Gone for a Spin

September 6, 2014

From the time I began riding the bike (as an adult – not counting “the kid years”), I’ve been solo most of the time. I’ve gone out for several rides with my friend Mr. V (of our shared Katy Trail 2012 and 2013 tours fame), but until VERY recently, he was essentially my only companion (save one-and-a-quarter rando rides with my friend and mentor Ron A). Much more often, silence, or more typically Pandora internet streaming radio, has been my riding companion. I’d never gone out for any organized group weekly-type rides and, to date, have only participated in two organized events – RAGBRAI 2013 and BikeMS 2013, July and September 2013 respectively.

Fairly early on in my immersion in the hobby, I’d become aware of one local bike club, the KCMBC (Kansas City Metro Bicycle Club). I’d also become aware of a calendar of local weekly rides held by a few different groups. One of the better-known of these was the weekly Spin! Pizza Rides. These are weekly spring-through-late-summer rides originating from each of a few local Spin! Pizza locations (each location rides on a different day of the week) and which attract fairly large turnouts.

However, as interested as I was to participate in such rides, my cycling fitness (and a fair amount of self consciousness and natural introverted nature) kept me from experiencing them. I “famously” at one point intended to ride one of KCMBC’s calendared rides, but then pre-driving, in car, the route prior to (see post here), realized that my bike experience and training up to this point simply hadn’t adequately prepared me for what was needed. I chose not to ride; and that awareness – that these rides were for “the big leagues” and I was far from it – formed an albatross around my neck that endured for a long time.

Recently, though, a couple of things coalesced to break through the ice and allow me to peer into this other world.

First, a couple months ago (in fact, it was the Fourth of July), I went out on a 50-miler with Mr. V, a friend of his Mr.S (whom I now consider a mutual friend), and Mr. S’s brother who was in town visiting. Of all the dozens of bike rides I’ve been on, this was easily in the top 10 in terms of most enjoyable. Something about the collegial aspect of riding with a few buddies, just enjoying the outside, the various aspects of the ride, conversations flowing, riding as a pack, the occasional “breakaway” from the pack with ensuing chase, etc – I just soaked it all up. I LOVED that ride. I knew right then that, as much as I enjoy riding solo, I also have a real love for riding amongst a small group. Suddenly many of my favorite posts from the blog of local rider Keith G – whose gift for language has allowed him to wonderfully capture & express the essence of the group ride – acquired new vividness and new color for me. Keith writes well enough that, even not having firsthand experienced this, I was able to get a fantastic “feel” for it through his words – but, having now lived it, I instantly loved it. I knew right away that, although my fitness is STILL (and certainly was then – 2 months ago) not quite enough to hang with any random pack on any random ride, I wanted to incorporate much more group riding.

I realized that most likely, the biggest part of that was going to begin in the spring versus this year. A lot of group rides close down for the season soon; and, I knew that the graph of my improving fitness wasn’t likely to significantly intersect the timeline of this year’s rides.

But, that brings me to “change agent #2”. Not long after that July 4 ride, during a morning gym workout with Mr. V, he suggested we check out the next Spin! Pizza ride. He was familiar with them as I was, and knew my reticence to attend. But, my fitness was somewhat coming along then (although it’s accelerated a lot the past 5 weeks, versus that time), and I was interested in the challenge. Again, important to understand – in this context, by “challenge” I mean as much psychological and social as purely physical & cycling-related. So without giving it a great deal of thought (“sometimes when you think long, you think wrong”), I agreed. Let’s do it.

The Spin! location nearest us goes out on Monday evenings at 6:30. They have both an “easy route” and a “hard route”. The former is about 12 miles and slower paced, for less advanced or more casual riders; and the latter is about 20 miles and faster paced. I chose to dip my toes into the “easy route” end of the pool.

The first ride was also a sort of revelation for me. I enjoyed it immensely. It wasn’t overly SOCIAL – I still am introverted and it’s not natural to me to just introduce myself and start talking to folks – but, I still thrilled with the group dynamic. From a route perspective, it was about perfect for me at that time. Not too easy, not too hard. It was a great first ride for me.

Mr. V and I rode with this Spin! group each of the next few weeks, always the easier route. Gradually the easier route became easier and easier for me – very gratifying. We also recruited another buddy of mine – Mr. J – to join us for a couple of these. He loved it also.

A couple weeks ago Spin! held their last ride of the season. This day neither Mr. V nor Mr. J could make it. I decided to head out on the harder route, on a very hot and humid day. I ended up deciding to abridge the route down to an “abbreviated long route” – turning off with another rider a little early and heading back to the barn. I was a little tired (been pushing very hard lately with exercise and improved eating), and I’d gotten what I wanted to know out of this ride. I was able to hang in with most of the pack on the harder ride, and feel pretty good that I could have finished that route well-faster than dead last. I was heartened.

I’m fairly saddened that the Spin! rides have shut down for the year; but in another sense I like it. I got a very good taste of the group ride, of riding with a pack, of the kind of terrain and routes that are involved, of my ability therein, etc. Now my sights are on the spring return – of Spin! and also of other group rides. My plan for 2015 will include a LOT of group riding – at least one to two per week on the average, possibly more. More organized rides too, of the sort that I bailed out on long ago. I’ve found that these rides tickle various aspects of bike-related itch that I’ve only recently come to find that I had, and I am really looking forward to immersing myself in that aspect of the hobby.

I intend to emerge from the winter into the Spin! and other rides as an entirely new man. Can’t wait.

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