How to Be Last

06.20.2006 | 2:51 am

Last Saturday was my 40th birthday ride, held—as is traditional—on Tibble Fork: Up Tibble, down South Fork to Deer Creek (Joy), up to the Ridge trail, Down Mud Springs back to Tibble, and then back down Tibble to the reservoir. Dug, Kenny, Brad, Sunderlage and Botched joined me for this ride. The weather was perfect, and the trail was in good condition.

Sadly (for them), Kenny and Dug were both injured. Kenny had broken his back on the mountain two days earlier (Botched and I puzzled over the right “broke back mountain” joke for the occasion, but neither of us ever really nailed it); Dug couldn’t lift his right arm higher than elbow level, due to a high-speed downhill endo earlier in the week.

And yet, I was the slowest guy of the group.

By a lot.

Fortunately, I kept my wits about me and therefore avoided the embarrassing mistakes usually made by the slowest guy in a riding group, and emerged at the end of the ride with my dignity intact—or at least kept my dignity as intact as a fat, balding, middle-aged guy wearing a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup jersey is likely to.

How did I do this? By remembering and observing the Three Rules of The Slow Rider.


Rule 1: Stay Back.

You would think that because you are the slow guy, you would automatically always be sorted to the back of the group.

You would think that, but you would be wrong.

Fast riders want to take pity on slow ones. Riding with the slow guy shows that they’re nice, for one thing. And it gives them a reason to rest for a minute. And, perhaps most importantly, it gives them a chance to look casual and comfortable—and maybe even just a little bit bored—while riding at the slow riders absolute redline.

As a slow rider, it is critical you deny them this opportunity. Decline all invitations to “go on ahead.” Remember, to consciously go ahead of someone who is faster than you is to accrue all of the following deleterious circumstances:

  • You have taken a position you have not earned.
  • You are now officially being baby-sat.
  • The guy behind you will have plenty of wind, and will want to use the extra wind for light-hearted banter. You, on the other hand, will have no such oxygen surplus.
  • Know that you will have someone right on your rear wheel, which means that if you have to put a foot down you make the other guy stop, too. Further, having someone right on your rear wheel isn’t exactly pleasant on its own merits, either.
  • Set yourself up to be the stumblebum in the story your good buddy will tell at the end of the ride about how easy this ride is when you don’t really push it, and how it’s sometimes nice to go out and ride easy, and that this is the first real recovery ride he’s had in ages.

So how do you decline the “after you” invitation? Simple. Use these words: “No, you go on. I’m riding sweep today.”

Do you see the beauty of that statement? By saying this, you are taking charge. You are accepting a mantle of responsibility—ensuring the safety of all other riders. And you are not admitting that you are slow just because you are fat and slow.

99.4% of the time, that’s all it takes. The other 0.6% of the time, you’ll be riding with some former (or—worse—current scoutmaster) who has some deep-seated, twisted need to take care of the group. This person will assert that he wants to ride sweep.

In this instance, it is within your rights—nay, it is your duty—to push the other rider into a ravine. Or, if that’s not your style, you can always trick them into going on ahead. You do this by stopping immediately after getting on your bike to pretend to twist a barrel adjuster on your rear derailleur. If they slow, just say, “go on. I’ll catch up.” Even though you won’t. Can’t.


Rule 2: Shut Up.

The most overwhelmingly powerful sensation you will have when you are the slowest rider in the group is shame.

The second most powerful will be a searing of the lungs.

The third most powerful—and the one I choose to talk about right now—is the urge to explain yourself whenever you catch up to the group, as they wait for you.

Picture this.

You ride up to the group. Clearly, they’re just chatting, waiting for you to catch up so they can continue on. Judging from how well-rested they all look, you sense that they’ve been waiting there for a while.

What’s your inclination? Why, to explain yourself, of course. To tell them how hard it is to do this ride when you’re so out of shape, or to apologize for being so slow, or to thank them for waiting up.

Do. Not. Do. Any. Of. Those. Things.

Instead, roll up to the group, smile, put a foot down, and join the conversation already in progress. Convey a sense of well-being. Exude peace and pleasure that you’re on your bike. Your entire being should tell your co-riders that you’re happy to be on the trail.

Hey, it’s not a race, after all.


Rule 3: No Excuses.

This is the most important rule of all: do not explain why you are slow. Everyone already either knows, or doesn’t know you well enough to be interested. Yes, you’re busy at work. Yes, you’ve had an injury. Yes, you’re middle aged, and it’s not as easy to unload the weight as it once was.

No, nobody wants to hear it.

Unless you’ve got a really good self-deprecating joke. In which case, bring it on.



  1. Comment by Jsun | 06.20.2006 | 3:42 am

    I’ve heard from slower riders (since of course I am not one:) that if one can stop just out of sight of the group, one could catch one’s breath and then ride up, thereby not looking nearly as wasted.
    Its good to see that you are still doing a some blogging on this page.
    We should ride together sometime, that way you don’t have to be the slow, um, I mean, the sweep all the time.

  2. Comment by Dodger | 06.20.2006 | 4:13 am

    I would like the new sight if I felt like you all wern’t copying me (agian for you FC, fart story anybody?).  Really though, it is pretty neat stuff.  I wish I could get free stuff to review.  Either way, keep it up. 

  3. Comment by Lynda | 06.20.2006 | 4:40 am

    I don’t ride bikes.  But I am always the slowest hiker in a
    group.  The thing I have noticed is that the slowest hiker never
    gets to catch his breath; by the time you catch up to the group, they
    are all rested and off they go.  And you’re still out of breath
    and plodding at the rear.
    So the idea of stopping out of sight and resting a bit is a good one–I’ll have to remember that!

