Fitter, faster, further – the improvement dilemma

Most regular cyclists want to improve, whether it’s fitter, faster or further – or any combination of those. I completely understand that and I want to improve on all three – but there’s a but ..

The issue is that such improvements are unlikely to be even across members of a cycling group, and that can cause problems.

Let me explain.

I joined the group I ride with about 6 or 7 years ago. We were a slightly motley crew with carbon, aluminium and steel, racing, hybrid and touring bikes. The group was very sociable, we waited to regroup regularly and had a ‘banana break’ at halfway which was also a major regrouping and the opportunity for a chat. We’d do about 45 miles (c. 72km) on a Saturday morning at just over 14mph (c. 23kph). There were those who could cycle faster but they sacrificed some speed for sociability.

It’s all moved on over the years. Bikes have been upgraded and so have the riders’ abilities. More now cycle on the continent in the summer and more have climbed a few Alps – this year 3 more did Ventoux. Last year a group rode the length of the Pyrenees and this year a group rode in Corsica. The 100m Ride London, long sportives like the Dragon Gran Fondo, the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux, everesting and even Paris Brest Paris have now been tackled by group members.

Saturday rides are still a similar length but are now more likely to be ridden at 17-19 mph (c. 27-30kph).

A second ‘blue’ group was introduced successfully which does shorter and slower rides with an emphasis on the social side – some of us take turns to lead that and it’s always enjoyable but will not provide good training for the more committed cyclist. The issues are really with the faster, longer ‘red’ group.

Don’t get me wrong, I think all progress this is brilliant – but it comes with a price. Not everyone has improved at the same rate and some now struggle to keep up. With a focus on speed, the group does not often stop to regroup. It also makes it hard if not impossible for inexperienced riders to join the group – and introducing newcomers to the joys of cycling was always a key purpose of the group. It’s a group of good people (and me) – we set up a charitable company to raise funds for local cycling initiatives and we are quite prominent in the town, with our own annual sportive being part of the town’s festival.

Last Saturday I rode with a very nice chap who was riding with the group for the first time. We rode at a very respectable 15.5mph (c. 25kph) but were left behind by the main group. I was telling him about the social side of the group and the chance to meet a few people at the banana break – but we never had a break as the group(s) in front didn’t stop long enough for us to catch up.

There was a lady riding behind us and a ‘sweep’ but we didn’t see them either as we kept going, waiting for the break which never came – but by the time we realised that it was a bit late to stop. Apparently, another very good cyclist was dropped by the main group on Saturday and had what he called an ‘improvised limp home’ – that wouldn’t have happened in the past.

What’s the answer?

Multiple groups? A return to ‘collegiate’ cycling rather than the more self-centred ‘push myself at my optimum speed’? A more rigorous regrouping regime? None is perfect or, perhaps, possible.

Of course, I am no saint in all of this. I probably felt worse about Saturday because I’d have liked to have joined a fast group after the half-way break. I have cycled with the group less this year because of my specific training for my ‘everest’ last month – so I’m as selfish as anyone else.

My options? I could stay and simply join the fast groups – or I could effectively leave the group and do my own thing.

But there’s the irony – I’d be leaving and being anti-social in protest at the anti-social nature of the group; and I’d be putting my own cycling first in protest at the way others do the very same thing.

It makes my head hurt. Come to think of it, it used to be my legs hurting – at least that’s another beneficial feature of cycling improvement!

3 thoughts on “Fitter, faster, further – the improvement dilemma

  1. tempocyclist.wordpress.com

    You can never have he perfect group for everyone, especially as clubs get bigger. My club started as half a dozen of us meeting under a tree of a Sunday morning, now there can be 50+ on a sunny morning! We have four to six groups from social to fast (~14mph to over 20mph av) plus a Saturday social which is under 14mph. All with the same ethos, nobody left behind unless agreed and always a cafe stop. The trouble is having enough ride leaders to keep things running smooth each week.

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    1. The Omil (an Old Man in Lycra) Post author

      More wise words!
      We might have a bigger problem because on our Saturday ride we probably cover much the same speed range (minus the 20mph+) but with more like 15-20 riders most weeks – which would stretch the groups rather thin. The key thing is our majority’s possible loss of the ‘nobody left behind’ ethos which we used to have but which seems to have gone walkabout (to give a nod to your adopted country).
      Interestingly, we do a Sunday ‘dust off your bike’ ride for families. Although our club’s ride days are swapped around (must be due to crossing the equator, like the way the water goes down the plughole) it looks like we might both be using a good and widespread formula, which is comforting.

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