Winter miles go by quicker with friends. You can chat your way through the lanes and enjoy a little healthy competition on the hills, which always makes efforts feel somehow harder but easier all at the same time.
Finding the right group ride to join can require a little time and effort, but once you’ve hunted out the perfect Saturday squad you’ll be glad you did the groundwork. Nestled within your new found bunch you’ll find increased motivation, new routes, greater fitness and an awesome gaggle of bike loving friends.
Along the way, you’ll probably discover the odd hurdle: a few moments of mental and physical turmoil if you’re hanging off the back and maybe a dash of frustration if you’re at the other end of the scale.
Here are just a few of the thoughts that might drift through your head along the way…
On arrival: Am I fast enough to keep up with this group?
So often arriving for a group ride with a group of other women means an introductory ten minutes where we all express our various concerns about levels of slowness and admit to lack of training and overeating. The explosion of self-depreciation is more often than not a result of most of those present spending the entire week worrying about the upcoming ride. So if you’re worrying – chill. Everyone else feels exactly the same.
The first five miles are really fast: Is it going to stay like this?
Feel like someone’s waved a chequered flag, and the race is on? Worried the pace will stay this high all day? Not to make a massive generalisation, but if the group is made up of mostly men – then it probably won’t. Give them twenty minutes and they’ll settle down. In the meantime, stay on a wheel, avoid the front (if you’re struggling) and wait it out. If it’s mostly women, it might well be the same, but the tendency to sprint the first few miles of a long day out is more common in environments where testosterone outweighs oestrogen.
You’re a faster member of the group: I am a wound up spring. Ready to *pop*
It turns out all your fears about the group being too fast were severely misguided. You find you’re having to soft pedal just to keep from accidentally flying off the front. Whatever you do, do not pop. Do not lose your temper and do not resort to random sprints or hill repeats to kill the time. Accept that this is a recovery ride, keep it in the little ring and be friendly. Nothing will be achieved by dropping everyone, you’ll just get lonely.
Notice a squeaky bike: Who is riding the moving brass band?
Squeak. Squeak. Tick. Tick. Someone’s bike needs a visit to the nearest workshop, ASAP. Just make sure it’s not yours before you make any comments out loud.
Physique envy: I wish I head calves / quads / a bum like that
Riding in a group often means sitting on a wheel – and sometimes you just can’t help but notice that the wheel in front is being turned by someone with an amazing physique. All the jealousy, and plans to get down to the gym and up the protein ASAP.
With the boys: I really wish he'd stop talking about his wife/girlfriend/partner like that
Most of them are totally cool and actually quite friendly and nice to talk to (who would have thought it?!). But as with any species, a few let the whole lot down with statements like 'she gave me a pass' / 'let me out' etc. Also any comments about your bum when riding behind you. If you're not careful, we'll tell 'her indoors' what you said... Then you won't be 'allowed' out on your £10k bike you told her cost £500. For a year. Mwhaha.
No pothole warning: Oi!
Riding on the road, it’s common practice to point pot holes, rocks, any notable drains, even piles of horse crap. And generally that warning should be passed back through the group. Then someone will let their attention drift, sending you ploughing into the nearest hole and trying to ‘think like a feather’ in the hope of avoiding a pinch puncture.
Spot a kit malfunction: Do I say anything?
The person directly in front of you has a massive hole in the back of their tights, or their shorts are slipping slightly and leaving an exposed triangle of flesh that is starting to look more and more like chicken skin the colder they get. Or their arm/leg warmers are slowly edging their way down their limbs. If it was you, you’d want someone to tell you, right?
(NB – after the ride is best if it's something they can do nothing about there and then... no one wants to know their shorts are see-through 10 miles into a 50 mile ride).
About halfway round the route: There is coffee and cake soon, right?
You look for the ride leader and enquire, then smile the broadest smile of them all when you hear that you’re just a mile or two away from a lovely warm coffee shop full of all the best cakes and brews in the world.
Struggling on a climb: Will the pain ever stop?!
Up, up, up! You were already struggling, and now there’s a climb ahead and that gap between you and the rider ahead is gradually growing. Do you ask them to slow down? Do you just hang your head and accept the coming fate? Whatever you do, don’t panic – just take the climb at your own pace and regroup at the top. Even a gap that looks huge will only amount to the leader waiting for about a minute or so – and they’ll probably be glad for the breather.
Riding past the guys on a climb: Looks like you’ve been chicked!
Extra points if they immediately speed up, and then drop off your wheel.
Being pushed by one of the guys up the climb: THANK YOU! But...?
You’re struggling and someone gives you a little push from the lower back – suddenly pedalling is incredibly easy and you’re thankful for the gesture. But you also feel a little bit like you’re cheating or getting preferential treatment.
Riding a fast two / three / four up with your besties: we are invincible!
The speed feels awesome and you're working together like a well oiled machine. There's no better feeling. Ooh - *change* - your turn!
Getting dropped: I just. Can’t. Anymore.
It’s a horrible feeling. Total physical exhaustion mingled with emotional turmoil, and actually a little bit of relief that at least it’s over. Everyone has been dropped at some point, it happens to us all – don’t worry about it and don’t dwell on it.
Descending: Weeeee. Yay – I get to shout ‘on your left!’
Why is it that descents are so much more fun when you’re riding in a pack? Maybe it’s because you go faster. Have fun! And yes, passing someone and smugly noting ‘on your left’ is always a little bit of a cheeky joy.
Around five miles from home: *singing* The girls are back in town, the girls are back in town…
You made it! You’re nearly back! And how awesome was that ride? And how much do you love your ride buddies? All the way to the world and back – you’ve been on an awesome adventure together and you’ll be back again next week….
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