One of the greatest things about cycling is that you can approach it in many different ways. You can ride far and wide, checking out the views as you go, or you can put your head down and knock out a power hour. You can ride alone, chat away the miles in a relaxed group, or book yourself a place on the pain train and try to hang on to some speedy wheels.
Joining a group ride is a great way to meet liked minded people – you’ll learn more about the local routes, pick up some mechanical tips along the way, and probably make some new friends. You can also work on improving your riding technique: cornering, descending, and get stronger chasing people up hills.
Finding the right group to join isn’t always so simple. Like any gathering of people with a shared interest, groups will vary. Gigs and concerts are gatherings of people into ‘music’ – but a Metallica gig is going to attract a different crowd to a Justin Bieber concert. Unfortunately, in the case of cycling groups, the differences in approach aren’t always so overt, so you might need to do some research and experiment a little to find the right new crew.
The woman question
I’ve heard a lot of women comment that they’ve tried to join a club or group ride, but felt intimidated, unwelcome, or simply like they didn’t fit in purely because of what was going on in their bibshorts.
Most men can rock up at their local club ride and find other men of a similar age band and level of ability – they’ve got lots of choice. Being a woman adds extra complication for many female riders.
Some mixed sex groups will be more welcoming to women than others. I’ve joined groups that have just treated me like part of the gang. I’ve joined groups where I’ve felt I’ve been over-catered for because I’ve got a vagina – which is well-meaning, but makes me feel uncomfortable. I’ve also been part of a group where I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to be part of the ride group ‘chat’ conversation because it was a boys club that I wasn’t invited to (hilariously there were ‘too many penis jokes’, I refrained from explaining I’ve probably had close exposure to more peni than any of the men in the group). You’ll get an idea if a group is welcoming or not pretty quickly. For men reading this: just act normal, we’re women, not aliens.
If your focus is on socialising, and you’re happy riding with men of all types and ages, you’ll be fine – there are plenty of options. Social groups will ride at the pace of the slowest rider, and they’re great if you just want to get your chat on. You’ll mix with people of all ages and abilities, and diversity is fun.
If you’d rather ride with other women, look for a group with a high percentage female membership, a women’s only ride, or a women’s only club. There’s a lot of contentious debate buzzing around the ‘women’s only’ riding world. Some people will argue that it’s wrong to ‘separate’ the sexes. The thing is, for a lot of women (not all), our closest friends are other women. If that’s you, it’s understandable that you might enjoy cycling with other women more than other men. Sometimes we just have different conversations.
For those looking for a training ride, the issue runs deeper. This might be an unpopular thing to say – but physiological differences between men and women mean that a faster woman is probably going to match the pace of a medium paced man. That means that if you’ve got no women around you riding at a similar pace, you’re going to have to ride with men who might have a slightly different attitude to cycling. I’ll put it bluntly: it can get frustrating if you want to talk and learn about race tactics and your ride buddies are more interested in what’s on offer at the cake stop. Admittedly, in road cycling drafting goes a long way, and you can join a faster group, where you might pick up some race craft and technique advice, and accept you’re going to have to work hard to hold that wheel. It’ll probably be good for you.