Last night I reacquainted with a group of friends I see intermittently around Los Angeles both on and off bikes. We’ve come to know each other through cycling and friendships developed through that primary medium. I have met people of all shapes, sizes and professions and have learned a tremendous amount from them. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if I would have considered going back to school after high school had it not been for an inebriated conversation with a long time friend of mine, Mike.
There are hundreds of stories I can recall of late nights on bikes riding through the city, dodging traffic, exploring the wilderness of Angeles Forest, or figuratively hanging on for dear life behind someone’s wheel from Long Beach making our way back to home at two in the morning to inhale a sandwich and doughnuts in silverlake. Hundreds of connections and friendships have been made up to this day. I am incredibly grateful to have the acquaintances and friends that I do and I hold their opinions and values with much respect and admiration.
There has been a lot of growth since those times of late night rides. Many people of the cycling community have graduated from riding fixed gear bikes with no helmets, and showing little to no regard for the traffic laws and drivers on the road, to riding road bikes in full kits, helmets, respecting traffic laws and migrating to the morning riding scene. I realize that there are many people out there with a preference and a narrow availability to reserve preference towards night riding. For all of those out there, I understand and respect your decision. Not everyone has the ability to ride in the middle of the day. Most of us are members of the working class with bills to pay and mouths to feed.
The point I am getting to is an observation I have noticed over the past year. During this maturation period there has been a shift in priorities when it comes to cycling. I will admit that upon my graduating to a bike with gears, and brakes I chose the path of the competitive cyclist favoring speed, performance, and the daytime setting as my optimal time to ride. Others may have made this transition because they were tired of getting into near collisions with other vehicles and injuring their knees pushing a big gear up a long and steep hill. Some have ended up investing in road bikes but have still kept the same night riding mentality of a more casual, photographic, and social approach to riding. While the reason for this transition is not very important regarding the topic of discussion, there are habits that have developed on both ends of the spectrum that have caused conflicts amongst riders (myself included.)
I can say from experience that the lifestyle that comes with competitive racing teaches you a lot of things. One of the first things I’ve learned is punctuality. Racing teaches you to be on time to everything. Racers and race officials have little to no sympathy for those who show up late. Race flyers are posted months in advance with every racer’s scheduled start times. Once it is time to go, that’s it. Being submersed in this type of culture shapes who you are as a rider and influences those around you. To the point that group rides that now mostly consist of fellow (or former) racers will keep the same punctuality and another thing I have learned from this transition; a sense of urgency.
There is no mistaking the reason in which a group of people (some strangers, some not) meet up at a set location at a given time, dressed in hundred dollars worth of clothing on thousand dollar bikes, we all like to ride. I personally could not begin to justify why I have invested so much time, effort, and money into such a craft if I did not have a genuine passion for what it is I was doing. That being said, this sense of passion is best represented by that rider’s sense of urgency and choosing to make the physical act of cycling a priority in their lives. This is not to say that when it comes time to clip in and roll out, the group turns off their abilities to speak and solely focus on pedaling and finishing the ride. I’ve had the majority of all my innermost and heartfelt conversations while riding with others. I philosophize about life, discuss relationships with friends, loved ones, family, and co workers climbing hills or in a paceline down Pacific Coast Highway. Once the priority for riding bikes has been made and understood by all, we as a community are able to balance out the other things we enjoy doing around that act.
What I have noticed (as I struggle to find the words for this without stepping on too many toes) is an imbalance of those who have and those who have not held cycling to a certain caliber as their adjacent rider. Some people still continue to be late to group rides, socializing and taking photos at designated regroup spots while remaining idle for extended amounts of time resulting in a delay in windows of time certain people have and reducing the overall distance that gets covered. While none of these individual things that are done are by definition wrong, the context and time that they are done at is recognized by others (myself included) as rude and inconsiderate. Socializing and photo taking can be done mid ride.
I completely understand that overall pace for a ride is relative to those who show up and the setting in which the riders are placed in. Not every ride is a race, I get it. I (and most mature riders) have a good idea of the type of ride I know I will be doing before I leave the house and hit the road. Not everyone who owns a bike is getting ready for that big race over the weekend, and need to get their high intensity miles any way, shape, or form. Not all of us ride for more than twelve hours a week. Some of us have weight loss goal we hope to achieve through cycling and may not be physically capable of keeping up with those of us that race every weekend.
Keeping that in mind, I know there will always be someone in the back of the bunch, doing as best as they can to climb up that hill to catch up to everyone else. While it may be hard for them to believe, no rider should ever feel pressured that them making others wait due to lack of fitness is putting a damper on the first rider up the hill’s riding experience. I want to make this very clear to everyone out there reading this. You will (and should) never be scrutinized for being less fit and ruining a group ride for someone else. That person that tries to argue that is a scumbag and deserves no sympathy or respect from those around him or her. As long as you’re doing your best, that is all anybody can ask of you.
During this time, it is perfectly kosher to chat, (or in some instances control the giant and frequent gasps for air from oxygen deprivation and fatigue) take photos and do all the things one would normally due. The flow of the ride is not interrupted if there is still someone trying to catch up to the pack. However, once that person regains that said group, common courtesy suggests that the flow of the ride should be continued by the rest of the group rolling out and continuing the ride. This may seem unfair for that rider struggling to keep up to not get as long of a break as other riders, but I (and I hope others do too) recognize this as proper etiquette that should be respected by all.
This sense of urgency, punctuality and common courtesy (or lack thereof) have put a damper on the group night ride. I no longer feel encouraged to join such a ride if I know the flow of the ride is going to be sporadic and inconsiderate towards others. Call me spoiled, but its habits like these that get under my skin and turn me into a grumpy hermit. There was once a time in which the riders of the night riding scene were a little more considerate towards these basic unwritten rules. Sadly I fear that time has come and gone. If I am choosing to ride at night, possibly into the late hours after midnight, I would like to think that other would acknowledge this and show this through a sense of urgency and efficiency. Distance and pace are irrelevant variables as far as I am concerned. It is the flow of the ride that is most important in my opinion.
Some people may think that I’ve become this uptight party pooper because I don’t want to pose for every group photo, or stay and chat (or eat) mid ride. I have tried my best to explain why I feel and act in such a way and I hope this answers questions that may come up.