On the Ode to the Group Ride

By CJ Rudy

Essay: On the Ode to the Group Ride

Jun 6

It has been several years since I lined up at an agreed-upon location for an evening group ride. There were jitters, but they were welcomed. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt a tinge of nervousness before rolling out with a group through town streets meandering toward rural routes. Since the pandemic distanced people physically and metaphorically, this was a feeling of coming home, as all group rides should be. This one turned out to be a wild ride, so much so, I returned the next week to try to hold on longer. This was the en masse motivation missing since 2020.

 

Having been amidst all types of group rides over the years, there has been a special place when like-minded cyclists gather. These thoughts have rolled through my mind each time the riders prepped by pointing their front tires in a loose circle, elbows on the handle bars, feet on the ground, knees levering a pedal, small jokes being told. The camaraderie is getting started. I’ve wondered if a group has ever had such a wonderful time conversing, they never actually get under way. There are casual rides and hammerfests, there are no-drop outings and there are drop rides, there are touring rides and set routes, there are short outings and all-day rides. Rides can include all the riding friends or strictly new acquaintances. 

 

Once the roll happens, riders fall in, joking around with their neighbor. Some, like me, are fixated on the wheel in front to the point comments from the neighbor are neglected. I’ve always wondered if fellow riders are put off by this. Onward the ride continues, into the night – and at times into the speedfest. Earlier in cycling technology, or lack thereof, I desperately held onto wheels because I had no idea where the group was headed next. Now, with routes loaded and turn-by-turn navigation, I’ve let the groups go ahead sooner, much to my frustration. Several years ago I was at the front of rides crossing the “finish” line, now I limp home looking for a fresh excuse for the jets misfiring. 

The atmosphere of a group ride comes with its own motivation.

I should be honest, since the start of the pandemic, I’ve cruised around solo in the same comfortable training zone. Initially KOMs were targeted, but they lacked interest after some time. Total miles were targeted only to find the same roads were looped endlessly. Riding had lost its appeal because I stopped letting it challenge me.

 

Some weeks ago, I rolled up to the Instigators start at Free Will Brewing Company in Perkasie, PA, ready to return to the group ride action. I knew I was going to get smoked, but that wasn’t the point. The idea was to lay a foundation to improve upon, to challenge myself again. Sure enough, once the ride moved into race pace, I watched the entire group roll just a bit faster into the distance, the frustration offset by a significant tailwind. Week two I came back only to hang in there mere meters farther up the road, but losing sight of the group sooner. This is still my scene. It felt great to be dropped.

 

Years ago I wrote an article mentioning a riding buddy who passed along some wisdom. In the early days of my riding I repeated the story while struggling to hold onto the paceline. The buddy told of a group ride in Washington, DC, where he was dropped on a regular basis. He stuck it out and got dropped later and later into each ride, eventually finding the speed to keep up to the very end. A group ride has a funny way of showing new things, whether it’s a different view, a unique route, or simply pushing (punishing?) each rider harder. That buddy eventually turned pro, an outcome I hardly expect. But each time I meet up for the speed ride, I’ll be the one repeating the mantra each week I can only get faster. Riding with others has that effect on people.