Group rides – for many of us they’re the backbone of our cycling life. Heading out on a sunny weekend morning with a bunch of like-minded obsessives, the sound of enthusiastic chatter and spinning freehubs filling the air as you carve through idyllic country lanes together in perfect formation. When it all comes together it doesn’t get much better.
Of course it’s the people that make it what it is, and whilst most who join a cycling club ride just get on with the task at hand, there are a few characters that crop up time and time again. In no particular order, here are six types of riders you’re bound to find at least one of on any given group bike ride:
The Habitual Mechanical
This rider is immediately recognisable even before the group has set off, because they’ll be nervously fiddling with a part of their bike and sheepishly asking if anyone has a chain tool.
After delaying the start by 10 minutes, it will be around the 20 mile mark they’ll have to stop the group to attend to a slow puncture, in the realisation they haven’t topped up their sealant since last spring. By the cafe stop their rear derallieur will have stopped working and they’ll agree to let the group go on without them as they limp the last 30 miles home in 52/11. A stickler for doing their own maintenance and a refusal to ever take their bike in for a professional service, the Habitual Mechanical is never deterred and will be back next week to do it all again.
The Commander in Chief
There’s always one. This rider is the most vocal of all and takes it upon themselves to take charge the group in all aspect of the ride. Barking orders from the off, expect authoritative shouts of “STAY ON THE WHEEL”, “CHANGE TWO” and “SINGLE OUT” every couple of minutes.
Whilst usually meaning well and just aiming to ensure the most efficient ride possible, the Commander In Chief – a totally unelected role – has a tendency to grate on some, particularly after three hours of incessant instructions. Some – particularly newbies – can find it intimidating. For most others it’s a case of selective hearing until the Commander in Chief eventually gets the message that the ride works just as well without their constant yelling.
The Power Surger
Often the stronger riders in the group, but what they posses in sheer power they lack in group etiquette. Whilst seamlessly integrating with the group for the most part, the Power Surger only shows their true colours when it’s their turn on the front.
Rather than maintaining the steady speed that’s gone before, these riders will immediately push up the pace. They’ll think nothing of notching up another 5mph on the flat or pushing 1000 watts on every climb, regardless of the pace of everyone else.
The result is a fragmented group that never stays together, the stop-start nature meaning everyone putting in more effort for the same if not slower average pace. Power Surgers don’t notice or care, happy in the knowledge they’ve shown everyone just how strong they are.
The Wide Eyed Newbie
This was all of us once. The Wide Eyed Newbie arrives at the group ride full of nervous enthusiasm. Three weeks after getting inspired by the Tour De France, on a brand new, spotless bike complete with dork disk and reflectors, they’ve got all the gear and are raring to go.
After foregoing the offer to join the ‘C Group’ as they used to ride mountain bikes as a kid and run once a week, they opt straight for the ‘B Group’. Things are fine until the first hill when the vision they had of themselves as Nairo Quintana dancing up Alpe D’Huez quickly vanish into a painful, sweaty, breathless fog. Supportive fellow riders stay back and offer words of encouragement, but by the top of the climb the penny has dropped – cycling is MUCH harder than it looks. After being offered a gel (they didn’t bring any fuel for the ride or have breakfast) they’re on their way again. They get to the end exhausted, but ultimately elated. For many it’s at that point the bug bites. They’ll be back next week, even more motivated and ready to do it all again.
The Silver Assasin
It’s a shock to the system for everyone when a Silver Assassin is on the ride. Usually in their late 50s or 60s, this veteran of the club is still aboard the steel racer they bought in 1978 – downtube shifters, five speed cassette and toe clips – the only thing Aero about them is the bubbly chocolate bar stuffed down their jersey pocket.
But looks can be deceiving. The Silver Assassin immediately takes a turn on the front, effortlessly dialling things up to race pace. Barely able to utter a breathless word, you strike up conversation, only for them to cheerfully tell you they rode 30 miles to the start of the ride that morning.
As things go on, fatigue sets in for everyone. Not for the Silver Assassin. As riders begin to drop off the back, they’re still there – their diesel engine churning out mile after mile of the sort of sustained watts race whippets half their age can only dream of. In the obligatory sprint back to the cafe they leave everyone for dead – completely defeated. It’s almost like they could ride forever – and they probably will. Back at the cafe they tell you they’re taking the long way home in preparation for ‘tomorrow’s 200 mile audax” as you quietly weep into your cinnamon bun.
The Book of Excuses
They might perhaps have been in better shape before, or maybe their friends have all just got a bit quicker. Whatever the reason, when they get dropped, The Book of Excuses will always have an explanation.
“My brakes are rubbing” and “there’s some resistance in the drivetrain” are classic favourites, while more leftfield choices like “I’ve run out of my usual caffeine gels’ or ‘these new tyres don’t roll as well as my old ones’ can also be thrown in. If all else fails there is always the mystery ‘knee pain’ that conveniently occurs when the going gets tough, magically healing itself when a more comfortable pace is found.
You’re also unlikely to see a Book of Excuses in the same kit more than twice, and they are the ones that most frequently change their bikes. After all, it must be the equipment slowing them down and nothing to do with the the lack of any training and the six beers the night before, right?