing the friction necessary to bring me to a stop. Instinct said get up and keep going. Before the last rider in the group had passed me I was back on my bike – embarrassed as hell – and riding again. I rode back up to Aleš doing my best to hide my embarrassement. “Are you fine?” he asked. “Oh yeah, no problem. I’m fine” I said trying to pick up the conversation where we left off before my little diversion. That was not a good way to get back into my first group ride here. Fortunately there were no other incidents on the ride and I hoped most of the folks in the group would forget it even happened.
The weather and other obligations here in Ljubljana kept me from joining the ride for the next couple of weeks. The crash was still on my mind when I rode up to where the group meets. The folks on this ride are all pretty skilled riders, not all of them race but they are all very comfortable in a group. My goal for the ride was just to stay upright this time. It was a strange goal especially given that I cannot even remember when the last time was that I crashed on a road bike.
The ride was mostly without incident and I can happily report that I did not crash. The only incident, and I suppose it was more than just a small incident, was getting pulled over by the police. We were zooming down a typically narrow two lane road riding in a side by side paceline when a local police car went driving up the road past us. The car pulled over and two officers stepped out and waved us over to a small driveway off the side of the road. Just about everyone started pulling out their ID cards. I didn’t have my Slovene residency card so I was getting a bit nervous. The police asked who was in charge of the ride. The ride leader/club president, another person named Aleš stepped forward and was the group spokes person. I understood some of what was being said but not much. They asked what the team name was (Team Bam*Bi – more on that later) and where the team vehicle was (No team vehicle this evening – a big no no). There was a short but animated exchange and in the end we were let off with a warning.
As we rode off and returned to our double paceline formation I asked Grega, the rider next to me, what the problem was and why we were pulled over. He launched into a tirade about how archaic the Slovene laws are regarding cyclists on the road. “I wish the laws were the same as they are in the rest of Europe” He said. The brief synopsis goes like this regarding the archaic laws. If you are in a group of four or less you need to ride single file. A group of six or greater must ride two abreast. There is an exception it turns out. If your are in a group of four AND you possess a Slovene cycling association racing license you may ride two abreast. The reason we were pulled over was that we were in a large group riding as a team training ride and we did not have an official team vehicle following us this particular evening. If we had a team vehicle and we had our racing licenses we would have been just fine. The riders were not pulling out their ID’s when the police pulled us over, they were pulling out their racing licenses. That is archaic? I guess in other European countries you can ride in a large group without the team vehicle as long as you have your racing license. Something like that but I have not looked any deeper into the law as it is written. The Slovene laws I verified.
All in all I think the whole episode was a bit of a bonding experience for the group. An opportunity for everyone to gripe and complain about the impractical laws and the over zealous police. I also felt like I was part of the group having shared in the experience. The ride continued in usual fashion, one long climb, a wicked descent and a flat 20km run in to the village where we began our escapade. The group invited me in to the pub for a beer after the ride. They reluctantly, but with some prodding of Aleš, sort of filled me in on the reason behind the team name – Bam*Bi. When the four founding members formed the team they named it using the first letter of their girlfriend’s (at the time) names. I am sure there is much more to the story given the glances and snickers they were giving each other but the details were not forthcoming. Just before I got up to leave Grega said “you have not replaced you bar tape yet.” No I had not. My handlebar tape was still a little bit torn from my little dance with the asphalt three weeks prior and one of the other guys asked Grega to mention it to me. I guess they had not forgotten that I was That Guy. At least they still let me ride with them.