Every Ride Could Make THE Difference

The group riding… without you.

Everyone remembers their first group ride. For some, it’s a make-or-break moment in their cycling experience. Most of us saw the group disappear over the horizon as we heaved, gasped for air, right as our legs cracked. To make matters worse, we weren’t familiar with the area, so it was going to be a long ride home or an embarrassing call to a friend. The unlucky ones said “This stinks”, “This isn’t for me”, “I’m going to ride by myself now”, or “I’m embarrassed” and the group just lost a potential new rider to help pull during a ride. The lucky ones had at least one rider that would either fall back to help or was jumping for joy that someone dropped before them. Those were the rides where we would make new riding buddies. No egos, just two riders thankful to have someone to share the pain and momentary feelings of defeat with. That ride made a difference.

I was inspired to write about this from a group ride a few weeks ago.

Every city and town that has a bike shop has an opportunity to grow a huge posse of cyclists. Granted, it’s easier for some than others. For us in Jacksonville, NC, it can be a little frustrating at times because we live in a military town. Our servicemen and women are always on the move. As soon as we get a big core group of riders, some are deployed elsewhere. This makes cultivating our community very difficult. It makes every ride in which a new rider shows up that much more critical. Every new rider can make a difference in ANY city or town.

Our area can still be a prime cyclist and triathlete locale. However, there needs to be a buzz about the rides.

With buzz, comes interest, with interest grows excitement, excitement lures action, action brings new curious group riders, and those new potential group riders have friends.

Promoting a buzz is huge. Once people are talking (or boasting) about the group rides, how relaxing it is, how fast they went, how sweet their bike is, and/or how friendly the other riders are, word spreads. You can Tweet, Facebook, Foursquare, Craigsist Missed Connections, or advertise all you want, but word-of-mouth is still the best way to grow.

I lead a group ride every Saturday. During the winter months, it’s typically a core group of riders that show up. Occasionally, we have a new rider show up. This one Saturday we had two. Neither had ever ridden with a group before, which can be intimidating. The first part of the ride was fine, but the inexperience and fatigue of one of the riders began to show through. As the rest of the group continued on, I slowed down and rode with him. This was an opportunity to make the difference.

For the rest of the ride, we were going no more than 12-14mph, but it didn’t matter.

The ride wasn’t about me. My “training time” was not being ill-used. I have aspirations to be a part of something bigger than myself and I see the larger picture.

The new rider and I did the typical small talk about what we did, riding experience, where we’re from, etc. A little over halfway through the ride, he said that this was the farthest he’d ever ridden and that he would have become lost if I hadn’t fallen back. He was setting his personal best. He told me he had given up smoking after two decades about five months ago. That’s fantastic. When we got back to the parking lot at the conclusion of our ride, he had a look of exhaustion on his face, but he also had a shy grin. He shook my hand and seemed motivated to start riding more.

A lot of veteran cyclists seem to have forgotten how difficult some group rides were when they started. Undertaking a group ride is a big deal.

You have to make the effort to come out, go way outside your comfort zone, hope your fitness is adequate, and take a risk. You don’t get better riding by yourself all the time.

Especially if they have to deal with riders like this, “Sh*t Cyclists Say” video.

The other new rider that showed up hung in with the group, but when he pulled into the lot he was dead. He even said it. The sprint near the end of the ride just about killed him, but he wasn’t ashamed. He had a huge smile on his face which said it all.

This is what’s sensational about cycling. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been “owned” on the bike, but we somehow come back willingly for more.

He was excited. One of his goals was losing weight and he was stoked that there was a group of guys and girls to ride with for support. We are a support system. Living in our area, as “civilians”, we can only hope to motivate military cyclists to come off base and ride with us and further excite locals to experience the joy of riding. Seeds planted.

Riding in a group

It's okay to look back

Now, I don’t believe you should do this every ride for the same rider. That’s not fair to you. Once you’ve shown them the ropes and they know that they’re welcome and accepted, it is up to them to improve. You have ignited the fire. You’re the carrot, they’re the horse. Thus, when the day comes that they complete the entire ride with the group, take some satisfaction in knowing you helped add one more rider to the cycling “Greek” life and made a difference in someone’s cycling experience.

The next time you’re at a group ride (especially in the winter and early spring months) and see a new rider show up, look at the bigger picture. If you see them get dropped, try to help them out a little bit. It will make all the difference if they have someone there for support. Your training won’t be derailed from one ride.

Make them one of the lucky ones.


Thoughts? Comments? Success stories?
Have you ever been on either side of the equation? What did you do?