Thursday, October 29, 2015

Not Green -- about my old Bianchi Specialissima

In 1976, I was riding a new, black Raleigh Competition - but I longed for a more distinguished mount.

The Raleigh was a “neo-pro” as we called entry level racing bikes in those days. It was a mix of Reynolds tubing varieties as most bikes were then; deciphering the various Reynolds decals was an art of no particular usefulness, like reading bar codes at Safeway.

Though my Raleigh rode and handled just fine, and exhibited no vicious habits, I felt I should have a bike befitting the rider I intended to be: a faster, stronger, tougher, more graceful version of the adequate club cyclist I was. Ah, vanity.

I made that longing known to Tony Tom, then (as now) proprietor of A Bicycle Odyssey in nearby Sausalito. I told him I could not afford to buy a new Masi or Ron Cooper, desirable as they may have been.

Instead, I wanted to buy a used frame to build up with parts I’d remove from my Raleigh. Weeks later, Tony showed me a homely old Bianchi, its paint stripped off in preparation for a new finish that had never been applied.

Oh my, a Bianchi, I thought: A bike for the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, for the hairpin turns of Alpe d’Huez, for the bike path from Sausalito to Mill Valley...

Ugly and unready for prime time as it was, the old Bianchi was romantic. And it was cheap. Tony looked at me, knowing I was imagining the jerseys a guy with an older racing Bianchi might wear – and the embroidered shorts. He smiled.

I bought the frame. I never saw it with a square inch of original paint on it. Nearly 30 years later I can’t remember if I even knew what color the factory painted it. Not green, I remember that much.

We guessed that it dated from the early ‘60s, so it probably needed paint by 1976. It was a Specialissima, Bianchi’s top model. Made from Columbus tubing, far heavier than today’s featherweight tubesets, it was entirely conventional except for the “integrated” headset, much like those of today.

Unique to Bianchi for years, the old headset design had long been abandoned by the mid-’70s. The headset in the frame was trashed. I searched and found a new one at an old shop in Berkeley, last old-style Bianchi headset in the world, it seemed. Luckily it never wore out in the years I rode the bike.

I took the frame home to my apartment. On my tiny patio, I removed the rest of the paint with foul-smelling liquid stripper. I sanded and sanded the frame, which was entirely chrome plated. The areas of chrome that had not been painted were polished. Areas that had been covered by paint were not.

I decided I’d have it painted sand-and-sable, light brown and chocolate brown, a color scheme common on older British automobiles. The lugs and a panel on the down tube would be tan. The rest would be a rich-looking chocolate. Sounds lovely, huh?

That’s exactly how it turned out. Lovely.

I couldn’t find old-style Bianchi decals so I thought I’d have the name hand-painted on the down tube and the emblem hand-painted on the head tube.

I found a painter, and he got it dead right: Having never seen a Bianchi emblem, he painted an eagle on the head tube that was nearly perfect, its head facing in the proper direction. He got the script perfect on the down tube sides, too.

I began building up the bike with the parts from the Raleigh. I realized that from the time I began dismantling the Raleigh until the Bianchi was complete, I had nothing to ride. Gave me a sense of urgency I might not have had.

I had to buy a few new things. I bought a larger diameter seat post to fit, and a new Italian bar and stem; I just couldn’t imagine anything steering my Italian thoroughbred but Cinelli or TTT.

When I got the bike together, it rewarded me for the effort. Solid and long from axle to axle, it glided down the road, steered flawlessly and gave me confidence on twisty descents.

It felt deluxe, if you’ll forgive the old-fashioned word: smooth, expensive, capable, unflappable.

At that point, I had only one pair of wheels, built on the low-quality French hubs from the Raleigh. I had the French TA 3-pin crank; a Brooks B-17 Narrow saddle; Huret derailleurs and shift levers from France and spongy Swiss Weinmann centerpull brakes, all from the Raleigh.

In a matter of months, all those parts went away. I bought Japanese sidepull brakes because I couldn’t afford Campys. I could however afford a used set of high flange Campy hubs. I bought them cheap and replaced their bearing races. Tony Tom built me my first set of handmade wheels.

I bought a worn-out Campagnolo Nuovo Record rear derailleur and put a new spring and new pins and bushings in it. I bought a Cinelli Unicanitor saddle.

I learned a lot as I built up that Bianchi and as my relationship with it evolved. I learned to trust Campagnolo: the old two-bolt seatpost, the everlasting hubs and pedals, and eventually all their parts.

