Monday, November 11, 2013

Group Ride Blues

Somewhat recently, I went on my first group ride in quite some time. Actually, the last group ride for me prior to this one was at the end of spring. I debated whether or not to even go on this last ride, but because it was a short one, I figured I would get through it - though I'll get to that in a bit. My decision not to ride with groups is somewhat intentional, and somewhat just a matter of schedules. I have accepted that with most physical endeavors I will be last in group situations, but I find it incredibly frustrating to be with a group that says they will ride one pace, and then end up riding something much faster. I am well aware of my cycling speed, and have no delusions of grandeur. In fact, I identified easily with this post from The Rubenesque Cyclist.
I actually attended a small group ride very early in the riding season
*Photo credit - Pati W./St. Vrain Chain Gang
As I pedaled my way through the summer months, I frequently passed small groups of riders and couldn't help but be a bit envious as I heard them laughing and/or talking. They seemed to ride so effortlessly, and I have to admit that it seemed it was at least in part due to having company to keep their minds occupied. Every time I passed one of these groups of ladies (or any small group enjoying themselves), I found myself wanting to about-face and attempt to find out when they ride, where they start, if they would mind another body tagging along, et cetera... but I never did it. I should have, but I didn't.

About mid-summer, I considered putting out an ad for cycling buddies who just wanted to ride and weren't fixated on how fast they would get there, but ultimately decided that it seemed a little desperate and goodness only knows who I would've encountered. Besides that, I've found that when I word things in such a way, I tend to experience the extreme opposite (which isn't what I'm after either). I do like to ride more leisurely at times as well, but when I'm out for a long road ride, I want to enjoy it, be somewhat challenged, but not feel as though I'm going to pass out in the first 20 minutes of riding. There has to be a happy middle ground somewhere, right?

Near the end of summer, I was riding down a local highway with a wide shoulder and there were two gentlemen in front of me. At first, I figured I wouldn't pass because I assumed they would be taking off at any moment (as is usually the case) so it seemed foolish to attempt to go around them. As I pedaled along behind them, I couldn't help but over-hear their conversation. I felt a bit guilty eavesdropping because they weren't aware of my presence until much later, but truth be told, I was happy to have a conversation to listen in on, even if I had no idea who the people were or what exactly they were discussing. During their conversation, I learned that one of the riders was just starting to cycle again after a long hiatus (which explained instantly why they hadn't taken off at warp speed) and was looking to increase his endurance before the "bad weather" set in to our area.

Not too long after this portion of their conversation ended, the men stopped abruptly, catching me completely off guard as I was lost in the bliss of having others around to entertain me. I tried to maintain my composure, but veered off into traffic for a brief moment. Of course, I startled them as well because they hadn't realized I'd been right behind them for the last ten-ish miles, hanging on their every word. I apologized for not saying something (especially because I was right on their tails the entire time), and they offered a gracious nod and smile as I continued down the highway. I'm sure they had quite a conversation when they started up again about the "crazy lady" who nearly scared them to death.

Yes, I think I've painted a fairly decent (though very much condensed) picture of my desire to ride with others who cycle at similar speeds, and while I am not generally so needy, this summer's riding, accomplished as it was for me and my goals, carried with it a kind of pathetic sadness. It's not as though I started out every ride feeling doomed to wander alone, but every so often I was reminded that it kind of sucks to always ride by oneself. I do truly enjoy my alone time, but no one wants to do every activity by him/herself.

You can see how I ended up coming back to the group I'd started with in the spring months. I tease them each summer saying that they'll always get at least one ride out of me (which has held true), but this season I decided to bookend my rides. When I arrived for the group ride, there were very few cyclists riding that afternoon... six (not counting myself) to be more exact. I had been told that since there were only a few cyclists riding, they weren't going to split into what would normally be three separate groups (the A Group, aka the "I have wings, and I'm not afraid to use them" group; the B group, aka the "I'm like lightening most of the time, but my wings have just sprouted" group; and the C group, aka the "My bike weighs more than I do so I'm riding the pace I ride" group - totally fictitious names, by the way, but I do think the groups should be renamed thusly... post haste). Of course, it only makes sense to ride as a single group if those who are pedaling at faster speeds decide to slow down to us mere mortals at the back of the back. Within a mile, the group was gone and I was left behind with one cyclist who took pity on me and rode at a slower pace.

True, I was ill... sniffling and coughing through the short ride, and I probably shouldn't have left the house at all. But the strangest feeling was that I had actually forgot what it was like to ride with someone else, so it was a bit odd to have another cyclist pedaling next to me, chatting about the happenings of late. I actually enjoyed it (though I can't speak for the poor soul stuck with me), and I realized in that moment that it really isn't as much fun to ride alone, particularly on long rides, as it is to have a partner. I do enjoy my alone time and I honestly don't mind riding by myself on the whole, but it's easy to forget that cycling can be a social activity when one is used to riding solitary so frequently.

I don't exactly know where I am going with this thought, other than coming to the realization that there are times when I do want to ride with someone else, but also understanding that most people who ride for "sport" are more interested in constantly improved speeds than chatting about the happenings in their life outside of cycling. There are exceptions to this as with anything, but I keep trying to determine where it is that I am supposed to find riding buddies who not only have similar desires for a road ride, but who also ride at similar rates of speed. Part of the beauty of cycling is that it can be accomplished alone, but it's sometimes challenging to feel as though it has to always be done on ones own. As many parts of the U.S. are beginning to gear up for snow and the colder months ahead, it seems like a good time to reflect on the past and ponder where the next season will take me. Perhaps there are others out there just waiting to be found, or maybe I just need to suck it up and get through the more difficult rides with groups, knowing that they will make me a stronger cyclist - even if I don't necessarily have the opportunity to talk as much as I'd prefer during a ride... you know, as I gasp for air while trying to keep up.

