Just Right

Goldilocks was very tired by this time, so she went upstairs to the bedroom.  She lay down in the first bed, but it was too hard.  Then she lay in the second bed, but it was too soft.  Then she lay down in the third bed and it was just right.                                 – Robert Southey

If you know the story of Goldilocks, you know that she had a hard time finding the right porridge, chair, and bed.  After trying ones that were too hot, big, and hard, she tried ones that were too cold, big, and soft.  It wasn’t until the third round of trials in each area that she found the perfect matches–they were just right!  (but she still broke the chair)

Cycling with others can be fun.  Other cyclists provide a degree of safety that you don’t have when you are out on the road by yourself.  On a number of occasions, I’ve helped others change flat tires, provided and received food and drink, consulted on route and directions, and made adjustments to seats, derailleurs, handlebars, and brakes while out on the road.  I’ve stayed behind with riding partners who blew out tires, fell and broke bones, and who ran out of energy and needed a rest or to turn back while others on the team continued on to the end or to bring back a support car.  A group of cyclists is more noticeable to automobile drivers than a lone rider.

I’ve also teamed up with my fellow cyclists to take turns drafting behind each other to cut through the wind.  Riding with others also gives you people to talk with while riding long miles–it can be a great time to get to know your riding partners very well.  Riding with others can also provide an extra bit of motivation to stay on the bike and push things a little further than planned or thought possible.

On our BRAT5 ride from Eagle Pass, Texas to Westhope, North Dakota, six of our riders wanted to attempt a century ride (100 miles) on the segment from Herried, South Dakota to Bismarck, North Dakota.  The six students supported and encouraged each other all day long until all six reached the goal on the road just north of Bismarck.  The temperatures hit 101 degrees as they rolled toward the goal and I was nervous that some of them might be pushing themselves too hard in order to keep up with the others and not be seen as a quitter.  The success of all six cyclists was largely a result of them riding together and supporting each other over the 100 miles.  It was the first century for all six cyclists.  Pretty cool.

Riding with others has many wonderful benefits, but can also be frustrating.  Trying to keep up with a group of cyclists who are faster than you can be very frustrating.  And the frustration doesn’t just come from the discomfort of pushing yourself beyond your abilities to keep up, but also from a feeling that you are holding back the others from their natural (and desired) speeds.  Long distances and climbing hills can also separate cyclists within a group.  You might be able to keep up with a pack while on flat roads, but fall behind on hills.  You might have the endurance to motor along with a fast group for 20-30 miles, but drop off on 60-80 mile rides.

Again, that feeling of holding others back can be frustrating–because you know that riding too slowly can also be frustrating.  Rolling along with others who consistently ride in the wrong gear or just don’t have the strength and stamina to match your pace can be maddening.  It is good to be patient and supportive of newer and less experienced cyclists, but there are times when you feel like you just need to pull ahead and disappear over the horizon.  Being aware of your slower pace and knowing how it will impact the time to reach your time and distance goals can create stress for the speedier cyclist.

I also believe that riding slower than your natural pace for hours on end can actually affect your body.  When you don’t consistently push down on the pedals with force, and when you spend a lot of time coasting without pedaling, your body weight seems to concentrate into the seat of bicycle–and into your seat.  It seems more painful to ride slow than to ride at your natural speed.  It is certainly good to support your slower riders, but it is also necessary to ride your natural speed and let your slower riders go at their preferred paces.  Be smart, ride as a group (but also allow everyone to ride their natural speeds), take turns supporting the slower riders, take turns letting your fast riders to stretch their legs, and be supportive of everyone for pushing their limits.

Just like Goldilocks, it is important to ride at your own pace–not too fast, not too slow. Just right!

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