It had been 30 years since I pedaled a bicycle with any purpose in mind when I purchased a beat up Huffy mountain bike at a garage sale for $20 so I could ride it in a triathlon.
To say I didn’t know my ass from a hole in the ground when it came to cycling back then would be an understatement.
After my very first ride to our running club, just 10-1/2 miles from my house, one of the guys who did know a lot about mountain biking asked, “You rode that… All the way here?!”
I responded, “Yeah, I’m gonna train for a triathlon on it”.
Long conversation short, after an uncomfortable silence, he offered to sell me his backup, backup bike (that’s not a type-o). He said it would fit me a lot better. I didn’t know that bikes were supposed to “fit” the rider.
He was right. It did and my life changed immediately, I hope, forever.
Six years later, I still have that bike. It’s my backup, backup, backup bike. The one I set up for my daughter’s friends if they want to ride or the one I choose if the back roads are too muddy for my good mountain bike. It rides and operates better than the day I bought it from my friend. Within days of first riding that Trek mountain bike, my friend’s backup to his backup bike, I went from riding for fitness to performing a physical activity for fun.
Everything I’ve done to get faster, everything I’ve done to get leaner, everything I’ve done to get stronger, every bike I’ve bought (including those for my wife and kids), every cycling trip I’ve gone on, has been to further the enjoyment of cycling – and it worked.
Cycling, on whatever fitness level it’s embraced, be it anything from Sunday morning coffee trips to race training, is one of the more social fitness activities. Friends riding together is safer (at least as far as traffic interaction goes), and vastly more enjoyable if one can find a good group to fit into. This is the key, though it isn’t as daunting a task as many might assume.
My first two years, give or take a few months, were ridden almost entirely solo. The owner of our local shop invited me to ride with the Tuesday night group, comprised of a fair mix of categorized racers and advanced joy riders. It took almost a full year of Tuesday nights before I began catching invites to weekend rides and special road trips.
I enjoyed every one of those first year rides but my enjoyment level (and my mileage) went through the roof once I started riding regularly with the people who are now among my very best of friends.
The trick is the “how” of finding the best group for you. A few things to keep in mind:
- Know your average speed/pace, and don’t over exaggerate… If you can ride 25 miles in an hour and fifteen minutes, that’s 20 mph. You’ll have to ride between 22&25 mph to get that. Go with the average.
- Use a cycling computer. Any cheap cycling computer will do as long as it gives an accurate current speed. This will help you maintain the correct pace when you’re at the front.
- Stow your ego and knowledge of how awesome you are as well as your expert knowledge of bicycles. You can be an absolute horse, but if you’re no fun to ride with….
- Show some give-a-$#!+ for the others in the group. If I’m feeling like I want to be the center of attention, this is my cue to shut up and pedal harder. It works wonders, closing the mouth unless I’m laughing at someone else’s joke.
- Leave the whining at home.
- Learn to ride well first! Learning to ride in a group is hard enough when one can ride in a straight line.
With those out of the way, it’s time to find a group. The first place to start is Google. Search for local bike clubs and contact one or two. The second place, if that’s fruitless, is the local bike shops. The people who work there will be dialed into the club scene. Armed with the information above, the folks at the shop can match you with a group that’ll be a good match for your level of fitness.
Once you’ve got your group, all that’s left is to show up and be friendly.
Imagine your current way of trying to stay fit… say it’s going to the gym, but that’s getting old, kind of like that old Dunkin Donuts “time to make the donuts” commercial. If that’s how you look at fitness and exercise, imagine waking up on a Sunday morning, excited that you’ll be hanging out with ten other people who are just as excited to be out riding, just to feel the wind in your face as you rocket down the road to wherever lunch is going to be so you can all sit around a table and talk about how much fun you just had (and plan the next ride). This is cycling, and it’s why those of us who love it so much, do.
Oh yeah, and spending money on a cool ride is freaking at least half the fun!
And you’ll have a solid excuse to spend that money too: Riding a fantastic bike costs less than open heart surgery, by about 20-ish times.