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Back 11.1.2018

Inside the Zipp Lunch Ride: Part I

This is Part I of a series of two features about an important part of Zipp culture, our regular lunch-hour rides. The first focuses on the lunch ride as a competitive outlet for speed. The Zipp Lunch Ride Part II is about how we use the lunch ride as a place to connect, make friends, to welcome new riders, and to improve as cyclists. Together, we hope this two-part series underscores the benefits of intense competition among cycling peers, but also stresses the importance of making rides safe, welcoming, and friendly for all.

We hope you find this conversation fun and insightful, just like you’re hanging out with your cycling friends.

Part I

Lessons in Speed, Pain, and Precision

In our own minds at least, the Zipp lunch ride has achieved legendary status. It has stars, animators, and patrons. We even made a T-Shirt celebrating the lunch ride as a friendly but intense throw-down.

On fast days, traditionally Tuesdays and Thursdays, the lunch ride rolls at 12:06pm. The route is typically the same, 18.3 miles total including two laps of a 4.5 mile circuit at a park near our Indianapolis factory. It is during those two laps that the ride can really heat up, with speeds averaging almost 28mph. The loop has a diverse profile (at least for the flatlands of Central Indiana) with a climb and descent, a long flat section, and numerous turns and curves. We’ve collectively ridden this loop thousands of times. Over that time, we’ve improved as cyclists, bonded as friends, and learned invaluable lessons about wheel and gear selection.

We gathered a few lunch ride regulars post-ride chat to talk cycling tactics, tech, and teachable moments. The resulting conversation was an interesting blend of camaraderie, competition, and gear analysis on everything from rim depth to cassette choice to tire pressure.

Cast of Characters (to protect egos, names are in alphabetical, not Strava segment, order):

Jason Fowler, wheel category manager


Lewis Henrickson, engineering tech


David Morse, advanced development engineer


Ben Waite, wheel design engineer


What does the Zipp lunch ride mean to you?

Ben: I’ve done that loop 629 times. Isn’t that crazy? It’s exactly 4.5 miles. It has everything. It’s exactly a mile and a half on the flat front stretch… You have a kicker where attacks come, and then it gets super rough. It’s curvy and rough, a little bit of Indiana cobbles. Then you have your downhill and your climb.

David: I feel like the Zipp lunch ride is its own entity. For the past couple of years it’s been the main training that I do. If you’re competitive and you want to race your bike, the Zipp lunch ride is the best form of training we have for the type of racing that we have out here, mostly criteriums.

You get a group of fast people who are competitive, the terrain and the course itself is perfect for really learning how to dig deep and teach really sharp tactical skills, handling skills, when to dose out your effort correctly so you don’t get dropped. It’s just the perfect combination of everything to become a faster bike racer, if that’s your goal.

Ben: Everybody gets more fit throughout the year. But for me, it’s always a good gauge of fitness, too. How long can you hold on, and then can you start dictating the pace?

What month is the hardest?

Lewis: Probably March!

There’s a difference between hardest and fastest!

David: It feels the hardest and March/April. I think it’s probably the most ferocious the middle of July and August.

Jason: By that time of the summer you have people who have stopped racing who then just want to go hard.

The last few years the lunch ride has been really hard because the breakaway in a local Pro 1-2 race always had three of the guys who would always be in the breakaway in the lunch ride group. It was really good to not only hang on but to work with them and attack them, because if you did and you got dropped on the lunch ride it didn’t matter, whereas in a race you’d never do it. It was really cool to explore your boundaries a little bit.

David: I think a lot of the employees on the lunch who aren’t bike racers underestimate their abilities. I don’t think they understand how competent of a rider they have to be to stick with that group.

Lewis: Those lunch rides are easily harder than any race I do. In a race I’m just sitting in the whole time and then sprint.

What are the specific tactics you see most on the lunch ride?

