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A Reasoned Look at Why Cycling Clubs Shouldn’t Rely On the Fast Members to Show Slower New Riders the Ropes.


I have to be a little careful how I broach this subject, but it’s an important one that just popped up in the real world so I just thought I’d write about my experience so that I might help others avoid a pitfall or two.

A few Tuesday nights ago we had about twelve B riders and a tandem and maybe eight A riders show up for a group ride (actually, I think they’re calling us the A & A- Groups now) for what used to be a club ride.  The club has decided not to sanction rides for the time being, so people are simply showing up to ride.  We had one, lone D rider show up that night and as I wrote in my post about it, I gave up my ride with the A- Group and showed him around the course.  He struggled mightily to stay in my draft while I was sitting up pedaling easy, my hands on the bar tops into a 15-mph headwind.  He dropped several times and I’d look back to see him 200 yards off my wheel so I’d have to wait till he caught up…

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Another club member, after I put out a group-wide ABP for C, D, & E riders, sarcastically (and quite ignorantly and shittily, I might add) pointed out that we A & B riders should happily drop our ride to show these slower riders around until more of the C, D, & E group riders decide to show up.

Ah, that Kumbaya world where cats and rats play together in harmony.  It’d be great, wouldn’t it?  Except that shit never actually works.

Here’s what really happens when that is tried.

A guy like me sacrifices his fastest, favorite ride of the week to show the newcomer the ropes.  Said newcomer struggles to keep up with what is an easy, even boring pace for the seasoned A/B rider.  The new rider becomes disheartened when they struggle while they’re watching said A/B rider glide along without a care in the world on the bar tops and into the wind whilst newcomer is down in the drops, pushing with all their might, with their tongue dangling precariously close to their spokes.

Said newcomer will rarely come back because they can’t relate to anyone.  Worse, they won’t be able to see a clear path to get from where they’re at to where the faster rider is at so they can ride with actual people.   Who wants to feel like their best effort isn’t close to good enough every time they show up?  Who wants to ride regularly with a group vastly faster than their best effort can hope to keep up with?

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Only your true cycling nuts will put up with that for any length of time.  That’d be me, and I’m telling you now, I’m few and far between.

Where this goes haywire is when slower riders mistakenly believe faster riders, in order to shepherd along slower riders, have a dial that they can simply turn to slow that pace down.  That’s not quite how it works.

In order to get my wife into cycling and into good enough shape to ride with my friends, I’d go out for a 40 to 65-mile ride with my friends.  When I got home, my wife would suit up and we’d ride together for another 20-30 more miles.  I was already smoked so I couldn’t have torn off all over God’s green earth if I wanted to.  My wife was able to build her fitness up to a point where now she can keep up with my friends and I.  The key was getting me to a point I was too tired to get antsy about the slow pace… and I am married to the woman I did that for.

The whole point is this:  Slow people mistakenly think fast people should be able to ride with slower folk but the reality is, we can’t.  Or I should say, we can’t anymore than those same slower folk can lead out the A Group.  I’d buy tickets to see the attempt.  Sure, every now and again we can throw out a nice recovery ride pace.  My easiest active recovery ride, or should I say my slowest, this year is 16.5-mph.  That’s faster than many cyclists’ best effort.

Over time, slower cyclists can gain considerable speed with some effort and a lot of want to… but in a day you can’t make a Thoroughbred stallion trot anymore than you can make a Tennessee Walking Horse a racer.

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UPDATE:  You might view my points in this post as “arrogant”.  If you scroll down to the comments section, you’ll see a friend of mine suggested exactly that – and you would have a point.  On the other hand, consider that it’s far more arrogant to expect others to give up their evening ride to cover for you… just sayin’ – that arrogant charge is commonly used one way, but I won’t accept the premise of that argument.


4 Comments

  1. unironedman says:

    That might sound a tad arrogant but you speak the truth. I wouldn’t want to go out with a runner who can trot out 4 minute kilometres and expect to keep up. I’m ruining their run, and mine into the bargain. You need to build these things at your own pace, and not undermine your confidence. There’ll always be someone faster than you. Aspire, perspire, but don’t expire!

    • bgddyjim says:

      And that’s the trick in navigating that subject, isn’t it? The fun part is, it’s just as arrogant to expect the fast people to bail on their ride… but that side usually tries to hide behind their victim card. Heh.

  2. If it’s a no drop ride, then you keep everyone together of course. But a fast drop ride? You can’t expect anyone in the A/B chain gang to give up their fast ride and shepherd a D group noob around. It may sound harsh and arrogant, but in my opinion it’s just realist. You didn’t get the ride you wanted/expected because of him. Kudos to you for doing it though!

    It’d be like me showing up to an NFL game and expecting the big guys to go easy on me. 😉

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