I really don’t need one. My cycling is like some people’s consumption of alcohol. I’ll cycle if the day of the week ends in Y. Cold? Sure. Windy? Okay. Boiling heat? Whatever. Rain? Yep. Then there are some who are giving cycling a go for the first time. Everyone from the dude who just bought his bike yesterday to the World Champion Peter Sagan had to start somewhere. Encouragement is the key to bringing new riders into the sport.
This weekend, I traveled up to Birmingham, Alabama to ride with my son and his friends. One of Justin’s high school mates lives in the area and was a gracious host. A few in the group were new to the sport. We rode a 40+ mile course with a tad above 3,000 feet of climbing and could not have asked for a prettier day. Anytime I get to ride with my son, it’s a nice day. He lives a few hours from me, so the opportunity doesn’t come often. Justin has been riding for a bit and pulling some friends along, and they have been spinning in Huntsville, Alabama. Now that particular group had now become our group for the day and possessed a wide range of skill level, so we had to be careful . . . the last thing that needs to happen is for someone hate the sport from the start. Yes, a no-drop ride is an automatic, but there is more to give.
Many times when riders have been cycling for a while, something happens. We begin avoiding “slower” riders or groups. We start to enjoy the beating of our chests and mentioning the “A” group ride, posting our KOMs, displaying our average speeds, and thinking we are something we are actually not. I have written before about my introduction into cycling and how I pedaled along being passed by riders who wouldn’t give me the time of day because maybe I had on tennis shoes and a mountain bike helmet and riding a Schwinn hybrid. I used videos, magazines, books, and DVRing professionals to learn about the sport. I bought another bike, a little later, and began slipping into group rides. I hung onto the back as long as I could, got dropped, but I observed how things worked and took mental notes and attempted to parrot things that the good riders did. I was even yelled at one time by an much older rider for overlapping his wheel. Here’s where it gets weird: as my speed increased, riders began to introduce themselves to me, as if it were the first time they had noticed my existence. They weren’t too worried about my name when they dropped me on a climb, never seeing them again, and I end up riding 20 miles back to my truck alone. I started looking for other groups and found friendly people who had a mixture of talent. It was then that I decided that I would always help anyone who asked and be a cycling missionary. I don’t use that term flippently either. Helping others is one of the things we are called to do in the Bible. Helping people shows that you care. Afterall, we are to reflect Christ in all we do.
I know what many of you are thinking: If you try to help someone, he might assume that you are a know-it-all. Believe me! I do NOT know it all. I learn all of the time and hope to always learn new things. Sure, I’ve had new guy here or there not respond to my help, and that’s okay. They know I’m willing to help, so it’s possible they might come back to ask me something later. One small tip: Don’t give a laundry list of everything the rider is doing wrong. Point out a thing or two to help AND mention something that he is doing well. Encouragement of others is just as important. I pass cyclists all of the time whom I have no idea who they are, but I can tell they are new at the sport. What would it hurt to greet them with a hello and a smile? . . . And screaming out “on your left” isn’t a greeting. Be kind. It’s a strange and unusual word in today’s world, but funny thing is that it is still very, very effective.
We had a fabulous time on Saturday. Everyone made it. Everyone felt accomplished. And I think everyone got in a good ride, no matter the skill level. There is no other reason to ride. Be a cycling missionary and show others the joy of two wheels and a chain.