How to spot your cycling club is dysfunctional (and then leave)

Posted on: November 30th, 2017

cycling club

There are clear warning signs that you’ve joined, or you’re training with, Dysfunctional Wheelers. You need to leave immediately and unlock a future to real, enjoyable and progressive, cycling.


How to spot your cycling club is dysfunctional


By Maynard Hershon

I believe that the good group training ride, perhaps especially the good club training ride, is where the heart of road cycling beats.

It’s where riders are formed, where technique is learned, where friendships are made, where riders learn to look after one another.

It’s a world phenomenon; the group ride. Learn to ride on your good club ride and you can take your skills anywhere and fit…right…in.

First, you’ve got to find that good group. Think about the group rides you’re doing.

If you’re not learning anything on your rides, if your rides are ragtag and everyone for himself, if you are not making friends or learning how to take care of your fellow cyclists, you’re wasting your time in a sadly defective training routine.

It’s worse than merely wasting your time. You’re learning bad habits. You’re practicing “sort of cycling”.

Your presence in the group encourages the leader so he’ll continue to lead similarly crummy, counterproductive rides.

Quit that group. Find one that isn’t someone’s ego on parade.

Most groups today are dysfunctional. If you see that no one looks back to see what’s happening behind him, checking out the tail-enders to ensure they’re doing okay, quit that group.

If you have never seen a ride leader drop back to tow someone back up to the group in his draft, quit that group.

If you see that the no-drop policy stated in the club newsletter and mentioned during pre-ride briefings is simply a fiction, quit that group.

If you see that everyone arrives in a car five minutes before the ride start, and disappears within minutes at ride’s end, quit that group.

If you see that no one ever rides to the group ride, quit it.

No amount of effort spent finding a real training group is wasted. Find one that’s more than a simultaneous workout reflecting the strengths of the ride leader.

Commit to the good group. Learn and develop as a rider. Staying with the crummy group is disheartening and pointless.

Because the abilities and commitment levels of cyclists vary so widely, a training group must accommodate strong riders and struggling riders alike.

How can it do that, you ask – if your experience of training groups was formed at one of the thousands of bad ones.

If the ride leader, for reasons of his or her own, invariably chooses the hilliest route for the rides, that route will ruin the ride for weaker riders.

If every route features long hills, hills steep enough so that drafting is ineffective, weaker riders will be dropped. That’s a given.

Dropped riders will watch the pack ride away into the distance. Still gasping for breath they will feel whipped, unworthy, unable for what seems like the millionth time to stay with the pack.

I just can’t climb, they repeat to themselves like a defeatist mantra.

A few of those riders will be emotionally tough; they’ll keep coming back. Most will decide to ride alone or join a bowling league or spin club.

If your club ride leaders, strong riders all, invariably choose hilly routes when there are flatter alternatives, and if you have asked the ride leaders why they do that and have been rebuffed and made to feel foolish and not nearly gnarly enough, quit that group. Quit the club.

Find a club and a training group that understand the dynamics of group cycling.

Find one that seems aware that catering to an “elite” group of like-minded clueless spin class heroes is not bike riding.

If you can find a group of old racers, men and women who enjoy the group dynamic but are no longer trying to make the Olympic team; fall into place with them. You’ve found the holy grail.

Club rides are not for learning to pedal and ride in a straight line, acquiring basic fitness or getting used to climbing.

Do those things on your own or with one or two riding friends.

Then take your basic fitness to a good club or group and learn group skills.

Otherwise you will repeat your first year of cycling again, and again, and again. That’s what the members of Dysfunctional Cycling Club do.

On a flattish ride, a less-fit rider can draft a stronger rider; someone he or she feels safe following. Sitting in the draft, benefiting from the vacuum behind a solo rider or a group, is the key to road cycling.

Learning how to draft and finding groups in which you feel safe following close will lift your cycling far beyond the meagre level of so many club riders.

The rider behind learns to sit in the draft in still air and in shifting winds. He learns to trust other riders.

He learns smoothness and how to maintain a steady pace. He learns that staying on the wheel is of vital importance, that losing that wheel will slow him dramatically.

If he loses the wheel he will no longer be part of the group.

Better to stay on the wheel and finish triumphantly. Finish with your friends. Feel like part of something; something worthwhile.

On flattish rides in a large group, the draft will keep the weaker riders in the group. They will learn where to position themselves in the draft as the wind changes direction.

They will see that, even if they are not that strong, they can hang in and complete the ride with the group.

They will experience success and feel like bike riders.

In the group, they will learn vital skills. They will learn how to be predictable and safe in close company.

They will learn how rotating lines of cyclists work, how they spread the workload. They will soon be riding further and faster than they ever imagined.

They will ride next to many other riders, some of them road riders for many years.

They will find that they feel great comradeship with those other riders. There’s always something to chat about.

The riders will most often stop post-ride for coffee. There will be more yet to talk about.

And next week’s ride to look forward to.

Look at 20-, 30- and 40-year cyclists. They didn’t stay at it because they rode with Dysfunctional Cycling Club.

They’re veterans of decades of good training rides, supportive training groups; disciplined groups where everyone knows there’s no trophy or prize money at the end of a training ride. No glory. Just solidarity.

All this is in contrast to Dysfunctional Cycling Club’s training rides, or “group workouts”.

On Dysfunctional Cycling Club rides, no one learns anything – except the dropped riders, who learn how worthless they are as athletes.

If you read this and realise that you’re in a club or a group like Dysfunctional Cycling Club, then quit.

Look around. Find a civilized club or group. You’ll find out why so many old roadies are still on their bikes.