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The Guide to Club Cycling: How I Found the Right Group to Ride With.


This post is dedicated to my friend Sue who commented on a previous post and gave me the inspiration for this one.  Thanks Sue.

First things first… there are no rules in this post, just suggestions.  Of course, some of the suggestions apply in the same manner it’s suggested one wear a parachute when one jumps out of a perfectly good airplane.  But let’s not quibble, eh?

There are three ways to find a good group to ride with:

1.  Chance, or dumb luck.
2.  Safe and Slow
3.  All Balls No Brains (this does not assume the need to have a set)

Chance takes forever unless God is in a good mood and bored so let’s skip that one.  Anyone who rides with me (and isn’t a cat 3 or better racer) knows there isn’t much slow in me.  Plenty of safe, or relatively so as far as “hair on fire” fast is concerned, but I hate slow.  Remember Beavis and Butthead?  Well, I’m Butthe- Dammit.  Let’s go at this another way.  FIRE!  Heh – heh.

I applied number three.  Fully.  This doesn’t mean I didn’t do my homework, I did.  Diligently, but I went big, with the fastest group in the three surrounding counties.

Insert little squiggly lines like they show the memory fading back in the movies….

I first walked into Assenmacher’s Bicycle Center to ask the owner if he was related to the “Mr. Assenmacher who taught gym [25 miles south of us]”.  It turned out they were.  Mr. Oz was Matt’s brother.  I had been cycling for all of one full season when waltzed in with my Cannondale SR-400…

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…Matt looks at me and says, “Is that your bike?”

I replied, “Yes it is”, with a wide grin on my face – I knew it was old-school and very cool.

He said, “That’s way too small for you, you need a bigger bike.”

I explained that this was the best I could do on my budget and added that it was advertised as a 56 cm frame which was at the low end of my 6’0″ frame but should work according to the online bike calculator.

He pulled out his handy-dandy metric tape measure and promptly showed me the 54 cm that he’d pulled off the seat tube measurement.

He asked if I could afford $750 and I said that if I could save up for a couple of months, absolutely. He offered me a used Trek 5200, a carbon fiber frame with all of the bells and whistles (no bell actually, it’s a race bike). And thus our friendship began.

On my way out the door he asked how fast I could ride that Cannondale. I told him I could hold a 20 mph average over about 20 miles depending on traffic and how well I timed the lights. He offered that when I was comfortable, I should ride with the advanced group on Tuesday nights and he kept after me too, for the next several months.

The next spring, after quite a few miles on my 5200, I showed up for my first club ride with the hammers. I didn’t know the route (in fact I’d never been through any of the towns we ride through in my car). The only person I knew was Matt… Thirty minutes before the ride started only one other guy and I were in the parking lot and he rides up to me and says, “I hate cycling. Running’s so much more sociable and these guys jerks. They never wait for anyone. You’d think one of them would at least wait for slower people like we do in running.”

That $#!+ right there can really shake a normal fella who had absolutely no idea where he was about to be going. I’m not one of those.  Fortunately I knew going in; it’s my job to keep up, not their job to wait for me.  If I wanted a nice relaxing environment I’d have joined a knitting club***.  I also didn’t remember running the way he did but that’s a longer story…

I dug my heels in. And was dropped like a dirty shirt eight miles into the ride when the lead guys took us up to 28 mph but I made sure I wasn’t the first. The other guy didn’t make it the first mile. He never came back, I was hooked. Like a fiend.

I ended up reeling in a guy who dropped about a half-mile after I did and we rode back the whole way together. His name was Phill and he became one of my BCB’s (Best Cycling Buds). I rode with Phill every Tuesday for the next few months. Then we started picking up other guys. Then I got faster and for a while I’d end up riding the last ten or so miles back by myself. I kept coming back though. Every week.

The next season was when the magic happened for me. I started catching invites to ride with some of the guys in the group on the weekends. Then came invites to ride supported rides. Last year was road trips, down to Kentucky, up to Boyne City then Lansing to Mackinaw.

We’ve got a virtually inseparable group now. We ride everywhere together, especially Mike and me.

Look, I won’t try to pretty this up. I was lonely that first year with the club but it beat riding alone all of the time so I stuck with it until I figured out where I fit. Now that I know where that is, I do my best to be a valuable part of my gang and that ensures the invites keep coming.

