I have a confession to make. I love that I have the ability to ride fast but I don’t necessarily enjoy working hard enough to keep up with the really fast folks – at least not while I’m on the road. Afterwards it feels pretty awesome and rewarding, but during, it kinda sucks. That said, I still ride just as hard as I can, every chance I get because when it comes right down to it, I really do like being a fast guy. I love being able to go for a 16 mph ride with my wife without breaking a sweat. I love being able to pick a 20 mph pace and have no problems pulling as much as the group needs me to. I love being one of the guys my friends look to when we want to reel someone in. Unfortunately, I do have some simple limits to how far I’m willing to go. I will not make cycling work. The most important thing to me is that I keep it enjoyable – no amount of speed is worth looking at a ride on my bike with dread in my heart.
The first decision to make is are you going to ride with a group or ride alone. I do a bit of both but I have the most fun riding with a group.
Then, pick a bike that suits your needs. The best all-around bikes made today are cyclocross bikes. Given the proper tires, you can do anything on one. That said, for speed, you’re looking at a road bike or time trial bike – just remember, TT bikes are crap in a group.
Once you pick the style, get a cheap bike. Seriously, get a cheap one. Used if possible. Get good pedals, a decent helmet and get kitted up… That stuff travels with you no matter what you ride. Work any gut you’ve got off with a liberal dose of mileage. Then, once you’ve got some saddle time and enough knowledge to be dangerous, then you buy the nice bike. I did it this way and was able to pick the proper style and a smaller frame size so I’d end up with a steep drop from the saddle to the handlebar. That will get you low so you can ride even faster.
In the meantime… If you’re going to be a triathlete, you’re mostly going solo so it’s not rocket science. Train harder than you plan to ride. Race pace won’t suck as bad. Do intervals, work on your eating habits, weight train, yada, yada, yada. I rode for my first two years almost exclusively solo and I did enjoy it… Until I decided to accept an invitation to give club rides a try. I had no idea how much fun I was missing.
I went into club riding already able to hold a 20-21 mph average for 30 miles so the owner of the local bike shop invited me to ride with the advanced group. The big dogs, the racers and heavy hitters. I was riding a ’99 Trek 5200 at the time and that first ride changed my fitness life completely. I was dropped after just 8 miles when the group ticked up the pace to 28-29 mph but for 8 glorious miles, I was like a kid in a candy store with enough money to buy as much as he could carry. Over the course of the next year, I made a few friends and showed up weekly. My fitness grew and I found myself able to hang with the lead group for most of the ride. Then I started getting invited to invite-only rides and became one of the “B” horses – and that’s where I hit my wall. To get much faster, I’d have to get into some serious training and I’m just not willing to do that.
I know, and am very happy in, my place. I have several friends to ride with and my best is good enough. The key to my enjoyment of cycling and riding fast is not making a job of it. There’s nothing wrong with hard work and a little bit of “suffering”, but I already have a day job. I don’t need another, so I push myself just as hard as I can on what limited time I’ve got and I let that be good enough. I’m fast, and I get to enjoy it without going bananas with it. A friend of mine calls that “Quality” and I agree.