Saturday morning was kind of a big milestone for me in that I made myself go ride what I consider my first local bike shop group ride. I know that may sound crazy to some of you but I’ve been putting this off for a while and I’m not sure why. Actually, I do know and I’ll explain.

First, let me explain why I consider this my first local bike shop group ride. I did a group ride last year with one of the local bicycle clubs and we started from a restaurant vice at a local bike shop. About three weeks ago I did a group ride that started from a local bike shop but was actually a group training ride for the Tour de Cure. There was a big turnout for that ride so I don’t consider that a good example of a typical Saturday morning shop ride. Two days ago I got up the courage and showed up at one of the local stores to do the normal Saturday morning group ride. I’m glad I did.

The Fear of the Group Ride

I think showing up and riding with a group can be a big hurdle for newer cyclists to get over. Why? Because of the unknowns. Will you be welcomed? Will you get dropped by mile five? Can you handle riding in close proximity with others? Is it OK to not have carbon wheels or a full team kit? And so on. Not knowing stuff like that can be a big deterrent in not showing up.

There’s the social aspect too. Let’s face it, cyclists not only ride in packs but we socialize in packs as well. All the regulars know each other and easily form into groups to catch up or smack talk before the ride. When a new person shows up it can be a little overwhelming to try and break into those social groups because you don’t know anyone.

Then you take somebody like me. The overweight cyclist. I’m not a new cyclist but showing up to ride was still a problem for me because I felt my weight would be a hindrance to both me and the group. I didn’t want to slow down the group but didn’t want to get dropped early on either. I don’t fit the typical cyclists physical profile and Saturdays ride was the same. Are there heavy cyclists that do these rides? Sure, but I needed to get over letting my weight hold me back.

So, early last week I had decided I wasn’t going to let it hold me back anymore and I was going to show up for a Saturday morning ride at a local bike shop. And that’s what I did.

My LBS Group Ride Experience

I got up early and headed down to the shop and arrived around 7 AM. There were already a couple of cars there when I showed up but nobody was out getting their bikes ready so I decided to sit tight. A few minutes later a shop employee showed up, along with a few other folks, and he opened up the shop. More folks gradually arrived over the next 20 minutes and we departed at around 7:30 after it started to get lighter outside.

I rode with a small group that totaled four of us. Me, Jeff (a shop employee), and two women. One of the women was an experienced cyclist but had only ridden the trainer so far this year. She was in shape though. The other was on her second ride ever on her road bike. A larger group of about ten riders took off at a faster pace and I didn’t see them again.

The four of us rode the next 22 miles at a comfortable avg pace of 15 mph. The new rider needed lots of help and Jeff, the shop employee, stayed with her the entire time to help coach her along. The other lady and I rode at varying paces often pulling ahead of the other two and then easily spinning until they caught up. About 3/4 of the way complete the new rider settled in and we rode as a group the rest of the way.

Overall, I had a great time even though I didn’t ride as far or as fast as I wanted to. In hindsight, I probably should have tried to ride with the faster group but, this being my first ride with them, I wanted to see what I was getting myself into first and stayed with the slow group. I felt really, really good before and during the ride and think it had something to do with modifying my pre-ride routine slightly with regards to eating. I’m going to save that for a post later this week but wanted to give a big shout out to Kelli of Apex Nutrition for helping me fine tune it on Friday.

Seeing Improvement

One thing that I believe I can honestly say is that I may be stronger on the bike than I’m giving myself credit for. I know that sounds cheeky but let me explain. Since I started riding in January, and began the Tour de Cure trainig plan last month, I’ve continued to struggle with my weight loss. I’m seeing my weight go down just to bounce right back up. It does appear to be trending downward though. My clothes are certainly fitting better.

One area that I’ve seen vast improvement in is my cycling. I feel like I’m getting strong every week and seem to have better endurance. During the ride on Saturday I was easily able to pull our small group along at 18 or 19 mph. After the ride I didn’t feel like I had ridden at all. Below is a graph showing my average speeds since starting on January 4 through Saturday’s ride. The trend line shows how my average pace is trending up and has increased 2.0 mph since January. I’m seeing more rides in the 15 mph range with a couple above 16 (one of which was solo). I had always considered 15 mph a big average pace barrier for me but it looks like I might be breaking through it.

Avg Speed Trend

My Average Speed Trend since January 4, 2011

Four Tips to Completing Your First Group Ride

So, what can you do to get over the fear of riding with the local bike shop for the first time? Here’s some tips:

  1. Talk to the shop. I called the shop this past week and spoke to the guys who lead the ride. They put me at ease and answered all of the questions I had with regards to pace, mileage, number of cyclists, and so on. I mentioned a shop guy by the name of Jeff earlier. The second time I called (yes, I called twice to discuss the ride) I spoke with him and he volunteered to ride with me for whatever distance and pace I was comfortable with. If you could visit the shop before showing up for the ride I’d recommend that too.
  2. Find the right ride. If you’re new to group riding you can’t expect to go with the hammerheads on your first ride. You won’t have the endurance and will get dropped like a bad habit. If you don’t have group riding experience you’ll need to find a ride that caters to the beginner so you can learn. The one I rode on Saturday was such a ride which was perfect for the lady who was new.
  3. Forget about the weight. I mean both bike weight and your weight. Sure, other riders will have carbon bikes, carbon rims, and probably crap carbon but you don’t need carbon to ride with them. Don’t worry about your weight. It may surprise you to find out how many others in the group were just like you at one point and getting out there to ride was what helped them get stronger and lose the weight.
  4. Deal with the fear. Eventually, you’ll just have to face whatever fear you have and do it. If you’ve talked to the shop, found the right ride, and put your time in on the bike, you should have an easier time of dealing with it and getting out there. It’s all going to come down to you making the decision. What’s holding you back?

Anybody have some other tips for new or overweight cyclists wanting to try their first local bike shop group ride?

PhotoC: robohit