By Alison Tetrick,
Pro cyclist, Entrepreneur, CTS Contributing Editor
Riding chemistry is important. I wanted to make a good chemistry joke, but all the good ones Argon. I apologize. I blame my bad chemistry jokes on my biochemist background. I do tell a few chemistry jokes, periodically.
But who doesn’t love a ride that finds its perfect balance? The one where the chemistry aligns. You talk, you adventure, you get serious (or not), you laugh, and your group finishes the ride and the vibe is so hot, you all wonder if now is the time to try a cigarette. I kid. But you know what I mean. We have all been there. These rides are few and far between, but when they do occur, cherish the daylights out of them. Perfect rider chemistry is hard to attain, but when it is there, inhale deeply and soak in that simmering essence of camaraderie.
As a student of the perfect ride, I have had a lot of failures. I once had a guy tell me we should ride together more often because our riding style was so compatible. He was wrong. I was miserable. I only want to be half-wheeled when I want to be, which isn’t often.
We might not be able to recreate the best ride ever every weekend because we are all human and perfect ride chemistry cannot always be the priority, but it is something to strive for. We all have bad days and mechanicals and bonks. But, when everything works just right, we feel as lucky as Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It is just right. So, what is the confounding formula that elicits the perfect action and reaction within your ride? Where my reagents at? Sip that perfect porridge of your ideal group ride and let’s talk finding cycling chemistry.
When you are planning your ride, we all factor in the goals and vibe of the day you are searching for. No one wants to be on the imbalanced side of a chemical equation.
I prefer even numbered groups when I train with other people. That way no one is left alone without a sidekick to talk to. You know, with that special affinity of a covalent bond. That being said, some of the best rides I have ever had were in an odd combination of people. The odd number gave one rider the ability to float into Neverland soul-searching and a bigger slipstream of protection. There is no secret sauce to putting together the best mix of people for a bike ride, but there are important factors to measure out.
Here are some important details to consider when combining elements to create the perfect compound this summer:
- Who is Ride Mayor? Every ride needs a Ride Mayor. We don’t need to bicker at stop signs. We need someone to get us moving at the snack stop. We need someone to point out obstacles and signal boldly. Being ride mayor is a crucial task, and heavy is the head the wears the crown on the periodic table. If you are Ride Mayor, you should know the route (bonus points for mapping it out in your GPS and sharing the file), be extra prepared with supplies, and clearly communicate the ride plan.
- What is the ride plan? Always choose a route to suit your audience. The route should be properly mapped out with the time splits and mileage on point. There should be water and snack stops if needed. The pace should be clarified. Like I said, being ride mayor is hard. Try to avoid secret surprises of extra miles and extra time unless that is the ride plan – bonus miles are cool, but when they make someone late for family time because extra scoops wasn’t part of the plan, we need to reassess our communication. Respect the group’s time and that everyone has different obligations that they’re building around. As Ride Mayor, the world is your stage until you need to accommodate people on an 87.5-mile ride through the backcountry. Which puts us onto the next topic.
- Know your audience. We can all do different types of rides with many different types of riders. When you are planning an “easy” ride, make sure your easy is their And if it isn’t, make the appropriate adjustment. You might get the best workout ever from your training partner on her “easy” day. Make sure to know what you are signing up for, and never sneak in intervals without communicating it. I hate surprises. Especially if they end in an explosion.
- Are we training? Or is there a pizza spot we are making our destination? When choosing the best riding mates for the adventure, consider everyone’s goal that day. If you are game for waiting for people, or having them wait for you, by all means get the pizza or pastry or other sundry delight. But most of us like efficient riding, which could be planning an all-out race ride or a riverbank cruise where you appreciate the sights and sounds but can’t stop for pictures because of afternoon barbeque plans. If everyone is on the same page, the chemistry starts hopping.
- Leave room for the unknown. We can all plan the best ride ever and things can run afoul. That is ok. I always buffer my rides to allow for at least 30 minutes to an hour of wiggle room for flat tires, rose smelling, and cheese tasting. You just never know what will happen out there. Remember that a 3-hour ride rarely takes only 3 hours. And note, I buffer with an hour because the “no stop” ride will almost always have a stop. As Ride Mayor, I know myself as well as my group.
As you pick your next adventure and the perfect crew to join in the fun, think about what elements you want to put in the beaker and who provides the complement to have the best balance to share this experience – Bunsen burner or not. I mean, group rides can be hard. Sometimes you need to be able to stand the heat, and other times you need to know when leaving it on a low simmer is best for all. Great rides can range from serious race rides to your coffee shop donut patrol. The beautiful thing about the bike is that we can ride with people of all levels and with different purposes in order to share community, love, and inclusivity. And every once in a while, you can be a hydrogen loaner. (Bonus points if you get that one. I’m not sure if my chemistry jokes are landing, most of the time there is no reaction).
Enjoy the ride, and just remember, there isn’t a perfect equation for every ride but if you focus on compatibility, and support each other to get the most out of the day together on and off two wheels, you’ll find the balance of the perfect ride, and just maybe I’ll quit with the chemistry jokes.
Long-time CTS Athlete Alison Tetrick will be contributing posts to the Trainright Blog, telling stories and sharing lessons learned during her career racing at the highest levels of road and gravel cycling. In addition to consulting for many outdoor brands, Alison has launched AMT Bandanas, a line of one-of-a-kind bandanas that bring to life why we ride and enjoy the outdoors. Proceeds from the sales of the bandanas go towards creating scholarship opportunities to bring more women and diversity into the sport of cycling.