Mountain Bike Trailer Park is a regular column written by Uncle Dan that appears monthly on the Dirt Rag Interwebs. He dabbles in a variety of topics including racing, training, trails he loves and not taking himself too seriously, all with a big dash of humor. If you missed his previous columns, check them out here. He also writes a personal blog, which can be found here.
You know the scenario. Your phone buzzes with a group text message. It usually looks something like this:
“Casual pace,” my ass! You know what that means; your riding buddies are going to try and rip your legs off.
I don’t think they mean it that way, but, on a “casual” ride (i.e. not a training ride) there can be a lot of reasons why the pack goes out fast and splits up. But, if you’re riding with racers, just expect it. Racers can’t help themselves. They will race anything in their line of sight, including other riders, cars, squirrels, plastic bags being carried by the wind, whatever.
And what a shit feeling it is when you realize that YOU are the slow guy on the ride. When I’m the slowpoke, I’ll push myself to keep up until I eventually lose sight of the pack. Then, it’s decision time. Do I continue to blow myself up in hopes of staying close, or just ride at my own pace and hope I don’t get lost?
Either way, I start to panic a little. Will I take the right turns? What if I get lost? What if I get hurt? What if I have a mechanical? And I start to feel shitty. I can’t keep up, so surely I’m slowing the group down. I’m weak, I’m pathetic, I’m spoiling everyone’s good time.
On occasion, when I’m the fast guy, I don’t get mad at the slow guy. I wouldn’t have invited him, or at least I wouldn’t have said it was a “casual pace,” if I was trying to meet some kind of training goal or personal best. But, when you’re at the back of the pack, none of those thoughts are comforting.
So, with that in mind, here are a couple suggestions for the fast guys:
Ride an inappropriate bike: If you’re going on a road ride, ride your cyclocross bike. If you’re going on a gravel ride, ride your mountain bike. If you’re riding singletrack, ride a fat bike. It can be done, trust me. I once did a week-long, 350-mile bike tour with a guy on a BMX bike, because he was riding with his grandfather. The principle here is pretty simple; you can slow yourself down a little and still get the same workout from riding an inappropriate bike.
Wear your biggest backpack: Another way to slow yourself down and get an extra workout is to wear your biggest backpack. Adding weight adds to the workout, and can also add to the fun. Pack a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine. While you’re at it, why not pack a picnic? Honestly, it’s pretty great to stop in the woods for a baguette, cheese, salami and a nice merlot. And throw your camera in the bag too. Since you’re the fastest, you should be able to get out in front and set up some good shots of everyone riding by.
Boomerang/birddog: So, you’re the fast guy. And you’ve got Strava live segments turned on so you can get a PR on a given segment. And you REEEEEEAAAAAALY want that KOM on this course. Fine, go for it! Ride the segment as fast as you want and when you’re done, turn around and ride the other way until you meet the slower riders. This is a great way to still go fast, but not leave the group in the dust. There are lots of variations on this. Ride to the next intersection and back, or do hill repeats. Whatever it takes to get the workout you want while still enjoying the group ride.
Wait at intersections: I’m what you might call “directionally challenged.” For example, at age 16, on the first day I drove myself to school, I had to ask for directions to get back home. I get lost on trails I have ridden dozens of times. So, for the sake of me and those like me, don’t assume I know where I’m going. Wait for me at intersections so I don’t miss a turn and get lost.
While we’re on the topic, how much does it suck to be the last guy at the intersection? Everyone else is waiting for you; they’ve had a drink, maybe a snack. They’ve caught their breath. And, when you finally pull up, gasping for breath, someone invariably says “Everyone here? Ok, let’s roll!” before you can even put a foot down. *Sigh* See you at the next intersection, I guess!
Turn your phone on: Ok, so you didn’t wait at the intersection. Now I’m lost. I’ve stopped and I have no idea which way to go. So, I call Joe. Then I call James, then Mike, then Max. No one answers. Half of them have their phones off, the other half left their phones in the car. Whelp. I’m guessing I go left. Hope I meet you at some point . . .
Temper your expectations and set the rules up front: Pretty self-explanatory, but if you’re planning a group ride, let people know the distance, pace and whether you’ll stay together or not. The most common reason people don’t join group rides is because they’re afraid they’ll be too slow. Be honest about it; if you’re planning to rip their legs off, say so. And, if you really want a social ride, let the group know and explain the rules up front. My friend Kenny just did that for a recent group ride – he set it up so that the fast guys will boomerang certain sections and will wait at intersections. So, the fast guys can race, and the slow guys can chill. Nice!
Enjoy the ride! Come on, it’s a day on the bike, what’s not to enjoy? Chat with the slower riders, and give them tips (if they’re open to it). If you have to wait on a couple guys, so what? Hang out, cop a squat on a log, drink a beer, talk bikes. It’s supposed to be fun!
And, if you find yourself at the tail end of a group ride, here are a couple tips for you:
Bring a map: As I mentioned, I am directionally challenged. So, if possible, I like to load the route on my Garmin or take a paper map. At least that way if I get separated I can find my way back to the parking lot. As an additional step, pack a beer. If you’re lost anyway, you might as well sit down, have a beer and enjoy yourself. Then navigate back at your own pace.
Drive separately: This tip is pretty obvious. If you get lost, want to bail, or just don’t want to hold your friends up, you can just drive yourself home. No panic, no fuss.
Bring extra food and drink: Just grab an extra granola bar and an extra bottle. You may go faster and further than you’re used to. Don’t add a bonk to it!
Do it! My final advice is to actually go on the group rides. Riding with fast people will make you stronger. They will push you harder than you would if you were riding by yourself. Plus, it’s fun to watch more skilled riders pick different lines than you would have. And who cares if you get dropped!
Be brave and go on a group ride!