Before I moved to Colorado, I hadn’t really participated in any regular group rides since the Rose Bike rides in Maine. Flagstaff was a pretty awesome place to ride, and while I often rode with one or two other folks, I rarely rode in a large group unless it was a race.
Here in the Springs, I’ve landed with a good crew that rides every Friday afternoon. During the winter, that crew is usually whittled down to about five people, but since the weather has turned summer-like around these parts, that group has exploded to anywhere between ten and fifteen riders.
The mid-ride beer stop is probably part of the draw, especially for me, but I’m finding that I missed riding in groups. The pace is usually slower and we stop a lot to chat, but that’s what’s great about it: no pressure, just bikes, beers, banter, and sweet singletrack.
One of the biggest advantages, I think, to riding in a big group is the bike handling skills you will develop. It’s likely you’ll need to track-stand for a few seconds while the guy in front of you preps himself for a gnarly descent or tricky climb. You’ll see other guys clear stuff you wouldn’t have otherwise attempted; next thing you know, you’re trying it, and getting it.
I rode alone very often in Arizona, and while most of the time that was great—awesome, in fact—sometimes it allowed me to get too complacent. I allowed myself to pedal in that easier gear, avoid the more difficult ups and the trickier downs. I got lost in my own thoughts, which could lead to something entertaining and amazing, or simply something mired in self-doubt and worry.
Riding with other folks keeps everything light and fun. I missed that. Rose Bike in Maine had one of the most fun regular group rides I’ve ever had the good fortune to take part in. It was usually led by Bob, an older fella who, despite his small stature and gray hair, can throw the hammer down on any one of us and come out on top. If Bob didn’t lead, the owner of the shop, Jim, would do the honors. The rides were always fun and lighthearted, which was a stark contrast from the rides I did whilst “training” for races (I use the word “training lightly, mind you).
For a time, I began to think of riding as a chore, something I had to do because people expected me to do it. I’ve never been the fast guy, or the guy that can throw down in an endurance race, though I’ve had my moments on the podium. It strikes me as strange now how much pressure I put on myself to ride and ride well. Why? For what end? I wore lycra (still do), ate energy gels and drank electrolyte slop (still do), and took myself seriously (don’t anymore). This all happened in my own head because I let it. Riding alone is one of the greatest pleasures in life, as far as I’m concerned, but it can also be daunting. It can trick you. It can become a ghost that haunts you. It can make you take yourself seriously, which pretty much puts an end to the party.
I remember the Monday night rides out of Rose Bike Shop being some of the most enjoyable evenings of my life. Jim would always be helping a customer at the last minute while the group waited outside, itching to get going, swatting at mosquitoes. Warm, humid, buggy, muddy…the group, large or small, almost always starting by taking the River trail, usually working its way over to the Underwear Trail, or over to Old Town behind the Dunkin’ Donuts. At some point we’d come to the Whoop-de-doo trail, one of my favorites, my front wheel sliding up and over hillocks and roots in an unchoreographed dance with rubber, steel, and carbon.
The regulars never missed a Monday, though other, new faces came and went. In college, I was often angry, depressed, erratic, drunk, or just young and impetuous, which means I was often difficult to be around. No one on those rides seemed to mind. Those people knew me as someone with a bike, someone who could pedal, just like them. They embraced me, in fact, which is perhaps why I look back on those days so fondly. I was never alone.
Fast forward to last Friday here in Colorado. A group ride, D2 all grown up now, probably still a little angry, still a little depressed, a little erratic, usually drunk, a bit older but still pretty impetuous. And here I am again, in a group, riding the trails that are neither muddy nor buggy, with a sense of contentment and ease that I find so rarely these days. It’s something about all those wheels moving in unison, wheels that, for all intents and purposes, have no business making it up and over those rocks and roots; something about that unchoreographed dance that’s still going on after all these years. It’s peace, perhaps. A sense of feeling upright in an off-balance world. Not solace, exactly, but a taste of what solace might be if I ever actually arrived at it.
I guess the point is, raise a glass once in a while to the group ride. Fast or slow, at least you’re never alone. Climbs are easier that way. Descents are always less hairy. I’ll drink a tall boy to that.by