Cycling in a bunch is hard, but as fun goes it is without equal in fitness sports. Once a person learns how to ride, and finds a group that fits their fitness and pace, I know of no more enjoyable way to get some exercise in – especially for those in the second half of their life. Cycling has it all; endless toys, simple mechanical maintenance, items to nitpick, computers, color schemes – one can play as much or as little as one likes. Group cycling is one of the, if not the, most social fitness activity(ies) there is.
- If you’re new to cycling in a group, pay attention FIRST. Many in the group will likely be socializing. Don’t worry about how they do that quite yet, you’ll get there soon enough. Let’s concentrate on not crashing first.
- Don’t ever stop pedaling at the front unless you signal a slowdown first. You will hurt people if you do.
- Do you remember President Obama talking about bringing a gun to a knife fight? June 14, 2008. Anyway, don’t bring a bb-gun to a bazooka fight. Don’t show up to the A Group club ride on a 7-sp. down tube shifting steel bike unless you’re Peter Sagan strong. Those old bikes were great in their operation in their time, but there’s a reason everyone in the group has integrated shifters/brake levers. They’re the second best thing in cycling next to clipless pedals (clipless means pedals without toe clips… they are, ironically, the pedals you clip into).
- While we’re talking about clipless pedals, refer back to that bb-gun/bazooka fight comment again. If you’re going to hang with the 15-mph average group, you can get away plain-old platform pedals. Add some legit toe clips to those platform pedals (not the cheap ones) and you can hang. Riding with platform pedals, it’s not so easy with the faster groups. I tried it. Once. It didn’t go well. The trick is keeping your feet in the proper location on the pedals when you’re turning them over at 90 rpm. It’s simply a mess.
- At first, you’ll be focused on the wheel in front of you – the first time someone gets out of the saddle (and every time after that for the next four years), you’ll have a mini-heart attack. That’s normal. Eventually you’ll learn how everyone in the group acts and you’ll be able to predict when things like that will happen.
- You’ll also learn to look ahead, to the front of the group, rather than focus on the wheel/rider in front of you. Don’t push that ability too early, but definitely work towards it. As you ride with people more, your spacial recognition will improve to a point where you feel respectfully comfortable around others.
- Don’t ever become complacent, arrogant, cocksure, etcetera, etcetera, etc.
- Be nice. Don’t look at what the group can give you, look at what you can give the group. At first, that won’t be much, but that’ll change as you’re accepted into the fold. If you aren’t accepted, it’s you. Not them. New members are the lifeblood of cycling groups and clubs. We love new people. We want you to be there. Unless you’re a jerk.
- Going back to the beginning, in that opening paragraph – the second sentence, to be specific – I wrote “once a person learns how to ride”. Learning to ride is the single most important puzzle piece to riding in a group. It is helpful to be able to ride in a straight line and keep your speed consistent before you show up for the group ride.
- Be happy. Cycling, once you get the feel of a group, will be a source of great joy. You will likely find that there is no greater pleasure in life, done with one’s clothes on, that riding with a group of close friends on a road trip. Life is complex and hard. When you’re on a bike it’s time to let all of that shit go for a while. Your problems will be there after the ride. Just let them go for a bit.
And finally, a bonus tip: Life is short. Bikes are cool. Ride ’em.