I'll be honest with you, my two main motivations for riding my bike any distance are coffee and conversation. A good workout is also a motivator but going really fast is not. I'm more of a slow and steady - okay, really slow and not that steady - sort of bicyclist. But for months now I've wanted to join in on a group ride. From what I've heard people ride their bikes, chat away the miles and stop somewhere for a cup of coffee mid-way or at the end of the ride. Sounds like my kind of ride. Right? Maybe not.
Most of the group rides I've heard about promise average speeds of 18 to 20 miles per hour or more and go 40 or more miles. Some sound brutal and talk about hill climbs and sprints. Granted, these are the "A" rides, rides geared towards competitive riders, riders who want to push their limits. "B" rides are supposed to be slower, "C" rides even more so but I've seen some C rides that sound too fast for me, some B rides with lengths and speeds way outside my comfort range.
But The Northfield Bike Club offers a "B" ride every Saturday morning that promises a 13 to 15 mph average speed and "no drops," meaning that the group won't leave the slowest riders behind, and I've been wanting to go on one for quite some time. The length and difficulty of the ride varies from week to week and some of the routes seem reasonable. The pace fits in with what I think I can do. But I haven't gone because I've been too scared.
Scared of what? Oh, of a lot of stuff. Of falling behind. Of not having the endurance to finish the ride. Of falling off my bike. Of being the only woman. Of holding up the entire group so that no one ever wants to ride with me again. Of throwing up from heat exhaustion (like I nearly did a few weeks ago on a ride with Owen). Of being laughed at. Of having a mechanical. Of, well, just about everything.
My mind can get real busy visualizing the potential biking disasters I could have.
Sometimes I'm surprised I ride my bike at all.
But last Saturday I finally got up the guts to join in on a B ride. Owen's ridden with the group before and promised me that the group of guys (yes, always guys) would be nice and not leave me behind. He also told me that the ride would start at 7 a.m. sharp and we'd have to leave home by 6:30 to meet the group in time. Which means that I would have to wake up before 6:00 a.m. in order to go on said ride
Have I ever mentioned that I think waking up at 8:00 is early?
Somehow I woke up at 5:50, actually got out of bed, ate something and got dressed (thankfully, since I'd be wearing a bike helmet and sweating a lot I didn't need to wake earlier to shower, do my hair or put on make-up).
A group of about 20 riders was at Mike's Bikes that morning and I wasn't the only woman! There was one other, a woman who went on the A ride (I've heard this woman rides as fast, or faster, than the guys). They set off en masse and I joined the B group of seven, counting me. I got to know everyone's names - Roberto and Patrick are the group's leaders, Neil, Jeff, Dave (riding his first time with this group), Owen and me.
Our plan was to ride to Farmington for coffee and then back to Northfield. Farmington, if you follow the fairly flat, straight road out of town, is a mere 13 miles away but our route for the morning was a meandering trek through the countryside on "gently rolling" (just plain big to me) hills for a total of 37 miles. In my mind, the shortest distance to my skim vanilla latte would have been the best, but I was riding with a group so needed to follow along.
We set off at a brisk pace and I was happy to note that I was keeping up. At one point I looked down at my odometer and saw we were cruising at 19 mph and I wondered if I'd be able to keep up that pace. We were less than 2 miles into the ride and the next thing I knew I saw a big rock on the road, I think it was about 3" in diameter, heard a loud noise, saw Dave's bike fly one way and Dave the other.
Here is where I started learning things. I must note: a couple of my Twitter friends, Darryl (@lovingthebike) and Jim (@bikerly) along with another guy Mike (@egggman) have started something they call Bike School (#bikeschool). They are getting people to Tweet and Blog about what they have learned about bicyling and life while riding a bike.
And here is lesson number one - ride with nice people who will stop when you crash, pick up your bike, change your tire and make sure you are okay. Lesson two is to point out stuff on the road if you see it (the guys ahead of Dave didn't see the rock in time, I was behind Dave and couldn't say anything fast enough). Lesson three is carry a spare tube. Lesson four is that though those CO2 cartridges are nice for fixing a flat, not all of them have the same fitting. Some screw on and others don't. Make sure you have the right cartridge (Dave didn't so I gave him mine). Sometimes those cartridges overfill or underfill a tire so having a hand pump really is nice (another lesson). Wow, that's a lot of lessons in less than two miles of riding.
