The subject is a woman and an elite triathlete, but I’ve seen some of the same personality traits amongst many age group athletes in running and cycling as well. It is a well written article, and hopefully can help people understand the need to back off on some of our obsessive behaviors.
After 30 years in the saddle, one would think I would have come to terms with most aspects of cycling, and resolved my own conflicted thoughts on some of the dynamics that exist within the sport and activity of cycling. Over 100,000 accumulated miles ridden, at an estimated average speed of about 15 miles per hour, that is over 6500 hours of time to ponder life, the universe and everything cycling. By now I should have solved all of the worlds problems. In reality, I haven’t solved any of my own, and when it comes to the “Group Ride”, I think all of that time has served only to muddy the issue for me.
As a cyclist, I view the dynamics of the Group Ride as a mixed bag because it brings out both the best and the worst aspects of cyclists on the whole. At the same time, it also represents one of the single best tools for engaging and educating new riders, while also serving to alienate drivers around them that may be potential cyclists. Hopefully, you see the issue. The Group Ride is both a very good thing, and a very bad thing at the same time, and reconciling the good versus the bad against each other is incredibly difficult.
Let me take a step back and explain, for the non-riders and those who eschew the Group Ride, why so many riders look to the Group Ride:
- Learn to ride on the roads without the exposure of being on the roads
- Comfort that if you have a problem, there are other riders to help you get home
- Safety in numbers, with a group of riders on the roads, cars are forced to be aware of the group
- Learn to ride in close quarters with others
- Learn to draft
- Social engagement with others who share a common interest in cycling
- See roads outside of the comfort zone
The bad however is not a short list either:
- Hammerhead “Type A” personalities that turn every group into a race
- Cycling elitism (bikes, kits, accessories, Strava)
- Automotive antagonism
- Teaches some ‘bad’ road etiquette
- Increased risk of bike to bike crashes
- Not really ‘training’ opportunities
- Teaches riding to other people’s pacing
- Fails to reinforce strong bike handling skills
- Fails to teach good safety practices on the roads
A few of these issues, others will quibble with. If there is a universal truth in cycling, it is that no group of cyclists can agree on anything, ever. However, for me, these are the core issues. Some of them can be mitigated by the culture of a given group ride, but the biggest one really is a struggle, and that is the antagonism that a Group Ride creates between drivers and cyclists, and there is no way to really combat the issue.
There are some common methods advised, and even employed by groups, but they are really ineffective, because no matter what action a group takes on the roads, it simply cannot make itself as easy to pass as a single rider, which even a single rider riding as far right as practicable makes challenging for drivers on roads that have failed to take into account the mixed needs of slow and fast moving traffic sharing a single space.
So, with all of that said, do the merits of the Group Ride outweigh the negatives? I think they do, but it falls upon the ride organizers to work to mitigate potential conflicts of the various negative issues. However, I suggest two additions, and it is something that I am working to incorporate into the Group Events that I lead and organize.
- Reduce the size of the sub groups within a Group Event to no more than 10-12 riders per
- Choose routes that incorporate roads that are better able to support larger groups
The second item is going to cause some consternation amongst both drivers and riders alike.
You see, this means going counter to the current trend of routing group events out of towns and onto lesser travelled “back roads”. Instead, we will be using more 4 lane parkways, both with and without bike infrastructure where we can. It also means targeting roads with existing and emerging bike facilities. Why? because these are locations where a group can significantly mitigate the inconvenience factor that generates the antagonism as the additional lane provides an easier passing space while clearly marked and available bike facilities paired with bikes using them sends a clear message that bikes are expected to be there.
All of that said, for solo and small groups of riders (less than 5), it is important to remember and reinforce that every road that is not part of a limited access highway is a bike lane.
We are going to be doing some rearranging of menus and page layout for the next couple of days. Please be patient if what you are looking for is not where you expect it be….