  4. Comment by Unknown | 06.20.2006 | 8:24 am

    Stumblebum… not heard that before. Where does that come from?

  5. Comment by Tim D | 06.20.2006 | 8:28 am

    While you are catching your breath, out of sight, take a bit of time to rub some dirt into your arms, legs and clothes.  Make it look like you crashed.  When you ride up to the group, don’t say anything. If anyone asks if you are OK, just smile in a slightly dazed way and nod. 

  6. Comment by craig | 06.20.2006 | 11:58 am

    "Hey, it’s not a race, after all."
    Ahhhh, the rationalization that takes place after the searing of the lungs and pegging the heart rate in the first minute

  7. Comment by Unknown | 06.20.2006 | 1:42 pm

    I don’t catch crap on the road bike anywhere except in the hills, where as a larger fellow, I’m pretty weak.  This is just asking for abuse.  So I prefer to ride absolutely as hard as I can in the hills, for as long as I can, and after about 10 minutes at VO2Max, or close to it, I blow chunks, especially if my bottles are filled with Gatorade instead of Gu2O.  I refrain from wiping my nose and just let snot and sweat dry on, and don’t take too much care where I spit, since leaning over to spit under your arm when you are maxed out and at the back of the group anyhow takes way too much effort.
    You’d be amazed at how well this keeps people from abusing you, and just plain forces them to keep their distance.  I’m cool with that…

  8. Comment by Unknown | 06.20.2006 | 1:53 pm

    Fantastic post, Fatty.  And perfect timing.  Last friday I did a road ride with my son and a friend up Emigration to Big Mountain.  They smoked me and my 10 years of "big" food.  Big Gulps and Big Macs lead to Big Riders.  The best thinkg that happened was when I hit a small rock that stopped me dead in my tracks and gave me an excuse to drop below redline – even better it was on a stretch where the others couldn’t see me trying not to die.I have been leading training rides for my MS-150 team, and let me tell you, "I’m riding sweep." is a great phrase.When I catch the group waiting at the summit I like to say what I am really feeling, even if I am slow, "MAN! What a great day to be out riding!"

  9. Comment by Sue | 06.20.2006 | 3:22 pm

    Did you see the link I e-mailed you? They’re closing parts of tibble, mud, and deer creek because of wet conditions. Until July!?
    Two weeks ago that would have been a great decision. Now, it’s just dumb.
    The only thing I fear more than being last on a ride, is being first. Just ask dug.

  10. Comment by Unknown | 06.20.2006 | 6:07 pm

    Fatty - this post is back up to your pre-move standards!  You cracked me up!  "I’m riding sweep."  Priceless!!!
    Also, don’t forget the, "Did you see that mountain lion back there?" line when you ride up to the waiting group, after you’ve spent 5 mins hiding around a curve taking a short breather.  This not only deflects any inquiries of "Are you OK?", "What took you so long?", or "Did you get a flat?" from them trying to figure out how you can fall so far behind, but also instills that slight twinge of fear and worry in your faster riding buddies.  Advantage – you.

  11. Comment by rich | 06.20.2006 | 7:45 pm

    Botched – I was up on 057 Sunday and saw signs posted everywhere stating mud, tibble, & mill trails closed due to muddy conditions. I rode down joy, which was not closed. I would like to read the explanation, what is that link?
    btw there were many bikers and motorcycles completely ignoring the signs.

  12. Comment by Tim D | 06.20.2006 | 8:18 pm

    Zuke, the mountain lion ploy doesn’t work here in the UK, I’ve tried it.    And the Lake District equivalent doesn’t quite carry the same fear – "Hey did you see that sheep back there?"

  13. Comment by Unknown | 06.20.2006 | 8:19 pm,1249,640187873,00.html
    Not much of an explanation. Mostly just a notice.

  14. Comment by Random Reviewer | 06.20.2006 | 8:28 pm

    botched, so, night ride tomorrow night? 8:30 ish at the pine hollow parking lot?

  15. Comment by Unknown | 06.20.2006 | 8:38 pm

    I don’t want to get clothslined by all that yellow tape.
    I did find my light! I’ll e-mail you.

  16. Comment by regina | 06.20.2006 | 9:37 pm

    well you say your fat, but frankly how would we know, when was the last time you told us what you weigh, how your trick diet is going, nope no updates.

  17. Comment by Unknown | 06.20.2006 | 9:38 pm

    Dear Fat Cyclist,
    Please refrain from copying Dodger.  You clearly get all of your cleaver wit (least of all – your ideas) from him.
    Disgustedly Yours,

  18. Comment by Tim | 06.20.2006 | 11:58 pm

    Well I glad they decided to shut Mud, Tibble etc after I’d had the chance to ride them. Awesome trails you have there fellas… I’m also glad I let Dug go first on the trail…

  19. Comment by Dodger | 06.21.2006 | 1:00 am

    Oh rob, if only i were a tenth as talented as FC is.  No wait, I am a tenth. Damn.  If only I were half as talented as FC!

  20. Comment by Zed | 06.21.2006 | 4:40 am

    I’m taking notes, Fatty …

  21. Comment by jim | 06.26.2006 | 7:33 pm

    Another option forNo. 3 is to keep quiet on the ride but post your excuses in a blog that you know everyone of them reads, cleverly disguised as an advice column to other slow pokes like me.
    Genius. Pure genius.


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