As the leader of this club, I am tasked with creating and nurturing a culture for a group of more than 800 people who have a variety of divergent opinions about cycling, respect for others, the law, what constitutes "fun," what's okay and not okay, etc. It's a real challenge to find a middle ground.
Ultimately, I rely on a couple of things: "life's golden rule" and "soulful pride." When I focus on those two things, I am able to extract fulfillment that has more nutrition for my soul than if I allow myself to be nourished by adrenaline and testosterone alone.
I received a lengthy e-mail from a member who I will not name. It really doesn’t matter who it is. I simply appreciate that this person invested the time to carefully and respectfully share their thoughts about a variety of problems they witnessed during one of our rides (Miller Time, 3/26). I did not attend the ride so I cannot judge, however, more than a half-decade of club leadership experience allows me to gauge validity pretty well.
I have posted the content of that e-mail in a reply below. Our ride leaders have provided very good feedback, but I'll rely on them to post their comments here as I want to give them the opportunity to edit as desired.
My goal here is to provoke thought and highly respectful discussion. More importantly, I’d like to foster immediate change to our collective thinking BEFORE and during rides.
Speaking on behalf of ride leaders, we do our best to plan routes that are safe and predictable. We try to set the tone with pre-ride announcements that touch on safety. However, these announcements are often given the same attention as pre-flight safety announcements on a plane. Also, some members join us en route, so they miss this effort. In the end, we rely on each member who is riding that day to bring safety—and an awareness of others around them—to the forefront of their minds.
As cyclists, we naturally get a LOT of satisfaction from increases in our performance and endurance. It’s exhilarating to know that we achieved our goal of keeping up with “Jim” or “Bob” or “Monica” or “whoever” this week. Speaking for myself, after a great ride my brain keeps pumping its fist for hours—relishing its ability to command my entire physique to disregard conflicting thoughts of fatigue, aches, shortness of breath, and more, all to get me to keep riding hard and finish strong!
Frankly, each of us—and our brains—deserve kudos. Riding at the level of many CF riders is truly amazing and awe inspiring. Those of us who are committed to challenging ourselves each week should be incredibly proud. Most mere mortals can’t understand what it takes, and why we can be so proud of our accomplishments.
PRIDE COMETH BEFORE THE FALL — of the Club.
As a group, most of us can relate to having an “innate urge” to improve. To challenge each other with friendly competition. To push ourselves and each other while we ride. It contributes to the sense of camaraderie and support we have for one another. It creates bonds and friendship—and pride.
The problem is that the rest of the world can’t relate at all. When they see us riding down the road, they have zero understanding of the exhilaration we’re experiencing as they drive behind us. They simply see a group of cyclists that are causing them anxiety, or perhaps frustration. The rest of the world doesn't have a clue about the fulfilment a cyclist feels while waiting at a stop light after tackling a really tough hill or stretch of rollers. They just see an annoying “pack” of “people” on “bikes” taking up a lane that is meant for cars. They aren't aware of the years of cycling experience that we have as we “carefully” zip past them on the trail as they try to unwind, relax, and soak-in nature. They simply see a bunch of crazy-ass cyclists who scared the bejeezus out of them as they rode by wayyyyy too fast on a multi-use trail that is intended for ALL members of the public.
Consequently, when our focus is PRIMARILY on performance, fitness, and keeping up, we become less aware of the world around us—especially others who may be affected by our antics. We also miss a major opportunity to nourish our brain with more sustenance.
PRIDE WITH MORE NUTRIENTS PREVENTS THE FALL — of the Club.
I’m not a nutritionist or scientist. The following is provided for imagery, but as with most things, there are some elements of truth.
As cyclists, most of us pay attention to our nutrition on and off the bike. We learn very quickly that eating the wrong things can have adverse effects, and eating the right things can lead to more enjoyable, fulfilling rides.
The same is true for how we conduct ourselves on our bikes. The Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) is easy to forget when you’re faced with the daunting challenge of keeping up with a CF ride. But think about it. When someone you encounter demonstrates a proactive awareness of you and your perspective, is thoughtful, courteous, and respectful towards you, your natural response would likely be to act in kind. You’ll likely extend the same courtesy to them, and you’re more likely to be respectful and courteous to others who may be like that person in the future.
And, whether you know it or not, in those moments your brain experiences similar chemical reactions. It generates chemicals that make you feel good. Proud. Fulfilled. These chemicals possess much more nourishment than testosterone and adrenaline alone. The “brain juice” generated by respecting others, by being kind and considerate, and from working to ensure the safety for all, well, it also nourishes your soul. It creates a much deeper sense of pride than physical achievement alone. And the feeling lasts longer too. But here’s the BIG bonus, non-cyclists can understand this type of fulfillment. They can relate to and respect it. So you can more openly bask in that pride and feel really good about it.
