So I've always been a loner, for my entire life. I guess that's why I gravitated towards cycling as a sport for my fitness as opposed to anything else more team-oriented. Only 22 miles of the 3,542 I biked last year were with other people.
So at the end of last year I hit a hard plateau. My speed increased from 11 to 13mph over the first half of the season, but for the 2nd half it stayed solidly at 13 and didn't really go up. This year I got a road bike, and decided to switch things up. I've been attacking hills weekly, but still going mostly solo. I think I was discouraged by group rides at first because I knew I wasn't fast enough to keep up so I didn't want to bother, but earlier in the year my bike shop invited me along on a ride. I did badly, of course, since the shop riders fly along at 20-25mph, so I spent most of the ride alone. Still, it didn't exactly discourage me. Then they invited me along for a 50 mile spring event, which I joined as well. I did not finish last this time, but only because a lot of people got lost and followed me back to the park we started from. Slightly more encouraging. Finally, last month, I took part in a 44 mile benefit ride, and just something about the electricity of the event set me on fire; I finished with my all-time best average speed of 14.8mph. This made me want to find other riders around my skill level; there was something about riding with all those people that made me ride so much faster than I normally do. Only problem is, I still had no idea where to find these people.
Then one day two weeks ago, I ran into a random peloton of riders while doing my Wednesday night 50 mile flat training ride. I couldn't catch up with them as I was pretty burnt out by that point. I was close, but they turned off my route before I caught them, and when I looked down at my computer I noticed that my heart was about to explode, so I gave up the pursuit. I was annoyed because I wanted to ask them who they ride with, but had no chance of being able to ask that question. Then, an idea hit me. I knew which segment of the road that they shared with my route. There were about 15 of them, so I figured, the chances that one of them uses Strava must be pretty good. So... I made a segment out of the piece of the road that our routes shared, knowing that anyone else who did that segment would show up in Strava as well. And sure enough, I found a guy who did that part of the road at the same time on the same day that I did!
So I messaged him and found out which bike club he belonged to, and he told me it was the Niagara Frontier Bicycle Club. Now, I had dismissed this club earlier when I found it while googling, because their website looks like it hadn't been updated since 1995, so I just assumed it was defunct. But as it turns out I was wrong; they exist and are very active! So they say if you want to join, just pick a ride, show up and ride it, and if you like it, fill out an application and join. So... I picked their Sunday ride for today and showed up.
After wandering around aimlessly for a bit, the ride leader called me over and said I looked new, at which point I confirmed his diagnosis and introduced myself. There were 2 routes today, 35 and 45 miles. I know I can do the 45, but I didn't want to end up being the last person on the ride, since I wasn't sure how fast everyone would be riding, so I signed up for the 35 miler.
After everyone showed up the 45ers were sent off, then we left a minute or two later. I kept up with the front group for the first 20 minutes, but it was tough. My legs were still smarting from Friday nights' climbapalooza, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I got dropped. In the meantime I lost sight of the rear group, so by around 30 minutes in I was completely alone again. I thought to myself "well isn't this ironic". I wanted to join a club so I could find people who were my speed, yet here I was again, finding myself too fast for one group, and too slow for another. So I just pedaled onwards at a steady maintainable clip, until around 55 minutes when the lead group suddenly appeared on the horizon again. They had definitely slowed down; I guess they started off fast but started running out of energy. Where I lack in speed, I make up for in endurance. That's what she said. Since I'm used to longer rides I suppose I may be pretty good at pacing myself so that I can last longer, so over the next 15 minutes I reeled them in and rejoined the front group. I kept up with them for the rest of the ride, but people started dropping off the pack. First one near the 18 mile mark, then 2 more at 25, then another 3 at 27, until finally with one mile left to go there were only 5 of us left.
I guess I was inspired by the Tour de France, and how they always sprint to the finish line on flat courses during the last mile, so I just took off and used every ounce of energy I had left, and hit the finish doing around 20 for the last mile. It was very fun and everyone said they enjoyed riding with me, and invited me out to more rides, so I am going to join the club. Going to fill out the application in a little bit.
Finished the ride with my 2nd fastest loop speed ever, only bested by last months Ride For Roswell. I'm definitely feeling it in my legs right now, but it was worth it. Group riding is fun!