The Evolution of Cyclists

We had a great ride today.  But that’s not what this post is about.  It’s about Darwinism,  sort of.  It’s about etiquette, or more appropriately, expectations on a training ride.  It’s a good story with a happy, albeit unresolved ending, so I invite you to follow along with a positive appreciation for the age-old question, “Do I stay or do I go?”  I am interested in your input and thoughts on the subject. You can post a response below if you want to join in the dialogue.

Cyclists are sometimes known for their egos.  I am reminded of this from my family everyday. “Why don’t you do another sport in the winter?” they say.  “Because I am a cyclist,” I say, adding imaginary quotations in the air. That’s something that I am proud of.  But it sometimes comes with the excess baggage that a lonely, often dark and brooding sport requiring hours of repetitive motion conjures up.  I sometimes live in my own competitive world complete with goals only known to me in a kind of mysterious reality that  is hard to explain.   This animation (not appropriate for all ages) does a pretty good job of it though.

While the humorous animation was largely about what we ride, my questions are about how we ride.  Let me preface the rest of the discussion by saying that, overall, as a collective, I am really pleased with how our high-performance cycling community handles themselves in a group training dynamic.  Sure we have moments that are off the charts in one way or another, but on average, we generally look out for the welfare of the group even as we try to stay true to our own inner training barometer.

Today’s ride challenged us with some big swings in levels of fitness and preparation.  There were about a fourteen of us on the ride, a large group for this time of year.  A few seasoned veterans were on the ride as were some of our elite riders and relative newcomers to the sport.  Our first situation arose when a rider flatted on the way out to the flashers, just a few miles out of town on 446.  It turns out that he didn’t have a tube.  He came with a couple of other riders, teammates I supposed.  We all stopped to survey the situation.  I suggested that he borrow a tube from one of his mates and asked if a a few of them could stay with him and catch us on the way back.  It seemed like a good compromise for a variety of reasons; we were close to home and the rider could turn back, he had support from riders who wished to help, it was frigid out and asking all to wait may have jeopardized the whole group and the ride, it was a posted route (and an out and back) so it should have been familiar to the rider.  In my estimation, this sort of contingency plan is a good one as well as one that we should feel good about.  The rider in difficulty has a role as well and can also take charge if he/she wishes by sending the group on its way, fixing the flat and chasing, or heading on another route.  The rider complicated his plight, and put all of us at a disadvantage, or at least in a quandary by not being prepared with a spare tube.  However, that’s an aside, as we decided a smaller group was going to wait anyway.  This (a flat) happens to us all at some point.  Unless I am in an unfamiliar area, I am generally happy to send the group on its way and I adjust my training to get me home.

In the second instance, as the remainder of the group rode tempo in a two-person paceline towards the flashers, there were some surges on the front that, on the whole, put some of us, present company included, into moderate difficulty.  Now, I accept this as part of the training experience, even in January, but some of my colleagues on the bike were of a different mind.  In my estimation, if a rider, in an otherwise structured ride chooses to advance, then that’s his or her prerogative.  We don’t have to respond.   I don’t necessarily agree with this tactic,  but that horse has literally, left the stable.  As a young cyclist, I would often (and still do) marvel at the fitness of the collective group, and in particular, the prowess of a few elite cyclists seemingly effortlessly pulling away from me.  It never occurred to me to ask them to train to my standards, rather, it was up to me to train to theirs.  However, I do agree that in a homogeneous group there should be a discipline that transcends half-wheeling and spontaneous attacks, etc.  This benefits the group as a whole and the result is generally greater than the sum of its parts.  Consider a break in a race that settles into a smooth paceline that continues to pull away from the field.  This is what we aspire to.  That one moment.  That’s the masterpiece of performance cycling and the culmination of all of our training.  To this end, cycling is a beautiful sport that’s painted in long brush strokes across these roads.  It’s in our nature to race our bicycles as fast as we possibly can during that short Summer that we’re able.  After that, we can only watch from the sidewalk as others inevitably come to take our place.

My suggestion, rather than decide not to ride with a group because its above or below your pay grade, embrace the differences. Come out and train with them.  Even if you can only stay on for a short while.  A mixed group of cyclists training on our hilly roads is likely to split into a couple of segments.  This is natural and expected, not something to be scornful of.  If a cyclist in the lead group chooses to come back to the chasers and lend a hand, then that’s their choice.  Does that make the chase group better racers? Should a rider self-relegated to a chasing group feel put out because he or she was dropped?  Should the lead group somehow feel guilty because they are in better fitness than the riders in the second group?  These are personal questions, liable to bring out the best and worst in us.  I am confident that you’ll take the high road with your recommendations, thoughts and participation.

We are fortunate to have so many high performing racers in the area.  Learn from them.  But to do this, you have to ride with them.  And to the elite riders I say, ride with up and coming racers.  Teach them the value of a disciplined ride, but make them earn their place in the group- gently if it’s possible.


  1. Tom,

    Having read this post I’m fairly in agreement with what you’ve written. I can remember my Little 500 rookie year being left in the hinterlands Owen County by the L5 BMoCs, forced to find my way home. In no way to sound hard hearted but there is a point when riders need to be honest with themselves about when they’re getting in over their head on a training ride. First rule: come prepared. Second Rule: if you get dropped, better remember the way home. Veterans have responsibilities to a point, but there comes a time when “no drop” is simply training down to the weakest link.

  2. What happens if a “team training ride” turns into a sunday stroll because certain individuals can’t keep up? Do they belong on the team in the first place? Just depends on the goals of the team.

  3. It’s a situation that we encounter on almost every ride. I don’t think that we’ll solve it here, but dialogue is good. The fact is, that we are a team. And teams do things as a group, including training rides, not as individuals. This is a primary objective. A solid team ride within a category or fitness level is relatively easy to accomodate all. If I am in on a group ride in my category and the effort is escalating, I can ususally sit in the back and sort it out or hang on. But if I am in above my head, I may be on my own soon. I accept that. But I can still contribute to the team. And, if I am a Cat 5 or 4 or 3 looking to upgrade, then I want to know where my weaknesses are. Training rides have a way of accomplishing this. To get back to the original point, I am an advocate of team (or community rides with other teams present) beginning as a large group, then separating into more homogenous grupettos at certain points. Regrouping at certain intervals may be appropriate for most training rides and should be discussed prior. But all riders have a responsibility to themselves as well as to the group. Half-wheeling and attacks and a general disregard may have detrimental consequences, just as riding smoothly through a paceline does. The safety of the group is paramount as is our place in the peleton.

  4. What Clayton said is, IMHO, fundamental to everything we’re doing. Are we doing “team” rides? Are we doing “everyone invited/ no drop” rides? They are not the same. Its one thing to shepherd the newer/(weaker?!) _team mates_ home in good order. Its a different thing all together to have rides where everyone is invited and no one is allowed to be dropped. There are bike clubs for that.

  5. What everyone needs to remember is that if you have a team-mate struggling for instance in a group ride made up of other riders is that communication is key! If you notice a team-mate is in trouble then someone in the team dynamics is to help them either a cat 1 or cat 5 doesn’t matter, the point is you have a team-mate to protect, of course not all will climb the same so depending on where the hill comes in the ride then say the last hill everyone is on their own but with hills early then regroup and make this known to others who are not on the team if you invite others. If you want to break from a group in January then you need to ride by yourself and not be consumed by taking advantage of others fitnesss levels. Do pair up before a ride and make sure you watch your partner and communicate!!!

Comments are closed.