By Ursual CafaroCarl showed up at the rendezvous spot for his first ride with the club early Saturday morning on a custom painted white Cervèlo 2012 R5ca, wearing a white Catlike Whisper helmet, white Sidi Genius ProMega shoes and white Pearl Izumi jersey and shorts kit. He looked like BLING floating on Michelin Krylion carbon tires.
While you might figure that someone who’s invested the equivalent of a small car on their gear would have mad cycling skills, you’d figure wrong. It’s not usually the case. It certainly wasn’t the case with Carl. Alas, he fell victim to the “cart before the horse” mentality, the “if you wear it the skill will come” magical thinking, and the “looking good is better than being good,” social convention. He wasn’t showing off. On the contrary, poor Carl had succumbed to a cycling club disorder known as “keeping up with the Cervèlo’s.”
Even before Carl ever rode an inch with the club, he overcompensated. Why did he feel the need to do that? Well, cycling clubs are cliques; in fact they’re cliques within cliques where you find out very quickly which clique you can and cannot belong to.
Carl found out pretty quickly that while he looked like, and keenly wanted to belong to the racer clique, he wasn’t one of them. He understood, like a marauding lion encroaching on an Alpha’s pride understands, that unless you’ve got the skills to ride to the death, you better scram.
Cliques are a form of bullying, no news flash there, but the unfortunate effect is that many people are reticent to join a cycling club because of this sense of intimidation. At bottom, I think Carl’s fashion faux pas was an attempt to mitigate that intimidation. In reality, most of us, especially women, mitigate in the other direction, we think we’re way worse than we actually are and so don’t even consider joining a riding club.
This is the truly unfortunate thing because cycling clubs can be life changing. The really good ones are—the ones with club leadership that understands and addresses the sometimes negative effects of group dynamics. The good ones have true leadership, ensuring that everyone who’s made the effort to show up, is rewarded with not only a great ride, but the opportunity to connect with others and feel included.
Feeling included isn’t a touchy-feely-Kumbaya notion. Maslow, the american psychologist, suggested that the need to belong is a major source of human motivation. It’s a human emotional need rooted in our evolution and dependent on for survival. I mean the survival rate of being the lone, gimpy humanoid, wandering the Serengeti would have been slim to none. So being part of a group, a team, a pack is really important. Little wonder then that we go to extremes — on the one hand overcompensating like Carl, and on the other avoiding a situation altogether that has the potential for exclusion.
So how do you know whether you should join a club and which club to join? The most basic question is what kind of riding do you want to do? Road, trails, mountains? Do you want to race, work on technique or tote your three-year old in a wagon?
If you want to race, then be honest with yourself. You want to be surrounded with people who don’t give a rat’s behind about inclusion: your motto is keep up or shut up. Cool. Look for clubs that are on the same page, provide a good comprehensive year-round program, offer qualified coaching and promote races.
By and large most clubs are of the touring and recreational kind. They offer a full and varied schedule in terms of meeting times and places; they score their rides in terms of distance and challenge; and even cater to family rides where you can happily tote your three-year old without worrying that you’re slowing anyone down.
Trail and mountain cycling usually have their own clubs. You should approach them as you would a road cycling club focusing on the type of cycling you enjoy.
Before you show up at a meet place one fine Saturday morning expecting to ride, however, the next step should be for you to attend an event and meet some of the people who run the club to get a general sense of who they are, and how they treat their members. This step is critical in determining a good fit.
Joining a cycling club can be an extremely rewarding experience. Not only are you out in the fresh air getting fit, you’re socializing, networking, rubbing elbows and schmoozing, but more importantly than all of that, the right club will make you feel included—no highfalutin equipment or ensemble required. The right club will make you feel as if your world is expanding, which is perhaps one of the best signs of mental health. And that, more than anything, is what a good club should do.
When not riding fat tires on trails, Ursula is leading an optimal ride indoors. She is also a writer and filmmaker currently working on a multimedia project entitled Flight Imperative focused on illuminating the path for women to lead the life they were meant to live. Her blog is at: http://flightimperative.blogspot.com.
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