Fitting in

Jeff Hemmel is back again, telling of his recent attempt to ride with the big boys. Meanwhile, I’m still taking responses to the question, “What saddle do you ride?” Drop me an email. I’ll have a report sometime this week.

HemmelsRide2Lately I’ve been feeling a lot like that little dude Hermey, from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. You know, the elf who wants to be a dentist, and wonders why he just “doesn’t fit in.”

That’s become me on the bike.

Once upon a time, I fit in pretty well with my good friends who were casual cyclists. We rode together occasionally, enjoying our time on our bikes. Pretty soon, however, it was clear that I was getting more serious about the relationship, while they were content playing the field. To put it in Hermey-speak, I had designs on being a dentist…while they were happy just toiling away at the North Pole.

So, at least in my cycling life, I began to fit in with a smaller group of friends. I ride with one or two of them once or twice a week, and churn out the rest of my miles solo. Occasionally I’ve even started joining a few group rides. Still, sometimes I can’t help dreaming big.

A few weekends ago, I decided to see how I fit in with a faster crowd. I knew where my ride would intersect theirs, so when they came by right on schedule, I latched on as the caboose, trying to stay politely out of the way and feel them out. I tried to ingratiate myself with a few comments during the tamer part of the ride, but no one seemed overly friendly. So, I passed the time checking them out.

They all had shaved legs; I was hairy. They all had cool jerseys from clubs and events and races; I was sporting a blank Pearl Izumi that, in its “screaming yellow” color way, also practically screamed, “watch out for the noob!” (In my defense, my ride started at dawn, in Florida. Considering the motor-vehicle reputation of our, shall I politely say aging population, you’d want to be seen too!) Eventually the pace quickened and I held my ground, even bridging the gap back to them when we briefly got mixed up with a slower ride. Hey Hermey, maybe we can fit in after all!

Then came the bridge, a towering structure over a waterway pass. Determined to not get gapped again, all I wanted to do was move myself a little further up in the pack. What happened, however, was that I found myself stuck in the lane of traffic when all of them compressed into the bike lane. I’ve got decent legs climbing, so I just did what came naturally and rode until I found an opening. It came at almost the peak of the bridge…and after I had passed all but three of the riders.

Yup, suddenly I was at the front, and with what seemed like a grand tour-sized peleton breathing down my neck. Long story short, I held my own, plunging down the bridge before settling into a fast paceline. I even took my turn as the engine of that train, doing my best to fit in with their obviously well-practiced rotation. Elated to be hanging with the cool kids? On the contrary. I started to ask myself if I’d feel comfortable having some stranger thrust himself into the midst of my group, traveling at those speeds and within such close proximity. After about a mile, I also began to question my legs. I was hanging with them at the moment, but what shape would I be in after five more miles? I had already done a decent ride before I hooked on, and now about 10 more miles with the group. Would they slow, or pick it up even further? Could I hang, or be embarrassed when I had to drop out?

Was I ready for this?

I took one more rotation through, then began to drift back. After about another mile, I let them go.

This elf, however, has now tasted life as a dentist. And while I don’t think it’s the profession for me all the time (maybe I’m content as, like, the cycling equivalent of the hygienist or something), I’d like to know I could play doctor on occasion. I’d like to, what else, fit in.

Anyone else out there caught in cycling limbo? Send a comment. I’ll read it…just as soon I finish watching Hermey pull the Abominable’s teeth.


  1. says

    Jeff, I’d say you are ready for the faster group rides. However, just jumping in is never recommended and probably why you got a little unwarm welcome. If you’re going to go for a group ride meet at the starting point and head out with the group. Most groups don’t take kindly to somebody just hopping into the mix, they don’t know you and your ability. I know some groups that would have asked you to leave as they don’t want to endanger themselves with a sketchy, unpredictable rider. Like I said though, if you are able to take pulls and contribute to the paceline then you are ready to make the leap.

  2. says

    I am in a similar situation with my mountain biking crew. We started about 2 years ago and our group of 6 regular riders had a blast knocking around on the local trails. But I think a couple of winters slowed many of them down and now a growing gap has become an issue – primarily for the more casual riders who don’t want to be the reason we cut a ride short.

    Anyway I rode a couple of weeks ago with another local group and learned first hand what it is like to bring up the rear. I also was excited by the prospect of raising my game another notch (or 3) by riding with people who are a lot better than I.

    We’ll see what ultimately happens, I’d really like to bring along some of my good buddies from the current group but I guess it is up to them. The ideal would be the camaraderie of the current group combined with the passion of the new group… But as tough as it is, they are all good options and no matter what I know I’ll be riding so what am I whining about?

  3. says

    I’m going to have to agree. I’ve had a much more pleasant time talking with the fast roadies when they are stopped for a break than when I sneak into their formation.

    I do, however, still sneak into their formation fairly shamelessley to see if I can actually hang on if I happen on one of their rides.

  4. says

    +1 on meeting up with them at the start point before the ride. I get frustrated when a random person jumps in the middle of my club ride and steals wheels. Introduce yourself and most clubs are friendly. That way you can also find out how the club ride goes: where the sprint points are or how long people are expected to do pulls at the front.

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