A Little Above Average, Not Quite Competitive

This post has been several weeks in the making. It started on a Wednesday in late June. I had decided to join the local bike shop‘s Wednesday night group ride. It was labeled a “competitive” ride and even though I’d only been on a bike twice in a couple of years (once in November and once in March), I thought I could at least hold on to the back of the group and tag along.


I got dropped about a third of the way into the ride. Up to that point, I’d felt good. I was having fun and enjoyed being in a group ride again. Not knowing the exact route, though, I eased up at one left turn to look for traffic. I made the turn and looked ahead to see the pace line now about 30 yards ahead of me and accelerating away. I never saw them again.

Oh well. It was humbling, sure, but given my absence from the saddle, it was also totally understandable. I finished the ride on my own, averaging about 20 miles an hour over the 22-mile circuit.

The following week, I showed up on Tuesday for what the shop called the “average guy ride.” This ride rode the same course, and a couple of shop riders led the group much of the way, keeping the pace down around 17 miles an hour or so. I hung at the back, not knowing what to expect or what course we’d take, and given the wonders of drafting, that meant I spent a lot of time coasting, especially on the first half of the ride. The pace picked up a bit over the third quarter and then there was a 30-plus-mile-an-hour break for a final few miles before a mellow spin back to the shop. I stayed with all the shaved-leg freaks and felt pretty comfortable. Apparently, I’d found my level.

I’ve ridden the average-guy ride each Tuesday since, being one of the leaders when the pace picks up and always being among the top couple of riders for the final sprint. Every time we’ve been cruising along the tree-lined back lanes of Rowley and Georgetown, I’ve thought of various angles with which to present my experiences here on TerraStomper. Most of them were of the “it’s been so long since I’ve done XYZ and now I’m back at it” variety, but I never gotten around to posting any of them (obviously). Until now.

So what changed? Well, this past Tuesday’s ride was a continuation of my experiences every Tuesday: the ride is super mellow for the first eight miles or so, and then it ramps up a little bit for the middle eight miles and then there’s the sprint and warm down. Frankly, I haven’t been getting pushed enough. Yes, it’s a fine workout and I’ve been having fun, but there wasn’t any limit-pushing going on. So yesterday I returned to the Wednesday competitive-group ride to see how I’d stack up.

In addition to seeing how I compared, it was interesting to see how the rides compared, too. Where I’m able to casually pedal along for much of the first few miles on Tuesday, on the Wednesday ride I was constantly spinning. And where the Tuesday group cruises at 16 to 18 miles per hour, the Wednesday group was running in the mid-20s, the pace picking up steadily and swiftly as the ride progressed.

I made it past the infamous left turn. And I stayed with the group for another couple of miles. But on the series of little, rolling hills in Georgetown, the peloton pulled away. And this time it was truly humbling: there was no left turn, no looking for traffic, on which to blame my drop. The group simply had more in the tank than I did. I just slowly dropped off the back and watched as they faded out of sight.

This time, however, I wasn’t alone, and the other cyclist and I teamed up for the ride from Georgetown through Byfield and back home. Truth be told: it wasn’t much different than my solo ride as I did all the pulling for the other guy on the flats and the uphills before the final, slightly downhill hammer section. He felt strong enough to lead that one out after I’d maintained what he called a good, steady pace (which he said was about 22 miles an hour; my bike computer blew up on this ride) and, to my mind, done all the hard work. Oh well.

We finished the circuit about five minutes faster than the Tuesday group but I got that tougher workout I was seeking. No gliding and very little drafting on this ride.

I’ll return to my average-guy ride next Tuesday. But don’t be surprised to see me out there again on Wednesday, too. This time I’ll be shooting to make it just another few miles in the peloton.

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