Dave was okay, a bit shaken and scraped up but fine enough to continue on the bike ride without a single complaint. I'm pretty sure that I would have cried and gone back home. The guy has guts. He rode at the front of the pack the rest of the ride. He's fast. He's amazing.
So off we went again. The scenery really was lovely but I was working too hard to notice it much. I wanted to draft behind the group but they were just a bit too fast for me to keep up. Owen stuck it out with me in the back and Roberto did, too. I struggled but I kept pedaling. I really wondered what I was doing on this crazy ride but I kept thinking about the cup of coffee waiting for me in Farmington so I kept going. (#bikeschool lesson - a skim vanilla latte may not be the healthiest bicycling beverage but if works as a motivational tool, use it!)
Long story short, I kept pedaling at the back of the pack. Roberto always made sure I wasn't "dropped" and left behind. The guys in the lead would stop and wait for me to catch up, would make sure I had a chance to rest a bit, and we'd head off again. After 24 miles we stopped for coffee at Dunn Brothers - Yay! (great service, by the way.) Time for my two main reasons for bicycling - coffee and conversation! I decided I deserved a strawberry cream cheese croissant along with my latte but couldn't finish either - but I talked a lot. Then, too quickly (in my mind) we hopped on our bikes and headed for home.
The ride home felt easier, partially because I knew the ride was almost done and partially because we rode the 13 miles on a fairly flat stretch of County Road 3, right into Northfield. I had more of a chance to talk to the other riders, especially Dave, Patrick and Roberto. I confessed to Roberto that I thought people would never want to ride with me again because I'm so slow and he said something like, "Rules are rules. This is a B ride, 13 to 15 mph and no drops. If someone doesn't like that, they can ride with the A group." I like Roberto. (#bikeschool - find a good group leader like Roberto)
Patrick, too, was supportive, reminding me that we were riding to have fun, that we were not riding the Tour de France (#bikeschool - positive attitudes really help). He rode up hills with me and showed me that I could put my hands on the top of my handlebar and sit up straight so I could get a lot of oxygen to my body and I pedaled up the hills faster than I've pedaled before (another #bikeschool lesson on riding hills).
I was really enjoying myself more than ever before when I heard a funny noise. I stopped to check it out and discovered a bit of wire in my rear tire. No worries, I thought. It was such a thin wire. It wouldn't cause a flat. We rode on but soon my ride felt strange. Sure enough, my rear tire was flat so Owen and I pulled over to change my tire. Roberto, Patrick and Dave were a ways ahead but noticed we stopped so biked back to help us. Just like with Dave's flat, the group changed my tire for me which was awfully nice (especially since I've never changed a flat - I learned a lot watching and will have a better handle on tire changes next time). I joked with the guys that I was getting tired so got a flat on purpose so I could rest. I didn't. Really. But I did enjoy the break. Tire changed, we got back on our bikes and I'm glad to say the rest of the ride back to Northfield went well.
From what I've heard, this was the most eventful B ride of the season - the first crash, the first flat (and then the second), a slow rider (me). Yet, through it all everyone kept working as a group, kept things positive, kept pressing on for all 37 miles (my longest ride ever). We averaged 14.2 miles per hour (right in the middle of the promised 13 to 15 mph pace so I'm not that slow after all!). We helped each other when we had trouble, talked like old friends while we rode, made sure the slower riders didn't get left behind.
I was exhausted when we got back into town but I was also feeling good that I finished the ride. Owen and I went to Goodbye Blue Monday, the coffee shop in town, and I had an iced coffee. We debriefed and talked to one of the other riders, Jeff, who was also there. More coffee and conversation :-)
Then Owen drove us home. We had lunch and I took a long, well-deserved, nap.
I learned a lot of lessons on my first B ride - support each other, be positive, look out for the people at the back of the pack. And then the lessons on riding technique, on practical things like how to change a tire.
And I suppose there's another lesson learned here, a lesson in riding as well as life. It's rather simple, really, yet sometimes it's the most difficult thing to do, especially when that skim vanilla latte is still twenty-some miles ahead - or when you're behind, or get a flat, or crash. And that lesson is this - get on the bike and keep pedaling. Mile after mile. Just keep pedaling.