Living—and riding—according to the Golden Rule is a skill, just like every other skill in cycling. It takes conscious practice. In fact, it takes more deliberate effort than any other skill because there is no pre-cursor brain chemical to promote it (i.e., adrenaline or testosterone). It requires absolute discipline and forethought. It also often requires you to lead others in the same direction.
To me, one’s ability to perform at the level of a CF cyclist while also living by the Golden Rule represents the epitome of Top Level Cycling. It’s something that is even harder to do than to simply focus on performance alone.
So how about it? Will you pack your jersey pockets with a few servings of patience, respect for others, awareness of your surroundings, caution for laws? To me, this “nourishment” is just as important to have with you as an energy bar or electrolytes. Perhaps more so.
Feel free to post comments here. Please keep them respectful and absent of profanity. More importantly, talk about this concept BEFORE each ride. Help create an awareness BEFORE each ride. Set the stage for yourself and for others BEFORE each ride. In the end, your soul will become as powerful and beautiful as your physique, and it will generate more respect from others around you.
If you’ve read everything above, you represent the kind of cyclist we want to have within Cycle Folsom. Thanks for investing the time. I really appreciate it.
[Email from Club Member]
I joined CycleFolsom in January 20XX. I was attracted the club’s mission statement, commitment to being good neighbors as cyclists, and by the large number of riders with whom to ride. At the pre-ride gathering for a Peloton ride on January 6th, you spoke about the importance of being good cycling citizens, singling up when cars are around, of being good ambassadors of the club and of cycling in general. I liked that.
Before I get too far ahead, let me preface what I am about to say with a confession: I was at least a small part of the problem I will be describing. Today I am writing specifically about the “Miller Time” ride on Saturday, March 26th, but I have noted some of the same problems on other rides, including the March 19th TfT Union Mine/Prospector ride. On the TfT ride I simply dropped off the back and rode on my own until catching up with a smaller and much more manageable group on Prospector. That being said, let me lay out what I observed on the Miller Time ride last Saturday.
This first point is something that I was a part of most of the day. I do not know how many actually attended the ride, but it was at least 30 and I heard the number may have exceeded 50. Whatever the case, a group that large is really just a difficult-to-control mob and the ride was not difficult enough to force the break-up of the group into smaller similarly experienced groups, which would have been easier to manage.
When I am riding alone, or with just a few riders, I will slow and ride through stop signs as long as there are no cars within ~100 yards of a 4-way controlled stop intersection. I will make a complete stop, or near complete-stop at an intersection where the cross-traffic is not controlled, depending on the traffic (or when I can’t see clearly in all directions that are controlled by the sign).
On Saturday, at most intersections the brakes were barely applied. I am not sure what to do about this, really, because it may be more the size of the group that presents the problem than what’s being done at the front of the group. It’s just something that makes me nervous and fearful that, at some point, we are going to be called to task for the infractions (until CA can adopt ordinances similar to those in other states regarding bikes and stop signs that allow for roll-throughs). In addition, I then become the problem due to my hesitation while everyone around me isn’t ready to hesitate. I do know that Placer County Sheriff’s deputies have, in the past, been ticketing stop sign runners, and perhaps it’s only a matter of time before they, or the CHP, witness our activities. I know that if law enforcement was in sight we would stop. We did do much better at traffic lights.
The Coffee Republic ride, aka the Chick Ride, was the subject of much scrutiny in 2009. Blair Anthony Robertson of the Sac Bee wrote a much more effective article on the subject I am trying to convey, which you can find at this link:
I have also copied the article to a Word doc, which is attached. Without modifications to our pack riding style, I am afraid we may some day soon be the subject of similar scrutiny. Perhaps the only saving grace being that we are not riding the same route every Saturday at the same time and, therefore, may be harder to find. . . except they can remember the CF jerseys.
What comes into play, of course, above and throughout my note, is ego: no one wants to be left behind, no one wants to be the slowest one out there. Some, in fact, want to prove that they are the fastest one out there.
Enough of that, on to the next point. One thing I have noted on numerous rides is a seeming obliviousness to what is going on around us as a group. We tend to not pay attention to the impact of our presence. For example, we stopped at a red light on Penryn Rd. at I-80 (see, we did stop at signals). At that intersection is a right-hand turn lane for cars to enter westbound 80. What we ended up doing is congregating as close to the front as possible which included taking up the entire right-hand turn lane prohibiting several cars that wanted to make that right turn from doing so. We could have easily cleared the lane but enough of the riders were not paying attention to the fact that they were withholding access unnecessarily. I and a couple of others called out to clear the lane, and why, but everyone was busy talking and were clueless.
