Culture

How one group ride stayed alive amid the coronavirus shutdown

The weekly Leg Wrecker ride in Michigan became a dirt ITT on Strava after the shutdown led to social distancing.

The global coronavirus pandemic has impacted cycling communities across the globe, halting races and forcing cyclists to alter their normal riding lives. Across the planet, riders and cycling communities are finding new ways to pursue their passion to ride, both on virtual cycling platforms, and in real life.

Today’s tale of this cycling creativity comes from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the shutdown forced the local Leg Wrecker group ride into hibernation — at least, for a while.

The Leg Wrecker is your typical mid-week race ride. Cyclists arrive at the Rockford Bike Shop just before 6 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday night, and spend two hours or so chasing the summer twilight along deserted gravel roads north of town. The pace is stiff and attacks are frequent, as riders from the local Speed Merchant team use the ride as training for the regional racing scene.

“We treat it like a race, and there are groups that form, and the big joke is that whoever gets dropped is left alone in the wilderness,” said Scott Gustafson, 42, a non-profit consultant and member of the team. “In the summertime it’s super nice — you’re on these gravel roads in the woods and every punchy hill becomes a battle.”

The shutdown hit just before the U.S. switched to Daylight Savings Time, which historically marks the start of the Leg Wrecker ride. As Gustafson and his teammates sat at home in confinement, they lamented the loss of the ride in chats on the team’s Facebook page. Of course they missed the camaraderie and the social aspect of the ride — they also missed the motivation to go out and smash themselves during the week.

Riding solo just wasn’t the same.

One team rider proposed an idea: why not keep the Leg Wrecker going as an individual time trial? A local cyclist had launched a gravel TT series, called the GRITT series, and dozens of riders were already participating in those grassroots events.

A normal Leg Wrecker ride before the shutdown. Photo: Scott Gustafson

“The guy who came up with the idea was like we can just do the segment on our own,” Gustafon said. “Everyone was into it.”

The rider, whose Facebook screen name is Sissy Pants, created a new segment on Strava that took in the ride’s entire 24.3-mile route, with all 2,123 feet of elevation on dirt and paved roads. Then, the team plotted out several weeks of proposed competition in a spreadsheet. The riders would ride the entire route as an individual time trial, rather than in the group.

Riders rode to the unofficial starting place on the first Tuesday, and then sped along the route by themselves. With everyone’s work schedule thrown off by the pandemic, riders had no problem riding the route solo, without having to pass each other or congregate in groups.

Gustafson said his first attempt at the time trial course ended in disaster.

“I went out way too hard and blew up,” he said. “You don’t realize how much wheel sucking you do in the group. As a TT you just end up riding your guts out the entire time, and without those little opportunities for shelter, you wear yourself out pretty quick.”

Riders sped along the same roads and chased the afternoon sunset just as they have done for years and years on the Leg Wrecker ride. And the motivation to push themselves returned — after all, nobody wanted to be the slowest name on the list.

The team’s time tabulations form the basis of the new group ride. Photo: Scott Gustafson

That night the team tabulated the results from Strava and distributed a KOM ranking. Twenty-five riders completed the first event, and the team was hooked. The Leg Wrecker was saved, albeit in a slightly altered state. Gustafson said the Tuesday/Thursday date has remained, and the group named the event the Rockford Road and Gravel TT series. The unofficial time trials will continue so long as the sunlight and rules allow.

“I think some guys will be in really good shape when things get back to normal,” Gustafson said.

Do you have a story of a cycling community finding a creative way to ride during the shutdown? Email us at webletters@velonews.com