Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bike clubs: A lament...

Yesterday, I rode with the third of the three major Denver bike clubs. It was the Weds evening "noodle" ride, the social, no-drop, have-fun-or-it's-your-fault, don't-whine-if-you-crash, come-one, come-all ride.

It sucked. Like the "social" rides of the other two clubs, it was raggedy-ass and so erratic as to be dangerous. The same two or three guys, the "fast guys in the slow club," stretched the group into an intermittent line, even on the bike path at evening rush hour, where (correct me if I'm wrong) speed is so inappropriate as to be flat stupid.

New riders and even many veterans are sure they're supposed to maintain the pace of the "leaders," so they chase and chase, taking chances in bike path traffic, passing peds and skaters far too close, even drafting skaters as if skaters were pack-trained and trustworthy.

At one point I went to the front (except for the two Local Heroes six bikelengths ahead) and maintained a pace that allowed the ride to stay together. I figured: Other people will see that slowing the pace just a little will make a ride out of this.

But when I pulled off the front, the guy behind me jumped to catch the Local Heroes. No one had learned anything - except perhaps that I was a slow, feeble leader.

Before the ride, I heard guys talking about riding in race vehicles in Coors Classic stages in the '80s, but I never heard any of them offer help to a newer rider. I only saw the LHs go two miles an hour faster than prudent, two mph that precluded cohesion, that kept the ride from being a group ride.

It wasn't a group ride. It was the same guys as always, doing the same tinhorn, string-it-out trick at the front. Every club has these guys. No one says anything to them. No one says a word to anyone, if you ask me, that is not for effect: To demonstrate how cool the speaker is relative to his audience.

Years ago, I enjoyed club rides but hated club meetings. Now the rides are as bad as the meetings. Who'd ever have imagined....?

I've ridden with the Big Three Denver clubs at this point and found quickly that they all suck. They suck pretty equally. It's the same scary unhelpful bunch - with different faces and different bicycles.

All that said, I've been trying again and again to find an acceptable, savvy club. And I've failed again and again. This is not a new phenomenon, dear reader. I can't think of a happy group with which I've ridden since I lived in Berkeley. I left Berkeley in 1997.

I remember those rides fondly but maybe...probably...I found fault with those rides in those days.

Maybe, is my point, it's me. Maybe I expect things from folks who look like cyclists that are unreasonable to expect. Maybe I have an ideal ride imprinted in my cyclist mind that does not exist in cycling reality.

Maybe rides like yesterday's fiasco, a ride that felt like another in a series of personal defeats, are what I have to look forward to in my last decade or so awheel.

Or maybe, as my smarter half Tamar suggests, I'm doing something wrong and repeating the effort time after time - with the same predictable result.

Maybe I need to step up to riding with racers on their slow training days. It isn't the speed of the club rides that ruins them; it's the scary unpredictability and ever-abruptly-changing pace.

I can hang in a smooth, steady group. If I don't have sudden demands made on my legs and dispiriting near-crashes to cope with, I can hang. I'm going to put this eternal club search behind me and find classy riders with weekly easy days. Tamar's right.

I'll be in touch about this.... Wish me luck.


Khal said...

I stopped riding with clubs because my Patrick O'Grady "Old Guys Who Get Fat in Winter..." jersey is now a little bit too accurate. Riding alone is less embarrassing; on some days I drop myself...

Having said that, the comments about people riding like maniacs on bike paths rings true to what I saw when I spent a week in Calgary, riding on some super duper urban multiuse paths. Come rush hour and the same fools were weaving in and around the Freds and Peds at high speed. There was a cycling fatality on the Calgary path system that week (2005) too, and I saw the meat wagon picking up the pieces. On another day that week, I chatted with a rollerblader who had a foot long scar on her leg from a biker-blader wreck.

Maynard's concerns for some sanity are not too imaginary. As Transportation Board Chair down here, I tell the hotdogs to keep it out on the road and off the walkways.

blackmountaincycles said...

I too won't ride on a club ride, but a ride with friends is very enjoyable, spririted at the right time, and casual when it needs to be. Club rides are the place to show off and boast about past almost-accomplishments, not a place to enjoy other rider's company.

Kirk said...

Rides on urban bike paths should be limited to groups of six or less, otherwise you're putting the safety of other path users at risk.

GOB said...

I think what you need to do is start your own club. Go around to the larger shops in the area and advertise it as a mellow ride for beginning to intermediate riders who are interested in learning to ride in a pack. Limit the ride size if you'll be on the bike paths. Sure, it will take some time and effort, but it will be your club, and as the grand poohbah, you can dictate speed and educate those who think they must attack attack attack at all times.

There are lots of people out there who started riding because of Lance who didn't have the benefit of your columns in the magazines when they were getting started. They bought their Madone's and Tarmacs and Disco/Quick Step kits and thought they were riders. They'd be willing to learn, they just need teachers, and they need to be kept away from the morons who attack through red lights and buzz pedestrians.

Khal said...

Here is one for you, Maynard. A little of the "man bites dog" from Portland, OR

(long URL from

“The cultural clash between Portland bicyclists and motorists took a surreal turn Sunday night when a motorist involved in a tiff with a bicycle rider turned out to be a long-time advocate for cycling.”

The situation involved a man in a car, Colin Yates, who was driving in Southeast Portland and then got into an altercation after he chided a guy on a bike, Mike Steven McAtee, for blowing a stop light.

sda said...

Drop me a line Maynard. Maybe you can work your way up north one of these days and I'll take you on a nice ride up around the Fort.