David: What’s really cool about the ride is it allows you to perfect your tactics and try things you wouldn’t otherwise try. For people who get dropped and don’t make it until the end of the ride, they don’t like that experience. So, they try different things to stay on. Everyone’s tactics evolve. You never want to extend yourself on the front of the group beyond the point where you can’t catch back on to the end after pulling off. That’s a very important facet of racing at every level. Just through experience you get to learn and feel just what it is to ride fast in a group.

Jason: The biggest change I’ve seen is maximizing the ride time, meaning a very brief warm up and then an extremely short, like 30 seconds, cool down.

David: I like the structure of knowing the terrain and when the hard points are going to be. Almost the anticipation is what I revel in, knowing I need to rest up for this section because the hill is coming up and I want to make sure I know who’s going to attack, and I want to make sure I cover that. Having that plan ahead of time makes me more excited.

Lewis, you’ve worked here five years and have significantly improved as a cyclist during that time. What role has the lunch ride played?

Lewis: Once I got here and started doing the daily lunch ride, I could definitely tell I was getting better. Then I also was more comfortable in the group or attacking knowing that I could hold it.

When do you attack?

Lewis: Generally there’s always going to be attacks on the hills or certain areas. I start to get cheeky when people don’t expect you to go, whether it’s one of the longer downhills or the top of the big hill, just places you know people are usually letting up or holding their energy. I try to exploit those areas.

Ben, you’re a triathlete with more sustained power but less explosive power. What’s your strategy?

Ben: Triathletes get this bad rap for bike handling…. Last weekend was the triathlon downtown, which has 26 turns on the loop. The Zipp lunch ride teaches you to get super comfortable railing it. So in a triathlon, you don’t realize how fast you’re going until you’re coming up on people and blowing by them in corners. A lot of those crit skills, you make up a lot of time in triathlon and also conserve a ton of energy. You’re not having to power back up to speed out of every corner…. Normally my tactic on the lunch ride is to crush the downhills so you lead into them and all you have to do is catch onto the group on the top of the hill.

What are “sins” on the lunch ride? For example, is one if you are getting dropped and let a gap open, making it difficult for the riders behind you?

David: The change in speed is definitely one of the “sins” when trying to not get dropped. If you ease up and slow down after a pull, that just means you have to accelerate again to get back on. That acceleration is really what taxes you. That’s going to burn a match.

One of the main differences between a novice rider and someone who’s been riding for years competitively is to know that if you can suffer just a little bit longer to hang onto a wheel, you eventually recover after that. You don’t have to hold that pace forever, you just have to hold it long enough to the point where the pace slowly recovers back to normal. The lunch ride teaches that in an abrupt way—if you don’t reach deep into yourself to suffer and hang on by a thread, you’ll get dropped.

Jason: There are certain people you know not to be behind on certain parts of the course because you just know they’re going to get gapped. It’s an unspoken knowledge of most people on the ride. If I want to attack Dave, I make sure these two people are in front of him because that attack is going to make much more of a difference.

David: Just yesterday, we were doing a pretty hard ride. Lewis was off the front, and I wanted to bridge up to him. Jason was in front of me. I knew that I wanted to leave Jason behind. So I waited until Jason had rotated off to one side of the paceline, and I attacked on the other. Those calculating moves are happening all the time. You just know that it’s a friendly match. There are no hard feelings so long as everyone stays safe. You do it to try it, to see if it works.

Safety is the top concern. Any tips?

Jason: We did have to bunny hop a woodchuck. It came into the group. Be predictable and remain calm.

David: Always keep your head up. Leave at least enough room between you and the wheel in front of you to react.

Ben: Whenever there’s a new person on the ride, we make it inviting.

David: We call things out a lot more clearly when there’s a new person.

What wheel rim depths are most popular?

David: The record lap speed for the loop is about 27.8 miles per hour…. We’re often averaging over 25mph, which heavily leans toward aerodynamics as being the most important factor to going fast. Whatever aerodynamic advantage you can get is going to help you on the ride. Weight is relatively a non-factor.

