Sunday, September 25, 2011

Toronto Donut Ride

I got an email from Larry on Friday night: "Hey, have you ever heard of the Toronto Donut Ride? We should try that one Sunday."

"Never heard of it but i'm up for it," I reply.

"They even have a wikipedia entry if you google it," Larry types back.

So I google it and sure enough they have a wikipedia entry. They even have a website.

I was signed up to do the Toronto 10k Zoo Run the next morning but I haven't been running much and, well, my heart just wasn't in it. So, instead, I packed up my bike and drove down to do the Toronto Donut Ride.
The ride starts promptly at 9:00 am and draws upwards of 130 riders on a good day. As luck would have it, three lanes of the 401 were closed at Dixon which had me arriving for the ride at 8:55. As I drove by the tiny parking lot, I saw maybe half a dozen riders milling about, certainly not the advertised 130+. But, what the heck, I wanted a group ride and I was here. I parked in the Canadian Tire parking lot across the street,  quickly got ready, and was in front of the Great Canadian Bakery (used to be a Dunkin donuts) for 9:00.
The ride rolled out about 9:01. Miraculously, more people had arrived in the 5 minutes it took to park my car and get my shit together and just as we were leaving another group rode up along Eglington to join us. Three riders shot up the street ahead and I followed, pushing upwards of 300 watts as I chased the leaders as they chatted about something or other. Pretty brisk start for what was purportedly an easy roll out but after glancing behind I saw that the rest of the peleton were a ways back and proceeding at a much more leisurely pace.

We cut through a couple of side streets to get to Bayview, passed a church and picked up another group of riders and as we proceeded North on Bayview picked up riders here and there and before long we must have been close to 100 riders. It was pretty awesome riding in such a big pack of cyclists. Many of them were chatting about the Centurion from the weekend before. I rode up beside some guy in a Les Domestiques jersey and asked if he had been at the Centurion. He replied that, unfortunately, he had not but his club mates had filled him in on the good time he missed. We made a few more turns through side streets and were soon heading West along Hwy 7. 

The group composition was interesting. A good proportion of the cyclists wore just cycling caps, skull caps, or nothing at all on their heads. Although the group was predominantly male, there were a number of pretty strong female cyclists in the group. The jerseys were of all types, from club jerseys to pro-team jerseys like Garmin-Cervelo and Phonak to just plain jerseys. As we headed West along Hwy 7, a small group broke off the front and, as I'd read that the group splits up at some point as the faster riders forge ahead, I thought I'd missed the break. But the peleton re-formed at the next light. After that though, I moved closer to the front.

Eventually, the peleton headed North along Keele, picking up even more riders along the way. There was a long stretch of traffic light after traffic light but eventually we arrived at the open road and the pace picked up immediately. I had been moved back to about the midpack of the peleton at this point so as a rider pulled out to move quickly up the left side of the peleton, I jumped on his wheel. Before long, we were at the front of the peleton. Heck, I was at the front of the peleton. And we were moving!

They let me pull for awhile at a very strong pace before someone came around on my right and pulled in front of me. I drifted backwards as a few more riders came through but only about 5 or 6 had passed before the rider next in line told me to go ahead. "Go ahead?" I thought. "I'm not ready to go ahead yet." But I grabbed a wheel and dug deep. I was starting to think that maybe I had gotten in over my head as the front of the peleton surged ahead and riders came by me on both sides. "What the heck?" As it turned out, there is a sprint somewhere along that stretch and they were setting up for the sprint. After the sprint, the pace returned to a more reasonable, albeit still quick, pace.

The stop is always at the same place: Grandma's Bakery. The lineup went pretty quickly as Grandma seemed to know what she was doing and pretty soon I was giving my order. I handed over two $5 dollar bills to pay for my 2 cinnamon raisin buns and a coffee. Grandma took one of the bills as she told me $2.35. Thanks Grandma! I took my buns and coffee outside, sat down on the curb with a few of the others and listened to the banter. Before I had even finished my coffee, people started getting on their bikes and leaving. There wasn't any signal that "ok, time to get going". People just started trickling out. So I ditched my half-drunk coffee and followed. 

The group got all spread out as we started the return trip with little pockets of riders all along the road. I went around a group who seemed to be taking it a bit too easy and bridged up to another small group and together that group bridged up to another group and before long we were starting to form up again. Once we got on the main road back, I looked behind to see the main peleton advancing towards our position and before too long the entire peleton had re-formed.

The ride away back into the city was a reverse of the ride out of the city. The pace was high at first with surges and sprints at various points. I moved up closer to the front for the trip back and even took some pulls at the front. The pace was high but there were always other cyclists willing to come around to take a pull. Once we got closer into the city proper, the pace became more broken as we kept having to stop for lights. Riders peeled off at various points on the trip back until eventually a reduced peleton arrived at Eglington once again and I was back at my car.

My impressions of the ride? It affords the cyclist an opportunity to ride in a really big group. Want to improve your group riding skills, do the donut ride a few times. It's also a good way to get familiar with riding really fast in a peleton. For me, this is invaluable because I intend to do some bike racing next season but have not had much experience riding fast in a big group. The informal sprints are a good way to get in some experience of being in a sprint, at least get a sense of the speeds the peleton gets up to in a sprint. And finally, it's fun! Would I do the ride again? Definitely! Maybe not every week but maybe once or twice a month. The ride runs every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year as well as holidays which is nice to know if you're feeling like a group ride but there isn't one local going on that day. 

Here's a UTube video of the ride:


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