Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies.
For the first time in at least a few months, I ventured out on my favorite local group ride. It’s as fast as you want to make it, relatively short (so I can get home quickly), and most of the folks on the ride are friends I’ve known and ridden/raced with for years. It also happens to be a short roll down the hill from where I live. In other words- it’s pretty much perfect.
Over the years though, sadly, I’ve gone through phases of loving and hating the ride, having to periodically “boycott” it. The main issue for me, has been the growing willingness to disobey all road rules, along with even a bit of basic common sense and decency. A few years ago, I boycotted the ride after the group blew through an intersection with a stop sign as a young mother was walking with her child in a stroller through the intersection, scaring the crap out of her. I immediately made a u-turn and headed off on my own. On many occasions, as the group has flown along the main artery bike path that connects north and south routes, I’ve grumpily shouted to slow down or act less like assholes blowing past slower riders and pedestrians on the multi-use pathway. Sometimes I get a nod of recognition or a laugh from a rider next to me, but usually the ride just hammers along to the base of the hill ahead.
There are numerous intersections with stop lights and stop signs along the route. In recent years, the group has gone from doing “California Roll” stops at stop signs, to fully blasting through intersections of all types. Sure, I roll through the occasional intersection where there is no road to my right, and I’m in a marked bike lane (still illegal, but less obvious and dangerous), so I’m not saying that I’m perfect. But the group ride has become much more willing to simply roll all intersections, because, you know- we’re “training.”
Today’s ride was a classic example of this new normal. Early in the ride, before things got very fast, the group etiquette was fine. We got to the first “sprint” of the ride and after a minor slowing and regrouping, we plunged onto the bike path, blowing by other riders in either direction without slowing. I groused … and was ignored. We got to the hill and I was dropped from my efforts “winning” the first sprint. I flailed away up the short climb and nearly attached myself to the back of the group. But the group was blowing through all the lights I stopped for. So I took the shortcut that cuts off a few miles, and a harder climb, to meet the group again at the one stopping/ regrouping section. I grumbled about nearly catching on earlier, but chose not to run the same lights the rest of the group had blown through. There was no comment. As we rolled off for the next section of the ride, a calm seemed to return and all of our lights were green. Thanks to green lights along the way, no more intersections were violated. And I unclenched my jaw for a bit. The ride ended without incident and I rolled home. But now I find myself ready to “boycott” the ride again and just return to “training” alone.
Over the years, I’ve tried leading by example, as I did today by not rolling the intersections. I enjoy a nice position and reputation within our local peloton- I’m one of the “old fast guys” and have had enviable industry jobs, so I get “respect.” But that respect holds no sway over the group when it is on a “training ride.” Finish lines, real or imaginary, wait for nobody. And that’s part of the problem.
In this new era of Strava and the echo chamber of virtual dick-swinging, the Group Ride continues to devolve into a pseudo competition that does not take its environment into consideration. We are NOT on closed roads. We do NOT have a rolling enclosure even. We have not paid an entry fee and we do not have numbers pinned on. There is no finish line and there is no prize money. So why the hell are we taking unnecessary risks, breaking the laws, and making all cyclists look like total assholes to the rest of the public … especially when the car vs bike atmosphere is as toxic as it is right now?
And I take issue with the notion of “training.” I get the argument of not *wanting* to stop because of attempting to simulate race pace and intensity. I get that. Races don’t stop at stop lights. Training rides are an attempt to prepare for races. I get it. I mean, I’ve been doing this since 1982, so it isn’t new to me. But the notion of “training” when many of the people on group rides NEVER race at all is kinda bogus. The “training ride” IS their race. I get that too.
But … BUT … we, cyclists as a whole, have got to stop pretending that what many of us do, alone or in groups, is in any way justified simply because we want to go fast or get a workout that simulates racing. If you don’t want to stop ever, go somewhere where you can do that- like a velodrome or the middle of nowhere, where there are no intersections to break your rhythm. We are our own worst enemies and we’re collectively hurting our collective goals of gaining respect from other road users (drivers in particular), and increasing our safety. 90+% of my riding/training is done alone, mostly because of my availability to ride. I’m a very social person and like to ride with friends, and genuinely enjoy a good Group Ride. But, as more and more rides all over the US become more like my personal favorite ride, I fear that I may have to resign myself to spending a lot more time riding alone or only with select friends who share my ride etiquette. My race simulation will have to come from actually racing. Sadly.
I know I’m not alone and I know that my favorite ride is far from the only example of this behavior. It’s time we placed a much higher value on obeying the law and respecting the rules of the road. Otherwise, we simply continue to set our agenda back- further marginalizing ourselves, our sport, and cyclists as a group. We’ve got it bad enough already, why should we actively make it worse?
For now, you’ll find me riding alone. Again.