I learned how to wrap cotton tape, and how to break and re-rivet chains. I learned how to ride a pace line and sprint for city limit signs. I learned to stop for coffee after rides. I learned how much I enjoy the company of cyclists.

I was preparing for my writing career, but I thought I was only having the time of my life.

I rode the Davis Double Century on that Bianchi, the one and only time I did it. I began racing on it, met a long-term girlfriend while riding it and made dozens of friends while I had it who remain my friends today.

I wonder who has that old Bianchi today... Perhaps YOU have it, and don’t realize your old two-tone-brown Specialissima meant so much in one cyclist’s life.

If you do own that bike, let me know through the folks at the Bicycle Paper. I’ll come visit. Be good to say hi after all these years.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Tour Williamette, 2001 - from VeloNews

No use denying it: I behaved badly at Tour Willamette. I whined, I screamed at God and the race organizers, I was not always graceful with my Shimano co-workers. In my defense, I will say that I was not alone.

Strong men abandoned, sat up and softpedaled, chose mid-event to experience the blissful warmth of follow vehicles, climbed off in feed zones, turned around a few miles into road races and rode back to the cars. Quit.

I would have quit, but I had a job. As a Shimano volunteer, I had to carry a mechanic on my motorcycle in the road stages, and there were four road stages. After a short hillclimb TT Tuesday evening, there were road races on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

On Saturday, you'd think you might get a break, but Saturday there were TWO stages, a time trial and a crit. Sunday they threw a 120-mile road race at you, 120 miles over two mountain passes, the frosting on the cruel cake.

Wouldn't be so cruel, but Tour Willamette happens in April in the Willamette Valley, in Oregon, not far from the coast. Other things happen there too at that time, things like cold, rain, hail -- and snow at relatively low elevations. I speak from experience here.

I rolled into Eugene during the prologue and didn't see any of it, but I know it was cold out there. I'd ridden the motorcycle from northern California and been rained on the last couple of hundred miles.

The first road race, Wednesday's, was wet and cold, no fun for me or the riders. You'd be cold and uncomfortable every mile, every mile wishing you were someplace else. Deprived of sun and warmth, I began to lose my sense of humor on this first road stage, but I was a load-a laughs compared to what was to come.

All that first day, I dreaded the next day's race. On Thursday, we knew, we had to drive or ride to the start maybe 45 slow-road miles out of Eugene, then work a 100-mile race on BLM roads in the remote country and get the cold and the rain.

By the time I reached the start on my motorcycle, I was frozen through, my hands unresponsive. I sat in a Shimano car, heater running, shivering in my motorcycle gear -- really good, expensive gear, largely ineffective in April in Oregon.

That race was hours of bone-chilling cold for my mechanic and me, and surely for the racers, who wore plastic rainjackets from start to finish. Lots of guys' hands wouldn't work the brakes or the gears. Guys' faces looked like zombie faces. It wasn't a race so much as a fight for survival.

One section was up and down a steep, mud hill. Some riders had to dismount and walk. We're talking riders who've had their photos on VeloNews covers. My motor slid around under us and coated its underside with Oregon mud. Exhaust heat baked the mud onto the muffler.

The front tire dumped large amounts of Oregon mud into the lower part of my motorcycle's fairing, so that after 10 minutes of post-race hosing in the hotel parking lot, big clods of mud were still washing out. I remember every clod.

I hated it extremely, every minute of it, from leaving the motel at the break of dawn to returning there late in the afternoon, cold and wet and uncomfortable all day long, my motorcycle never to be pristine again.

I was not subtle in my speech to co-race-workers. I told them bluntly what I thought of Oregon, Eugene, springtime and the Tour Willamette. Some reacted with shock at my frankness. I think it was the short, effective Anglo-Saxon verbs.

The next morning, the sun shone on the start area at the appointed time, but alas the start was postponed. By the time we did start, large hailstones pelted the pack and the support motor crew alike. I had to ride one-handed, the other gloved hand covering my face. I felt even more dismay and even less love for springtime Oregon.

The hail and something like snow covered the road as we left Cottage Grove, south of Eugene. Traction? Who knew. Maybe the motorcycle will slither from under us and we will crash to the icy pavement, I thought.

My mechanic panicked a bit. Remember, Maynard, rubber down, he said.

I figured: The cyclists aren't falling down, so my mechanic and I probably won't. We didn't. A blessing.

