It all started out so perfectly.
Every Wednesday at 6:00 we’d ride 40 miles in a big sweeping loop through the little town of Kaneville. A weekly group ride with the same sane leader leading the group at an average pace of 20 mph when you were done. The group was replete with all kinds of riders. Fast. Beginners. Elite women. And guys like me. Just wanting company to get in shape.The 20 mile stretch of road returning to Batavia was largely straight, had a few hills and if the wind wasn’t blowing from the east, a total gas to ride in a group. Pace would shoot up to 26 or 28 mph and stay there. You’d be spinning softly just to stay off the rear wheel of the guy ahead in line. As twilight came on the group would coalesce into two neat rows with lead riders pulling off the front.
I recall being paired with a really talented female rider who, when I got too eager on pace, would turn quietly and say, “Stay steady.”
Another time a much better rider than I came rolling up and said, “Your cadence is much better tonight, that’s the way to ride efficiently.” That mattered to me because I had specifically been paying attention to a higher cadence that night.
The group ride lasted a couple years. But then a new initiative began with the club, hosting Wednesday night criterium. The popularity of the “practice races” took off. And they were fun and helped you work into shape for the circuit. But they slowly killed off the Wednesday night group ride from the shop that sponsors the team.
Demise of the club group ride
A few of us tried to continue the Wednesday night rights but without the structure of the shop organizing things and the regular ride leaders taking less interest in managing the pace, the rides turned into a race every week. Surges and uphill sprints and all with no communication other than guys looking over their shoulder to see if they could be caught.
The women quit showing up because the ride had become some sort of testosterone-driven shrivelfest. The group finally shrank to four guys who, in the heat of the 2012 summer, had varying degrees of tolerance for 89 degree afternoons. The rides were averaging 20-22 miles and hour, but most were a slog. And that was that. People quit coming.
One morning I made the mistake of riding 40 miles on the same day as the group ride. Thought it might be interesting to try to come back and do a double workout since I was getting pretty fit. But 25 miles into the ride on a hot, hot night I was cooked. Couldn’t hold the wheels of the guys in front of me. They waited at a stop sign even though I waved them on.
“I’m sorry,” I told them. “I should not have ridden 40 this morning. You go ahead.”
“I’m not buying that,” the off-again, on-again leader told me. In my exhaustion his tone to me sounded cynical. Snarky bike prick stuff. Did he genuinely not believe I rode 40 that morning? Or did he think that should not have affected my ability to stick with the group that evening. The net result is that the group slowed down for 5 miles while I clung to wheels and then brought it home the next 10 miles at 20 mph. I just hung on, head down and heart heavy with the effort.
Racing for the fun of it
After the group ride collapsed I gave myself a little lecture and decided that I could not mope about it. Instead I joined the Crit rides on Wednesdays. The first night there was a huge wind and the group of CAT 5 racers sat shivering and nervous at the starting line. The instructions weren’t clear whether experienced CAT 5 racers should start in the first group or wait for the combined CAT 4/5s, which is where I should have been. So I started right way. And within 2 laps a group of 7 riders had shattered into little clumps that go swept away by the larger group charging around the crit course in the wind.
On the group’s website I commented that instructions could have been a little clearer at the start. Right away the personal attacks started. “There’s no crying in cycling,” one club member wrote. “HTFU. That’s what we’re out there for.”
The next race was another windy, cold night and this time the instructions were clear, but as the group sat waiting for the start the race referee singled out a very anxious looking beginning rider, probably 19 years of age, and grilled him in front of the entire group. “This your first race?” the starter bellowed. Then he made fun of his generic kit and his pale skin.
I was incensed. Here was a kid trying to make his way into the cycling world and this is the treatment he gets?
The rash nature of the club members came through a few months later when I posted a piece from this blog to the group email list. The blog was a somewhat pointed article about concealed carry laws and cyclists. Someone in the group took great offense, dug up my email and began attacking me personally.
No cycling or running club is perfect. But even if the kits or uniforms are nice and earn you some visible respect among other athletes on the road, not everyone belongs in a club. You may not fit the personality of the club, or its objectives. It may be that your priorities are not in sync with what the club is doing. Or you may be a sonofabitch who can’t get along with anyone.
My own fault?
I don’t know which of the above are true about me. Perhaps all of it. But this summer I’m riding in a generic kit or my Felt gear to match my bike brand. Sometimes the allure of being a club member just isn’t worth the contradictions we face when our own ideas don’t match those of the organization we choose. That’s one of the tarsnakes of being in a club. It sometimes happens that you don’t fit in. Best to just ride or run on. Something else will come down the road.
As for the club that I ceased to join this year, there is too much circumstantial variance to put the onus on their shoulders. After all, I don’t ride the winter indoor training circuit. I do volunteer to work races, including one event where as course marshall I stayed with my spot while hail and pouring rain came down. You could hear the nickel-size hailstones bouncing off the helmets of the CAT 3 riders plying their $5000 road bikes through deep channels of water pouring down the hills of the suburban streets where the criterium was being held. I’m a loyal type, you see. And you learn tons of things by working at bike races.
So it wasn’t all bad. But it wasn’t good enough to make me want to stay. I’ll take the responsibility for that. But if you run a bike or running club, it might pay to survey your members every year to find out what goes on behind the scenes. Assuming everything is going well seems rather naive, does it not?