In another case of obliviousness, on the short climb on Mt. Vernon from Millertown Rd., there was a series of cars backed up behind us. I called “car back”, and several riders ahead of me either didn’t hear me, or didn’t care, because they stayed right where they were in the middle of the lane. While it is true that even if the riders had “singled up” it is doubtful the cars would have been able to pass us safely anyway, but these guys were out in the middle of the lane making it utterly impossible for anyone to attempt to pass and it reflected poorly on the club.
The road widens at the top of the climb and visibility improves and the three cars that had been hung up behind us were able to safely pass. After the crest of the hill, on the downhill side, the leading car of this group of three needed to make a right turn onto Enterprise Drive. The driver put on his right signal and then had to stop and wait as rider after rider passed him on the right (the other two cars had gone around him on the left, and I passed him on the left—which is what I would have done had I been in a car; who would have passed on the right, right?). I did not see what the driver experienced when he approached the right turn, i.e. I don’t know if there was already a stream of riders along the right, or if he had simply done the safest thing he could do by stopping since he knew we were nearby because he’d been stuck behind us coming up the hill.
Enterprise intersects at Nevada St, where there is another 3-way stop. Bikes were running the stop sign despite the fact that there was a car waiting to turn right onto Nevada Street from Enterprise (and there were cars in the oncoming direction). The group was split up enough at that particular point to allow for a stop to be made. I had slowed down and dropped off the back by that time, due to the confusion we were causing, and I could clearly see what was happening. I did stop and let the car go through.
That same car, however, got caught behind the pack at the signal at Fulweiler Ave. (we stopped for a red light). Here, again, the pack was not lined up behind one another on the right, but bunched up together taking the entire lane. When the light turned green the Prius from the previous stop sign was stuck behind us because, again, we were across the entire lane and riders were not singling up after clearing the intersection.
The next stop sign at Placer St. is a difficult intersection because it is difficult to see if cars are coming from the left until you are very close to the intersection and because it’s coming at the bottom of a downhill there is usually some speed to contend with. We blew through this stop sign, me included, despite cars coming from the left which were close enough to the intersection to warrant a stop on our parts. We went through at full speed.
At Union and Maple in Auburn a woman yelled from a car, “hey, you’re supposed to stop”. One of the women in our group yelled back “we did stop!” (to self satisfying chuckles within the group). No, we clearly did not stop and we had not been doing so all day except for the red lights. I can remember one stop sign where we did stop—at Ophir and Wise. To my recollection, that was it.
We had a short re-group at the Valero in Newcastle. The whole bunch took over the station blocking any car’s ability to pull up to half the available pumps to refuel, clearly interfering with the business. The clerks didn’t say anything, but if it was my gas station I would have been ticked. Fortunately no cars came in to get gas while we were there. It is the same thought as before, we simply do not pay attention to the impact our presence can have. I know that had a car entered to get gas it would have dawned on the crowd to clear the way. My point is that it shouldn’t come to a collective realization that we are in the way. We have to be mindful of where we are and what we are doing at all times. I, and two others, instead of descending into the Valero lot waited up on Chantry Hill Rd. for the folks to get back to the road.
Once we got going again, on Newcastle Rd. riders were riding as though we were on closed roads riding nearly to the center line and, for some reason, feeling the need to move up. What is THAT all about? All the way on Newcastle, Brennans, and AF Road, we had riders who are evidently not pleased with the pace and were clearly faster than everyone else (roll of the eyes), moving up on the left as though they are contesting for position in the bunch sprint to come. I just do not get it. Is it a group ride? What is all the jostling for position about?
Coming down AF Rd. there were several riders that didn’t think the bike lane was enough room. Personally, I think the shoulder on AF Rd. is one of the best in the area. Plenty of room. There was one dude in a VW Trek jersey—one of several riders noted on Mt Vernon earlier—that could not manage to stay out of the traffic lane. I don’t mean riding right on the line, he was wholly over it in the traffic lane.
At Douglas and AF Road we stopped at the light and evidently someone in a pick-up truck said something about staying out of the roadway and questioned the sexuality of the riders. One of our number, a guy in a CF jersey, I don’t know his name but I have seen him around before, picked up on it and was having a shouting match with the guy in the pick-up (across the hood of another car with two women in it). “Come on, get out of the truck and say that” kind of stuff, for the duration of the signal. Nothing more came of it then (the truck did not pull over after the signal), but I am sure several people will remember seeing the CF jerseys. And, truth be told, we probably were in the road. In fact, I KNOW we were in the road on numerous occasions coming down AF Rd. When called out—by the woman in Auburn and the pick-up driver on AF @ Douglas—everyone seems to have collective, and selective, amnesia. It was an embarrassment.