As we left town, the hail stopped and the sun came out. Nice. The race had been shortened before the start from nearly 100 miles to 75. Suddenly, mid-race, we happened upon an unmarked, unmanned corner on a fast descent. Some riders went one way, some another.

The officials stopped the race, then released the break, then the pack at the latest time-split they had. One race stoppage? Probably a record low for Tour Willamette, and the officials and riders smiled throughout the mess. It's not Le Tour, after all, not brain surgery.

Somehow, instead of the 75 miles we expected, race distance turned out to be less than 60 miles. We loved it, a "rest day" in the weak Oregon sunshine.

Sadly, though, at the finish I noticed that my motorcycle was puking coolant over the side of the engine. When I got it to the BMW store in Eugene, we discovered that the radiator had a hole in it. A new radiator would have to be ordered and would not be in until Tuesday.

The race would be over on Sunday, but I would be stuck in the rain and the cold until Tuesday. Or even Wednesday... The horror.

One of the local guys who'd been helping out on his own motorcycle told me he had another that he'd loan me for Sunday's road race. I borrowed that bike and it served valiantly.

On that motor on Sunday, I was following a Crown Vic sheriff's car down one of the endless descents. The road was a cleared black ribbon between scenes of winter wonderland, nothing but white snow and bits of green from the trees.

Somehow, a snow-bank appeared suddenly behind the cruiser and I hit it. The front end of the motor flicked back and forth three or four times while I said oh sh-t oh sh-t. As luck would have it, we did not crash. Coulda, mighta, didn't. Danger is part of the fun at Tour Willamette. Big fun.

If you race or work races all season, including the Tour Willamette, you will have as many stories from that race as the rest of the races combined. Is that good? Does that make it a great race? You make the call.

Someone said they're gonna move it to May next year. Will I go back? Nah.


Thursday, October 22, 2015


Cyclists who share roads with cars suffer abuse from the drivers of those cars. Who knows why? It's been that way long as anyone can remember, since WWII certainly. Since before SUVs and in-car gadgets, before cell phones and text messaging.

Drivers imagine that the roads belong to them. Trying to understand why they feel that way, how they got that way, won't help us much. Abuse from drivers is like gravity; it sucks whether you understand it or not. 

Driving makes most people feel rushed even when they have plenty of time. They're in a hurry even when they aren't looking forward to getting where they're going. It's a disease and it's epidemic.

Though drivers hurry, traffic seldom does. So drivers sit tense, frustrated behind the wheel, anger barely suppressed, primed, tight-jawed, ready to act out that anger.

Cyclists are different. We feel unjustly persecuted on the road, abused by callous motorists. So we ride tense, anger barely suppressed, tight-jawed, primed, ready for someone, anyone, to offend, so we can act out that anger. 

Clearly, cycling in such a wound-tight state does nothing for our health, happiness or fitness. Why are we so tense? On some level we choose to be. 

We choose to react to each motorist offense as if it were personal, as if it were directed at us as individuals by someone who knows us. As if the offense were committed on purpose, and we, you or I, were chosen to be its victim. 

If we didn't take each offense personally, would we fly off the handle, screaming and gesturing the way many of us do? We'd never get that upset over motorist stupidity and carelessness directed at somebody else. Would we? When it happens to the other guy, it's no big thing. Right?

In moments of clarity, we know better than to take motorist abuse personally; we know it's not personal, but we forget ourselves. We lose that precious distance, that gap between the thing that happens in the instant - the driver cutting us off, maybe - and our reaction to it. 

I do better, I know, when I can keep that dash in there, that instant of detachment. 

During that instant, I remind myself that, sure enough, still another driver has acted stupidly. No doubt drivers will, after all, occasionally act stupidly. I try to remember that no screaming, gesturing cyclist has cured any driver of acting stupidly. Not yet.

If we each could detach for just an instant, we could defuse those personal explosions in traffic. We could watch the action from a distance, as if we were in a car two freeway lanes away, watching one driver cut off another. 

We could shake our heads at driver stupidity; gosh, they really do stupid stuff. 

We could remember that we drive too, and we've done stupid, careless stuff. That once or twice we've scared ourselves, not seeing a cyclist until almost too late. We could remember being surprised by a daring urban cyclist with limited imagination and thinking: that guy's crazy.

If we could keep a little distance, we could remember that people in cars don't know us or hate us as individuals. They lump us together: all the same, always in the way, clogging their roads.