Ben: The main climb is 45 second.

David: You’re basically sprinting up it. Aerodynamics is definitely the most important technical factor on that ride. If you’re concerned about staying in the group, you would choose the most aerodynamic wheels, 808s or 858s.

Jason: I go with 404s. Acceleration up the climb to drop all these guys!

What other equipment choices are key?

David: It’s all SRAM RED eTap right now.

Ben: The biggest tech jumps specific to our ride was the combination of wider internal wheel widths and bigger tires. It wasn’t that long ago we were riding 21mm tires. Now, I would say 28mm is the standard. We know we don’t give up anything; it’s all gain. To be able to run those 28s with lower pressure, the cornering is improved. The rough sections are so much smoother.

Lewis: This year I started using Quarq’s TyreWiz and dropping down my PSI every ride. I was always worried about dropping down too far and getting really squishy. But the more I drop it the more comfortable it gets, the more I can rail those corners. It’s confidence boosting, like ‘Oh, yeah, I can drop it down to 75 or 70psi and hang on and crush it.

David: I trend toward narrower tires being a wind-tunnel engineer. But on 25s, I will regularly ride 85 PSI.

Jason: For gearing, I went with a 52/36 up front with an 11-32 in the back. I’m big ring all the time. Big/easy is a nice warm up gear. I’ve really found the 52/36 up front and a bigger cluster in the back is great for riding around here. If you go south into some actual hills, you have plenty of range.

Lewis: I’ve been running tubeless all year without one flat.

How do you use your Quarq power meter during the ride?

Ben: On that front section, that TT section where I’m on the front. Do I want to pull for 35 or 40 seconds? I know exactly what I need to do to jump back on and be fresh enough to hit the tricky parts of the loop.

David: If someone goes out solo or if they have a breakaway companion, when they get caught it’s almost as if the group tries to antagonize them by going by as fast as possible. They’ll roll by at least 4 miles per hour faster, which if you’re not ready for it there’s no way you’re going to catch back on.

We’re working in the office all morning. How do you prepare for the lunch ride? Snacks?

David: Empty stomach. Maybe Animal Crackers.

Jason: An 11 to noon meeting, you’re having the hunger pains. Then you have to get dressed quick because the ride rolls at 12:05. Then the hunger goes away.

David: When you get back if you don’t have some sort of food available, I get a little bit frantic. Thankfully we have a couple of food options that are on the route, detour, grab food and get back for whatever you have going on.

What was the most legendary Zipp lunch ride? Was it Sept. 13, 2016, when Simon Richardson from GCN (Global Cycling Network) joined us?

Ben: Yes. If you look at the loop the top five times are all from that day. Eight of the top 10 are from that day.

David: It was basically just a continuous attack for 10 miles.

How is the Zipp lunch ride evolving?

David: I think one way the lunch ride is evolving is that there’s a “rec” (recreation level) ride now. The regular lunch ride is insanely fast. If that’s your cup of tea, that’s really a big perk of working here - having a hard ride to go to at lunch. I think most people who don’t race find the fast lunch ride intimidating, and they didn’t feel like they had a place to ride.

This year, the rec rides have caught on. It’s cool to see it take off. You get 20 people on the rec ride. They’re doing it just to enjoy being on the bicycle.

We’ve seen some employees start out as new riders and within a few years become accomplished cyclists.

Jason: In some cases, there’s someone who didn’t even have a road bike, didn’t know about cycling before working here, and then over a few years is hanging on to fast rides. That’s pretty cool.

David: The lunch ride can be difficult to get into because it’s full of seasoned cyclists. That’s common across the cycling industry. I really like the idea that people are getting introduced to it on the rec ride and then build confidence and make the jump to a faster lunch ride.

Part II of our Zipp Lunch Ride Series explores how making riding friendly and welcoming is the best way to attract more people to cycling.