Thursday, May 01, 2008

Why I Didn't Write This Sunday

The psychology of groups is fascinating. Mark Twain wrote well about how crowds are less moral than individuals – and I experienced same when I was teaching.

Another thing I learned while teaching is that each group has a very distinct mass-personality. It’s specific and predictable, but it’s also conditional and can change immensely if even one or two members are missing. Then it becomes a new group, with a new personality.

I had one class that was hands-down my most difficult class. But only if a certain student were there. Whenever he was absent, the whole class was less of a collective asshole.

Wonder what that kid’s doing now. I’m guessing five-to-ten in a minimum security jail.

Bear with me – I know I’m rambling. Anyway, I was thinking about groups this Sunday when I rode in a new group ride.

Usually when I can get away for a few hours on a Saturday morning, I ride with the local bike shop. It’s a super-nice group of people and their motto is that no one gets dropped. Which means the group essentially travels at the speed of its slowest member.

Sometimes a few of us will go out on sprints and then circle back, but mainly we ride all together. So sometimes the ride takes a while.

Not to mention that the group takes a break a little more than halfway through the ride. At a golf course. With a snack bar. Some of the routes we take mean two stops. One day a few of the guys ordered chili and hot chocolate, and I said my goodbyes and finished the ride myself. I do enjoy the comraderie, and it's not like I'm some super-biker, but I can’t spend all day, boys.

But, at least it’s a ride, so it’s fun.

But last Saturday was pretty busy, so I missed the ride. In fact I’d missed the last four or five weeks and was jonesing for a ride. I checked the website of the bike shop a few miles away in Norfolk (where I actually bought my bike) and saw they were bringing back their B pace Sunday morning ride.

B pace is supposed to average around 18 mph. Cool for me.

20 miles into the ride, as four of us mashed our pedals along the beachfront while surprising gusts of crosswind pounded in from the Chesapeake Bay, I looked down at my bike computer and saw we were going 26 mph.

This was not B pace.

Needless to say, by mile 25 I got dropped.

The other three guys pulled away from me on a long straightaway near the airport. I pushed as hard as I could on my pedals and saw I was still doing 20, but they pulled away like I was standing still.

So I got my ass handed to me.

But it was a great ride – the best I’ve had in a long time.

These three guys were also super-nice, and to their credit, when they had to stop for a traffic light, they waited an extra light cycle to let me catch up. I apologized for holding them up, but one of ‘em said, “Hey, no problem. It’s not that sort of ride.”

So I couldn’t hang the entire time, but it was fun to ride in a paceline the whole time (or the whole time I wasn’t dropped), working hard the whole time, not stopping for chili and cocoa.

This group had a similar mindset of not letting anyone go it totally alone, but they also didn’t mind punishing each other – ‘cause a good punishing can sometimes be exactly what you need.

I like the nice-ness of the regular group. But I liked the psychology of this group, too. And I like the physicality of this one, too: all stronger than me, so I have some work to do.