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How to accommodate road cyclists of different speeds on the same ride

Me with some of my favourite ride buddies who always wait for me.

It is very rare to find a group of recreational road cyclists who ride at the same pace all the time. They’ll be riders who are having a good day, those who are having a bad day, and just those (like me a lot of the time) who are just slower than many of their friends. For me, this is because many of them are men, and in general male riders are stronger than women.

But I don’t let that spoil my enjoyment of riding with friends and my pals are always very kind to me, and wait for me, and encourage me to improve. Likewise, I sometimes ride with others who are slower than me and I’m always kind and patient too.

Many women have commented to me that they don’t want to join a particular group ride because they don’t wish to be the slowest person, and they don’t want to hold others up. The good news is that there are ways to handle the variable speeds of bike riders.

Riding with a friend or a group with varying abilities can be frustrating for everyone. You might share a passion for cycling but your abilities might be mismatched. Whether you want to ride with a slower partner or join a faster group, here are some tips to get you on level ground.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

The most important factor in cycling compatibility is communication. If riders know what to expect, they won’t be irritated when they have to wait or feel bad if they are holding up a group. Before your ride, talk about distance, speed, route, where you will congregate if you split up on a hill, and whether or not you feel strong enough to roll through the pace line or if you’ll be sitting in the line for the whole ride.

You might be surprised by the reaction you get from fellow riders if you speak to them about your anxiety about being the slowest rider. Sometimes it simply hasn’t occurred to them that you might feel this way, and when you voice your fears, they will often say “I’m happy to ride slower to accommodate you”.

Get in the slipstream

If you‘re the slower rider, take shorter turns (or no turns) on the front in the wind. If you’re the faster rider, let the slower rider sit in your slipstream for as long as they need to or for the whole ride. The energy savings for the slower rider in the slipstream, combined with the extra effort of the faster rider who is pulling on the front, should help even out the disparity between the cyclists. This strategy works in a group setting too. Just make sure everyone knows if you won’t be taking a turn at the front.

My mate Kev has a camera in his rear light and I often (jokingly) say that he has a lot of footage of me on that camera. That’s because Kev is stronger than me and to accommodate this disparity I more often than not, ride on his wheel rather than the other way around.

Match your rides to others

Aim to balance the speed of your rides. If you want to ride with a group or someone faster, ride with them on their slow day when you want to do a fast ride. Hopefully, since they have to ride slower and you are supposed to be riding faster, the speed of the ride will balance and satisfy both riders.

I ride with different groups on different days and on some days I’m one of the strongest, while on others I’m one of the slowest. It means I need to try harder and put in more physical effort when I’m a slower rider, but it seems to balance out for me.

Hill repeats or extra blocks

If you’re always waiting for someone at the top of a hill, stop waiting and start riding back down the hill or just halfway and climb it again. You won’t be sitting around waiting, and the extra climbing will make you more tired, so you might not have to wait on the last few hills. If you’re the one being waited for, suggest this strategy to the faster rider. Or you might be riding on a course where they can add extra kilometres to their ride.

Relax and enjoy yourself

Whether you are the faster or slower rider, remember that everyone has to start somewhere. Don’t stress about having to wait for someone or making someone wait. Every rider was a beginner and every rider, no matter how fast, has been dropped. Just relax and enjoy the ride!

How do you accommodate road cyclists of different speeds on the same ride? Share your tips via comments or the Women Who Cycle Community group or Facebook page.

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