While cycling solo is the norm for many people, there are joys to be had from cycling with a group or hopefully like-minded friends.
The advantages of riding in a group are both functional in terms of safety and having someone close to hand to help you in the event of you getting a mechanical issue, such as a puncture, and morale support when you are not feeling on top form.
Riding with friends is also good for building rapport in terms of gaining bragging rights by sprinting to the village sign or the social competitiveness of having the best time on a Strava segment or grabbing the “King of the Mountain” title on a local hill.
However, for this to be pleasurable, you need to be able to keep up with the group. There is nothing more demoralising than being dropped off the back of the group, especially when it is not even on a hill!
If you are just starting to ride, you will probably want to ride alone until you are confident in your ability to keep up, or at least until you find soul mates of similar cycling ability.
From my experience, seasoned cyclists fall into one of two camps. Those who take great pleasure in dropping people, roll their eyes at your inability to keep their pace, and at any opportunity will give you ‘advice’ such as “It does not get easier, you get faster”, let’s call these the “Quoters”; and those who are happy to embrace the “in-betweener cyclist” and will adjust their riding speed to the slowest rider, let’s call these the “No Droppers”. The good thing is that it is easy to distinguish which type you are cycling with on your first ride….you can then make your decision on which you prefer.
Now, if you are mad keen to improve quickly at any cost, riding with the Quoters will force you outside your comfort zone on each ride, and assuming you can cope with your failure and their smugness, you will improve….albeit with some whimpering in the corner of your bathroom after each hammering, trying to catch your breath and rub whatever you can find into your aching legs. The downside is that you may find yourself to be just that bit slower than the Quoters will tolerate, the ride home will be lonely and soul destroying.
My personal preference is to ride with the “No Droppers”. This type of cyclist typically parks their ego at the start line and will encourage you during the ride, giving you tips along the way on how to improve progressively. The downside is that you may find that you are not being sufficiently stretched to improve and that you will continually feel inferior to those riders who are good enough to wait for you at the top of each hill.
The good news is that there is a third way.
If you are finding yourself as the “Inbetweener”, here at Cycle For Fitness we will help you analyse where you need to focus your attention on improving, and create a training programme that gives you measurable gains, increasing your levels of endurance, making you stronger and more powerful in the climbs.
Our programmes will fast track you to being able to ride with like minded cycling friends, so that you can look forward to your weekend and social rides, rather than dread being the one that everyone has to wait for.
It is not all about training though. The “Inbetweener” needs to know a few rules that can help them adapt to riding with slightly faster cyclists and also become firmly embedded within their social riding group. In no order:
- Know where the ride will start and be there well ahead of time to prepare and compose yourself. If you are late you will already be in a stressed frame of mind and could find yourself off the back of the group very quickly.
- Know the route that has been agreed that day, including the whereabouts of any challenging hills that you may struggle on, and of course where the group stops for coffee (and cake).
- Agree the ground rules for the ride, including average speed expected, whether it is a “no drop” ride, who is leading the ride.
- Do not overtake the group leader unless you are being asked to do your bit on the front. Never half wheel anyone, stay in position, safety is key.
- Never try to make up for being slower on hills by being reckless on descents.
- Chat with people, get to know who you are riding with. After all, that’s part of the fun of it.
- Know how to change a puncture….more often than not, people will jump into help if you are struggling.
- It is best not to wear a Pro Team cycling shirt (on your first few rides with the group)….you are setting yourself up if your riding does not match the jersey.
- Of you are taking food with you, make sure it is easily accessible without having to stop, perhaps a crossbar mounted pouch, or small bag in your jersey stuffed with nuts, dried apricots, Rowntree Randoms …. or whatever your choice. If you take a banana, tear off the end so that you can peel it when riding. Eat often to replenish your energy, you will need it.
- Make sure you are very comfortable being able to drink from your water bottle when riding.
- Know the etiquette of group riding. See my earlier blog for a few hints and tips.
- If you are struggling to keep up, ask someone friendly if you can follow their wheel to help give you a break. They may at some point in the future need the favour returned to hang on to your wheel.
Remember, cycling is for enjoying, health and wellbeing…. Do not put up with Quoters, take the third way, try the above tips; we are your enablers, who knows soon you may be a “No Dropper” yourself.
Now, doesn’t that make sense ?