Saturday’s Club Ride
By Maynard Hershon
I’m standing in a parking lot with a half-dozen other cyclists, ten minutes until ride time. A young woman rolls up on a road bike and tells us this is her first club ride. She says she’s not sure she can cope with the pace.
I’m surprised to hear her say that, but I shouldn’t be; I’ve heard it countless times. I wonder if when she rode up, she looked at us.
If she had, she’d have seen mountain bikes. She’d have seen hybrids and roadified mountain bikes. She’d have seen a few lightweight carbon “racing” bikes but no lightweight, race-fit riders. Most of us are over 40, some of us way over. It’s a recreational club, emphatically not a racing club.
No one’s embarrassed about their “slow” bicycle, not in this club.
Those who have carbon Trek or Specialized — have them because they can afford them, not because they couldn’t hang on club rides on their old aluminum bikes. Almost everyone has a large underseat bag or a rack with a bag on it with room for a rolled-up business suit and lunch for three.
We’re not an intimidating bunch by any means, is what I’m saying.
“These rides are scary fast,” I tell the woman.
She’s ready to believe me. I say, “Hey, I’m kidding. You’re not going to have trouble keeping up.”
I have to tell her twice more to reassure her. I even warn her that she can’t depend on the person in front of her to observe fine points of cycling etiquette.
“Don’t follow too close,” I say. She says she wouldn’t dream of it.
As more riders appear, one guy teases the newbie woman about her aero handlebar extension. She shows him how she grabs the extension and rests her forearms on her handlebars to relax on long straight roads.
Her aero bars are the only go-fast accessory on any bike in our group. We’re a touring club after all. Even if not every member tours, we do, I promise, ride at a touring pace.
I see that she is still worried, her brow furrowed. I volunteer to ride sweep, the rearmost person in the procession, so I can watch out for her. I’m not sure she knows the way or won’t lose heart and just give up if she gets dropped somewhere.
The first riders leave the lot. I’m left there with a guy even older than me. I know him from the last couple years of club rides. He goes to climb on his bike, gets a leg over, loses his balance and falls away from me, tangled up in his lovely old Serotta. I watch as he falls. I’m already straddling my bike and can’t help him. I can see his wheels flatten out absorbing his weight and then spring back. The yellow plastic grade indicator on his handlebar flies off. I find it 15 feet away.
It takes a couple of minutes for the guy to get it together. He finds his way to his feet, spins his wheels. They’re still true. He climbs back on and we roll out of the parking lot.
In a mile or two we can see the group. No one drafts in our club, so I don’t even offer to tow him back up to them. He rolls along okay on flat sections and is as fast as anyone down the little grades, but he climbs very slowly. I get a bit frustrated, wanting to participate in a group ride, which is what I signed up to do.
We catch up. I drop into my place at the back of the raggedy line of riders. I find myself behind a guy at the bottom of a short but “steepish” grade. As he starts up the hill he goes slower and slower. Stuck behind him and without anything like a low touring gear, I struggle to keep from riding into the back of him. I’m going as slow as I can go.
Virtually motionless on the hill, the guy shifts into some impossible granny gear, a gear he can use to maintain momentum at maybe two miles per hour. His chain doesn’t like the idea and comes off his inner chain ring. He stops abruptly (and rudely, I thought) in front of me.
I mutter a word forbidden on family club rides as I manage to avoid hitting him and knocking one or more of us down.
I say, “I’ll tell the ride leader to wait for you.”
“I am the ride leader,” he says.
When I catch the group, the new woman rider is gone. I’m told that she and another new rider, a guy no one recognized, evidently agreed that the pace was pitifully slow, far too slow to provide the workout they had in mind. No one had seen them since the early miles.
Am I surprised? No. More often than not the person saying, “I’m sure I can’t hang,” does not finish the ride with the group. Not because he or she fell behind. No. They leave the ride because the pace is too slow, slower than the new rider can tolerate.
He or she rides off alone or with another poor soul who chose the wrong ride.
Let me suggest that when you show up to ride with a group that’s new to you, don’t talk about how slow you are, how you can’t climb, how you haven’t ridden since September and just got over pneumonia and a broken leg.
Good cyclists, folks you want to ride with and become friends with, have heard it all before.
When the ride ended back at the parking lot I noted that as usual there were almost as many cars as riders. I wanted to stand on top of one of those cars and suggest that riding one’s bike to the club ride might be a fine, if novel, idea. I wanted to state once again that the club’s website should feature directions to the ride start for cyclists, not only for drivers.
I wanted to tell the rider whose rear-wheel quick release handle wasn’t tightened to learn how to put a wheel in his bike. And I wanted to tell puncture-wound horror stories to the guy whose handlebar was missing an end-plug.
But I didn’t say any of it. What did I say?
“See you next week!”
Contact Maynard on Twitter @maynardhershon or email him at email@example.com.