This year, for the first time in a long time, I've spent quite a bit of time cycling with groups. I used to go on group rides when I was in high school, but we didn't have experienced mentors and didn't ourselves really understand the nuances of riding with a bunch of other people.
When we moved back to Colorado and I started cycling in earnest again, I mostly went out on my own. Recently, though, I got connected with group from my neighborhood who goes out twice a week, and have been riding regularly with them.
Not surprisingly, I've been setting my cycling experience alongside my church experience ~ and so, I'm planning to post a series of blog entries to share my insights with you, my seven readers.
Last Friday was one of the group ride mornings. I got up much earlier in the day than I would have otherwise to meet the group. We rode our typical route, which ends up being about 30 miles.
As it turns out, I had free time later in the morning, and I have a (100 miles) coming up in a few weeks. Together, those prompted me to go out riding by myself after the group ride. My solo course, accidentally, ended up also being about 30 miles.
When I compared the two, what I notice is that my solo ride took ten minutes longer than our group ride. Of course a person could argue that I was tired after the first ride, and so because of that was slower for the second ~ and there may be some truth to that.
But the further truth is that part of the course we ride as a group is the same as my bicycle commute to work; and I go much faster in the group than I do by myself along that route.
What happens is that when you ride in a group, everyone works together so that everyone has an easier time. Here's how that happens:
A group of more experienced cyclists, especially those who are trying to go as fast as possible, will often ride together in a paceline. What that means is that the riders get right up close behind each other to take advantage of the slipstream (relative lack of wind resistance) provided by the rider in front of them. The rider in front works just about as hard as they would be if they were on their own; the riders who aren't in front, though, have a much easier time of it.
The riders in front don't stay in front the whole time. When their time is done, or when they've been up in front for long enough, they move aside, slow down, and make their way back in the group while someone else takes the front position. In this way, the group shares the load, and no one person has to do all the hard work.
Further, every group has a different ethos. The group I ride with during the week rides fast, but doesn't leave anyone behind. Newcomers are welcomed into that group, and are taught the basics of group riding. Still, there are some riders who like to race. They push the pace sometimes, leaving some of the weaker riders momentarily behind, until the next re-group location.
In another group I ride with, though, folks are expected to know how to behave in a paceline. You're expected to be able to keep up with the group when they start to accelerate. And if you're not able to keep up, you're left behind and have to group up with others who are left back, or find your way home by yourself.
And when I rode with the Fuller Center for Housing Spring Adventure in March, each person was expected to make their way from point to point on their own. We were, however, encouraged (as we were comfortable) to form paceline groups when we wanted to, in order to share the workload. On a longer, non-competitive ride like that, you get the chance to spend different days riding with, and getting to know, the different people in the group.
I'm going to spend a few blog posts thinking about the different aspects, and subtleties, of group riding and how those line up with church life. So here's how I see the basics lining up.
When we compare the life of faith in community with an individual life of faith, it's easier to work through these faith struggles in community than by yourself. Of course, some might say that being part of a church community is too much trouble, and that they have an easier time on their own.
Sure, it may be easier on your own ~ it's certainly easier for me to sit on the couch than to get on my bike. But I don't get any stronger sitting on the couch, and our faith doesn't deepen unless we allow ourselves the opportunity to struggle … and that struggle is easier in community.
Plus, in a congregational community, a few people don't have to do all the hard work all the time. In healthy communities, everyone has an opportunity to take the lead for a while, and everyone has the opportunity to step back for a little while to let others lead.
And finally, anyone who's been part of more than one congregation knows that each group has a different ethos. Some are welcoming, and some are more closed-off; some encourage involvement right away, and some allow greater anonymity; some have strong leadership from a few individuals, and some have a more communal leadership style.
Over the next few posts I'll be digging more deeply into different aspects of how group cycling works, because almost every time I'm out on a ride I think to myself, “Church could be better if we could learn better how to _____.”