There are no hard and fast “how to’s” when it comes to finding the right group, I don’t even know if there happens to be a right or wrong way to go about it…  I can suggest the following:  Don’t exaggerate how fast you are (lest you get left in the dust), talk with the people who run your local club(s), talk with the folks at your local shop (all of whom are always looking for good people to add to the ranks) and ask lots of questions… and number one (this is that parachute suggestion): Don’t be a d***. Or a b****. Or a whiner.  Oh, and bring a phone with a GPS maps app so you can find your way back if you get lost.

Cycling with a club will be what you make of it.  If you expect to get a lot out of it with little effort put into it, chances are you will be disappointed.  If you look at what you can bring to the group rather than what you get out of it, you’re likely to find what I did.  Cycling with friends is about as good as it gets.

***MJ Ray pointed out in the comments section below a flaw in my comment about knitting clubs.  My comment could be mistaken to pertain to slower rides and it was not intended as such.  Some folks just don’t want to ride as fast as others.  I suggest that there is almost certainly a group for every type of cyclist – I just happen to be of the faster variety.  This is why I included in my suggestions to be honest about how fast you are.  When we let others know, honestly, where we’re at with our speed, the experienced members can help the new folks find the group that would best suit their cycling style.  The main gist is this:  Find the group you can keep pace with, then find people you can be friendly with in it.  I have no opinion on who should ride how fast.  The only problem I have is when new folks try to hold a faster group (or a member of that group) hostage to their lack of speed because they don’t want to ride fast.

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13 Comments

  1. tamsynsmith says:

    Great post! I’m still searching for the elusive perfect cycle buddies. My friend runs a casual cycling group and I know their pace would be perfect for me (a stretch, but not too much of a stretch to make me feel despondent), but the times of their ride don’t fit with my life right now. I’m working on making it happen, but until then I’ll work on getting faster.

    • bgddyjim says:

      That’s a really important trick, making the timing work. Good luck!

    • MJ Ray says:

      Have you told them and asked (politely) if they’d consider occasional additional rides at other times? The Freewheelers that I ride with now has some Saturday and Thursday night rides as well as the original Sundays.

      • tamsynsmith says:

        I should do that. The main organiser is a friend of mine who is a professional photographer, so the rides he arranges fit around his working schedule, but I know he wouldn’t mind me asking whether anyone can ride at the times that are convenient for me.

  2. Love your posts. So encouraging.

  3. Sue Slaght says:

    Thanks for the mention and the suggestions Jim. I love the don’t be a whiner, and other assorted things, and don’t exaggerate how fast you are. No problem, just slightly faster than molasses. 🙂

  4. MJ Ray says:

    I’ve reread this a while later and I’m still not happy about the suggestion that relaxing rides like Freewheelers are like “a knitting club”. You like to ride fast and good for you that you found a group that works for you, but please don’t be insulting about other styles.

    Other than that, it seems like a pretty good eyeopener for fast-riding groups. Actually, if more fast groups were this honest about things like “bring a phone with a GPS maps app so you can find your way back if you get lost” instead of saying that everyone will be OK and then forgetting to designate someone as sweeper, there would probably be fewer post-ride recriminations flaming around online!

    So if someone’s reading this and has a problem with attitudes like “it’s my job to keep up, not their job to wait for me” then maybe a fast club isn’t for them… but many others exist: freewheelers, rough stuff, tourers, sportivers, …

    • bgddyjim says:

      If that’s the way my post came off, that’s not the way it was intended. I love a good, easy ride just like anyone else. The knitting club comment wasn’t supposed to be in reference to cycling but I can see why you mistook it that way. I’ll clean up the post because you’re right – find the right group for you and be happy. We, as a group, are very honest about what a noob can expect on their first ride – and depending on how I’m feeling and how fast the ride is, I’ve done my fair share of helping new folks back to the group. Thanks for pointing my clarification error out.

  5. As long as it’s clear to everyone beforehand, there’s nothing wrong with the “not waiting for anyone” ride. They’re great training and have a place in every club. It’s club’s that advertise rides as “no drop” then string out the bunch until people are flung far out the back that give group rides a bad rap.

    Most clubs I’ve encountered are pretty good though and offer friendly rides from 12mph through to 20+mph. There’s groups for everyone out there, the hardest part is finding one to suit.

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