How many of you have witnessed it? A group of cyclists or runners taking over the trail, roadway, or sidewalk. The majestic herd in their natural habitat. Perhaps you have even been a part of such a herd. Once a week, I attend a local mountain bike group ride and was recently pondering the potential benefits in terms of learning and performance, beyond the social aspects. Some answers came after witnessing an interesting sequence of events a few weeks ago. Here's how it unfolded:
A faction of approximately 15 riders took off quickly from the meeting point, speeding over jumps, negotiating turns, and crossing streams. After reaching the top of a long climb and taking a collective breather, one of the riders exclaimed "(name) will never want to ride with us again" implying that it's too difficult. That rider, appearing somewhat offended, retorted "what are you talking about? I ride 30 miles a week! I'm fine." That same rider started the next segment near the front of the pack, at a fast pace.
The group can motivate us to work harder and test our limits more than if we were on our own. The reasons for this are a complex array of personality and social psychology factors. Wanting to look competent in front of your peers can be an extrinsic motivator. Not wanting to drop too far back from the pack is a survival instinct the far predates the invention of the wheel, let alone the mountain bike.
Then, the rider who was previously forced to defend his honor fell... twice, within just a few minutes. The train of riders behind him had to wait as he untangled his bike from a fellow rider (the first time) and from some shrubbery (the second time). To the fallen rider's credit, he kept an awesome positive attitude, apologized to the group, dusted himself off, and kept moving down the trail.
There is a potential danger in pushing past our limits when with a group. It can lead to repeated mistakes as we choose not to let up at risk of performing below the group's standards. We start trying too hard, we miscalculate, and that normally simple obstacle becomes a hazard. When we make a mistake we fear that everyone is judging and mocking us, which becomes a distraction. We get "in our head" and may not have, or want to take, the time to reset like we would if riding alone.
At the next break, a member of our group politely told the rider who fell that his seat may be too high, which could impair balance. Immediately, he adjusted his seat. From then on, I heard instruction being given and I observed adjustments being made, such as position on the bike and foot placement when negotiating challenging obstacles. The dynamic of those two riders became that of a mentor and mentee.
The impromptu coaching from a group member was unexpected. It also risked offending, but the instruction was given in a humble and supportive way and received with grace and curiosity. Even with just some basic instruction and minor adjustments, the rider's improvement was noticeable. This sequence of error, observation, and instruction coupled with the riders' willing spirits led me to think about the group ride as more than just a motivator but also as a powerful learning tool. Incidentally, I also benefitted from the instruction and have to assume I was not the only one, beyond the intended recipient. So, when music and YouTube videos just aren't enough to up your performance, I suggest joining a local group ride. You never know what you might learn. Until then, keep collaborating and enjoy the ride!
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