Over the years of reading bike forums and blogs I have taken note that there are a number of people who consider themselves to be slow riders. It is not particular to a certain segment of cycling society, nor is it restricted to one type of bicycle (e.g.: city bikes, road bikes, or mountain bikes), but rather seems to span across age, gender, physical size, location, and choice of bike.
It's caused me to pause and realize that the term "slow" really is all relative. I can claim to be slow, but when riding with another person I may seem like a Tour de France contender. While a 17 mph/26 kph pace may seem fast to one rider, to another it is entirely too slow.
A specific example comes to mind that illustrates this point a bit more. Two years ago, I asked a friend to go on a casual ride. She is much taller (several inches) and less weighty than myself, so I always presume when riding with someone of her physical stature that I will be pushing to keep up. I forewarned her that I am definitely not the speediest of cyclists and I was trying to recover from an injury. She had stated that she was perfectly ready to travel at slow speeds because she was definitely enjoying slower paced rides.
Keeping all of this in consideration, when we met up I had braced myself for the probability of needing to exert myself to keep up with what she considered to be a slower pace. But as we meandered down the road, I began to realize that she truly was not joking when she said she wanted to ride slowly. There were points in the ride when I thought we might literally fall off our bikes from moving at such a leisurely pace - Something that even I am not used to feeling (unless riding up a steep hill). When I tried to pick up the pace a bit, I could feel her falling behind and so I'd slow again to allow her to catch up.
The opposite scenario has also often been true for me (and is more often the case). When I anticipate a slow ride with another person, generally speaking I am the one who ends up pushing to keep up with what s/he considers slow. While my partner is able to easily converse, I can find myself entirely out of breath and focused on pushing in order to barely keep up.
While reading on a forum recently, I happened upon a post from a cyclist who was concerned that his speeds were too slow. Others were offering counsel as to how he could increase his ability, but I couldn't help but laugh when I realized that what he considered a sluggish pace is an absolute all-out sprint for me.
Sure, there are times when I relish an opportunity for a strenuous ride or pushing myself to see what I can accomplish, but being okay with going slower speeds - particularly as I work my legs back into distance - has actually helped me enjoy riding so much more. In fact, some of my favorite recent rides have been those during which my speeds were of no consequence.
As I hear about or read articles about riders who are "slow," I remind myself that this has entirely different meaning to each individual. We all have days when we find ourselves lacking in energy. We cannot always push to be better, faster or to go farther.
Beyond any of that, a slower pace has its benefits. In an age when most of us seem to want to press on in an effort to achieve more, I am grateful for the opportunities to travel at less than dazzling speeds. It is in these moments that I appreciate my surroundings - including the changing seasons - and have the opportunity to soak in my community and environment in better detail.