Bike Culture 3 | Group Rides


I find it amusing, but at the same time disheartening, that so many of us carry such weight in our sense of self-consciousness. We are never comfortable being the weak link in a situation, be it while we’re sitting in a meeting at work with little to contribute, or being dropped by the peloton in a group road ride. Watch yourself the next time you’re in an unfamiliar situation with people you don’t know, and there’s even the slightest possibility of competition or judgment. Do you preface the event before it even starts with how weak you will be? With pre-emptive apologies for slowing the group down even before the rubber has hit the pavement? I bet a lot of you do, and I wonder why?

Tonight I joined the group ride offered by the Rundle Mountain Cycling Club (RMCC) at the Canmore Nordic Centre (this isn’t the only place I ride, I swear!). Proposed as a beginner/intermediate group ride it’s sensible, even in the face of RMCC’s reputation for racing and tough, fast rides, for stronger riders to arrive with the expectation of slowly tooling about our beloved trails, lazily taking in the forested mountainscapes, looking for new lines you wouldn’t normally see on a pace run, and seeing the wildlife you usually tear past. It’s also a great opportunity to meet other riders and people you would normally only give a nod to while crossing paths on your bikes, while actually riding at a pace that welcomes conversation.

When I rolled up to the group tonight there was an immediate distinction, and my first thought was to just keep riding by and into the night on my own. My tight, Lycra race kit could have only been in greater contrast to the attire of everyone else had they shown up naked. Baggy shorts. Baggy jerseys. Tall socks (Hell, I wasn’t even wearing socks!). After quick introductions by the group leader Alan, the only real stranger of the group, a slight woman from New York named Ellie- think New York City, not the pretty rural parts with dairy farms and pasture – looked at me without reservation and said, “I’m afraid of this guy! He looks like he can climb up 90 degrees!” She is somewhat out of her element but obviously not shy. We all laugh and I make excuses about the heat and not wanting to wear over shorts, and then I think I change the subject and eventually we’re off to ride. I deliberately take up the rear of the pack. I might look like a racer, but it’s generally because I get good pricing from John at Trail Sports. I’m kind of married into the family you know, like the mafia, so they take care of me. But I digress.

On our first climb up toward the Coal Road, Ellie is suffering, but I continue to spin in granny gear well behind her so she doesn’t feel any more pressure than what I know she’s already dealing with. She’s apologetic the whole way, and when she catches up to the group after taking a break she exclaims how out of shape she is, how everyone in Canada is so fit, how we’re all so sweet for waiting for her. I’m not exactly sure how to respond to that myself, but we assure her that the ride is all about being casual. We’re taking our time, showing a traveler our local trails and scenery, and hopefully conveying our love for the sport and the place. We tell her that if anyone of us had wanted a harder ride today we would have gone out on our own. Sometimes, it’s just nice to be out on your bike spinning away without too much effort. It’s just nice to be outside. But these things are hard to get understood by a person who is out of the element and out of breath, while the rest of us stand around chewing the fat.

So the ride continues and finishes like this, a wide dynamic of personalities, skill and fitness levels, and benefit from riding with the group. Myself, not being in the hot seat, I was perfectly comfortable the entire evening. I have a new bike and had the opportunity to tweak the suspension a bit. I was neither leading nor falling behind, so I contentedly spun my merry way dropping to the back of the group, sometimes taking the lead, sometimes stopping to wait for others to catch up hoping they weren’t feeling badly about making others miss out on riding. This is what we were there for.

The point of all of this I’ve already stated, and I still find it confusing. Is it human nature to feel poorly about ourselves when we don’t make the grade set by others, when we don’t match up? Nobody likes to come in last place, but someone has to. Are we so conditioned against losing that we wear this albatross our entire lives? How far does it permeate throughout our day to day behaviour and relationships with others?

Let’s all do ourselves a favour. The next time you show up for a group ride introduce yourself, make idle chit chat, find out where the others are from. Discover something interesting about their lives. Try not to meet people by making excuses or pre-empting what you expect will be a poor performance compared to some external standard. Celebrate the fact that you have the freedom to go ride your bike for pleasure, that you’ve come out of your comfort zone and put yourself into a situation out of which only good things can came if allow them to. Work as hard as you can or want to.

And then just go ride your bike.


Read previous bike culture articles:
Bike Culture | Hey Canmore, Show us your goods
Bike Culture 2 | The Single Track Commute



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