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.