Rethinking Group Rides

This is a topic I’ve been considering writing about for a while.  I was hoping that more time and experience would help me make an informed decision one way or the other, and I think it finally has.

When I was a new rider, group riding was intimidating to me.  I worried about keeping up.  I was anxious about riding my own ride in the midst of people much more experienced than me.  How do we handle being split up?  What happens when the rest of the group wants to go faster than you do?  What if you have just had enough and want to bail out on the whole situation?  Is that rude?  Is it smart?  Does it even matter, since my responsibility is to ride my own ride and to do so safely?

A few weeks ago, I went on a group ride with some people that I know and some I don’t.  I had never ridden with any of them before.  I soon found myself riding sweep with a group of guys and I thought hmmm, this is interesting.  Did I end up back here because they think I’m slow?  I’m pretty sure that is why and they ended up with a big surprise!  What actually happened is that a rider in the middle of the group was very, very slow.  Painfully slow.  As in going around curves in first gear and looking terribly uncomfortable slow.  Being behind that person was frustrating for me.  I imagine it was for the other two riders also behind this person, but I don’t want to assume what they were thinking.

When we stopped, two of the riders between the very slow person and me decided to head out on their own.  They said they lived nearby and it was more convenient for them.  I ended up wishing I had done the same by the time this day was over.  Afterward some people said the slow rider should be in the back.  I admit that initially I agreed.  Then, as I thought about it more, I realized the faster ones were not really slowing down for this person, so wouldn’t that mean he/she would have been left behind by them?  I’m pretty sure it would and that’s not what group riding is about.  That leaves those behind this rider frustrated and those in front of that person counting their lucky stars.  It probably leaves the slower rider feeling uncomfortable as well.  Surely they know they are slower than the front group and are holding up those behind them.

I’ve found myself in the opposite situation as well and that is equally uncomfortable.  When the group leader says don’t worry, we will ride at the pace of the slowest person and then takes off like a shot and leaves you basically on your own.  That’s no fun either. I was the slower rider in that group and found that it was difficult and very frustrating.  Yes, I could see them, way off in the distance, but I sure couldn’t catch them.  I didn’t do any group riding for a long time after that because I didn’t want a repeat of that experience.  So, it was strange to me that when I was part of the “faster” group, how impatient and frustrated I became being “stuck” behind a slow rider.  Where was my compassion, having been in their boots?

I don’t have a clear solution right now, but am leaning toward no more group rides.  A few exceptions may be riding with people I have ridden with before and know well.  Obviously going with my riding partner but I don’t consider the two of us a group.  It makes me sad to think about saying no to all group rides, but the frustration I felt on that recent day amounted to a day I don’t care to repeat.

What is your stance on group rides?  If you enjoy them, how have you found a compatible group?  What happens when you feel it isn’t working?  Do you politely bow out?  I look forward to hearing how other riders handle this!

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