#bikeschool: Bike Friends
If you read my #bikeschool post from last week you’ll not be surprised to hear that I have not been anywhere near my bike this week and it’s already starting to send me a little bit crazy! I keep seeing guys and gals riding around on all sorts of bikes, not just carbon racers and I think to myself, “I want to be part of that”. I remember that feeling from some years ago when I got my first road bike and hopefully some of these tips will assist you getting out with the local chain gangs in the coming months if you have been holding off riding with others. If you are a regular group rider please do add your own tips and tricks at the bottom in the comments section.
Be not afraid
Firstly let me dispel the greatest of myths that riders who are stronger/more experienced than you will not want to ride with you because you are a ‘rookie’. This is just not true. Of course there are people who may act like this from time to time but that should be attributed to them being a human, rather than a cyclist! As long as you make intelligent and informed decisions you should have no issues with riding in a new group of people and I hope if you are just starting your cycling life or are concerned about riding in a group the following tips and tricks will help. These are not ‘rules’ as such, just helpful hints. There are the well-known Velominati: V Rules but not all of these are truly practical and should be taken in the manner that they were created!
- Find the right ride – Depending on your area there will be a plethora of ways to find group rides of varying length and difficulty for you to join. If you’ve been out on your own you may have spotted a cafe or two or a bike shop that has groups of cyclists chilling out and enjoying a coffee. Actually talking to people (face to face not through Twitter or Facebook!) can give you some of the best answers as to where you should meet and when the rides go out. Local club websites almost always display when and where they ride out from and importantly will often say whether they are ‘no drop’ rides meaning they ride as slow as the slowest rider. These are great rides to start out on.
- Be honest – I fell seriously foul of not being honest with myself and fellow riders years ago when I first starting going out with a local club. If you have never done more than 40 miles in one ride don’t try and kid yourself that a steady 100 mile round trip with one cafe stop is possible right now. Chat to your fellow riders and tell them where you are in your development as a rider, you may be surprised to find others are in a similar position or some may be turning home early due to other commitments. Or they may simply be able to point you in the right direction at a suitable point so you can make a round trip of a sensible distance. Everyone will feel awkward if you plow on well passed your comfort zone and have to be pushed home! (All that being said, don’t ever be afraid to challenge yourself and push the limits in order to improve.)
- All the gear no idea – It’s no secret that cycling can be an expensive past time and you can ‘buy’ speed to a certain degree, but thankfully it still takes a lot of hard work and dedication to be a strong cyclist. Don’t be fooled by some people who appear to look like a Pro cyclist but seem to pedal squares and never take their turn on the front. They probably just have too much money and not enough dedication and are not the sort of riders you want to model yourself on.
- Older & wiser – On the other end of the scale from those above are the riders who have been doing this since before bread came sliced. The French word ‘souplesse’ is a descriptive word to describe the beautiful ease of a perfect pedal stroke honed over time. When you see it you know it and these are the riders you want to emulate. Don’t be afraid to copy everything they do (without getting weird!) as their experience keeps them safe as well as improves their riding. Drink when they drink. Eat when they eat. Follow their lines through the bends. Pace yourself against them. You don’t have Jacques Anquetil to learn from, but you do have Mike, who is a semi-retired accountant and a bloomin’ classy bike rider.
- Baggage – I generally take too much food with me on a ride as you never know when you or someone else is going to have an emergency. But don’t ever expect someone to give you food on a ride just because you haven’t got any. That’s a brilliant way to be ostracised. Take food in whatever form you prefer and take at least one bottle of liquid, again in something you are going to be able to drink. Stick $10/£10 in your pocket too as you never know when you might need it for all manner of things. Other than that, a spare inner tube and a pump (hand or CO2) are ESSENTIAL. Some groups won’t let you ride without a spare tube and pump. Above all you must ensure you are self-sufficient
- Pride in your ride – Take a few moments before you leave the house to check you have no major creaks and bangs (on your bike and yourself!) It’s only polite and respectful that your fellow riders shouldn’t have to hear your clunks and groans all the way around. If you present a slick, professional persona people are more likely to treat you in that way… just don’t push it too far as described above!
- Be active – The best way for you to improve and get stronger is to ride with people who are stronger than you are. Make sure you take your turn at the front and work as an active member of the group. Everyone has a shared interest in how the group interacts and works together and together you can make it a safer, more enjoyable ride.
With a little bit of thought and preparation you can make the big step of heading out with a large group of cyclists for the first time much, much easier. I hope that the tips here will inspire you to get out and enjoy the summer to come and please leave any other tips or feedback below.
Yours in sport,