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The Joy of Being Me and Riding with Cyclists Vastly Faster Than I…  And My Epiphany on Women Cyclists


Imagine this…

You purchased a road bike and found out, through hard work, that you’re pretty fast.  Nothing exceptional but well above average.  So much so that a club member invites you out to ride with the advanced guys after a conversation.  After much consternation, wailing and gnashing of teeth, you bite the bullet, pick a day and show up.

You don’t know the roads or the route.  You’ve never even been to any of the towns on the route, not even passing through.  You’re not quite blind, you’ve got a GPS app on your phone that’ll get you back to the start in a pinch, but that’s it.

You know one person there.  The one who invited you.

You don’t know if you’re fast enough and you’ve never even ridden with another human being other than your family and kids.  On mountain bikes.  You can’t afford any of the fancy kit and feel like a bit of a shmoe.

There’s one more thing your friend failed to mention:  Everyone gets dropped.  Nobody waits for anyone else.

It was a baptism of fire, and exactly how I got into club rides – it took me four weeks to be able to remember all of the 16 turns.  Another year to get all of the shortcuts down.

I lasted all of eight miles of that 33 mile route, before falling off the back at north of 28 mph on flat ground, into the wind and it was the most enjoyable eight miles I’d ever spent on a bicycle.  I was still smiling as I watched the group pull away and begin to shrink in the distance…  Right up until I realized I had no idea where I was.  I kept the GPS in my pocket and pedaled on.  I thought it through and knew I’d be okay, I wasn’t anywhere near the first off the back…

Then I noticed a guy fall off a ways up, maybe a half-mile up the road.  I thought, “If he’s off when I’m off, he shouldn’t be any faster than me…”  I set to reeling him in.  I caught him a mile or two later, made acquaintances, and rode all the way back with him.  I spent half the time up front, taking my turns and listening for turn instructions.  We averaged something like 19.5 mph over the 30 miles, if memory serves.

His name was Phill (yes, two “L’s”) and we became friends.  Over the next several months I got faster.  I got to a point where I could hang on for twenty miles…  Then more. Once I even dropped everyone else (it was a light week, huge race the next weekend – even a blind squirrel gets a nut every once in a while).

Then there was Mike and Chuck, another Chuck and Matt…  And another Mike and Brad and Carla every now and again.  Now we have our own group.  We all drop together and, humorously enough, if one of us drops, depending on the night, he (or she) is on his (or her) own.

None of this story is exaggerated or embellished to add drama.  It is what it is.

On some days we choose to hang with some of the slower folks.  If Brad, Phill or (rarely) Carla are having a bad day, we’ll slow it up to bring them along.  Other times, we hammer home and leave them to their pace.  The choice is ours.

I’ve never heard one complaint from someone getting dropped, nor has one been allowed to be entertained by my own melon committee.  We are hard people.

Last year, because of a stupendously boneheaded mechanical blunder on my part, I got dropped during the biggest ride of the year.  40 miles out, in the middle of nowhere, lost, out of water, partially dehydrated.  I was hit.  Not one thought of a complaint about getting dropped.   We still laugh about it, and why I got dropped, because the circumstances are funny…

I read a post that linked another and still another about women in cycling.  This is one of the most frustrating topics I bump into on a regular basis as a cycling blogger.  Most women I ride with are very cool.  They’re fast and they’re fun to have in the group.  There has never, with any of the women I ride with, been discussions of unfairness or sexism or the domination of the sport by men – we just ride and have a good time.  There is no difference between riding with women or men in our group…

The two linked posts, as is so often the case, were complaint pieces.  The first, about how women apologize or are self-deprecating for being who they are and/or for being slow (guys do the same thing, btw).  The second, the one that really got me revved up, was about women finding a place in cycling.

Try as I might, to be angry (this post started out in a much different tone), I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the authors.  For those women who are so unlike the ladies I ride with.  I feel sorry for ladies who believe it’s their chromosomes or men’s attitudes that hold them back or keep them excluded.  Or maybe it’s the industry which is “run by men to cater to men”, while in reality the industry is bending over backwards for the pleasure of women (even if they get it wrong now and again)…  Still, I don’t know why I get so pissed when the complaints start flying…

Then I had a realization after I “slept on it” last night.  It’s not the gender issue, it’s the whining.  I despise male whiners and will put up with much less before verbally back-handing a man for complaining.  In fact, I am much tougher on men than I am women.  I just drop women complainers, while I’d run up one side and down the other, then drop a guy who whines.

The truth is, it’s not a male/female thing for me.  It’s a whiner/complainer thing.  It’s an “excuses” thing.

