You have ridden with these guys so many times, but for some reason, over a different route, longer or steeper or stranger in some way, you are nervous. Or maybe it is exactly the same route you always ride with them, but because of work/family/laziness your form isn’t what it should be. It isn’t what theirs probably is. So butterflies flitter in your guts, and you put extra attention into your ride prep.

There you are trying to decide whether one gel pack is enough, one bar. You pack an extra. You dump powder into bottles and shake it up. You check the weather again. You wake up before the alarm.

I don’t know why it is that a thing so familiar and fun, so already a part of our identities, can stir such anxiety, but it does.

How many thousands of miles have we ridden and yet still fear the unknowns of riding? How well do we know those friends who are willing to show up to coffee shop parking lots when it’s still dark out, but worry what they’ll think if we’re somehow off our game? How much nervous, pre-ride blather do we need to get off our chests before we can just settle down and ride?

To me, every ride is a challenge to be stronger and smarter than the last time I turned the pedals over. I catch my attention wandering. I lose the wheel in front of me or overlap momentarily, before I give the brakes a subtle squeeze and fall back properly into line. Why are these things not yet effortless?

I can take a simple thing, turning those pedals over, left-right-left-right, and unravel it into a pile of threads that each leads off in a different direction, so that I arrive at the meet-up in a state of mental disarray over whether or not I’m good enough to ride with a bunch of people who are as half-assed and ill-prepared as I am.

Fortunately, it is no more than ten miles to serenity. Whatever detail I was churning in my mind recedes by the time someone’s GPS dings at that distance. Luckily, the problems of riding are mostly solved by riding, another absurdity to ponder as you stand in your kitchen in the still dark morning, your bib straps limp at your sides to allow one last trip to the bathroom, to work out your nerves, before you go.

Follow me on Twitter: @thebicyclerobot

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  1. Jason

    Great post – I’m glad I’m not the only one that freaks out before a ride. I get the same for other sporting ventures as well… and it all disappears once you get out on the road/track/trail/field…

  2. Hoshie99

    Mine were always present in the first few group rides after weeks of solo rides, or the first few races in a season. After those, I always settled in to getting through the first few miles and then getting the rhythmn. The prep of getting bottles ready, laying our gels, etc for reduces trhe morning anxiety of getting out to the ride on time. Time is precious as they say.

    The rituals are also interesting. When I was young and had more nervous energy in a ride, especially when I wanted to do well (ie crush it), I would rap my knuckles on the bars a few times to externalize the energy.

    After many years of not riding, my return had some nerves but mostly just the feeling of how fortunate we are to do, and work at something we are passionate for. Now, I just enjoy the time and look forward to it. If it’s a good day, I’ll do the work – bridge the gap, stay on front a few extra seconds, put that much extra into it. If it’s bad day, I know with daily discipline, cycling will eventually return the favor and the depression leaves quickly.

    Nerves? Not too much anymore. I look forward to the unknown, the early hours, and the work of turning the pedals.

  3. RUV

    So true. I always worry about my lack of form due to the formidable list you mentioned above when I ride with my friends who all are generally in better shape than I and/or manage to ride more regularly than I do. The fear is compounded by the fact that I warm up slowly and my friends tend to come out of the gates all guns blazing and cause me to go near the red too quickly for my taste. But in the end, you put it well. The riding takes care of it. And if I keep up and lay a little hurt on the boys myself somewhere during the ride, that’s the frosting on the cake. Great post, Robot.

  4. producifer

    What a great topic. I have friends who refuse to join any group rides for a variety of reasons, but I think the nervousness you describe is the big culprit. As I type tonight, I’ve got shoes, helmet, gels, fizzy tabs, etc… sitting in front of me for Fridays’s group ride- the one that has turned into a freakish hammerfest. I’ll putter around all night checking & re-checking my bike & all my crap that goes with it. It’s a kind of good anxiety I think, sort of like prepping for a first date…

  5. Sharkie

    It’s been more than a few years since I raced but I remember oh too well those feelings of dread and forcing myself out the door. Almost always went well but the pre-ride nerves were sometimes worse than pre-race

    You nailed it.

  6. DoubleUc

    lol…how did you get into my head?
    every race/ride I scan the field to mark the riders I know I should be in front of…
    then I mark the “unknowns” to keep close but let them lead out…
    but yet the fear of wearing the “red jersey” NEVER escapes my mind…
    but once the “pain train” starts it goes away…kinda…no, not really, but I like to leave it
    further back in the order of thought…

    just when I think I’m alone I find a like mind.
    reminds me of a poet quote…
    “Searched all day in the woods, later, great laughter at the ponds edge.”

  7. rashadabd

    This is the first year that I have really experienced any of this. I guess I was just so horrible last year (my first season) that I was just hoping to survive each ride. This year, as I have progressed significantly, my thoughts have started to drift toward where I am performance-wise and where I should be (I have been involved with one sport or another my whole life). In the end though, I am always able to ground myself by recognizing that I just love getting out and riding hard and fast, that I almost always see something beautiful riding through Oregon, that I keep getting better everyday, learn something new almost every ride and that’s what it’s really all about.

  8. Y.Satchel

    posts like these are some of my favorite on the site. They do more for me than several bike-part reviews and in depth analyses combined. Not that the other stuff isn’t quality, it is. But the brief, quiet, philosophicaland introspective pieces keep me coming back.

    Thank you….

  9. Eto

    So true.

    The energy of nerves is all a part of the experience. It can feel like a first date or first travel to a foreign land. Exciting but unsure. These days, I approach each group ride with the prospect of not being able to hang on let alone command it.

    It is all a part of what keeps us planning the next ride, looking forward to the next test.

    Thank you for capturing it so well.

  10. Andrew

    My nerves are up when I’m going down an unfamiliar descent for the first time. Never quite where there might be lights or stop signs. Don’t quite know if the drivers in the area are aware of cyclists or crazy. Hopeful that the pavement quality is good as the MPH get to 40+.

  11. P Poppenjay

    “The problems of riding are mostly solved by riding”.
    This quote will stay with me because it is an utterly universal one.

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