Drafting. It’s a big part of cycling. A rider who is drafting can save up to 25% of the energy needed by the one breaking the wind. This can be extremely helpful in racing, but also in training and friendly club rides. I took advantage of this technique as often as I could until I became a strong enough rider to be the one leading the group.
When I first started riding with the Joliet Bicycle Club, there were several riders who could ride at the front for long stretches of time. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I was rather tall for a cyclist. Most successful racers are shorter and lighter. However, there was one guy who towered over me. He played basketball in school like I had. His father ran a bicycle shop in Lockport, so that might be why he got into the sport. His name was Larry Roop, and he was about 6-7 and weighed… well, I’ll just say he would have made a great tight end for the Bears. He was so opposite the normal size for a cyclist, yet he was one of the strongest riders I knew. Riding behind him was like being behind a wall. He pushed aside all the air creating a void where you could ride effortlessly for miles and smiles. No spelling mistake. It was a joy to ride behind Larry.
But there was one thing even better. Larry would often bring his tandem, so he and his wife Lisa could ride together. If you’ve ever drafted behind a strong pair of riders on a tandem, you’ll understand. Two riders mean twice the power. Larry and Lisa rode their tandem everywhere. Riders would fight to ride behind them. But on club rides that privileged spot belonged to one person, and one person alone. Gina Rigoni Carrier was allowed to draft directly behind Larry and Lisa. By doing that, Gordie didn’t have to worry about Gina’s safety, or being dropped by the pack. Not that she would have been dropped. Gina was a strong rider in her own right, but she became an expert at drafting behind the tandem. Gina and Lisa were athletes. If I remember correctly, Lisa played volleyball, and Gina was an expert golfer. I think she played a mean game of tennis, too. They proved to me that women could be strong cyclists.
Larry was one of those riders who could ride at a decent (over 20mph) speed for hours at a time. He could keep his pace steady which made it easier and smoother for the ones drafting him. That took talent. He was one of the guys along on the longest ride of my life. We took off from Shorewood one day and rode over 175 miles. I don’t think the ladies were on the ride, but Bill and Gordie probably were. I’m sure Larry made sure we keep the pace above 20 mph.
He and Lisa eventually moved out of the area to be closer to her hometown, and he faded from the local cycling scene. I would always compare riders I drafted behind to Larry. No one ever came close to providing the same draft. He was the biggest and best. If I had the choice of drafting behind Larry or a semi, – I’m picturing a scene from the movie Breaking Away – I think I’d take the semi, but Larry would be a close second. He never ran out of fuel.