I have my experience.  My experience is not, “you’ll have to wait for me at the top of the hills”.  My experience is, “how can I beat your ass up the hills”.  I climbed bigger hills, taught myself how to shift…  I found a way to be good enough.  My problem is not with women.  My problem is with people who choose to complain rather than find a faster way up the hill.

I found that once I separated the whining and the gender of said whiner, I found peace.  I have only one woman I wait on no matter what.  She wears my mother’s diamond on her left ring finger.  After my wife, I can respect the cyclist by the content of their character (or rant, or post, or article)…  In other words, I can let the whirling dervishes whirl.

This is one of the happier days of my life.  I don’t have to be angry at women for complaining about men.  Ever again.

At long last, I’m free – and that’s a good thing for women everywhere, because so are they.  They’re free of my retaliatory anger.

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14 Comments

  1. Jean says:

    My partner, a guy doesn’t complain about other guys who like to beat the ass of other riders. And it’s not even a race. He’s just bemused some people have such egos but credits whoever passes him.

    The truth is that if I cycled with a group a lot of the time for fitness, I would feel constrained and constantly benchmark myself against others. No interest since for me to stay cycling is to first enjoy it and enjoy challenging myself. It works for me because I’ve been cycling for past 25 yrs. Just right now I’m recovering from a head injury after another cyclist crashed into me.

    So my advice: if you do get impatient with whiners, reconsider advising them that they learn some good challenging routes and ride solo against their own clock.

    It’s important not to judge other cyclists by how much you can beat them or they can beat you: it’s happened where my partner was cycling along (with loaded panniers on a trip), already clocked in over 100 km. while another guy all kitted up in better cycling gear, thought he was victorious passing my partner. The kitted out cyclist had only cycled 50 km. so far on their $4,000 bike with no pannier weight.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I’m with you. Cycling is replete with jerks, whether it be whiners or arrogant dopes. Funny thing, in my case, is that even the best and fastest among us care about the least of us. They won’t wait around, but they’re cool to everybody (except the couple of dangerous guys that come and go). Thanks for commenting.

  2. elisariva says:

    Self awareness is key as so few people – women and men – have it. I enjoy cycling. I am significantly slower than my friends. One of my girlfriends usually drops most of the guys. We enjoy social time after riding. I know my abilities and do not expect a group of 20-24 mph cyclist riding a 30 mile course with at least 1500 feet in elevation gain to wait for me. I adjust – I start earlier and ride a modified route. We finish at the same time and then the real fun begins with dinner and good discussion of the ride. No one should ever play the “card”. Be it chic card, injury card, or bad day card. It is what it is. A common acronym among cyclist in my area – HTFU. 😉

  3. I primarily ride alone but when I do ride in a group it’s with the guys who own the bike shop I patron, I keep up in the flats but usually get dropped on the climbs they are cool enough to let me catch up, they are some of the coolest guys I’ve ridden with, no attitudes which is the reason why I do all my business with them

  4. Dan In Iowa says:

    My cousin rides group rides in her town. They will announce through emails the type of ride speed, but it’s called a no drop ride. The problem is that they drop everyone that can’t keep up. So stop calling it a no drop ride. In a sense, Jim, you’re saying the same thing. Communicate and be honest and let’s ride! Sounds like a very cool group you ride with. Respect is the key.

    • bgddyjim says:

      The ride I participate in is the advanced ride. It is a drop ride and is listed as such on the club webpage. We do have a group of slower cyclists that ride no-drop, about 15-16 mph.

      We run into problems when people show up expecting no-drop and they get “good luck”. This is why I only participate mainly “invite only” rides (except for Tuesday night). We pick and choose who will be riding so we know, one way or another, we’re getting a good ride in. This is like what your cousin is facing (without the invite part). It sounds like “no-drop as long as you can maintain ‘X’ pace”.

      I trained to ride just below the group’s pace before I ever went out there so I knew I’d be close… Never anticipated breaking 28 mph though. That was a shock and a half!

      You’re absolutely right too – respect is the key.

  5. Runbug Jones says:

    I disagree that the second link is a complaint piece, or, at least, that it’s complaining about the things you’re responding to here. To my mind, it’s a legitimate thing to say, “hey, stop treating me like I am this kind of customer when I am actually a different kind of customer”. This should be a marketing professional’s dream: someone who wants to buy what you’re selling, and is giving you direction in terms of what messages aren’t working.

    My husband would be *thrilled* with that kind of feedback 😉 “Yes, I’m happy you took the garbage out. I’d be even *happier* if you put a new bag in the can when you got back.”

