Friday Group Ride #378

Friday Group Ride #378

I took it as a cautionary tale, delivered by text. My friend John is a recent convert to the church of two wheels and a hell of a strong rider. In very short order he has gone from hybrid-riding dilettante to century-crushing lycra warrior. I have seldom seen anyone go from coffee-fetching to group riding, pace-line riding, Strava obsessive so quickly.

But on Saturday, something went wrong.

Out for a ride with some of his usual companions, the cycling social contract was broken. At roll out, they’d decided it was a social ride, chatting pace, easy miles, but someone’s ego flared, and then another, and before John knew it, he was in a fight to hold wheels, right at the edge of his power, and not having any fun.

Disillusionment blossomed as quickly stoke had surged. He texted me, as he often does, to check in on the cycling experience. In brief spasms of words he talked about pulling the computer off his bike, of dumping his riding buddies. He was angry, but simultaneously couldn’t quite grasp why he’d continued to hammer himself. This needed fixing.

I made dumb suggestions, as I do. Unplug. Ride in gym shorts. Get a mountain bike. This stuff is supposed to be fun, and while type 2 fun is real, it can’t be the only kind you allow yourself.

“The stoke is everything,” I said at one point. That’s probably when he got as tired of my platitudes as he was of his hammer crew, and signed off.

As a guy who’s been riding all types of bikes for all sorts of years now, I have been through this process countless times. Sometimes, when I’m in no mood for type 2 fun, I wonder if I’m even really a cyclist anymore, except that I find myself on a bike so often. The stoke is still out there, and sometimes you just have to pedal around long enough to find it again.

This week’s Group Ride asks, have you ever burned out on the bike? What did it look like? What caused it? And how did you get back?

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19 comments

  1. Chris Cochrane

    Around this time two years ago I was just starting my second season of cyclocross after a decent summer of road. I had a couple good weeknight tune-up races and started to feel like I could beat some of the people that had wiped the floor (mud) with me the previous year. Then work and family got busy, I got slower, and I got a bit of a chest cold, and got slower still. I wasn’t having fun anymore. I skipped the last few races of the season feeling sorry for myself.

    I’m always mindful now to be careful of the expectations I put on myself. Yes, going fast is more fun that getting lapped, but any riding is more fun than sitting at home.

  2. KG

    Your friends situation is disappointing. I feel like every group ride should state the intent at the outset and hold to it. I like hammer drop rides, but I need to know what I’m in for before the ride starts. Maybe his disappointment isn’t so much with cycling or burn out, but like may relationships gone awry – misaligned expectations. (My wife is most mad at me when she expects me to do something, and I don’t)
    Burn-out happens for me in the early fall – after crit season is over. It seems too early to train for next year and is way too late for this year. I try cross racing for a bit every year, but I’m not that good in the grass and I end up stopping before Halloween. I usually get back in the mood for the bike around Christmas. This is a cycle I’ve never tried to break because it seems to work for me. The slight bit of burnout and time off the bike, refreshes me in ways I probably couldn’t get any other way.

  3. MikeG

    My friend owned a local bike shop where the shop ride turned into a hammer fest. A few of us stopped riding with them and started forming our own ride. The owner approached me to lead a “B” ride for the shop for those of us that did not want to kill each other every ride. We put it together and the ride grew consistently over the next year. We had a good crew, and were having a lot of fun each week. Sadly, my neighbor that got me started riding road invited some of his gym buddies from spin class on our weekly ride. They were strong but had no skills – could not look over their shoulders without changing lanes, showed up without tires inflated or pumps to air them up. We tried to mentor them along, but it just got worse. When two of them showed up to a 6am Saturday shop ride still lit and partying from the night before, I was done, and so were all the other real riders. The “gym rats” as we called them were a danger to everyone on our ride. A year or so later the shop was closed and the rides were ancient history. Have not really joined any group rides or events since, but do run into some of the old crew once in a while out on the road.

  4. Fausto

    Sounds like your friend had a set back, but no reason to give up. Made huge progress in a short period of time but still needs to be patient and learn the lessons or just find new dudes to ride with. Neither is always easy, especially for people that come from other sports or later in life. To MikeG’s point, it is tougher to mentor grown men and tell them they are lacking skills or teach them, it often gets confrontational, especially when strong legs = strong ego. But, dangerous riding has to be addressed. In our group they sometimes make fun of one of the old timers who would truly be a ride leader and control pace, speed and correct as we rode. To me it wasn’t an old guy controlling to be able to keep up with the younger guns, it was how we were taught to ride in packs and pacelines and read a race, etc. from the older generation of club riders. The difference is we learned this as teenagers vs. 40 or 50 yr old men new to the sport. Look at all those cat 5 masters with $12.0 Pinas, a coach, lots of watts but can’t hold a line in a corner. My .02$

  5. W

    I feel burned out from thinking about this. We cyclists are amazing, dig deep, people yet, we obsess about ourselves with the best of them.

  6. Les.B.

    Easiest way to deal with riders who hammer when inappropriate is to ignore them.
    Then either they end up sitting like fools waiting for the group to catch up, or continue on their merry way, out of the way.

  7. James

    It IS very typical for the male of the species to say “We’ll take it easy.”, only to have testosterone enter the conversation and things ramp up. It’s one thing for it to result in a town line sprint or a king of the hill surge, but per the aforementioned agreement, it should then back down and regroup. I live in an area where there are multiple opportunities for group rides, and one thing that every successful ride has is a ride leader that manages the herd. No management leads to anarchy. A good leader has the respect of the group and leads from the front AND the back.

