Among the more competitive types in our sport, typically the A and B groupers, we get so focused on workouts, average pace, or Strava segments, that we completely forget to ride just for the sake of riding.
If you’re in that category, like me, then read on. If you’re not in that category, then read on anyway and laugh about our foibles. :-)
Getting Caught Up In It All
If you’re in that competitive category, I’m going to take a guess that your usual group ride looks something like this:
Group ride at “insert your usual time and place here”.
- Flat kit
- Heart Rate Monitor
- Computer (charged)
- Power meter (calibrated/zeroed)
- Average pace “insert pace here”
- Route “insert route here”
- See who’s showing up
- Everyone familiar? Great, known quantities all around. Jim’s fast and let’s nothing slip past him; Andrew always surges on pulls so plan accordingly for position in the paceline; Steve likes to break things up, so if there’s a Strava segment and the group isn’t moving fast enough, plan on some pain, or better yet, plan on some pain anyway; Bob thinks he can make some moves but will burn out fast and hang on for as long as possible off the back.
- Some new face(s)? Ok, what’s their kit look like? Are they the racer type? Or casual? What’s their bike look like? Cheaper? Super spendy? Wheelset? Hmm, maybe not a threat. Or, holy crap, he’s going to blow everyone up. Or, my personal favorite, average looking guy/bike all around and then proceeds to blow everyone up during the “recovery” segments...
Sound familiar? Sure does to me, whether it’s road or mountain, the checklist follows the same general thread. While these kinds of rides are awesome and by no means should you think I'm griping, this mindset can quickly get into every single ride.
Is it so hard to just settle down and chill? Even when we take our beach cruisers out, us A group types still can’t cruise. Regardless of a 30+ lb bike. Ride around the park? Cool, I can do that, let me grab my Garmin (or other device) first. If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen!
Off we are at a leisurely pace. Small hill ahead? Instincts kick in and we kill it. Wait, we’re supposed to be “leisurely”, so dial it back a bit. A few more miles in, our legs have warmed up and are ready to get into a familiar rhythm. Glancing at our computer (which is, of course, recording), we see that we’re cruising at around 14.4 mph average. Something deep inside our A grouper reptilian brain goes “that’s really slow...” and without even consciously thinking about it, we bump up to something in the 15.6 mph average that’s a bit more respectable.
A little bit later we’re really into a rhythm, and looking down at the computer, we see we’ve tipped into 16.1 mph. Our brain sighs with a hint of satisfaction that at least we’re north of the 16 mph “threshold” and can consider this to be a respectable “leisure” ride when compared against our normal 20+ mph averages.
They Figured It Out
Sometimes I think the C group folks have it figured out. They enjoy the ride for what it is, a time to go out, socialize, enjoy the scenery, and relax. Sure, us A or B riders can join them if we want to back off the pace, but when we do, we just can’t settle in. Invite an A or strong B to a C group, and the average goes up by 2 MPH at minimum, usually more. In the end, they usually don’t invite us back or make sure we break away early so that they can do their thing.
Leave the dang computer at home. Take off the smartwatch. Do NOT use your phone’s Strava or whatever app to record it either. It’s a leisurely ride, not a hammer fest, not a “what’s a respectable enough ride I can record” attempt. To take it back to the title of this post, ride, just because. No plan, no agenda, no Strava segments, just ride.
For a goal, and since it’s summer, a particularly interesting one:
Try riding so relaxed and easy that you can actually complete the ride without having a sweaty shirt when you get back (good luck with that in 90 degrees at 90% humidity, but try anyway). If you live in San Francisco or someplace like it with serious hills, you may have to settle for slightly sweaty. Going to the other extreme and live in Phoenix? Well, sweat dries so fast there you could cheat easily, but no one is going to ride outside during the day anyway. Not unless there’s an air conditioner mounted to your bike blowing full force or you started at 4 AM.
For those who have this figured out, kudos to you! For those of us struggling, we need to work at this more. A LOT more. Riding a bike is so much more than just fitness, or hammering. It’s fun. It’s beautiful. It’s incredible. In so many ways.
For my part, I’ve gotten a few rides in like this already. It’s been a challenge to relax, but so far the rewards are well worth it!