    • bgddyjim says:

      I understand what you’re saying but there’s a problem. She wants to be treated the same as most guys want to be treated: Don’t condescend, I’m a real cyclist – in lieu of the “pink it and shrink it” mentality the direction most shops and manufacturers take women’s cycling (because that sells – remember the popularity of pink last year?). Specialized tries well at mixing the two btw (a friend of mine has an awesome Amira and I bought my wife a smokin’ Alias). She didn’t want to buy what they were selling though, she wants products to look the way she wants, no?

      I viewed it as a complaint piece because she wanted the industry to cater to her desires while catering to the others as well. It becomes too much of a moving target.

      She wanted great bikes with good components without pinking them out, right? My local shop has had a top-end Trek mountain bike, dual suspension – exactly what that woman wanted, marked $1,200 OFF for two years and it’s still sitting there. High-End women’s non-pink stuff doesn’t sell… It’s special order. The shops require of women, and all men as well, to walk into the shop and say, “I want a race bike that has this, this and this and comes in this color”. The color being the easiest. If my shop can’t get it, they’ll paint it. 😉 What she’s asking for is a logistical nightmare. HOWEVER, recent analysis has shown that shops with a women’s-specific section attract more women so shops are scrambling to rework the inside of the shop with that in mind, to attract women. Look for it at your local shop.

      I always put a new bag in the can. Always.

      • Runbug Jones says:

        “I viewed it as a complaint piece because she wanted the industry to cater to her desires while catering to the others as well. It becomes too much of a moving target.”

        I would argue everyone wants that. And, coming from a marketing-ish sort of day job, that’s the dream. To be able to talk to those niche markets in the way they want to be spoken to. Companies diversify messages, marketing, and products for different segments all the time. Liv sells Avail to one market, Envie to another.

        Now, of course, I agree that not all parts of the market are equally viable. It could be the high-end women’s bike market doesn’t have enough support to make it worth a manufacturer’s time. However, I would argue that the smarter players in the industry will find a way to appeal to that underserved corner of the market while still maintaining the bottom line.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Fair enough. We’ve also come up with two excellent examples of the system working in two comments. Specialized and Liv.

      • bgddyjim says:

        I read the piece again and I was all set to admit that you were right and I read too much into the article… I wanted to see where you’re coming from. And for the most part, you do make very valid points so I appreciate you sticking with me.

        The last two paragraphs though:

        “Some women do ride for friendship and companionship. Some women do find bike shops and group rides intimidating. That is their truth and completely valid. But some women don’t, and they also have a point of view and experience that is unique to that of their peers.

        Please cycling industry, do not let the wonderful, colorful world of women’s cycling be diluted down to one oft repeated story or archetype. In doing so, you forget about those of us who caught your attention in the first place.”

        You’re the marketing woman, think of me as the implementation guy. We can talk about it, but let’s implement it!

        Here, let’s make this interesting while we’re at it: most people, either gender, who walk into a bike shop know absolutely bupkis about bikes. At an implementation level, you get the archetype. For men, it’s someone who rides a road bike in an upright position, who knows nothing about bikes and wants comfort over speed. This is the archetype male cyclist. This is how I was treated when I walked in the shop. I took the bike I was given, in that goofy, upright position, and I went to work. I slammed the stem, put a more aggressive saddle on it and cleaned it up A LOT. I spoke with the shop owner a lot about setup over the next year, so when I went to the shop looking at a new Venge, I didn’t have to push for an aggressive setup – he KNEW what I wanted. I have my race bike and I love everything about it.

        See, most guys aren’t looking to ride like I do, not at my age. They’re looking to put some miles in, maybe lose a little of the donut shop gut, etc. I want to be an avid enthusiast. Just took a minute to get everyone up to speed with me.

        With my experience mimicking the authors, surely I’ve demonstrated as common sense that this “selling to the archetype” isn’t a male or female thing, it’s a human thing.

        Now, when I walk into a new bike shop, what do you think I am treated like? I still get the archetype. It’s on me to say, “Hey, speed up the roll buddy, I’m a real cyclist. I know what I want, now you figure out how to get it on my bike.

        This is what the author of that article is missing. The responsibility for how she is treated is on her, not the shop, because she is a real cyclist and wants to be treated like one. Make sense?

        I know this point is getting its own post. I see your points and again, I appreciate the time you took to help me get there. Thank you.

  6. Sheree says:

    Getting dropped – par for the course where I live and no one ever waits, not at my club. One of these days………………..

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