If we could keep a little distance, we might remember that we too sometimes lump individuals into categories, pigeonholes, so we can dislike them more conveniently. We can dislike them without the bother of getting to know them.

If we learned to keep a little distance, we could relax on our bikes. Cycling friends would see that we're no longer so ready to yell at drivers. When they'd ask us what happened to calm us, we'd explain about the distance. Many things might change - if we could keep just a little emotional distance.

Can we change drivers in any way? Not likely. We can change ourselves. We can relax our jaws. We can drain our pools of standing resentment. We can ride looser, physically and emotionally. 

We can stop wasting energy resenting people who don't think or care about us, individuals who share nothing but an unreasoning, angry need to get someplace 15 minutes away in 10 minutes - without focusing on what they're doing.

Remember, we cyclists came from the same places drivers did, went to the same churches and schools, had many of the same life experiences. At times, you couldn't have told us apart. Honest.

Our paths split when they chose to continue traveling in dirty, shockingly expensive, lethal steel and glass cages, listening to shock-jocks and traffic reports, breathing the AC, picking their noses, talking to themselves or merely staring out tight-jawed at the world.

While we evolved.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Waving Back at Marty

Recently, Marty Jemison, great guy and fine ex-pro, posted on Facebook that he is surprised by how many cyclists do not wave -- even when waved at.

First I was outraged that any dork on a bike would fail to wave at what amounts to cycling royalty. But as I thought about it I decided that many people are simply unaware that cyclists have traditionally exchanged greetings...or salutes -- that we acknowledge one another.

We bike riders like cyclists. We respect a cyclist who's out there on his/her bike for whatever reason, but we especially like and respect sporting cyclists, racers, ex-racers or never-racers, out there for fitness and training and the simple love of rolling on two wheels. We've always ridden. We intend always to ride.

We figure that if we see a rider wearing Lycra on a pro-style bike, that person is a bikie like us. We wave and feel a moment of dismay when he or she doesn't wave back.

We forget that thousands of folks who couldn't tell you what GC means or have never heard of an echelon ride bikes like ours and wear outfits like ours. They've never watched a Tour stage. The only racing cyclist they can name is Lance. They ride bikes but they are not bike riders.

They don't know how things have always been among bike riders. Probably they don't want to know. They ride for weight loss or cheap victories on the bike path or because cycling is somehow cool and all their friends have Strava too.

They feel no comradeship for cyclists beyond their circle of friends. They and we have nothing in common, despite the similarity of our appearances. Is it any wonder that they do not wave? Many will not make the slightest gesture, say the merest triviality, spend the first dollar....without knowing that what they are saying or doing or buying is cool -- accepted among their peers as cool.

Evidently: Scowling is cool. Acting too cool for school is cool. Authenticity that can be purchased is cool.

Waving at us? Uh-uh. Even if we're Marty Jemison....

I Ride Motorcycles Too!

This was written before Lance Armstrong's Fall from Grace. It ran in CityBike in the SF Bay Area and in Motorcycle Sport and Leisure in the UK. 

Until a few years ago, I did not follow motorcycle road racing, not US racing, not World Superbike, MotoGP or the 500cc class in the two-stroke era. I didn't know what I was missing - a lot of great racing, dammit. Thanks to an old friend who raved about guys named Rossi, Gibernau and Biaggi, I thought I'd watch just one race through to the end - even if I got bored. 

I did not get bored; I got hooked and I'm still hooked.

I should explain too that I also write about bicycling and ride my motorcycle as support in top-level bicycle races. So I've come to know lots of people in bicycle sport, including star cyclists. In the '90s I came to know and like Lance Armstrong, both before and after he got sick. 

Every year in his hometown of Austin, Texas, Lance promotes a 100-mile charity bicycle ride, not a race, called the Ride for the Roses - to raise money to fight cancer. I rode the first one in '97 or '98. Lance had gotten better by then. He was back on his bike but a Tour de France win was not in the cards. No way. Everyone agreed. 

He'd nearly died from the cancer. He'd been weakened by the disease and the treatment. And he wasn't a Tour de France kinda rider. No one would have bet on him to finish on the podium in one Tour, let alone win seven of them. 

Because I was in Austin and known to Lance, I was invited to a group dinner at his favorite Mexican restaurant. We sat at a long table in the somewhat noisy place, one of those situations where you can't really talk to anyone more than one seat away. It was all cycling people, or so I thought, all friends of Lance's. I couldn't tell who was local and who'd come from out of town, like me.

