Dysfunctional Cycling Club, and Why You Should Quit
By Maynard Hershon
I believe that the good group training ride, perhaps especially the good club training ride, is where the heart of road cycling beats. It’s where riders are formed, where technique is learned, where friendships are made, where cyclists learn to look after one another.
It’s a world phenomenon, the group ride. Learning how to work in a group allows you to take those skills anywhere and fit right in. First, you’ve got to find that good ride.
Think about the pack rides you’re currently doing. If you’re not learning anything, if your crew is ragtag and it’s everyone for himself, or if you are not making friends or learning how to take care of each other, you’re wasting your time in a sadly defective training routine.
It’s worse than merely wasting time. You’re learning bad habits and practicing “sorta-cycling.” Your presence on these rides encourages the leader so they’ll continue to head similarly crummy, counterproductive rides.
Quit right now. Find one that isn’t someone’s “ego on parade.”
If you see that no one looks back to find out what’s happening behind, checking out the tail-enders to ensure they’re OK, quit that ride.
If you have never seen the leader drop back to tow someone up to the group in his/her draft, quit that ride.
If you feel that the “no-drop policy” stated in the club newsletter and mentioned during pre-ride briefings is simply fiction, quit that ride.
If you see that everyone arrives in a car five minutes before start time and then disappears within minutes upon completion, quit that ride. If no one ever rides to the ride, quit it.
No amount of effort spent seeking a real training ride is wasted. Find one that’s more than a simultaneous workout reflecting the strengths of the leader. Commit to the good ride to learn and develop as a cyclist. Staying with the crummy one is disheartening and pointless.
Because the abilities and commitment levels of cyclists vary so widely, a training ride must accommodate both the strong and the struggling cyclists alike. How can it do that, you may ask, if your experience was formed at one of the thousands of bad ones?
If the ride leader, for reasons of their own, invariably chooses the hilliest routes, it will ruin it for weaker riders. If every route features long hills, hills so steep that drafting is ineffective, weaker riders will be dropped. That’s a given. Those dropped riders will watch the pack ride away into the distance. Still gasping for breath, they will feel whipped, unworthy, and unable for what seems like the millionth time to stay with the group. “I just can’t climb,” they repeat to themselves like a defeatist mantra.
A few of them will be emotionally tough; they’ll keep coming back. Most will decide to either ride alone or join a bowling league or spin club.
If your club ride leaders invariably choose hilly routes when there are flatter alternatives, and if you have asked them why and have been rebuffed and made to feel foolish and not nearly “gnarly” enough, quit that ride. Quit the club.
Find one that understands the dynamics of group cycling. Find one that seems aware that catering to an “elite” group of like-minded clueless spin class heroes is not bike riding. If you can find an old racer, men and women who enjoy the pack dynamic but are no longer trying to make the Olympic team, fall into place with them. You’ve found the Holy Grail.
Club rides are not for learning to pedal and ride a straight line, acquiring basic fitness, or getting used to climbing — do those things on your own or with one or two friends. Then take your basic fitness to a good club or group and learn the essential skills, otherwise you will repeat your first year of cycling again and again and again. That’s what the members of Dysfunctional Cycling Club (DCC) do.
On flattish terrain, a less-fit person can draft a stronger rider, and feel safer following. Sitting in the draft, benefiting from the vacuum behind is the key to road cycling.
This skill will lift your riding far beyond the meager level of so many other club riders.
The drafting cyclist learns to sit in the still air and adapt to shifting winds while trusting others. He or she learns smoothness and how to maintain a steady pace. They learn that staying on the wheel in front of them is of vital importance and that losing that wheel will slow them dramatically.
If you lose the wheel you will no longer be part of the ride. It’s better to stay on it and finish triumphantly and with your friends. Feel like you’re a part of something, something worthwhile.
On flattish rides in a large group, the draft will keep the weaker riders in the pack. They will learn where to position themselves as the wind changes direction and see that, even if they are not real strong, they can hang on and complete the ride with the others.
They will experience success and feel like bike riders.
In the group they will learn vital skills like how to be predictable and safe in close quarters, how rotating lines work and how to spread the workload. They will soon be riding further and faster than they ever imagined.
They will ride next to many other riders, some of them being road riders with many years of experience. They will find great comradeship with those other cyclists, as there’s always something to chat about. Everyone will most often stop post-ride for coffee. There will be more yet to talk about — and next week’s ride to look forward to.
Look at 20-, 30- and 40-year cyclists. They didn’t stay at it because they rode with DCC. They’re veterans of decades of good training rides, supportive training rides, disciplined rides where everyone knows there’s no trophy or prize money at the end. No glory. Solidarity.
All this is in contrast to DCC’s training rides, or “group workouts” as they’re beginning to call them around here. On DCC rides, no one learns anything — except the dropped riders, who learn how worthless they are as athletes.
If you read this and realize that you’re in a club or group like DCC, quit. Look around. Find a civilized one. Find out why so many old roadies are still on their bikes.
Contact Maynard on Twitter @maynardhershon or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.