    1. Boom

      This is starting to happen on Zwift as well. People are not capable of controlling themselves, even for a simple group ride.

  8. Road Mike

    A few years ago I burned out pretty thoroughly. I had been spending all my discretionary time and money on cycling, obsessing over data from my rides and the latest frames, wheels, and groupsets that I didn’t have. I was not enjoying cycling. For months I wavered between having a custom frame built up with high-end components or getting out of the sport entirely. I opted for the latter. I sold my bike and indoor trainer and most of my tools, gave away my jerseys and most of my other gear, keeping only my helmet and shoes. I never expected to return to the sport in any serious way.

    A couple years later, I bought a steel single-speed for commuting. That bike helped me remember what it was like to ride purely for fun and utility. Over the next couple years I toyed with getting another road bike, and eventually took the plunge, but returned as a much less obsessive cyclist. Today, I ride solo almost exclusively. I still like to turn myself inside out on my favorite local sprints and climbs, but I don’t focus on the numbers, and I’m content with my current entry-level aluminum frame endurance bike. If forces converge to make riding impossible on a certain day, I may go for a run instead, do a dumbbell workout, or take the day off.

  9. Jonathan

    I’m still new to the “church of two wheels”. Cycling found me when I needed it most, and for that I will be forever grateful. As a self-diagnosed obsessive-compulsive, of course I dived headfirst into cycling culture and have been nigh inseparable from my machine. I fear the day the burnout comes, for the ride is my release. It’s my escape from the pressures and doldrums of life. It’s my vehicle (no pun intended) through which I see the world around me with new eyes. I don’t want to lose that. Sure, I want to go fast. Yes, that takes dedication, training, and sacrifice. But I try as hard as I can to remember that riding is fun, and that sometimes you have to just go out there and “play bikes”.

  10. Girl

    I think it’s all about the people. (Let’s face it, the bike is just a machine. It’s where and how it’s used that changes.) One club with which I ride has some strong egos. Some rides are even sort of “mean”–people don’t work together well, even in the slower groups. I think the key (at least for club rides) is to follow the plan that was set out by the group leaders. However the ride was advertised (as a social ride or a fast ride) everyone should stick to it. Others in the group can help keep the pace on target. The social contract of cooperating with the plan helps reinforce the goals.

    But I have to admit that I spend more time riding alone, just because it’s more convenient and I can set my own pace. (Though I miss the group, and I know I can develop better as a rider by being pushed by a fast group.)

    That said, I have recently experienced burn-out with automobile track events. They are inevitably filled with egos (rich guys with fast cars) and are disorganized, with rules being inconsistently applied. Rudeness (part of the egos) supplants fun and makes it not worth the hassle. I hope this doesn’t happen for my cycling experience, because the bike is my favorite activity.

  11. Ryan D Surface

    I went from a lycra clad polar cyclocomputer obsessed fred to a guy who likes to noodle along on vintage lugged steel bikes with platform pedals for the simple reason that I realized one day that cycling had become a drudge, every ride was a workout, my work commute rides were derided by riding buddies as “junk miles” and it simply became not fun. When I returned to cycling as an adult in my late 30s it was fun and for me ditching the computer and “must ride faster” mentality and just going for a ride and enjoying the ride with no goals or attention to metrics made it fun again.

  12. Winky

    I’ve taken an easy season this year. Pretty much just my commute. I’m not jaded, but just wasn’t feeling the need for more. After a great year last year, I crashed on ice in December, and used that as an “excuse” to take it easy for the whole season. I’m not bothered and can feel my mojo returning. Some real, hard, goals for next season. New bike coming, too.

  13. Robert

    The bike is so much more to me than any group ride fast or slow. I’ve been riding for a long time and I can hang in pretty much any group ride I show up to, but riding my bike I what I kit up for. Strava is fun and useful, but is not the motivation for me to get on the bike. I don’t care if I’m the KOM or the strongest guy in the group, I just want to ride my bike because I enjoy riding my bike. For me, the bike is a release from all the weekly worries and I won’t allow any group ride, group ride “drill sergeant” or Strava KOM to get in the way of what the bike means to me. I guess this is why I ride solo 95% of the time. No one dictates the pace but me, I can change the route depending on how I feel or what I want to do, I can explore new roads, loops or climbs, etc. My advise to your friend is, enjoy riding your bike and don’t let others ruin it for you.

  14. Boom

    Some great comments with which I identify with. I took a year off a few years back (lousy weather, no time, conflicts, etc.), so just decided it wasn’t the year and moved on. It also allowed my body to heal up and all the knee issues miraculously went away.

    The next year, a long-time riding friend and I kept texting each Friday and scheduled our own rides each Saturday morning. We both look forward to it and we haven’t invited our old cycling buddies from previous years to avoid all the contentions that we left behind (racing to every stoplight, first to the top, etc.). They would still be welcome, but I’m sure they’d get bored by our conversational pace.

    It’s been a great summer and after a winter of Zwifting, I feel like it’s fun again. I use a simple computer (no gps, strava, etc.) and end up doing our 40-50 hard miles and a few races each year, but know we’re not 20-somethings anymore.

    Great site and articles – my new favorite cycling page.

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