A guy sitting next to me asked me how I knew Lance, meaning how I fit into the cycling picture. I'd rather not tell people I'm a writer. So I told him that I ride a support motorcycle at major bicycle races; that's how I connected with Lance. A guy sitting next to that guy overheard our conversation, leaned forward and asked how motorcycles are used to help out at bicycle races. I ride motorcycles too, he said. 

Seemed like a good guy to me. Lean and tanned, he looked like a cyclist, a riding buddy of Lance's, probably. 

I was not, in hindsight, acting like a hotshot motorcyclist at that table. I was explaining what jobs guys on motorcycles might do in bicycle races. Most bicycle race fans aren't aware of it but there must be a dozen job descriptions for motorcyclists at big-time bicycle races.

As I described what the motorcyclists (or their passengers) do in the races, the guy one seat away seemed especially interested. I thought: He's a local bicyclist who also rides a motorcycle. He'd like to help at races and see the action from the best seat in the house. 

What's your name, I asked the guy. Kevin, he said. I live not far away. I'm a friend of Lance's. 

At that point, his face started to look just the least bit familiar. I couldn't place him, couldn't decide if I'd seen him before or if he just looked like someone. We talked a bit about what I do in the races. I think I told him about how surprisingly fast the guys go on their bicycles on technical descents and how hard I had to ride to keep up. I'll bet that's right, he said. 

I really liked talking with the guy. I felt I'd made a friend I might have for a long time. He had that knack, the rare knack that probably can't be learned. He's more interested in you than you are in him. As we talked, I became surer that I'd met him or seen his face at races...or somewhere. 

So I said, hey Kevin, what's your last name. Schwantz, he said. 

My heart went to my mouth. I wondered if I'd bragged about my motorcycling skills or experiences to Kevin Schwantz. I decided I had not. Not that I knew who he was, not really. I knew he'd been an outstanding rider. After years of paying no attention to motorcycle sport, I did not know who he was in context and what he'd done in context - ride the wheels off some of the fastest motorcycles in the world.

I knew he was a racer and saw he was a good guy. I did not know, so help me, how many motorcyclists would lop off a limb to be sitting where I was - and relating to Kevin Schwantz as just another friend of Lance's, eating Mexican food with the guys.

After dinner, the group of us went to Lance's house, nice place on the lake. I hung out with Kevin. We leaned on the wall and talked about this 'n' that, perhaps noticing as we did that there were numbers of quite attractive young ladies at Lance's that evening. 

Anticipating your curiosity, I don't think we talked about motorcycling much. I remember feeling later that I'd met a super guy, a guy who might never let you know where he'd been or what he's done until you knew him quite well. A guy who seemed to have no need whatsoever to impress you. Who never dropped a name.

What motorcycling story could you and I tell that Kevin Schwantz couldn't top - if he had the slightest desire to do so?

I've thought about that evening a hundred times in the years since. When I see that Kevin Schwantz is going to be a guest here or there or I read something about his racing school, I wish I could be there just to say, Hey Kevin, remember me? We hung out at Lance's. 

I didn't know who you were at the time. I figured you were just one of the guys. I was right.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Facebook "Notes" and this blog

An old friend told me a week or so ago about Facebook "Notes," a function of FB that allows the poster to put up longer blocks of text than would be usual in a normal post. The writer writes or pastes the text into Notes. FB publishes the title and first line or two in the usual box. Friends see it. If the topic or something in those first lines is of interest, he or she clicks on the box and the piece appears, looking good on the screen, proper spacing observed...first class.

I have found that Notes allows me to share stories and thoughts effectively. When I contributed some of these stories to magazines, regional or national, I got an occasional letter or email from a reader. With FB's Notes, I get immediate feedback. I love it.

So I am going to place my thoughts and articles in the Notes area. If you have been following my blog but are not a FB friend, please send me a friend request. You will be offered opportunities to read stories old and new. Thanks for caring enough to read this!

Maynard Hershon

Friday, October 2, 2015

Here's an old story that ran in Winning Magazine back in the Reconstruction Era, shortly after the War Between the States...

The Sweater

I threw away my old blue cycling sweater yesterday. I’d had the thing so long I can’t remember being without it. It wasn’t the first jersey I owned. The first was a light-blue and white one I thought looked like Felice Gimondi’s Bianchi team jersey. I gave that one away years ago without a second thought. The sweater though, was tougher.

