Group dynamics, or, the importance of beer at the end of a ride

15 06 2015

FR Fuggitivi is growing.

I haven’t been able to attend many of the Sunday morning group rides so far this season. Scheduling and daddy duty often take priority.

But in my absence, the group has added a number of riders.

What started a few years ago as a chance posting to the internet to gauge interest in a riding group based in suburbia has grown from an occasional handful to a consistent eight to as many as a dozen. Reportedly there are a few more out there sitting on the fence, wondering if the group ride idea is for them.

I had the same hesitation.

I’d always been a lone wolf, preferring the company of my own thoughts, planning and executing my own route, my effort on the road accountable only to myself.

But the routes I favoured had become repetitive. My motivation waned occasionally.

Joining a group ride reinvigorated my sense of adventure on the bike. Everyone brings new route ideas, new places to stop for refuelling, new skills, new challenges, new conversation.

Yes, Guy really does pack latex gloves in his emergency kit so he doesn't get his hands dirty while changing a flat.

Yes, Guy really does pack latex gloves in his emergency kit so he doesn’t get his hands dirty while changing a flat.

But the group dynamic can be a tricky, perilous tightrope. What if not everyone shares the same goals, or ideas of what the group should be?

Factions can form. Cohesion and common purpose break down. Chaos ensues.

I know.

I’ve walked that tightrope for 24 years as the organizer of Sunday Morning Road Hockey.

Every new face is an unknown quantity, a bit of a risk to the status quo.

The group has to balance its principles and raison d’ĂȘtre with being welcoming, open to newcomers and what they can bring to the dynamic. The differences can be subtle. They’re often unspoken, rarely quantified.

A strong group leads by example, manages its parameters by its own behaviour.

Those with other ideas usually get the message and move on. Or adjust their own expectations.

On the cycling group scale from casual to competitive, we definitely ride closer to the former than the latter. We keep a good pace, but bragging sprints are rarely contested; we leave those to Strava trophies. We design our rides to be long enough and challenging enough to test our legs, but short enough to still give everyone time for familial pursuits the rest of the day.

Of course, the group’s success at maintaining that level might have something to do with its unofficial motto; More Miles More Beer. Pretty tough to harbour delusions of Cat 1 racing when that’s what brings you home every week.