My friend, Brian Mason, is a Menlo Park local and a strong rider. He recently left the following comment on The Art of the Group Ride’s Facebook Fan Page:
Brian: “Interesting blog. I do struggle with group rides appearing elitist as everyone is obsessed with their fancy bike and how fast they can ride. I like doing 4-8 person group rides with friends.”
First off, thanks for the comment, Brian. I appreciate your interest and understand your struggle. This is a completely reasonable observation. Regulars on a Group Ride tend to be the most devoted (and obsessed) riders in any cycling community, often spending large sums of money on bikes and related gear, and have experienced the many benefits of riding with strong cyclists over a period of many years. And sometimes, people are pretentious with the possessions and talents they have. The truth is, some people can come off as pretentious wherever they find themselves in any walk of life. How many times have you seen someone overcompensate for some deep-rooted insecurity by flaunting a fancy car or boasting about an accomplishment? It happens everywhere and it can happen in a Group Ride.
True talent isn’t arrogant and doesn’t need to broadcast itself. It just is.
That being said, in all the Group Rides I’ve participated in over the years, the vast majority of folks are out there to have a good time, improve their fitness, and even become a better bike rider. I refer to some of these benefits in Why You Should Do Group Rides. They may have the hottest new bike, matching team kit, and legs like Chris Hoy but they’re regular people that just love to ride. To be honest, the few truly pretentious riders I’ve come across are also pretentious off the bike. And they were not the strongest riders. The strongest, fittest, most accomplished riders I’ve ever ridden with are also some of the most humble people, on and off the bike, that I’ve ever met. True talent isn’t arrogant and doesn’t need to broadcast itself. It just is. This is part of what cyclists refer to as “class.” Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) said it in American Gangster, “The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.”
I remember my first Group Ride – I was intimidated and overwhelmed. It seemed like everyone had a nice bike, or at least nicer than mine. To me, it felt like recess when I arrived at a new school in junior high. I felt judged but later realized that nothing of the sort was going on. This is a universal human experience whenever we show up to a new scene, whether it’s a new school, a new job, or a new neighborhood. On a Group Ride, these feelings are compounded - sometimes there’s an overdose of testosterone and adrenalin because there’s a large part of cycling that’s also competitive sport. But I got involved with friends who were at a similar level to mine. We got dropped together. We got coffee after and laughed at how each week we were hanging on just a little bit longer. We began to recognize and eschew those few pretentious riders and became friends with the rest. It’s the unknown that’s intimidating – once something or someone becomes known, it becomes familiar. Familiarity breeds fraternity.
Here are some words that played a role in leading me to attempt the unknown as I was trying to become a better rider: ”If you want to get fast, you have to go where the fast riders are (Steve Larsen),” and ”It’s hard to measure yourself if nobody is challenging you (John Tomac).” Legends and wise words. When I moved to a new town, I had to ask myself, “Do I want to continue to improve?” If so, I need to find out where the fastest riders are and go ride with them as often as I can. There’s definitely been a learning curve (future post: The Many Creative Ways I Get Dropped). I am still an extremely amateur cyclist but slowly, steadily over time I’ve seen improvement. Then Greg Lemond’s commentary on the growth process kicks in: “It never really gets easier, you just get stronger.”
Brian, I would encourage you and your 4-8 buddies to try a Group Ride together sometime, even just jumping in for part of it then peeling off. It can be Both/And, not Either/Or. Of course, Group Rides don’t have to be the only riding you do but they will definitely challenge, motivate, and stretch you as a rider! You will get better, no doubt about it.
Thanks for your comment, Brian – If you do try a Group Ride, I’d love to hear about your experience!