I think that sweater was made as the top half of an old-fashioned Italian warm-up suit, one of the ones with pants that looked like pajama bottoms. No one bought those pants; if I think about them I can feel sorry for all those rejected baggy warm-up bottoms. I wonder what became of them and hope they’re doing all right, wherever they are.

The shop where I bought that sweater closed not much later. I remember it as a kind of unfocused shop, one you’d seldom find a reason to visit. My girlfriend had bought one of the sweaters there for $15, a bargain even in those days. I stepped right up.

The label, printed in Italian, couldn’t be decoded. You couldn’t tell if it was wool or synthetic or a blend. I treated it like wool for 10 years.

The full-length front zipper made that sweater easy to put on and take off. If the day got warm you could unzip it part or all the way. Or you could take it off and twirl it by the sleeves and tie it around your waist. Perfect.

That girlfriend and I rode together a lot. I see us in my mind in matching blue sweaters, riding side by side (only when safe, of course) down foggy, wooded country roads. We looked alike and I think we thought alike, then.

She and I rode centuries and group training rides. We took moderate-length tours together. She liked to wear a railroad engineer’s hat. I was learning to wear a cycling cap Saronni-style, down over the eyes in the front, perched impossibly high in back. Saronni, that year, was still being driven to races by his mommy.

Eventually, though I learned to wear the cap perfectly, the girlfriend departed. The sweater stayed on.

I recall once on a late fall ride I got caught in a cold rainstorm. I got soaked but the sweater kept me warm. I remember wringing water out of it in a restaurant bathroom and having to drop it on the john floor for lack of a place to hang it while I dressed. It was still so wet, even after the wringing, that it flopped loudly when I dropped it on the tile. That’s a warm sweater.

I remember it covered in frost down the arms and across the chest on those painfully chilly, clear mornings there are never enough of. I remember how the cuffs frayed after the first couple years but never got worse. I can remember the blue of it bright and the new smell still in it. That sweater was new then and so was cycling. I had yet to discover I had limits.

In those days I felt it was important to wear clean, newish cycling clothes. I saw that some people who’d been at it long enough to own old bike clothing wore their mended, tattered stuff with no embarrassment. Not me though; no patched tights for me.

I thought that if I wore less-than-perfect jerseys or shorts or whatever, I would be considered casual or uncommitted to the sport.

Years passed and I was still riding. I got less impressed by emblems of dedication one could merely buy. I became more aware of subtle signals, like class on the bike, that earlier I might have missed while looking at some turkey’s jersey.

I won’t say I’ve let myself go completely and ride in rags. I did begin to lose interest in woollen (later Lycra) perfection. I came to find certain articles of clothing (and equipment) pleasantly familiar and effective. I didn’t want a new whatever, thank you. I liked the old one just fine.

I liked that blue sweater especially fine as you may have perceived. My new girlfriend found the hole in the twice-mended left shoulder too shabby. She asked me repeatedly not to wear it.

I explained to her about the old girlfriend and the rainstorm and the frosty mornings. I tried to recreate the sound my sweater made slapping the bathroom floor. She was relentless.

I was too classy a guy, she said, to wear a sweater as ratty as that. It was giving a bad impression. So I threw it away. Hey, it was for my own good.


Comparative Drafting, pt 2

Last week, I posted about drafting in cycling, and why some riders are so much easier to follow than others. It’s not subtle. You can follow some people with a tiny gap between your front tire and their rear tire. Others cause you to drop back a foot or more for safety’s sake, and make you nervous even then.
It seems to me on further reflection that those of us who have spent many, many miles trying to hang on in fast groups or behind one stronger rider, develop a sense of pace...that riders who have done loose group rides or club centuries do not learn. 
We had to learn to draft...or we were riding home alone with a terrible defeated feeling.
So we slowly developed a feeling...for a pace that keeps the level of effort steady. We learned that legs that are about to scream NO can sustain a consistent effort, but are pushed over their limit by spikes of demand. We learn to moderate our pace, to keep those sudden demands from hitting the legs of those behind us. 
Over the miles and years, we get incrementally better at doing that, at sensing what is best for those behind us. We learn to appreciate people who provide that same consistent pace. 
But I don’t believe that most of us can explain what it is that we do. We just do it. We’re bike riders after all.