A lot of cyclists wonder why they don’t get any better. Pooh Bear ATX explained it simply: “You’re the average of the people you ride with.” He might have added, “And the average of the courses you ride.”
The fact is, most cyclists seek to ride with people of their own capability or … less. When I started riding, back in the days that rims were made of iron and dog had just released Dirt 1.0, I began riding with a roommate and friend, later with the Violet Crown Sports Association, and then with Jeff Fields at Peloton Racing.
The only thing that these three riding associations had in common is that each of them was a lot better than I was. My roommate, Robert Doty, was a runner and absolutely brutal on the bike, at least compared to me. After a year of getting pushed around by him, I developed some fitness and started riding with the Violent Clowns, as they were called. State road champion Mike Murray, Kevin Yates, and Billy Riffe were all way above my pay grade and they smashed me relentlessly.
With some progress I began riding with Fields, the unquestioned best rider in Texas. He broke me every time we rode together until one day, he didn’t.
I look at a lot of riders in the South Bay and see that they are, as Pooh Bear ATX says, the average of their riding buddies. I have a couple of courses that I ride regularly and I rarely see other riders. On the other hand, flat, unchallenging courses along the Marvin Braude Bike Path, NPR, and similar courses attract lots of riders. People do the same easy rides and wonder why they don’t improve.
And when I do see other riders, such as day before yesterday descending Monero, it was no surprise at all to see Wily Greek ascending it. He’s a rider who looks for the harder rather than the easier.
One time I was doing Wanky Super Power Loops, a top secret course hidden on the Internet and Stravver, and I ran into a friend. She was dying. “How can you climb so fast?” she gasped.
“I’m not going that fast,” I said.
“I’m dying,” she said. “How can I climb faster?”
“Climb more,” I responded.
This exchange contained a lot. First, she thought I’m a climber. One of the riders I respect most, Fukdude, said when we first met, “You’re not a climber, dude.” He was 100% correct. Just because I go uphill faster than some people doesn’t make me a “climber.”
Second, the exchange showed that this particular rider didn’t see a connection between doing a certain kind of ride and doing better at certain kinds of rides. Whether you’re a climber or a clumber, the only way you’ll go faster is by practicing on climbs. Or clumbs.
Here are my tips:
- Go on more drop rides.
- Choose harder courses with fewer people.
- Avoid cookie cutter team rides that provide an easy average experience.
- Measure yourself against other riders in real time, not data or the Stravver.
- Those gnarly climbs in PV? Do ’em.
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