Here's What Mountain Bikers Are REALLY Saying About the Slowest Rider in the Group
Enjoying an epic day at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Image: The Happy Talent
Last year, my mom invited me to join a Facebook group for tall women, and it was the first time I realized that not all tall women love being tall. (Apparently, I love it enough for all of us! See also: Ladies, Being Tall Isn't Awkward. YOU Are Awkward; Yes, I'm 6 Feet Tall. No, I Won't Move So You Can See Better; and Each Inch of Your Height is Worth $789 Per Year -- But There Is Hope For the Vertically Challenged.)
Similarly, when I joined a Facebook group for female mountain bikers, I was surprised by just how many women worry about being the slowest in the group. Off the top of my head, I'd estimate maybe 20% of the posts in that group are women worrying about being the slowest, either in an all-women or mixed-gender group of riders...
And the other 80% are about mountain biking rompers.
I absolutely love being tall, but when it comes to rompers... it's a good thing I wore a chamois! Image: The Happy Talent
Which is why, after an epic run down Falcon Flow last week in Moab, I felt compelled to post the following story in the group:
I went biking with four men and one other woman last weekend. The other woman was by far the weakest rider in the group, but agreed to do an advanced intermediate ride with us, anyway.
As an aside, that woman was SUPER EPIC. I'd just been complaining that I meet so many men, but hardly any other women, while I'm camping and mountain biking... then I was on my way to this crazy scenic and romantic outdoor shower at The Gathering Place ($49.night for a full hookup site, which is INSANE for a campground that's only 15 minutes from Arches National Park -- every other campsite within 50 miles was $80+ a night), wearing nothing but a towel, and she walked right up to me and started a really cool conversation. I was like, "Even if I end up dropping my towel, this girl is totally worth talking to!"
Image: The Happy Talent
Since I've heard so many of you express concern about being the slowest rider in the group and making people wait, I wanted to pass along some of the comments I heard the guys make whenever we stopped to wait for Holly:
"Wow. She is so amazing. I can't believe she's only been riding a few months."
"Dude, she's got grit."
"She's doing everything we're doing, but on a hardtail."
"Dude, she's crushing it."
"It took balls to come out here."
"I would NOT have been able to do this trail when I'd only been riding for four months."
It's so easy to get self-conscious about a sport that's a little scary, and that you think you're the worst at.
Which is why it's important to remind yourself, if people invited you to ride with them, it's because they wanted you to ride with them.
If you say yes, they'll be thrilled you came. Even though we spent a lot of time waiting, no one said a single mean thing or ever stopped smiling.
The only person who thinks you're too slow... is you!
Yes, the ride took longer than it would have without Holly. But we all enjoyed having time to chat and take photos and enjoy the incredible views, and we were totally inspired by her willingness to tackle such a huge challenge!
Some of the women in the group shared negative experiences with group rides, including one who was left alone, in the dark, to find her own way.
Fast riders: remember that if someone ends up being slower than you expected, you can't ditch them. You need to take regular breaks to let them catch up. At the very least, you need to stop at every intersection to make sure everyone goes the right way. If your goal is to break Strava records, then don't invite people who might be slower or less experienced than you.
Slow riders: Don't let the existence of a small number of dickheads negate the fact that most people who invite you are stoked to ride with you.
If you're worried about your level, don't be shy about saying, "Can you tell me more about the ride, because I'm not sure about my skill level," or, "Since we haven't ridden together before, can we just talk through our expectations for the ride? What if I'm super slow? Will that ruin your ride, or will you wait for me?"
There's nothing wrong with clear communication. (I'm all about that. See also: Last Night, I Screamed NO In a Guy's Face Because He Wouldn't Stop Trying to Kiss Me. Would You Do That?)
And there's nothing wrong with walking. I saw a woman walking back to an easier trail at Zippity Do Da yesterday. She was frustrated, but I told her, "If you're never walking, you're not trying trails that challenge you. This is a necessary part of improving at mountain biking."
I sincerely thought that what she was doing was way more badass than what I was doing, since I was biking within my experience level and not pushing my comfort zone at all.
Image: Eva Via Music
So now you know.
No one cares how slow you are except for you!
10/17/2022 10:27:59 am
I think it's also important for the faster members of the group to not instantly take off again when the slower rider catches up - before he/she can even take a breath and sip of water, the entire group is almost out of sight again. It's demoralizing and I know people who have quit mountain biking with certain friends because of it (and that was after trying to find a solution by communicating about it...). If faster riders are going with slower riders on a given day, it's important to enjoy the day together - otherwise, why even bother? Like you said, Strava records or whatever can wait for another ride.
12/19/2022 12:26:25 pm
Been there, done that. It's important to make the slowest rider feel welcome at all times and graciously accommodated during breaks. They need them the most but the break length will decrease as they get better and they'll also likely improve the most over the season.
3/20/2023 09:56:20 pm
Brilliantly stated! I can relate to it all. I WAS a xc rider, years ago (when I lived in Ontario, Canada) - before marriage, kids, osteoarthritis and a knee replacement. Once I got through all post-op pt, I couldn't wait to get back on my bike! Since I had relocated to Vancouver, BC, I started trying dh trails... long story short, I was on a ht 26er and learned to navigate technical pnw trails, bit by bit. The best thing I did, was join a women's mtb club (Muddbunnies)! They were SO supportive! Until then, I had only ridden with another woman maybe twice - I either rode solo, or with my son (20) , who was phenomenally patient and an encouraging coach. I used to feel very intimidated by what I was too scared to try, but once I realized there was no shame in being humble & honest about my comfort/ability level, I was SO much more relaxed and truly loved every ride!
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