It was just another Thursday Social this week. Good turnout of great people, but I was getting tired of herding mostly experienced riders that really don't require a leader. It's hard work leading, week in, week out, waiting at turns, never putting in full descents, missing out on technical options, worrying constantly whether the pace is too fast and the couple of people at the back are getting fed up with seeing the main pack disappear. Every week the ride description asks the faster riders to spend time at the back, but I so often see the brilliant sweeper Jenny bringing up the rear, without any of the main pack keeping her company in her valuable role of supporting the riders at the tail end.
It's so rewarding to see new and less confident riders come out, but they rarely do and if they make it, it's seldom they return. There are always promises from people, how they will try, how the ride will be perfect for their friends and partners, when it gets lighter, when work isn't so busy.
There is no doubt about it. Slower riders tend, on the whole, to be so because they have better things to do than ride. Many, not all, slower riders stay slow because they are embarrassed to be at the back, frustrated, wishing there was someone out who was even worse, so they don't return. If they did return, week in, week out, they'd get faster and the chances of them riding with other less confident riders would increase. BUT this isn't the point, in fact it is exactly the culture I wanted to get away from. That 'mustn't be last, mustn't hold up group' culture. I hate it. It's a social ride, it shouldn't matter. The entire point of the ride is to provide a platform for everyone, no matter how slow, how unfit, and how irregularly they ride to be part of something and feel welcome.
Faster riders don't help. That sounds overly harsh, let me elaborate. Of course the quicker riders don't mind waiting around at the top and never criticise anyone for their riding. The group is exceptionally friendly and welcoming. However, faster riders, no matter how they try, have little interest in reducing their pace enough for the slower riders to become incorporated into the group rather than left with the sweeper until the next regroup point. Faster riders have no idea how hard the folks are working at the back, gasping for air as they try and keep up. They pay no attention to the rear of the pack, only trying to keep up with the tyre in front. It may be a social ride, but faster riders tend to be that way because they are pushers, they push themselves to be their best, and it's difficult to switch that off, even in a social setting. As a leader I have done nothing to stop this, often sending the quicker ones in front on the climbs to get them out the way of buzzing tyres and let them use their legs. I'm pretty useless myself at setting the climbing pace and rarely like being up front for that very reason.
I often feel guilty as I'm the one who hears through the grapevine that people have felt 'slow', feel like they 'need to get fitter' before they come out again, feel like 'the main pack just rushed off' and, to be honest, there is only so much that can be done. I love helping people ride bikes, and am happy to sacrifice my own riding to do so, but everything has it's limits. The ride has taken on it's own life, and I just want to stand back, switch off and ride without thinking for a while. After several years it's time to pass on the baton, I just hope more volunteers than the ever-brilliant Jenny can be bothered to pick it up and help out. The ride needs confident slow folk, or fast riders who can genuinely put their inner chimp to bed for the night, to lead it. With a change of blood maybe we can see some new faces back out.