7 comments:

  1. This post spoke loud and clear to me. I found my motivations and style shifted slightly over the summer, going from a focus on speed to a focus on endurance to a focus on just riding around for fun. Likewise, when it came to group rides, I found that some weeks I wanted to go on a B Group ride while other weeks I would go for an A Group ride to enjoy the slower pace, better scenery and conversation. It really just depended on how I felt that week. It also felt very liberating to leave the stretchy clothes and multi-geared bike at home in favor of regular clothing and my heavier, single-speed cruiser when doing A Group rides. You can't beat it!

    I've also read from a number of other bloggers who are into the "slow ride" movement, doing bike parties and the like. I'm very motivated to start up a bike party in my city (once a month, we would ride a little later in the evening at a pace that doesn't break 10 mph. Sometimes there's even a theme! Look up the Boston Bike Party for more information on what that would be like.)

    Lastly, chances are your local bike shop is full of cyclists with the same feelings and motivations. Definitely speak with the owner and see about leaving a flyer or two to contact like-minded riders. That's how I found the great group of friends I ride with. Don't be afraid to speak your mind and you'll probably find that others feel the same way, they just maybe feel intimidated by the idea of a group ride because they've had similar experiences. You can be their voice!

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Dale! :O)

      I think in part I find it challenging due to living in a smaller city. There is definitely a focus on specific types of riding I have found, and although there are people who like to ride for fun, there seems to often be a divide between those pushing for speed and those who just want to grab a beer and happen to take his/her bike to do so. I guess falling in the middle of all of this can be challenging. Like you, I do like to push myself at times, but I don't want every ride to feel that way... so, I'm looking forward to using the colder months to keep riding, but to look for ways to get everything I'd like to out of cycling.

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  2. Sometime in maybe the 1970's or 1980's cycling became a macho thing in the USA. Maybe by then the underlying sentiment was that everyone owned a car, so if you rode a bike, you were either too poor to own a car, or some kind of fanatic. Perhaps the "fanatics" steeled themselves against popular opinion by embracing race culture and adopted the ideals of road racing.

    At the same time, car culture had taken over America, providing a new isolation to our being, even when traveling in our daily city life. For centuries, travel within a city had involved constant interaction with others - interaction eclipsed by the automobile. Over time, this isolation within the automobile and anonymity behind the wheel led to new undercurrents in our society, including what is now popularly termed as road rage.

    By the late 1980's and early 1990's mountain biking introduced a free spirited cycling counterculture - but still racing was an important aspect - with considerable manufacturer sponsorship of cross-country and downhill racing being used to sell bikes. To this day, I think the majority of "serious" cyclists still place high value on racing ideals.

    The macho factor in cycling was probably enhanced by the more recent conflicts with the automobile, as cyclists vie for the limited roadways in urban, city environs. "Yesterday", we read in the news about road rage between auto drivers. Today we read about altercations between cyclists and automobiles. We hear of guerilla cycling events where the roadways are taken over. Understandable given the macho underpinnings of cycling in the USA.

    It is now high time that the social aspects of cycling are questioned in forums such as this blog. I think many would say we live in what might be termed a renewed socially conscious age. An age where technology has made us a little less anonymous and more interested in the social engagement that was absent from our lives the past few decades.

    Here, here G.E. Let's find a way to ride together!

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    1. Perhaps virtual cycling will be the next trend? Then, those of us who aren't close together geographically will be able to ride together in some manner. I'm sure there has to be an app for that somewhere on the market, right? :O)

      I get the sense that there are portions of the U.S. that have more of a mixture of cycling traffic - though perhaps this is just my perception of reading about others' experiences in cities across the country. My experience with riding in the city (Denver - since it's the closest to me - though it happens only rarely) is that a cyclist must be an "aggressive" cyclist in order to survive. Even commuters seem to take on a sort of race mentality and it has shocked me more than once to observe cyclist behavior in traffic. Not every individual on a bike rides this way and there are plenty of cruiser rides that take place (most famously in Denver is this one and we even have a fairly large one here in our city), but it does fascinate me that there doesn't seem to be much of the in between whether in the city or here in the more suburban/rural areas of the state. I still haven't decided if it really is a macho characteristic or just one of competition? Without a doubt, there are more male cyclists than females (perhaps even more so competitively), and I suppose that brings with it an inherent tendency toward stereotypical male characteristics? Still, I don't think it's true that men have no desire to be social while cycling - or at least that hasn't been my experience from observation. Perhaps my view is just so limited that my opinion is skewed - or maybe it has more to do with location and what is deemed socially acceptable in a particular area? I really don't know, but I am definitely curious to seek out others with similar wants in cycling.

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  3. G.E., I think your views are pretty representative of most cyclists in America - regardless of geography. It is from more of an international perspective that I would cast cycling in the US as relatively macho or competitive or racing-oriented, or whatever euphemism of choice. I enjoy looking at this blog once in a while http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com as a contract to the American experience. My characterization is a generalization, of course, not a universal. I do believe there is a movement afoot to change how America cycles - and it is high time.

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    1. I certainly hope you're right.

      The cycle chic blogs/websites are always an interesting view/read - of course, these can start their own controversy as well. They are a nice counter-view of the typical American streets and cities (generally speaking, at least). Always great to see people riding in everyday attire, going about their business as usual.

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  4. My spouse and I used to have a group of friends who cycled together during the summers on Saturday mornings along rail-trails. We'd go between 25 and 50 miles at maybe 11 or 12 mph, stopping for breakfast or lunch along the way. It was so wonderful. We moved to a new city about 9 years ago. I really miss those rides.

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