Riding slow and riding fast

I was out on a bike with a friend recently. It was a gorgeous morning. There was beautiful scenery. We talked about philosophy, about friends, about cycling, and about family. Perfect. At least that’s what I remembered about our ride.

But when we next meet she asked, “Were you riding at that speed for me?” She was anxious that I’d slowed down to ride with her, that I’d been moderating my speed on her behalf.

I’ve encountered that worry a few times and I want to say a few things in response.

First, and most notably, it almost always come from women. Now part of the reason for that is that when I help out beginning cyclists they’re often women, but not always. And men might start out slower than me but in my experience that stage doesn’t last very long. (I’m going to blog about riding with men in another post. If you’re a fast woman cyclist, you’ll spend lots of time riding with the guys. It’s interesting and challenging.) But women also seem more apologetic right from the start.

Second, it almost always comes from beginners. When you start any activity, it’s hard to grasp “slow” and “fast.” There’s just one speed you run/ride at and it’s the speed you can run/ride at. It’s like when I started running and I thought idea of speed work and recovery runs was incomprehensible. All runs at that stage were all out.

Third, what does the question mean? Could I have ridden faster? Sure. And still talked? Yes.
It’s true it wasn’t my race pace but I don’t often ride at race pace. It wasn’t a race. How about was I happy riding at that speed? Yes!

Fourth, most cyclists like riding with others. Riding alone, unless I’m doing training drills, feels both dull and dangerous to me. Generally speaking, I don’t do it. I’m flexible because I want to ride with others.

Fifth, it’s great to ride with people of different speeds. You can have a hard, fast day with one group of friends and slow, social day with another set. I like that. It’s like heart rate training without the monitor! Sometimes I’m the fastest and sometimes I’m the slowest, here’s my advice about etiquette at each of the spectrum.

I’ve written before about things you learn working out with others.

See also It takes all kinds.

I recommend riding with other people. You learn a lot. You should always ride with the fastest people willing to have you along. And to pay it back, you should be willing to ride with beginning cyclists some of the time. People come in lots of different speeds and sizes. Get to know them all.


8 thoughts on “Riding slow and riding fast

  1. Great post! I need to keep this is mind when I worry so much about slowing people down. But I don’t think all cyclists feel the same way you do. I’m glad you do though! Looking forward to getting out with you again. I’m not enjoying riding alone at all.

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Not at all cyclists, for sure. But there is a very strong community ethos among cyclists about helping beginners with the expectation that you’ll help beginning riders in years to come. I had a small group of people who helped get me up to speed for club rides and who taught me how to draft and ride in a group and then when they thought I was ready invited me along to my first club ride. They invested quite a few rides in me when I was the slowest and cheered me on up hills. I’m still thankful.

  2. Thanks for the helpful reminder– this is good for everyone who cycles, whether they are new to the sport, recovering from an injury, training for racing, or inducting friends/family into cycling. I’m hoping I can do social hiking with faster folks who are as aware and sensitive as you are here.

  3. Nice one, Sam. I have to say that riding alone also means an urge to push too hard takes over, which is actually totally counterproductive, training wise! So Tracy, remember that: if you’re with a group who could be riding faster, that does not mean they actually would do, without you. Many cyclists spend at least two training sessions a week working at very moderate pace in order to condition themselves for endurance and max efficiency in sprints. You’re not holding anyone back: you’re probably helping them stay in the right zone! AND you’re reminding them of the right cycling ethic: generosity coupled with humility.

  4. I’ve never cycled with men who intend to ride for training. I have cycled on the rare occasion with mixed gender group rides..less than 20 people. About 60-100 km. I did a touring ride …300 kms. with some family and friends.

    I cycle for transportation, fitness and touring. It is a lifestyle for me. It is important that I love doing it seamlessly in my life and not worry if I’m too slow, etc. Otherwise I won’t do it..and that’s not good since I’m car-free / don’t drive.

  5. I helped a coworker once run a 5k. It wasn’t her first, but she hadn’t run in a long time. I was training for a half ironman at the time and it felt good to just run for fun with her. I knew she was struggling, but I tried to keep things upbeat. We trained a few times together for the run and also did weight training regularly together. When race day came she had a really off day, but at the end was grateful I was there for her. I don’t think she knew how grateful I was to be there with her too! Sometimes it’s not only important for the beginner, but also for the advanced person to be able to enjoy new company and feel that helping purpose.

    PS-If you want to come and take me for a ride, I’d really enjoy it! 🙂

  6. I’ve had this worry with my hiking group, but as I’ve learned what I’m capable of, I make better choices about which hikes to join, sometimes taking more challenging ones, but mostly staying within the range of “I can mostly keep up, but it’s work”. I’ve stopped feeling bad about being the slow one, mostly. It helps that when I finally pull up to the junction where they’ve stopped to wait for the rest of the group, I can see other red faces and glistening skin.

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