Monday, April 20, 2015

Slow Cyclist Ahead

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.
More recently, let's say in the last year or so, this idea has struck something in me personally for two reasons. The first is that I have found myself riding at slower speeds than in the past and second because I've taken note of what some consider to be slow speeds and thought to myself my goodness - if only that were slow for me!

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.
Our average pace at somewhere close to 6 mph/9.5 kph was not remotely what I'd anticipated, so you can imagine my surprise to discover that we had completely different ideas of what a slow ride would be. While it was perfectly acceptable to cruise along at such a pace, I was surprised to find my riding partner exhausted at the end of a short ride, but it also helped me realize that I cannot always make assumptions - particularly regarding speed.

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.
But, I am not a racer and have no delusions of ever being quick. In fact, I enjoy the slow pace - or what is my slow pace on any given day. I'm not in a hurry (most of the time) and I find little reason not to slow down and smell the roses, or the tulips as is the case during this particular season. I enjoy being able to hop off the bike and stare at farm animals or check out the latest construction projects around town.

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.

14 comments:

  1. Sometimes I feel like it's our environment (around here), and the plethora of recreational cyclists that causes the "need for speed". There really aren't that many people that are just riding for pleasure, or commuting, the vast majority are riding to beat the next strava segment. Sadly, I have been caught in this hurricane, and I'm really beginning to hate it. On the other side, what's fast for one, is slow for another, etc.. I'm thinking the only way to break out of it will be to go "old school", maybe buy an old cateye odometer, just so I can know how far I have gone, but not all the "data" that is filling our lives. Humm.

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    1. I think you're fine. It's okay to race and want faster speeds (especially for you as you have upcoming races). I think my point for myself is that I sometimes forget that it's perfectly acceptable to move along at a snail's pace.

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  2. Nothing wrong with going slow! I average about 12 mph and am perfectly happy with this. Sometimes I do go faster, but at 17mph I start feeling like I am about to lose control of the bike and I invariably slow down to a speed I am more comfortable with. I am not in a hurry, have no aspirations to be a racer, and do not care about going faster. What I do care about is better bike handling skills, but these are still proving elusive. Sigh.

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    1. I'm with you. Slow speeds are perfectly acceptable.

      I wish I could offer something that would help with bike handling skills. I think it really is something that just comes quick and naturally for some and a little slower and not as naturally to others. I think it will come in time... hang in there. :O)

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    2. LOL, 20 years ago I could average 12 mph. These days, I'm closer to 8-9 mph average. I mourned losing my "speed" for a while, but have decided I've just found my slow Zen speed. I remind myself that there aren't that many 62 year old fat women riding 3000 miles/year. :) So I win just by participating!

      And if you're not in a hurry, it doesn't really matter how fast you go. One of the perks of being semi-retired, I guess.

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    3. As I've said before, Janice, I love that you ride such a distance each year, and I don't think it matters at all the speed. Just more time to enjoy things along the way. :O)

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  3. Great post. I've never cared much about speed and the only function for the computer on my bike was so that I would know how much farther I had to go to the next town or trail head. Even now on my commute or when I'm out for a fun ride with my spouse, I don't care at all about how fast I am going. I have, however, started to care a little bit. I want to ride a century and feel like I need to keep up a decent pace in order to finish in a reasonable amount of time. I'm aiming for a rolling average of about 15 mph, which is a little faster than my good old hybrid wants to go (and a good bit faster than Sassy, the Dutch-style commuter wants to go!). Does this sound like I'm building up to an excuse to buy a new bike? Yep! I've got my first drop-bar road bike on order: a Bianchi Volpe!

    So, for the first time in my life, I'm going to try to go fast (for me), knowing that my "fast" is painfully slow for a proper roadie! On the other hand, Sassy and I will continue to poke our way along at a respectable 11 mph on the way to work.

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    1. Ooh... exciting! I like the Volpe from what I've read of it (I've yet to actually ride one). I like the idea of a road-ish bike that also does gravel/dirt, etc - kind of a cross bike. I'd love to hear how you like it when you've had an opportunity to test it out.

      For the record, my first century I averaged 13mph (and that was on a "fast" and light road bike). If you have the time, I don't think that speed is a huge factor (I had figured I'd average about 10mph and that would mean 10 hours of pedaling - completely doable, even with stops). Although I will say that, as with most athletic endeavors, the faster it can be completed, the better off ones body seems to be in the long run. I didn't fixate on speed myself, but rather on trying to enjoy the ride. I think the first one was tough because I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. My mind started playing games with me and I was thankful that no one knew what I was doing because I really thought I might stop at several points toward the end. I'm anxious to hear how your century goes as well, so I hope you'll share. :O)

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    2. I'll definitely share. For a solo century, I think that 13 mph would be fine for me. The problem is the century I want to do only allows eight hours for riders to clear the course! That seems weird to me.

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    3. That is true. Some organized centuries will have a time cap (like marathons or most athletic events). If you can minimize your stopping time, that will allow you to be a bit slower (not that I'm encouraging you to go slow - but simply stating that should you feel that you're having to maintain a speed you're uncomfortable doing, if you can keep stops short it will give you more time on the clock).

      Anyway, I wish you luck as you train and I hope that the new bike is great! :O)

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  4. Good post. It is funny for me to see so many know their typical pace. We don't tend to pay any attention - because here in Seattle, the elevation gain on a ride affects pace so much (plus on the descents, minus on the climbs). We do use a bike computer to check our overall time on a regular circuit - but that's to monitor if we pushed ourselves aerobically. That said - that we are guilty of trying to "compete" with ourselves on elapsed time. My wife proclaimed a week ago she is bound and determined to knock 2 minutes off from our best time on our regular long ride. Sounded good to me!

    Even if "speed" is a guilty pleasure for us (and we are comparitively very SLOW), I do think it is important to emphasize that speed should not be as important as it is in the U.S. I feel like there are too many cycling "elitist" that tend to look down their noses at the slower riders. For cycling to become as mainstream in the U.S. at is is abroad, I think we need to lose the attitude and let people be comfortable cycling at the speed that feels right to them - and just be glad they are not in a car barreling down on us!

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    1. Hilly terrain is definitely something that would slow me (does slow me) down. In fact, I did a comparison just recently of two different rides that were the same distance and I was amazed at how much slower I was on the route with hills. I enjoyed both rides (neither were fast), but it's interesting to have a tangible record of my lack of ability to climb quicker. I do my best though to just use it as a tool and not to obsess over it (I don't think I do - though I can have moments).

      As for elitist attitude from some, I think that is true for many things in life - not just riding bikes, but I sense it at times from some here as well. Perhaps it's just my perception from afar, but I often feel as though other areas of the country are far more accepting of all different types of riders - or at least it seems that they are able to find groups that enjoy riding the way they do.

      I hope that things are changing everywhere, but it's sometimes difficult to see as change and progression seems to take place very gradually - so much so, that I often don't even notice.

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  5. This post is largely why I ride alone, even more so now that my disability is more pronounced.

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    1. I hope you're able to find some relief. I cannot imagine trying to keep up with others and being in pain, but I do hope that you're able to enjoy your rides when you're able to get out.

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