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.
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.