A woman in our group chuckled and said “I’ve never seen that side of you before”. CF dude responded , “well he told us to stay out of the road and called us f---ots.” Our CF friend was returning the compliment. Thanks dude, way to represent CycleFolsom since 90% of the group was wearing CycleFolsom jerseys (I was not, I am waiting for mine to arrive).
Coming up the last rise on AF Rd before Beals Point a dude in a non-CF race jersey pushed his way up on my right, nudging me into the traffic lane. I said “on your left”, and he said “I see you”. So why are you nudging me into the traffic lane? My only conclusion was he was positioning for that all-important final sprint back to FB after cresting that little hill.
I apologize for the length of this note. As I mentioned earlier, the Coffee Republic ride was called out in 2009 over the group’s comportment and I can envision something similar happening to us. The groups are too big, too out of control and we are asking for trouble, be it running stop signs or interfering with traffic, either of which leads to bad feelings with our biggest potential enemy—drivers and their cars. We can be ticketed and it has happened before, particularly in Placer County (sheriff’s dep’t); or worst case, of course, there is an encounter with a vehicle or someone/thing else.
One thing I remember from the Grupetto rides, and the first time I rode with you out of Folsom Bike—be good citizens, single-up, be a good neighbor, represent well, wave occasionally, do not antagonize autos and other road users. . . we did not live up to those standards Saturday (and we did not at the March TfT ride).
There were at least four CF ride leaders on the ride. I do not know if any witnessed what I did or, if they did, whether they said anything or came to the same conclusions I did. Maybe I am overreacting. Feel free to let me know if you believe that to be the case.
My fear is that we are going to be the focus of specific complaints and eventually censured in the same manner that the Coffee Republic ride participants were a few years ago.
Well, I have made a bunch of observations, do I have any suggestions? I guess the only thing we really can do is be clear at the start of every ride, as you did in my first ride last month, what the expectations for behavior are and, during rides, to call out any actions that deserve mention.
Thanks, Stan, for wading through the entirety of this message. CycleFolsom has been a revelation and welcome addition to my cycling life.
[Stan's Reply to his E-mail]
Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. I understand the concern and have found myself constantly trying to build and reinforce a culture that is absent of stories like these.
While I don't want to discount anything you've stated, I know from experience that different people experience situations in different ways. I sometime share letters like these with other ride leaders who were on rides together with me, and we often have different perspectives as to what happened and why. I admit, I am probably the one who leans most toward being extremely courteous to others on the road. It makes me feel proud, like I'm fulfilling life's golden rule. Others sometimes have a bit more lenient approach. But all of us Ride Leaders truly do care about safety. Our challenge often comes from trying to calm the adrenaline and testosterone of a bunch of members who get caught up in the moment—especially if it's a beautiful day and they're feeling fast and frisky.
Since I did not attend the ride, it creates a greater challenge to determine the best way to handle it. With that in mind, I am forwarding your e-mail to the other ride leaders and ambassadors who did attend. I have removed your name from the message, as well as the references to when you joined. Truthfully, those things shouldn't matter when it comes to their assessment.
Speaking as someone who was once a normal member, I recall being called out by a few seasoned members in my early days when I made some bone-headed moved or rode unsafely. As I became more experienced, I really appreciated those who had grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and provided deliberate, candid feedback. As a result, I became more vocal about it after rides—which prompted discussion, but it was also awkward at times. I later figured out that it's much easier to try to set the stage before the ride, and then to try to reinforce those thoughts during the ride at times when I sense things are building for some bad behavior. I've had pretty good success. Other ride leaders are less comfortable doing that. I also try to get other members to take the same approach. More voices tend to shine a light on bad behavior. With that in mind, try to get comfortable calling things out if you see them. I try to do it without judgement and instead present it as, "Hey, would you be open to hearing an observation about what I'm seeing? I think there is a bit of a safety problem here." People don't always respond positively, but if they don't it usually just results in a smirk and a shrug, not an argument.
The other approach to take is to hang out with the group after the ride and raise your concern(s) as an observation without judgement or calling anyone out, and say, "Guys, today was a beautiful ride and route, but I have to tell you, I had some serious problems with the way we all conducted ourselves out there. Here are some things I observed..." Again, that will usually spark a discussion and you'll find people start to admit that they let adrenaline get the best of them. I think it's very important to be open and objective to their opinions about why they did what they did, and to try to account for their perspective about the experience.
I recognize that these approaches call for you to potentially put yourself in an uncomfortable position, but members who do it successfully help reinforce the culture of the club.
With all of that said, I'll wait to hear back from the ride leaders who were there. I'll be curious to get there take, and possibly their recommendation about how to handle it.