Mad Cow Ramble

I remember the very first time I showed up to Fred's Ride. I was driving up Walnut Grove towards the school where the ride used to start. It was just a little after 6 pm, and I had about 25 minutes to get there, meet the ride leader and get ready to ride.

Or so I thought.

Coming down the road the other way was a group of cyclists, riding in a line, seemingly very intent on what they were doing. They looked fit, they looked organized, they looked fast, they looked serious.

And I thought they were the ride and I had gotten the start time wrong. I was seriously upset. Damn! I did it again.

[you see… just two days before I had showed up for a different DCC listed ride only to find out I either missed the group or had the wrong location, etc. This time I had called first, but figured I messed up.]

What I found out when I pulled into the school was that those guys were the 'Animals' riding an offshoot, elite, fast ride called the Mad Cow Ramble.


The Ramble Defined

Basically, the Mad Cow Ramble is a super fast, super intense, group road ride. It is typically a ride of about 40 miles at a pace of 24 mph average, usually faster, occasionally slower. There are usually anywhere from five to fifteen riders, and it is at once a team time trial and a hotly contested road race.

There are attacks and counter attacks, out of corners, on climbs, off of the front, off of the back, or in the middle of nowhere for no reason at all. Though all this is going on, it is still a group ride. Tight pace lines, circular/double rotations, echelons in the crosswinds.

All (most?) of the riders have a much higher than average degree of strength, skill and talent. They all have interesting nicknames. Some of them race or raced, upwards of Cat. 2 and even Cat. 1. Some have no use for racing, but just love to go fast. Some can sprint; some can climb; some are all-arounders; some, like me, can barely hang on and show up merely to survive.

The Ramble has historically been a ride where local racers go to get their asses handed to them.


At the time I was still around 200 pounds (at 5'10) and not much more than a bike path rider on a hybrid. I didn't think much more about the Ramble for a few weeks. I was just a guy looking for a way to lose more weight and get healthier. What I knew about riding road bikes and pace lines group rides I had forgotten nearly 20 years earlier. Riding like 'those guys in the website picture' never crossed my mind.

But then I started to go a little faster on my hybrid each time I came out.

And then I bought one of Fred's bikes – and I started to be able to keep up with the some of the other stragglers on the Fred's Ride routes.

And then I started to be able to keep up with the second 'B' Fred's group.

And then I could hang with the first 'A' group for maybe half the ride, but get dropped and have to chase.

And then I could hang about 2/3 of the ride; and then just about all of the ride…

And then one day I managed to finish the ride with the front group!

[is this getting annoying yet?]

At this point someone suggested I should try the Ramble. Funny thing was… it wasn't one of the Cows. I just shook my head. Yeah, right. That'll happen.

This was in 2004. A year went by and over that time I got to know some of 'those fast guys', the Cows. I also started to be able to hang with them on the Monday and Friday Fred's Rides. I even occasionally showed up for their weekend rides.


At some point in 2005 I finally decided I'd give the Ramble a try. And I got dropped. Quickly.

So I tried it again. And got dropped. But less quickly. Ahaa!

And then, on July 27, 2005, I managed to finish my first Mad Cow Ramble. Admittedly, by Cow standards it was a slow average of only 23.5 mph. I did not care. I didn't pull once. I did not care. I finished with the main pack. It hurt, but I did it.

It was nearly 2 months before I attempted it again… this time managing to stay on for my first ride over 24 mph. Again… I did not contribute in any way, hanging on at the back for dear life. My only tasks were to a) not get dropped, and b) stay the hell out of the way. I didn't do another ramble the rest of the year.

Skip ahead to May 03, 2006… I had ridden with a group that set a record Green Route pace the prior Monday, so for some stupid reason I figured I was again good enough to attempt the Ramble. As in the previous year, I made it a point to just sit back and hang on. What I hung onto that day was a 25.1 record Ramble average (for that course anyway). 

Side note: on that Friday we did a course record Friday White route at 24.2 mph. 3 days – 3 record rides – same week.

Back to the ramble… Since that day I have attempted the ride a number of times. Sometimes I get dropped, sometimes not. As the days and weeks have passed, I have been able to contribute more, suck wheel less.

To Ramble

So what does it mean to Ramble – to go off with riders who's primary intent is to ride their bikes really, really fast, and in the process inflict massive amounts of pain on themselves and on others?

To me it is many things. Internally, personally, it is a sense of acheivment, the reward of crossing the 'finish' line having hit some goal: finishing at a certain pace or making some conversation-worthy move. Maybe an awesome lead-out pull, surviving a climb where you normally get dropped, an attack, well-timed counter, perfect sprint, etc. Or even the simple reward of knowing that two years ago I could only look at the ramble riders and think "no way – not me".

But more than that it is a sense of group cooperation – the sum of the pace line working to go faster and acheive more than any individual could do alone.

It is also about the laughter before and after the pain of the ride. It is about the tight bonds of friendship that only something as instense as a ride like this can cement.

It isn't always like that. Because to Ramble also takes a certain kind of person. Not just physical fitness and athleticism, but intense personallity, strength (and weakness) of character, and as Fred says a fair amount of 'nothin' but ego'. You just gotta be a little not-right to want to do something like that week in and week out. And with those kinds of characters, conflicts occur. I have written about them before. to Ramble means occasionally 'to Rumble'. Ya just gotta be willing to put that all aside once the helmets are off.

The Ideal Ramble

Perhaps it is because I am new and just finding my place, but what I love to see is the 'well oiled machine' of a tight pace line – everyone working together and in harmony – like a perfect team time trial. Everyone contributing, looking out for each other, synching. The only exceptions for designated climb and sprint points. The group falls back into a concerted effort follwing those. And then… 

IT'S ON! The ride turns into a competition. "Five miles from the finish, it's every man for himself". At this point, you have survived the ride, but it's up to you to make your mark. Lead out for someone else, go for the glory. Either way, finish strong.

That's what it's about.

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