Group rides rule.
As a true Seattle native, I never understood what the hype was all about. For the past seven years, my weekend group ride existence was composed entirely of team rides. We'd meet at said designated point donned with buddy fenders (to keep the rain spray at a minimum) and do the same routes week in, week out. Occasionally we might have a guest rider join us, but only after the group was first asked if so and so could join.
You'd pass other team rides out on the road, all in matching kits. Not once do I recall a giant group of people with various kits riding together, especially around the south end of Lake Washington. Oh wait, yes I do! The Seattle to Portland ride and the Chilly Hilly. Apparently cross contaminating kits may result in labeling riders as clubers, not racers. And there will be none of that.
The only ride close to a group ride that goes on in the rest of the country is David Richter's Rocket ride. But even still, if the weather is that crappy out the ride is canceled and the battle of who can hang on the longest resumes the next weekend. And seeing someone show up to the Rocket Ride in a non-recognizable team kit means only one thing: stir clear of the Fred.
I had to move half way across the country to really understand why group rides rule.
Don't get me wrong, I love riding with teammates. But we know each others strengths and weaknesses a little too well. You can't exactly apply team tactics to your own team. You can't test your strengths against other competitors and judge fitness levels. Sure you bond with your teammates and I absolutely believe in team rides but group rides are different. They are open to everyone. They add a couple layers of mystery to the ride. Similar to racing, you need to be able to figure out on a whim who is riding strong right now, whose wheel to be on, who is a dark horse that will pull you up to the break.
Group rides provide not only a killer workout sprinting for the top of hills, street signs and other random macho marks through out the ride, but you also gain a sense of camaraderie of belonging to a pack. You latch onto a group of people who like you are out to get a good workout equipped with spandex, power bars, sheer grit and two wheels. The fact that you go beyond your normal comfort zone and into the red multiple times is without a doubt. You suffer, you breath hard, you occasionally win a sprint, you go cross eyed. And yes, often times the pros come out to play.
Here in the Springs there are two options for group rides, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. They both leave at 10am from the Starbucks on the corner of Tejon and Bijou and are open to anyone who shows up. The difference between the two rides is simple: flat vs. hilly. Saturday's ride goes into Kansas. (You know - the Kansas that runs directly east of the front range?) The relatively flat, slightly rolling terrain and wind provide their own set of challenges. Sunday's ride does a loop through the Air Force Academy and then through the west hills of the front range.
This week was my first time making the Sunday ride and it provided everything I needed: lung bleeding, foaming mouth, determination check, sprint points, etc. Except today I got an extra bonus: I received affirmation that what I'm doing is right on.
On the return trip from the Academy, I rode next to Todd. Unassuming as Todd was in his black tights, wind jacket, steel frame and larger than average cyclist body type, his handling was pretty remarkable. I could tell he had been riding a while. Turns out he was a racer in the 70's and 80's. He followed his heart which was set on riding in the outdoors, not with his nose stuck in law books at Stanford. He quit law school to race his bike. I liked him immediately.
"Life is too short!"
"On the contrary, at 22 I thought quite the opposite. Life is too long! I want to be doing something I love because I have a really long life to live. Call me a forever optimist but that's the world as I see it."
Todd had a great perspective. It was refreshing and inspiring. And it proved to me two things: one, group rides rule. And two, life is long. If you're not following your heart and doing the things you enjoy then it's time to start. Quit your law school and race a bike. Follow your dreams and push your limits. And make sure what ever it is that you're doing puts a big fat grin on your face and make those smile lines permanent.